In the first episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, Amy, Rory, and River Song receive numbered blue envelopes from the Doctor, inviting them to meet him in America for some unnamed purpose. When they arrive, they witness the impossible. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
How exactly do you talk about “The Impossible Astronaut”?
I thought about writing a list. Couldn’t figure out how to organize it. Then I thought maybe I should just run through the episode chronologically, but my desire to constantly jump into ridiculous tangents would run that in the ground. I thought about turning this review strictly into a questions/discussion post because I REALLY REALLY REALLY NEED TO TALK TO ALL OF YOU ABOUT THIS EPISODE. I do. I seriously do.
I liked series five quite a bit. Until the very end, it never seemed as grandiose as what Russell T Davies would do with the show, but I was perfectly fine with that. Steven Moffat is grandiose in an entirely different way, because he makes tiny moments incredibly large. I’ll always think back to those opening scenes of “The Eleventh Hour,” where Matt Smith shows us he’s the Doctor, but we his companion when she’s just seven years old. I think there’s a part of a lot of we Whovians who look upon the Doctor in a childlike way, wishing he was real and that he’d come take us away from our lives so we could travel though time and space. (Not to suggest that any of our lives are awful or anything, but traveling to any point in time in space. That’s just better.) And while those moments did end up being part of a larger mythology for series five, that wasn’t what was in your head when you were watching that scene. You were instead relishing in the humor and the excitement of this strange, new man who was visiting a little girl, and the moment just felt so monumental and massive. No explosions, no universes being erased, no warring species using the earth as their battle ground.
There are, admittedly some very Doctor Who-esque scenes of significant magnitude within “The Impossible Astronaut” and I don’t want to ignore that. (AND REALLY, HAS ANY MOMENT IN THIS SHOW’S HISTORY BEEN LARGER THAN THE ONE BY THE LAKE????) But the small moments are what completely sold me on this intriguing, confusing, and COMPLETELY FUCKING HORRIFYING episode of the show.
God damn you, Steven Moffat.
I talked about the appeal of serialized media last week during my watching of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and that applies here, too. To some extent, Fringe is satisfying a very specific thing I love about books and movies and most especially television shows. I love the tension and the obsession that comes from trying to figure it all out. Of course, this all started with The X-Files for me, despite that the show was not at all a serial, but there has been no other show quite like LOST that has inspired the fanatical obsession with details within me. For four and a half years (I was a late bloomer to that show, only coming in two-thirds through the second season), I read so many blogs and comments theorizing about what the island was. 99% of everyone was completely wrong in the end, but you know what? It never mattered. There were so many incredibly well-thought-out plans scattered about the Internet, and I know some of you read all of those as well.
I don’t think it’s easy for a story to inspire that in people, to leave them so emotionally attached to the characters that they begin to feel this strong, pulling desire to know what’s going to happen to them. I watched the series premiere with the fine SpectralBovine, whose name you should recognize if you read the comments. We watched half of the first Sarah Jane Smith serial, “The Time Warrior,” before stopping to watch the premiere. By the time the episode was over, we spent a good ten to fifteen minutes trying to discuss every goddamn detail that was just thrown our way, and then we were Googling all the supposed appearances of The Silence, and then we were watching those specific moments in the episodes, and FOR THE RECORD THEY ARE TOTALLY IN “THE LODGER” oh my god.
And then that is all I did when I got home last night. I had forgotten that there were shows that could do this to me, and I went to sleep an incredibly happy man who HAD A NIGHTMARE ABOUT THE SILENCE BEING IN MY FUCKING APARTMENT and now I need to punch Steven Moffat right in the groin YOU GODDAMN ASSHOLE.
It’s weird to be up-to-date with Doctor Who, since most of the point of the site is to progress through fandoms in utter ignorance, but at the same time, I could not be more excited about the concept. I’m realizing that as we all progress through series six, on the same page for once, I am automatically going to have a community of thousands of people who WANT to discuss the intricate details of the series, who will offer up wildly unlikely but fascinating theories as to What It All Means, and we will all get to express our HEAD SHATTERING SURPRISE at once. And that is beautiful to me.
Before I continue on to discuss many of the finer points of this episode that need further discussing, I do want to facilitate all of our discussing/theorizing, but in a manner that respect that there are also fans who do not WANT to read theories so that they can develop their own. (For example, I stopped reading theory blogs during the final season of LOST so I could experience the show as I wanted to.)
