REVIEW: Doctor Who – The Impossible Astronaut

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I try not to think about Doctor Who when it’s between seasons because it just makes me miss it that much more. The wait is now over as the newest series began in the US on BBC America this weekend and it did not disappoint. The Impossible Astronaut introduced a complex story that looks as if it might play out over the entire upcoming season (and may have even started before anyone realized). We’ve seen a lot of wild preview images for this year including a bearded straightjacketed Doctor that suggest a lot twists and turns coming up. Seeing them unfold one week at a time should be delightfully agonizing.

I’m sure I will spoil things moving forward.

There’s a lot to talk about in the season premiere, but things really start off with a bang as we see The Doctor die (true, final, no regeneration, burn the body death) in one of the first scenes. We come to learn it’s an older Doctor (200 years or so) than the last time we’ve seen him and he’s sent four invitations to witnesses for his final moments: River Song, Amy and Rory, Agent Delaware and his younger self. That’s just the start of the mystery that unfolds here.

The season premiere introduced a creepy new villain called the Silence to drive the action from there. There were lots of references to “the Silence” last season and given the way these creatures function, they could have been at work all along without our knowledge. Regardless, this is the first time the audience sees them and it’s impossible to ignore the similarities to another creation of writer Steven Moffat, the Weeping Angels. The Angels uniqueness comes from the fact that they turn to stone when any living creature is observing them, while the Silence capitalize on the fact that other creatures are only aware of them while they’re observing them, forgetting what they’d seen as soon as they turn away. The Silence are much scarier than the Angels in appearance and seem to have a far more sinister agenda. We don’t know exactly what they want yet, but whatever they’re planning the rogue time machine featured in last season’s The Lodger seems to be at the center of their operation.

The mystery of the Silence is nothing compared to the mystery of the first few minutes of the episode and The Doctor’s death. By all appearances, it was the real Doctor and not a clone or an impostor. After he’s slain by the astronaut referred to in the episode’s title, his friends even destroy his body to keep it from falling into the hands of his enemies. It’s hard to see a way around this, but we are also seeing (and have seen before) The Doctor crossing into his own timeline. I just hope that the fiat of “time being rewritten” from last season isn’t going to lead to a lot of convenient rule breaking. I trust Moffat though, and I don’t know that we have enough information to figure this one out yet.

The burning question that remains is who is in the space suit at the lake. My first instinct suggests that it’s The Doctor himself somehow, but trying to consider which incarnation of the Doctor it is and why he’d do this don’t leave me with a lot of good solutions. A lot of signs also point to River being the person in the suit. We know she killed someone she refers to as “the greatest man she’s ever known” and that’s why she’s in prison. Also she and the Doctor keep meeting in the wrong order, so seeing a Doctor who claims to be hundreds of years older than the one we’ve seen in the same episode as the young girl at the episode’s conclusion suggest this could be their first/last meeting. That whole concept blows my mind since we’ve already seen the other end of their last/first meeting with a younger Doctor and older River (in an episode titled Silence in the Library strangely enough). The mystery of River Song impossibly deepened here and I think we’re going to learn a lot about her this season. The pain both she and Amy are feeling suggests a connection and I don’t think it’s that they’re both pregnant as we’ve been led to believe. It’s more likely they’re feeling two sides of the same pain as mother and daughter.

Mark Sheppard (Battlestar Galactica‘s Romo Lampkin) is a fun addition to the cast this season as Agent Canton Everett Delaware III. Seeing Delaware in 2011 as one of the parties invited to witness the Doctor’s death suggests a significant role for him. With that bit of good casting I feel I gave to point out that Richard Milhous Nixon should only be played by Gregory Itzin (24‘s disgraced President Charles Logan. I’m only half joking on that point. The only other minor criticism I have is that they may have tried a little too hard to get the “Doctor in America” thing over (at least in the advertising). BBC America also included an awkward little recap of Amy and the Doctor’s history that I can’t imagine aired in the UK.

The episode ended with a quick memorial to Elisabeth Sladen who passed away last week. Sladen played The Doctor’s companion, Sarah Jane Smith, and was a link between the new and classic series. Her character is easily the most popular of the Doctor’s companions getting a spin off show of her own after being a big part of David Tenant’s finale as The Doctor. She was part of the cast of the first episode of Doctor Who I ever saw and it’s saddening to know she’s gone.

The season is off to a really intriguing start. Each year has had its own ongoing mysteries, but none as dramatically introduced as this. Presenting us with the Doctor’s death in the first 15 minutes is a bold move and I hope that Moffat can provide a big payoff. There were a lot of ads for the premiere and I hope BBC America pulled in the new audience they were shooting for. This was a wild introduction to the show for the uninitiated. As a long time Who fan, there isn’t much for me to criticize one week in, and hopefully, it will stay that way.

Read more Doctor Who on MyLatestDistraction,
including reactions to each new episode on BBCAmerica.

Day of the Moon (coming soon)


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