Series: Doctor Who Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut
Written by Steven Moffat
One of the goals of any good review is to summarize a story by carefully picking key moments to write about while at the same time, not telling the story word for word. It’s easy, right? The only exception is when you are reviewing a script penned by Steven Moffat because it doesn’t matter how insignificant a moment or just a line of dialogue seems, it could tie into the episode or even the entire series. Onward and upward to the difficult nigh impossible task of a review of The Impossible Astronaut.
The sixth season of Doctor Who premiered in true Steven Moffat fashion with the death of the Doctor. Oops, did we forget to tell you about the spoilers? Amy and Rory find themselves on a two month break from the Doctor who is traveling through time to important dates in the history books. The times the Doctor is popping up in are very deliberate to the point that the Doctor wants to be noticed. Later, Amy and Rory receive an envelope leading them to the Arizona desert. There, they meet up with the Doctor and Doctor River Song who also received the same envelope. Everything is relatively normal except that the Doctor seems to be different, older even. Over a meal, the quartet are interrupted by three figures. The first figure, seen only by Amy in the distance, is quickly forgotten as soon as he is out of her sight. The second figure, also in the distance, is an older man walking towards the group. The third and most important figure is wearing an astronaut suit and appears out of nowhere. The Doctor tells the group not to interfere and meets the astronaut solo. This is the point where things go off the rail; the Doctor is shot and killed by the astronaut in the middle of a regeneration (one of the few ways to kill a Time Lord). The astronaut walks off, only to disappear. Here is where the second figure comes into play. The man, brought here by another of the blue envelopes, is Canton Everett Delaware III and he is carrying a can of gas. Canton presents them with the gas, telling them that they will see him again and then goes on his way.
The group burns The Doctor’s body but the mourning is broken up by the Doctor, albeit a younger version. The young Doctor is unaware of what has transpired with the older version of himself. The young Doctor and his companions, who remain tightlipped, travel to 1969 to follow a lead spoken of by the Doctor. The Tardis invisibly ends up in Washington D.C. 1969, more specifically, in the oval office of one president, Richard Milhous Nixon. Here, they meet Canton Everett Delaware III in younger form. Meanwhile, President Nixon is being plagued by a series of phone calls from a young girl fearing for her life at the hands of a spaceman. After leaving the office, Amy sees an alien she believes is the first figure she had seen before, and discovers that when you look away, you forget about him/it. The alien delivers a message to Amy; she must tell the Doctor what he must and must not know. Amy takes a photo of the alien hoping it will help her remember but once again, she quickly forgets. Following a lead the Doctor has worked out but not yet revealed, the young Doctor and companions, including Delaware, travel to Florida. This leaves you to wonder about the Doctor figuring things out. The group finds a lair of aliens in which they see and then forget. There are moments that are better left unspoiled but here are a few hints…they have to do with Amy and the little girl who has been calling Nixon, and it ends on a cliffhanger on both fronts.
Let’s talk acting first, shall we? Matt Smith, again and again, turns out a tour de force. Smith captures the soul of a 900-year-old man but manages to bring a childlike wonderment to the Doctor. In this episode, Smith plays both the older and younger versions of the Doctor with great difference in looks and acting. Mark Shepard also turns in a great performance playing Canton Everett Delaware III. It’s difficult to bring something new to the Doctor Who table especially when it comes to the reactions to the Tardis and time travel. Shepard delivers on all fronts, capturing the wonderment of seeing the Tardis for the first time and also manages to pull off a decent American accent. For the companions, both Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan, hand in great performances with great chemistry onscreen. You can see the initial vulnerability in the relationship between Amy and Rory. Finally, Alex Kingston, reprising the role of Doctor River Song, continuing to add more depth to the playful and mysterious character.
There is not a lot that can’t be said about Steven Moffat’s writing, including words like amazing and greatest. This episode was a bit of a departure from previous episodes written, such as Blink and Forest of the Dead. Both of those episodes start with high concepts and work out from there but with The Impossible Astronaut, it starts subtlety and gets to the high concept of the aliens. It’s easy for a writer to get bogged down in trying to be clever but Moffat is never guilty of that. He knows just what to cut out like the Doctor figuring out the location of the calls and keeping in the subtle clues the Doctor throws out to the audience.
In any good season of Doctor Who, there is an Easter egg that will become a recurring thread in the story. At first we see the bus carrying Amy and Rory through the desert and a reflection from the mirrors, illuminates a rocky structure. As the bus continues down the road another reflection appear seemingly from the windows on the bus accept it more resembles some sort of binary code.
If this is a barometer for the rest of the season then the mercury will be breaking the glass as it rises with every episode.