The Things That He Might Remember (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon)

(90 comments)

In this scene Clara is cleverly, albeit tastelessly, disguised as
a swastika. 
It’s April 23rd, 2011. LMFAO are at number one with “Party Rock Anthem,” while Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Adele, and Katy Perry also chart. Since Christmas, the Tunisian government has fallen, Hosni Mubarak has resigned in Egypt, and civil wars have broken out in Libya and Syria. Spring is in the air, as it were. While in the news during this story, Prince William and Catherine Middleton are married in Westminster Abbey.

It’s been just over three years and one month since this story aired. This is an odd gap to try to historicize within. It’s recent enough that it’s still easy to remember exactly how this felt on transmission, with the Moffat era’s brief quasi-imperial phase (aka “the bit Toby Haynes directed”) marching on with something that felt fresh and innovative. And yet it’s old enough, or, at least, Doctor Who’s style has changed enough since it that rewatching it, what jumps out is how little of this story would be done this way in 2014. At the time the tagline, acknowledged in interviews by Moffat, was that they were opening the season with what felt like a season finale. And sure enough, that’s the effect given, not least because of its two part structure.

But rewatched, it’s striking how slow bits are. The first episode uses half its runtime for what is in effect a massive slab of exposition, delivered before the Doctor has even begun investigating the plot. Yes, there’s a lot to cover between the Doctor’s death, how the Silence work, and a recap on River, but the way in which the episode repeatedly re-illustrates the concepts, contriving to show us the Silence making people forget multiple times, or finding multiple excuses to have River and the Doctor reiterate that they meet out of order, is striking simply because it’s the sort of thing isn’t done anymore. The series taking that kind of time to lay out exposition in 2014 is unimaginable. 

There are ultimately two things that are lost in this. The first is the more obvious, which is Moffat’s exposition scenes. These have always been one of Moffat’s talents, simply because he’s adept at using the skills he honed in sitcoms for years to smooth out exposition, so that the scenes are full of gags and little brilliances that hum along. For all that the first half of The Impossible Astronaut is pure and unadulterated exposition, it’s also an opportunity to just let a very good cast do their thing. The four-man TARDIS crew is scintilating, and everybody gets a constant stream of good moments here. It’s telling that this ends up being the last time we see River in this mode - on every subsequent appearance, her primary role is to haunt and destabilize the narrative. But here we get her as a wisecracking, thrilling, fun character in her own right. This sort of willingness to luxuriate in spinning your wheels and just let an entertaining and skilled cast be entertaining and skilled rapidly drains out of Doctor Who after this story, for better and for worse.

The cast is bolstered significantly here by a particularly savvy choice of settings. This marks only the third time that Doctor Who has crossed its own timestream, so to speak, and done a story that is consciously situated in a historical setting during which Doctor Who existed. In this case, The Impossible Astronaut takes place during the transmission of The Space Pirates, while Day of the Moon is during the period where everyone was waiting for Jon Pertwee to show up. And more than just being a moment in history that Doctor Who was actually on the air for, this is a moment of history defined by a sci-fi iconography. What this means is that the story gets an incredibly rich setting (added to by the decision to use the big overseas shoot to film in the middle of Utah and get some gorgeous establishing shots) that it can draw from whenever things risk getting a bit slow. Richard Nixon, in particular, turns out to be astonishingly good if you need a spare bit of comic relief, which, to be fair, America has known for decades. Just wait til we discover Jeremy Thorpe. 

The other thing you lose after this, and this is in many regards the subtler one, is a certain complexity of storytelling. The fact of the matter is that The Impossible Astronaut really does have an absolutely ludicrous amount of stuff to introduce in a short window, and that’s only the stuff it’s admitting to showing you. It also has to quietly introduce the backdrop for the entire River Song/Silence/Madame Kovarian arc, and do that with enough vividness that it can be referenced for an entire season. It’s not just in the matter of time spent that this story is heavy on exposition - it’s also the anchor for a multi-episode plot arc that’s going to be told completely out of sequence. This isn’t merely the most structurally complex story Doctor Who ever has tried, it’s also a limit point from which the series subsequently backs away. Even if it had worked, and clearly there’s no consensus that it did, this stretches the approach to its limit.

And so The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon stands as a sort of last outpost in a particular direction of Doctor Who. This is brave and probably wise. It’s a good story, and it’s good that the approach in question went out on a high note. Yes, everything that comes after it is subsequently rough, but that’s what happens when you try to find a new way of doing things. It takes a bit. Arguably it’s not until late 2013 that Moffat really figures out the details of the approach that replaces this one. (Arguably it’s not even then, though you’ll not see me making that argument) But what we might think of as the classical Moffat era really wraps up here.

Fittingly enough, it does so in a story that is largely about trying to figure out what to do after Blink. We already got that to some extent with Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone and its intensive focus on the Weeping Angels as constructs of narrative, but here we get a story that, on a very basic and fundamental level, is mostly about the camera. This was always a key aspect of the Weeping Angels - the fact that they obey the camera, and thus obey the viewer’s eyes, necessitating a continual act of watching. Indeed, it’s the entire joke of the Weeping Angels: whatever you do, don’t go behind the sofa. The Silence are a clever spin on this - ostensibly, at least, they exist separate from the camera. The camera can show them, but when it cuts away the audience remembers them. And that holds nicely right up until Day of the Moon, when suddenly the Silence start disappearing into cuts.

The key scene, and it’s possibly the most brilliant single scene in the program’s history, is the one of Amy exploring the children’s home in what is structured as a continuing scene in which editing is merely used to change camera angles and not to compress time, except that within the scene Amy’s hands and body steadily fill with tally marks that signify the presence of the Silence. In other words, the camera, which previously seemed “on our side,” unexpectedly becomes an instrument of the monsters, who can now hide within the medium. From a viewer’s perspective, the point is even more troubling: we can no longer trust that what the camera shows us is actually what’s happening. The Silence, as villains, have gained the power to manipulate the entire narrative to suit their purpose. It’s terribly fresh and interesting - it’s the one moment of the episode that still feels unequivocally edgy and creative today. Conveniently, it’s also the one moment that flags where the show is going to go, instead of just shamelessly playing to its own established strengths. This sort of trick is very quickly going to become the default mode the show works in. It’s going to be much less self-congratulatory and flashy after this, but it’s going to be not just normal but actively mundane and ordinary. 

And yet all of this flash and style is ultimately a feint designed to draw attention away from the fact that everything in this story is actually about River Song. Ironically, the main clue to this is the utter lack of them: this is the first River Song story we’ve had in which there are essentially no revelations regarding the character. Instead there’s just summary of everything we’ve seen before. Because, of course, the real revelations are happening away from River. She’s all over this story, as the astronaut at the lake, as the child in the suit, and as Amy’s pregnancy. Every aspect of the backstory here is River, but with River in plain sight, for the moment, this becomes relatively invisible. Even if a viewer guesses some component part of the mystery, the whole of it is almost impossible to intuit, despite the fact that the answer to any given question is almost certain to end up being “River.” Given this, the fact that the story focuses so intently on the ways in which this relationship is painful for River, both in terms of her “far worse day” and in the sad finale of their first/last kiss is telling with regards to where the real meat of this arc is going to be.

