The Moffat Master Plan – Series 6 (part 1)

Warning – Some spoilers for Pyramids of Mars, Father’s Day, and Waters of Mars. Major spoilers for important bits of series five, six, and seven.

Okay, welcome to part two of my investigation of Steven Moffat’s story arcs and writing, and how it holds together.

Hint = it doesn’t.

This article will only be about the first story of series six because there’s a lot to say. But the series certainly started strong…

Boy, I hope we don’t completely screw up this iconic scene later in the season…

Impossible Astronaut While at Lake Silencio, Amy spots a figure on a hill. It’s a Silent. But even though it’s incredibly likely that she’s seen the footage of the moon landing at some point in her life, she doesn’t immediately try to kill it on sight.

In fairness, Amy is a part of events, so you can argue the change to the moon landing footage hasn’t happened yet. It’s something that’s been done in the series before. A different version of it was done way back in Pyramids of Mars[1]. I think my issue with it here, and through Moffat’s run, is that there’s so much playing with time with highly variable consequences, that it gets harder to forgive or ignore things like this – at least for me.

Anyway, the Doctor dies.

And gets killed again as he starts to regenerate.

And then gets burnt up.

The problem with having this as an arc is that we know the Doctor will somehow be alive even after we’ve seen him so definitively killed. Dragging that idea out for a whole season is difficult to do well. For the audience it makes the arc for the season about finding clues as to how he’s going to survive, so caring about the individual stories is less important to finding the pieces of the puzzle of the Doctor’s eventual survival.

So how to keep the interest and momentum up when the outcome is inevitable?  Why, keeping the Doctor’s demise as a background arc for the season, and bringing up other surprises to keep people distracted, of course! We’ll come to those in the next article.

River, Amy, and Rory have a talk about the fact that the Doctor from 200 years in the future has secretly asked his earlier self to help out with things.

River – “He’s interacted with his own past. It could rip a hole in the universe.”
Amy – “Except he’s done it before.”
Rory – “And, in fairness, the universe did blow up.”

Actually, the universe blew up because something or someone drew the TARDIS to a particular time and place and blew the time machine up. Not because the Doctor interacted with his own past.  Unless you count the Doctor deliberately blowing up the universe to reboot it, but it was already dying.  And his interaction with himself there was to give himself time to set things up.

Later Amy asks how River can be ok with the Doctor’s death and River replies, “The Doctor’s death doesn’t frighten me, nor does my own. There’s a far worse day coming for me.” Gosh, you know when River says something mysterious and dark like this that something really big and dramatic is going to happen down the track… or it’ll be a hurriedly glossed over damp squib.

I will give you a vague message that could be easily misinterpreted to mean the recent traumatic event you went through, but ignore that and go for the other thing that’s important, that you’ll then decide is unimportant shortly afterwards…

Amy feels sick and goes to the bathroom at the White House. A Silent is there and kills a woman, Joy, for absolutely no reason at all, then tells Amy, “You will tell the Doctor… …What he must know. And what he must never know… …Tell him.”

So it’s programming her to tell him about the pregnancy? Of course given she’d only seen the Doctor killed a little while before, and she’s been obsessing over it, and been told he can’t know about his death, it’s lucky she didn’t think it meant she was to tell the Doctor about his impending demise instead of her pregnancy.

Members of The Silence really need to pick their words more carefully, otherwise something one of them says will backfire hideously one day.

Later we get this exchange…

River – “We came here because of what we saw in the future. If we try and prevent the future from happening, we create a paradox.”
Amy – “Time can be rewritten.”
River – “Not all of it.”
Amy – “Says who?”
River – “Who do you think?”

Steven Moffat (and Russell Davies did a bit, too), depending on what needs to happen in a story.  This seems an appropriate place to bring up – Why haven’t we seen any more of the Reapers[2]  from Father’s Day around?

