Doctor Who Series 6 Episode 1 review: The Impossible Astronaut

Posted: 27 April 2011 in television
Tags: , , , , ,

That most certainly is the Doctor. And he most certainly is dead.

Doctor Who - The Impossible Astronaut

It’s my blog so I’ll do Doctor Who reviews. So there “insert raspberry noise here”.

Killing off the Doctor a mere 10 minutes into the new series after he has managed to survive nearly 48 years on television seems to curtail the need for the remaining 35 minutes of the series opener, the 12 episodes of Series 6/Season 32 (huge debate amongst fans about what each series/season should be tagged as) due to follow The Impossible Astronaut, and any series/seasons to follow.

But as head writer Steven Moffat is a certified genius at playing with time, and all that other “wibbly-wobbly” stuff, the fact that the Doctor has shuffled off the mortal coil, gunned down in mid-regeneration by a 1960s NASA astronaut who has risen out of a bloody great lake in Utah, doesn’t hold up proceedings in the slightest. The dead Eleventh Doctor was 1103 years old and within minutes we’re introduced to an Eleventh Doctor who is only 909. The older Doctor has prepared for this moment by summoning his friends Amy, Rory and River Song to Utah to meet his younger self and solve the mystery behind his death. Problem is a) they don’t have a clue what is going on (join the club), and b) even if they did know what was going on they can’t impart any information to the younger Eleventh Doctor that may change his future.

Out of the all the writers to have worked on Doctor Who since it began in 1963 Moffat is pretty much the first to play around with time within the confines of what has been a series involving time travel since day 1. The character of River Song and her interaction with the Doctor is the prime example of this. Her last meeting with the Doctor was his first meeting with her and they continue to meet in the wrong order relative to their time streams. If you don’t understand any of this time business ask a 10 year old to explain it…after all Moffat runs all his ideas past his 2 sons to get their feedback.

Set in the USA in 2011 and 1969, The Impossible Astronaut finds the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song on a quest that takes them from Utah, to the Oval Office in Washington DC, and a bloody scary building in Florida, complete with dark corridors and tunnels teaming with monsters. With this season opener Moffat breaks all the rules set up since the series returned to television in 2005 – mainly in kicking off with a 2 parter, and giving the audience a narrative that is basically a series finale in terms of its scope and ambitions.

As well as making the viewing audience think about the narrative (unusual for television these days) Moffat also continues the mission statement that the production team of Tom Baker’s 1st 3 seasons operated to: “scare the crap out of the little buggers”. From the man who gave us monsters who scare by not moving (the Weeping Angels) comes the monster that you can’t remember seeing: the Silent. With faces like a melted version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream this creatures are the minions of The Silence, the mysterious entity that caused the TARDIS to explode in the previous series. These aliens have been on Earth for a very long time and clearly have a plan that involves the Doctor.

With it’s mixture of comedy, horror, high drama, and pathos The Impossible Astronaut is a dream script for any actor and the regulars wring every ounce of justification from it. Effectively playing 2 versions of the Doctor, Matt Smith again shows why he is the best person since the mighty Tom Baker to have inhabited the role. From flirting with River Song, to deducing the location of the scared little girl, to showing the Doctor’s darker side when he realises he’s being manipulated, Matt Smith clearly demonstrates the range that has led him to being the first actor to be nominated for a BAFTA for his performance as the Time Lord.

Karen Gillan’s performance as Amy over the dead body of her beloved Doctor isn’t going to be easy to match through the rest of the series. You could reach out and touch the grief she felt at the loss of her friend.

After dying and being resurrected in what seemed like every other episode towards the end of the last series, Arthur Darvill’s Rory may make it through this story without losing his life. Like River Song he grasps all the timey-wimey complexity of the Doctor knowing too much about his own future.

Ah, River Song…the unofficial 4th member of the TARDIS crew…the day draws ever nearer where her true identity and connection to the Doctor are going to be revealed, let’s hope that day doesn’t mean losing her from the series. Alex Kingston’s chemistry with Matt Smith is electric and the pair of them light up the screen with their banter/bickering/arguing/flirting. And with the latest revelation that she’s a “screamer” there’s no way we can lose her…

Some naysaying reviewers have for reasons known only to themselves attempted to sound a death knell for the series by pointing out that The Impossible Astronaut garnered “only” 6.4 million viewers. Those are only “overnight figures” and when finally calculated correctly the number is likely to come in at around 8 million. Given that the episode was broadcast at 6pm on a blazing hot Easter Saturday that’s pretty bloody impressive. What works against the series is the time of year it’s been broadcast at since it’s return in 2005. The first episode of each series has been broadcast on an Easter Saturday and back in 2005 that was the last Saturday in March, not the penultimate one in April. The 13 episodes of Doctor Who should be broadcast from January or September. It’s a autumn/winter programme, not a spring/summer one. Though this year we’re going to have 7 episodes going to the start of June, and then the remaining 6 from September. Steven Moffat obviously realised that a start of late April would run the series virtually into August and the loss of many viewers.

Doctor Who will never die. It may fade away for a few years here and there. Have forced and unforced hiatuses, but it’ll never die.

  1. James Birdsong says:

    That was very well written.

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