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Doctor Who: Day of the Moon - The Ex-Communicator

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April 30th, 2011


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11:28 pm - Doctor Who: Day of the Moon
I often say that the key to good TV writing is to maximise the carrying capacity. You get as much content as possible into the viewer's brain, using just a moving square of light with sound. There are many different ways to do it but one way is tight plotting, and efficiently conveying information, so the story bounds along without any longeurs. Criminal Intent before the opening credits provides a very good example of compact and efficient story-telling, conveying a murder mystery and several distinct characters in three or four quick scenes.

Anyway, the first sequence of The Day of the Moon, shown today, was another very good example. I honestly can not remember a crisper tighter bit of storytelling in modern Who.

So, for about a minute I didn't understand what was going on, but it was possible to hold in mind everything that was happening: people scribbling on their bodies, Canton shooting the companions, the Silence are everywhere, the Tardis crew have worked it out and - and the scribbling is how they keep track - and the shootings were fakes - and it all fell together very rapidly. I was slightly disappointed that after the opening credits there was a bit of talky explanation, because I had been pleased that they didn't need to explain what we had just seen. I suppose for the kids though.

This episode showed very effective storytelling, going at a much faster pace than usual. The script was crisp and neat, while the structure and the plot were complex - this is the perfect way round - tell a complex story in a sharp way. I was impressed. It assumed an intelligent audience, and expected you to keep up.

I could have done without the shoot-em-up resolution: I think it's a good discipline to keep reliance on ordnance to a minimum, and that discipline also distinguishes this show from the run of the mill. People will say there's been shooting before - well, no doubt, but I would prefer none.

(Obviously I don't mind TV gunfighting in general, I just think the aesthetic of Who is a distinct one, and works better without resorting to this type of scene)

There are a lot of explanations still to come. I have no idea who the female Travis was, peeking through a window which then disappeared, she said something like 'She's still dreaming' - but that could be fun to find out.

Best script I've seen so far for this Doctor. I think Moffat is at the top of his game, and he doesn't care who knows it.

(15 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:julesjones
Date:May 1st, 2011 07:51 am (UTC)
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The gunfight scene was interesting, particularly when you look at it in the context of Davros ranting at the Doctor about claiming to be a pacifist but using other people as weapons. In this scene he quite explicitly acknowledges that he doesn't use guns himself but that in extremis he's prepared to use other people's guns. I agree with you about keeping the guns out, but I think that scene was a very deliberate use of guns.

And I think it's also there to say something about River Song. Eventually we're going to find out what she is and did to have a Dalek terrified and pleading for mercy when she told it who she was, and my feeling watching that scene was that it's part of that story arc.
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From:communicator
Date:May 1st, 2011 07:58 am (UTC)
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Yes, that's a good point on River's development.

I am slightly worried that this season so far seems to be an outreach to the Americans. Sorry - to be clear - I am not worried about outreach to new markets, I am just worried if they feel they have to be more friendly to shooting, to appeal to Americans. In fact, in commercial terms, I think they'd be better off preserving the distinctive feel of the show, rather than becoming more mainstream.

Edited at 2011-05-01 07:58 am (UTC)
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From:iainjclark
Date:May 1st, 2011 08:18 am (UTC)
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Given that the actual machanism of the resolution to the alien menace was quite subtle and intellectual, I'm somehow prepared to fogive the fact that the entire human race was incited to murder.

Also I thought all the "I'm an american" but re guns was satirical.
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From:iainjclark
Date:May 1st, 2011 08:20 am (UTC)
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~
Also also, in execution if not in concept, this two-parter has possibly the least 'mainstream' commercial feel Who has had in some time.
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From:communicator
Date:May 1st, 2011 08:40 am (UTC)
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Yes, I think it was satirical, which I liked but then the resolution slightly undermined that stance.

Also, how would non-Americans go about killing the aliens on sight? With knives? We aren't tooled up for killing.

This does not undermine my great appreciation of this episode, but I just don't want it to be a precursor of a new way of fighting.
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From:julesjones
Date:May 1st, 2011 08:32 pm (UTC)
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I think if they were aiming to take it in a direction more appealing to the mainstream US, we would not have had that bit at the end comparing gay marriage rights to the state of interracial marriage in 1969.

