Ok, apologies, I’ve been off the face of the virtual earth for the last few weeks. I’m determined to catch up with this reviewing lark and both finish my series 5 reviews and post my comments about the ongoing series. I WILL catch up before the end of this 7 episode run. With that in mind, here is my first review for season 6:
The Impossible Astronaut
Doctor Who returned with a bang in the first episode of the 2011 series. Not just any bang, but within minutes, a bang of a mysterious astronaut killing the Doctor, before his companions burn his body. The Doctor is dead and gone.
For the first time since the 2005 re-launch, there has been no change to the principle cast, no regeneration, no new companions to introduce. It should all be very simple and business as usual, right? The adventures continue and the fun goes on.
Except with Steven Moffat at the helm, that was never going to be the case. Rather than carrying on where the show left off, with Amy and Rory newly married on their honeymoon, and the universe reset and happy, we are pulled through 45 minutes of mystery, set up, and almost a plot, But in a very good way. Free from the burden of introducing new lead characters, Moffat seems to have taken the opportunity to use the time to create the beginnings of a for-now impenetrable story arc. So much information was thrown at us in this first episode, the first of a two-parter, that it is impossible to say what will be revolved next week and what is forming part of the season-long mysteries and perhaps beyond.
From the beginning of the episode, we are thrown off kilter. The companions haven’t been travelling with the Doctor, who has been doing something for a couple of months (or 200 years from his viewpoint). Why? The companions receive letters inviting them toAmerica, where they meet up with the Doctor and River Song, before they all have a picnic and watch the Doctor get shot by an astronaut who walks out of a lake. They go back to a diner where they find the Doctor, alive and well, and apparently 200 years younger than the one that just died. He invited himself to his own death. Again, why? He seemed pretty willing to die, so he didn’t want them to stop it, but he needed them to witness it. I’ve gone cross-eyed. Does that mean there are two TARDIS’s lying around in the desert somewhere? Does this mean, if we assume this mystery will be tied up this year, that we are going to see 200 years worth of adventures in 13 episodes? I doubt it, and my eyes are re-crossed.
Taking this episode to the States adds a whole new dynamic to the show. Everything is bright and colourful and surreal and it all adds to the sense of confusion and disorientation. Whereas last year’s opener The Eleventh Hour was an ode to Britishness, with village ponds and baked beans and fire engines, this is an all out American love-in. We get the deserts, the diners, the WHITE HOUSE, complete with President Nixon and the FBI, and it is very, very cool.
I haven’t too much to say on the plot, because it seems kind of squeezed in between all these revelations, but one thing that is introduced are the new enemies ‘The Silence’ (or Silents?), an alien hinted at all through the 2010 series and finally revealed as a suit wearing grey alien with the ability to make you completely forget them the moment you turn away. Think about it, they could be right behind you and you would never know. Once again, Steven Moffat preys on childhood fears. I just hope that this concept does not go over too many young viewers’ heads, because it’s a fantastic idea, just a tad confusing. In a way, a bit like this episode in general.
What has happened then is that Doctor Who seems to be entering a serial format more familiar with audiences of American shows like Lost or Dexter, where the overriding storylines tend to take precedence over the self-contained episodic stories, and missing a few episodes often leaves a viewer floundering in confusion over missed plotlines. Whether the show goes fully into this format remains to be seen, but I would imagine it would be a step too far for a family show which needs to cater to a fairly wide audience.
For me personally though, I herald this new style for the show. Longer mysteries lead to anticipation, viewer loyalty, immersive and dense storylines, and an overall more rewarding viewer experience. Modern Doctor Who has always contained an overriding season arc, but this seems to be the first time that this has taken a bigger step out into the limelight. Last season seemed to be heading this way with the cracks in time, and hopefully this year will go some way to explaining why they occurred and who caused them. Multi-series mysteries ahoy! I cannot wait to see what the next 12 episodes have to offer and the ride they are going to take us on, however frustrating it may be.
FEZ SEZ: A bold, brash, and mysterious beginning to a new series of Doctor Who with a darker edge certainly peeking through the bright locations.