Wow. If last week left me reeling with just how they could possibly square the opening ten minutes then this one has totally blown apart any theories, thoughts or expectations that I might have built up over the previous 40 minutes.
It’s almost impossible to describe how excited I am about that.
For a long time Doctor Who has been a monster of the week piece. Word is there are two types of series. There are your monster of the week style series, like Doctor Who under RTD, where each week the villain is introduced and wrapped up in one. Think of your Scooby Doo’s, your early Smallville or Buffy. Great episodes could be thrown in but there’s no through line. Characters may develop, there may be consequences, but the plot of that monster doesn’t follow through over a series in an important way. What happens in that episode may be referenced, the villain may pop up again but there won’t be anything in that episode that you need to have watched in order to understand what happens next week, or in the season finale.
For a long time, this is where Doctor Who has been at. For a long time I’ve been happy with that, just as I was happy to watch Clark punch whichever high schooler had contracted Kryptonite Superpower Disease, or Buffy clock whatever vampire, demon or insect person had crawled out of the crypt that week. There’s nothing especially wrong with these programmes, or those type of plots. They are essentially simplistic. All can be boiled down to a stock plotline – Doctor Who has generally been Doctor travels somewhere, Doctor faces a bad guy, Doctor works out their plan, Doctor defeats them.
But for this season Moffat has raised the game. We’re entering the territory of that fabled series; The Myth Arc. All those episodes are now linked. Whilst there has always been an attempt at this in new who it’s been limited to, say, graffiti of the same words scattered around the universe, or cracks in time appearing all over the place. Those don’t build a myth arc. They’re Easter Eggs at best, and at worst make you look ridiculous. For too much of Season 4 the Doctor seemed to only battle enemies who had lost their planet.
What Moffat has done here is taken out the vague references to circumstantial goings on out, and insert an ongoing plotline instead, effectively rewriting entire sections of Who history to do so. It’s about damn time. Doctor Who shouldn’t be Scooby Doo. It should be Babylon 5. It should be Battlestar Galactica. Like those two it should be happy to allow every episode to fit into an ongoing and ever present story arc, spanning episodes, seasons and entire series.
It’s not just B5 and BSG though. The best series now follow the myth arcs that were pioneered by B5, look at The Wire, or The West Wing, or even later seasons of Buffy and you’ll see how a single thread ties everything together. In moving towards this style of television Doctor Who is jettisoning it’s reliance on being ‘Just For Kids’. I know a lot of adults who are confused by what’s going on in Doctor Who at the moment. Not just the cliffhangers and questions, but just the plot. How is the Doctor dead, and now alive? “Who’s that guy? What did that guy say when I said who’s that guy?” Even stuff that is spelt out for viewers can get confusing when time travel is involved, so it’s hardly surprising that people don’t understand River Song.
But this is part of a wider movement away from children’s storytelling where at the end of every episode everyone has to be back the way they were, where things can’t change. These last two episodes have introduced two HUGE points to be follow up on. Things are not going to be the same again after these. And that’s a great thing.
There are moments in this episode that are going to be carried over to not just the next few episodes, but this season and next. The identity of the spaceman, the role of the Silence, the death of the Doctor all still needs explaining. On top of that we have the child, the time machine from ‘The Lodger’ and just why the Silence wanted to go to the moon.
There is the building of a myth arc, a story spanning, well, time and space. A story that’s way bigger than just these two episodes, where the questions and bad guys aren’t going to be over by the end of this. We already know that there’s still at least one Silence (Silent?) around in 2011 for Amy to see and forget before the Doctor gets killed. We also know that the spaceman is still around in 2011, which if the child is still in it means that the Silence presumably got the time machine in the basement working.
This episode has answered very few of the big questions, but did neatly give a way of fighting back against an omnipresent alien threat which had already won. The post-hypnotic fugue state get’s introduced a little too easily and the trick of using the enemies own powers against them is (another) standard Moffat trope – see getting the Angels to face one another in ‘Blink’. Nonetheless, it’s very Doctor, as is sending the companions across America to discover more in secret.
