WARNING: Contains spoilers for Doctor Who episode The Impossible Astronaut, and also a spoiler for Game of Thrones episode one.
Before I begin my review of what was an incredible first episode of Doctor Who, I would like to have it on record that I’m a new fan to the series. And when I say “new fan”, I don’t just mean that I haven’t seen the original incarnation, I mean that I haven’t even seen the Christopher Eccelston and David Tennant series, apart from the odd couple of episodes here and there. Sacrilege I know…
However, I did watch Series 5 from beginning to end, and whilst I admit what first drew my attention to the show was the involvement of writer Steven Moffat, I quickly became engrossed in the world of Doctor Who and the characters that inhabit that world, and it soon became my most anticipated TV show every week.
So my enthusiasm for the show is as real as the majority of Who fans, and I’m going to enjoy writing about it every week, although I may lack the expertise and background, but I hope fans and readers of this blog will be able to fill me in with any details that may prove relevant to the context of the current series.
Episode 1 Review: I Need A Doctor (no, really, my brain hurts)
I’m pleased that I chose to start my Doctor Who adventure last series, because if this was my first ever episode I would be scooping up the remnants of my brain off the floor right about now. Moffat pulled no punches here, and after a brief but humorous opening, which featured a hilarious scene of the Doctor dancing with Laurel & Hardy, we jumped straight in to all out confusion.
Notice that the date on the invitation is the 22/04/11, Good Friday, the day Jesus died. This was just one of many Doctor/Jesus allusions in the episode. Who was invited? The Doctor’s friends: Amy Pond, Rory, River Song, and newcomer Canton Everett Delaware III. These are not only the Doctor’s friends, but the people that follow him, his helpers, his…disciples? They even enjoyed a last supper with wine, before the Doctor sacrificed himself. The question is, did one of his disciples betray him? Was it one of his so-called friends inside the space suit? We’ll come back to that theory later.
I don’t want to dwell too heavily on the religious connection, but it is Easter, and as this two-parter was originally supposed to air in full over the weekend, it wouldn’t be such a leap to think that Moffat included some parallels.
These opening scenes looked beautiful on screen, especially the wide-shots of the vast desert landscape. It was a big slice of Americana, with yellow school buses, cowboy hats, and greasy-spooned diners. It felt very new, very fresh, very modern, and made Doctor Who feel big-scale, and it definitely benefited from been filmed in America, rather than a studio or some place in the UK doubling up for the US.
"Howdy," and the Doctor is back, Matt Smith now suitably confident in the role as the maniacally smart Time Lord. After a short but sweet reunion, the Doctor gets right down to business, "I’ve been running faster than I’ve ever run, and I’ve been running all my life, and now its time for me to stop." The importance of this line is not immediately clear, but we now know that the Doctor was dying, ready to move on to his next body, but his regeneration was abruptly stopped because of a trigger-happy astronaut.
The Doctor, as Rory puts it, has arranged his own wake, and even gets to deliver his own eulogy, very self-indulgent of him. “Human beings, I thought I’d never get done saving you.” he says, which could either mean that its someone else’s turn to take over, or that the human race no longer needs saving. He also tells Amy that he is 1103 years old, meaning he has aged 195 years since the last time she saw him. I’m not sure what the usual life-span of the Doctor is but he seems to have had a good innings, right?
The shot of the astronaut in the lake is a fantastic image. “Whatever happens now, you do not interfere,” the Doctor tells his comrades. There’s no question here that the Doctor knows he is marching to his death, but the most intriguing part is that he claims to know his killer, “It’s ok, I know its you.”
As the Doctor’s body begins its regeneration process the astronaut takes one final shot, killing the Doctor once and for all. It was a dramatic scene, and Karen Gillan gave an excellent performance in her emotional reaction to the Doctor’s death, but for me the scene lacked real jeopardy because you knew that the Doctor wasn’t really dead, well, he may be dead, but you know he isn’t gone. Again, my Who knowledge doesn’t stretch back very far, but couldn’t this death have taken place in a different time-line, and there is still a Doctor alive and kicking in an alternate time-line?
The astronaut turns away, and heads back in to the lake, and as he/she does so, River Song begins shooting at it, but to avail. This next line, uttered by River Song, jumped out at me, “Of course not,” she says after failing to kill the spaceman. What does she mean “of course not”? Does she know who is in the space suit? Just who is River Song?
One theory is that River Song is the one in the space suit, and therefore the one who kills the Doctor. Is her shooting at the astronaut an act of instinct, before she realises she is shooting at herself, and that that is an impossibility, hence her “Of course not”?
River Song first appeared in the 2008 episode Silence in the Library (notice Silence in the title, very appropriate), and this episode featured the moment that River Song describes in The Impossible Astronaut as the day when she meets the Doctor and he has no memory of her. And what is River Song wearing when we first meet her?
