Yeah, it’s pretty good.
Those of you who know what I was referring to just then* will note that it’s also set in large part in Washington DC, and concerns a doctor trying to save the world. Sort of. OK, that’s fantastically tenuous. Never mind. So, The Impossible Astronaut.
In all honesty, it was a rather odd episode. Sadly, it wasn’t the barnstorming wonder I would expect, especially since it’s competing against The Eleventh Hour, possibly one of the best episodes of the last series. It seemed to be, for the most part, a retread of Moffat’s favourite ground. There was some temporal dicking-around, there was some nasty aliens which you really need to keep your eyes on, and River Song. For goodness sake. So let’s start from the beginning. I should, however, preface this by saying that I didn’t think it was bad. As I said at the top, ‘pretty good’, and a Moffat ‘pretty good’ is still well worth watching. I just think it’s not his best.
We begin with a little montage of the Doctor doing some historical ‘stuff’ to get the attention of Rory and Amy. I’m not really sure why, when he could just pop in and visit, but whatever, let’s go with it. Then, one day, they get a mysterious letter, and they’ve got to go and
find an excuse to do some filming in America! And here, things take a turn for the odd.
After a brief sojurn to an American restaurant (they’re in America by the way, look, America. Hey, over here! Look, America!), which provided my favourite joke of the episode (the Easter Island one) they’re having a by a lake picnic, when, all of a sudden, an astronaut comes out of the lake and properly kills the Doctor. Oh. Then an old man with a can of petrol (or gasoline, as Rory puts it. Maybe his language changed to English (American) when they crossed the Atlantic. Or maybe he just read it off the can.) turns up to give the Doctor a Viking burial. Then leaves.
You know, I think I’ve identified my problem with this episode. Too much buildup, too much foreshadowing. It seems like loads of stuff occured, but very little actually happened. After they’ve met a (younger) Doctor, who’s fine, and doesn’t know what’s going on, they go to the White House, chat to embodiment-of-evil Richard Nixon, and Badger off of Firefly**(who, when told by Nixon he was the second choice for the assignment, replied ‘That’s all right, you were my second choice for President’, thereby marking himself as a Good Guy),and work out where the mysterious phone calls are coming from. I may need to consult with my dad or someone else, but I’m not entirely sure the phone call thing would have made much sense to anyone who hadn’t watched the bit on the website about it. Still, never mind. This is also where we first properly encounter The Silence, which are a bit like classic Greys, but with melted faces.
They’re a good idea, even if they are a combination of the Angels and that memory-loss thing from The Beast Below. I think they’ll probably be used more effectively in the next episode, from what I’ve seen. They’re not exactly scary, but I don’t think they’ve quite been given the opportunity to live up to the concept yet, and I do like the concept, so I’ll reserve judgement. I’m still not sure what the point of killing Joy was – just to establish ‘hey look, these guys are villains’ (which the audience could have guessed that from their going around being all menacing) ?
After messing around with some maps and stuff (which, to be fair, ended up paying off quite nicely), they go to a generic warehouse somewhere (really making the most of the location shoots, aren’t they? One or two outdoor shoots, then interiors which could be anywhere, really), find a phone, find some alien techology, and something something aliens in a hole something something that psuedo-TARDIS from The Lodger something something little girl in a spacesuit. The last part of the episode felt like they had an extra few minutes they didn’t know what to do with. Why Amy felt telling the Doctor she was pregnant to be so urgent when they’d been hanging around doing next to nothing for the last half an hour, goodness knows.
Matt Smith, while still great, could do with smoothing the tone a little. Some of the transitions between ‘wacky comedy’ and ‘serious brooding’ grated a bit, but otherwise, fine. Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill especially, did some great stuff this episode, and Alex Kingston managed her least irritating performance to date, which is quite an achievement***. Other than Badger, who was excellent as always, the only other cast member worth a damn was Nixon, played by the magician off Jonathan Creek, and he was jolly good.
Overall, it just felt like too much ‘beginning’. Weirdly, despite being a relatively sparse episode it terms of actual events, it felt full, but full of the wrong things. Not just setup for the next episode, which is alright, but lots and lots of setup for the series, which The Eleventh Hour did as well, but (I felt) more elegantly. I do, though, like the idea of the companions having a secret from the Doctor. It changes the group dynamic in a very interesting way (isn’t it nice to have the Doctor not knowing everything?****), although it does run the risk of top-loading the series (though I would guess it’ll be resolved next episode, though I could be wrong, and it could be hanging over their heads for the rest of the series).
Still, not bad. Not bad at all. And from the trailers, the next episode looks great. Includes the line ‘THIS WORLD IS OURS, DOC-TOR!’. Can’t wait. But they’d better explain why the aliens are wearing suits. Final word, I think, goes to a Gallifrey Base commenter ‘Kualan’: “That was rubbish. I don’t remember seeing a single alien in it.”
**an English actor, doing an American accent in an English program set in America. I find that amusing.
*** as Warren Ellis said on Twitter “#doctorwhospoilers River Song says “spoilers” or “sweetie” for the 1800th time & gets shot by the Angelic Dalek Of Relief.”
****I hate to bring up Lawrence Miles again, but I read something he wrote about The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, his Eighth Doctor novel which introduced Sabbath. His idea originally was to have Sabbath be a sort of twisted version of The Doctor for this, alternate universe, so the Doctor would have to learn and adapt, be on the back foot, rather than being able to just know everything. The rest of the writers changed the character substantially, but it’s an interesting idea.