Series 6.01 – The Impossible Astronaut

Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Toby Haynes

**Spoilers**

The Doctor has invited three of his closest friends to reunite in for a picnic.  But when The Doctor is killed, Amy, Rory, and River must join with a slightly younger version of The Doctor to find out why he was killed.

Utah almost looks like another planet.

 “That‘s okay.  You were my second choice for President, Mr. Nixon.”

There is a certain amount of analysis for this episode that will have to wait until I have seen the next episode.  The story is incomplete, and thus it is hard to really determine how well it works.  Sorry, can’t sing it’s praises at the moment.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t somewhat compelling.

The opening of this story, while setting up the mystery, felt like a primer on the show.  I can’t help but wonder if this is due to the huge push by BBC America to introduce more Americans to Doctor Who.  There is very little reference to previous (Moffat-era) continuity, instead having only the basic indications of what the concept of Doctor Who is.  And what a distillation it is.  I don’t quite say this admirably.  Based on the opening, Doctor Who is a science fiction show about a humanoid alien that mucks about in time and space.  Sometimes, he has friends along.  If the opening three minutes of the episode are indeed a type of introduction, then this is Steven Moffat’s thesis.  This is how he sees the show.  This is what Doctor Who means to him.  This is the type of story we can expect from his era and this season.

Doctor Who as a franchise truly can be anything, it truly can go anywhere.  But under each era, it is extremely limited, and under Steven Moffat, it will only tell one or two types of story.  In a way Moffat is a bit like Agatha Christie, not so much a murder mystery writer, but a writer telling stories where the details are important, they are clues that are given to the viewer to solve a mystery, a mystery that may not have the final clue until the last few moments of the story.  He is very good at this type of story.  But it is virtually the only story he can tell.  Gone is adventure and a sense of wonder.  And Doctor Who is no longer a children’s show because a) it is too scary, and b) children don’t read Agatha Christie-style mysteries.  They read adventure mysteries.  Stories with a sense of wonder.  The Impossible Astronaut is a fun story in places, it is fun to try to piece together the clues, to meet old and new characters.  But there is no sense of wonder, there is only a pressing need to solve the mystery, to survive the danger.  We want to see how The Doctor will get out of this one.  If you are looking for curiosity, wonder, or new worlds, this may not be the era for you.

He is watching us all grow up.

Does this mean I hated it?  By no means!  I’m eager to see where the story goes.  As I said before, I want to see how The Doctor gets out of this one.  But I now fully understand that I have to match the new paradigm in my expectation of Doctor Who.  For some reason, this has been a hard adjustment.  One of my nieces used to have difficulty pronouncing my name.  I found the mispronunciation endearing.  But as she grew older, she started pronouncing my name correctly.  Sometimes, I miss the way she once talked, but she is growing up.  I’m sure it will also be hard to see her grow into her teenage years and become an adult.  But change happens, nothing remains static and it doesn’t mean I will love her any less.  Doctor Who may never tell the types of stories it once did.  Each era is a product of its time and television continues to evolve.  In order to take advantage of the new advances in technology and in order to compete with other shows, Doctor Who must change and evolve.  And while it may do a very good job of telling the stories that it currently tells, it may not go back to telling stories with the sense of unpredictable wonder of The Hartnell Era or the world-building of a Robert Holmes or Chris Boucher story.  We may not see the visions of technological horror of Gerry Davis or the B-movie quirkiness of Terry Nation.  It is sad to see these things go, but it is also astounding that this show continues to survive and thrive and reflect the changing face of television.  If nothing else, Doctor Who provides a fascinating history into the development of the television medium.

Okay, right.  Enough eulogizing.  Moving onward.  I have to ask how much time has passed since The Big Bang and The Impossible Astronaut.  As we left series five, we knew that whatever gained control of the TARDIS was still out there.  There was that creepy voice that kept insisting silence would fall.  The Doctor seemed quite insistent that they track this down.  Then we had Amy and Rory take a honeymoon and almost crash at Christmas.  Now we are in series six.  Has The Doctor been stalling?  I would hope not because that would be extremely careless.  Whatever gained control of the TARDIS could, conceivably, do so again.  But maybe the passage of time isn’t important.  Maybe there will be answers to this question in the next episode.  As I said, hard to really review the merits of the story when it is incomplete.

