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Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut

Doctor: 'I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.'

It must be hard for any show to live up to the pre-season hype. They're always promising bigger, better, weirder, more satisfying story lines. Of course, it's usually just talk. Maybe they're too close to the project to be truly objective, or more likely, they feel obligated to big-up the show to the size they hope it will be. So what are we to make of Steven Moffat's 'it's the Doctor's darkest hour' and 'it's going to be a real game changer' pre-season spiel? Should we write it off as mere rhetoric designed to get our fantasy/scifi juices flowing, or will there actually be some substance to the Moff's grandiose promises?

So far, the signs are encouraging. 'The Impossible Astronaut' was the best season opener I've ever seen. It was an oddity in that (a) it's the first time we've had a two-parter open the season, and (b) there were no enforced personnel changes, so the story kicked off, more or less, straight away. And what a story it was! It had just about everything. It carried forward some of the plot threads started back in seasons four and six; the dialogue was crisp, witty and, at times, sparkled like Omega Centauri; the story was complex and bonkers; River Song wore tight jeans, and a sexy gun belt; and to top it all off, they only went and killed the Doctor! According to Steven Moffat, he really is dead, too. Which, naturally, poses all manner of problems for the show. Actually dead Doctor's tend not to regenerate too well.

So what the hell is going on? All we currently know is that the Doctor knew he was going to die, hence him having time to assemble a crack team of himself, the Nose, the Legs and Mrs Robinson. (Those really should be their names from now on.) But, at this juncture, it's hard to imagine how he's going to pull off his own resurrection—if that's even what he's planning. His death must be important, otherwise, he'd never have allowed himself to be killed, but how can he come back without altering what he just died to achieve? Changing the future automatically changes the past, making rescue seemingly impossible. Not that that will stop them trying.

Amy's anguish over the Doctor's death was both raw and moving. Him getting shot was such an unexpected event—especially so early on in the episode (and indeed the season)—that I was completely unprepared for it. Great performance from Karen Gillan, proving that she's more than just a pair of legs. Amy had a pretty emotional episode, all told: bereavement, on top of pregnancy, on top of death and monsters. But why was it so important that she tell the Doctor of her pregnancy at that exact moment in time? And why the pains? Is there something wrong with her baby already?

You can't help but feel sorry for Rory. Song's obsession with the Doctor pretty much mirrors his own wife's experiences. Amy's never really got over her first meeting with the Doctor, and despite choosing Rory, there's still something undetermined between the Doctor and Amy—something Rory can neither have nor share. It's sweet the way Rory deals with it—by essentially ignoring it. But you can't help wonder how it'll all end. Amy's fires are easily stoked. Who knows how she'd react to a few words of encouragement from her Raggedy Man? It's obvious that Rory feels the oppressive weight of the Doctor's presence.

Likewise, the sexual tension between River Song and the Doctor positively crackled tonight. I've never felt any real chemistry between Smith's Doctor and Song before—her flirtatious personality always seemed better suited to Tennant's flamboyant intergalactic hero than Smith's more reserved history professor. Smith's Doctor always felt too emotionally immature for the boisterous Moll Flanders, but tonight I totally felt it. Tonight the Doctor flirted up a veritable storm. He even out-flirted Amy—which is a feat in itself. Smith's familiarity with the role seems to be bringing out a new found confidence in his performance, and I like it. I like it a lot!

The usual questions still hang over Song's head. Who is she, what is her relationship with the Doctor, and who did she kill? They've promised answers this season—so I'll reserve judgement till later—but Song's intimate knowledge of the TARDIS' controls seems to hint at her being something more than a mere acquaintance. It's obvious that she's besotted with the Doctor, though it's a queer irony that the more she gets to know him, the less he seems to remember her. Like Amy before her (or actually maybe after her), the Doctor's arrival in her life was the defining moment of her existence. Now, he's more of an addiction. She longs to see him, yet each time she does, the experience is slightly less satisfying. I wonder which incarnation of the Doctor she'll meet first? We know that the Doctor forgetting her won't literally cause her death, because we already know how she dies, but will she outlast Moffat's tenure as showrunner?

Forgetting seems to be the theme of the week. Amnesia appears to be the Silence's primary weapon/defence. It's hard to believe we went the whole of season five without actually seeing them, but tonight we got to see them in all their glory. Why were they wearing suits? Why does Donald Duck wear a little jacket? I guess the high collars were to hide the join between their big rubber heads and their human bodies, but I liked their Scream-esque features and their ability to make humans forget. If I bumped into one of those guys, I'd want to forget too.

