Episode 6.1 – “The Impossible Astronaut”
Series Four’s “The End of Time” (4.17) marked the departure of show-runner Russell T. Davies and actor David Tennant from the revived version of BBC’s science fiction classic Doctor Who. Together, these two men have been accredited with bringing The Doctor and his adventures in space and time back into the everyday lives of British schoolchildren. For most, “The End of Time” was appropriately named, as many swore off Doctor Who with the departure of Davies and Tennant.
But for Steven Moffat, this was just the beginning. Writer of fan-favourite episodes such as “The Empty Child” (1.9), “The Girl in the Fireplace” (2.4), “Blink” (3.10) and “Silence in the Library” (4.9), Moffat’s inventive story-lines, original characters and terrifying monsters shattered all expectations of a Doctor Who script, gaining him an incredible following. On paper, Moffat was the right and proper choice as the successor to show-runner Russell T. Davies, and 2010 was the year when he proved it to all the naysayers.
With the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor (Matt Smith) and companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), Steven Moffat hit the ground running, creating one of the most entertaining collections of episodes in Doctor Who history. With an impressive amount of critical praise and fan approval, its understandable that his sophomore effort is one of the most highly-anticipated television shows of the year.
This year’s sixth series of Doctor Who starts with the episode “The Impossible Astronaut” (6.1), the first of a two-part story written by Steven Moffat. Here The Doctor is reunited with his recently-married companions Amy and Rory (Arthur Darvill) — months after their honeymoon — as well as the enigmatic archaeologist River Song (Alex Kingston). They are brought together via numbered letters that request their presence in 1960s America, a mysterious summons that The Doctor is unsure about, to put it lightly.
Over the course of this episode’s forty-five minutes, Moffat does what he does best; There are terrifying monsters, well-developed companions and enough timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly stuff to rival some of the greatest Doctor Who out there. The first ten minutes of “The Impossible Astronaut” didn’t feel like a premiere at all but, rather, a finale. I was crying about a minute after the opening credits. Let’s just say something “very not good” happens to one member of the TARDIS team, and the others react appropriately. I would elaborate on this moment, as it will surely effect the entirety of series six, but in the words of River Song: “Spoilers!”
Throughout the episode, I was struck by how much Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have grown into their roles as The Doctor and Amy, respectively. Despite being the youngest actor to play The Doctor, Smith is able to exude an oldness that is unrivaled by his predecessors. His Doctor occasionally displays the childlike curiosity and playfulness that endeared him to his audience in the previous series — but The Doctor within “The Impossible Astronaut” is largely wary and accusing. It feels as if something happened to The Doctor in his absence from Amelia’s life. Within this absence, the one thing that I have been dreading about the future of Amy Pond comes into fruition. Despite this slight disappointment, I was pleased to see Gillan’s portrayal of The Doctor’s feisty partner-in-crime has been largely perfected. Is it just me or is the duo of Eleven and Amy up there with Four and Sarah Jane in regard to chemistry and storytelling?
Amy isn’t the only companion to The Doctor in this series, as Rory Williams (or Pond) and River Song take more permanent positions on the TARDIS team. There is a unexpected moment between River and Rory, as they discuss River’s placement in The Doctor’s time-stream. Here River discusses the complications of living out of sync with The Doctor. Rory and the audience don’t learn anything new about River, but they are provided with an emotional context to Dr. River Song — and this pushes the ending of “The Forest of the Dead” (4.10) into an even more tragic, heartbreaking light.
Even though River is speaking only of herself in this scene, her conversation with Rory illuminates the nuances of the relationships between those in the TARDIS, even those we thought were cemented out previously in “Amy’s Choice” (5.7). There has never been a married couple within the TARDIS before Mr. and Mrs. Pond. This scene alone suggests that there may be a reason why married companions have previously left The Doctor after they’ve become engaged to another man. The addition of Rory as a permanent companion — the first male companion in decades — is a wise choice on the part of Steven Moffat, as he provides a large amount of the laughs in this episode. His pseudo-internship on the TARDIS is amusing to behold. Remember Rory’s reaction when he entered the TARDIS for the first time? You should keep that in mind when Canton (guest star Mark Sheppard) says, “It’s bigger on the inside.”
The “Big Bad” of the opening two-parter — and it is rumored that they’re the central antagonists of the entire series — are unnamed within the first episode itself, but it is well-known to any Doctor Who nerd worth their salt that these monsters are called The Silence. They’re one part The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s “Hush” (4.10), one part Dementors from Harry Potter, and edging up on the Weeping Angels in terms of the sheer terror that they provoke. Every time The Silence show up on screen, the hairs on the back of your neck will be standing at attention.
This episode is very much reminiscent of “The Time of Angels” (5.4) and “The Pandorica Opens” (5.12) in that it is epic in scale with elaborate narrative arcs and characters on the brink of disaster — all while maintaining a decidedly ‘Part One’ feel. Steven Moffat told director Toby Haynes to film this premiere episode as if it were the first part of a finale — and this comes across like gangbusters. The TARDIS team is brought together only to be separated and placed on the chessboard that is Doctor Who’s sixth series. To say that I am intrigued as to where Steven Moffat moves his chess pieces is an understatement. And I’m sure you will agree with me wholeheartedly when Amy Pond picks up a gun in the last moment of “The Impossible Astronaut” — and pulls the trigger.
Because this overview of “The Impossible Astronaut” was mostly spoiler-free, I thought I’d share a little hints as to what’s to come in the first episode:
Ten Teasers For Doctor Who’s “The Impossible Astronaut”:
- Amy is keeping two secrets from The Doctor.
- The Doctor tries to pull a “Blink” with Rory’s DVDs.
- For Mr. and Mrs. Pond, it’s been a while since “A Christmas Carol”.
- For The Doctor, it’s been much, much longer.
- “River, make her blue again!”
- The Doctor attempts white wine, despite hating red wine in “The Lodger”.
- The Doctor and I share a theory about “special straws”.
- Remember that moment when The Doctor pokes Rory in “The Big Bang”?
- “The legs, the nose and Mrs. Robinson.”
- Star Trek: The Original Series ended in 1969. You should keep that in mind.
“The Impossible Astronaut” and the sixth series of Doctor Who is coming to SPACE in Canada on April 23rd, 2011, at 8 p.m. It will be preceded by the Doctor Who specials, starring the tenth incarnation of The Doctor (David Tennant) and the entirety of Steven Moffat’s fifth series.