You have to wonder quite why they needed to make such a thorough and covert operation. Was it really necessary to fool everyone but the President into thinking that the Doctor and his companions were bad guys? It gave us an arresting opening though – and I have to admit, I wasn’t entirely certain until River dropped off the building that Amy wasn’t going to stay dead for the episode.
There’s one other thing that we shouldn’t gloss over. Whilst wondering through the exceedingly creepy care home, Amy stumbles across a hatch that subsequently disappears. And in it there’s a woman with an eye patch who mentions that she [Amy? The Child?] is still dreaming. So, is Amy dreaming – in which case is this pregnancy related to the dream pregnancy from ‘Amy’s Choice‘?* That woman is apparently a named character in the season finale, and a dream sequence season seems unlikely, so we’ll see. Maybe a Matrix style physical space change thing? Who knows!
That care home stretch marks the episodes high point. A nice nod to 28 Days Later – surely it can’t be a coincidence that the shot up the stairs of the graffiti mirrors that found in the rage occupied church, and a vibe of I Am Legend as well, this veered heavily into horror movie terriatory. The sudden appearance of marks all over Amy was lovely touch, and as a worrisome little motif it worked very well. The in the skin recorders worked less well, eventually paying off more as a plot advancing weapon than an actually useful tool.
Of course, all of this is a mere precursor to that final five minutes. With the Silence defeated** we get the two scenes that build for the future; Amy is and isn’t pregnant at once, and the child who broke out of the Spacesuit is regenerating.
Forget about that pregnancy for the moment, I think that’s the lesser of two WHAT moments.
The regeneration is huge.
Now, we’re going to go on a huge assumption here, which I think may actually be wrong, but it certainly seems to be the direction they want us to go in: that The Child and Amy’s unbaby are one and the same. We have the unpregnancy, and the photo in the care home of Amy and her child.
If it is Amy’s child that means one of a few things. Either the TARDIS, or time travel itself, has messed with Amy’s baby – it’s got a time head. Or, Amy’s child has somehow got some Time Lord DNA in it. It’s not going to be the Doctor’s daughter, unless it’s actually the Doctor’s daughter, as last seen in ‘The Doctor’s Daughter‘. That would be a twist; not Amy’s baby, not young River, but Georgia Moffet come back as a child. We assume she can’t regenerate but who knows!
Too much speculation here is probably a bad idea. At the moment we don’t need to know. These mysteries will pass, new ones will emerge. We’re on the myth arc now, and I can’t wait for the next clue.
* So, this week’s what if is… In ‘Amy’s Choice’, we saw an ‘evil’ version of the Doctor, who trapped the people in the TARDIS in the worst dream sequence in history. In which Amy was pregnant. So, we had a phantom pregnancy, within a dream. We now have Schrödinger’s pregnancy, and a possible dream plot, and a child who is at least part Time Lord. So, what if that’s a residual pregnancy from that dream sequence, with Time Lord DNA from the Dream Lord. With the Silence apparently looking to get hold of a time machine, and a pilot for it, did they find a way to exploit that phantom pregnancy to get themselves a time pilot in the form of the Child?
** I love that the Doctor’s answer to how to deal with the silence is – get the humans to bludgeon them to death! There is a worrying trend emerging of the Doctor to commit arbitrary genocide of any species that threaten earth. The problem in this case if that aside from the death of Joy we never see the Silence doing anything evil. The fact that they’ve been guiding civilisation for years through mind control is irrelevant, what have they done that actually counts them as evil? They’re described as parasites but hardly seem to be stunting humanity, they feed off humanity, sure, but without them we apparently wouldn’t have gone into space, so it’s fairly symbiotic at worst. Is genocide the answer? Probably not. Is it what Doctor Who does? Absolutely.