From the very beginning, Steven Moffat has shown a remarkable ability to craft new “Doctor Who” monsters that carve out a new place in our nightmares. From “Blink” to “Silence in the Library” to the monsters inhabiting this new adventure, they manage to remain true to the spirit of classic “Who” while still being new and inventive.
Unfortunately, I would rank this two-part season premiere well below his best work. There were some major issues with the pacing – the first part, especially, was too talky and confusing for my tastes. While the conclusion was better, it still relied too heavily on coincidence and was a little too cavalier with the traditions of the series.
“The Silence” – the weird alien monsters that have been running the show on Earth for millennia – were not surprisingly the strong suit of the story. Their peculiarities – you forget everything about them as soon as you look away – presented a unique set of challenges for the good guys (as Moffat’s best monsters always do). But the resolution of their story was preposterously silly – Canton uses a video phone from the future to record one of them giving what will be the subliminal order to destroy them. How, exactly, did Canton know his alien friend was going to say just that perfect thing? I also felt that the story of the little girl in the space suit and the Doctor’s staged death at the start of the episode were never really tied effectively into the rest of the story. The cliffhanger at the end suggests she’s a Time Lord herself – but no answers.
Indeed, loose ends are a bit of a problem all around. Obviously this is intended as the start of a season-long plot line, but with “Who” it’s nice to get a little more resolution at the episodic level. Also a problem is Amy’s pregnancy – which feels very soap opera – River’s kiss with The Doctor at the end of the ep (I’m growing quite weary of River Song) and Canton’s revelation that he’s being booted from the FBI because he wants to marry another man (an African-American, at that). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d hoped that with the departure of RTD we might see the departure of agendas, too – they feel out of place on Doctor Who. The portrayal of Nixon – not one of my favorite historical figures, trust me – felt condescending and superior in the way only the Brits talking about Americans can be.
On the plus side, the cast overall remains very strong. Smith brings a lot of vulnerability to the role we haven’t seen before, but I think it works. Alex Kingston (River) for all that her character annoys me, is undeniably a fine actress. Karen Gillan has developed a nice chemistry with her second Doctor, and the real surprise of the cast is Arthur Darvill (Rory). He started off looking a bit like a buffoon, but thanks to Darvill’s performance and some fine writing, he’s revealed as a complex, moody and stubborn guy – fiercely in love with Amy but totally insecure about it, and carrying two thousand years of pain with him.
Next week we get a pirate epic, “Curse of the Black Spot” by a writer new to “Who”, Steve Thompson. I’d rather see the show leave Earth and get off into space again sooner than later, but that will happen soon enough.