Doctor Who – “Day of the Moon”

“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.

Cultural Observations

  • 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).


Filed under Doctor Who

14 responses to “Doctor Who – “Day of the Moon”

  1. Silence or Silents? I believe the actor playing them is listed as “The Silent”, which gives a much different meaning to “Silents Will Fall”.

    Loved the episode tonight. Wonderfully creepy. I sort of wish we could skip straight to episode seven and more Moffat-written goodness (not least because next week’s episode is written by Stephen Thompson, who wrote the weak middle episode of Sherlock).

  2. Last week, I was very confused about where the season was headed. If you show an undesired future in the middle of a season, you’re expected to undo it by the end. But if you set it up at the beginning of the season, undoing it will be a cop-out, and I have more faith in Steven Moffat than that. But they can’t kill off the Doctor, because then there’s no show after Matt Smith. So what was Moffat planning? Maybe he could go through with the death, but then jump back to the Doctor pre-William Hartnell? Or maybe they’d be able to change the timeline just enough to allow the Doctor to regenerate, but without undoing the death? Neither of these answers seemed likely.

    And so my thought processes went, until we got to that moment where we see the scanner saying “positive/negative/positive/negative…”, and then all the pieces seemed to fall into place. Rory said that sometimes he remembers being a Roman for 2000 years, and sometimes he doesn’t. It’s like a “door” in his mind. And Amy seems (Maybe I misunderstood, but this is how it seemed to me.) to remember being pregnant half the time and not remember half the time. And then I remembered the original explanation of the crack in Amelia’s wall: “Two parts of space and time which should never have touched, pressed together right here in the wall of your bedroom.”

    I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am. We’re dealing with two timelines, and since our characters -being time-travellers- are somewhat outside of space and time, they keep oscillating back and forth between the two versions of history.

    ..which answers the question of how the Doctor’s death can be resolved. Yes, it’s really the Doctor. Yes, he’s really dead and won’t regenerate. But that’s just the Doctor of one timeline. There’s still a Doctor in the other!

    • Eldritch

      I just came from reading Allen Sepinwall’s review of the episode. He’s feels there are two simultaneous timelines running, also.

      Sometimes the illogic of the writing gets to me. Rory can remember waiting 2000 years sometimes and sometimes not. But when he can’t remember those years, he still knows they existed, because he apparently can remember not remembering them. You’d think he’d remember them or not; not both.

      But I just have to console myself by remembering that this show is written for children.

  3. I enjoyed this episode, but not as much as I did “The Impossible Astronaut”. The big emotional moments combined with the giant gunfight and the seemingly random regeneration made it feel a lot like an episode Russell T. Davies could have written featuring the Tenth Doctor – and let’s just say that I’m not exactly missing having RTD writing for the show.

    I hope next week’s episode isn’t too bad, considering its writer wrote the weak episode of Sherlock and – though you probably don’t know this, Myles – “The Curse of the Black Spot” was meant to be the NINTH episode originally, so I hope that it still fits in relatively well.

  4. garik16

    So I’m trying to decide this: We KNOW that the doctor doesn’t completely see River in reverse order, because In Forest of the dead, River notes that the Doctor (presumably knowing that it was soon to be her end) came back and gave her the grand old time.

    But does that make River’s story even more tragic? Knowing seemingly that River will only not be out of order when either the doctor OR River is about to die?

    Alternatively, Moffat could make this less tragic by having the doctor show up later in River’s timeline (say in between now and Time of the Angels, as by that point she doesn’t seem as sad).

  5. BobT

    So many unresolved things. I don’t know how Moffat can keep all those plates spinning without getting confused himself. I have faith that at least most of these things will be resolved at some point.
    Which is why I’m not going to speculate too much, as it can only lead to dissapointment if I do. But it’s going to make for one hell of a ride going through this season.
    The only thing I’m worried about is that they’re not going touch upon what happened in those missing 3 months. It was a bit of a strange way to conclude the cliffhanger of last week.

    I love how they have introduced a villain that seems to be on the same level as The Daleks or the cybermen. I’d argue Moffat is the only who successfully introduced a new villains that were completely new with the Angels, and now he does it again. I couldn’t help but feel like it was similar to the first time The Borg were introduced in Star Trek TNG.
    Competely creepy and it’s deinitely not the last time we’ll see these Silence.

    Was I the only one who hought Amy was dead for a second during the episode? The way they had her talk through the recording was a little too similar to the echos of the dead like in Time of the angels and silence in the library. I know she wouldn’t actually be dead, but I was bummed for a moment, but afterwards I wasn’t sure it was supposed to be a callback to those echos in those episodes.

    Also, I hope Mark Sheppard reappears at some point. His character was pretty cool.

    Man, this show is good stuff. To think I thought it was a just a tad too juvenile for my tastes back when it started in 2005. It really has come a long way.

  6. River Song’s storyline is easily the most compelling part of the show at this point. I teared up at her little monologue about how the day the Doctor doesn’t know her will kill her, as well as that last/first kiss. It is so beautifully, poetically tragic, and provides a really good counterpart to Matt Smith’s zany goofiness. Who would have thought all this could come from the library two-parter…

    Plus, the re-boot Doctor’s companions (particularly Donna and Amy) have been, quite frankly, incredibly bitchy. I love them, but I had started to become really annoyed that these male writers couldn’t seem to distinguish between “strong woman” and “just plain rude.” I would never treat a boyfriend the way Amy treats Rory. So it is *wonderful* to see a woman hold her own against the Doctor based on wit, charm, and a bit of foreknowledge.

