“Day of the Moon”
April 30th, 2011
[Note: while this does not air until a bit later this evening in the U.S., I’m embracing my independence from any one particular country to post my review when it’s finished so that those who watched in the U.K. can discuss it in a more timely fashion. Accordingly, if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t keep reading.]
It’s the time of year when writing about television on the side must take a back seat to writing about television in an academic (and, over at the A.V. Club, “professional”) fashion, and so it’s unfortunate that a weekend filled with paper writing had to collide with “Day of the Moon.”
In truth, I could probably handle writing about an episode like next week’s, where the show returns to its isolated adventures with only subtle nods towards a larger serialized storyline. I could evaluate the appeal of the situation (which next week features Downton Abbey’s own Hugh Bonneville, I believe), consider the ongoing character dynamics between the Doctor and his companions, and then be merrily on my way.
With “Day on the Moon,” I could actually be here for a day. It’s a compelling episode, filled with enough good ideas to carry three episodes of a lesser show, but it also ends up with enough loose ends that actually going through and analyzing them in a satisfactory fashion would be impossible given my current time crunch.
But, I do want to make a few points about the episode, given that I am sure there will be oodles of speculation to be done over the course of the season regarding what we saw here and given the fact that I very much enjoyed it.
I am generally a fan of meta-storytelling, but there’s something truly delightful about an episode (or a two-parter, in this case) being built around the idea of forgetting what you’ve seen. So much of this episode was visual in nature, featuring countless moments where what we see as an audience is undoubtedly going to become incredibly important in the future (like, for example, the eye-patched woman), that it seems as though Moffat is warning the audience to be on the watch in every moment. He hopes, I imagine, that we will watch episodes with pen and paper in hand, scribbling down notes like the Doctor and his companions mark down the number of times they see the silence.
Moffat seems particularly interested here in developing visual and audio elements which allow for the passage of time to become more well-realized. I absolutely love the opening sequence, dropping us in media res and asking us to suss out what the marks on the various companions’ bodies actually meant. I figured it out fairly qucikly, taking it as a Memento-style memory technique to attempt to identify the population density of the Silence, but that didn’t make the device any less interesting when it was used in the rundown Girls’ home that Canton and Amy visit later in the episode. There, it’s just a beautiful way of signalling the presence of the Silence without actually seeing them, with Amy unmarked in one shot and marked in the next. I also love how it echoes with the house’s caretaker, except for him it’s the writing on the walls which (I presume) he writes in those brief moments of lucidity before the Silence persuade him that it was the girls who wrote it and that it must be erased.
Meanwhile, the little nanorecorders are also particularly interesting, if perhaps a bit more farfetched. I’ll always prefer the more rudimentary methods like the self-marking, but the nanorecorders allow for another beautiful visual cue: looking down to discover your hand is blinking when at that point we’ve seen nothing. There’s just something very unnerving about seeing that time has been lost, and these two devices work beautifully hand in hand with one another. Even the demonstration of the nanorecorder is creepy, and that’s just a hologram of the Silence: when Amy’s in that bedroom in the girls’ home, and there’s an entire ceiling of the bloody things, the creepiness is dialed up and is beautifully depicted through these devices and through the ceiling full of Silence (which are well designed for maximum creepiness).
There were also some nice elements which crossed between the two episodes: the cell phone camera re-emerges to allow the Doctor to begin a worldwide war on the Silence via the Moon landing (which was an enjoyable conclusion in that we can presume the Silence survived in enough numbers to have left remnants behind in episodes like “The Lodger”), and of course the Doctor’s failed regeneration back in “The Impossible Astronaut” prepares us for the regeneration that caps off “Day of the Moon” (which, OMGWTFBBQ and all that jazz).
This is the point where I don’t have time to delve into all of the details. Is the girl truly Amy’s daughter? Who would the father be? What’s up with Amy’s pregnant/not pregnant reading in the TARDIS? Seriously, what was with the eyepatch lady? And thus isn’t even mentioning the lingering questions from the premiere, as the identity of the astronaut has become an even bigger mystery now that we know the exo-skeleton astronaut suit is capable of housing (or, perhaps, “eating”) just about anyone. There’s probably all sorts of visual clues that help answer these questions, but with apologies to Moffat I find myself without the time to start marking up my arms and inventing nanorecorders to document it all.
And so at least some part of me latches on to those moments that seem as though they are less about setting up mysteries and more about exploring characters. Rory’s character isn’t exactly changing here, but his discussion with the Doctor about how much of his 2000 years as a plastic Centurion he remembers is an important detail for understanding his relationship with Amy. And even though the nature of their relationship remains set in stone, there is something truly heartbreaking about seeing River Song and the Doctor experience their last kiss and their first kiss, respectively, at the same time. Moffat has created something truly marvelous there: their dynamic becomes more flirty and fun with each passing episode, and yet all it ever does is make me think back to “Forest of the Dead” and get incredibly sad. It makes us realize that we have so much to look forward to with this character, and yet the character herself has less and less with each passing day.
As a standalone piece, “Day of the Moon” was more brash and clever than poetic: the devices were effective, the creepiness was off the charts, it all ended in a giant gunfight (which isn’t exactly the Doctor Who norm), and the plotlines were big and bold in order to get us speculating over the course of the string of standalones that will likely follow. And yet Moffat’s created such a compelling group of characters that any moment of calm or quiet becomes poetic: while those final moments with Nixon were incredibly “on the nose” (what with the whole Watergate foreshadowing, and Canton’s interracial homosexuality proving doubly problematic for the time period), the Doctor’s relationship with his companions remains nuanced, and it was those scenes that really sold me on the strength of the episode.
Well, that and the “OMGWTFBBQ” of it all.
- I was initially confused why they had to build the crazy prison to hold in the Doctor and fake murder all of the companions, and I’m still a little bit unclear on the whole deal. I think the point was so that they could somewhat stealthily complete their investigation into the Silence, but why did Canton need to be playing the rogue FBI agent to do it? I love the impact of the scene, and River’s dive into the swimming pool was particularly fun, but it was maybe elaborate for the sake of impact rather than the sake of logic.
- There was something unsatisfying, and yet also satisfying, about us knowing that the Silence were the Silence before the Doctor did. Given the amount of press out there identifying them as the Silence, the montage back to last series felt fairly unnecessary, but I almost like feeling smarter than the Doctor.
- Man, the show is sniping all of the major summer movie premises: first they steal the Transformers sequel’s moon thunder, and now they’re inching into Pirates of the Caribbean with the whole evil mermaid siren thing (which trailers tell me has a prominent role in On Stranger Tides).