That’s right! A space suit! “Who did you kill?” the Doctor asks River, is the answer him? River and the Doctor have an extremely flirtatious relationship, especially in the latest episode which featured exchanges such as “I’m quite the screamer”, and had the Doctor referring to her as Mrs Robinson. Sometimes it is almost as if they are a couple, Rory agrees with me at least “You and the Doctor, I can picture it.” Does River Song love the Doctor so much that she can’t bear him not remembering her? Does it drive her over the edge, enough for her to murder him? Or perhaps she is somehow saving him by killing him?
Or maybe that is all too obvious, River Song as the astronaut could possibly be a huge red herring, and simply what Moffat wants us all to think.
However, for now the 909 year old Doctor is still with us, sent by himself to, well, nobody quite knows why he sent himself to his own death just yet. River Song says that they can’t tell the Doctor what they witnessed because it would cause a paradox, that may be the case, but if you believe the River Song is the astronaut theory, then it could just be River protecting herself. Regardless, the Doctor is putting his trust in Amy Pond, and that means they are heading to Washington, 1969, to the oval office (just next to the oblong room).
President Nixon, with one of the worst false noses I have ever seen, has been receiving mysterious phone calls from a child, begging for help because “The spaceman is coming.” Nixon has assigned ex-FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware III to the case, and luckily for Delaware, the Doctor is here to help.
Meanwhile Amy Pond is having a much more frightening time with some new monsters called The Silence. Amy first noticed one in the distance during the last supper picnic, but quickly forgot about it. This time she is face-to-face with one in the White House restroom. The Silence are great monsters, menacing, ugly, and creepy, but it can’t be just me that sees a striking resemblance to these guys?
Those Nosferatu looking dudes are The Gentlemen from the episode Hush in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and not only do they share a similar name and look to the Silence, but they even pose a similar threat, because just as you can’t speak of the Silence’s danger because you forget you saw them, with the Gentlemen you literally can’t speak about them because they take away your ability to talk. I’m not saying Moffat in any way ripped them off, but with his Joss Whedon-like dialogue I would be surprised if Moffat wasn’t a fan of Buffy, and he may have subconsciously adopted some of these traits when creating the Silence.
It doesn’t take away from how scary the Silence are though, the scene where one of them obliterates a White House staff member is horrifying stuff for a 6 o’clock tea-time show! And only knowing they are there when you are looking at them, although slightly similar in concept to the Weeping Angels, is pulled off with great effect, especially in the later scene where Rory turns around to see a bunch of them staring back at it him, only for him to turn back around and have zero recollection of them. Scary!
The monster tells Amy that she must tell the Doctor “What he must know, and what he must never know,” which I assume is to do with the Doctor’s death, or is it to do with the pregnancy? The only problem is, as soon as Amy leaves the bathroom she forgets what has happened, but she did take a photo of the suited and booted creature on her phone, and I’m sure that will come in to play down the line.
The Doctor tracks down the voice of the little girl to an abandoned warehouse in Florida. Underneath this warehouse is a labyrinth of underground tunnels, and lurking in these tunnels, you guessed it, the Silence. “They’ve been here for centuries but nobody has ever seen them,” River Song says referring to the tunnels, but we all know that she may as well be saying the same thing for the Silence.
The Silence could be the most formidable bad guy that the Doctor has had to face yet, because they are an undetected threat, even he doesn’t know they exist, as far as we know. The Silence are not the only thing in the tunnels though, River also finds this room:
Which is almost exactly the same as the spaceship which is seen in last series’ episode The Lodger, and as far as I’m aware we never found out whose ship that belonged too. Was it The Silence? As River Song and Rory walk unaware in to devastating danger, the Doctor and Amy are about to face some danger of their own.
With the screams of “Help me” echoing in the background, Amy tells the Doctor that she is pregnant. Now, I have an aversion to most pregnancy storylines in TV shows, so I’m hoping there is a twist here. Amy was definitely showing signs of sickness, but this seemed to be triggered after her encounter with the Silence, we saw River Song experience the same thing after she saw them. So right now I’m choosing to believe that Amy is not pregnant, or at least not in the normal way.
Before the Doctor has time to digest this information, the astronaut appears, looking like the same astronaut that kills the Doctor in the future. Amy, hoping to prevent that future from happening, picks up Canton’s gun and shoots at the astronaut, before realising that it is in fact the little girl inside the space suit.
It has to be one of the most intense and brave cliffhangers in the shows history, and is the second TV show this week that has ended its episode on the apparent death of a child (Game of Thrones). Did the child die? We’ll have to wait for next week to find out. And who was the child? Was Steven Moffat influenced by this?
A Doctor Who novel by Paul Cornell that also features a child astronaut (thanks to a poster on the Cook’d and Bomb’d forums for pointing this out).
Was the child the same person in the space suit that kills the Doctor in the future? Was it a young River Song? Would that even make sense? So many questions!
"A lot more happens in ‘69 than anyone remembers," the Doctor says at the beginning of the episode, which surely indicates we are in for some disaster of epic proportions next week, probably at the hands of the Silence, and I for one can’t wait! It’s great to have the Doctor back.
Please feel free to leave your views and comments!
by Martin Holmes