Review: “Doctor Who” Series 6, Ep 1: “The Impossible Astronaut”

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The Doctor and his "operatives."

Rating:  ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Note to BBC Americans who’ve yet to see the episode:  Look away and never look behind! Because this spoiler-filled review does not have the memory erasure abilities of a Silent upon being seen (though quite frankly I wish such a mechanism would exist for all the spoiler-filled blogs I keep peeking into).

First things first, the obligatory timey-wimey synopsis:  After witnessing the very seemingly permanent death of the Eleventh Doctor from the future (aged 1,103, to be precise), River Song (Alex Kingston) and the Ponds, aka Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) team up with the “present-time” 909-year-old Doctor (Matt Smith) and a former FBI agent named Canton Everett Delaware III (Mark Sheppard)–all five recruited by that aforementioned future Eleventh–for a mission involving the 1969 moon landing, a little girl “scared of the spaceman,” and her haunting phone calls to American president Richard Nixon. As the “present-time” 909-year-old Doctor does not know of his impending death, his friends have to tread gingerly with revealing that “spoiler,” lest a paradox be created that could tear the universe asunder. Threatening to tear the universe asunder regardless are “The Silence,” a deadly race of aliens introduced as the culprit behind the Tardis explosion of series five, and potentially the best monster ever conceived by the enviable brain of head writer Steven Moffat.

Story-wise, this is classic Moffat. The placement of the future Eleventh’s death (which I must say I didn’t see coming, but which in hindsight I now see as the only possible death that could have occurred) barely ten minutes in was a brilliant move, introducing great dramatic tension at the off. And his death being withheld from the Doctor mixed things up a bit nicely in terms of the dynamic between the main four characters. I also thought the Jefferson Addams Hamilton name/location bit was pretty ingenious. And that exciting cliffhanger–Amy shooting the astronaut/child–had me with mouth agape (though the shock was somewhat diffused when in the preview for next week’s episode we find out that the child lives, the bullet seemingly only having dented her helmet).

River "Kick-Ass" Song

One of the prerequisites for a great “Doctor Who” episode now seem to be an appearance by River Song, my favorite space archaeologist and prison escapee. She shines in this episode, even if the teasers thrown at us of her as yet unknown identity continue to be maddeningly meager. She is such a fun character to watch in her interactions with the Doctor, such as in the scene where she and the Doctor “sync” their diaries (the Doctor in the future has his own diary!), and when she corrects the Doctor’s TARDIS piloting behind his back. As counterpoint to these scenes of cheeky fun is her monologue about two-thirds of the way in about her relationship with the Doctor, a moment of subtle devastation. Imagine two people whose trajectories are fated to meet but are ultimately headed in opposite directions. (I’m reminded of the growing distance between the galaxies; in fact one of my rubbish theories is that the Silents are really the dark matter or dark energy of the universe, intent on tearing the Doctor away from his friends…but the dark matter idea has already been used, rather cleverly, by Philip Pullman). The moment when River confides to Rory that it would kill her to encounter a version of the Doctor who doesn’t recognize her, poignantly and hauntingly echoes the events to come (or from the Doctor’s perspective, events that have already occurred) in the “Silence in the Library” episodes.

And finally, The Silence. Ah, what a horrid, disgusting, and frightening treat they are. I’m looking forward to discovering their background and motivation, or the “horror of their species” as co-executive producer Piers Wenger had once called it. My personal guess is that The Silence draw off the energy of names, or perhaps identities. During Amy’s bathroom confrontation with a Silent, it specifically brings up the name of the staffer it just killed, as well as Amy’s. “Joy,” the Silent tells Amy. “Her name was Joy. Your name is Amelia.” I’m guessing the Silents are tied in some way to the Doctor’s very secret name (which I assume is what the Doctor had been running away from all his life), or possibly even River’s very secret identity. In a way it makes sense; the Doctor has been “silent” all this time about his name.

In any case, I’m absolutely chuffed, having just had my first fill of “Doctor Who” in a long while. I’m looking forward to next week’s episode, when I’ll be better able to gauge the two-part story as a whole. In the meantime, the following week will be replete with endless repeats of this stunner of an opener.

