Silents Are Golden

So it’s been two sleeps since Series Six of Doctor Who returned to our screens. Time enough for me to have watched and rewatched the programme along with its Confidential counterpart. To try and get my head around the implications of Steven Moffat’s latest timey-wiminess and to come to terms with the fact that “That is most definitely the Doctor and he is most definitely dead” as he lies on a Utah shoreline at the end of his 1,103 year life. To say that the series has been much anticipated, is something of an understatement my own rewatch of Series Five was completed in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s debut, although I did not (for the second time!) finish the blogs about about the episodes. This time though it was a deliberate exercise, so that the sad demise of Elisabeth Sladen remained at the forefront of this blog, just as it remained at the forefront of The Impossible Astronaut with its on-screen tribute. (I have written a few words about the impact that this great matriarch of Doctor Who had on my life over on my personal blog, for those who want to read it).

There was a familiarity to opening sequence that saw the Doctor participating in a few historical events that was him figuratively and in one case literally waving at Amy and Rory from history. From the court of Charles II (?), tunneling an escape in WWII and making a cameo in a Laurel and Hardy film. I am still baffled as to quite why, if not how this was accomplished. Surely the director of the Laurel and Hardy film had something to say about this bloke running up to the camera in front of the stars and waving like a lunatic. May be I’m taking it a bit too seriously for what was, in the final analysis, just a bit of fun. If nothing else, it served to illustrate that the Doctor had been traveling without Amy and Rory for some time (an awfully long time in his case as it turned out) and that the gentle reminder meant that Mr and Mrs Pond were all the more likely to accept the Doctor’s invitation when it came.

Then it’s off to the Utah desert for the reunions and perhaps, the biggest mystery that Doctor Who has ever given its audience. In front of the glorious back-drop of Monument Valley and Lake Powell, the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River meet up on the highway, as seen in the much trailed clip. However, the intention of the meeting, superficially, is for something as mundane as a picnic. The revelation that this Doctor is 1,103 years old is merely the first part of the mystery as we are then joined by a mysterious man in a truck, a mysterious alien figure who appears and then is immediately forgotten (ironically, I had forgotten about the Silent’s appearance here until the second viewing), and finally by the most mysterious of all: the eponymous astronaut. The big question of why the Doctor had “stopped running” and why he appeared, so willingly, to accept his fate was almost as shocking as death scene itself. We knew from the teasers on the cover of DWM that one of the four would die and, after the release of the regeneration photo’s on the official DW site eighteen hours before the start, it became clear that it would be the Doctor. However, none of that fully prepare me for what came to pass and I certainly felt teased rather than spoiled.

We didn’t have to wait too long for the first of the answers to be forthcoming. It was the older version of the Doctor who had invited Amy and Rory, Canton, River and a younger version of himself to the American desert. Whereas Canton came along to leave just his name as a clue and a can of gasoline before heading off in to the sunset, it was our favourite intrepid travellers who were left to follow the clues back to 1969 with a great little role reversal where it is the Doctor who has no idea what the future holds and the companions who have at least some of the knowledge. I loved the Doctor’s little sulk when he realised this, threatening to take Amy and Rory back home to “make babies” (foreshadowing, anyone?) and to send River back to Stormcage (the most insecure jail since Ford Open Prison). So after swearing on Fish Custard and admiring the brilliance of the delivery of Arthur Darvill’s “and, in fairness, the universe did blow up” line , it’s off to the Oval Office in 1969 where we find President Nixon himself in the process of recruiting the young Canton Everett Delaware III to the task of working out why and how and who this small child is who keeps calling him up about the spaceman.