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO POST THEORIES, EITHER YOUR OWN OR ONES YOU’VE FOUND AROUND THE WEB: Please start off your comment with THEORIES ABOUND and bold it. (Use the < b > < / b > tags but without the spaces.) If your theorizing does not come until later in the comment, stick it right before it starts. YOU ONLY HAVE TO DO THIS FOR THE PARENT COMMENT IN A THREAD. We will all assume that all talk from that point on will concern that theory. And to remind you all for the bajillionth time, DO. NOT. POST. SPOILERS. OF. ANY. KIND. ANYWHERE. ON. THIS. SITE. I have a wonderful forum for spoilers and there is a fantastic blog where you may spoil away. Now that you have those, you get NO FUCKING WARNINGS about posting spoilers. I will ban you to a Stormcage Containment Facility if you do.
Because I have Many Things I Want To Talk About and because I Am Not Sure How, I want to sort of separate this out based on specific subjects so that I don’t have to stick to them chronologically. DEAL? Too bad, I’m doing it anyway.
This is probably the prettiest episode of Doctor Who we’ve ever seen, and it’s definitely one of the most beautifully shot episodes of television I’ve ever seen. Sick of me talking about LOST? Too bad. That show used Hawaii to create some of the most amazing shots and they did not waste a second of it. I love that about that show, especially since that is where my dad was from and those unique, squiggly mountains we saw so much are visible from the cemetery where he’s buried. For this same reason, I adored “The Impossible Astronaut.” Because Doctor Who used their on-location shooting in America to produce images that will soon be iconic for the entire show. It’s going to be hard to forget anything but that wide shot above the lake, with the red car and the picnic below, especially given how what happens there is so haunting. If they were going to shoot in America, they were going to do so and go all-out, and I love that about the production here. Yes, it’s hard to make Valley of the Gods look ugly. That doesn’t make what they do here any less impressive.
I also love that this episode starts out so bright and colorful, and as we get closer and closer to pure terror and negativity, all the colors seem to wash away, giving us only dark hues and shadows.
WHO OPENS A FUCKING SERIES THAT WAY? Who does that in the first episode and actually confirms that it happens instead of some trick? I know there was a lot of speculation before this episode aired, thanks to certain promos and stories, that one of the four main characters would die. Of course, every single one of us ruled out the Doctor, since he can’t die.
FUCKING WRONG. How much you want to bet that when Steven Moffat wrote that scene, he cackled to himself in his library office full of bats and demons and forty people simultaneously got flat tires ’round the world? I mean, the man has to have that power because WHAT IS HIS BRAIN.
I haven’t rewatched the entirety of “The Impossible Astronaut” since I downloaded my season pass on iTunes, but you can bet that as soon as I possessed an HD copy, I re-watched the Doctor’s death. Twice. And I still cannot figure this all out.
Something was clearly wrong when, during the picnic, the Doctor mentions that he’s 1,103 years old. Two hundred years passed in his time while only two months passed for Rory and Amy? That didn’t seem to make sense.
I imagine there will come a day (maybe even next week!) when we can watch this scene and every movement will make sense. But for now, it’s one of the most frightening and confusing things this show has ever given us.
A REVERSAL OF ROLES
First of all, I love that when the Doctor appears at the diner as the owner of envelope #1, Rory imitates the way the Doctor poked him during “The Pandorica Opens.” Isn’t that exactly what each of us wanted to do? This Doctor could not be real, but then it’s revealed that he is 909 years old, meaning…the future Doctor was killed. WHAT. I can still hardly wrap my head around the concept, but I can understand what it produces: the official Spoiler Police. Now Rory, Amy, and River all hold the truth to the future and CANNOT TELL THE DOCTOR. Because the balance of power and knowledge shifts, we see the Doctor at his most uncomfortable, unable to tell who is telling him the truth or not. THIS IS SUCH A BRILLIANT PLACE TO PUT OUR CHARACTERS.
“My life in your hands….”
Oh, Amelia Pond.
Who expected that he’d essentially take on the role of a new companion? Even after listening to him speak at WonderCon, I assumed he just had a small side role. His character, Canton Delaware III, is a man intrigued by mystery and one who hasn’t lost his sense of humor along the way. But what brings him to Valley of the Gods in 2011? What did he see and experience that would convince him to come all the way out there for the Doctor?
