Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Doctor: "Y'know, this isn't nearly as bad as it looks."

A face hidden behind an airtight mask, haunting phone calls, and a mysterious little girl whose identity seems to hold the key.

Well, it’s definitely written by Steven Moffat.

Yet despite pulling out his favourite devices yet again, this so-called two-parter can hardly be described as the same old thing as usual.

Apart from anything else because, apart from catching up on the internet, this is the first official Doctor Who story that I’ve ever watched off of a hard drive!

It’s also the first one I’ve viewed first on New Zealand television, a country with a long history of editing material from the show dating right back to the 1960s. Back then however it was mainly the violence which got cut out. Today it’s... well, the very first shot. The really important one. Yes, Prime TV opened the series without the dedication to Elisabeth Sladen.

Well, maybe the BBC never sent them it.

All the same, the shot that the NZ version did come in on was still literally cutting corners.

All right I’m being picky. I mean you arguably need to superimpose the 'PG' certificate when your station doesn’t bother with any announcement about it before the show. They did have an appropriate station ident though (featuring painters to lead into the opening scene of the Doctor being painted), which is at least consistent with the station's policy of wanting to tell everyone which channel they’re watching. Constantly.

Better not keep that DOG on over the adverts though (right in the middle of the diner scene after the Doctor's straw line) – the sponsors might complain about their adverts getting ruined. (stuff the viewers)

Clearly I should have paid more attention though, as one of the ads was actually inviting me to write in with any complaints that I might have about broadcasting standards...

Ohhh, this is going to be a long one.

But you know what? In this story, for me at any rate, long is good.

Forget the usual plot-structure of the TARDIS landing somewhere and its location driving the characters’ motivations. Here it’s the other way around.

The Doctor realises that he’s about to get killed, and summons Amy, Rory, River and Canton from out of their everyday lives to accompany him. Unusually for Doctor Who, the protagonists here are just that, using the TARDIS as a tool for their own ends, instead of reacting to wherever it takes them.

The ownership that they take of their lives is symbolic of the ownership that Showrunner Steven Moffat seems to be at last taking of the series. Last season looked to all intents and purposes like an impersonation of Russell T Davies’ tenure. With this story Moffat even changes the premise by giving the theme a pre-credits voice-over, making the show’s hook that the Doctor is Amy’s imaginary childhood friend now become real.

Amy (V/O): "When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend, and when I grew up, he came back. He's called the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He's got a box called the TARDIS that's bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him. And we've been running ever since."

(NB. It came as a complete shock when I later watched an episode in England that didn't have this, and realised that I been watching this series entirely off of BBC Worldwide versions)

And Moffat's ideas are just wonderful. Aliens among us who can’t be remembered. (AWESOME design!) The eyepatched woman observing Amy through a window. The dynamic of the companions keeping the Doctor’s future from him. (Matt Smith now owning his dual role)

For all the sheer style that this tale oozes though, the plot itself is largely incomprehensible. Much of this is because there is clearly more to be revealed in future episodes, but what does emerge here is a story which frustratingly appears to not work anyway.

River is apparently reconceived as encountering the Doctor in reverse order, rather than in a random one. Well, that sure subtracts from any reliability to her claims about his future in Silence In The Library / Forest Of The Dead then.

The Silence, far from being an actual silence in The Vampires Of Venice, are now just another race of biped aliens to shoot. (maybe I'm not recalling them clearly...)

To remind herself of her forgotten encounters with the Silence, Amy writes on her face. Silly girl.

Most annoyingly of all, why doesn’t anyone tell the Doctor about his future death? There is a line about the universe possibly exploding if they do, but in a series where history is routinely mucked about with, this hardly covers it.

For all that, I loved this. I can see the horror style making kids turn it off in their droves, but I was enthralled. Even the Doctor and River’s first / last kiss had a meaning that I’ve never seen done anywhere else. (most TV kisses mean the same old thing as always, and are consequently dull)

As usual though, I thought this script needed objective feedback before being committed to the cameras. As far as I could tell, nobody asks where the future Doctor’s TARDIS is. River has no advice to offer in parting to Amy or Rory about saving the Doctor’s life, although it appears she will never be able to discuss the matter with them further. And I need more than just “It doesn’t work that way” to explain why the future can/can’t be changed. Just what way does it work then?

The plot point of the Silence controlling humanity through post-hypnotic suggestion passed me by (I guess I needed one of them to tell me). I also found the resolution quite sudden, but in fairness I was quietly hoping that with all the other changes to the format, this enthralling story might also last for a further 11 instalments!

That the Silence have been around on Earth throughout all the earlier episodes sat okay with me, because they've been defeated since 1969, and most near-contemporary stories have been set after this. (so I can understand their not being in much of a state to fight off the Cybermen in The Invasion for instance) (alright so date-wise that might have been a bad example)

By the way, just what happened between episodes one and two? A few minutes in, both flatmate Dave and I were convinced that we'd loaded the wrong episode.

The conviction that some questions will be answered later though has my brain working overtime, which I’ve missed so far in the show’s revival. River’s earlier tease about this story in The Big Bang - “And I’m sorry, because that’s when everything changes” – has had a great payoff here. By “everything” she apparently means most of her past with him has been wiped out.

I didn’t like the return of the uncomfortable Doctor/Amy/Rory triangle (no better outcome to root for there), nor the implication that the Doctor and Amy may have slept together, but I don’t think even Moffat wants to actually go there.

My own theory is that the Time Lady kid who regenerates at the end is biologically the Doctor and River’s, from his future and her past, a relationship which thanks to the Doctor's timeline-changing death will not now happen. Perhaps River somehow implanted the embryo in Amy in The Time Of Angels when she claimed to be giving her an injection to stabilise her metabolism on the Byzantium. This would make Amy pregnant with the Doctor and River’s surrogate kid, whose existence is therefore recorded by the TARDIS scanner as both true and untrue due to her two conflicting histories.

I don’t care if that's right or wrong, my point is that a key part of my enjoyment of Doctor Who has always lain in pondering it afterwards. In that respect, and many others, I thoroughly enjoyed these promising two episodes!

Well, I enjoyed what we got to see of them anyway.

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