Doctor Who: Back With a Bang

I’ve just finished watching the second episode of the second Moffat season’s 2-part Doctor Who premiere.  For the second time. 

You see, I wanted to really ruminate on this premiere story before I wrote a review about it – not to mention give you all time to see it too.  Because I admit it: when the credits rolled last Saturday, I was grumpy.  Sure, I followed the plot well enough, but I was not happy with some of the conclusions one could make.  And all the loose ends!  And after that epic story, we were going to take a break to visit pirates next week?  Ooh, I was downright surly for at least a good half-hour after that one.

But upon my second viewing, I’ve restored my personal faith and I’m back to existing in my general happy-go-lucky state, which is somewhere between Vince Noir and Candyland (seriously, I’m really like this – don’t let my Syfy trolling fool you).  So let’s talk about the 2-part premiere of Doctor Who!  Warning: If you haven’t watched the first two episodes, spoilers abound.

In the weeks leading up to this premiere I embarked on a New Who Review, watching every single episode of the last five seasons.  The first thing that struck me about this new season compared to the previous ones is the use of color.  The RTD-era episodes made use of lots of jewel tones, bold and high-contrast.  These could look vibrant and larger-than-life, or cartoonish, depending, if you’re like me, on how you’re feeling about RTD at the time.  The first season to feature the 11th doctor looked slightly more muted to me, giving it an old-fashioned feel, like a book of fairy tales with watercolor illustrations.

This sixth season (or at least this two-parter) is something else altogether.  It’s much more… cinematic.  I felt much more like I was watching a blockbuster film than a British family TV show.  Granted, this was probably wholly intentional, given the iconic American settings and grand, 2-part premiere; I’ll be interested to see if this season maintains the same visual feel or goes back to the coziness of last season.

While the plot itself wasn’t terribly difficult to understand, the complexity in which it was presented was ramped up a notch as well.  After a fair bit of doubling-back and double-crossing, the basic gist of it is:

Two hundred years in his future, the Doctor is dead; can Amy and friends prevent it?  Should they prevent it?  Meanwhile, they discover an alien race called the Silence has been subtly influencing the course of the planet for who knows how long.  The Doctor encourages their departure fairly neatly, but what machinations have already been set in place?  Amy thought she was pregnant, and then she didn’t; the TARDIS scanner can’t seem to decide if she is or not, either.  Oh, and there’s a strange child wandering around who may have ties to Amy; at the end of the show, she regenerates.  But how?

Oh, I’m sorry, that’s a list of questions instead of a plot description, isn’t it.  Well now you know how I felt.

Not only did the 2-parter provide an epic beginning to the season, it probably set up the plot arc for at least the first half of the split-series, if not the whole thing.  It’s unclear if the Silence will make a return themselves, but so far they’ve led the way to more questions than answers.  Now let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

The Good

Early on in the first episode, we were given perhaps my favorite bit of Matt Smith’s acting thus far.  I’m talking about the TARDIS scene, where a surly Doctor confronts his companions instead of blindly following them to 1969.  It’s a perfect example of what happens when you combine fantastic acting and smart writing.  Matt Smith, showing the dark side of the Doctor, is chilling.  Even better, he’s logical.  He’s asking perfectly sensible questions: Is Amy being coerced?  Why in hell should he trust River Song?  This is the sort of keen intellect that we often hear about, but rarely see.  It’s funny to watch the Doctor forgetting and spitting and shouting and acting silly, but this is the sort of Doctor who demands respect too.  I hope we see more of him.

My second favorite scene of the two-parter comes in the second episode.  In a scene possibly in homage to The X-FIles, Amy and Canton visit the Little Orphanage O’Horrors.  It’s a surreal ten minutes, with blood-graffitied walls, mysterious women with eyepatches, and a “perfectly normal” nursery featuring a picture of Amy and a baby.  Was it all a dream?  Who cares!  It was fun and creepy.  Let’s see some more of Amy in that cool pants suit (so nice to see “period” costumes on the companions, by the way).  I hope they have something along these lines up their sleeves for a Halloween episode.

The wardrobe wasn’t the only thing allowed to expand; each of the characters were given the ability to stretch and grow in these episodes.  I honestly could barely stand River Song in previous seasons, but not this time.  She went from making me feel a little compassion in the first episode, to nearly heartbroken in the second.  I suspect this was a smart move, because I imagine she’ll have some behavior that’ll make us feel ambivalent soon.  And Rory!  No longer a tin dog, his character is getting fleshed out as well.  Now, if only he could shake that insecurity… Which, in fact, leads me to:

The Grumbly

Only one thing really bugged me: anything that could be read as a love triangle between Amy, Rory and the Doctor.  Yes, I know that in retrospect it all works out.   In fact, when I watched the episode a second time, I wondered if they included these scenes to reinforce that Amy cares about Rory and wouldn’t cheat on him, that the child couldn’t be some sort of love child between her and the Doctor.  However, thing were more muddled upon the first viewing, and I wondered if they were trying to imply exactly the opposite.  And that was what made me grumpy; the Doctor is better than some soap opera plot, and so are the writers.  Now, if the child is Amy and the Doctors via some Silence experiment (since we all know that’s what greys do) I’d be strangely fine with that.  For now I’m betting on a case of Time Head.

There were other, minor lines here and there that elicited an eye roll, but nothing that compared to the sheer terror of having My Doctor’s rep besmirched.  And really, that says something about the quality of the episode as a whole.

The Future

We have an entire season ahead of us! Well, a handful of episodes, really, before the summer break.  Too few, and I suspect this summer’s wait will be even more agonizing than the one from the last year.  But I think there’s one thing we can count on, based on the evidence thus far: that mid-season cliffhanger, the one that Moffat, who threw Time Head at us in the first story, described as a “game-changer”?  It must be a doozy.

What did you think of the Doctor Who premiere?  Let’s hear your thoughts, opinions, and conspiracy theories!



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