We still don't know who the girl in the space suit is. My first thoughts were River, then I switched to Amy, then Amy's child—now I just don't know. (River! No... Amy's child... wait! Amy. no...etc.) Nor do we know why the Doctor had to sacrifice himself for her. Amy shooting her had me shouting 'Nooooo!' at the telly. If the trailer for next week's episode is anything to go by, this is shaping up to be the best two-parter ever.

Other Thoughts:

—For those who don't know, Elisabeth Sladen (AKA Sarah Jane Smith) passed away on the 19th April, 2011. It's news which has pretty much left the Doctor Who fan community in a state of shock. For many, Sarah Jane was (and still is) their favourite companion. The oddity is, no one seemed to know she was ill, so when the news broke on Twitter, it was greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism. Until Nicola Bryant confirmed it via Twitter. Then came the dreaded BBC bulletin confirming the worst. First Nicholas Courtney now this—it hardly seems fair. So let's raise our glasses one last time to Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen. To our Sarah Jane! Gone but never forgotten.

—Mark Sheppard! Yay! It seems every time he's in a US drama he plays a Brit, and now he's in a British show, he's playing an American. Go figure.

—Handling TARDIS virgins is obviously the time-travelling equivalent of being coffee boy.

—A pot of coffee, 12 Jammie Dodgers and a fez. Delicious! Apart from the fez.

—Why did the Doctor need them there to witness his death? Just so they could burn his body?

—Who shot the Doctor? Surely not Kristin Shepard!? And why did Song say 'of course' when her shots had no effect? Did Song kill the Doctor? Is that why she's in the Stormcage? For killing "the best man she has ever known?" (See these straws? Look... I'm clutching at them!)

—Wow, they totally milked the 'Doctor Who?' joke tonight. Twice in one episode? Awesome.

—I loved the Doctor's 'let's see if anyone tries to kill us and work backwards' style. Rory was right. You can totally see him and Song together.

—The actor who played old Canton is actually Mark Sheppard's real father, William Morgan Sheppard.

—What a great opening sequence. Not only did we get to see a painting of the Doctor naked, we also got to see him actually naked and hiding under the pleats of a woman's dress. Loved the Laurel and Hardy scenes too.


Doctor: 'Did you see me then?'
Amy: 'Of course.'
Doctor: 'Stalker.'
Amy: 'Flirt.'
Rory: 'Husband.'

River: 'Hello Sweetie.'

River: 'We're his friends. We do what the Doctor's friends always do. As we're told.'

Canton: 'I won't be seeing you again. But... you'll be seeing me.'

River: 'I know. Amy, I know.'

River: 'This is cold. Even by your standards, this is cold.'
Doctor: 'Or 'hello,' as people used to say.'

Doctor: 'Just popped out to get my special straw. It adds more fizz.'

River: 'The Doctor's death doesn't frighten me. Nor does my own. There's a far worse days coming for me.'

Doctor: 'Swear to me. Swear to me on something that matters.'
Amy: 'Fish fingers and custard.'
Doctor: 'My life in your hands, Amelia Pond.'

Amy: 'Cool aliens?'
Doctor: 'Well, what would you call me?'
Amy: 'An alien.'
Doctor: 'Oi!'

Doctor: 'I'm being extremely clever up here, and there's no one standing around looking impressed.'

Doctor: 'Fellas, the guns, really? I just walked into the highest security office in the United States, parked a big blue box on the rug. You think you can just shoot me?'
River: 'They're Americans!'

Doctor: 'I'm your new undercover agent, on loan from Scotland Yard. Code name, The Doctor. These are my top operatives, The Legs, The Nose, and Mrs Robinson.'
Song: 'I hate you.'
Doctor: 'I'm going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilise, a street map covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers, and a fez.'
Delaware: 'Get him his maps.'

Canton: 'What's going on?'
Doctor: 'Nothing, we're just friends.'
Rory: 'I think he's talking about the possible alien incursion.'

Doctor: 'And Doctor Song, you've got that face on again.'
Song: 'What face?'
Doctor: 'The 'he's hot when he's clever' face.'
Song: 'This is my normal face!'
Doctor: 'Yes, it is.'

Rory: 'You and the Doctor. I can kind of picture it.'

River: 'Don't worry, I'm quite the screamer. Now there's a spoiler for you.'
Also posted at The Time Meddler.


  1. "It's hard to believe we went the whole of season five without actually seeing them."

    Or maybe we just don't remember it.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. You're right, zob. I've just added that gem to the quotes section. Just for you.