But underneath this is what it is tempting to call a fundamental problem with the entire approach. The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was conceived of as “opening with a season finale.” The trouble is, of course, that you’re then stuck without a season finale. Ultimately, all the later revelations exist to set this story up, and they’re just placed after it instead. And it’s a joy - the mix of elements works marvelously here. It’s only going to be when we have to start treating the elements individually as parts of their own stories, instead of as a big, heady, bombastic jumble that things are going to start to go a bit wrong.

So in effect what we have is a story that shows why it has to seem dated barely three years after transmission. Because this story is and always was an endpoint - the furthest a particular approach could be taken without getting to the point where further improvements and refinements are terribly minimalist. In some ways this has been visible ever since The Big Bang, where Moffat calmly took the Russell T Davies finale to its logical limit and let the narrative collapse play out completely, then got on with it and told a different story. Here we get everything that Moffat is associated with put together into more or less the definitive statement of it. It’s as definitive a Steven Moffat story as The Pandorica Opens was a Russell T Davies story. And so what naturally follows it is a challenge to start doing something that isn’t just the well worn set of tricks that Moffat has been developing fairly linearly since The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.

But first we have to plunge into the uneasy process of remaking it. This is going to be rough going at times, to say the least. It has to be. At its best, one of the things Doctor Who has always been extraordinary at is making new mistakes. This is true on a very fundamental creative level, where even from the very beginning of the program you are forced to say things like, “well in their defense, resolving two weeks of sci-fi experimental theater with ‘oh, bother, the switch was stuck’ is not something I’ve ever seen done before,” up through the days of “racism and giant rats, huh” and “holy fuck that coat” and at last to things like “wait, they lied to their brother and told him he was a robot?” This is terribly important, because if you don’t make new mistakes you’ll never discover that obvious mistakes like evil robot salt shakers, hiring a construction worker dressed in a ludicrous scarf as your lead actor, a giant fascist Bertie Bassett, or a searing deconstruction of the normative rape/revenge plots that dominate sci-fi media in the early 21st century that argues for a focus on women’s narrative and experiences are, in fact, brilliant and important ideas that the world would be a poorer place without. 

Which is to say that in many ways an entirely new sort of Moffat era begins here. One that has not, in my opinion, been particularly well-analyzed in a “what is this piece of television trying to do in the first place” sort of way. To be honest, too much Moffat criticism has focused on Season Five, with everything after it treated as “the bits that don’t work as well.” This may be a true statement about them, but it’s in no way the only interesting thing about them.

And the funny thing is, even at the time I was aware of all of this. I saw these two episodes two weeks early, at their New York City debut. My sister camped outside the movie theater for tickets at midnight the night before, and I drove into the city after my class and joined her about… oh, fifty or sixty people back in line once everyone in front of us had done versions of the same thing. The event had originally been planned for one movie theater, and I think by the end every free screen in the place was showing the episodes, and then they had another set of screenings after for the people who were too far back in line. But Tori and I were actually in the main room, so got to see the Q&A with Moffat, Smith, Kingston, Gillan, and Darvill, which was wonderful. I remember being struck, for neither the first nor last time, by the sheer number of female fans cosplaying as Amy and River, clearly invested in the show as it was in that very moment like I’d really never seen for Doctor Who before. 

I’d been writing TARDIS Eruditorum for a couple of months at that point. I was late in the Hartnell era, writing up the post on the Quatermass serials, if I recall, and reading the novelization of The Smugglers. And it was the first new episode since I’d started. The impetus to write the blog really came out of the end of Season Five and the fact that I couldn’t get the show out of my head in the months after that season ended. I’d been a fan for years, but something about this precise moment of the show just felt electric and fresh and new. Like there was so much potential in it. And since I couldn’t get it out of my head, I figured I’d start writing about it. And these two episodes just… blew me away. There were so many questions and things to pick over. So many things that seemed interesting and innovative. Like the show could do anything. And more than anything, I wondered if it could.

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 2 years, 8 months ago

That last scene with the little girl regenerating was probably the biggest "jaw hit the floor" moments in watching this show.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

"Arguably it’s not until late 2013 that Moffat really figures out the details of the approach that replaces this one. (Arguably it’s not even until then..."

I think the second "until" shouldn't be there? Because otherwise you're saying the same thing twice.

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peeeeeeet 2 years, 8 months ago

Mmmm. Reminded me of this:

"About any one so great as Shakespeare it is probable that we can never be right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to time change our way of being wrong. Whether Truth ultimately prevails is doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more effective in driving out error than a new error." - T. S. Eliot

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reservoirdogs 2 years, 8 months ago

I think that story would have worked better if it they lied to a robot and told him he was their brother.

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John Callaghan 2 years, 8 months ago

The still's from Let's Kill Hitler, isn't it? What have I missed?

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

I think my comment was possibly eaten so here goes again...

Ah, this was my first ever episode of Doctor Who, and it worked like magic. And actually you're right--it was never the same as this. I loved the whole season, but everything else is explaining what happened here...and there isn't much left after "Let's Kill Hitler," so I always felt the second half lacked momentum, even if I like a lot of the episodes (and "The God Complex" might be my favorite of the whole season).

And "The Impossible Astronaut" is quite slow--not in a boring way, but at the end I was so surprised it was over already and I desperately wanted to fast-forward through the next week.

I had to smile at the last line of the essay...that was pretty much exactly what I thought. 1. How the heck do they come up with all this stuff when they've got all of time and space and 2. It can do anything! Oh, the good old days of theorizing without interacting directly with fandom and realizing how political it was and how uncomfortable that made me...

I haven't been the same since. (And this blog also helps deepen my understanding of the show even more.)

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

All the River stories are out of order so we get the text of the episode Dr. Sandier has chosen but the image of the episode whose place it takes, if that makes sense...

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John Callaghan 2 years, 8 months ago

Cheers. At least I know I'm meant to be confused. :)

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T. Hartwell 2 years, 8 months ago

"and at last to things like “wait, they lied to their brother and told him he was a robot?”"

See, I thought that was a terribly good attempt at redeeming "The Android Invasion", as it so clearly showcased there was indeed a twist sillier than "man discovers the existence of his own eyeball".

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T. Hartwell 2 years, 8 months ago

And by the way, I think there was no time more fitting than this for the powers of the internet to ask me to "prove I'm not a robot".

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Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

This was the first episode I watched on broadcast (well, on On Demand the day after Day of the Moon aired), so I consider it to be the first time I watched the show as a fan.

It's also the inspiration for the first attempt I ever had at fan fic, speculating on what various characters who lived through 1969 were doing at the moment of the broadcast. I ended up abandoning it because I couldn't think of how to end the Brigadier of Billy Shipton segments with any level of satisfaction, and I felt I had to watch more Sarah Jane Adventures if I was going to get Sarah Jane's voice right. I might try again sometime, since it seems like such an obvious and rewarding premise.

