On “Day of the Moon” and the Doctor’s Plan

When last we saw the Doctor, Amy, and Rory on Doctor Who, they were in a creepy warehouse in Florida. Their erstwhile FBI ally, Canton Everett Delaware III, had been conked unconscious by persons unknown. River Song was exploring the catacombs underneath the warehouse with Rory where they found what appeared to be a proto-TARDIS (last seen in “The Lodger”). A NASA spacesuit emerged from the shadows and approached the Doctor and Amy. Amy, remembering that thirty years in the future the Doctor will be assassinated by someone in an Apollo-era NASA spacesuit, grabs Canton’s gun and shoots as the astronaut raises its visor, revealing the occupant within — a young girl!

Thus ended “The Impossible Astronaut,” the first episode of Doctor Who‘s sixth season. Last week I had some trouble with that episode’s narrative structure, though I had the expectation at the time that, once the concluding episode. “Day of the Moon,” was seen the flaws of “The Impossible Astronaut” would be diminished. In short, seven days ago I may have been expecting too much of the first hour of a two-part story.

Canton Everett Delaware III

So, what does “Day of the Moon” do?

Picking up three months after the end of “The Impossible Astronaut,” Amy, Rory, and River are on the run from Delaware and the FBI. Each are covered with marks; as we see when the FBI corners River in the under-construction World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, the TARDIS trio have been making marks on their bodies whenever they see one of the Silents, the mysterious Grey-esque aliens that Amy encountered who can remove themselves from human memory.

And the Doctor? He’s in the custody of the United States government, presumably at Area 51. He’s been chained to a chair, and the military is building a prison of a dwarf star remnant to hold him, presumably permanently.

Did Delaware turn on the Doctor, as he threatened to do in the Oval Office? Does the Doctor have a plan to escape his confinement? What do the Silents want? Will the Doctor and his allies defeat the enemy?

No. Yes. No fucking clue. Yes.

I see no reason to keep you in suspense.

The Doctor has a plan. The Doctor has a long game, and he’s kept it close to his vest. His companions — Amy, Rory, River, Canton, and, yes, even Richard Milhous Nixon — have roles to play in the Doctor’s plan, and even they aren’t entirely sure what’s going on. When dealing with an enemy that can make itself invisible by editing itself out of the human (and Gallifreyan) mind, sharing the details could be disastrous.

The companions on the run? They’re not fleeing from the law. They’re gauging the size of the Silents problem.

Delaware’s loyalties? He had to make everything look authentic.

The dwarf star prison? Not to hold the Doctor in, but to keep the Silents out while he plots.

And the Doctor’s plan? Like the seventh Doctor at his most manipulative, he’s playing a chess game that turns his enemy’s powers against themselves and turns humanity into a weapon and the agent of the Silents’ genocide. (Here’s an analysis of the morality — or lack thereof — in the Doctor’s plan to deal with the Silents; I am not unsympathetic to its viewpoint.)

“Day of the Moon” holds up better than “The Impossible Astronaut” did last week. The central part of the episode, which honestly feels like a leftover X-Files script, involves a creepy orphanage in Florida and a really dodgy Southern accent. Amy’s storyline, as a prisoner of the Silents, has a chilling atmosphere about it. The story has more narrative momentum than “Astronaut,” though it’s not always apparent what that narrative is in service of. As the prime example, while it’s obvious from the opening credits that the Doctor has a plan, it’s not clear until he unleashes the plan exactly what that plan is — or, for that matter, how he formulated the plan against an enemy he doesn’t know and can’t comprehend.

There are also a number of plain fun moments to the episode. The Doctor clearly is a LEGO builder (“There’s always a bit left over”), Rory is hilarious as a bumbling scientific advisor to Nixon, and River does a “Shooty River Thing” when she goes medieval on the Silents’ asses.

The acting is also solid. Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill have fantastic chemistry together, as seen in a scene where the Doctor asks Rory what he remembers of the pre-“The Big Bang” timeline. Karen Gillan and Arthur also have several good moments together, and they really do make for a good couple. The awkwardness of the Doctor when River kisses him was amusing and charming — and also familiar. Finally, the look of panic on Amy and Rory’s faces when the Doctor says “You only live once” was astonishing in its emotional honesty.