Which was an interesting thing in more way than one. There's that comment from River near the start of the two-parter about remembering that there was good in amongst the bad of Nixon's time in office -- and they left it until that scene to gently point out that one of the good things Nixon did was support for the civil rights movement.
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From:gylfinir
Date:May 1st, 2011 09:34 am (UTC)
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So, do you think - as I do - that River Song kills The Doctor? She said in the last series, and has alluded to it again, that she killed 'the best man she'd ever known'.

I agree that this writing is fabulous. I'm not a Who devotee as such, but I do think these two series have been excellent.
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From:communicator
Date:May 1st, 2011 09:49 am (UTC)
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I thought that about River at first, but now I have changed my mind. I think if the climax of this season were River killing the Doctor then it wouldn't make sense to begin the season with someone else killing the Doctor.

Unless the little girl in the spacesuit is River at a young age, which I guess is possible, but I don't think that's where we are going.

Like you I am not a devotee, but I thought this was well done.
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From:julesjones
Date:May 1st, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
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It's quite possible that the child is River -- Moffatt's the one who's seriously into exploring time paradoxes. I think that possibility is intended to be one of the things the audience should be considering, even if it's not what happens in the end. (We're also clearly supposed to think about whether the Schrodinger's pregnancy is the child.)

The really interesting bit for me is the child regenerating - not least because it's also possible to effectively kill the Doctor long-term by stealing his regenerations.
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From:gylfinir
Date:May 1st, 2011 11:07 am (UTC)
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I'm torn, because I really think it could be River, given all the different time paradoxes we're being presented with - and the heavy, knowing sadness she carries with her.

Ah well. Whomever it turns out to be, it's compelling viewing!
(Deleted comment)
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From:communicator
Date:May 2nd, 2011 10:39 am (UTC)
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The shoot-em-up resolution was River shooting all the Silence, and the female Travis was when Amy was wandering about the abandoned orphanage - well, there was a lady with a metal eye-patch peeping through a little window. No explanation, and we didn't come back to it.

Agree about an inelegant solution. I am not sure it is that easy for humans to kill aliens with magic disintegrating fingers. Ah well.
From:abigail_n
Date:May 2nd, 2011 10:21 am (UTC)
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I honestly can not remember a crisper tighter bit of storytelling in modern Who.

I think that's going a bit far. How does Canton fake Amy and Rory's deaths in front of other agents and The Silence? How long do Amy and Rory spend in the body bags before Canton opens them in the Doctor's cell - especially given that he tracks River down in the interim and construction of the cell has only started when Amy is captured? For that matter, who provided the technology for the cell? Most of all, why is it so important that the five characters hide themselves and their actions from The Silence when their first move after locking themselves in the cell is to venture right back into the world and The Silence's line of sight? I don't see what those three months on the run bought them or why they were necessary.

I found this scene, and the episode in general, rather derivative. Last season's finale did a better and slightly more coherent job with very similar material - for example, the impregnable cell in that story brings its occupant back from the dead, so there's no awkward interlude where a living person needs to fake death so persuasively as to forgo food, water, bathroom breaks and possibly oxygen, as Amy and Rory do here.
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From:communicator
Date:May 2nd, 2011 10:35 am (UTC)
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Yes, those are valid objections: what I meant was that the story was conveyed very effectively by means of what was shown on the screen, rather than the quality of the story itself.

The overall story was pretty threadbare in places, but the way it was conveyed to us was skilful.
From:abigail_n
Date:May 2nd, 2011 01:57 pm (UTC)
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I see what you mean, but that's actually a big part of the reason that Moffat's Who has left me so cold - it seems, increasingly, to be nothing but empty showmanship. I think the sequence you highlight here is a prime example. It's very ably conveyed, but it has no meaning - as I said above, there's no point to the characters' actions and the episode itself belies the significance it claims for them as soon as it does so - except to show off how ably Moffat can convey a story. Which was fine, and a lot of fun, five years ago when both the concept and its building blocks were fresh, but nowadays I find it rather tedious.

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