Saturday, 23 April 2011

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut (1)

Doctor: 'I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.'

It must be hard for any show to live up to the pre-season hype. They're always promising bigger, better, weirder, more satisfying story lines. Of course, it's usually just talk. Maybe they're too close to the project to be truly objective, or more likely, they feel obligated to big-up the show to the size they hope it will be. So what are we to make of Steven Moffat's 'it's the Doctor's darkest hour' and 'it's going to be a real game changer' pre-season spiel? Should we write it off as mere rhetoric designed to get our fantasy/scifi juices flowing, or will there actually be some substance to the Moff's grandiose promises?

So far, the signs are encouraging. 'The Impossible Astronaut' was the best season opener I've ever seen. It was an oddity in that (a) it's the first time we've had a two-parter open the season, and (b) there were no enforced personnel changes, so the story kicked off, more or less, straight away. And what a story it was! It had just about everything. It carried forward some of the plot threads started back in seasons four and six; the dialogue was crisp, witty and, at times, sparkled like Omega Centauri; the story was complex and bonkers; River Song wore tight jeans, and a sexy gun belt; and to top it all off, they only went and killed the Doctor! According to Steven Moffat, he really is dead, too. Which, naturally, poses all manner of problems for the show. Actually dead Doctor's tend not to regenerate too well.

So what the hell is going on? All we currently know is that the Doctor knew he was going to die, hence him having time to assemble a crack team of himself, the Nose, the Legs and Mrs Robinson. (Those really should be their names from now on.) But, at this juncture, it's hard to imagine how he's going to pull off his own resurrection—if that's even what he's planning. His death must be important, otherwise, he'd never have allowed himself to be killed, but how can he come back without altering what he just died to achieve? Changing the future automatically changes the past, making rescue seemingly impossible. Not that that will stop them trying.

Amy's anguish over the Doctor's death was both raw and moving. Him getting shot was such an unexpected event—especially so early on in the episode (and indeed the season)—that I was completely unprepared for it. Great performance from Karen Gillan, proving that she's more than just a pair of legs. Amy had a pretty emotional episode, all told: bereavement, on top of pregnancy, on top of death and monsters. But why was it so important that she tell the Doctor of her pregnancy at that exact moment in time? And why the pains? Is there something wrong with her baby already?

You can't help but feel sorry for Rory. Song's obsession with the Doctor pretty much mirrors his own wife's experiences. Amy's never really got over her first meeting with the Doctor, and despite choosing Rory, there's still something undetermined between the Doctor and Amy—something Rory can neither have nor share. It's sweet the way Rory deals with it—by essentially ignoring it. But you can't help wonder how it'll all end. Amy's fires are easily stoked. Who knows how she'd react to a few words of encouragement from her Raggedy Man? It's obvious that Rory feels the oppressive weight of the Doctor's presence.

Likewise, the sexual tension between River Song and the Doctor positively crackled tonight. I've never felt any real chemistry between Smith's Doctor and Song before—her flirtatious personality always seemed better suited to Tennant's flamboyant intergalactic hero than Smith's more reserved history professor. Smith's Doctor always felt too emotionally immature for the boisterous Moll Flanders, but tonight I totally felt it. Tonight the Doctor flirted up a veritable storm. He even out-flirted Amy—which is a feat in itself. Smith's familiarity with the role seems to be bringing out a new found confidence in his performance, and I like it. I like it a lot!

The usual questions still hang over Song's head. Who is she, what is her relationship with the Doctor, and who did she kill? They've promised answers this season—so I'll reserve judgement till later—but Song's intimate knowledge of the TARDIS' controls seems to hint at her being something more than a mere acquaintance. It's obvious that she's besotted with the Doctor, though it's a queer irony that the more she gets to know him, the less he seems to remember her. Like Amy before her (or actually maybe after her), the Doctor's arrival in her life was the defining moment of her existence. Now, he's more of an addiction. She longs to see him, yet each time she does, the experience is slightly less satisfying. I wonder which incarnation of the Doctor she'll meet first? We know that the Doctor forgetting her won't literally cause her death, because we already know how she dies, but will she outlast Moffat's tenure as showrunner?

Forgetting seems to be the theme of the week. Amnesia appears to be the Silence's primary weapon/defence. It's hard to believe we went the whole of season five without actually seeing them, but tonight we got to see them in all their glory. Why were they wearing suits? Why does Donald Duck wear a little jacket? I guess the high collars were to hide the join between their big rubber heads and their human bodies, but I liked their Scream-esque features and their ability to make humans forget. If I bumped into one of those guys, I'd want to forget too.