  4. Just added my own review up. Excellent episode, one of my favourites.

    The Silence are a promising bunch, aren't they?

  5. So glad it's not just me who still thinks of Alex Kingston as Moll Flanders! (And Elizabeth Corday)

  6. It was wonderful. I especially enjoyed Matt Smith and Alex Kingston together this time. Wonderful review, Paul. And how lovely that Mark Sheppard's father got to play Mark Sheppard.

  7. My question is, whose baby is it? Rory the Roman is a machine, isn't he?

  8. Hey Adam. My understanding is that the Doctor flying the Pandorica into the heart of the exploding TARDIS rewrote history... restoring human Rory, and wiping Auton Rory from history.

  9. I also loved the scene in the Tardis when they were talking about Nixon and River says there's some good stuff too and the Doctor shrugs her off...



    Great review Paul. It pains me to have to wait a week to see part II.

  10. I quite liked this episode, though I liked Eleventh Hour more. I guess that's just because it felt faster and more fun than this. I'm not so sure I'm okay with the whole 'darkest hour' feel they're going for - I like my Doctor Who bright and fun.

    The Silents are great, and well done to Amy for snapping a picture of one with her mobile! Common sense from a TV show character? Nice.

    God I hate River. I utterly hate her to bits. I know lots of people think she's great, but I just want to punch the smarmy, smug woman. Every time she says 'Spoilers!' and 'Hello sweetie' my blood boils. I just want to see her dead, but it's all the more infuriating to know that I can't, because her death has already happened. So I know I'm stuck with her for a very long time, and I have no hope to cling to that they might get rid of her.

    When she first appeared in this episode, I actually said out loud "If she escapes again, that is the worst prison ever." Seconds later the klaxons are sounding, and I facepalmed and said "That is the worst prison ever!". Seriously, what the hell is the point of that storm prison facility if she can escape whenever she feels like it? Ugh.

    Yeah, I hate River. But I still enjoyed this episode regardless, and I'm looking forwards to the next part.

  11. Best episode ever!!! Miles above anything they've done before. I really, really hope they can keep this up.
    And thanks for the Liz Sladen mention. Cannot believe she's gone, so sudden and so young. RIP our Sarah-Jane.

  12. I had some probs with the pacing of this ep - honestly, nobody thought for a second that the Doc was actually dead five mins into the first ep of the series, obviously, so we then had to sit through Amy and River wailing about it until he reappeared and we could get on with the actual story :o)

    So far as I can see, the Moff has changed the game in that he's saying we won't get any more regenerations now?! If he's really dead, then Eleven's the last (or is this the producers getting very sure of themselves as they've hired a fabulous young whippersnapper for Eleven who's not going to quit anytime soon?)

    It's good to get some answers about River at this point - although obviously they just lead to more questions!

    But as to which incarnation of the Doctor she first meets - I think we've just established (as per the canon we've had this ep) it has to be Eleven. In that, we've just been told Eleven is the last ever incarnation, and we know for a fact that he didn't meet her before 'Silence in the Library' as Ten (because his life is running linearly even if he does time travel around other people's). It was established then that she had pictures of his other faces, so she knew who Ten was (why she expected him to know who she was at that point, it's not really clear..!).

    It doesn't quite ring true that their acquaintance is running entirely backwards though... River's never mentioned it before, when we've seen her later her life and she would theoretically have had more info. Also, it's very Time Traveller's Wife and getting more so all the time - basically it's too obvious.

    Although, having said all that, after we had a whole universe re-set last series, perhaps we have no ideas what the rules are (or what's canon) any more...

  13. The Doctor/River relationship is a little wonky, as it's clearly supposed to develop over several faces thanks to dialogue. But that's really not practical, so they're cheating it a bit. Her expecting Ten to recognize her could be due to her not knowing the order of his faces, but it probably had more to do with the idea that, at the time, she was written as having met him before.

    They're also not meeting directly in reverse, otherwise there'd be no need to sync the diaries. And River says before her death that the last time she saw the Doctor he took her out and gave her his custom made sonic screwdriver; clearly they were very much in a relationship.

  14. River Song also had pains, not just Amy. Unless River is pregnant too (not out of the question), the pains are probably related to being mindwiped.

    For Silence-in-a-suit, maybe they are kissing cousins of the Gentlemen from Buffy's "Hush".

    Moffet really likes the idea of keeping "history" intact, but in a misleading way. The Doctor's death probably required those witnesses, because they told him they were there. ("The wibbly lever!") Just because old Canton said the dead Doctor was genuine, he could have been told to say that. Kind of like in the "Big Bang", when the Doctor faked his death so he could work unobserved.