Yet, “Day of the Moon” isn’t perfect. The episode’s coda lasts too long, with the entire last act devoted to character moments rather than plot. Who the Silents are and what they wanted still isn’t clear. (Indeed, I have to ask. Are the Silents bad and can you prove it?) Nor, for that matter, do we have any idea who knocked Delaware unconscious in “The Impossible Astronaut.” (My honest guess? A future Doctor, perhaps with a mind-meld head-butt, because that would be the kind of ontological paradox that Steven Moffat likes.)

Still, “Day of the Moon” is a solid episode. It’s not a complete episode, as the final minute introduces an unexpected new element that won’t be taken up for several weeks — or even months — but it is a more satisfying and more entertaining episode than “The Impossible Astronaut.”

Does “Day of the Moon” redeem “Astronaut,” though?

I don’t think it does.

Even accepting that there are things in the episode that are clearly seeded to pay off weeks and months down the line, the three-month jump highlights just how disconnected the two episodes are. “Impossible Astronaut” feels like all the pieces of backstory that Moffat couldn’t fit into “Day of the Moon.”

I’ve come this far without talking about the final scene.

The little girl from the spacesuit made her way from Florida to New York City and, six months after the Apollo 11 landing, in a dank alley in Manhattan, she regenerates. Who is she? Based on something Amy saw, she could possibly be Amy’s daughter. But that raises many questions. How did the Silents get Amy’s daughter? Why do the Silents need Amy’s daughter? Why would Amy’s daughter have the gift of Time Lord regeneration? Does this have to do with the pseudo-TARDIS we saw in “The Lodger”? Could the Silents be grooming the girl to be a TARDIS pilot, perhaps by manipulating her DNA with the Rassilon Imprimature? Is the girl, in fact, a Time Lord — and these speculations about Amy are completely beside the point? Is there a spoon?

To be honest, I’m not sure what more there is to say about the final scene, except that it’s a piece of narrative WhatTheFuckery along the lines of the General Thade Memorial in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. Nothing in the preceding two hours prepares you for that, nothing suggests that it’s going to happen. Yes, I recognize that it’s going to be important down the road. Is the little girl the person inside the spacesuit that murders the Doctor in 2011. Is the girl, in fact, Amy’s daughter (whose pregnancy seems to be in some kind of indeterminate state)? For the nonce, however, the girl’s regeneration is a total left field swerve. WhatTheFuckery, indeed.

“Day of the Moon,” then.

I liked it. Honestly and truly I did. It was enjoyable and it was fun. It could have been a little tighter, it didn’t have to leave so many dangling threads, but it also felt complete and whole in a way that its predecessor did not. Moffat is telling a long-form Doctor Who story, of a type that hasn’t been done on television ever, and I’m fascinated at where this storyline is going to go.

8 thoughts on “On “Day of the Moon” and the Doctor’s Plan

  1. As impressive a WTF as the ending was, on reflection I can’t help but feel that in light of the scene immediately before it, the meaning is both obvious and as dull as dishwater. (To put it briefly: Amy’s daughter does indeed have a time head.) This is my problem with all of Steven Moffat’s puzzle boxes since “Silence in the Library:” the resolutions aren’t that interesting. I could be wrong, but after the predictability and magical plotting of “The Big Bang,” I don’t see any reason to give the benefit of the doubt.

    Also, as an ongoing mystery, “Is Amy really pregnant?” doesn’t do much for me, especially since last year it was “Will Amy get married?” Maybe next year can be “Will Amy enter menopause?” and her reduction to traditional femininity will be complete.

    My plot-based gripe is that, apart from being morally vacuous, the Doctor’s plan doesn’t make much sense. A human who carries a gun may be able to kill an individual Silent before it has a chance to say, “We’ve reconsidered, and that whole ‘shoot us on sight’ thing, maybe not so much,” but it would be very easy to get control of most others again, at least long enough to set about removing the secret video from the moon landing footage. The Doctor dealt them a big setback, but enough to literally set them running? No.