Speculating on the link between the Silence and the Slender Man mythos: I feel that even if the two weren't directly causally related, the remarkable correlation implies some change in the zeitgeist that made "sinister disproportionate humanoids in black suits lurking in the background and messing with the boundaries of video while editing memories and controlling thoughts" suddenly the hot new idea. The men in black are an obvious lineage for both concepts, both those of legend and those of cinema.

Nothing I've read from Victor Surge suggests any immediate impetus beyond "creative fiction on the internet is fun", and it's plausible that the only reason the Silence conjure up the men in black is because they're in an episode about American conspiracies and Area 51, but the timing still feels suspicious. Marble Hornets was in its own imperial phase at the time, those heady days after Entry 35 when suddenly everything seemed possible. It's probably nothing.

Final observation: So far as we can tell, the hypnotic ability of the Silence is never displayed again. River seems to have free will during her assassination of the Doctor at Lake Silencio, we don't see them doing anything clever along those lines at Trenzalore, it's all a bit sad. It's a shame we'll never see another Silence episode, but that's nostalgia speaking. Not every one-off villain has to have an encore, I suppose.

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AndyRobot800 2 years, 8 months ago

For American Who fans, this also marks a pretty significant moment. Not just the first time they actually shot the show in the US, but the first time that we got to see an episode on the very same night as the UK.

(Well, *legally*, I mean...)

Sure, some of us got The Five Doctors a couple of days beforehand, and the TV movie aired at around the same time, but this time around, we actually got to turn on BBC America on Saturday night and enjoy the thing, officially, same day and everything. After five years of having to (officially) wait - for inexplicable legal reasons - we finally felt like we were part of the same community of fans.

I have really fond memories of this one, and it's still probably my favorite Moffatt era story.

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Jesse Smith 2 years, 8 months ago

I make it the fourth timestream crossing? Mawdryn Undead (1977), Remembrance of the Daleks (1963), Father's Day (1987), and then this. I'm guessing you're discounting Mawdryn for being sufficiently "consciously situated in in a historical setting".

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David Anderson 2 years, 8 months ago

One thing I think this has done is parodied the celebrity historical out of existence for the time being. There aren't many ways in which you can outparody the Doctor teams up with Richard Nixon. Although Moffat's done one of them.

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Chicanery 2 years, 8 months ago

How is that relevant? Journey is terrible, but it has nothing to do with this story.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 8 months ago

"This is true on a very fundamental creative level, where even from the very beginning of the program you are forced to say things like, “well in their defense, resolving two weeks of sci-fi experimental theater with ‘oh, bother, the switch was stuck’ is not something I’ve ever seen done before,” up through the days of “racism and giant rats, huh” and “holy fuck that coat” and at last to things like “wait, they lied to their brother and told him he was a robot?”"

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 8 months ago

Yeah, for me Mawdryn Undead is a present-day story that nips back in time for a couple of sequences. Your mileage may vary.

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TheSmilingStallionInn 2 years, 8 months ago

I think he means that Moffat might have figured out the approach that replaced this one sooner than late 2013.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

You make a very good point here, that you're probably the first person to engage in detailed critique of the last two seasons of the Moffat era that focusses on aesthetic goals and purposes other than the simple execution of a rollicking fun adventure story.

In terms of quality in this regard, Season Five was the clearly superior set of episodes. It had the greatest number of successful or otherwise remarkable episodes and the smallest number of hitches or flaws. At the same time, it was also the least experimental season in terms of trying new narrative structures. The series arc was probably the most complicated of any yet (following the RTD model, I was expecting cracks to be seeded normally throughout the season until their nature was revealed and their threat decisively defeated in the season finale). From Flesh and Stone onward, I was consistently surprised. But its basic structure was still very traditional: the same order of one and two part episodes as the Eccleston year.

The subsequent two (though I think of them as three) seasons experimented further with narrative conventions than the show had ever done. But most criticism at the time complained about the episodes of the subsequent seasons that marred the consistency of Moffat's first year (ex. Black Spot, Hitler, Wardrobe, Power of Three, Akhaten, Centre of the TARDIS, and Nightmare in Silver), and that the complicated plot arc of Season Six made it difficult for casual viewers and interfered with the ability of the production to concentrate on the quality of episodes as stand-alone stories.

The basic comparison was always of a more consistent season with less creative ambition (Season Five) with a less consistent season that wore its ambitions on its sleeves, whether in terms of story-arcs, hidden narratives, experimentation in storytelling, and rearranging the traditional structures of season-long plots (Season Six) or of narrative compression, meta-textuality, and the subversion of the concept of the season-long plot itself. The more interesting route sometimes resulted in less successful products, but it pushed the boundaries of what Doctor Who could do further than the more conventionally acclaimed Moffat-helmed season ever did.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

Not to mention that which was implicit in the first trailer for Series 6... "where we've never ever been". (Followed by a big-ol' shot of America, natch.)

Beautiful wink and nod. :-)

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

For me, Moffat's seasons are all exactly equal in terms of episodes I both personally dislike and get mixed reviews at best from everyone else (as opposed to stuff like "Vincent and the Doctor," which I loathe but am in a minuscule minority about)

S5: "Victory" and the Silurian 2-parter
S6: "Curse" and the Flesh 2-parter
S7: "Mercy," "Akhaten," and "Journey"

I see where you're coming from with the consistency vs. ambition, and it's funny that consistency is something that people even expect from Doctor Who. For me, it's simply a given that almost every one of the first 26 seasons has a weak link, usually not just a mediocre story but a real howler.

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ebca346e-110f-11e4-8fa8-b3e364880036 2 years, 8 months ago

One of the most common criticisms I see of this two-parter is of the resolution, that the Doctor was wrong to weaponize humanity without their consent to kill the Silence on sight.

Which is an argument that seems show-stopping on the surface but falls apart because of course humanity was manipulated by the Silence also without their consent. In that case, humanity definitely had the moral right to kill the Silence. The Doctor was just freeing humanity by allowing them to do what they could never do before because of the Silence's powers.

That, and the image of the oppressed (humanity) rising up against their oppressors (the Silence) in a violent revolution is so delightfully compatible with a Marxist reading of Doctor Who.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

I may return to this at greater length later in the season, but for now let's just say that the monsters of this story seem to me to have no meaningful connection with the villains of the season's overarching plot, but are a quite separate idea, complete with their own distinct story into which components of that larger plot are casually spliced. Hence they do not reappear in later episodes advancing the season plot, in which they have no place. Any apparent subsequent appearances are basically just the reuse of some costumes in a very superficially and half-heartedly tacked-on gesture at sustaining the pretence that the two in any way fit together.