River feels sick in the tunnels. Only River and Amy show any tummy upsets because of the Silents. Or at least we assume and are told later it’s because of the Silents. It may be because mother and daughter are hanging around near an unborn version of the daughter. I originally thought it might mean that both Amy and River were pregnant. Either way, it never happens again after this episode.

Rory asks what River meant about a worse day coming for her. She says, “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 knows every last thing about her. Imagine what that does to a girl.”

We see the same sort of timeship that appeared in The Lodger, which is fair given that The Silents get everyone else to develop the tech they need, and then take it. River discovers that there are tunnels criss-crossing the planet that have been there for centuries.

Rory goes to check that the tunnels are still clear and sees at least three Silents.  When River first entered the tunnels earlier, she saw at least six.  So it’s fair to say there’s a few of the Order between them and the manhole. Rory tells River the tunnels are clear and behind him we get the same sort of electrical build-up we had before Joy was killed. There’s a huge flash and River says, “Rory!”

Amy doubles over in pain, and tells the Doctor she’s pregnant. The Astronaut appears, Amy fires the gun at it, and we see that there’s a young girl in the suit. As cliffhangers go, it’s a good one.

Now for Steven Moffat resolve it in a satisfactory way.

Quickly, we need to create an artificial feeling of drama so it seems like we’re running from some huge threat even though there’s not really one here…

The Day of the Moon Here are the unanswered issues we have just by the time the opening credits begin on this episode…

  • No explanation for the hurried escape.
  • The Doctor doesn’t try to help the girl, which he would normally at least attempt even if he were under attack, which he’s not.
  • Given they aren’t being actively attacked, why does he not even try to question the one Silent we do see? In how many stories has the Doctor, moments before the bad guy tried to kill him, started grilling it? Plenty.
  • No explanation as to how Rory and River get past all those Silents underground.
  • We never find out what the Silent said to Canton.
  • If the whole pretending to shoot the companions thing was for the Silents’ benefit, did the one we see give Canton orders? In which case, how does he resist them? If he wasn’t given orders, aren’t The Silence at all curious as to why Canton is suddenly killing companions?
  • If Canton’s fellow agents are in on it, how does he make sure The Silence doesn’t question them? If they aren’t, how do those agents not question the lack of blood on the victims of gunshot wounds? How does he make 100% sure they don’t shoot the Doctor’s friends?
  • Why does River not end up a broken mess against the console? How does the splash get all the way through twisty corridors, across the console room, and out through other doorways, to appear outside the TARDIS?

These are questions from the first six minutes of the episode.

Even if you ignore the out of character Doctor moments, there’s still a lot that is never answered. And I spotted some of this on first viewing. Not all of it is important, but a chunk is meant to be resolution to the cliffhanger, and set-up for the rest of the story. That’s a real problem. It’s passable on a first viewing but this is the DVD age – people will watch this stuff over and over. You really need to make it pay off and hang together in ways that stand up to basic scrutiny.

This is why having a script editor that the head writer is answerable to would really be a good idea. There’s nothing as good for a writer as having an experienced outside perspective to help catch the problems and keep the author focused on what’s actually important to the story.

Now lets look at the details of this six minutes.

We get the recap and jump into Amy running down a road. It’s three months later. She’s confronted by Canton. She asks him if he knows why he’s doing this. Then we get flashbacks to the “resolution” of the previous cliffhanger.

For no adequately explained reason, the Doctor has picked up the semi-conscious Canton in the warehouse and is calling to Amy to follow him. There is a feeling of panic and urgency. Someone says, “It’s that monster,” and the voice sounds like Canton, but there is no sign of a Silent in any of those shots. Besides, if there was a Silent, wouldn’t they start running and the moment they turned away from it stop and ask why they are all running?

So because of the initial lack of gangly aliens on screen, it appears they’re running away from the little girl in the spacesuit. Why? Apart from Amy’s foreknowledge, they have no reason at this point to run from the little girl. In fact the Doctor would normally leap forward, do a scan with the sonic, and attempt to get the girl out, or at least make sure she’s ok and to console her.

