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TV Review: Doctor Who – “The Impossible Astronaut”

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For fans of Doctor Who, it was a long and rather torturous wait from the airing of “A Christmas Carol” to the airing of Saturday’s episode, “The Impossible Astronaut,” while the Moff teased the fandom with hints of things to come (one of the hints being that one of the four main stars would die in the first episode).

One of the arcs from last season (the phrase “Silence Will Fall”) has started to be resolved here, with the introduction of a new species called The Silence. Fair enough, I wasn’t expecting that to happen in the first episode, so that took me by surprise. Much like the Weeping Angels (another Moff creation), they appear to be creatures of the abstract, with their ability being that you can know all about them and the second you turn your head, ignorance of them returns. At which point they are very well placed to kill you as you will no longer want to run away. (Sweet dreams, by the way.) 

The episode starts off with a shocking scene (shocking if you haven’t been spoiled by the gushing of fans who managed to see it before you and I), which takes place in the present day. The scene, incidentally, reminds me of “Logopolis” as much as the Comic Relief specials “Space” and “Time” did. This scene leads them to 1969 to see the President. Much of the rest of the episode is devoted to uncovering the mystery of the Silence in 1969 and saving a terrified little girl who keeps calling Richard Nixon (played ably by Stuart Milligan).

The chemistry of the principal cast of the episode is a bit strained, but this is, in fact, part of the plot and why it works well. It’s rather disconcerting to note that Rory The Roman seems to be back to his pre-“The Big Bang” self, but perhaps that is an after-effect of that finale. Many of the things that get revealed during the course of the story cannot be trusted, due to The Silence’s ability to edit memories. 

The episode is still humorous (as you would expect, considering that showrunner Steven Moffat wrote it) despite its dark settings and plot elements, but one of the funniest bits in my opinion is that River Song (whose weapon of choice appears to be a single-action revolver) packing her things in a prison is cause enough for an armed response. And we are never shown how, but she still escapes!

One of the many aspects really done well was in choosing to film location shots America, instead of Cardiff or a quarry. The director uses the locations (they filmed in Utah) to give the episode an impressive movie-sized scale. Bizarrely though, the scene in which the main characters are grouped together in a vintage American diner was filmed in Cardiff. Methinks this was done in an attempt to save the budget.

The action can be slow in places but borders on genuinely scary for the older viewers and almost certainly horrifying for the little ‘uns. The decision to extend the first episode of the new season into a two-parter for the first time in the revival’s history was a masterstroke and I cannot think why it hasn’t been done before. It will keep fans on the edge of their seats until the resolution next Saturday and was well done. This isn’t an episode that I would recommend for someone’s first episode, as it features a lot of plot elements that won’t make sense to a new viewer, but if you are a pre-existing fan of Doctor Who it is an absolute must-see. 

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