Doctor Who review – The Impossible Astronaut – Series 6 Premiere

After completing the requisite two viewings of The Impossible Astronaut, it’s fair to say that the first Doctor Who episode of [[Doctor Who Series 6|series six]] left me confused and bemused. 

Steven Moffat promised a death in the first episode, and that death – spoilers, sweetie – was The Doctor himself. Yup, pick the unlikeliest character to get hosed and guaranteed Moffat would kill him off. Now, we could take this moment to ponder whether (yawn) time will be re-written and The Doctor will somehow be un-killed, but we’re used to these kind of reversals in sci-fi, and it’s incredibly boring. 

Let’s just imagine that they’ll find some way to resolve the timeline or the series ends when Matt Smith decides to hang up his sonic screwdriver.

Moving swiftly along, the opening episode is a hit and miss affair. Moffat is playing his usual trick of jumping all over a timeline – not only do we have to contend with the enigmatic relationship he has with River Song, but two versions of The Doctor a couple of centuries apart. But did the older Doctor send the “TARDIS Blue” invites in the first place? Seems a little conventional for a man who gatecrashed a Laurel and Hardy video to get a message to Amy and Rory. Why follow up by snail mail?

From the frivolous starting sequence featuring The Doctor posing nude for a painting and hiding under the skirts of the artist, the episode reunites the TARDIS gang in the Utah desert for a picnic. And then our Gallifreyan host promptly gets shot by an astronaut who walks right out of the lake.

It must be said – the killing of The Doctor is a textbook Time Lord hit. Whoever pulled the trigger must’ve known that Time Lords are vulnerable in the middle of their regeneration. Does anyone else think that the person inside the spacesuit is a certain Doctor Song?

Also worthy of mention was the wonderful ripple effect across the lake as The Doctor’s regeneration was snuffed out. 

I wasn’t as keen on the White House scene. For some reason, Doctor Slapstick doesn’t work for me, and Matt Smith smacking into an invisible TARDIS was annoying. More so because he’d just been undermined by River Song running around fixing mistakes he was making with the TARDIS. They played that gag last year and for some reason Moffat has decided to reprise it with bells on. This is a problem for me because Moffat had only just given us a dark scene where The Doctor had grimly warned his companions never to underestimate him.

Maybe that’s why I find the tone of the show so all-over-the-place at the moment.

New villains The Silence or The Silents do look horrifying, to give them their dues. I’m baffled about their motivations, because Amy clearly saw one of them during the picnic in present-day Utah. But they’re also hiding out in a network of tunnels in 1969 as well. So do they span both eras?

To give Mr Moffat his dues, the concept behind the creatures is great – alien monsters who look hideous and who you forget the instant you look away from them. I’m incredibly impatient about the reveal though – lots of scary shots and that toilet scene, but what do they want and why are they cowering in dingy tunnels like Ood refugees?

Nice scene between River and Rory, where River spills the beans on her backwards relationship with The Doctor. But still frustratingly little exposition about how what her big secrets are. There’s much speculation online tonight that River is the child that Amy is expecting – however, both women felt nauseous in the presence of the Silents. I think it’s fair to say that the Doctor Who fanbase are genuinely chewing their knuckles to find out what’s going on with Song.

Ultimately though, I find myself mourning the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who. That combination of Davies and Tennant had a lot of heart and was packed full of emotion. I still find Moffat to be utterly overrated by the fanbase – look at this freakishly gushing review on The Guardian’s website – it’s embarrassing. Matt Smith’s Doctor remains bizarrely ditzy in ways that make me uncomfortable. How can we take him seriously in the heroic scenes when he’s crashing into his invisible TARDIS?

Of course, all my concerns may well be wrapped up in next week’s episode. Let’s see what happens.

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  1. sgreco1970

    I actually like matt’s doctor quite a bit, and I don’t mind the slapstick. He had to be different from tennant’s doctor, who was different from eccleston and so on. What I surely doubt, however, is that the series will end -even if Matt does choose to leave. Right now, Doctor Who is the biggest hit for the BBC, and the biggest its ever been -id be stunned if they just hung it all up suddenly.

    One thing I will agree on, however, is the overrating of Moffat. Ive always liked him and his scripts until he took over. With no one to reign him in, the time reversals and undoings along with other contrivances have served to make the show silly and often confusing. I hope this season has been more well thought out.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I actually believe this is less about who’s playing The Doctor and more about the showrunner. RTD had some fantastic emotional sweeps about his episodes, and both David Tennant and Christopher Ecclestone conveyed The Doctor’s enthusiasm brilliantly. By contrast – Smith’s Doctor seems completely off the wall – like that cutaway to him with his head in a box, or the fact that he didn’t know who was president in 1969. This scatty and skitterish side of him doesn’t gel with the intergalactic genius and hero that we’re supposed to believe he is.

