“You should kill us all on sight!”
I hate having summer colds! Still, I roused myself from my sick bed to watch the exciting conclusion of this opening two parter, which presumably sets out Steve Moffat’s stall for what’s going to happen this series. And while I did enjoy it, I had some – if not too many – reservations.
The pre-title sequence (one of the longest they’ve ever done, I think) immediately plunged us back into X Files territory with its ‘3 months later’ schtick avoiding an easy resolution to last week’s cliffhanger. It’s an audacious thing to attempt, though I had actually become rather tired of its use in American shows; still, along with the overall more adult tone, this season does seem to be aiming for a more American flavour. They certainly managed that, with some epic, if rather gratuitous use of big locations in Arizona and Utah, although I was slightly reminded of the similarly gratuitous extended sequences of Paris in City of Death.
Still, the time jump cleverly played with our perceptions of Mark Sheppard’s usual, more villainous, onscreen persona. We’re used to seeing him as bad guys, so it made it easy to believe that Canton Delaware had been taken over by the Silence. Of course, it was all an elaborate ruse to enable the construction of a totally isolated environment and get him and our heroes inside it with the TARDIS. Nice to hear the mysterious material described as ‘dwarf star alloy’, a nod back to classic serial Warrior’s Gate, but the whole ruse was itself reminiscent of the Doctor’s similar scam in The Invasion of Time – act like a bastard till you’ve built your snoop-proof room, then reveal your actual plan.
Mind you, it’s fair to say that most of the audience watching this probably don’t remember The Invasion of Time in that kind of detail, and if they do, then like me they should probably get more of a life. Probably more recognisable was that shot of the bearded, shackled Doctor surrounded by soldiers – that was almost a direct lift from the beginning of Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond movie, Die Another Day.
Enough with the references though – how well did it work as a conclusion to the story? Well, as predicted, it left as many questions hanging as were actually answered. First of all, if the Silence were the all powerful bad guys of the last season, would they have been defeated so easily? It was a very neat resolution, effectively using them as their own executioners, though it seemed a mite convenient that the injured one in the Area 51 cell should say something, on video, so precisely applicable to the Doctor’s intentions.
It also seemed a little easy that President Nixon became, effectively, the Doctor’s Get Out of Jail Free card. Those sequences were fun – especially the well shot reveal of the Doctor fiddling around inside Apollo 11’s capsule – but I did wonder why the Doctor, having been so reticent to allow Churchill too much knowledge of the TARDIS last year, would so blithely allow one of history’s dodgiest democratic leaders to travel hither and yon so easily. Given that the US were mired in the Cold War and Vietnam at the time, I’d have expected Tricky Dicky to at least try and nab an Owner’s Manual from the TARDIS bookshelves. Lucky the Doctor threw it out because he didn’t agree with it. Also handy that he got Nixon to tape everything in his office…
Stylistically, we were in effective X Files pastiche mode here, never more evidently than in the genuinely creepy sequence of Amy and Canton investigating the deserted orphanage. The message of ‘Get Out’ scrawled in what looked like blood over every surface was unnerving, but not half so unnerving as Kerry Shale’s shellshocked performance as Dr Renfrew. And the flashlight beams in dark, eerie rooms were much in evidence as Amy prowled the building. The concept of the Silence editing themselves out of your memory was used to give some cool reveals, most notably Amy’s discovery that they sleep hanging from ceilings!
At least from Amy’s perspective, the sequence became more and more dreamlike, almost David Lynch in style. Who was that mysterious woman with the eyepatch who stuck her head through a non existent hatch to proclaim “she’s dreaming”? What was going on with the little girl’s room, and that photo of Amy holding a baby? There were no answers here, but I’d say this sequence is pivotal to the story as a whole, and worth watching a few times to pick out clues. I’m going to have another go when I’ve finished writing…
Also in classic X Files mode was the ‘alien abduction’ sequence, with Amy (wearing a dark, Scully-like suit) strapped to a chair while a big light shone in her face and the aliens leaned menacingly towards her. The Silence look like a lot of things – Munch’s The Scream, the Gentlemen from Buffy episode Hush – but here they were most reminiscent of the classic Greys as often depicted in The X Files.
Character wise, we had some nice development here too. I thought Steve Moffat was trying to up Rory’s uncertainty about Amy’s affections again, but it was genuinely heartwarming to learn that the ‘stupid face’ she wanted to see rescuing her from the aliens was Rory after all. And Arthur Darvill played it beautifully, reflecting Rory’s doubts with a genuinely tense repression of emotion. I think I may be falling for him a little bit!
Equally touching was River’s lack of certainty after kissing the Doctor, realising that, from his perspective, it had never happened before. “There’s a first time for everything,” the Doctor gasps, but River’s heartfelt, “and a last time”, made you realise that, from her perspective, this might never happen again. I’ve never read The Time Traveller’s Wife – the novel from which this plot obviously takes its inspiration – but I wonder if it’s this moving.
But mentioning River brings me to possibly the biggest problem I had with this conclusion. The Doctor, while not actually helping, stood back to back with her as she systematically gunned down the Silence, after having admitted earlier that he does sort of think she’s cool for doing that sort of thing. That doesn’t really sit well with my conception of the Doctor – he’s been responsible for plenty of death, but he usually tries to avoid it, and never becomes as directly responsible as that.
Think of McCoy in The Happiness Patrol, taking down a totalitarian regime without firing a shot and actually talking an executioner into laying down his weapon by saying, “look me in the eye. End my life.” Or think of Davison at the end of the otherwise execrable Warriors of the Deep, staring miserably at the carnage and saying , “there should have been another way”. I’m not at all sure I like the idea of the Doctor wanting to resolve a situation like the hero of a Tarantino movie, even if I do like Tarantino movies. It’s not what I want from a character I think of as a man of peace above all; especially after having come up with a neatly conceived twist to defeat the Silence on Earth overall.
Ok, so that was my major gripe. Other than that, I thought it was a pretty good conclusion; more action packed than the first half while still retaining plenty of the creepy atmosphere that marked out this season’s beginning as far less kiddie-orientated than the last.
And those unanswered questions – the Silence may have gone from Earth, but what about the rest of the Universe? We know they have at least access to TARDIS-like technology from them having the same control room seen in the faux TARDIS from last year’s The Lodger – which I think I was the only person not to clock last week!
And given that we’ve been told the Silence don’t actually invent things themselves, where did they get that from? Could it be from the little girl who seems to somehow be at the centre of it all, who can apparently regenerate? Could she be the Doctor’s daughter from the episode of that title back in 2008? The Silence engineered man’s trip to the Moon solely so that humanity would invent them a spacesuit, it seems (which does rather cheapen one of humanity’s proudest achievements). Did they want it to imprison the girl, or did the girl, controlling them, make them get it for her? And is Amy pregnant or what????
So many questions, and while I like Moffat’s Chinese puzzle approach to plotting, it would be nice to get back to some straightforward adventure. Thankfully the show can still do that it seems – next week, for the first time since 1965, it’s pirates!