    (In light of this negativity, I should say to readers of Allyn’s blog who don’t follow my comments elsewhere that I did like that the episode quite a bit.)

    It’s worth pointing out that the girl doesn’t actually regenerate, in the fullest sense of the word; she starts the process, but the credits roll before we see if she does, or can, end up in a different body.

  2. One thing that bugs me about the potential pregnancy.

    For being about four and a half to five months along at the end, Amy doesn’t look it and she doesn’t feel it. As of right now, this uncertain pregnancy doesn’t make a great deal of sense within the internal chronology.

    There’s a part of me that thinks that the state of temporal grace in the TARDIS is making the pregnancy exist/not-exist. Or, fetal development close to the artron energy could give her a “time head,” which wouldn’t necessarily make her Time Lord-esque.

    That is an interesting point on what the Silents could do, even after the Doctor’s plan went into effect. I hadn’t considered that possibility. I hate to sound like a broken record on this, but I’m still not convinced the Silents are evil, and thinking about your suggestion, I wonder if the Doctor didn’t just jam a stick into a hornet’s nest, thinking that he was doing a good thing, but in reality he did a very bad thing.

    Thinking about regeneration, there is the possibility that the Doctor’s full body replacement is the extreme case. Borusa’s bodies were all roughly the same. We saw the tenth Doctor regenerate into the same form because he had some control over the process. Romana had control over her process and selected a specific body. The little girl, if she has control over her process, could end up exactly the same.

  3. About the Silence, it’s also worth remembering that there was one in Utah in 2011 right before the future Doctor died. In a very isolated location, of course, but still, that indicates some presence on Earth post-1969. And that they’re directly tied to the girl/spacesuit/death arc.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m dissatisfied at how little this two-parter revealed about the Silence. I know they’re the arc plot, but they’re also the antagonists of this individual story, and the vagueness of their actions and goals weakens it substantially. I had assumed that “The Impossible Astronaut” told us so little about the Silence because it was saving that information for part two, but clearly that wasn’t the case. Although RTD’s lite-arc approach had its drawbacks, it made it possible to tell a coherent standalone story with a meaningful connection to the overall arc, in episodes like “The Long Game” and “The Lazarus Experiment.” (Two very weak episodes, but I don’t think there’s a causative relationship there.) I’m not sure whether that will be possible this year. There were signs of a similar issue last year, where the cracks allowed Moffat to erase the Weeping Angels at the end of “Flesh and Stone.” But time will reveal all. And then I’ll ~really~ complain. ;)

  4. I’ll just be the guy who points out what everyone else has already noticed — the Doctor has almost definitely just jammed a stick into a hornet’s nest. The only explanation we ever got for why the TARDIS exploded last season was the recurring statement, “The Silence will fall.” Now, I think we can assume that they were saying that “The Silents will fall.” So the Doctor has just set into motion a chain of events that causes a minor revolutionary state against the empire of the Silent every time anyone on the planet watches footage of Niel Armstrong landing on the moon. It’s certainly not a quick or particularly clean way to shake off our secret alien masters, but okay, credit where credit is due, pretty clever.

    Still, we only have, what, ten minutes tops each time we see the clip to fight a war we are completely unprepared to fight, so sure, there are Silents in 2011. I’m sure they’re going to be around all over the place in the current season, and I’m sure we’re going to notice at least the effects of a character interacting with them and then forgetting, because they’re convenient like that, every other episode, probably more.

    Are they evil? I am confident that they are at least not good, and closer to bad than neutral. But they are apparently necessary to keep something altogether worse at bay, although we likely won’t be given any hints about what that might be until the inevitable mid-season cliffhanger. That’s my theory, anyway (Also, the fact that they mentioned the term “parasite” at all kind of makes the possibility of a symbiotic relationship seem a lot more possible).

    Also, I just double-checked this, but when the Astronaut zapped the Doctor at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut, the visual effect for the second shot looks like same visual effect that the Doctor’s screwdriver used when he was helping River shoot the Silents when they rescued Amy (and there is a bit of screwdriver-like reverb in the audio). The first shot and the third shot are both different, but they are also both point-blank… food for thought, I guess.