THE OVAL OFFICE
Ugh, one of the coolest scenes this show has ever had. From an invisible TARDIS (HOW DOES RIVER KNOW HOW TO DO THAT), to the goofy behavior the Doctor immediately acts out, to Canton Delaware III complimenting the suspect, it’s exactly as wacky and hilarious as I’d hoped it would be. I mean, if you land inside the Oval Office in the TARDIS, you’ve got to have a sense of humor about it, right?
The tape that Nixon plays of his phone call is appropriately creepy, but is only a set-up for what is to come. And we’ll get there.
How do you make an already fascinating and intriguing episode even better? Throw in River Song to make things even more confusing. No shame, I love her character, and I love the chance to see her time and time again. Truthfully, there’s not a character like her in television that I can think of: She’s a time traveler who travels in the opposite direction as another time traveler. The more I think about her, the more unsettling questions I have: Why does she specifically travel in the opposite direction as the Doctor? She never meets him randomly, out of order. It’s always in reverse chronological order for her. How did she earn or gain the ability to time travel in the first place?
She’s dropped so many interesting tidbits along the way, such as her relationship with the Doctor, or the fact that she killed a “great man” and earned a spot in prison. And while I most certainly want to know the answer to these questions, that’s not what stuck out to me in “The Impossible Astronaut.” She tells Amy that her worst day is ahead of her, and since she sticks to a strict NO SPOILERS policy (LOVE YOU ~SOULMATE~), I wondered how the hell she could possibly know what was ahead of her. I didn’t expect the answer within this first episode, but she delivered perhaps one of the most ironically tragic lines in the whole show. She originally met the Doctor when he knew everything there was to know about her life, and she knows that there will come a day when she will meet the Doctor and he’ll know nothing about her. And that day will kill her. AND SHE HAS NO GODDAMN IDEA HOW TRUE THAT IS, my creys you all.
THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT
As if we needed yet another confusing element to the story, they don’t show us who (or what) is in the astronaut suit when the Doctor is killed. So when the suit came walking up to the Doctor and Amy, the voice of the little girl clearly inside of it, I expected a dramatic cutaway to black to end the episode, forcing us to wait a week to learn the identity of this impossible astronaut.
Except the screen on the helmet is pushed up and…there’s a little girl inside? What??? Who is that? OH WAIT, AMY JUST SHOT HER. WHAT THE HELL??!?!?!?! Oh god, she’s trying to change the future, which….is sort of possible? We don’t even know if Amy actually harmed the girl in the spacesuit, but if she does kill her and save the Doctor, that’s….sort of good? I DON’T EVEN KNOW. The Doctor assembled them that day in 2011 for a reason, right? And he gave them those specific clues for a reason, so surely that’s to save himself, right? Oh man, we are all totally unprepared, aren’t we?
Rory’s in a weird place throughout this episode, seemingly equally excited to be with the Doctor and just as reluctant as well. He is the boy who waited and possibly The Boy Who Doesn’t Want To Have To Wait Like That Again, and you can see his hesitance at multiple points throughout the story:
“Rory, would you mind going with her?”
“Yeah, a bit.”
“Then I’d appreciate it more.”
Oh, Rory. Too bad you appear to be electrocuted by The Silence. Please don’t be actually hurt. 🙁
But throughout “The Impossible Astronaut,” Rory’s sadness is kind of distracting because I get the feeling he wants to say something a lot of the time, but chooses not to. Rory’s character has always been reticent and quiet, and I hope he’s not lost in the shuffle.
SHE’S NOT ACTUALLY PREGNANT, RIGHT? I mean, it could be explained away, but it now seems so OBVIOUS that all the pain and sickness she was suffering throughout the episode was because she was pregnant. UGH WHAT THE FUCK. There’s that scene in the end where River looks sick and is clutching her stomach, so maybe she just is imagining she is pregnant? I DON’T EVEN KNOW.
Amy’s story in “The Impossible Astronaut” is strange. She starts off ecstatic to meet up with him again, then devastated by his death, then mortified by the responsibility of keeping THE secret from him, then fearful of his life. That he loses. In the future.