    River's "of course" comment: my take was that when she couldn't hurt the person who hurt her so much, "of course" is just a comment on fate, or the types of situations she finds herself in. (But I could easily be wrong.)

  15. I am going to post a short one to see if it works, I have been having issues...if it does, I'll be back...

  16. Sooze, I checked, and your comments are not going to the Folder of Evil Spam. Have you enabled pop-ups for this site?

  17. I think the 'of course' comment may've referred to the fact that she should have had 6 shots, and earlier had wasted a bullet shooting the very cool Stetson.

  18. Josie - Thanks for checking. It seemed to work yesterday, so I'll give it a shot today (I have typed this comment about 4 times over the last week...).

    I loved this opener. The Silence are suitably creepy...I love how Moffat finds a way to get me to not pay so much attention to how they LOOK (suits, really?) but how they make me FEEL .

    I loved Rory's reaction to River's story about her and "HER" Doctor...he has grown on me a lot.

    I thought it interesting that she really did emphasize the "MY" Doctor...giving me the impression that the Doctor she first met is not Eleven - although I am not really sure how that all works. Their "meeting in reverse" really has me confused.

    I agree too that the chemistry between River and the Doctor has much improved. It is believable to me now.

    So, can someone try to unravel River's and the Doctor's time lines for me - at least as far as we know? Given the ages we have been told with this episode - does this mean River first met the Doctor between his ages of 909 and 1103 - since he "dies" at 1103? If that is the case then...wouldn't he have fully known her at 1103 - and thus, known WHO she is? And then, if that is the case, then Eleven IS her Doctor...see, I am confused.

    I forgot, when she met Ten in Season 4 - what "year" was that? Obviously that was her future - and she died - but then how does that tie into her time line now?

    Can't wait to see Part 2!

  19. Great quote that I noticed on re-watching: "More happened in 1969 than anyone remembers" from 1103 Doctor.

  20. I'm confused as to whether or not Eleven is now canonically The FINAL Doctor. He has one more regeneration left, yes? So why is Moffat calling it all a wrap after Smith leaves? Will the 50th Anniversary Series be the end-all of the longest-running sci-fi show in history? Why have we not heard more of this?

  21. I'm not sure the Eleventh Doctor will stay dead for long. But, even if he does, there are ways around the 12 regenerations cap. The Master was offered a new regeneration cycle by the High Council. There's also the elixir of life. And, in the Sound of Drums, the Master said that the Time Lords had resurrected him to fight in the Time War. So there are a whole host of options available to elongate the Doctor's life.

  22. You have some valid points (and the image of The Master just makes me giggle like a silly little girl because John Simm is all sorts of crazy awesome) regarding regeneration. I still think unless he was in the middle of saving Earth/Universe at the present time, he wouldn't be all Death Eater-ish and actively seek to avoid a permanent death by schmoozing more lives out of the system. Then again, Moffet tries to get away with a lot. We'll see when the time comes, I'm sure.

    And why did I just get an image of Matt Smith entering a cheat code into a computer game to get more lives in a Super Mario Bros game?

  23. I liked the comment, re the Tardis, "How long have Scotland Yard had that?" (or something like that).

  24. I'm not sure I know the word for what I felt (or rather what should have been felt be The Doctor) after watching the beginning of this episode. Embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated all come to mind that this guy (at least I'm told he is a guy) would rather hide under the dress of a woman rather than carry a gun to defend himself. Doessn't his girlfriend (river) carry a gun? How is it that she does not get preached at constantly for carrying a gun? This whole gender role reversal this show often portrays is a real let down.

  25. I have Elisabeth Sladen's and Nicholas Courtney's autobiographies as they are 2 of my all time favorite Doctor Who characters ever, and Sarah Jane, Harry Sullivan, and the 4th Doctor were my first team back when the show was brought here to the states via PBS back in the 70s/80s, and very young me who had seen A New Hope in the theater and loved Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica found Doctor Who very weird at first, but rapidly fell in love with it, and especially that TARDIS team and of course the Brigadier. I adore Ms. Sladen and it's a shame she was taken from us so young.

    This is another of those plot lines that I have mixed feelings about. One thing the new show does a lot is make the Doctor so pivotal to pretty much everything in existence and I prefer the less well known cosmic hobo from the classic days take on the character. 11, Amy, and Rory are a great team to be sure, so that helps a lot, but River Song just gets more and more annoying and this season's story has some interesting ideas but wears out for me pretty quickly. This first part of the season is still intriguing, which is a good thing.


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