The Silence courting rituals prove somewhat ineffective on human females.

I like the look of The Silence.  Anything based on Edvard Munch’s The Scream is going to be rather cool and creepy.  Does Steven Moffat have a fascination with impressionists?  Regardless, The Silence, at this point, are visually interesting and much more chilling (and better named) than The Floof.  Yes, we have Moffat once more mining his back catalogue, taking The Floof from a short story called Corner of the Eye, which was published in the 2007 Doctor Who Annual.  Tall, mal-formed bald men in suits are much more frightening than short, bald men in suits.  But what is more striking about the look of The Silence is their resemblance, not to Munch’s The Scream, but to the grey aliens in alien abduction tales.  Intentionally or coincidentally, Steven Moffat has tapped into a healthy dose of twentieth century American mythology in The Impossible Astronaut.  Starting with The Silence, they have large, hairless heads and cavernous eyes that could be mistaken for black bulbous ovals.  They are tall and thin (greys tend to alternate between tall or short, but they are always thin) and dressed in black.  The suits themselves, offering a juxtaposition with the alienness of The Silence, bring to mind images of the Men in Black.  Add to this the idea of American deserts and space suits and I would say that Steven Moffat is intentionally drawing from the alien mythos as built on by shows like The X-Files and movies like Men in Black.  Alien abduction stories, primarily due to The X-Files, are a part of the American mythology of the late 20th century.  Other elements of this

The Truth is Out There, Doctor

mythology, though not necessarily linked to The X-Files, are Richard Nixon (a controversial figure in American politics) and NASA.  It makes perfect sense for Steven Moffat to attempt to invoke these icons of American pop-cultural identity.  I’m curious to see what other images he might bring out in the next episode.  And perhaps he is right to remind American viewers of The X-Files.  At its height, it was one of the most popular and influential science fiction shows produced by American television.  Both The X-Files and Doctor Who have monsters and (at least under Steven Moffat) horror, and both have recurring mythological stories (or arcs or mytharcs, whatever terminology suits you).  Perhaps this is the ideal segment of the American audience to lure to Doctor Who.  While certainly not as dark as The X-Files, it could touch a common narrative format.

River Song and Rory have a good scene together where she laments her relationship with The Doctor.  She even speculates that when she finally gets to the point where The Doctor no longer knows her, that she will die.  It may be interesting, when all is said and done, to watch the River Song episodes in River’s chronological order.  Moffat may indeed be hoping we do it.  Perhaps he indirectly referenced Silence in the Library because he wanted us to revisit it.  Notice, both this story and Silence in the Library had space suits, even if one was futuristic.  Or maybe I am over-analyzing.  Regardless, I’m starting to doubt my most-recent River Song theory.  I’m now not so sure she is manipulating him at The Doctor’s (future version) behest.  She seemed too sincere when talking to Rory.  I am, at the moment, out of ideas.  Hopefully we will find out soon.

In this episode, Amy said multiple times that time can be re-written, and each time, River rebuffed her.  At one point, River even said that only some moments in time can be re-written and that The Doctor told her this.  This is very interesting because in series five, The Doctor was quite astounded when he realized time could be re-written.  So, either one of two things is happening.  Is Steven Moffat backpedaling?  Or is River telling us something that The Doctor is yet to learn?  Keep in mind that if The Doctor told River that only certain moments in time can be re-written, that this information is coming from The Doctor’s future.  So, if The Doctor currently thinks that time in general can be re-written, can we suppose that something will happen to change that?  And even more outrageous, could River Song’s life, as we have seen it, be re-written?  Ah, speculation.