It means that this story, which was already the first one in which Moffat approached RTD levels of non-sense-making, suffers when viewed in the context of what comes later. That freight of later revelations ups the existing bat-shit blizzard of "the Silence needed a spacesuit" from gale to hurricane force, and leaves you to ponder just how it is that raising a child as an assassin necessitates covertly controlling an entire planet for about 5,500 or about 125,000 years (depending on whether you prefer to go with the implied time-frame of "the wheel" or of "fire" - bracketing those two together is a cliche that really needs retiring. (As notional primal technologies, that is - I'm not trying to diss King Lear here)). I mean, over-elaborate nefarious schemes are a genre standard, but that has to set some kind of record.

The only way I could impose any logic on the latter connection would be by reading the whole thing as a kind of vicious but initially artfully-concealed atheist/anti-clerical polemic in a hard-core Marxist style, calling for the extermination of the preachers of religion (with echoes of Terry Pratchett's "This is why all missionaries should be shot on sight"?). Take the characterisation of the Silence as a religion as meaning that they signify religion in general and you can surely work something of the sort out of a portrayal of a ubiquitous elite who have been subtly shaping human thought and behaviour and living parasitically off the produce of others since the dawn of culture as we know it. Maybe even make something of the 1960s setting as a putative turning-point in the collapse of religious authority.

I doubt that that's actually what's going on though - it's something that might have been posited after Let's Kill Hitler but falls through with The Time of the Doctor. Besides the tangential quality of their connection with the Unmemorables, the characterisation of the Kovarian Kabal as a religion seems distinctly casual to me - basically a throwaway device to lend some cheekily-misleading RTD-esque mythic portentousness to the foreshadowing towards Trenzalore, underpinning the notion that the Doctor and his unspoken secret name have some great cosmic metaphysical siginificance. Revealing that to have been a feint by exposing the practical, concrete nature of what the Silence are concerned with drains such significance as there is from their religious trappings (which are not that prominently worn anyway - nothing I can think of in Kovarian's own nomenclature, appearance, words, actions or characterisation by others suggests any connection with religion, and until TTOTD it's far from clear whether the clerics are actually part of the Silence or merely allies). Revealing that the Silence are actually largely benign and that Kovarian and Ko are our old friends The Unrepresentative Minority That Gets The Rest A Bad Name torpedoes any notion that the latter are meant to stand for religion in general, and reverts the wider group's overall image and Moffat's implied attitude to the quizzical and sardonic but far from hostile impression given by the first appearance of the clerics in ATOA/FAS.

So I'm calling cock-up, not conspiracy on that one. Now, if Gatiss had been writing it, that would have been a whole different story...

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm also broadly OK with it (as a fictional conceit, not a putative real-life proposition in all earnestness), but not for those reasons. To me what counts is that he's basically just letting them pass judgement on themselves - it's a kind of poetic justice-dispensing which fits well into the Doctor's established MO when he's in mythic-trickster-bastard mode a la McCoy. It stays on the right side of the line that The Family of Blood goes way, way over.

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arse bandit 2 years, 8 months ago

A whole generation will grow up thinking Richard Nixon's worst sin was being a bit of a loveable grouch. Canton Delaware's outing at the end was almost a parody of Russell T Davies's writing - "by the way, I'm a pillow princess!" The current generation willl be reviewing old classic series episodes wondering where the obligatory gay confessions scenes were.

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Seeing_I 2 years, 8 months ago

That's assuming a whole generation never hears anything else about Richard Nixon other than what's in these two episodes. Which seems unlikely.

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

Of course, your estimation of what I have just said may similarly be adversely affected with hindsight if you read what I am going to post on this subject when we get to The Wedding and attempt to reconcile the two. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large, I...

No you're not!

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Chicanery 2 years, 8 months ago

I totally missed that, apologies.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm used to Phil referring "back" to unwritten essays and "ahead" to written ones in the River essays. But I've just realised he's dedicated enough to this conceit that that he writes "It’s been just over three years and one month since this story aired", when in fact it's almost exactly three years and three months. Because the "correct" place for this essay is 9th of June, where the essay on "The Wedding of River Song" is.

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Alan 2 years, 8 months ago

Did anyone else listen to the Silence gloat about guiding humanity's progress and say "I wonder what Scaroth of the Jaggaroth was doing during all that?" No? Just me then. Also, Phil's comment about "waiting for Pertwee" was arguably a plot point -- the story introduces the Silence as the secret masters of humanity and the Doctor's newest sworn enemy and then dispatches them ... just a few months before his Third incarnation gets banished to Earth for an extended period of time.

My biggest gripe about this story is all the plot holes that crop up by the end of the season. Kovarian's appearance in this episode indicates that they've already captured Amy, but if so, why did they need to kidnap her for an extended length of time in this story. Just to jerk the Doctor's chain? The ending, viewed in tandem with The Lodger, implies that the Silence were trying to build a TARDIS of their own. What happened with that? And why, considering that they obviously already have time travel capabilities?

It also reminds me of my fan-wanking theory about "Silence in the Library" -- that there actually WERE Silents in the Library who were invisible to us and the Doctor and who engineered the whole scenario in order to force the Doctor to download River (the only other TARDIS pilot) into an easily copyable computerized format.

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Daibhid C 2 years, 8 months ago

Well, maybe, in which case I'm not sure what the *first* clause is about. He still seems to be saying the same thing twice, and being more sceptical about it the second time.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 8 months ago

Actually, we got Christmas Carol same day as well.

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Philip Sandifer 2 years, 8 months ago

It's an error. Will fix in a sec.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

You make a good pinprick as well in this aspect of widespread false belief about the Smith era. S5 arguably had just as many relative dud episodes as S6, S7, and the collection of Specials (of Xmas Carol, Wardrobe, Snowmen, Day, and Time of the Doctor, only Wardrobe comes off as a bit meh).

It would seem to be consistency in form alone, and perhaps the attendant simplicity, that has resulted in this reputation of S5 being the best of the Smith era. Personally, I'm unable to pick a favourite, as the Smith era's best episodes are spread liberally throughout its four years.

But one sad truth about the more experimental S6 and S7 is that they require more work on the part of the viewer to understand all their charms and virtues. S6 does have its purposely scattered story arc, where keeping track of all the elements of the narrative and understanding their relation to each other requires a lot of thought and meditation after the fact (and probably a rewatch or two, which justifies DVD sales). S7 is essentially something of a trick on the audience after S6, where the apparent arc is the result of a single plot action in the season finale, a joke on both the audience and the Doctor. Enjoying these elements of the season requires a bit more thought and reflection on the part of a viewer, which, in my more cynical moments, I speculate may be a reason why some would prefer the more straightfoward season arc of S5.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I'd definitely agree that S5 feels...I don't know, more focused? more thematically unified? more "literary," whatever that means? than S6 or S7. Whether that's just a "feeling" or something more supportable, I'm not sure. But I can see how a certain sensibility would find it a bit more "tasteful" than The Slender Men and the Eyepatch Lady and Their Assorted Friends Steal Amy's Baby Slash Best Friend Slash The Doctor's Wife Who Tries to Kill Him, which now that I write it out sounds like what people who don't watch soap operas imagine soap opera plots to be; and more compelling than Clara The Continuity Girl.