We still don't know who the girl in the space suit is. My first thoughts were River, then I switched to Amy, then Amy's child—now I just don't know. (River! No... Amy's child... wait! Amy. no...etc.) Nor do we know why the Doctor had to sacrifice himself for her. Amy shooting her had me shouting 'Nooooo!' at the telly. If the trailer for next week's episode is anything to go by, this is shaping up to be the best two-parter ever.

Other Thoughts:

—For those who don't know, Elisabeth Sladen (AKA Sarah Jane Smith) passed away on the 19th April, 2011. It's news which has pretty much left the Doctor Who fan community in a state of shock. For many, Sarah Jane was (and still is) their favourite companion. The oddity is, no one seemed to know she was ill, so when the news broke on Twitter, it was greeted with a healthy dose of scepticism. Until Nicola Bryant confirmed it via Twitter. Then came the dreaded BBC bulletin confirming the worst. First Nicholas Courtney now this—it hardly seems fair. So let's raise our glasses one last time to Elisabeth Claira Heath Sladen. To our Sarah Jane! Gone but never forgotten.


—Mark Sheppard! Yay! It seems every time he's in a US drama he plays a Brit, and now he's in a British show, he's playing an American. Go figure.

—Handling TARDIS virgins is obviously the time-travelling equivalent of being coffee boy.

—A pot of coffee, 12 Jammie Dodgers and a fez. Delicious! Apart from the fez.

—Why did the Doctor need them there to witness his death? Just so they could burn his body?

—Who shot the Doctor? Surely not Kristin Shepard!? And why did Song say 'of course' when her shots had no effect? Did Song kill the Doctor? Is that why she's in the Stormcage? For killing "the best man she has ever known?" (See these straws? Look... I'm clutching at them!)

—Wow, they totally milked the 'Doctor Who?' joke tonight. Twice in one episode? Awesome.

—I loved the Doctor's 'let's see if anyone tries to kill us and work backwards' style. Rory was right. You can totally see him and Song together.

—The actor who played old Canton is actually Mark Sheppard's real father, William Morgan Sheppard.

—What a great opening sequence. Not only did we get to see a painting of the Doctor naked, we also got to see him actually naked and hiding under the pleats of a woman's dress. Loved the Laurel and Hardy scenes too.

Quotes:

Doctor: 'Did you see me then?'
Amy: 'Of course.'
Doctor: 'Stalker.'
Amy: 'Flirt.'
Rory: 'Husband.'

River: 'Hello Sweetie.'

River: 'We're his friends. We do what the Doctor's friends always do. As we're told.'

Canton: 'I won't be seeing you again. But... you'll be seeing me.'

River: 'I know. Amy, I know.'

River: 'This is cold. Even by your standards, this is cold.'
Doctor: 'Or 'hello,' as people used to say.'

Doctor: 'Just popped out to get my special straw. It adds more fizz.'

River: 'The Doctor's death doesn't frighten me. Nor does my own. There's a far worse days coming for me.'

Doctor: 'Swear to me. Swear to me on something that matters.'
Amy: 'Fish fingers and custard.'
Doctor: 'My life in your hands, Amelia Pond.'

Amy: 'Cool aliens?'
Doctor: 'Well, what would you call me?'
Amy: 'An alien.'
Doctor: 'Oi!'

Doctor: 'I'm being extremely clever up here, and there's no one standing around looking impressed.'

Doctor: 'Fellas, the guns, really? I just walked into the highest security office in the United States, parked a big blue box on the rug. You think you can just shoot me?'
River: 'They're Americans!'

Doctor: 'I'm your new undercover agent, on loan from Scotland Yard. Code name, The Doctor. These are my top operatives, The Legs, The Nose, and Mrs Robinson.'
Song: 'I hate you.'
Doctor: 'I'm going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilise, a street map covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers, and a fez.'
Delaware: 'Get him his maps.'

Canton: 'What's going on?'
Doctor: 'Nothing, we're just friends.'
Rory: 'I think he's talking about the possible alien incursion.'

Doctor: 'And Doctor Song, you've got that face on again.'
Song: 'What face?'
Doctor: 'The 'he's hot when he's clever' face.'
Song: 'This is my normal face!'
Doctor: 'Yes, it is.'

Rory: 'You and the Doctor. I can kind of picture it.'

River: 'Don't worry, I'm quite the screamer. Now there's a spoiler for you.'

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