Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Moon Zero Two

Doctor Who two-parters can be such a let down. The resolutions are often sloppy and hastily cobbled-together, the end results riddled with plot-holes and, more often than I’d like, culminating in a Big Undo. (I’m not a fan of all this ‘Time can be rewritten’ malarkey – that way lies unwriting. Which is fine for unwriters, but Steven Moffat is better than that.) Anyway, second episodes can easily fail to live up to the promise of the first.

It seems to me there are two keys to avoiding this disappointment. 1) Make sure the first episode isn’t any good. 2) Defer much of the actual resolution in the second episode until later.

Since The Impossible Astronaut failed so spectacularly at Option 1, Day Of The Moon took a stab at Option 2 and, I thought, succeeded brilliantly.

From the beginning, it’s big and bold, moving us three months on from last week’s incredible cliffhanger and incidentally ticks off two items on my wish list in the process: more (and beautifully grand) use of the American setting and more significant involvement for the character of Canton Everett Delaware III. The Hollywood-style action and breathtaking visuals command our attention while our minds are duly flooded with a hundred more questions.

What are those strange markings on Amy? Did she hide out in a tattoo parlour while on the run from the FBI? And, out of idle curiosity, where else on her body does she have these markings?

Oh yeah, and why is CED III chasing down Amy, Rory and River? Why’s the Doctor being held in an Area 51 hangar? What’s the story on the little girl astronaut that Amy shot? Etc, etc, etc? What the hell, in short, is happening?

It’s brave, it’s exciting, it’s sit-up-and-pay-attention TV. It’s a terrific hook. When you realise it’s all a scheme to bring the Doctor and friends all together in the secure confines of a dwarf-star-alloy-walled cell, free from eavesdropping aliens (it’s not too far removed from the Doctor’s ploy to have his Time Lord presidential office in Invasion Of Time lined with lead to keep the pesky Vardans out) - well, rationally, part of you asks where and when they had a chance to concoct this plan without said aliens overhearing, but it’s pulled off with such chutzpah and pizazz that it’s one question that’s easily overlooked until after the show.

It’s sort of like a stage magician, encouraging us to look at his pretty assistants while he exercises some sleight of hand to wow us with an illusion, and it’s not until after the show our sense of wonder is replaced with a sense of wondering how the trick was done. During the show, there’s no time for scrutinising every trick, because the magician’s already moved on to pulling rabbits (thankfully no robot hares!) out of hats and sawing ladies in half. Or, in this case, more of the Grand Moff’s beloved temporal shenanigans.

The dazzling trickery here is matched (and possibly even outshone) by the mesmerising mystery as the leads embark on their fascinating investigation of an alien species who are instantly forgotten the moment you look away. Ironically, in conjuring up these beings, Moffat has created – once again – one of the more memorable races in modern Who. It’s a great concept and serves up a deliciously creepy sequence in an abandoned orphanage, where CED III and Amy get to play Mulder and Scully – complete with (pregnant) Scully’s, I mean Amy’s, abduction - and I’m personally rewarded with the satisfaction of being entirely spot-on with one of my theories from the previous week. Namely, the relationship between Amy and the little girl astronaut. Similarly gratifying was the confirmation that these strange smart-suited beings were more than simply related to the Silence and were in fact said Silence. (Evidence enough to my mind of the passing Hush-homage, and I especially liked the shot of one of them gliding along like the Gentlemen from Buffy.) To all the kids who must surely have been given nightmares by the creatures and this episode as a whole, I can only offer this message of scant comfort: you are not alone.

The mood of that orphanage scene is so pervasive that it’s surprising how well it marries with the bolder, brassier elements. The gorgeous shot, panning back from the Doctor in the nose-cone of the Saturn V rocket must have been one of the most expensive gags in Who history, but so it should be. It was priceless. And like the episode’s wham-bam opening moments, the climax is a captivating action-packed blastathon that only gives rise to a niggly question or two after the fact.

For instance, I am obliged to query just how River (as supremely wonderful and undoubtedly talented as she is) can take out quite so many aliens arrayed around her when as soon as she looks away from any one of them she (allegedly) forgets they were there. Lightning reflexes, naturally, but if the aliens cared to move a bit more, they could have made life that little bit tougher for the sharp shooter.

By story’s end I still felt that Rory warranted better treatment as a character and a more active role, but he is very much at the emotional core of the story if not at the heart of the action. And the spelling out of CED III’s sexuality in his closing exchange with Nixon struck me as a tad clumsy next to the deftness of last week’s allusion, but more importantly I still don’t know what purpose his (older) presence served at the Doctor’s lakeside death. But perhaps we’ll get our answers there.

Because the bulk of the quibbles and/or questions we’re left with though are deliberate and the clear message that this is far from over furnishes a sense of promise and anticipation more commonly associated with a first episode in a two-parter. Which sort of leaves the true measure of this story largely dependent on another future episode because at some point the Grand Moff will have to wrap all this up satisfactorily – including the Silence and the consequences of their removal from human history, Amy’s daughter, the River-Doctor relationship, the future-Doctor’s death (surely prime target for a Big Undo?). Etc etc etc.

Even if I do wonder why the mere fact of Amy being pregnant while travelling in the TARDIS would give rise to a Time Child and even if I saw it coming, ending on the regeneration of the young girl was a master stroke.

Hooks, as it turns out, make for as effective endings as they do beginnings and there’s nothing in this two-parter that at this stage gives me anything but confidence in Moffat’s ability to ultimately deliver. Stage magician he may be, but it’s smart, clever, entertaining stuff. So don’t be surprised to learn that I’m currently sitting in the audience, applauding and calling for an encore.