If you judge a season by its arc, which is a very New Who thing to do, then there's no question in my mind that S5 comes out on top, perhaps even after you put in the time to work through each of them. If you judge a season by its component stories, which is a very Classic Who way to look at it and still very much my habit, seasons are artificial collections interrupted by fairly arbitrary caesurae, and I'm personally never going to have that strong an interest in ranking "the one with 'The Lodger'" or "the one with 'The God Complex'" over or under "the one with 'Hide.'"

Which is probably why it's a good thing that thoughtful, reflective people like you, Aylwin, and our good host exist to make sense of the bigger picture.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I don't know if you intended those phrases to be insulting, but I find myself longing for someone to make a spinoff series about The Arse Bandit and His Pillow Princess. Or, I suppose, The Pillow Princess and His Arse Bandit. Unless Arse Bandit is already a Heinlein character.

In any case, I think there is already an essay in one of the About Time books that covers gayspotting in the classic series. There might even be something on the internet where people have catalogued such moments, probably including "only qualified to operate on sailors" and "you're a beautiful woman, probably."

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

Comparing the American and UK trailers for this series is hilarious. The UK one is dark and mysterious, and the US one is like "Utah! White House! GUNS!"

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

I really find this discussion interesting because S5 is my favorite, but mostly because I've had time to rewatch it all to the point I enjoy every episode, with the except of some of "Victory" and yeah I guess the Silurians get tiresome...but weirdly, "Cold Blood" was the episode that really sold me on the show and Matt's Doctor. Unfortunately, I can't figure out why on rewatch. S6 and S7 I am not as well-acquainted with, only watching each episode a couple of times on the week it was broadcast and I guess I'm afraid those feelings won't carry over on rewatch (whereas S5 I originally just marathoned and didn't think much about, and later returned to because I'd read more redemptive readings of individual episodes).

So, S5 often feels the most consistent because it never exactly has a string of stand-alone episodes unrelated to the main "plot" like S6 (part two) and S7 do--and those all have overarching themes and character moments, but they're more subtle than the RTD era. And so perhaps S5 is also the most accessible to today's Netflix marathoners, and S7 at the very least worked the best weekly. Perhaps, we shall see how it goes down in Fandom Legend (which is never true but always interesting). I honestly thought S7 was very consistent in terms of character until it got to "Hide," and it was then it stopped becoming my current favorite season. Essentially, Part 1 was very clear with its Pond arc, "The Snowmen" wrapped that up with the Doctor's state of mind and introduced (in a way) Clara, "Bells" introduced Clara as someone who questioned the companion's role of letting a stranger in and jumping into his box, but then she got a backstory in "Akhaten" and "Cold War" built upon that with her compassion. But then "Hide" was the first episode for Jenna to film and she comes off more generic, and I felt not much new was done with her until the finale. Of course, we've got at the very least whole new 14 episodes for her to go.

I think what's interesting about S7 is that all the episodes are at least memorable more so than the "duds" in the other seasons...especially the two-part ones. Certainly a lot more time was meant making each one so (the "blockbuster" technique), which you can't exactly say for every previous season. And I realized there are often ardent supporters of the three episodes you listed (I at the very least will always defend "Akahten," even if for just personal reasons, but I quite enjoyed "Mercy" too), though I think "Nightmare" is the other one with a current bad reputation, and for me that's like another "Cold Blood" situation where I really enjoyed it on first viewing but I'm not sure it's held up since, though I wish Gaiman wouldn't pretend it didn't happen.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

Also re: encyclops: People probably expect more consistency nowadays because of Netflix-style marathoning, more and more shows adopting the serial format rather than monster-of-the-week, and the availability to rewatch over and over on DVR.

But of course, Doctor Who is also the worst thing to get consistency from because nearly every episode has a different look and feel. Certainly there are several cinematography techniques that separate Dvies from Moffat and even S5 and 6 from 7 (and presumably 8...can someone explain to me why the TARDIS is yet again orange?)--I can often pick out an era, season, or episode from just a screenshot--but "Akhaten" has a completely different look, story, goals, and themes than "Cold War," and Doctor Who is always going to do that.

Naturally, when you hear about the best Classic Who seasons, it's often the ones that are thematically consistent like 7, 13, or 26, or the ones with storylines like 12, 16, or Trial of a Time Lord. No one exactly knows how to judge the others.

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razorfool 2 years, 8 months ago

I actually thought that the Silence having the TARDIS-like machine glimpsed in The Lodger was confirmation that they were the ones who blew up the Doctor's TARDIS.

In Amy's Choice, the Doctor reveals that he can cause the TARDIS to self-destruct. in The Lodger, a TARDIS-like machine is scene causing havoc with the actual TARDIS. In The Pandorica Opens, the TARDIS blows up, seemingly self-destructing. In Day of the Moon, the Silence are shown to have the same TARDIS-like machine as the one in The Lodger. Ergo, the Silence were the ones who blew up the Doctor's TARDIS using their machine to trigger its self-destruct mechanism.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Pen Name Pending: I like the Silurian two-parter and even the 99% useless "Victory" more than some of the low points of S6 and S7, so I can understand how "Cold Blood" might have appealed to you. So far I've only liked "our" Clara in exactly two episodes ("Bells" and "Name"), so the fact that she's the weak link in "Hide" doesn't really bother me. I'm probably in the minority in finding "Mercy" almost offensively bad (I get kind of angry just thinking about it, which is a dumb way to feel about an episode of a television show) but I know it's not a minority of one.

Even so, I agree about S7 -- I appreciate the attention given to making its episodes stand alone; that's the way I like my Who, and I'm actually kind of hoping Philip's right and the two-parter is going to be scarce in the future. As for "Nightmare" -- I still quite liked it and don't really understand why it's so reviled. At the very least it's filled with characters I enjoy watching onscreen, and if the Jekyll/Hyde Doctor is a little trite, so be it. But yeah, I know most people consider that one a dud too.

There's no reason to expect uneven quality, except that it's what older fans are used to. Makes perfect sense for a modern audience to demand more. As for Classic Who seasons, 18 is way up there for me. Arguably also thematically consistent, I guess. The only story in it I don't care for is "Meglos" -- there's something I love about all the rest.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

You said "confirmation," not "evidence," which I take to mean "this is what we're supposed to understand from it" and not "this is a convincing story." :) Being able to build a fake TARDIS is a pretty big deal all by itself, and being able to use it to blow up a real one is an even bigger deal. I hope this isn't all we were supposed to be going on.

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Ben 2 years, 8 months ago

I know that Clara sees the Silence in "Time of the Doctor" and she doesn't kill them. Not sure if this is because they're "good" Silence or if traveling with the Doctor makes you immune to these directive of his.

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Ben 2 years, 8 months ago

"The series taking that kind of time to lay out exposition in 2014 is unimaginable."

Not sure if this counts as a spoiler, but I think Moffat may be getting less stringent about the no-cliffhanger thing in the Capaldi era. That's mainly gleaned from Wikipedia. So if he does start doing stories with more time in them I'm wondering how he'll fill it.

