The Impossible Astronaut
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon
Day of the Moon

Story No. 234 Amy keeping count
Production Code Series 6, Episode 2
Dates April 30 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Toby Haynes
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: The moon launch is occurring but the Silence are everywhere.


More Fascinating, Less Fantastic by Kaan Vural 13/8/11

The bad stuff first:

The single biggest issue with the second half is that this is when the balance between the local story and the series arc becomes strongly problematic. The two-parter as a whole raises at least a full dozen mysteries while only really answering about two; combined with the fact that the Doctor knows the final solution from the beginning of the second part (killing any possible sense of build-up), the episode as a whole feels strongly unsatisfying. Which is a problem if you want your story to have a life of its own.

Secondly, the disconnect. A fairly large portion of the plot is skipped over between the two parts, including - rather heinously - the resolution of the first-part cliffhanger itself. As a result, the episode gets off to a very disorienting start which feels written more for the punchiness and shock value than for sensible plotting and behavior by the main players in the story.

Thirdly, the companions. There is a plotline with Amy which feels very un-Who, though in fairness this will depend on how it's ultimately handled. And a choice is made regarding the relationship between River and the Doctor that worries me very deeply, though again the precise interpretation will have to wait until future encounters between the two.

Finally, the supporting cast. Mainly, there isn't one, really. None of the characters are fleshed out: every one of them barring Canton is a caricature operating purely at the convenience of the plot, and Canton has almost no point beyond being another pair of hands. Doctor Renfrew makes me think the production crew are a little too dedicated to honoring the age-old Whovian tradition of god-awful American accents. Nixon is walking handwavium. And every other character is either a cipher or a mystery. It's the Roland Emmerich approach to characterization, unfortunately, and it's not pretty to watch when Moffat does it.

Now the good:

The final solution is in fact rather good, reminiscent in its elegance of Blink in that it fits the nature of the villains. The villains themselves are still treated well by the direction and script, although there's a scene reminiscent of the Daleks' notorious inability to kill the Doctor on sight. There's undoubtedly staying power here on the level of the Weeping Angels.

The leads are treated rather well. The Doctor relies not on handwavium but on a plan which is admittedly quite daring and ingenious, and thus comes across as a more cunning sort of character than we've seen him in recent years, which goes a long way towards achieving that Fourth Doctor balance of kooky near-senility and fiendish intellect. Amy and Rory maintain the maturity they showed in The Impossible Astronaut. And River gets more material that doesn't consist purely of reciting catchphrases in a coy manner.

The effects and music are still good; an interesting variation on the "I am the Doctor" theme is introduced towards the end, which I'd love to hear developed.

Finally, the series arc, while somewhat overpowering here, does look to be fairly twisty, setting up a genuine, full-bodied mystery as opposed to the arc-word-and-a-finale approach of previous seasons. While the previous episode broke some rules about TV Doctor Who, it looks like the groundwork is being laid for some even more out-of-the-box thinking - and in the end, thinking out of the box is what Doctor Who is all about.

To conclude, the episode was a bit of a damp squib compared to the first part, but it's still worth watching for the usual Moffat-style action, romance and ingenuity, as well as some quite bizarre and shocking twists that certainly preserve a sense of anticipation about the series.

Doctor Who and Water's Gate by Jason A. Miller 11/10/20

Boy, Day of the Moon is disconcerting to watch out-of-sequence, in random order. Up until the Moffat era, you could pretty reliably watch Doctor Who on shuffle, zipping from 1969 to 2007 to 1983 and not worrying about missing too much context. However, now we're talking about in Series 6, which alternates between largely weak standalone stories, and isolated out-of-order chapters from The Book of River Song. None of Day of the Moon's mysteries made sense to me when it first aired in April 2011. Who was that little girl? Why was there a picture of Amy holding a baby in that girl's bedroom? Why did the girl regenerate at the end of the episode? How can Amy be both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time? And what's River's deal? Nothing got answered at the end.

Now, we do have all the answers to these things, later on, mostly supplied by A Good Man Goes to War, which I've already savaged on the Ratings Guide, and Let's Kill Hitler. So there's a lot of pennies dropping when you watch Day of the Moon many years later -- oh yes! of course!, I found myself thinking a half-dozen times tonight. I even picked up on the stray continuity reference to The Lodger. How about that! But the journey (the process of watching the story a second time) is much less interesting than the arrival (realizing who that girl is going to grow up to be).

