Sunday, April 24, 2011

Oi Spaceman!

Whenever I come to write my thoughts on Nu Who, I'm always aware that I might be in the minority. Brief statii posted on Facebook bring a cavalcade of comments as to how I am wrong, how I didn't 'get' it and so on, but generally when I post my thoughts here, I get nice comments and people saying that they're glad I said what I did as they thought the same and felt somewhat bludgeoned by the rest of fandom for not thinking as per the collective ... So I'll do as usual here, and pass on my thoughts and feelings about the opener for Season 6 (or Season 32, or Season 11.2 depending on how you're counting). This year I managed to stay pretty much completely spoiler free - so I had (and have) little clue as to what to expect. So 'The Impossible Astronaut' kicked off with no expectations at all. First of all, the title. It's rubbish. From what we saw, 'Silence Falls' would have been better, or maybe 'Space 1969' ... 'The Impossible Astronaut' sounds more like a novel or comic story ... but then that's what we were presented with, a story which seemed to be more at home in any media other than television. We kick off with the Doctor at various points in the past: being painted naked; in some wartime tunnels; and dancing on film with Laurel and Hardy. All very nice, but what was the point? To attract Amy and Rory's attention? Why not just call on them ... it's not very Doctory. And another thing, for all this episode's bleating on about not being able to change the past, that's all the Doctor seems to do - inserting himself in people's past and changing how the future will pan out. Anyway, he sends Amy and Rory and River Song (who seems to be in a jail or something but is allowed to leave by her captors?) invitations to America to meet with him by a lake ... and the first clue is that he says he is 1103 years old, but last time Amy saw him he was 908 ... so some 200 years have passed for the Doctor. But then a car arrives bringing an old man bearing a can of petrol .. and the Doctor talks with an Apollo astronaut down by the lake who then seems to kill him ... and then while he is regenerating kills him completely. But we're used to all this by now ... regenerations that are not, events which are not what they seem ... even in the Pandorica episode the Doctor was apparently killed ... but wasn't. I wonder if the production team know the story of the Boy who Cried Wolf (or should that be Bad Wolf?). So all this outpouring of emotion from Amy left me cold ... seen this before. Got the t-shirt. And as usual the music was awful. Murray Gold seems to have a sledgehammer approach at times, and the choral stuff here really annoyed me. And the plot now starts to twist and turn. The Doctor's body is burned (so he does seem to be really really dead), and the old man - Canton Everett Delaware III - has another of the invitations, numbered 1 to 4 ... so who had number 1? Surprise! It is the Doctor ... this time aged 909 - so just a year after last meeting Amy and Rory ... but he doesn't seem to know who River Song is yet ... Spoilers! So they head to 1969 to where the TARDIS seems to want to go - to the 8th April to be precise, and the Oval Office, where President Nixon is troubled by a strange child who keeps phoning him for help. He has called in ex-FBI man Canton Delaware (which number we're not sure of) to assist him and before long the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River are all embroiled in the mystery. Amy meanwhile is seeing alien creatures which she then forgets about, and, feeling sick, heads for the toilets where she encounters it again. She works out that once you can't see it any more you forget about it and so takes a photo on her phone. The creature tells her that she must tell the Doctor what he must know ... but what that is, is somewhat obtuse ... that he died? The creature is quite spooky but is overused - scary is half seen in the shadows and background, not in plain view in a toilet. And is it only me who thinks it looks a bit like the Headmaster from the Pink Floyd video for 'Another Brick in the Wall'? It kills a woman in the toilet for no apparent reason other than to establish that it is a threat, and then Amy rushes out - immediately forgetting it. So how did the creature expect her to tell the Doctor anything? Come to that, why doesn't it tell him itself? All this creeping around ... what's the point? No-one could ever reveal its presence as everyone forgets it the moment they can't see it ... The Doctor figures out that the calls from the child are coming from a warehouse about 5 miles from Cape Kennedy ... because the kid mentioned three names when asked where they were and who they were ... this borders on the mcguffin for me. A convenient hook to bring the Doctor to a place where there are all manner of alien gadgets and tech just lying around. River investigates some underground tunnels, and, apart from lots of the forgettable monsters, she finds a locked room with some sort of control console in it. This looked to me like the alien craft from last year's 'The Lodger' to me, but it's function is unknown as the alien creatures move in on Rory and River. Meanwhile upstairs, Amy admits to the Doctor that she is pregnant. What a time to pick ... and immediately one is asking, so is the Astronaut her child? Is River Song her child? Is the Doctor her child? But then River is complaining of feeling sick as well, so is she pregnant too? Is her child the Doctor? Or even Amy? It's all timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff. So the Astronaut appears again and the suit is revealed to have a child in it (and it would be impossible for a kid to fill and operate such a suit, but never mind) and Amy shoots it with Canton's gun ... And we crash into the closing credits. There's some lovely dialogue in the episode. I liked all of River Song's musings on her life with the Doctor, running in different directions (in case you had forgotten this) but it just served to confuse things more really. You have to keep remembering that River cannot remember any of her past (as far as we are concerned) adventures, and the things she goes on about haven't happened yet as far as we are concerned. It's all a little cerebral for a kid's teatime show really. And that's another of the problems I have. Personally I *like* Doctor Who to be thought provoking and exciting and horrifying. 'The children's own show which adults adore'. And yet ... and yet we have a magazine aimed at 5 year olds (Doctor Who Adventures), lego sets, activity books and novels aimed at the 8-10 age group (or younger) ... there's no merchandise except perhaps Doctor Who Magazine which is aimed at the older age group. So the show is actively courting and cultivating fans who are young kids, and then presenting material on the show itself which they could never follow or understand! Heck the merchandise is aimed at people who were not even born when Christopher Eccleston saved Rose from the Autons! It's food for thought. And so while I'm looking forward to see how this story pans out - and kudos to Steven Moffat, I have no idea at all what might be going on - I am strangely ambivalent about it all. I like my Doctor Who to have a plot, to excite and engage on a level more than just wondering how the characters would react and so on. There are too many shows out there which are unwatchable for a single episode because they are all about the backstory and not about the viewers and presenting an entertaining hour of plot and excitement. Many shows start life as a series of great stand alone stories but then, as they beome popular, alienate all but those who have watched every episode, by making the mistake of thinking that the characters and backstory is more interesting than the plots - The X-Files, Buffy, Supernatural all made this mistake, and recently I've tried to watch episodes of Warehouse 13 and Witchblade and come out the other end having no idea whatsoever about what the show was about - it was all about backstory I didn't know and characters I didn't care about. I really, really don't want Doctor Who to go down that route.