BTW, where does the article's header come from? I've tried Googling it and can only find links to this blog. (You've made it, kid!)

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

Did anyone else listen to the Silence gloat about guiding humanity's progress

Actually my first thought was they were referencing An Unearthly Child (the prehistoric bits) "We have ruled it since the wheel and the fire." I was half expecting to see Silents inserted into Hartnell era footage down the line (at this point I was expecting it for the 50th Anniversary) to show how long the Silence had been affecting the Doctors life. Perhaps Silents giving instruction to Za and others in the tribe of gum.

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

It's all very good, it's all very clever - but the "missing time and memories" between the two episodes, ultimately entirely unresolved, irks me to this day. The Silence have ancient tunnels all over the Earth - what a fabulous concept, and we're *not* going to bother paying off on that???

It seems the Silence have been around in every earth-based Doctor Who adventure - what a great excuse to insert new action into old footage, or reveal the Doctor to have himself been manipulated over many regenerations, or comment on the nature of free will in a meaningful sense... but no, just wasted. And as every appearance of the Silence after this was seriously diminishing returns it seems even more wasteful there wasn't an episode inbetween Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon, their only stellar story.

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Kit 2 years, 8 months ago

though I wish Gaiman wouldn't pretend it didn't happen.

Does he turn away and look out the window when you bring it up over afternoon scones, or...?

Naturally, when you hear about the best Classic Who seasons, it's often ... the ones with storylines like 12, 16, or Trial of a Time Lord.

I can’t imagine where you’re hearing about Trial as one of the best Classic seasons.

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Kit 2 years, 8 months ago

but the "missing time and memories" between the two episodes, ultimately entirely unresolved, irks me to this day.

Conversely, this is one of the most thrilling moments in Who history for me. Having grown up on daily episodes with up to two minutes of recapping the previous day’s cliffhanger, the self-contained stories in the Welsh series were initially jarring; here, Moffatt jars us further by playing with the essential pointlessness of so very many cliffhangers – oh, they lived? – and instead takes that as read and instead throws our heroes into new peril, RUN!ning in media res, making the audience more excited by being at once tense about what happened immediately after the close of Astronaut, worried about the current peril, and giddy to infer the adventures that must have taken place in the months’ gap.

Also, tbh, worried about the state of their underwear, since they haven’t had a moment to change their clothes in all that time.

It seems the Silence have been around in every earth-based Doctor Who adventure - what a great excuse to insert new action into old footage

And then splice Clara in the background, foiling REG, too.

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Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

Maybe there was an episode in between the two, but we forgot it.

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Jarl 2 years, 8 months ago

Seeing_I: I played Apples to Apples a while back with some friends and assorted siblings, and the young man of about 16-ish who was picking the winner for the round read aloud, "Richard Milhouse Nixon... whoever that is." I was devastated, partly because of the future we're raising, but mostly because it was my card and it was a killer play.

Thinking about it, I was also disappointed we didn't get to see Canton again in the finale. He was a cool character.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

It fascinates me how we as fans tend to categorise Doctor Who seasons or Doctor "eras" after they've aired. It's almost as if there's an overall "shape" of a season or era that we can't see until it's over. I clearly remember the first time I noticed this during Eccleston's series. We were about halfway, but we still didn't have a "feel" for how things were going to pan out. Would "Dalek" be the high point? Or would the next few stories blow it out of the water? At that point the fan consensus of "Aliens of London/World War Three" being a particular low pont didn't yet exist, and although forums were full of lively discussion about the merits or failings of what we'd seen so far, there still wasn't an "accepted view" of how good or bad Series 1 actually was.

The fact that you can't tell how good something is yet is surely the strongest evidence for it being almost 100% subjective, and yet fandom always elevates it to an objective viewpoint, and the rest of us find it almost impossible not to accept it as gospel.

To a student of the human condition, it's fascinating.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

Just a brief reply to test a theory. Is everyone else getting the same captcha? "Photo Sphere"? I've had it twice now on philipsandifer.com (including this one) and once on another blog.

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Ombund 2 years, 8 months ago

It's from The Space Pirates:

MILO: Hey listen, what am I going to talk to him about?
DOCTOR: Talk to him about the things that he might remember.

I would love to say I knew that off the top of my head but I had to look it up (courtesy of this site: http://www.chakoteya.net/doctorwho/6-6.htm). I've just finished reading the Hartnell book so I've been doing this a lot recently.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

Or because Clara was too young to have seen the Moon Landing on first broadcast, and has never seen it since.

Photo Sphere.

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

Spacewarp: nope, I only get house numbers these days, no words for at least a month

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm sure that was the intent (both Jarl and Kit) but it fell flat for me... also, how many 8 year old Doctor Who fans got hugely upset and mistakenly berated their parents for letting them miss last weeks episode?

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Aylwin 2 years, 8 months ago

Spacewarp: yes, I'm getting that (sometimes with just a momentary glimpse of the usual captcha before it appears). Seems to be some sort of advertising thing infiltrating the system.

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Lewis Christian 2 years, 8 months ago

"Or because Clara was too young to have seen the Moon Landing on first broadcast, and has never seen it since." is stretching it a bit if you ask me.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

Now here's a thought. Perhaps the Church of the Papal Mainframe have decreed a ban on viewing of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon, because every member of the 51st Century Clergy who watches it then goes on to murder the nearest Confessor.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

"Random shots of Gangers for SCARY-ness!"

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

I must be one of those strange few people who hates "Mercy" and "Journey" with a passion, yet loves "Akhaten", likes "Hide", and thinks "Cold War" was merely decent... but who also thinks the Pond half-season pretty much stopped the overall progression of series 8 dead.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

As am I. Kind of a waste of the Sheppards, there.

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

I am sort of horrified by how young Matt Smith looks in the above photo; shows how much he'd aged in real life by the end of Series 7... :-O

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

At that point the fan consensus of "Aliens of London/World War Three" being a particular low pont didn't yet exist

Oh, it did for me. I nearly stopped watching right there. I can appreciate it a bit more now, but at the time I was just shaking my head. It's a good thing "Dalek" was next.

Anyway, I'm not sure I understand why there's anything surprising about the fact that you can't judge the quality of something as a whole until you've actually, you know, seen the whole of it.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Whoever runs that site is my hero. It's just the best thing to have.

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Pen Name Pending 2 years, 8 months ago

@Kit: Oh, Trial isn't mentioned in the list of good seasons (...except maybe for the Sixth Doctor), but it's always listed in introductory material to Classic Who when the majority of other seasons are glossed over, largely because Trial has a story arc. And Gaiman just hasn't talked about "Nightmare" nearly as much as his previous episode, not even posting on his main blog that the episode aired. Sorry, I was babbling late last night.

I don't think Doctor Who has uneven quality so much as that it never quite does what you expect and can throw you at first.

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Jack 2 years, 8 months ago

If you want to see something that is at once hilarious and makes you lose your faith in humanity, go poke around Tumblr.

