NuNuWho Series 2 Episode 1: The One With The Things And Stuff

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…

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13 Responses to NuNuWho Series 2 Episode 1: The One With The Things And Stuff

  1. Chris Browning says:

    i *really* enjoyed that . the bit with the doctor’s body needing to be destroyed reminded me more of the sarah jane episode with smith from last year as that was a key plot point

    i totally buy into the smith thing and cannot see the “i’m mad me!” thing at all, but that may be a taste thing. smith is very much the sort of doctor i’ve always wanted the series to do so i’m happy with the character based on that. he also DESPERATELY needs to do more scenes with children as he’s by far the best actor the series has had for acting with children. almost every moment i think of warmly from last season were ones where he interacted with young actors. he’s a natural at it

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Yeah, but that SJA episode, I just kept thinking “They’re ripping off Alien Bodies!” ;)

      I think Smith’s *performance* is absolutely perfect – and you’re right, he’s great with kids. It’s the writing, rather than the performance, that gets to me with Smith’s Doctor. The whole “I *am* a madman in a box” thing – I don’t think the Doctor thinks of himself that way.

      BTW I shared Lawrence Miles’ take on the trailer – don’t read unless you want your blood to boil ;)

      • Dave Godfrey says:

        I don’t think the Doctor thinks of himself that way either, but its how he often comes across, and deliberately so, almost right from the start- Patrick Troughton pulling out a whistle at inappropriate moments, Tom Baker offering genocidal maniacs sweets, etc.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Absolutely – but there’s a difference between the Doctor acting like that because that’s how the Doctor acts, and the Doctor acting like that because he thinks of himself as different in some way…

          • Don Alsafi says:

            I was actually pretty impressed with the opening episode; I’ve loved Matt Smith’s performance the entire time, but I thought the writing of his character is only just starting to match it.

            My girlfriend felt that the script gave him more depth than we’ve generally seen from him: Instead of just showing us “crazy, goofy Doctor”, we saw several flavors. For instance, the opening picnic seemed pleasant and low-key, nothing more – until it became clear in hindsight that he *knew* what he was walking to (see his bowed head at the lake), and simply wanted one last goodbye. The sadness of that realization was actually pretty moving to me.

            I also got a kick out of her comment that his fit of petulance in the TARDIS (when the others won’t tell him what’s going on) was *very* William Hartnell. :)

  2. Anton says:

    New season opener and such a lot of that episode was expostition. I really felt it was talking directly to potential first time BBC America viewers. I can’t think of a single Doctor Who trope they didn’t cover. So, a good jumping on point.Too many stories have happened since the Ecclestone reboot to get away with recommending the first episode – ‘Rose’ as a good place to start discovering Who.

    The Silence, with their, as you point out ,’conceptual’ threat are a little too similar in concept to the Weeping Angels but visually they’re stunning, you really do feel like you have seen them before but can’t remember where. There’s gonna be some kids having nightmares tonight. A complete departure from the child friendly ‘Peter Pan in space/fairytale mood of last season. This is total horror show. But with the trademark Doctor Who quirkiness intact. Speaking of which – yeah,Smith’s irritating office joker act is beginning to grate but there are always flashes of something darker.

    So the wibbly wobbly timey wimey has given way to the bumpy wumpy timey wimey? My head is spinning trying to keep up with all those time paradoxes. This is as you say pure Moffat. But I love that after nearly fifty years Doctor Who finally gets to play with what being a TIME TRAVELLER might entail and the two-way consequences it creates.

  3. Prankster says:

    It’s interesting–when I watched the Moffat series the first time around I thought “Well, this is a lot better than the Davies run, but it’s still not quite clicking with me”. It wasn’t until I rewatched it with my girlfriend and some other friends (we watched “Blink” and the “Silence in the Library” two-parter, then skipped right to “The Eleventh Hour”, which to me is the best way to watch the show) that I started to feel more warmly towards it.

    (For the record, I’ve seen very little classic Who, and I’m Canadian, so this is as a semi-detached observer rather than someone as passionate feelings about Who since he was ten.)

    Yet “The Impossible Astronaut” clicked for me. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve finally bonded with the show, as mentioned–though I was a little ambivalent to the Christmas special–or maybe it was the fact that they finally pulled off some emotional scenes that weren’t mawkish, an ongoing problem with this show. I also thought it was clever of Moffat to establish that the Doctor who died was from 200 years in the future–that ALMOST made me believe that that was a real death, since the show could technically continue as long as they wanted from that point on. Yes, of course, thinking about it for five seconds it has to be reversed, but when they established the Doctor’s return as simply being from earlier in the timestream I have to admit I felt a bit of a flutter. I’ve got JUST enough faith in Moffat to believe he’ll do something clever with that beyond just “time gets rewritten/turns out the Doctor was only MOSTLY dead…” though I suppose that’s not a guarantee, after The Big Bang resorted to Davies-ish “clap your hands say Doctor” wand-waving to an extent.

    That said, I remain optimistic that the whole subtext of The Big Bang is Moffat trying to start fresh this season and crawl out from under Davies’ shadow. If nothing else they’ve already shaken up the episode format…

    • Prankster says:

      Also, I gotta say–I like the Doctor surrounded by lots of Companions, personally. It makes the show feel more grounded in some kind of ongoing narrative, rather than a string of “here’s the Doctor saving the day, there he goes” stories, which, no matter how inventive they are individually, start to feel a bit samey when taken together. With this current bunch of different people to play off the Doctor and each other, you get the sense that there’s the possibility of some character development beyond “the Doctor and his Companion–will they or won’t they?!?” That’s probably just a personal preference, though.

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        My own preference is for two companions. That certainly works best for ‘actorly’ Doctors, anyway (like Troughton or Davison). One companion turns into the Doctor’s ‘assistant’ and can only work if you have a *VERY* strong companion character, or if you have a great scenery-chomping ego-monster like Tom Baker on screen so it doesn’t really matter who else is there.
        Three companions *can* work, but only really did in the very early days when the Doctor wasn’t really the central character of his own show. When it’s been tried since then (Ben, Polly & Jamie, Tegan, Nyssa & Adric, Tegan, Nyssa & Turlough) they’ve always had to get rid of one almost straight away as there’s just not enough room for all the characters to have any plot to themselves – and that goes even more for the current 45-minute format.

        • Prankster says:

          Hmm. Well, most of my favourite shows of the last decade or so have been ongoing serialized stories with largish casts, so I guess I’m reacting positively to Doctor Who moving more in that direction. But clearly you’re reacting to an ideal of Doctor Who specifically and I’m reacting to an ideal of television in general, so I guess we’re coming at it from different perspectives. :)

  4. Anton says:

    I do feel Moffat’s aiming for a ‘Scooby Gang’ vibe, again to appeal to a mainstream sci-fi (by which I probably mean U.S.) audience. The extended Tardis family might work, we’ll see. I don’t think the ex FBI guy made as much impact as Captain Jack did in his debut (and I hated him).

  5. Pingback: The Impossible Astronaut (Doctor Who series 6, episode 1) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  6. Lawrence Burton says:

    As you say, it was just sort of there. I can’t even be arsed to think about it any more.

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