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Doctor Who Episode 6.1 Review

Episode 6.1 – “The Impossible Astronaut”

Doctor Who - Matt Smith

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.

Doctor Who - Karen Gillan

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.

Doctor Who - Alex Kingston

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”:

  1. Amy is keeping two secrets from The Doctor.
  2. The Doctor tries to pull a “Blink” with Rory’s DVDs.
  3. For Mr. and Mrs. Pond, it’s been a while since “A Christmas Carol”.
  4. For The Doctor, it’s been much, much longer.
  5. “River, make her blue again!”
  6. The Doctor attempts white wine, despite hating red wine in “The Lodger”.
  7. The Doctor and I share a theory about “special straws”.
  8. Remember that moment when The Doctor pokes Rory in “The Big Bang”?
  9. “The legs, the nose and Mrs. Robinson.”
  10. 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.

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  • Shelagh M Rowan-Legg

    Just finished watched the episode for the third time. It was almost perfect, as was to be expected. However, I found River’s speech a little maudlin. I’m actually starting to dislike her a bit. Yes, putting her death into context was very sad, but still … I just don’t see her and the Doctor together. She’s becoming too smug for her own good. But it is a small complaint for an otherwise fabulous episode.

  • Sasha James

    Oh, I definitely find River a little too smug. But Matt Smith and Alex Kingston have great chemistry, so, I don’t mind it so much. I don’t see The Doctor and River together either. That relationship is just going to be tragedy, I know it.

    I really liked River’s speech, not just because it gave context to “Forest of the Dead”, but also because it shows a potential path of Amy and Rory. The whole “You don’t know what that does to a girl” line. Ugh. Rory’s expression just killed me.

  • sarah lennox

    I don’t quite know what to make of the first episode, I see that Moffatt was trying to create a finale vibe, but it didn’t work for me.

    As for River the more times she turns up and reveals more about her past the more she makes me think of a british Auntie/Mum with her hello sweetie and fixing the TARDIS for the Doctor, but when she mentioned screaming all that came tomy mind was Bonnie Langford as Melanie with the 6th and 7th doctor, dear god not another one.

    Matt Smith played both doctors really well and Mark Shepard was brillient with his line “Nice Wheels” hopefully after next weeks episode I will feel better about this story.

    Oh and I hated that they showed clips of next weeks episode with Rory in it, why to spoil the cliffhanger ending.

  • Sasha James

    Of course Rory’s going to get away from The Silents. That’s not really the cliffhanger focus.

    Oh, The Doctor and River are definitely flirting. There is absolutely no “Auntie/Mum” vibe at all from my perspective.

    “Nice wheels”, indeed!

  • sarah lennox

    I agree that they are flirting but her fixing things for him and not saying anything just seems to give me a different vibe about her.

  • ZachsMind

    Curious to see so many negative opinions of River Song. I like the concept of her traveling through time in the opposite direction to The Doctor. Two ships passing through the night. It’s very romantic & also tragic. I think Kingston is a phenomenal talent and very sexy. No complaints here. I’m concerned that Mark Shepard is not a permanent addition. Was hoping he’d become a regular Companion for the series but that’s probably too much to ask. Too early to tell for sure but seems he’s been ‘recruited’ just for this two parter. I hope I’m wrong. Nice touch having his Dad play Delaware’s older self.

    I’m not convinced the ‘incident’ at the lake is what we think it is. Moffat has reportedly insisted that was definitely The Doctor & that it’s not a trick, but the set up looks like a magic trick. There’s more to it than we have been shown. We’re going to come back to that lake, my guess is late in the series, and the person inside the astronaut suit will be revealed to be someone we know (otherwise why hide their face?). The obvious answer is one of the Companions. That’d be too easy.

  • Sasha James

    I thought it was hilarious! Just because he’s The Doctor doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing!

  • Sasha James

    It was great seeing his dad in the episode, you’re definitely right. I’m sure Canton is only in the first two episodes, but you never know with Moffat. He could show up when you least expect it!

    I love me some River Song. She’s fantastic, but I see where the negative comments are coming from. I’m pretty sure that’s just welled-up frustration of not knowing who she is.

    The face could have been hidden just for the final reveal at the end of the episode. That’s an easy way of explaining it. But it could end up being one of the companions. That’d be interesting! I wonder what The Doctor said to astronaut? Hmm.

    With Moffat, you really never know. I’m not convinced that everything’s as black and white as some people are suggesting. Also, here’s hoping Amy’s not actually pregnant and that’s just a red herring up Moffat’s sleeve.

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  • magegirl8


    Are you insinuating THE SILENCE was influencing us to create TOS?  

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