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#DWLineCon Part 2: Why We’re Here (Or, some thoughts on companionship and hero-worship.)

April 25, 2011

Before I start the recap of the actual episodes that I waited a bajillion hours to see, I should say that I didn’t see most of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who. I had gotten out of the swing of things, missed a few episodes, and by the time his series came out on DVD I was studying abroad. (That didn’t stop me from buying it, and Christopher Eccleston’s season, on Chinese bootleg DVD.) This means that I haven’t seen most of the Really Big Episodes: Blink, The Forest of the Dead. I haven’t even seen the episode where they meet Agatha Christie. * I missed out on most of Donna’s greatest moments. I missed Martha completely. And when photos of Matt Smith’s Eleven were released I initially could not constrain the side-eye– he’s how old? look at his hair! This looks so goth and maudlin!

Imagine my surprise when I watched Season Five– mostly in one go, live-chatting all the while with Mallory, during the three weeks I spent at home after quitting my job– and it wasn’t so much gothtown cryfest as this:

Matt Smith’s Doctor is more like Nine than Ten, in my opinion. His youthful exterior is a mask for his ambivalence towards the myth he’s created for himself (Amy’s Choice) and a tool to disarm those he encounters (pretty much every episode, ever.) He’s closer to the madcap foolishness of pre-Davies Who (celery, enormous scarves) than he is to Tennant’s grandstanding scenery banquet. Karen Gillan is a delight as Amy Pond, the girl who doesn’t make any sense, with her derpy boyfriend and her endless supply of shapeless sweatshirts. I loved Eleven before five minutes of The Eleventh Hour had passed. (And I think it took me until just this moment to realize why the episode was called that. Duh.)


So! That’s where I’m coming from with The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon two-parter that we were treated to. I’ll try not to spoil too much from Day of the Moon since The Impossible Astronaut has already aired, mostly because Moffatt asked us not to (that hasn’t stopped people! I think it might be lingering residues of that dream where Matthew Vaughan asked me not to bootleg movies that I have a sudden urge to obey directives.)

They aired the episodes for us back to back.* I don’t think that there has ever been a crueler cliffhanger than the end of the The Impossible Astronaut. If Day of the Moon hadn’t been included in the screening, I would have felt like inventing time travel just so I could fast forward to the end of April and watch it. I hate to use phrases like “rollercoaster” or “tense” but damn, these two episodes are a tense-ass rollercoaster. And beyond the surface level of Scary Big Bad + Scary Doctor Situation + Amy’s Scary Personal Situation, on re-watching the episode I found myself looking at The Impossible Astronaut as a mediation of sorts on the nature of Companionship (as Doctor Who has it) and hero-worship.

photo: letseyx on tumblr

First, the Big Bad and the (really, really scary) Plot: the villains are a race of aliens called the Silence: tall, spectral figures in slightly damp-looking suits, creatures that you forget the instant you look away from them. Amy saw one in the distance before the picnic at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut got real. When she looked back at Rory and he asked her what she’d seen, she said “nothing.” It’s a testament to how well these episodes were plotted that at first I just thought she was saying that so Rory wouldn’t worry; as the episode continues and she sees the Silence more and more, you realize something more sinister is at foot. The Silence are so frightening that you can see them, have a conversation with them, see them kill someone , and the minute you turn away, you will forget that you’ve seen them.

Last season’s episodes led me to believe that the Silence that was going to fall was the one that resulted from the cracks in the universe, and that when the Doctor closed them up in The Big Bang that that particular plotline was over. Having there be an actual race called the Silence  has much more interesting long-term implications, on both a plot and a metaphysical level; if there is a race of aliens that we can’t see guiding human events, what does that mean about free will? (I’m serious. This is a legit question.)  Unlike Eight Second Rule, which was merely heartbreaking, The Silence never stop being scary.* Never. I’m certain that my pal A has claw marks up and down her arm from where I kept clutching at her, my heart in my chest, as I tried to restrain myself from shouting at the screen. There is one scene with Rory and River exploring a particularly frightening-looking set of tunnels that had me freaking the eff out the entire time, even when I re-watched the episode in the well-lit safety of my apartment.

