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.
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?
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.