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Review: The Impossible Astronaut


The Impossible Astronaut is the first episode in Season Thirty-Two of Doctor Who.

Review

To say that I was looking forward to the return of Doctor Who doesn’t really encapsulate the sheer bubbling effervescent glee that escalated within me during the long, long wait for the new season. Obviously this is a bad thing because how can anything live up to such anticipation? Well, the first episode of the new season “The Impossible Astronaut” does its best, ticking lots of awesome boxes and only one or two on the ‘MEH’ side.

Part of the MEH side is the fact that the opening episode is the first of a two-part story. A child is calling President Nixon warning him of a danger; the Doctor (Matt Smith), newly reunited with Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and River (Alex Kingston), who have all just witnessed his death in the future but can’t tell him in case it creates a paradox, sets out to investigate. The Silence mentioned in the previous season finally show up and there’s lots of questions: who is it in the astronaut suit that kills the Doctor? Who is the child? What’s going on with the Silence? Is Amy really pregnant? It’s frustrating, annoying and leaves the viewer very unsatisfied -- but in a good way, because the desire to get to the next episode, (and why isn’t it here already?!), is always the desired outcome. Job done.

Having said that, the pacing at the beginning is so molasses slow that time could be frozen. There’s a strange quality to the Amy and Rory At Home scenes (and they seem to have a very nice modern house for a couple with no discernible employment beyond “Doctor’s Companion”) that is more reminiscent of the Tenth Doctor era. Indeed the whole plot doesn’t start moving along with any kind of speed until after the current Doctor’s death when the team is reunited with a younger version of him.

Possibly, the monsters are a little MEH at this point too. The Silence have figures that are reminiscent of the Roswell aliens in silhouette, with melting faces and a tendency to mind-wipe anyone who sees them. I didn’t find them particularly scary, but they have the potential to be very scary indeed, and I’m interested to see where they go with it.

However, these are probably the only MEH elements as the rest of it is completely Awesome (capital ‘A’ very much required).

In order of awesomeness, Team TARDIS is possibly my most favorite ever: the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River. The cast have an incredible chemistry between them. There’s a real sense of caring and companionship; a real sense of friendship. It’s a quality that is very hard to achieve so quickly. And yet there are clear relationships within the team: Amy and Rory, the Doctor and River, Rory and the Doctor, Amy and River, and for the first time, Rory and River.

The scene where Rory accompanies River into the sewers and she tells him about meeting the Doctor, about the impact that it had to her life, that the “worse day” that is coming is when she meets the Doctor and he doesn’t recognize her, because she thinks it will kill her (fabulous shout-out to “The Silence in Library/Forest of the Dead”) is so well done. It provides a nice beginning for a friendship between them.

But there are some great scenes highlighting all the dynamics: Amy swearing on fish fingers and custard to get the younger and not dead Doctor on board with helping them, the Doctor and River operating the TARDIS (love the “Make her blue again!”), Amy and River discussing how to handle the situation, Amy and Rory discussing the Doctor waving to them from history.

Also on my list of awesome things, guest star Mark Sheppard playing the part of Canton Everett Delaware III, an ex-FBI agent who has been hired by Nixon to investigate the mysterious phone calls he receives. Sheppard’s Canton is great; dry wit, calm and collected, and fits into the team seamlessly.

The other awesome thing that sticks in the mind is the cinematography of the US location scenes. The picnic by the lake with the sunbaked orange rock all around gives the scene an alien feel, even though it is set on Earth. It’s stunning visually and yet there’s a peacefulness -- a stillness, a silence to the place that may or may not be symbolic. The musical underscore also has to be mentioned. It is the music that helps to create tension and excitement; the pulse picking up with the familiar refrain that signals action.

I am positively gleeful that the humor of the previous season continues despite the serious and scary storyline. There’s the shooting of the hat, the mention of the Fez, the banter between River and the Doctor, there’s the wonderful exchange of ‘you think you can just shoot me?’/ ‘they’re Americans!’, and the continuing physicality that Smith brings to the Doctor.

Lastly, I couldn’t review this episode without mention of the touching opening: the memorial to Elisabeth Sladen, who played the Doctor’s Companion Sarah Jane Smith both in Classic Doctor Who, the reboot, in the spinoff K-9 and Company and in her own show The Sarah Jane Adventures. Sladen created THE quintessential Companion and all others have had to live up to her since, something that was stated fairly explicitly in her return in “School Reunion”.

All in all, there are a lot of awesome parts in this episode which put together create something very Awesome indeed. If there are a couple of meh points, well, they don’t really detract. I’m looking forward to the next episode, and oops -- yes, there’s that sheer bubbling effervescent glee again.

Previously published at GeekSpeak Magazine

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