Sunday, 1 May 2011


We fans have become rather fixated upon the differences between Stephen Moffat and Russell Davies. One of us would put a big long list of these on his blog, only for others to smartly chip in with extra items in the handy Comments box. (One is Welsh the other Scottish, has anyone had that one already?)

This has rather blinded us to their similarities.

There’s that nice anecdote about Moffat getting the idea for the crack from an actual crack running along his son’s bedroom wall. I am fairly sure Moffat always works this way, building his scripts up from images. His mind sees an astronaut walking out of a lake, a figure running with black lines scrawled along it, a mass of alien heads hanging from a ceiling like celestial bats, then works out a way of joining the dots. (Okay, Davies tended to write Big Pumping Events, like the Tardis towing a planet, but in practise there’s an overlap.)

This isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. This has never been a ‘proper’ science fiction show, the SF theme is just an excuse to incorporate the strange and the fantastical. After all, images are not mere eye candy. They’re more like a language in their own right, and can carry as much meaning and resonance as a line of dialogue. To see them reductively, as ‘clues’, is like insisting on seeing a 3D object only in two dimensions. Me, I’m a big fan of surrealist films, such as ‘L’Age d’Or’, which are composed of nothing but strange and arresting images, and are all the richer for it.

But if ‘Doctor Who’ isn’t ‘proper SF’, it isn’t a surrealist film either. You have to do more with those images than just line them up. We all knew this wasn’t going to be the big finish, just the ender of a two-parter which is setting us up for the big finish. But to do that some questions needed to be answered, and fresh mysteries whisked in to replace them. You need a dual level structure, a false bottom which falls through. You need to induce the feeling that all this is heading to be resolved, to actually resolve a whole bunch of stuff, only to thwart audience expectations at the last minute and let mystery rise to rule again.

What hit the screens was the feared drop between stools, neither a finale nor an incidental episode. It may just be the new American setting, but it is reminding me more and more of the tedious world of perpetual deferment that was ‘The X-Files’. I started to wonder if I was watching something with no heart, no core, but was more akin to flipping through the pages of a sketchbook.

A mystery or a misfire? Either the Silence used their insidious powers to make me forget their plan, or they never really had much of one. What I fear about them is that they are becoming more and more what they look like – generically evil. From inscrutable schemers to plot-function baddies, kidnapping the heroine because it seems the sort of thing they should be doing. (The only part that was really explained was how the girl could be calling the President.)

With all this talk of a network of tunnels stretching across the planet, had I just watched these two episodes I would be imagining some ‘Quatermass and the Pit’ scenario. Having crashed here in our prehistoric times, they have become like anti-angels, watching omnipotently over us, manipulating our every move. Yet in the last season they seemed a cosmic threat, about to “fall” across the whole of everything, causing vampires to relocate to Venice and all the rest of it. In which case, why should it be so important to control us?

And if they’re rendered visible simply by being injured, and have really been here as long as we have, surely one would have appeared through being caught in some crossfire by now. The Doctor can’t help but bump into his invisible Tardis, and he knows its there!

Instead of any of this, things end up with a variant of ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’ and a rather random shoot-‘em-up, with Sherriff River riding into town. Not the sort of thing we hope for with ‘Doctor Who’.

Given all this, the headlong rush of a pace started to feel a little suspect. It’s not just that the pre-credit chase scenes could have lasted for longer. It’s starting to feel like a dodgy estate agent is showing us round a house in indecent haste, giving us no time to inspect the brickwork. What did happen between the last episode and this? They’re on the run from the Feds, yet both Delaware and the President are still on their side. Do Amy and Rory know to play along with Delaware’s plan, but not River? Never mind, time for the next scene!

So we end up precisely where we didn’t want to be - talking about this episode the way we did the last one, turning those images over and over in the hope of coming up with something. And it must be admitted there are cool sequences. In fact, while watching the episode I was never bored. Only when my brain attempted to put it together did it feel lacking.

Amy’s adventures in the Orphanage were particularly striking. (If somewhat reminiscent of the hospital in ’The Empty Child’.) As said previously her ‘pregnancy’ was only announced at the end of the last episode, but associated images had already been built up around it. In fact, after watching the first episode’s repeat I’m half-convinced there’s another one! It opened with Charles II questioning his daughter about the Doctor’s whereabouts. She feigns ignorance, but his lanky head is found underneath her skirts, naked and upside-down. The suggestion is illicit hanky-panky, yet the pose is also reminiscent of a birth. “They are making him rogueish yet boyish”, I said to myself. Yet this upside-down head motif reappears twice, in the prisoners’ tunnel and later when he leans over the deck of the Tardis. ... you may, at this point, be wondering where I am going with this. I have no idea where I am going with this. But it’s striking!

It’s also notable that Amy, almost as soon as she discovers the photo of herself with a baby, is reduced to a voice in the dark, not knowing where she was – another image of the foetus in the womb. We should remember that, for most of the last season, Amy was herself effectively an orphan.

With this and the new suggestion that the Doctor may father Amy a Time Lord child (surely hinted too heavily to be anything other than a red herring), there’s little time for either the Doctor’s impending death or the theme of memory failure. If the previous episode really was all about Easter, Maypoles were conspicuous by their absence. However, Rory’s reference to his Lone Centurion years, on how he can “shut the door” on his memories, are surely going to be significant. (And for another intriguing theory of what may be afoot, click here.)

Moffat may have created a plot structure too tricky to pull off, even for him, giving us a finale without it being the finale and instead managing only (charitably) another set of images to mull over or (less charitably) a muddled middle. It could be that his actual finale puts all such concerns to rest. But my concern is that, every time he defers and adds to the pile of questions, he raises the stakes.

While I will doubtless watch the rest of the series I am not sure whether I will bother blogging about the non-Moffat episodes, which weren’t particularly memorable last time round. (If anything is generic as that bloody Silurian two-parter, I almost certainly will not dignify it with comment.) I am as fannish about the good Doctor as the next man, but don’t want to write about something simply as a reflex action. In which case, we may not reconvene until June...

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