Even if there were Silents, the Doctor would normally try to help the girl. In either event, the running away at this point makes no real sense.  Of course maybe a Silent appeared in front of them and said, “You are terrified and will run like billy-o and not come back for any reason.”

Except even if that were the case, there still aren’t any Silents in the scene where they first begin running for their lives.

Rory and River pop up out of the manhole and they’re both fine.

Given they had to get past a bunch of Silents to get back to the manhole and climb out, how are they okay? Especially when it appears the Silents had the drop on Rory at the end of the last episode? There was one door, one way back to the manhole, a bunch of The Silence, and River and Rory just magically got out. Not a hint that they had to shoot or fight their way out.  And you can’t argue the Silents let them go, because if they did, why did they do the whole lightning charge thing in the first place? Hiccups?

Now we get the group running, and Canton asks why they’re running. He’s told to look behind him and finally we get a Silent in the shot. It says, “Canton.”

The flashback ends and Amy appears to be shot dead by Canton. She’s not, it’s all a fake. But are the other agents in on this too? Because surely it wouldn’t fool them. And with The Silence everywhere, the more people who know, the bigger the chance they’ll find out.

We never find out what that Silent said to Canton. We know in hindsight that it can’t have programmed him to kill Amy and co. because he doesn’t. Did Canton just run away when it said his name? If nothing the Silent said or did affected the outcome in any way, why was it there? What was the point of this shot?

By this point in the story, it hasn’t yet been made clear that the Silents can program people to do what they want. That happens clearly later this episode. Yes, we had the Silent telling Amy to tell the Doctor stuff in the previous episode, but she didn’t appear to remember what it had said, and what it wanted Amy to tell him wasn’t clear either.  So we only have proof it was programming Amy because of what we’re told later in this episode.

So from a story-telling point of view, Amy asking Canton if he knows why he’s doing this, then cutting to the Silent saying Canton’s name makes no real sense to the audience on a first viewing – it’s just a cool moment. It only makes any kind of sense once the viewers have already seen the rest of the episode.

It seems to be a case where the writer knows all this, and has forgotten that we don’t. So it doesn’t build any tension in the way he might have hoped, because we don’t know that they could have programmed Canton. It does have tension because of the way things are filmed, but that’s it.

When asked by Canton to come with them, River jumps off the building. Is there any reason for that? I mean beyond being a bit cool? Why not just go back to the Doctor with Canton?

Back at area 51 the Doctor sees the zero-balanced dwarf star alloy, and says they’re building him the perfect prison[3]. Well, it must be better than the Pandorica, anyone with a sonic screwdriver could get into that. But apparently it still won’t be enough.

Rory appears to be gunned down. As with Amy, are the agents in on this?

Okay, we’ve opened all the doors. Now, if River manages to miss the rails, steps, and console, then do at least a couple of right angle turns in mid-air, she should land safely in the pool…

The Doctor goes to save River after her jump, and tells Amy and Rory to open all the doors to the swimming pool. That won’t save River if she comes straight through the open TARDIS doors – she’s more likely to hit the stairs to the console since it’s right in the way.

And we certainly shouldn’t be able to see the splash from the outside, unless they’ve moved the room with the swimming pool to right behind the main doors, in which case Amy and Rory shouldn’t need to open any doors. Oh, and Amy and Rory run in two different directions when told to open all the doors to the pool – so which way is River going to go?

Look, I know that’s being horribly anal retentive and nit-picky. The real reason for them opening all the doors and the visible splash is because it’s odd, fun, and cool. I’m genuinely okay with that, but at the same time if you’re going to create stories and situations that actively encourage the audience to watch for every little thing in case it’s important to the arc, then you’re also inviting greater scrutiny and criticism.

If you make sure that more of the actual plot and story telling parts hold together, then it’s easier for us to forgive poetic license or small errors for the sake of cool and fun.  But the rest of the story has to hold together to get away with it, or you’re just compounding the issues.

