Sunday, June 08, 2008

Library's Labours Lost

When I first saw The Sixth Sense, I knew M Night Shyamalan was a storyteller worth watching out for. Even if I had trouble pronouncing his name. That and his subsequent movies all demonstrated a similar flair for taking some simple supernatural or fantastical hook - ghost story (The Sixth Sense), superheroes (Unbreakable), alien invasion (Signs), fairy tale (The Village) and, er, obscure mythology (Lady In The Water ) - and grounding it effortlessly in the real world and weaving a tale in an artful and strangely compelling way. Haven't seen The Happening, but you can rest assured I will be giving it a look. Despite a significant degree of disappointment in Lady In The Water, which may have had a lot to do with the odd choice of hook, but whatever the specific reasons for that movie failing to measure up on the Shyamalan scale, he remains, for me, very much a storyteller worth watching.

So when I say I think Steven Moffat is the M Night Shyamalan of the Doctor Who world, maybe folks will understand.

He's demonstrated a gift for hooking us in with cleverly constructed stories and fiendish ploys - little boy in a gas mask (The Empty Child), clockwork androids and a time-and-space-spanning love story (The Girl In The Fireplace), statues (Blink) and now shadows (Silence In The Library). And when it comes to things to creep us out, there's little better than shadows, so I know for a fact they weren't the reason why, overall, I found this two-parter to be the weakest weapon in the Grand Moff's Doctor Who arsenal to date.

Aside from a few problems cited at the time - like a cliffhanger as ham-fisted as any space pig - I was generally enthusiastic about part one. I just didn't feel that part two delivered on its promise.

Certainly it didn't help that I'd figured out much of what was going on while still in the midst of episode one so when it comes to the Doctor hitting on the huge revelation that the 4022 people saved were actually *saved* to the *hard drive*, I'm already a week and a bit ahead of him. And, as mentioned before, too much of the whole affair seemed hampered by this slowness on the part of the characters. Yes, by all means have the Doctor in denial about the whole she's-my-wife-but-I've-not-met-her-yet 'conundrum', but when they're still labouring the point in episode two, just in case there are a few who haven't got it yet, well, I'm sensing padding. Not as blatant, say, as the over-egged cliffhanger, but unfortunate because there is potential for so much more to be done in those wasted minutes.

As a for instance, I'd have preferred less Matrix and more Pitch Black. Because as much as it over-laboured certain aspects ("Donna Noble has been saved", "Who turned out the lights?" "Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum") , I couldn't help feeling it undersold one of its key potential strengths: the shadows themselves. Greater use of setting and, well, the darkness. But as it is, I'm not sure the story served its own Vashda Narada (sp?) very well. Piranhas of the air is all very poetic, but it's one thing to fashion 'monsters' out of shadows - and it's pretty easy I guess to digitally paint them onto a scene - but to make it a living, convincing creature, you have to give a fair amount of thought to their motivation and, to put it simply, 'how they work'.

The rules here are murky and not in a 'well they're meant to be an intriguing mystery' way but more in a 'someone didn't really think it through' way. For one thing, after the Doctor telling everyone to stay out of the shadows, they latch onto victims standing in the light. For another, these piranhas of the air haven't had so much as a wren's drumstick to feed on between the 4022 people being saved and the Doctor et al showing up, so what have they been living on? Worse, though, is the fact that this monstrous elemental force that the Doctor is at that point powerless to stop decides to cave on the strength of him telling them who they're up against. Worse still is the fact that they *don't* then use that as a trick to have the Doctor re-stock the library-cum-larder with 4022 walking takeaways.

A shame. And an especial shame because really there was much to admire here. Plenty of astounding, amazing pure-Who moments of the calibre we've come to expect from Mr Moffat: the whispered name, the clicking of the fingers to open the TARDIS doors, the stuttering husband not quite managing to call out for Donna and of course the beautifully heart-wrenching final moments from River Song. Well, her final moments before her final scene, you know.

And I'm not objecting to her 'resurrection'. In and of itself it was fitting and a nice little twist, only rendered somewhat routine by the fact we've seen that sort of thing a bit too often before (Kylie in Voyage Of The Damned and Rose's emotionally charged final parting which turns out not to be quite so final after all). Given the choice, I'd save Alex Kingston over Kylie or Billie Piper any day.

But when it comes down to it, I could sit here and list all the great points to admire - and there were many - but in the end the overall impression I'm left with is that it could have been better. Perhaps this is Steven Moffat's The Village rather than his Lady In The Water, but if this comes over as an unduly negative review it's only because the man is clearly brilliant. Average Steven Moffat is still, for my money, head and shoulders above the rest and any disappointment is inevitably measured against his previous efforts rather than against the surrounding stories in the season.

So let me conclude by stating categorically that I liked it and it stands as the highlight of the season so far. It's still clever and it's still artful and still reason enough to be excited that this is the man who's next in line to be running the show. And while others who don't care for his work might take 'Steven Moffat is the M Night Shyamalan of Doctor Who' for some kind of insult, I know it means that he remains a storyteller very much worth watching out for.


MediumRob said...

Our brains appear to have been working in perfect unison on this one...

SAF said...

Wow, you really are in my head. Or vice versa. Good review, and you touch on quite a number of other points I concur with but didn't touch on here.

MediumRob said...

Ta! Good review by you too!

"Wow, you really are in my head. Or vice versa"

That's Logopolis you're thinking of... ;-)

Stuart Douglas said...

The two of you have depressed me.

I was filled with joie de vivre and joy to all men after watching that last night, but the various short-comings you've listed are all true. Now I feel like one of those RTD fans who spend all their time saying that his plot-holes don't matter because 'he's just great, man', except with The Moff instead of Rusty.

Still, Moffat's atmosphere and creepy goings-on will always be moer likely to sway me than Rusty's soap opera relationships and deux ex machina.

SAF said...

Stuart: "Now I feel like one of those RTD fans who spend all their time saying that his plot-holes don't matter because 'he's just great, man', except with The Moff instead of Rusty."

Lol. Nah, I think it's just you're so much in lurve with Donna, she's blinded you to the season's shortcomings ;)

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "you're so much in lurve with Donna,"


Don't you be dissing Donna - that's the future Mrs Douglas, that is.