Where does this leave us?  What pieces do we have to work with in order to speculate on the conclusion?  I said there would be spoilers, I suppose I need to provide some.  We were very deliberately not shown who was in the space suit at the beginning of the episode.  At the end, we were shown it was a little girl.  This could have been done to keep the reveal a surprise, but it could also indicate that the person in the suit at the beginning of the episode is not the person we see in the suit at the end.  There is a storyline in Babylon 5 where a space station, once thought lost, returns.  It is temporally displaced.  During the investigation we see a figure in a space suit.  Usually something bad would happen when we see him.  We find out, in a later season, that depending on when the suit was seen, there could have been different people in it.  I see no reason to assume at this point that a little girl killed The Doctor in the opening sequence.  It is entirely possible it is The Doctor himself and the scene where he finds a space helmet and puts it on could be foreshadowing.  That’s the thing about foreshadowing, you sometimes can’t see it clearly until the story is over.

And speaking of killing The Doctor, The Big Bang gave us a scene where The Doctor appeared from 12 minutes in the future and “died”.  In truth, he wasn’t dead, just seriously injured, possibly about to die.  I assume the reboot of the universe healed him.  Regardless, what we think we saw was not the reality of the situation, and this could be playing out again.  For Amy, River, and Rory, however, this does appear to be reality.  Amy fired the gun in the cliffhanger, presumably at the girl in the space suit (although the cliffhanger was deliberately shot to obscure the target).  It is entirely possible that Amy is setting up the sequence of events that lead to The Doctor’s death.  This possibility has yet to be discussed among the leads, but if they do, it could suddenly turn in to The Space Museum.  I somehow doubt The Silence will be as funny as The Moroks.

We have very little to go on regarding The Silence.  We forget them, even after we see them.  The Silence in the bathroom told Amy that she “will tell The Doctor what he must know and what he must never know.”  This echoes The Beast Below, when Amy chooses to forget about The Star Whale, she decides something for The Doctor to keep him from making a decision.  This idea is at play again with Amy, River, and Rory, only this time it involves The Doctor’s personal timeline.  Somehow, I doubt it will make him any happier or more willing to accept things.

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9 thoughts on “Series 6.01 – The Impossible Astronaut

  1. I hated it. I was very pleased when I got to the end.

    I think the Silence look stupid. Why would aliens be dressed in suits? The production team do things like that just because they think it is cool, but actually it just looks stupid.

  2. A good read, you say – “the basic indications of what the concept of Doctor Who is. And what a distillation it is. I don’t quite say this admirably. Based on the opening, Doctor Who is a science fiction show about a humanoid alien that mucks about in time and space. Sometimes, he has friends along.”

    “This is the type of story we can expect from his era and this season.”

    Interesting point – I was wondering about the “intro for new viewers” aspect of the first half, I was thinking when the ex-FBI agent gets his intro to the TARDIS that was possibly a more traditional “OK’s here’s the show’s premise” sort of thing.

    I quite like the idea of a Doctor who “mucks about in time and space” with his friends though.

    • Hey! Thanks for the repsonse.

      There were times when Tom Baker really seemed to be that type of Doctor–wandering more on whim with whoever happened to follow him into the TARDIS. It has been a bit jarring for me to, though, because for the last few months I’ve only watched Hartnell episodes. He was rather hands-off, more exploring and observing than interfering. But, since his incarnation was the closest to his time in Time Lord society, I can see that he would be reluctant to get involved. The longer he seems away, the less he feels compelled to obey Time Lord rules. And now that the Time Lords are gone, all bets are off.

      • I’ve been reading (and enjoying) your Hartnell Doctor Who reviews! (Or, rather, the Classic Season 1 reviews as they’re the ones I’ve read. I’m going to watch-and-review-on-my-blog Seasons 2, 3, 4 sometime in the future.)

      • Glad you like them. I have to admit that I’m itching to get back to Hartnell. Impatiently awaiting the release of The Gunfighters. . . . I wonder if those words have ever been spoken before?

  3. Great review! You actually touched some great things in this post. I came across it by using Bing and I’ve got to admit that I already subscribed to the RSS feed, will be following you on my iphone 🙂

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