The Bumbler said...

You are not alone David, may be it is a generational thing but keep saying what you are saying as it very much reflects my views on Nu Who.

There are so many elements where a writer needs to stop and ask the question "Does this add anything to the plot?" or does it just a set piece which may look good or pad out an episode.

Here's hoping this is just a first brick in the foundations of this season and it just needs to settle.

Dave Mullen said...

I think there's a tendency to overanalyse and aim for finding faults where the internet community is concerned, Doctor Who is a tough show to write for and should strive for a higher degree of coherence & intelligence than the Russell Davies era often gave us; and yet I can't disagree with the criticism you make that there's a real backlog of baggage that has built up with Steven Moffats vision of the show.
There's the subplot with River, the mystery menace behind last seasons arc, the Time machine from The Lodger, Amy's pregnancy, and all the rest of the complex time paradoxes being passed around this story... it IS too dense definitly. Especially for a First season episode. And there is a repitition of ideas slowly becoming evident in the new series formula, Moffat is recycling his own work even!.

But I enjoyed it.

It was just so well made and acted it kept me riveted, lots of spookiness and weirdness with some great lighting design holding the atmosphere together. Doctor Who today is in the single best shape its been in since the 70s in my view as the talent working on it is top notch and we have an absolutely brilliant actor for The Doctor.
Usually I'm the first to grumble but with Moffatt and Smith there's been not a lot to seriously complain about.

Mike A said...

Agree totally. Doctor Who (classic series) was essentially an anthology. You could pick any story, out of order, and just watch it as a stand alone story. Can't do that any more.

Mike A said...

I agree David. The classic series was essentially an anthology. You could pluck any story, watch it out of order, and just enjoy it. You can't do that anymore.

sam_cleere said...

to Mike A... you need to get over the format of the old doctor who. It wouldn't work today in the same way that the format of the mid 60's shows wouldn't have worked in the mid 80's.

Although I understand that for a show made for children the episode was difficult to follow, I think it's good that there is a show for children that forces them to think. christopher ecclestone joined doctor who because he was fascinated by clever writers, writing for children and I totally think that's what doctor who should be about. I was not a huge fan of the David Tennant era but i did feel there was a good mix of dramatic plot thickened stories and light hearted one episode comedies. Although there have already been some great comedy moments within the drama of these big dramatic stories of season 6 (something that doctor who has always been brilliant at doing) I hope the show doesn't go too over the top and throws in a few lighthearted episodes along the lines of the Lodger and Shakespeare's code. By no means would they ever be considered favorite episode and at times they have infuriated life long whovians like myself, however I feel they are needed in who today.

I think us whovians should be great full though that the show has always been in good hands and most importantly written by Who fans. The show could have gone to a multi million pound industry and be ruined... something that I think nearly happened in the 90's

slidesinger said...

First, I would like to say that I enjoy Matt Smith more than any Doctor since Sylvester McCoy. He seems to have a good sense of the character, for the most part. Having said that, I could like the writing much better. It is a shame that the writers have to rely on Matt Smith's talent more than their own to give depth to the Doctor's character.

To wit: many ideas are already being recycled. What I don't get is why someone hasn't thought out a story that explains what has happened between the Paul McGann attempt and the present mess we are left with.

Over the years, Dr Who has left us with many unanswered questions, any one of which would be a great starting point for new stories.

Did the Doctor unintentionally start the time war in the 1963 episode "The Daleks?" If so, could he prevent it?

If he has no children, how can he have a grand daughter (Susan Foreman?)

What really happened to Romana? If she is still in "E" space, how can the Doctor be the last of the time lords?

What happened with his former selves? On the one hand, they seem to be referred to from time to time, on the other, largely ignored.

For example, you could have the Doctor involved in a story that he already had the ending to in a classic episode, allowing him to discover and prepare something for one of his former selves.

It makes me wonder if Russel Davies and Steven Moffat have actually sat down and watched the old episodes.

Also, why not have a simple historic adventure every so often? Alien monsters, space, and the future are all very enjoyable, but if you have a TARDIS, you have all time and space to have your adventures in.