Sunday, 1 May 2011

Day of the Moon

Can we all stop pretending this is Doctor Who? It's not. It's Lost, X-Files, Dollhouse or some other tedious American science fiction program pretending to be Doctor Who. RT Davies did a lot of things in Doctor Who that were wrong and messed up, but this Moffat stuff does not even seem to be trying to be Doctor Who. This is basically a new show.

Very little of what took place in the previous episode was resolved. What we instead get is more elements added; the stuff about Amy's child, the child regenerating, the mysterious eye-patched woman and the Doctor getting more physical with River Song. Just an increasingly complex set of story arcs just like we used to get in the X-Files.

Frankly, I don't care who River Song is, I don't care about Amy's baby or about any other story arc they want to introduce. However these things are played out, they will only give us one or two minutes of satisfaction when they are resolved and will probably be rather disappointing. I don't want to watch Lost. I want to watch Doctor Who, which is about the Doctor having adventures in time and space. It's not a show about River Song or Amy or any more irritating characters with big pointless story arcs that Moffat wants to inflict on us.

One of the things I love about Doctor Who is that the Doctor is a mysterious character. The show has always left us in the dark about him a good deal. We don't have to follow some complex story arc to find out the clues as to how he came to leave Gallifrey and who Susan's mother is because the show has never bothered too explain all this. We are left free to fill in the gaps with our imagination. I choose to believe that the Doctor's children were destroyed by Fenric. That's my personal non-canonical spin on it. I particularly liked the Cartmel era because of the way it dropped mysterious hints about the Doctor's identity. These hints would completely throw one's perspective on him, but they were not really part of some big unfolding story arc. The New Adventure Lungbarrow by Marc Platt made the mistake of turning the hints into a big revelation which ended up being rather a disappointment.

The fact that the Doctor is a mysterious character means that you can put him with companions who are relatively ordinary and who can be a counterweight to his esoteric person. In contrast, Moffat seems to be taking away our attention away from the Doctor and on to the supporting characters. He wants to give them all big, earthshaking storylines. Unfortunately, the show is not supposed to be about them.

The focus on story arcs has the tendency to trivialize the individual episode stories. The one or two episode nature of the BBC Wales series means that the individual stories are somewhat ephemeral already, but with so much attention being devoted to story arcs, they are further sidelined. This is very clearly seen in Day of the Moon. How much attention in that story was given to the Silence? What were their motivations? What were they actually doing? They appear in the first episode and then get defeated remarkably promptly in the next without us really learning anything about them. What we do learn is pretty unoriginal- they have been interfering in human history for thousands of years. Put them on the list, along with the Osirians, the Daemons and the Jaggoroth.

The opening of this episode is really annoying. We are treated yet again to the apparent deaths of the regulars. Moffat is rapidly proving that he is a one-trick pony, if we were not already aware.

On the positive, we get some great performances here. It is remarkable how variable Matt Smith can be. In the previous episode, his performance just did not fit the tone of the story. Yet in the very next episode he is quite stunning and fits the mood perfectly. He is a very hit and miss Doctor. All of the regulars shine in this one, even if Arthur Darvill seems uncomfortable in some of the scenes. I was also impressed by Kerry Shale as the mentally broken Dr. Renfrew.

This is mildly entertaining television, but it lacks everything that I love about Doctor Who. At least we get a nice reference to Warriors' Gate with the dwarf star alloy.


  1. ... I just wrote a long response and blogger ate it. Thanks, blogger.

  2. That is why you are on Wordpress.

  3. For the record, I agreed with most of what you have said. It's not Doctor Who as I would define it, but it is worlds better than the Davis era material.

  4. Thanks for offering your opinion.

    Davies did some awful things with the show, but I think Moffat is far worse. Davies was trying to do stuff that was fresh and he was focused on developing the Doctor. The Moffat stuff is not about the Doctor at all; it's about contrived teasers to arouse the curiosity of a bored audience.

    Moffat Doctor Who feels tired and uninspired.

  5. I have to say that I disagree with a lot of what you say here.

    Firstly, I don't understand how this episode is not Doctor Who? To me, this is quintessential Doctor Who. How often in the older series has the Doctor single-handedly led a revolution and disturbed the status quo of the societies of other planets? "The Daleks" is essentially just that, along with many other classic stories. Why can't he do the same on Earth and help to overthrow the Silence? I'm also curious to know what, in your opinion, you view as "wrong and messed up" in the RTD era.

    As for the resolution of the previous episode, I believe the whole point was to not resolve everything completely. Moffat is treating the entirety of the season as one long story comprised of different adventures, so it makes sense to not answer everything up front; if he'd resolved everything, there wouldn't be anything to build to. It's smart, compelling,character-centric storytelling.

    I do agree with the fact that the Doctor is supposed to be mysterious. Whole chunks of his life are left unexplained, and that's terribly interesting and informs a lot of his character. I'd argue that the Doctor still remains a mystery in this Moffat-run series. Going off the two-parter alone, there's much about his actions left unexplained, especially concerning the future Doctor in "Impossible Astronaut". We have no idea why he chooses to do what he does, or even what happened in that unseen 200-year span. The present Doctor doesn't even know about this (naturally, it is his future), so the Doctor remains an enigma, even to himself.