I loved the scene of her swearing on fish fingers and custard to get the Doctor to trust her. There’s a reason I opened with talk of “The Eleventh Hour.” That episode cements the relationship between as solid enough to make Amy do what she does by the end of “The Impossible Astronaut.” As I said before, I’m fascinated by the reversal of roles in this story, but I worry about what the pressure’s going to do to Amy, especially when you factor in something else.
I’ve saved the best for last on purpose. The promos weren’t lying. The Silence are among the creepiest Doctor Who villains we’ve ever seen, and it’s no surprise that Moffat’s brain came up with them. In a way, they’re the polar opposite of the Weeping Angels, who cannot exist IF they are looked at. The Silence cannot exist UNTIL they are looked at. (Er…they cannot be perceived is a more accurate description, but you know what I mean.) The concept of sight being used against a person is what makes them so scary to me. At least with all of the other villains, at some point you know what you’re up against. The very nature of The Silence prevents that: you cannot remember them once you look away. I’ve already seen some spectacularly clever meta narratives made about The Silence, claiming that WE cannot remember them either, sort of how Moffat ruined statues for all of us.
Actually on that point: Moffat sure has ruined a LOT for us. Now I’m going to be terrified by my peripheral vision? THANKS, ASSHOLE.
As I mentioned before as well, it’s been fun exploring the idea that Moffat has seeded these creatures throughout past seasons, possibly even secretly introducing them in “Silence in the Library.” (I personally don’t know if I believe that, but what a cool concept.) It makes me think of “The Eleventh Hour” and Amy missing Prisoner Zero because Prisoner Zero existed in the corner of her eye. And there’s either a huge mistake or a purposeful inclusion in that same episode when Amy is packing for the Doctor’s return and a shadow walks past her door.
The real gigantic and obvious reference in “The Impossible Astronaut” belongs to “The Lodger.” Those are the EXACT same ships, aren’t they? And there’s that strange, desiccated body on the floor that is never explained either. Could much more of the stories we’ve seen have clues to The Silence?
Yet, on top of all this, there’s one thing that makes them even scarier: their power. That scene with Amy in the bathroom of the White House is OUT OF THIS WORLD. Not only was it an outright confirmation that these things were around, instead of brief flashes of them, but Amy watches their operation firsthand, as the other woman constantly forgets what is behind her every time she turns to face Amy.
As if they could not be more terrifying, they can SHOOT ELECTRICITY OUT OF THEIR ELONGATED ARMS AND STEAL…I DON’T KNOW. That tiny mouth thing? I DON’T LIKE IT. IT MAKES MY STOMACH HURT. AND THEN!
“JOY. HER NAME WAS JOY.”
Oh god, the nightmares are never going to end. NEVER.
I am pressed to think of a better season opener than “The Impossible Astronaut.” This felt like a finale, not the first episode of a series, and it has raised my anticipation for this series more than before. In short, that was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen.
- So. Now we know that if you are fatally injured during regeneration as a Time Lord, you actually die. That’s never happened, right?
- “How’d you get in here? I mean, you didn’t carry it.” “Clever, eh?” “Love it.” “Do not compliment the intruder!”
- “This is cold. Even by your standards, this is really cold.” “Or ‘hello’, as people used to say.”
- “What’s through there?” “No idea.” “Something bad.” “Almost definitely.” “You’re going to open it, aren’t you?” “Well, it’s locked. How’s a girl supposed to resist?” “Is this sensible?” “God, I hope not.” HOW COULD YOU NOT LOVE RIVER FOREVER.
- The “Look how cool this stuff is!” scene is SO FANTASTIC and so quintessentially Eleven. Bless that man. Er….alien.
- “Jefferson isn’t a girl’s name. It’s not her name, either. Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, River! “Surnames of three of America’s founding fathers.” “Lovely fellows. Two of them fancied me.” WHO DO YOU THINK IT WAS????
- Most victorious line of the episode: “I’m going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilize, street maps covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers, and a fez!”
- The Legs, the Nose, and Mrs. Robinson. I love you, Doctor.
- “Hippie.” “Archaeologist.”
- “I’M BEING EXTREMELY CLEVER UP HERE AND THERE’S NO ONE TO STAND AROUND LOOKING IMPRESSED. What’s the point in having you all?”
- This line, given what happens to the future Doctor, is very intriguing now: “I’ve been running. Faster than I’ve ever run. And I’ve been running my whole life. Now it’s time for me to stop.”
- AHHHHHHH SATURDAY SEEMS SO FAR AWAY.