The Good: Incredible new villain, Intriguing mystery, Decent character moments, Good performances all around
The Bad: Establishing so many characters that it does not use The Doctor overly well.
The Basics: "The Impossible Astronaut" begins the next big Doctor Who mystery by introducing The Silence and putting into play an astronaut who kills The Doctor while his friends watch!
When it comes to serialized television, the benefit of long arcs is that one can seed ideas in early seasons and then play them out later for maximum dramatic effect. Long arcs allow for complicated characters and concepts which can be incredibly well-developed. What becomes increasingly obvious to fans of serialized television is when those ideas are mapped out before an idea is even pitched to a production company and when the story is crapped together piecemeal after something is already established. The "mythology" of The X-Files (reviewed here!) is an excellent example of something cobbled together poorly; while Doctor Who has season-long arcs that are well-constructed, the overall arc of the series is not terribly well-constructed. To his credit, Steven Moffat seemed to have a lot of well-developed ideas on how he was going to pull off River Song when he created her in "Silence In The Library" (reviewed here!). "The Impossible Astronaut" begins the process of explicitly spelling out River Song's backstory.
And "The Impossible Astronaut" is a pretty good beginning to that backstory. More than that, "The Impossible Astronaut" begins to lay the framework for a mystery surrounding who exactly the assassin and astronaut were and how they fit into the larger Doctor Who mythos. Interestingly, "The Impossible Astronaut" is a start to the story that is one of the rare starts that is so entertaining on its own that it is not disappointing for its lack of resolution.
Opening with Rory and Amy finding clues that The Doctor is "waving" at them from the past through inserting himself into events and ridiculous situations to which they might pay attention, The Doctor gets Amy, Rory, and River Song in Utah. The Doctor wants to stop running and when the quartet has a meal out on the edge of a lake, Amy sees an alien (but then forgets she sees it) and they are joined by Canton Delaware . . . moments before The Doctor is killed by an astronaut who comes out of the lake.
Going back to a diner after burning the Doctor's body, the trio finds an earlier version of The Doctor who was similarly summoned to that time and place. The Doctor refuses to simply go along on the mission to 1969, until Amy Pond swears she can trust him on fish sticks and custard. The Doctor arrives, after River effectively cloaks the TARDIS, inside the Oval Office, where Nixon is briefing a younger version of Canton Delaware III on calls he is getting claiming aliens are around her. While they are in the Oval Office, Amy sees the creature again, but as soon as her line of sight with it is broken, she forgets. The Doctor and his companions begin a search for the little girl calling Nixon and in Cape Canaveral, they discover an alien laboratory and stolen NASA technology. Rory and River Song discover a network of tunnels underneath the entire planet, filled with the aliens who cause people to forget their existence.
"The Impossible Astronaut" introduces the previously-alluded to Silence on-screen for the first time. In "The Impossible Astronaut," The Silence appears as an alien that exists in one's memory only when they are in eye contact with it. The entity erases itself from the memory of its victims the moment they are no longer looking at it and director Toby Haynes plays the technique out wonderfully in "The Impossible Astronaut" to make it clear. Before any characters evaluate the alien invaders on Earth in 1969, Amy Pond encounters them multiple times and Haynes shows their effects.
The plot of "The Impossible Astronaut" finds the right blend of funny and creepy to instantly engage the viewer. The Silence creatures are terrifying and the addition of River Song makes for a compelling character dynamic. While it helps to advance the plot, the use of a version of The Doctor who is 1103 and one who is only a year older than Amy and Rory recall (908), creates - albeit briefly - a lost history of The Doctor and River Song. When The Doctor and River sync up their journals, they appear to have had a great many of their adventures together. It confirms what viewers would suspect by watching "The Husbands Of River Song" (reviewed here!), which put a cap on The Doctor's adventures with River and eliminated any interaction between River and any future Doctors.
"The Impossible Astronaut" has a lot of set-up work to do and the return of The Doctor is one that features an erratic use of the character. The Doctor who is present in almost the entire episode is not the one who moves along the plot; the dead 1103 year-old Doctor is the character who guides the plot. The Doctor is fun in his later years, but when the 908 year-old version of The Doctor starts to follow the trail of clues left by his older self, he oscillates radically between being incredibly serious and as goofy as one might expect from Matt Smith's first season as The Doctor.
The character issue that resonates with those who consider the character of The Doctor in "The Impossible Astronaut" is one that stretches credibility some. The viewer is expected to believe that in the few months that Amy Pond was The Doctor's companion for the fifth season of Doctor Who (reviewed here!) he bonded with her in such a way that he would enlist her help in fighting the Silence. Given that the mission in "The Impossible Astronaut" involves going back to 1969, there is no clear reason in the episode why The Doctor - who had been out of Amy and Rory's life for two months and several decades from the plot - would have used them for the mission instead of either getting a new Companion in 1969 or using someone from his past he trusted.
Of course, for the entire plot surrounding the truth of the Astronaut and the mysterious little girl to work, Amy Pond has to be involved in the mission. Alex Kingston steals her scenes in "The Impossible Astronaut" and her facial expressions heighten the fear in the middle of the episode. When River Song goes into the creepy basement, Kingston emotes being afraid perfectly through her eyes and she makes the viewer completely forget that River Song cannot possibly die in the episode.
"The Impossible Astronaut" is a promising beginning to the sixth season of Doctor Who and it establishes enough tenants for a mystery involving an alien invasion in 1969 to make "Day Of The Moon" irresistible - when watching "The Impossible Astronaut" leave enough time to watch its sequel immediately afterward!
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Matt Smith as The Doctor here!
For other Doctor Who season premieres, please visit my reviews of:
"The Christmas Invasion"
"The Eleventh Hour"
See how this episode stacks up against other episodes and seasons of Doctor Who by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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