      But yes, in the end it all comes down to Moffat for me. It feels like he’s making the kind of show he wants to see and writing off all the confusing madness with a “don’t patronize the children”. Well, I just rewatched it with the children and they all drifted away from the TV toward the end. And any inconsistencies in Smith’s portrayal of the character are essentially down to Moffat’s writing/vision for the series.

      More than all that though, I take exception to the amount of gushing across the web about the show – “Yay! W00t! #DoctorWho was amazing! Best episode ever!” No, it wasn’t. It was a good episode, but if people were honest about it, it wasn’t genius. There were flaws and I think a lot of people are scared to acknowledge the flaws for some reason.

    2. dexygirl

      If you like Matts doctor you cant really disagree with Moffats style of writing because although actors bring a personal touch to the doctor is really the writers who create them and the situations that they are placed in that make them seem more 3-D if ‘matt’s doctor’ was always in less WHAM situations  he wouldnt be the same doctor and you might not regonise this regenerations silly style. Doctor Who has always been part of my childhood Moffat makes the character that brings that same childhood back to doctor who.


  2. sgreco1970

    Another note about the series possibly ending: did you note the very odd preface to the opening credits? “My name is Amy Pond,” etc. That’s there because BBC thinks (and rightfully so) the have a newer and larger audience for the show. In the rewind special before the series opener, they also said, “if you’re just starting to watch Doctor Who for the first time…” Would they really introduce a whole new audience to doctor who and then end the cash cow? I sincerely doubt it. Put those fears to rest and just enjoy the ride.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I think the point of contention is that they most certainly won’t kill off the series off, which makes killing off the title character contrived. I hate it when series’ do things like this – making ‘game changing’ events happen and then bending everything backwards to undo them.

      Essentially, the series played the big undo last year with The Big Bang. I don’t like it when the series creates sensational storylines where the only conceivable resolution is ‘rewriting time’ in order to bring us back to where we were at the beginning.

    2. dexygirl

      I agree it was alright the first time but it continues to ruin the suspense of the excitement finding yourself bundled on the couch ready to watch your favourite heroe save the world everytime I hear it being explained the need to fastforward through our favourite whoooo-whooowwww draws nearer. I love that sound and I’d hate to watch the show without it.

  3. redblu

    Yes everyone knows the Doctor isn’t going to die. We know when he regenerates, who his replacement is ahead of time, when a companion is leaving etc, this is more the next generation of cliffhanger. I know you’re not an old series fan (I am) but one of the things the new series missed under RTDs reign is the “how do they get out of this one?”. We always knew that the doctor and his companions would, the fun was in guessing how.

    Assuming we aren’t cheated there has to be something clever about this “big undo”, as was stated if his companions help prevent his death then a paradox would be created. I’m actually currently leaning more towards the likelihood of a clone or doppleganger than a re-write of time, but I honestly have no idea, and that’s the fun part.

    I really like the fact the humour has been moved from the scenarios (fat monsters, giant bees, farting aliens) to the eccentricities of the Doctor, not simply because that’s how the old series did it, but because it’s hard to be scared by any of the monsters, to care about the deaths, when the world feels false. We’re never meant to take the Doctor seriously, he’s a madman, and a hero in a terrifying universe. To me Smith is the first Doctor to really capture that since Tom Baker.

    I really disliked RTDs era, yet I’m glad he was the man to bring it back. I know that sounds odd, but hear me out. RTD seemed to hate everything about the original show, all the elements I loved, entirely ignoring the sci-fi elements, strongly stating how his sets would not wobble. For all the time he spent introducing new characters he spent little time scaring children or introducing new and imagination stimulating science fiction. He brought good things to the show, he improved the role of the companions, he cast David Tenant, found Murray Gold, I am GLAD he brought the series back as he fixed a lot that the old show didn’t have, but in the process he lost the shows strengths. Moffat is now integrating those back into RTDs more plot light structure. I do think he’s still trying to find the right balance, sometimes I worry Moffat is too concerned about alienating the modern audiences, working hard to keep the pacing at the same level as in RTDs era (despite having mountains more explanation to do).

    Points I do agree with however: The Whitehouse scene doesn’t work for me, not because of the humorous elements, but because it has no reason to be there. Going to the whitehouse seemed more like a publicity stunt than something integral to the story.