One of the arguments, which is a fair one, is that they don’t make the show for the fans, but for the casual viewer. And that’s a good argument. The mad keen fans only make up 0.01% of the viewers.  But is that any excuse for telling inconsistent stories?  Surely whether you’re aiming at fans or the casual viewer, the story and its elements and set-pieces should still make sense.

Anyway… That’s the problems with the opening of this episode.

After the opening credits Canton and Amy go to Graystark Hall Orphanage. Amy sees Madame Kovarian briefly, then finds the little girl’s room. Inside are various pictures of the girl, a couple seemingly of outings, and a picture of Amy holding a baby. The girl then arrives, in the astronaut suit. The girl asks for help, then two Silents enter the room, Amy screams and the door shuts.

Would the girl be allowed out for outings? If she’s allowed outings without the spacesuit, then what’s the reason for keeping her in it other times?  How do the Silents get Amy away? She’s just gone. Is there a reason they let the girl get away? And why does one stay behind to get shot by Canton? Maybe it was meant to find the girl, because it doesn’t appear to serve any purpose in being there otherwise – except that Silent will become important to resolve the plot.

Before being shot it says, “This world is ours. We have ruled it since the wheel and the fire. We have no need of weapons.” [4]

Oh! There’s the guy I’ve been programmed my whole life to kill… And the Doctor would never suspect a child… But I think I’ll go for a walk…

Canton, the Doctor and River go running to find Amy who appears to be calling for help. As they run into the room she was in, unbeknownst to them we see the little girl, who is now out of the spacesuit. She’s hiding. Supposedly it’s Melody/River who has been programmed to kill the Doctor. Any reason she doesn’t try to off him now? The Doctor asks the Silent who it is. It replies, “Silence Doctor. We are the Silence.” (Spelling taken from dvd subtitles)

Then we get flashbacks –
Eleventh Hour – Prisoner Zero, “Silence Doctor.”
Vampires of Venice – Doctor, “Rory, listen to that.”
Rory – “Silence?”
Then Rosanna’s dialogue from the same episode.
Rosanna, “We ran from the Silence.”
Doctor – “Silence?”

Then we get the Silent saying, “And Silence will fall.”
So, lots of stuff about the Silence. Still no explanation for the voice saying “Silence will fall,” in Pandorica Opens. In fact in amongst the rest of the flashbacks it’s conveniently ignored here. Who was saying that? And it still doesn’t explain the literal interpretation we’re given in Vampires of Venice – though that dialogue is now cropped so it can appear to refer to The Order of The Silence. Nor is it explained why you would see Silence and the end of all things through the cracks.

We do find out the true meaning of “Silence will fall” later this season, when we also discover that everyone has been misquoting the phrase. Including members of The Order Of The Silence, which since it is a phrase that reflects the core tenet of their belief, it’s a shame they keep getting it wrong.

The Silent in the zero dwarf alloy prison doesn’t seem to understand that Canton could be recording him. Given they use tech from all over the place, including time travel, it seems unlikely it wouldn’t suspect something was up when Canton points the camera phone at it.

Silent – “You tend to my wounds. You are foolish.”
Canton – “Why? What would you do in my place?”
Silent – “We have ruled your lives since your lives began. You should kill us all on sight, but you will never remember we were even here. Your will is ours.”

Lucky the Silent didn’t answer with, “I’d kill the lot of you.”

Rory listens to Amy’s voice talking through the little hand recorder, and she says her life was boring, “Before you just dropped out of the sky.” Given Rory seems to have been around her since they were kids (as we see in Let’s Kill Hitler) in what way did he drop out of the sky? They were childhood friends. It’s a very clumsy line. I know she says it’s just an expression, but it’s really only there to stir things up a bit, especially after River using the exact same phrase to describe the Doctor coming into her life in the previous episode.

We go to where Amy is being held prisoner in the timeship. A Silent talks to her, “You are Amelia Pond… …We do you honour. You will bring the Silence. But your part will soon be over.” So Amy brings the Silence. How? If it’s the birth of River, that line still doesn’t work. River doesn’t bring the Silence either.