That same scene was also a prime example of Stephen Moffatt’s masterful talent. River and the Doctor have been traveling in opposite directions. When he meets her for the first time, she has all this history with him, and then she dies (In The Forest of the Dead. Right? Someone correct me here.) It’s a literal Time Traveler’s Wife situation, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking.

Rory: What did you mean? What you said to Amy, that there was a worse day coming for you?
River: When I first met the Doctor. A long, long time ago. He knew all about me. Think about that. Impressionable young girl, and suddenly this man just drops out of the sky, and he’s clever, and mad, and wonderful, and… and knows every last thing about her. Imagine what that does to a girl.
Rory: I don’t really have to.
River: Trouble is, it’s all back to front. My past is his future. We’re traveling in opposite directions. Every time we meet I know him more, he knows me less. I live for the days I see him. But I know that every time I do, he’ll be one step further away. The day is coming when I’ll look into that man’s eyes–my Doctor–and he won’t have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it’s going to kill me.

Moffat & Co spent a lot of time last season building up the relationship between the Doctor and River. For all her bravado, while River is blithely working at picking the lock of a very scary maintenance hatch in a very scary tunnel that shouldn’t exist, she is, deep down, already grieving. She’s lost the Doctor once before, the day she met him and realized that all their moments would happen in reverse. Rory knows what it’s like to live in the shadow of that kind of a legend; Amy met the Doctor for what, thirty minutes when she was ten? And she carried that personal legend, that five-minutes betrayal inside herself for twelve years (and four therapists) and even in the sideways universe where she never met the Doctor because he had never existed, he was still her imaginary friend.

Imagine what that does to a girl, indeed. Rory knows exactly what that does to a girl, and what it’s done to him. Because while River is living her life forwards as her life with the Doctor unfolds in reverse, he carries broken memories of another life lived in waiting; the time he spent as the Centurion, guarding Amy inside the Pandorica for 2,000 years.

The Doctor has a marvellous and cruel way of making the people he travels with absolutely devoted to him. Think about Rose, alone on that beach. And we’re getting into Spoiler Territory here, so be wary if that’s something you don’t go for, but there’s unimaginable cruelty in the Doctor’s actions in the first ten minutes of this episode. A future Doctor invites Amy and Rory and River to a place by a lake in Utah and they get to watch him die, literally die, die in a way that no other companions have ever witnessed. The Doctor dies. He does not regenerate. He dies. In front of them, and they’re only there at his invitation. And then another person appears, a man bearing a can of gasoline- and he was invited, too. 

When Amy stands aghast in that stupid tacky diner after being forced to witness her oldest friend’s death and incomprehendingly participate in his funeral pyre she’s angry more than sad. She’s angry at being used by the Doctor, I think, and the look on her face when he walks out of the bathroom blithe as you please is priceless. At some level, I think, he understands the cruelty of what he puts his companions through. After all, in Amy’s Choice, it’s his own psyche that asks “Friends? Is that your word for the people you acquire?” And I’m sure at that moment he was thinking of all the companions he lost along the way.

It’s Rory who sees the canoe and says they should do the thing properly. It’s River who says that a Time Lord’s body is a miracle, even in death. Rory and River understand what is going on and take action, while Amy can only react emotionally– Rory and River have, after all, lost the thing they loved most once already.* Rory’s marriage with Amy is hard-earned, and the look on his face, looking at Amy looking at the Doctor dead on the Utah sand, is heartbreaking. The Doctor was in Amy’s life long before Rory. One wonders who Amy will remember in the end.