    I was also impatient when it came to the reveal, there were *too many* questions. This will make people anxcious to tune in next week I would hope, but the episode as a standalone piece was a little frustrating. I hope that at least some answers come by next week, and that the Doctors death is resolved by the midseason finale. Last seasons biggest problem was that the crack storyline only really spanned 5 episodes, and having unrealted episodes inbetween such a teaser of a plotline was frustrating.

    On the note of Moffat being overrated… well I don’t know that you are but please don’t chalk this up to Doctor Who on it’s own. You may not like him but amoung my friends you’re lucky to end up in a conversation that doesn’t include a coupling quote (and most of them aren’t Who fans), I’ve been following his career since Coupling. Jekyll, Coupling, Sherlock, and his Dr Who episodes are my favourite of BBC works. His writing is never lazy, always going to great lengths to setting up very high pay offs, something few other writers do. It may not appeal to you, you may not appreciate that style of writing, but to those that do he is certainly not overrated.

    EDIT: I really must stop editing these ramblings, they’re becoming more and more poorly structured and less focused.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      Don’t apologise for rambling comments – I love them. It’s great to hear other people’s points of view!

      And you’re right, I do have a problem where Moffat’s concerned. I bristle when I hear his self-congratulatory soundbites about how wonderful the new series is going to be. He should let the ‘genius’ of the series speak for itself.

      It’s not that he’s a bad writer. The Moffat episodes were some of the cleverest of the first-fourth series. But as showrunner, I think he’s taking the series in directions I’m not particularly comfortable with. Bottom line, I’m not as entertained by Doctor Who as I used to be.

      1. redblu

        “And you’re right, I do have a problem where Moffat’s concerned. I bristle when I hear his self-congratulatory soundbites about how wonderful the new series is going to be. He should let the ‘genius’ of the series speak for itself.”

        To be fair RTD was guilty of exactly the same thing, I won’t disagree with you but I can’t say it’s an element he’s introduced. I actually put the blame on the BBC for this, things such as confidential were always a mistake, you can’t talk frankly on them and can only be self serving. No other show gives the creaters that kind of exposure. They’ve also combined the roles of executive producer, head writer and script editor and publicist, that’s a mistake on a production level, and seems designed simply to give a single face to focus on (probably only happened because of the BBCs love of RTD).

        I can handle the JNT era, which was certainly no worse than RTDs, I can see past the clunkers to the rare gems it produced, but I didn’t grow up being told how superb a job he was supposedly doing, and didn’t as a result react against it. Thinking back to that era the positives such as Curse of Fenric come to my mind rather than Time and the Rani. When it comes to the RTD era I remember Love and Monsters before Midnight.

        It’s probably why I have such strong feelings against RTD, I didn’t agree with the hype and self praise and my issues with him as a writer only intensified as a result. If I wasn’t a big fan of Moffat before he took over it might have had the same effect on me.

  4. dexygirl

    I actually like Matt Smith as doctor who, I think the childish nature he adds to the program really adds to the fact that doctor who is for families, Matt acts the role as a child maybe because of the fact that this regeneration of the doctor is fairly new and as every regeneration is a new start for the doctor he’s basically still a child. The Doctors confudlement with the tardis might be because at the start of Matt Smiths reighn as D.W. the tardis changed, the fact that river could work it might be because she learned from an older version of the doctor, and therefore a more experienced one, The Doctor might become more ‘grown up’ as the role progresses. Personally I find the new doctor refreshing because of the way david tennants doctor ended… tackilly. I hope to see more of the Vashda Narada in seasons to come.

    1. pirho

      Hot off the presses of the BBC




      Fourteen new episodes of the sci-fi show, executive produced by Steven Moffat, have been commissioned.

      However it is not yet known when the new episodes will be broadcast.

      The corporation also confirmed there would be six more episodes of the current series to be screened later this year and a 2011 Christmas special starring Smith is planned.

      Sam Hodges, head of communications for BBC One, fiction and daytime, tweeted on Tuesday: “#DoctorWho is returning. Fourteen new episodes have been commissioned with Matt Smith as The Doctor #bbc1.”

      Moffat later added: “14 eps + Matt DEFINITELY. I’ve got a plan and I’m NOT TELLING YOU WHAT IT IS.”

      Earlier this month, the writer told the Radio Times the Daleks would be given “a rest” from the series.

      “There’s a problem with the Daleks. They are the most famous of the Doctor’s adversaries and the most frequent, which means they are the most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe,” he said.



  5. redblu

    ….the show is back on in Winter. Leaving aside which style you preffer Moffats series 6 has been very dark and creepy, whereas RTDs was more of an adventure show. In its present style it would be much better served as a Winter show.

    1. pirho

      She killed a man, a good man, a hero to many.  That’s what the bishop siad to the Doctor about River.  I’m still banking on it being Rory.

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