    (I second the motion to see as much of Mark Sheppard as possible.)

    • Eldritch

      “I would never treat a boyfriend the way Amy treats Rory.”

      I would hate being treated as she treats Rory. Calling him “stupid” or “moron” isn’t coming off as a loving thing for her to do anymore. It strikes me more and more as abusive. Imagine how Rory would look to the audience if he were the one calling her stupid & moron all the time instead. Her constant flirting with Who clearly tells Rory who her first choice is. Let’s not forget Amy was literally tearing Who’s clothes off the night before her wedding.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if it were Rory in the astronaut suit who killer the Doctor.

      • Ha! I am glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. It is not cute any more, and yes, it is rising to the level of abusive. I’d like to hear the masculine perspective on this.

        I was willing to see it as “banter” between two loving people, until Rory spent TWO THOUSAND FRIKKIN YEARS protecting her. (Which is, in fact, the moment that I stopped thinking he wasn’t good enough for Amy, and started thinking that maybe she’s not good enough for him.) How about showing a little appreciation, and cutting down on the childish name-calling?

        I do not think Amy actually wants the Doctor — I think that she really does love Rory, and does want to spend the rest of her life with him — but she is still very young, and perhaps finds it hard to stop flirting with the “danger and excitement” that the Doctor represents. After all, they’re still travelling with him because that’s what Amy wants, right? I get the feeling Rory could take it or leave it.

        That being said… I do think Amy was talking about the Doctor rescuing her, when Rory was listening to that little red thingey.

        I do not think it will be Rory who kills the Doctor, but if it is, I’ll buy you a Coke. 😉

        p.s. Of course, Rory does still want to be with Amy, despite how she treats him, so he’s not entirely blameless either.

        • Eldritch

          “I do not think Amy actually wants the Doctor — I think that she really does love Rory…”

          From my masculine perspective (ugh. me masculine), is that she wants them both. She’s lured by Who’s excitement and power and by Rory’s comfort and devotion. (You’re damn right, 2000 years is a lot of devotion!)

          Rory’s not an alpha male. I suppose you’d have to call Amy an alpha female. She wears the pants. She makes the decisions, and Rory goes along with her. She’s dominated by Who, yet she dominates Rory. And yes, she’s young, so perhaps she’d make better romantic decisions were she older, but for now, she’s serving her own needs and ignoring Rory’s. (Reminder: Tearing Who’s clothes off on the eve of her wedding.) Rory is just a prop to her.

          I’m not sure that the writers are unable to write a strong woman correctly or whether Amy’s character is deliberate on their part. It’s clear that the writers are showing Rory’s dissatisfaction with her treatment of him. It looks to me that it’s developing as a plot point, something that will reach critical sometime soon. Her abuse of him had me feeling sorry for him from early last series/season. I must say, I’m getting more impressed with the Whovian writers. They seem to have a long view of developing arcs. Both the Silents and River Song’s arcs seem to have their roots deep in last series/season as well.

          I don’t really think the writers’ would put Rory in the astronaut suit to kill Who, but I can see Rory reaching the point at which he’d want to kill the Doctor.

          “Fairly Legal” is a show on USA Network which just concluded it’s first season. I don’t know whether it was available outside the US. It’s heroine is a cute, smart, young woman who works as a mediator. Her ex-husband is an attorney, and they’re still in each others’ lives. She, however, romances and rejects him at her whim, disregarding his feelings. At season’s end, he’d had enough and dumped her. Rory seems headed to this pretty soon.

          Strikes me that there’s a good chance that the pregnancy she seems to be carrying part-time is by the Doctor. She’s pretty aggressive and they’ve spent a lot of time alone in the TARDIS together. She’s ripped her clothes off at least once on screen, and this series opened with a naked Who literally under the skirts of a woman. With this clear demonstration that he possesses working genitalia, perhaps his discomfiture with Song’s kiss has more to do with his current involvement with Amy than any puritanical or nerdy shyness.

          Presently I’m voting in favor of the little girl as being Amy and Who’s time traveling daughter. Maybe she’s a time lord to boot.

          • Eldritch

            Correction: I meant to say, “she’d ripped HIS clothes off…”

          • garik16

            Errr can I disagree? Couples have running jokes. For Amy-Rory, it’s her calling him stupid. She clearly means nothing harmful about it, and it’s totally playful.

            Rory’s character was a nothing character until The Pandorica Opens. But in four episodes, he’s grown a real personality, become likeable, etc. You’re right he’s not the so-called “Alpha Male.” But he’s devoted, and most importantly for Amy, he’s somewhat grounded and cautious. Amy is the type to go out and do things without thinking…Rory would bring her back to earth if the Doctor wasn’t there.

            There’s nothing abusive there, just a loving cute relationship. I admit I groaned when it looked like they were going to restart the love triangle subplot for another season, but this way we continued to see Rory’s development while ending that subplot once and for all.

          • Eldritch

            Sure, we can disagree. It should be interesting to see where the next few episodes take us! 🙂

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