  5. Carey, I’ve been thinking about what Prisoner Zero says in “The Eleventh Hour” —

    The Universe is cracked.
    The Pandorica will open.
    Silents(ce) will fall.

    Now, I think everyone has made the same assumption, that there’s a causal relationship going on here, that the cracks lead to the Pandorica opening, which leads to Silents falling. I’ve started to wonder this morning if these are just three things that happen, and they’re not linked at all. I wish I could explain more, but I don’t know yet where this thought is going.

    As for Neil Armstrong and the Doctor’s plan, I’m still trying to figure out how the Doctor even formulated the plan. I assume that he came up with the plan in the Florida warehouse, so he could send River, Rory, and Amy on their way. I also assume that he and Canton worked out a way to get the TARDIS to Area 51, with quiet flying and the cloaking device, and then Canton took the Doctor into custody.

    I actually don’t trust anything we saw at the shoreline in “The Impossible Astronaut,” to the point where I suspect that certain things were done entirely for someone else’s benefit. (Though, to be fair, immolating the body is an extreme step to convince someone that the Doctor is dead.) For instance, I think River knew exactly what was going to happen, that when she received the summons to Utah 2011 she already knew about the Doctor’s death. Like Claire in The Time Traveler’s Wife she may not have known the precise details like where and when her friend/partner/lover dies, but when it happened she was prepared and already knew what not to do. Consider that she had to restrain Amy, who was going to charge the shoreline. Consider that River didn’t tackle the astronaut (which, if you rewatch the scene, would have been very doable) and instead went straight for the Doctor. Consider that River doesn’t even fell the spacesuit’s occupant at close range despite being a crack shot. I’m not taking anything at the shore at face value yet.

  6. I think Moffat’s whole-seasonseries story arc last year worked so well for him that this year he’s taking the concept to a new level to see whether that works. I’ll be interested to see whether it works too.

  7. Given the hintiness of “The Time of Angels”/”Flesh and Stone,” I would o be inclined to assume that River knew exactly what would happen at the shore, because she had been present there in her own past. Whether that means she’s the mysterious little girl, and therefore possibly Amy’s daughter, is another question; the thing about generic spacesuits is that it’s easily to manipulate people with them. And they might also provide a shield against the Blinovitch Limitation Effect…

  8. For sake of argument, I’ll accept the premise that River is inside the spacesuit at the beach.

    This would mean that when River says in “Flesh and Stone” that she “killed the best man I’ve ever known,” she would, in fact, be referring to the Doctor.

    This raises questions.

    River killed the Doctor in the 21st century. Why would she be imprisoned for that crime in Stormcage in the 51st? Would it not be possible, then, that she was imprisoned for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the Doctor and his death? In which case, what could she possibly have done? Could that be what Father Octavian was darkly referring to? How did she even reach that time period to be stranded there?

    See, I’d always made the assumption that River was native to the 51st-century period. She’d be a contemporary of Jack, basically.

    But even here, I’m making assumptions. I’m assuming that River had a normal development and was native to the 1960s and can’t willy-nilly time travel. But none of these necessarily have to be true.

    I’m starting to understand a possible reason for why the Doctor leaves the little girl in 1969 and doesn’t look for her, whether she’s River or not, though it makes more sense if she is River.

    On LJ, I saw a woman argue that the Doctor was cruel and callous in not looking for the girl that had been kept inside the spacesuit. But if you watch “Day of the Moon,” all that the Doctor knows is that, at some point, the girl was there in the orphanage and that she escaped the suit. Yes, we as the audience know that she’s just escaped from the suit because we see her, but the Doctor doesn’t know this, and apparently River’s 51st century tricorder technology isn’t up to 23rd and 24th-century tricorder technology in that it can’t discern her lifesign.

    It’s possible that the Doctor is going to look for the girl as the season wears on, though it may not be obvious to us, let alone Amy and Rory, that this is what the Doctor is doing, so that when he finally finds her he has a decent idea of who she is, what she’s about, and what the Silents wanted with her.

    This is how it makes sense that she’s River, because of how River describes her first meeting with the Doctor to Rory.

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