My thoughts are coming across all muddled, here, but while I was re-watching this episode. I couldn’t get Sarah Jane out of my head. Elisabeth Sladen (who played Sarah Jane in the original series, and again in Tennant’s first series, AND had her own awesome spinoff on the BBC) died last weekend. In School Reunion, the Doctor (Tennant’s Ten) shows up in a school she’s been investigating. After their adventure, as they are about to part ways, the Doctor asks if she’s married.

Sarah Jane: I haven’t ever thanked you for that time. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
The Doctor: Something to tell the grandkids?
Sarah Jane: Oh, I think it’ll be someone else’s grandkids, now.
The Doctor: Right, yes. sorry. I didn’t get a chance to ask. There hasn’t been anyone, you know…?
Sarah Jane: Well, there was this one guy. I traveled with him for a while. But he was a tough act to follow. Goodbye, Doctor.
The Doctor: Oh, it’s not goodbye-
Sarah Jane: Oh, say it, please. This time.

It’s the this time that’s particularly poignant. Earlier in the episode Rose asks if that’s what’s going to happen to her, and he says no- and (spoiler alert!) it does! People are constantly getting left behind in Doctor Who  and I think Rory and River understand that where Amy just flat out doesn’t want to.

And of course there’s more to this episode than melancholy bullshit. There’s Canton Everett Delaware III and his amazement in the face of the TARDIS:

There’s the Doctor invading the White House.

There’s the question of who the Silence are, and why they’re in the White House as well as the creepy tunnels.

And of course, there’s the question of just who that Impossible Astronaut is, anyway.

I think I’ll have some more tying-it-all-together thoughts after The Day of the Moon airs, because the events of Day of the Moon are influencing a lot of what I’ve said above. In the meantime, I’m left with what Sarah Jane says to Rose at the beginning of that clip I posted earlier. When Rose asks if she should go with the Doctor, Sarah Jane says that some things are worth the heartbreak. One wonders if Rory and River would always say that. I’m not sure I could.

Part I: Doctor Who the Fuck Cares? The Experience of #DWLineCon

Part II: #DWLineCon Part 2: What We Came Here For (this post)

Part III: Whither Fandom?

* Fenella Woolgar!
* And here’s where I should take the time to commend BBC America and all the organizers for a really well-run event. We got in quickly, we got seated quickly, and technical issues like the time when the main theater started projecting into our theater, creating a meta BBC logo loop, were resolved quickly. Swag was handed out with a minimum of carnage. All in all, a really pleasurable experience, from a pure event planning logistics level.
* This link is to a story that also plays with the idea of instant memory loss: Elizabeth Bear and Emma Bull’s awesome online series Shadow Unit, where there is an UNSUB who, in response to terrible abuse, developed the ability to be overlooked, and it saved her, until she couldn’t turn it off.
* I’m operating on the assumption that the “best man I ever knew” that River killed is the Doctor. Because, OH GOD.

***Also, if you see a gif that you know is attributed to someone in this post, please let me know. The screencaps are all mine with the exception of the one with the caption.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    April 25, 2011 5:21 pm

    Nice post! (Found ya through the hashtag. Need to read your #DWLineCon post now!) There’s a phrase in that River/Rory section I didn’t really notice before reading it here that has me *very curious now. Not saying more than that until Day of the Moon.

    Anywho, my thought: What if the “best man I ever knew” turns out to be Rory?? I really had that thought after my 1st couple viewings. At #DWLineCon I was so convinced I was already sad for him. Now I’m not so sure, due to the way she so easily has that conversation with him. But I’m of the thought that it *won’t be the Doctor.

    That’s a great screenshot of the door River opens to ask another thought I had: doesn’t that glowy bit look an awful lot like a Dalek’s spinny-hand-attachment? Did they have those in S5? I can’t recall.


    Also, it took me a crazy long time to recognize “The *Eleventh* Hour” too!


  1. Doctor Who The F*ck Cares? The experience of #DWLineCon « steady as she goes

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