There is a post there that has something on the order of 22,000 notes. It is a couple of people taking Moffat to task for suggesting the Doctor is human, with radiant proofs of the Doctor being alien, one of them a quote from the Tennant era.

But, Jack, you're probably saying at this point, when did Moffat suggest the Doctor was human?!

He didn't. What set this off was a link to the article Phil posted about a bit ago, where Moffat challenges the fans to identify the moment where it is unequivocally stated the Doctor is alien. The link is stated so: "Who Says The Doctor Isn't Human?"

Twenty thousand people who didn't even look at what was being linked, merely jumping on the I Hate Moffat Bandwagon and making themselves look like fools. Amazing.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

I feel like revisiting Nightmare in Silver soon, especially as Phil slowly moves into S7. I get the feeling that there's more to its Cybermen via Aliens storyline than meets the eye on first viewing. Gaiman seems to have taken the brief of making the Cybermen dangerous again to such a ridiculous degree that it exploded the story.

I have quite a revisionary outlook on Aliens of London too. At the time, I, like a lot of viewers, saw a naff runaround with farting aliens, a blatantly dull dig at Bush and Blair over Iraq, and an overly sincere ally character. After looking through several recurring villains over the Davies era, they were the first iteration of a peculiar and interesting trope: the petty catastrophe. It examines how, given sci-fi technologies, petty criminals can destroy entire civilizations for cheap profit, and examines the absurd horror of someone with mythic power acting with the attitude of a small-time fence. The Slitheen family looked too ridiculous, but Max Capricorn really did it best.

Just one more way of looking at the failed experiments and near-misses of Doctor Who's history. Impossible Moon inaugurated a season that was a wild experiment in out-of-sequence story arcs and hidden narratives. Ultimately, it wasn't as successful this season as it probably could have been (I think we'll see precisely how things went a little off the rails when we look at the production problems that developed around Let's Kill Hitler and Wedding of River Song). But it doesn't mean that some future creative producer, or even some future Steven Moffat, couldn't have another shot at the idea more successfully.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I was going to ask you to link it ("go poke around Tumblr" is extremely dangerous advice!), since here I am judging these people based on something I didn't read, but my faith in humanity is tenous enough already. :)

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I'm ambivalent about the Cyberman aspect of the story; I find that I just try to forget that Cybermen are even in the new series in a sort of mental Phantom Edit. You'd think that would be especially difficult with NiS, but really what I like about it is Warwick Davis, his endearing-despite-themselves soldier pals, and the interplay between Matt and Jenna. I actually don't mind most of the Cybermannish things going on around them, because I've kind of lost all investment in the Cybermen making any sense in the first place. Actually having memorable characters sets it apart from, say, "Cold War," and that goes a long way with me. But I'm looking forward to what everyone else has made of it -- it is if nothing else rich with imagery, so I hope Jane chimes in.

It's the opposite with AoL: there it's the particulars that are hard to stomach (the fart jokes, the Scooby-Doo chase, but also that pig alien -- I like a bit of fun, but at the time it wasn't clear this was not SOP from then on) while the story is actually not that bad, as you point out. There's also some really good stuff with the Tylers and their friends, the back-after-a-year character moments that have become far more important to me with the new series.

Speaking of future creative producers, now that I've finally gotten around to watching Luther, I'd be over the moon if I heard Neil Cross was taking over the show from Moffat. "Akhaten" now seems like the exception rather than the rule, and even that wasn't the worst episode of the season.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

I actually rather liked Akhaten. I thought it had a very Hartnell-era feel to it, as the first half of the story was essentially about exploring a world and uncovering a form of systematic injustice within it. To me, it only really suffered insofar as world exploration is the most difficult kind of story to tell using the compressed narrative techniques that defined the style of S7. Cold War was the dimmest light of S7-Clara, but I'd still call it a rocking good base-under-siege with some extra character development for the villain and some quirky supporting folks, even if it didn't get much beyond reptilian Klingons, the Hunt for Red October, and a massive Ultravox fan. Solid Gatiss, really. And it got me listening to Ultravox again, which is a wonderful effect to have on the world.

And yes, Cross would be an excellent creative producer after Moffat decides to move on. I consider Hide and Crimson Horror the best stories of S7-Clara.

But regarding S6, Impossible Moon really is the highlight and key to the entire season, a story with the same high quality of The Pandorica Bang, and the same intensity that's usually reserved for the season finale. As Phil notes, its structure essentially supplies the framework of blank spaces which, little by little, all the arc-based revelations of the rest of the season fill in. It's the only story that comes out of the problematic unfolding of the S6 experiment unscathed, because all the episodes that later fill in those blanks allow you to watch it with full knowledge of the puzzle that it presents you.

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IMA Patient 2 years, 8 months ago

Perhaps a 51st Century Papal Mainframe Clergyperson who viewed it would interpret the "us" in "You should kill us whenever you see us" to mean the Kovarian sect, leaving most of the Confessors alive, but deepening the ideological schism.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

I wanted very much to like it. The creature design alone made me want to love it. I didn't get a Hartnell-era impression from it so much (though it's not an era I'm as familiar with as I ought to be) as one a little closer in time. My review started this way:

The Doctor and his brand new companion, a pretty white woman in her early twenties, take their first real trip in the TARDIS. They travel both in space and time, arriving in an unfamiliar society with strange rules. Right away the companion wanders off and befriends a young girl who is afraid of an ominous secret this society conceals. Later they team up with a queen in a red cloak to evade the sinister robot-like creatures patrolling the area and get to the heart of the secret, which concerns an ancient leviathan described in terms obliquely reminiscent of the Doctor himself and feared for its tendency to swallow people. The Doctor tries to defeat the leviathan, but at the last moment his companion has a flash of inspiration and, with some quick lateral thinking, saves the day.

Yes, it’s “The Beast Below.” And it’s also “The Rings of Akhaten.”


I go on to comment that I generally liked "The Beast Below," so it's not a bad thing. But still.

My take on "Cold War" isn't far off from yours, actually, and both "Hide" and "Crimson Horror" are at and very near the top of my list for 7b, respectively.

I think what you say about Impossible Moon (love the title mashup) is probably true, but when I look back on S6, the main things I focus on are (as is typical for me) the standalones: "The Doctor's Wife," "The God Complex," "The Girl Who Waited," and its entry in the Stories You Wish Didn't Include Cybermen sweepstakes, "Closing Time."

(I was going to say about "Nightmare" that I wonder if it would have been more highly regarded if it had been about some other race of adaptable robots -- Cybermen "with the serial numbers filed off"? But I suppose then it would have been even more susceptible to charges of plagiarism from ST:TNG. Oh well.)

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

"Anyway, I'm not sure I understand why there's anything surprising about the fact that you can't judge the quality of something as a whole until you've actually, you know, seen the whole of it."

Ah but that's not quite what I mean. It's the way we re-appraise each story in a season by judging them against other stories in the same season. Like when the season's over, everyone goes back and suddenly "The Long Game" is more rubbish because "Bad Wolf" and "Parting of the Ways" was so good. Or "The Lodger" is suddenly better than it was because now we've seen "Closing Time".