Day of the Moon, as with many of Moffat's "event" episodes, lacks a focus. Stuart Milligan, an honest-to-goodness American actor, shows up playing President Nixon. Milligan plays the role as an earnest, bumbling goofball, which Nixon most certainly was not. I once had it in mind to write an over-the-top Dennis Spooner-style Hartnell-era Watergate historical fan-script, portraying Nixon aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman as jack-booted Nyder clones, and with the Doctor gripping his lapels blustering "How dare YOU, Mister President!" (or was that Harrison Ford who said that first?). But in Day of the Moon, Nixon's eventual downfall is a running gag -- the Doctor telling him "You have to tape everything that happens in this office. Every word!", or, later, "Say hi to David Frost for me" -- played for yuks, while Milligan's genial portrayal doesn't earn those veiled barbs.

You could also imagine writing the fan script for a seven-part Pertwee-era episode revolving around Apollo 11 and the moon landing. With Pertwee getting his "moment of charm" talking Neil Armstrong out of some bit of self-doubt, or later sneaking back to make sure that Michael Collins eventually got to walk on the moon, too. Although, honestly, Pertwee-does-Apollo-11 already was imagined as The Ambassadors of Death, and you can't imitate perfection, so it's not worth trying again. But here, the moon landing is realized only by archival footage, and none of our heroes actually go there. If Chris Chibnall were to script a Jodie Whittaker episode on the moon, she'd get a three-minute montage assembling a Sheffield-steel golf club for Alan Sheppard to take up into space. In Moffat's hands, the moon landing is just another pale plot device.

Moffat's story jumps all over the place, so you're left trying to follow the plot from two scenes behind pace. Oh, look, there's a really big dam! Isn't that Utah vista gorgeous? Oh, look, River lives in New York! Wow, now we're in a creepy orphanage! Hey, we're in Cape Kennedy! But, as the previous reviewer on this site notes, there's no through-line, no strong secondary characters to shepherd us through from point A to point Z... unless you count Mark Sheppard, playing a ridiculously named US federal agent, who seems like nothing more than Bill Filer redux. And, speaking of Moffat stopping the plot to bring up a huge continuity reference to the classic series, it seems like there's a three-minute discussion of dwarf star alloy, last seen in Warriors' Gate 30 years previously. But in Warriors' Gate, dwarf star alloy was a serious plot device around which the climax hinged. In Day of the Moon, dwarf star alloy is a decoy plot device for three minutes early on, and then has nothing to do with the resolution.

The Silence are pretty creepy villains -- Moffat even writes in a montage of every other time someone has said "Silence" in one of his earlier episodes, to let you know that This Matters Very Much -- but they're a pretty old theme by this point. Moffat is over-fond of villains that you can't see or that change when you aren't looking at them. And the Silence look more than a bit like the Gentlemen from the Buffy the Vampire Episode all-timer Hush, only Hush utilized silence as a deadly weapon, but Day of the Moon, in which the Silence are the bad guys, is drowning in noise: Matt Smith babbling his witty banter or Alex Kingston -- with whom Smith shares zero chemistry, as if they're acting in separate rooms -- trying vainly to flirt with the boy. So even the strength of this story, the Silence, are a bit of a weakness.

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon was the moment when Doctor Who briefly came the It Thing in U.S. pop culture. Finally, the episodes were airing on the same day as the UK premieres; finally, we got theatrical screenings in the US, and, for a giddy 36-month period, every teenage girl in America loved Matt Smith. But that fandom faded away, mostly gone by the time Peter Capaldi assumed the role of a more mature, gravitic Doctor. I can't help but think that Doctor Who's nuclear-hot moment in America owed little to Moffat's frantic puzzle-box scripts, and everything to Matt Smith's floppy hairdo and incessant chatter. To quote Gertrude Stein, "There is no there there" when it comes to Day of the Moon. Had the stories been better, maybe all those fans would have stuck around after Smith became Capaldi, instead of fixating their obsession on Smith and drifting away after he left...