Doctor Who, S6 Ep1 – The Impossible Astronaut

Doctor Who Series 6 promo

A black card.  A final farewell to our beloved, recently-departed Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen)… and we’re off!  We catch up with The Doctor, seemingly up to no good in the Era of Tights, then quickly whip-pan over to the “present” (If there can be such a thing on a show like this).  Amy tries to convince Rory that The Doctor has planted little winks and nudges to them throughout history, in a series of descriptions and scenes that we’ll no doubt get to see more of later on this series.  He even makes a cameo in an old Laurel and Hardy film, which Rory conveniently misses despite the BBC shelling out all sorts of cash for the rights to use the footage.

Amy with the "TARDmark" envelope

Amy assesses the mysterious "TARDIS blue" envelope.

Amy opens a mysterious invitation in a TARDIS-blue envelope, directing her and Rory to travel to an unnamed location.  3000 years in the future, River Song has her prison mail flung at her to discover that she’s got an invitation too!  A puzzled guard informs his superior that she’s packing for a trip to Planet America.

Cut to America the Beautiful, her amber waves of sand lining a desert road as a school bus (the preferred means of travel for foreigners) glitters in the sun… and are we just looking too hard, or does the light reflecting off the bus windows onto the hill almost seem to spell something?  Rory and Amy step off the bus to find a be-Stetsoned Doctor sitting on a classic car, basking in the Americana.  River, who knows how to make an entrance, turns The Doctor’s Stetson into Swiss cheese.

After comparing time-diaries (and dropping another handful of “next time on Doctor Who” hints), The Doctor explains what he’s been up to.  For nearly 200 years since we last saw him, he’s been on the run, faster than he’s ever run before, and he needs the help of his closest friends to stop and face down whatever might be pursuing him… by attending a picnic?  Oh, and if there’s time, they’ll hit up 1969.


The Doctor starts to regenerate after being shot.

A decidedly un-American picnic of wine and cheese is interrupted when Amy sees (and then promptly forgets) a creepy figure in a suit, and then again when AN ASTRONAUT COMES OUT OF THE LAKE AND SHOOTS THE DOCTOR IN THE FACE.  But don’t worry, he starts regenerating, so everything’s going to be fi-BLAM. Another shot interrupts The Doctor’s glowiness, and… no more Doctor.  We then cut to a special announcement from the BBC, announcing that the name of the show is being changed from “Doctor Who” to “The Amy and Rory Adventure Hour”.  Okay, that may not have happened, but… what the…?!  It’s been pretty firmly established on Doctor Who that our main characters’ timelines cannot be changed (last series’ unmaking of the entire universe notwithstanding), so we know that this is serious business.

An old guy shows up with a can of gasoline (as old guys are wont to do).  The Companion Gang sends The Doctor’s body off all Viking-style in a flaming boat, and the old guy reveals himself as another invitation recipient who knows all of them from his own past.  They leave Oldy McGasGas (aka Canton Everett Delaware III) on the beach and return to the diner to collect their thoughts, only to find… The Doctor?!  He’s alive and well, some 200 years younger and none the wiser, also having been summoned here by a big blue TARDmark card.

Canton (Mark Sheppard)

Canton Everett Delaware III

Meanwhile, in 1969 (oh, how I love saying that!), the younger Canton Everett Delaware III (played by Mark Sheppard as part of his legal obligation to appear in all awesome sci-fi TV shows) has a meeting with Tricky Dick, and luckily that’s not code for anything.  President Nixon has been getting phone calls from a Creepy Crank Yanker who begs El Presidente to save her from “the spaceman”, and it’s really starting to freak him out.  The Doctor decides to eavesdrop on this meeting by using several stealth abilities which, if the TARDIS had them all the time, would mean we wouldn’t have a show.  He’s captured anyway, but manages to convince Nixon that he and his companions are special agents on loan from Scotland Yard.

The Doctor uses some positively Sherlockian deduction to  trace the origin of the spooky phone calls, while Amy keeps busy seeing A TALL EVIL SMARTLY-DRESSED MONSTER that she once again forgets about as soon as she stops looking.  Apparently her lower intestines remember, though, because she’s promptly escorted to the Oval Bathroom.  Her Secret Service escort shoots a look at the nearby bust of an Important Dead American â„¢ as if to say “Can you believe this shit?”  The monster must not have read the sign on the door that says WOMEN, because he’s waiting for Amy inside.  As she’s trying to talk to him, another lady comes out of a stall and makes one too many Star Trek jokes about his ugly face, so the monster blows her up.


Doctor Who is a family show.  For families.  So next time you want to spend some quality time with your family, tune in to the BBC for an all-new episode of “Let’s Vaporize Joy the White House Employee.”


The Silence, immortalized

Amy snaps a photo of a Silent with her cell phone.

Amy snaps a candid of him with her cell phone (which incidentally, has no signal; not because it’s 1969 but because she has AT&T), which we’re sure will come in handy later on.  The monster tells Amy she has to tell The Doctor everything, including what he must know, and what he must never know (yup, that’s everything!).  Apparently, even he forgets that people forget him when they’re not looking at him, because Amy immediately forgets all about him and the Very Important Message.  He probably should have made her write it down.