The Pertwee era seems to have been reappraised more than any other. First it's great when we're all watching it. Then in the 90s it's rubbish. Then it's allowed back in from the cold just before the new series starts, and then it's rubbish again. Shows like Star Trek seem to be oddly static in their fan perception, but Doctor Who stories go in and out of fan favour like the seasons.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

I don't see how they could tell the difference. They all look the same.

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encyclops 2 years, 8 months ago

Well...I'm sure I can't speak for other Doctor Who fans. They're all nuts, after all, and I'm the only sane one. For what it's worth, though, I still liked "The Long Game" for everything except writing out Adam...beautiful, irresponsible Adam...and I loved "The Lodger" before and after "Closing Time" (which is of course not in the same season, but yes, probably prompted some kind of reappraisal for some of those aforementioned nuts). I will confess, however, hopefully not to the Silents or the Silence or the Slenders, that I've reevaluated stories' rankings within the season at the end of it and probably shifted my opinions of them a bit just because there were other things I liked less. I liked "Bells" at the time, but I probably like it better now than I would have if it had been swamped by a ton of better stories later on (it was a little, but not much). But those aren't connected stories. Eh, don't mind me, just rambling.

As for the Pertwee era: sigh. I still love it. I've always loved it. Some subset of Capaldi, Moffat, the costume designer, and whoever decided to put Lethbridge-Stewart's daughter into the show clearly loved it. The Wife In Space claimed not to love it but as I recall her ratings said differently. It's solid entertainment with a rich and contradictory mix of text and subtext, producer and script editor, grooviness and military collusion -- it can't fail to read differently to different people in different times, can it? I'm sure our host has made these observations in more detail but I haven't read all of his Pertwee essays, nor have I read the third About Time book -- for some reason I'm savoring both and coming back to them later.

That said, I kind of like the fickleness of fan favor. It's interesting. I don't know if I agree that it's 100% subjective but I think you're right that there's something dynamic and/or ephemeral driving some or all of our evaluations.

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Ben 2 years, 8 months ago

Thanks for the info. And for the link, too. Looks like a pretty rich resource, with even French Who subtitles.

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jane 2 years, 8 months ago

My 8-year-old nephew followed it perfectly. Perhaps the younger generation is more televisually literate than the old fogies.

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Kit 2 years, 8 months ago

I rewatched Hide on the weekend, and it seems like one of the best nu-Who episodes in general, to me. Amazing that the twist didn't get written until a couple of weeks before shooting. The "Moffatt-arc" bits here feel less obtrusive than in almost any other episode, which helps.

And Gaiman just hasn't talked about "Nightmare" nearly as much as his previous episode, not even posting on his main blog that the episode aired. Sorry, I was babbling late last night.

He doesn't really use his blog much these days, though: he tweeted plenty about the episode, answering viewer questions and noting changes between his intentions or script and the final production, in the days after airing. And made time to be interviewed by Andrew Pixley about it for the DWM series companion. There just isn't a lot to volunteer about how proud he is with how it turned out.

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Adam Riggio 2 years, 8 months ago

What's interesting, for this comment section anyway, is the degree to which the historical consensus has been shifted by TARDIS Eruditorum. At the very least, I can imagine that anyone reading it with as open a mind as I did would have their opinions radically changed.

Phil opened me up to the way to watch The Web Planet and not be bored and mystified, as having been inspired by Georges Meliés. He led me to completely re-evaluate my entire opinion of the Troughton era, though I think my love for his Dalek stories was pushing me in that direction anyway. Thanks to Phil, I'll never be able to hear T-Rex without thinking of Jon Pertwee doing faux kung fu. He forced me to confront the racist elements in Talons of Weng-Chiang, despite my own desire not to see it because I liked the story so much. He pointed out a wonderful idea lurking under the Davison era, and its lost potential, how it could have been the BBC's first sci-fi soap. He redeemed the Colin Baker era, at least meta-textually, and Classic Season 24, explicitly.

As the Eruditorum's story begins to appear in the Eruditorum itself, we should remember its own alchemy, the ability to change our own minds.

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Spacewarp 2 years, 8 months ago

@ Adam Riggio. Oh I agree totally that reading the Eruditorum has caused me to view present and past Doctor Who (and to some extent all dramatic TV) with a more open mind. I think it's simply down to the fact that Phil has shown us that there is another way to look at TV, not the generally accepted consensus way.

Any reader of the blog who refused to go back and give "The Web Planet" another viewing just to see if Phil may have a point, probably gave up on the blog long ago. The fact that we're all still here shows we agree that there is always another way to look at things, and the reward is in finding that way.

"Please prove you're not a robot by typing Photo Sphere."

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Froborr 2 years, 8 months ago

Don't be racist, Spacewarp. ;)

I actually don't find it farfetched at all that Clara has never watched the moon landing. I found the opposite true--while it was widely watched at the time, surely a generation or two later it's more one of those things everyone "knows" but hasn't necessarily seen.

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Froborr 2 years, 8 months ago

I recall when I was in school, every year, no matter whether that was an American history or Everyone Else history year (we more or less alternated), we would run out of school year round about World War II. History effectively ended in 1945 for us. Only those of us who read ahead in the textbook knew that the 1950s through 80s were a thing.

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Froborr 2 years, 8 months ago

Eh, Tumblr is basically an enormous high school/college campus without any classes. Pretty much every conflict that happens there comes down to teens being teens, which is to say vicious animals extremely prone to forming hive-minded factions at the drop of a hat on whatever basis first suggests itself.

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Leslie Lozada 2 years, 8 months ago

What I found to be interesting is that Canton was one of four people to be there for the Doctor's 'death' and he wasn't mentioned or seen again (aside from stock footage).

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mengu 2 years, 8 months ago

I had a reply about how there is no fan consensus for series 7, but it died. So: there isn't. And I need to stare at whomever said Clara was generic in Hide. The episode where Clara tells the Doctor to dare her to be brave, where she sees ghosts at the end of the Earth, where she screams at Emma to do it again despite the cost, where she saves the Doctor, tells us she hates whiskey... that episode? Really?

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Matthew Blanchette 2 years, 8 months ago

Don't be silly, jane. (For the record, I'm only 23, and I did a double-take upon first watch.)

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ferret 2 years, 8 months ago

Oh I followed it perfectly, I just didn't like it! Especially in retrospect - after Day of the Moon I assumed we'd pick up on the exciting plot point of a world-spanning underground Silence tunnel network that could have entrances anywhere and anywhen in Another Exciting Adventure with The Silence with obviously-going-to-reappear-awesome-character Canton Delaware III, but it just didn't eventuate.

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Daru 2 years, 8 months ago

Really love the story of the Eruditorum and you Phil coming onto the fore again.

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gaffa 1 year, 6 months ago

I'll use the opportunity of a new, easier comment system to comment on an old post, and say this: my single favorite production design decision in all of nu who was that the Doctor, when given the opportunity to strike a pose on an all-american classic car, chose an Edsel. Wagon.

Perfect.

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