Stuart Milligan (as President Nixon) and Mark Sheppard (as Canton) give the kind of great supporting cast performances that we have come to expect and are probably a little complacent about, as they struggle to come to terms with the intruders in the White House. This scene is probably one of my favourites in the whole 45-minute extravaganza, which may be something to do with my love of the West Wing but more than likely is due to the sparkling dialogue that The Moff liberally sprinkles for all of the actors to play with. The entire thing is quotable from start to finish, the gloomy lighting evokes just the right atmosphere, the direction is sharp and makes great use of the set and we get some good, proper chills thrown in for good measure with Amy’s trip to the bathroom. The great thing about the Silents (and I am just assuming that it is “Silents” and not “Silence” as the spelling that I should be using), is the fact that the characters immediately forget what’s happened means that the viewer too is immediately thrust in to another context and compartmentalises the aliens away: hence the reason I completely forgot their first appearance at Lake Powell. The more you think about it the more clever it becomes.

Picking up Canton as an extra crew member, the TARDIS makes a quick hop to a Florida town near Cape Kennedy and an apparently deserted warehouse where they hope to find the mysterious child and get some answers. River and Rory descend underground into an underground labyrinth of tunnels that they discover (but soon might forget) extend over the whole world and are full of Silents. To be honest, while they do look seriously scary, most of the ones we’ve met, with the exception of the one in the ladies loo that splattered Joy all over the walls, seem fairly passive and the ones we see underground here in Florida seem almost scared themselves. River gets to experience similar stomach pains to the ones we saw Amy having earlier, which when we consider Amy’s pregnancy revelation to the Doctor above ground shortly after raises an eyebrow and adds a new level to the mystery. As if to add further connection between the female TARDIS crew-members, when Professor Song discovers a locked door in the tunnels and responds to Rory’s protestations with something to the effect of “How can a girl resist?”, it immediately brings to mind Amy’s response when faced with a similar locked room in last year’s episode The Beast Below. There is a further, much more obvious link back to last series when the door is finally unlocked and River and Rory find themselves in The Lodger’s “TARDIS” that we last saw disappearing off the roof of James Cordon’s flat. So, lots of connections to ponder before the cliffhanger as something nasty happens to Rory off-screen.

Meanwhile, upstairs, Amy, Canton and the Doctor explore some unpleasant-looking alien technology before being rudely interrupted by the apparent shouts of the girl. Canton gets an off-screen blow to the head, which serves the two-fold purpose of leaving the Doctor and Amy temporarily alone when confronted with the astronaut and freeing up Canton’s gun for Amy to use. In the closing moments of the episode as the astronaut appears, Amy who , like many viewers, has been struggling with the contradiction that (a) time can be re-written (as per series Five and The Christmas Carol), and (b) not all time can be re-written(as per what River tells her), reaches for Canton’s gun and fires just as the astronaut lifts the visor on the helmet to reveal a small and quite frightened looking girl inside. Amy, of course, is trying to prevent the future in which the Doctor dies by the lake in Utah. This Doctor is not to know that and it all sets things up beautifully for next week’s conclusion to the two-parter.

Overall, this is a season opener on a par with, and in all likelihood better than, any we’ve seen previously in the new Doctor Who: “Rose”, “New Earth”, “Smith and Jones”, “Partners in Crime” and “The Eleventh Hour” all seemed a lot less mature than this. In fact, it could be argued that this felt more like a finale style episode than and opener. However, the fact that this is only the first half of the story gave proceedings room to breathe and there was plenty of depth to the characters who gave uniformly top-notch performances and set up a great cliff-hanger. It wasn’t faultless but, in my book, it wasn’t far off. This year my reviews are going with a “Marks-out-of-Twenty” score and this sails in with a comfortable 16/20. Feel free to pitch in the comments with your scores and observations.

I am hoping to follow this up later in the week with further assessment, a review of the reviews, analysis of the ratings, a look at the new look Confidential and a look forward to the next episode. See you soon.

    • Sockmonkey
    • April 26th, 2011

    Great review mate.. I hadn't picked up on the connection between Amy and River regarding opening locked doors..hmm intentional? I also agree that this seemed so much more mature than previous openers.

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