Other “wonders”:

  • I wonder what the future Eleventh’s words were with the astronaut before it killed him. And who is that astronaut? Guessing by the green electrical bolts, it’s seemingly a Silent, but why did the camera strategically pan away when it was lifting up its helmet visor?
  • Memory, as Moffat had stated before, is important. The moments in the White House restroom when Amy says “I remember” and “I forget” remind me of her in “The Big Bang” two-parter. Also, I’m reminded of Dr. Moon in the “Silence in the Library,” who would tell his patients, “And then you forgot” or “And then you remembered.” Familiar trope of Moffat’s. I wonder if a shape of what’s to come can be culled from these past templates.
  • River tells Rory:  “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 drops out of the sky. He’s clever and mad and wonderful and knows everything about her. Imagine what that does to a girl.” I wonder if the moment when Rory gives a look and says “I don’t really have to” after River says “Imagine what that does to a girl” means anything. Is there any residual from last series’s kinda-rivalry between the boys? The nurse who wanted to better the Doctor…
  • What’s with the Silents’ preoccupation with technology for going to the moon? And what’s with their “lair” and the sticky gooey stuff on the cords leading down to their hidden-away TARDIS (presumably from “The Lodger” episode, and which must have left those spaceship tracks in front of Amy’s house from “The Pandorica Opens”)?
  • Amy’s pregnancy is evidently going to be important. I was unclear as to what it was that the Silent was subliminally telling Amy to do–that is, what was the Silent referring to when, by the power of suggestion, it told Amy she must tell the Doctor what he must know and mustn’t know. Is the pregnancy what he must know? Is his own death what he mustn’t know?
  • Marriage seems to be a theme here. Amy and Rory are of course now a married unit, and there have been hints of the Doctor being one day married to River (not to mention the upcoming Neil Gaiman episode titled “The Doctor’s Wife,” which many in online forums have deduced is in reference to the TARDIS), but also Canton mentions at one point having left the Bureau in order to marry. I’m guessing some significance there.

Quotables:

  • “It’s like he’s being deliberately ridiculous.” -Amy, about the Doctor leaving imprints of himself throughout history.
  • “Dr. Song–she’s packing. She says she’s going to some planet called America.” -A harried Stormcage prison guard’s explanation to his commanding officer.
  • “You were my second choice for president, Mr. Nixon.” – Canton, upon being told by the president that he was his second choice for the mission.
  • “Hippie.” “Archaeologist.” -River and the Doctor, respectively, during a convo on Nixon (these affirmations of the Doctor’s leftward leanings are always funny).
  • “Oh, look. This is the Oval Office. I was looking for the…Oblong.” -The Doctor, upon being sighted (he ain’t no Silent, that’s for dang sure).
  • “They’re Americans!” -River, after the Doctor poses the question to the president and his men, “Do you think you could just shoot me?”
  • “The Legs, The Nose, Mrs. Robinson.” -Doctor’s introduction of his “operatives.”
  • “Lovely fellows. Two of them fancied me.” -The Doctor on three particular American founding fathers.
  • “Don’t worry. I’m quite a screamer. Now there’s a spoiler for you.” -River, before going down a manhole to seek trouble in a Silent-filled tunnel.
  • “Trouble is it’s all back to front. His past is my future. We’re traveling in opposite directions. Every time we meet, I know him more and he knows me less. I long for the days when I see him. But I know that every time we 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.” -River to Rory, about her relationship with the Doctor, ironically harkening to her own literal death to come.
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2 thoughts on “Review: “Doctor Who” Series 6, Ep 1: “The Impossible Astronaut”

  1. phillip joseph

    i just want to know why the 11th doctor matt smith says he’s 909 years old whilst the 7th doctor sylvester mccoy claimed to be 953? Its confusing -even to today’s standards.

    The timelord himself must be at least over 970 to 1300 years old (maybe 980).

  2. Hi there, Phillip. It’s all wibbly-wobbly, innit? This is actually something head writer Steven Moffat has acknowledged before, rather cheekily: http://twitter.com/#!/steven_moffat/status/20772971313. As River has told us on occasion, the Doctor does lie, so there’s that. Or as Moffat explains, he’s most likely (and most characteristically) just lost count somewhere along the way. I would, too–so many candles and all.

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