Another call from Scaredy-Girl comes in, and the Doctor, River, Amy, Rory, Canton, Socrates, Genghis Khan, and Joan of Arc pile into the phone booth to hunt down the source of the totally bogus phone calls (okay, perhaps we haven’t quite approached the absurdly-high passenger count of Bill & Ted, but we’re getting there).  They land some five miles from Kennedy Space Center.  Canton scratches our “bigger on the inside” itch as they explore the creepy abandoned warehouse where a creepy abandoned phone is still dangling off the creepy abandoned hook.

They find a number of astronaut duds and some Saw-like alien torture equipment, covered, of course, in the requisite goo.  River goes down a not-at-all-terrifying manhole and finds a group of the forget-me-now monsters huddled around like extras from I Am Legend.  Of course, when she comes back up to report her find, she forgets all about it, and she and Rory head back down into the horror tunnels.  They come upon a door that Rory somehow knows is a “maintenance hatch,” though we have no idea where it leads or what might need maintenance behind it.

River jimmies the door open, and they step into what certainly looks like a stripped-down slimy alien version of a TARDIS.  There’s a crash of electricity behind Rory, and River cries out to him; his fate is unknown.  Up above, Amy struggles to remember what she’s supposed to tell The Doctor as the cries of Scaredy-Girl echo through the warehouse.  And then Amy spills her guts, but not the guts we expect her to spill: she’s got a little Companion of her own on the way.  She’s pregnant!


The spaceman is... the girl?!

The Doctor barely has time to process this when they hear the ominous, foreboding footfalls of the astronaut approaching.  It raises an arm toward them, and Amy, feeling threatened, reaches for a revolver.  As the astronaut swings its helmet shield upward, Amy takes aim… but it’s not some terrible creature or vicious alien… it’s the frightened little girl herself!  Amy doesn’t see this in time, and goes all Dirty Harry on the little astronaut, firing a single shot.  First the Doctor, then Amy, let out panicked screams, and then…off of Amy’s terrified expression…



Next week: Countdowns, lift-offs, and… Franken-stitches?


Lingering Questions:

Throughout last series, we were warned that “Silence Will Fall.”  Indeed, the closing credits name the monster nobody can remember (I refuse to say “alien” until it’s confirmed in on-screen dialogue) as “The Silent” (grammar note: Should we have been saying “Silents will fall”?).  It certainly seems as though the falling has begun.  Since we know the Silence (let’s stick with that for now) are responsible for the major events of series 5, does this mean our time-twisting travels will take us back to revisit some of those episodes?  We still don’t have any clue why the Silence are doing what they’re doing.  Why are/were they trying to destroy the universe?  Did they already try and fail, or is that still in their future?  Most importantly, why are they so good at the name-guessing game?

The elder Doctor says he’s been running for his life, and his advanced age suggests that he’s been doing so for nearly 200 of his years.  What’s he been up to?  We can assume that the scenes at the beginning of the episode are evidence of those travels.  Are they important, or are they just random bits and pieces?  Why was The Doctor trying to get Amy and Rory’s attention via history, rather than just paying them a visit?

Amy, Rory, and River saw The Doctor die.  Completely.  Finally.  Seemingly irrevocably.  They know it’s going to happen.  Will they be able to keep their mouths shut?  Amy’s already overreacted to this knowledge, desperately shooting “the spaceman” to avoid the turn of events she’s already experienced.  And what about River?  There’s a delicious balance in the fact that The Doctor has already seen her physical death (in series 4’s “Forest of the Dead”). Each [partner? soul? member?] of the tragic couple is in the unique position of having witnessed the other’s mortal end.  Let’s face it: The Doctor knows something’s up.  He’s never sounded more deadly serious than when he says “Don’t play games with me.  Don’t ever, ever think you’re capable of that.”  He unleashes that kind of talk on evil aliens, not his friends.

The strange control room that River and Rory find is eerily similar to the “do-it-yourself-TARDIS” that The Doctor encountered last series in “The Lodger.”  Some details are markedly different, but the four sarcophagus-looking gadgets placed around the central core are the same props.  The only question is whether this is a simple prop repurposing or an intentional tie between the two episodes.  It should be noted that the holographic caretaker of that other TARDIS could assume the form of a little girl.  Perhaps one that fears spacemen?

The biggest mysteries, of course, are why The Doctor decided it was necessary to interfere so completely in his own timeline, and who exactly it is that kills him, and why.  Will these arcs be resolved by the end of the next episode, or is this the overarching story of the entire series?  Time (no pun intended) will tell.

Cross-Cultural Commentary:

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Americans (or America, for that matter) portrayed on Doctor Who, but a few things stand out that set this episode apart from the others.  First, the writers finally seem to have mastered writing American dialect.  While a few of the portrayals by UK actors might not feel 100% authentic, the writers have at least managed to steer away from American characters using chiefly British phrases like “lift” and “different to” (a noticeable improvement upon past characterizations).  Furthermore, it’s obvious that the production team relished their time spent shooting in Utah, putting The Doctor and his companions in a handful of scenic vistas that could be found nowhere else.  Nixon is handled effectively, his legendary persona and mannerisms painted in broad strokes without being over-the-top (a crime of which Americans are more guilty than anyone), and it’s a trip seeing the TARDIS de-cloak (and later de-materialize) inside the Oval Office.  Here’s hoping that next week brings more of the Uncle Sam love!