In the past, I've always tried to avoid giving away the whole story of each episode when summarizing the plot. For several reasons, this is... difficult with this pair of episodes. So I've given a bare bones plot summary - such as it is - below under the cut labeled "The Plot". There will be SOME spoilers but probably nothing that you haven't guessed at if you've seen the trailers for the start of this Series.
If you don't wish to receive any spoilers at all, skip ahead to The Final Thoughts.
I will be writing more about the specific mysteries that are being set up to be explored throughout the season in a later post.
SPOILERS BEHIND THE CUTS!
Summoned from across time and space, three of The Doctor's companions (Amy Pond, Rory Pond and Dr. River Song) meet in the Nevada desert in 2011... just in time to see a future version of The Doctor's 11th Incarnation be gunned down by an American astronaut. After meeting a fourth former companion of The Doctor (Canton Everette Delaware III), who helps with disposing of the body before disappearing, the trio meet up with a younger version of The Doctor they just saw die.
Following the only lead they have (the name of the mysterious 4th companion), they all travel to The White House in the year 1969, where Canton is an FBI agent investigating the mysterious phone calls of a young girl who keeps calling President Nixon's private line, warning of a menace from space. From there the trail leads to a horrifying discovery and mysteries upon mysteries as Amy Pond continues to see terrifying things that aren't there and discovers that she may have a connection to the odd girl. In the end, The Doctor and company learn they must save the Earth... not from an alien invasion...but from an alien occupation!
THE GOOD PARTS
1. The Silence Are Golden.
I didn't think Steven Moffat could possibly create any creature more menacing than The Weeping Angels.
I was wrong. So wrong.
Because what is worse than a monster that, the second you stop looking at it, will get you? A monster that, the second you stop looking at it, you'll completely forget was there in the first place!
Like most of Moffat's monsters, The Silence are born of a childish fear and the idea that there are things out there... WRONG things... things that only we notice that are just waiting for a chance to slip through the shadows into our reality. The only other writer I can think of who explored this theme as extensively is H. P. Lovecraft. And yet, grounded as it is in the wonder of childhood, Moffat's creatures are all the scarier.
Yes, the concept of great, indifferent squid gods sleeping on the ocean floor are terrifying... but who hasn't had worries about a creepy statue coming to life or the crack in the wall of their bedroom being a gateway to someplace sinister? That realization and ability to build a menace out of a feeling that we all remember from childhood is what makes Steven Moffat's tales of horror all the more effective.
2. A Likeable Nixon?
Moffat has done the impossible and given us a Richard Nixon that is actually a likeable character, while still remaining true to what we know about the man historically. Given that Nixon rarely comes off well in alternative history tales, it's a nice twist to have one of the most infamous American Presidents being portrayed as an amiable sort who is all too willing to go joy-riding across the country, just to tell some soldiers to stand down and enjoy the look of surprise on their face as they see The President himself has shown up to explain who this "Doctor" fellow is.
3. Arthur Darvill: The Most Underrated Actor On This Show.
Seriously, I have not seen anyone praise Arthur Darvill's performance as Rory in everything I've read about this show. Is it just me? Am I the only one thinks he is utterly amazing and has managed to flesh Rory out into one of the best supporting characters the show has ever had?
Don't believe me? Take a look at his face in the scene in which he tries to speak to Amy through a device that is broadcasting her thoughts to him. The Doctor says that it won't work and Rory insists that she'll know he's coming to help her... as she begins broadcasting how much she wants The Doctor to come save her.
I can't recall a better example of non-verbal acting than this moment in which Rory, who had some fairly reasonable issues last year regarding whether or not Amy was really in love with him anymore, seemingly has his worst nightmares confirmed.
4. Excellent Pacing.
Until recently, Doctor Who rarely engaged in Back To The Future/Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure-style shenanigans with characters crossing one another's time lines and sending back instructions to their past selves. Moffat throws in ever trick involving Time Travel that science fiction has to offer and then some into this story. And yet somehow it avoids confusion because the whole story moves too quickly for the viewer to stop and think about why what just happened shouldn't have happened.
1. It's Not Newbie Friendly.
The thing that makes this such a great episode to long-time fans is also the thing that makes it a damnable nuisance to newcomers - it violates the Stan Lee rule of serial writing, which demands that writers consider that every episode in a serial is potentially somebody's first episode.
I don't think this means we need to have a recap of who is who and who is fighting who and why at the start of every single episode. But Doctor Who has been quite good, since its return in 2005, in making the first episode of each series a good jumping-on point for newbies with simple stories like Rose and The Christmas Invasion standing out as particularly great stories for showcasing what your average Doctor Who story is like to a newbie.
Whatever else you may say about these two episodes, they are NOT simple.
2. The Whole Human Race Is Party To Genocide Now.
The Doctor pretty much proved Davros' charge back in Journey's End that The Doctor was a hypocrite because while he'll refuse to use a gun but that he has no problem with turning people into weapons if it will keep his hands clean.
Granting that he did try and get The Silence to surrender and leave Earth before turning their own powers of hypnotic suggestion against them and that this does fit in with the Tenth Doctor's rule of "No Second Chances", I'm still not entirely comfortable with The Doctor - ANY version of The Doctor - utilizing a plan that requires every person on Earth in 1969 to become a murderer... even if they're killing off a race that has enslaved humanity for millennium.
3. Not Everyone Had A TV Back In 1969.
Granting that there are a probably a LOT more of The Silence in the urban areas and there are certainly more in The States than there are in other parts of the world... The Doctor's plan does rather hinge on all of The Silence being within range of someone with a TV set when they get the order to kill their oppressors.
I'm just wondering if there are Silence agents in Africa, hiding among the poorest villages who are getting out of this situation scott free. Just wondering...
4. Doctor Who is NOT The X-Files.
Effective as the cinematography was in these two episodes, between the story and the scenes depicting Amy Pond wandering around a spooky building and being abducted by The Silence, I couldn't help but feel like I was watching a British version of the X-Files for most of the second episode. I like X-Files but Doctor Who should never leave me feeling like I'm watching The X-Files, if you get my meaning. It's an entirely different kind of science fiction.
The Final Verdict: An effective opening that leaves us with more questions than we have answers about the new alien menace that is threatening Earth and more mysteries than we have clues. Steven Moffat has created another masterpiece.
The only real flaw is that unlike previous Series Openers, this is one not very friendly to new viewers. If you have a friend who is new to Who, loan them your copy of Series 5. Or start them off with Series 1 and Rose. Let them work up to this one.