As you are no doubt aware, this April sees one of the most exciting events of our times – children dance and sing, old ladies wipe a tear and people all around the world take to the streets in celebration of the happy occasion. I refer, of course, to the start of the new series of Doctor Who. And so, as is traditionally the case, I shall once again stretch the definition of “London blog” to talk about it.
First impressions, I have to say, were pretty favourable. The first episode of the series has a tendency to be a bit ho-hum, usually because it’s introducing a new Doctor or a new companion – whatever beastie they’re facing down tends toget a bit sidelined. So it’s a bold but not unwelcome move to give us a crazy two-parter right at the start of things. We are – oh yeah – SPOILERS AHEAD! - thrust right into a bizarre, creepy story featuring non-linear time, memory-stealing aliens, mistrust among friends and, of course, Richard Nixon.
From the outset, writer Steven Moffat seems determined to mess with our heads – in a rather shocking early scene, we see our friend the Doctor gunned down in cold blood by what appears to be an Apollo astronaut. Yes, it’s definitely the Doctor, and yes, he’s definitely dead. So when he shows up a couple of scenes later, two centuries younger and very confused as to why everyone’s so upset, it raises questions to say the least. To some extent, this is business as usual for Moffat, who seems to love messing about with the time travel element of the show more than any other writer. Not that this is particularly a bad thing, it keeps the old viewer brain working, although I would question how accessible a story like this is to the younger viewers.
Speaking of things that are accessible to younger viewers, we’re presented with a new and very creepy villain in the form of aliens known simply as “the Silence.” These are a weird and unholy cross between Greys, Men in Black and the Elephant Man’s skull and, as if that wasn’t enough, you forget they exist as soon as you stop looking at them. Moffat’s got it all figured as to what gives the kiddies nightmares – I would imagine the concept of creatures that might be right behind you but you’ve forgotten will cause no shortage of pants-soilings over the coming weeks.
One of the criticisms frequently levelled at the old pre-cancellation Doctor Who was that it always looked wobbly and low-budget. Which is true, it did – although this criticism is perhaps a little unfair, given that your average drama series (Coronation Street, say) doesn’t have to create aliens, spaceships and distant planets on a weekly basis. Nevertheless, Doctor Who‘s strongest elements are those that arise out of clever writing rather than spectacle. Some of the most effective monsters of the revived series have been those that play on simplicity. The Weeping Angels, for instance, which are completely harmless as long as you don’t take your eyes off them for even an instant. And the Vashta Nerada, which strip you down to your skeleton if you step into a shadow. And the Twilight creature, which – actually, what the hell was that thing? The Silence are a continuation of this head-messing tradition.
It looks like the Silence might be more than just another one-off monster. A number of elements in this episode tied in with loose-dangling plot threads from the previous series. For instance, that weird spaceship from ‘The Lodger’ reappeared, albeit now we learn that it’s part of a worldwide network of similar vehicles. And it’s surely not coincidence that the word “silence” should crop up so often in the previous series, only for a race of beings by that name to show up. It seems, based on the trailer at the end of this episode, that we may be gearing up for a full-on secret invasion-type storyline spanning the entire series. And the beauty of instantly-forgotten creatures is that they can be retroactively introduced anywhere you like – they could even be inserted into the settings of previous episodes on the grounds that we, the viewers, “forgot” they were there. It’s all very exciting.
The other great plot thread that we’ve been told will be resolved is that of River Song. This character is the very epitome of Moffat’s temporal jiggery-pokery, being as she is a character whose encounters with the Doctor are out-of-order. His first meeting with her was her last, and each time they meet they have to synchronise diaries. We know she’s a prisoner, and she killed “the best man [she had] ever known.” Is that the Doctor? We don’t see the face of the person who kills him. However, the fact that the Doctor is a terrible man would seem to eliminate this as a possibility. We also know that she learnt to drive a TARDIS from “the best,” but that wasn’t the Doctor. One hint in this episode is that she might actually be future-Amy, which leads me to think that that’s exactly what she won’t be. Really, she could turn out to be anything.
A part of me is wondering if my theory about the last series may yet turn out to have some validity, i.e. that the Dreamlord character introduced in the last series may not have been the hallucination he appeared to be. Maybe River Song is the companion of a Doctor, but not our Doctor. But I’m getting into nerdy fan speculation here. Sorry. I’ll stop.