Spoilers! (Of a blue-book variety)
Well I was pleased it wasn’t the Vashta Nerada.
When menacing spacesuits filled the trailers the fact that they’d appeared in an episode called ’Silence in the Library’, and the lack of decent new monsters last season, led to me putting two and two together - and coming up with a negative.
Not that I didn’t like them the first time. But their antagonism was an enabler of that storyline, rather than the core of it. And when for example the Angels came back, it wasn’t for a major twist for which we’ve been waiting a whole season.
Besides, this show has very few recurrent enemies. Most of them felt worn out by their second helping, if they ever got that far. That might seem odd. With superheroes, for example, a decent rogue’s gallery is an essential component of a series. But that doesn’t mean that most monsters have been sub-par. (Though of course a fair few have, over the years.) It just underlines the difference between a superhero and the Doctor. The Doctor doesn’t fight them so much as come to comprehend them, dispel their aura of menace to see what makes them tick. Once it was revealed who the Dream Lord or the Empty Child was, any reappearance would be pointless.
However, I am not sure I like the look of the ones we got.
Generic rubber-suited ’Who’ monsters I could cope with. But these looked generically generic, sci-fi aliens who could have walked off ’The X-Files’ or any such show from the Nineties onwards. (You were apparently supposed to think of the Munch painting ’The Scream’, though I don’t suppose anybody did.) This may well be part of the point, as there’s some Roswell-like goings-on afoot. But even so...
The script crackled along, and the four leads are now so comfortable in their roles you’re almost happy just hanging out with them. There were some neat lines, cool scenes and strong images. (If you’re reading this you probably know what the astronaut-out-the-lake was a homage to, but it’s still a strong image.)
But if you paused to consider this rapid succession of events it did start to feel like Moffat was reshuffling his pack – portmanteau openings, creepy child telephone calls, the Doctor dying then reappearing younger, don’t look away etc. Of course, every writer relies on tropes. I just wonder what would have happened if Moffat had said to himself, “Right. New season. New page. New stuff. Let’s see what else there is.”
I was somewhat thrown by Amy and Rory starting the episode sitting on the sofa. We’d previously been led to believe they weren’t letting a little thing like married life hang up their adventuring boots. But, as things went on, it became clear this performed a function.
We’ve already seen how River Song “does to the Doctor what he normally does to others, turn up from outside his timeline and upend his life.” But this time round her role is extended to Amy and Rory, they’ve become more her companions than the Doctor’s. (Plus it’s now laced with urgency, there’s things they really want to tell him but can’t.) Establishing their separate lives at the start enables this.
I’ve previously expressed concerns about the whole ‘crossing timelines’ business, which seems one of those things which are so much easier to switch on that off. And enough timelines were crossed here to make the whole thing look like spaghetti junction. However, River’s speech to Amy suggests that the previously pliable substance ‘timey wimey’ is hardening into something more fatalistic. If there’s an internal story reason for this, it’s yet to appear. But it’s going to be a necessary change to avoid a rewrite of ’The Big Bang’, to avoid “ah, my death, I’ll just pop back in my blue box and fix that.” (On the other hand if River’s speech turns out to be mere misdirection I will scream. And I am quite the screamer.)
But perhaps all a first episode needs to do is intrigue, and if so it certainly succeeded. I have found myself continually coming up with theories which I almost immediately reject, which I would expect to be a common response. (Rather than “silence will fall”, “the net will never shut up!” would be a more appropriate catch-phrase.)
With those spare spacesuits there’s signs they’re working in the urban myth about the moon landings being a hoax. (One variant of which has it that aliens have already got here.) Yet that would seem to vie with the show’s normal celebration of human ingenuity... It would seem a little too obvious for River Song to be the figure in the spacesuit. And I can’t see how she can be the girl on the phone, who has a clear American accent. (Unless BBC English rubbed off on her through association with the Doctor.) It is possible of course that she’s Amy’s child...
...on that note, Amy’s revelation she was pregnant came so much out of left field that it surely can’t be, and was given a strange degree of significance for someone who’s just got married. Is this one of the things the aliens told her to tell the Doctor? Is it possible she didn’t know herself until that moment? (She saw the aliens well before the others.) Does she have mixed feelings about her pregnancy? The girl in the spacesuit seemed like a metaphor for an unborn child, and she shoots at her...
..anyway I digress. Intrigue is fine for a first episode. And while this is a two-parter (why haven’t they been opening the show with two-parters all along?), this is clearly the set-up for the season, we won’t get all our answers next week. But a first part is not a season and questions do not nourish the soul. We need those answers, Moffat has promised us them and one not-really-a-finale is enough. Contrary to the risible ’X Files’ tag-line “the truth is out there”, we’re going to want some truth in here before too long.