SPOILERS and stuff.
Well that was certainly a Steven Moffat story, wasn’t it?
Spacesuits, disembodied kid voices, the Doctor saying various things are cool, the Doctor saying something really annoying like “wobbly bobbly flippity floppity” or something, I don’t even remember what, alien monsters that are more a conceptual threat than a real thing, astronaut suits, hints as to River Song’s identity, a major character ‘dying’ in a way that will very obviously be reversed, characters knowing secrets about other characters’ futures, a bit ripped off from Alien Bodies (the bit where they have to destroy the Doctor’s body in order to stop it being prized by alien civilisations),
Mary Sue River Song being able to do everything in the world… It really was like somebody’s got some kind of machine, the Moff-O-Matic, churning this stuff out by the yard.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you – one could make a similar list of ingredients for a Terrance Dicks, or Robert Holmes, or Christopher Bidmead, or Douglas Adams script. And of the writers on the Welsh series, Moffat is by far the most competent at actually telling a story. And Matt Smith is still turning in an astonishingly good performance. I have trouble seeing Smith’s character as the Doctor though – while some have described Colin Baker’s TV Doctor as ‘a stupid person’s idea of what a clever person is like’, Smith’s character seems to be a deeply dull person’s idea of what an interesting person is like. He’s not so much an eccentric as “I’m mad, me”. The performance manages to sell it, though – Smith is as good an actor as ever played the role (I didn’t warm to his performance at first until I read an interview where he talked about how he was influenced by Peter Sellers, and it became obvious then that Smith is playing the Doctor as Sellers would, were he given those scripts).
On a comparative scale, this ranks somewhere in the middle of last year’s episodes, which means it would still be by far the best thing in any of the four series prior to that. But compared to the old series? Earthshock or something from that era. It’s about up to the standard of a Series 19 mid-season filler, right down to a surplus of companions (two companions is OK. Two companions plus River Song plus Guest FBI Blokey is too many) and the desire for SHOCKING EVENTS! (The Doctor Died!!!!!).
It’s not a bad piece of TV by any means – I laughed at points, the monsters were quite spooky, the bloke playing Nixon looked slightly more like him than Ian MacNeice did Churchill last year, and everything more or less made sense. But it was just sort of… there. Forty-five minutes of extruded TV product.
Moffat *is* capable of better. When he’s good, he can actually be very good. I hope he starts trying later in the series…