    As for your assertion that "the show is not supposed to be" about the companions, I have to disagree. Consider the very first episode, "An Unearthly Child". We begin with Barbara and Ian trying to understand the mystery of Susan Foreman. We don't even meet the Doctor til the second half of the episode. The episode is very much about them, their investigation and concern for Susan's well-being, and their interactions with each other, the world around them, and later, with the Doctor. The Doctor, as you point out, is a mystery, an alien, and therefore somewhat unaccessible, especially in the classic series. Therefore it is up to the companions to figure things out, interact with the Doctor, and provide a gateway for the audience to understand and discover the rich world this show has to offer. I'd say Doctor Who is very much, and has always been, about the companions. After all, why does the Doctor keep picking them up if he didn't need them, and the show was exclusively about him?

  6. Cassandra! Thanks for visiting this blog. I do not recall your commenting here before. It is always nice to have feedback.

    "Why can't he do the same on Earth and help to overthrow the Silence?"

    Of course he can. That would make a great story, but that is not really what The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon was about, was it? Overthrowing the Silence was just an insignificant and seemingly inconsequential plot device to further more hints about ostensibly astounding revelations to come. The whole method of story telling that Moffat uses is quite different to what we have seen in Doctor Who. It's borrowed wholesale from American shows like Lost and X-Files.

    "I'm also curious to know what, in your opinion, you view as "wrong and messed up" in the RTD era."

    Quite a few things. Captain Jack, lack of alien worlds, deus ex machina resolutions, frivolous delight in pop culture, lame Cybermen and lots more things I could mention.

    "It's smart, compelling,character-centric storytelling."

    I think it's boring and tedious. I don't understand why anybody would care about the story Moffat is telling. I have no reason to have any interest in Amy's baby or that mysterious little girl. I don't feel much interest in who River Song is either. None of these characters feel like flesh and blood human beings who I could care about.

    "Therefore it is up to the companions to figure things out, interact with the Doctor, and provide a gateway for the audience to understand and discover the rich world this show has to offer."

    I agree. The interaction between the Doctor and his companions is central to the show and Doctor-lite stories can be every effective. But this is not what we are getting under Moffat.

    Amy and River Song are not properly realised human characters; they seem more likebadly written comic book superheros. Moffat is not interested in fleshing them out as believable people like Barbara or Steven. The interest he is investing in Amy and River Song is entirely in some mysterious cosmic significance that they are supposed to posess. We are lead to think that Amy will have some mysterious baby, like the Mother of our Lord or the mother of Harry Potter. It is no longer the Doctor who is the mysterious 'other' but his companions.

  7. I don't see that Moffat has set up anything quasi-religious about the baby, it's just the next connecting thread for series 6. Series 5 was driven by the crack in time and Amy's wedding. Series 6 seems to be about the Silence (who caused the crack in time) and Amy's baby.

    It is a magnificent strain on the viewers to string along a story for over two years as Moffat is doing, but in my opinion he is doing quite well. The stories remain visually interesting, full of monsters and new ideas as well as a strong portrayal of the 11th Doctor, a character so brilliant that his brain is moving faster than he can (that's the intention in any case).

  8. I don't think that the defeat of the Silence was side-lined by the story about Amy's baby at all, actually. Sure, Moffat introduced several story lines at the same time, but I think (unlike Davies), he gave them all equal space on screen.

    The tone and direction on the latest series of Doctor Who is drastically different to the classic series and even the first four series and specials under RTD. This is an ensemble program that is interested in non-linear storytelling and horrific monsters. The sci-fi is 'quirky' rather than deep or strange as I view the classic program. I can totally understand anyone not liking it or saying that it is inferior or separate to the classic program. But it's still Doctor Who, there's not much anyone can do about it other than tune off and let go... maybe listen to more Big Finish audios that are closer to continuing the spirit of Doctor Who than the BBC Wales program.

  9. Do you think malcontent fans like me should refrain from criticising the show?

    Arguably in the 80s, fans who hated the JNT era did a lot of damage to the show. Would you be concerned about that happening again?

  10. I'd never be bold enough to tell anyone what to do, but I'm not sure if you are going to find anything that you'd like in the Moffat era given your criticisms. That's just my opinion and i may of course be wrong.

    I remember being told by visitors to my blog to stop watching the Davies era because of my negative reviews. The problem there is that there was the odd good story or moment and if I stopped watching I'd miss it. Also, the reviews got very high viewing figures so I could see that people were reading them.

  11. Also (blogger cut me off or something), in the 80's the negative criticism came in the form of a sterile jury of young fans berating the drop in quality or in the form of letters written in and read aloud. That's not the same as online chatter which only draws attention to the program and gets people to respond. You seem to be keen to discuss opposing views so if those comments come here I think you'll do fine and hardly damage the show.