The TARDIS arrives. The Doctor and River flirt about killing the Silents if they try anything… which really seems a bit tacky, not to mention out of character for the Doctor. And no, him saying he shouldn’t like it but does a bit, doesn’t excuse it.

The Doctor’s trap is sprung, and people all over the planet start killing the Silents on sight.  We’ll come back to that… After River shoots a whole lot of The Silence, she says, “My old fella didn’t see that, did he? He gets ever so cross.” Yuck, just yuck.

In the TARDIS at the end the Doctor says, “So, this little girl, it’s all about her. Who was she? Or we could just go off and have some adventures. Anyone in the mood for adventures? ‘Cause I am.” Okay, the Doctor wants to go off to look into his theory that Amy is a ganger, that’s fine.  But why does no-one else say, “Bugger the adventures, let’s save the girl!”  None of the TARDIS crew care about the child prisoner of The Silence?  Talk about out-of-character!

Then we see the little girl in New York and she regenerates. Given the Doctor has said on multiple occasions that he’d know if another Time Lord was around, how does he not sense her at any point?  Even if she’s not 100% Time Lord, you’d think that the mental abilities would appear before regeneration would.

So that’s the end of the story.  Again, despite tearing it to pieces, I actually rather like it.  The resolution using Neil Armstrong and the Silents’ own programming ability against them is really clever. As with so much stuff in the Moffat era, you have great stories and ideas that are hurt quite badly by the arc elements.  If this were a stand alone story, featuring The Silence and none of the death of the Doctor stuff, or other arc related elements, it’d be a hell of a tale.

Over the next few episodes, Madame Kovarian appears briefly a few times, but all her dialogue is to do with Amy’s pregnancy.  So I’ll start the next part of the series six examination with the end of The Almost People, then jump into A Good Man Goes to War.

In finishing, there’s one aspect that my wife pointed out to me regarding the ending of The Day of the Moon.  People turn on the Silents and kill them, and we know there are lots of them around.  We see them in various locations as the post hypnotic suggestion kicks in. So, by the end of the story, there must be thousands, maybe millions, of dead Silents all over the world.  Rotting.  People will be covered in alien blood and bacteria from killing them.  Flies will be feasting on the dead bloated corpses of aliens no-one can consciously see and spreading contagion. If nothing else, the smell must be terrible.

Next up – series six, part two!

1. In Pyramids, Sarah suggests they leave in the TARDIS because they know Sutekh doesn’t manage to destroy the world. The Doctor takes the TARDIS forward 70 years and shows Sarah a ruined and destroyed planet. He explains that the future can be influenced in small ways, but it takes a being of Sutekh’s power to destroy the future. They have to go back and attempt to stop him, because if they don’t, Sarah’s future will never have happened.

In other stories, like The Parting of the Ways and The Girl in the Fireplace, the Doctor talks about how once they arrive in a place and time they become part of the established events. BACK TO POST

2. Father’s Day jumps all over the place with what the Reapers are. One minute they’re like bacteria, the next they sterilise wounds in time. But the core of their idea is that if a temporal paradox or some other damage to time happens, they turn up to remove the damage. They also seem a bit haphazard in how they go about it.

But if, as the Doctor says, an ordinary man being alive in a world where he shouldn’t have been is the most most important thing in creation because now the whole world is different, then what sort of impact should things like the end of Waters of Mars and the start of The Wedding of River Song have? Some major historical figures, and a Time Lord, respectively? It should be a Reaper-fest. BACK TO POST

3. Even the Cd soundtrack for series six can’t help but notice the repetition. It has a track for this episode entitled, “Another Perfect Prison.” BACK TO POST

4. As mentioned in the series five article, The Silence is only the most recent group to have a claim on influencing mankind. To my mind the only ones that really can be said to can are Scaroth, because we see him in action, and the Osirans, because of the whole of Egyptian culture. BACK TO POST

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