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Posts Tagged ‘Impossible Astronaut’

This is not about me giving up on Doctor Who. I can’t really imagine that happening, to be honest, I mean, the show’s core values are mine, I can just about theoretically imagine them making a version of the show which is intolerant and humourless and encourages people to close their minds and just be tediously and unthinkingly conventional – which is basically what it’d take to make me jump ship – but I can’t imagine that coming to pass.

And even slightly suspect Doctor Who stands out like Blackpool Tower in the middle of the desert given the quality of the rest of the stuff on TV these days. I’m not even talking about ITV or Channel 5, either. The last couple of episodes have been followed by So You Think You Can Dance, a knuckleheaded attempt at a remake of a US format somewhat in the style of The X Factor, only made with¬†unforgivable timidity and earnestness, and preceded by Don’t Scare The Hare, an almost indescribably asinine game show that looks like it was made for kids but actually features adults. Don’t worry about burying the Hand of Fear repeats on highbrow BBC4, stick ’em on in prime time BBC1 and the audience should weep and thank you for it. Cripes.

But despite all this I emerge from watching The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon far from glowing and not disposed to lavish unqualified praise on the programme-makers. At least certainly not Steven Moffat. This is not some gut-reaction fanboy rant, before you leap to conclusions, I have thought about this and even prepared diagrams and stuff.

Back when I was a lad in school and we were first allowed to write stories and stuff, my teacher (big-up to Mrs Sefton) told us a clever little trick to bear in mind. Every good story, she said, should have A – a beginning B – a middle and C – an end. Let me show you what I mean:

You see? A B and C, all in that order. This would probably be quite a dull story as nothing much seems to happen and there’s no sense of rising action or anything, but you wouldn’t have grounds to complain that it wasn’t doing what it was supposed to in the narrative department. A better story would probably look something like this:

You see, you’ve got ups and downs and all sorts of things going on, but A, B, and C are still there in the right order.

Now then. One of the things about Doctor Who over the last few years is that, in addition to the programme’s increased willingness to broaden its emotional horizons, they’ve got a bit more clever with their storytelling. Most notably this happened in Blink, which didn’t even seem to make complete sense until right at the end, but, crucially from the point of view of the main characters and the audience, still had A, B, and C in that order.

And this held true until the closing stages of the first Matt Smith series. Along the way, though, we got signs of something else new in the armoury: a slightly annoying bait-and-switch approach to the two-part stories. You know what I mean: the first part of the Weeping Angel story is about a monster statue chasing people around some catacombs, but the second part turns into this weird thing about cracks in time erasing people from history. The same thing sort of happens to the one with the Silurians to a lesser extent. Eyes on the ball, Steve.

Now onto the two new episodes. If I had to try and give you a diagram for how the first episode seemed to me it’d be something like this:

See? It starts somewhere in the middle and then loops back on itself and there’s all kinds of crazy stuff going on. A lot of this is good crazy, I hasten to add, and I’m certainly not in favour of the show trying to dumb itself down or anything. And – the opening business at the lake notwithstanding – it all did seem to settle down a bit by the end and I was really enjoying it.

By the end of the second episode, though, I was feeling I would have to revise my diagram to look something like this:

See, I’ve no idea what’s going on here. The different bits of the story are all there but not in the right order and I’m not even sure which is which. I even think this diagram might be a little too generous as various bits of the ending seemed to have been left out. On the other hand, I expect even a lot of normal people will be tuning in for the rest of the run to find out just what’s going on with the little girl (I nearly called this piece Who’s the Daddy??!? but that’d really be a spoiler) and whether she’s really going to, you know, do the thingy by the lake, so I expect this qualifies as luring the audience along.

Even so, by the point at which Richard Nixon and Canton Delaware walked out of the cell in Area 51 I was wondering if this wasn’t all going to turn out to be a dream one of the regulars was happening as it seemed to have lost nearly all sense of narrative logic. I blame the transition from episode 1 to 2 for dislodging my grip on the story, as, basically, there didn’t seem to be one. The whole teaser to the episode built up to the Doctor doing something typically brilliant to get them out of a sticky situation, but as I’d no idea how they’d gotten into that situation – last I’d seen, they were all in a different sticky situation somewhere completely different – it was just a bit overwhelming and odd.

Throughout the episodes, I hasten to say, there were numerous moments of Moffat brilliance as good as anything we could hope for:the spooky orphanage sequence was great, along with the bit with the Doctor wandering into the Oval Office. There were some terrific performances (shame Mark wossname isn’t going to be a regular) and character moments. The Silence monsters had a great look and a great schtick – it’s only while you’re lumbered with one that you can remember how ghastly it is, which I suppose for most people makes the Silence the monster equivalent of a Tory government. It was just that the connective tissue that should have strung all these great individual bits together into a cohesive and completely satisfying whole seemed to have been the victim of BBC cuts.

Early days for the series, though, and I should force myself to recall that Rusty’s second series in charge launched with New Earth and Tooth and Claw, two of my least favourite episodes. It did seem a bit odd that with so many unanswered questions still hanging in the air the main trio should opt to go off and have some putatively non-arc-related adventures instead, but I suppose they have to pace the season somehow.

I’m still completely sure that when the dust all finally settles, everything will make sense when you go back and watch it again. I just wish it could have given the impression of making a bit more sense when I was watching it for the first time. These two episodes may go down in history as classics, but while I was watching them I wasn’t sure this wasn’t an example of a mighty talent overreaching and toppling over into folly.

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