Post Game Recap: DOCTOR WHO S6E1: The Impossible Astronaut


A good rule of drama is to grab people right at the beginning. I think it's safe to say the season premiere of Doctor Who has succeeded. This episode and this season brings you something you never thought you'd see, and it's only the START of the story. Strap in, folks; like time itself, it's going to be rather bumpy-wumpy.


by Steven Moffat

Directed by Toby Haynes

The Doctor is on his own again, getting himself in outrageous predicaments, seemingly trying to get himself noticed. Amy and Rory, now well settled in as husband and wife are enjoying picking him out in history, keeping in touch over the centuries. But when a blue envelope arrives in the post, they're off to America to meet up with him. The reunion isn't as joyous as would be hoped - while River Song shows up as well, and as they're enjoying a lakeside picnic, someone in an Apollo spacesuit rises from the water and, before his friends' eyes, kills The Doctor.  But barely before they have time to grieve, in a nearby diner, they meet...The Doctor. 

The Doctor they saw die was from almost 200 years ahead in his own timeline, and had contacted his companions, his earlier self and a gentleman none of them knows, Canton Everett Delaware III, to be there to make things go as they should...or perhaps to make sure they don't. The reunited team head to the White House of 1969, where President Nixon has been receiving mysterious calls from a child, worried about "The Spaceman". They meet Canton again (for the first time) who helps them investigate what turns out to be an alien invasion from monsters they can't see...or more correctly, can't remember seeing. As the episode ends, Rory and River are trapped in an alien ship, surrounded by aliens they can't notice, and Amy reveals to The Doctor that...she's pregnant? Then there's the issue of a gunshot, with Amy behind the trigger and a child in the sights.

This is the first season opener that played like a season finale. Incredible stakes, like a full season's worth of twists and turns packed into a single episode, all starting the series off with an overwhelming feeling of You Can't Miss This. Moffat keeps the level of humor high as well, snapping between comedy and drama faster than any fun-fair thrill ride. I was already jealous of the numerous folks at the NYC premiere screening who saw this episode; I am now doubly jealous for them having already seen next week's episode as well. They're all lucky I don't sneak into their homes and scan their corneas for residual image data like The Wirrn.

GUEST STAR REPORT Mark Sheppard (Canton Everett Delaware III) has quite the sci-fi pedigree - Supernatural, The Middleman, Warehouse 13, Battlestar Galactica, Bionic Woman...throw a rock, and you'll hit him. When they hired him for the part and told him he'd get done up in old-age makeup to play his older self, he presented them with a better idea...

William Morgan Sheppard (Canton Everett Delaware III the elder) is Mark Sheppard's father, and has a genre resume as impressive as his son's. He played explorer Archibald Witwicky in the second Transformers film, several roles on various Star Trek shows and films and a long list of work in videogames. Getting him and his son to play the same character is a nice way to make sure they resemble each other - it worked great for Amy last year, where Karen Gillan's cousin played the young Amy in the first and last episodes of the series.

Stuart Milligan (Richard M. Nixon) played Col. Stark in the animated Who adventure Dreamland as well as a voice for The Sarah Jane Adventures. He played Patton on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and President George Bush in the play Follow My Leader.

THE MONSTER FILES - Richard Milhous Nixon was President of the

The Silence are Steven Moffat's newest creation, and a wonderful bit of character design. They're another example of his love of taking something commonplace and only mildly unsettling and turning it into something right terrifying. From the monsters under the bed in The Girl in the Fireplace to the thing in the shadows in Silence in the Library to friggin' statues in Blink, Moffat loves convincing you that there are monsters all around you. The Silence (singular, "Silent") are supposed to be every creak in a floor you can't identify and everything you can't see out of the corner of your eye. Once you see them, they edit themselves out of your memories as soon as you turn away, so you forget them. This is vaguely similar to the all-too-often used Perception Filter from last season, but in its case, once you do manage to see the item in question, you don't forget about it afterwards.

The look of the beasts are modeled after the traditional "Gray" alien described in so many UFO abduction stories, with the bulbous head and long dangly fingers, as well as in, among many films, the animated Dreamland adventure, and referenced in the SJA story Prisoner of the Judoon. Adding the Earth-style business suits just adds to their unsettling nature.

As for the bloke in the spacesuit...well, it's not the first time we've seen that either. The Vashta Nerada took over the bodies and suits of the explorers on The Library and walked them around. It gave the monster a body that the good guys could run from, and once again touched on the idea of something not scary turned into something scary. So here, since The Silence can't be remembered, they can't be run from - the spacesuit provides something that can do both.

BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS - Trivia and production details

IN FICTION, THIS IS WHAT'S KNOWN AS A "PREGNANT PAUSE" - Timeframes are hard to pin down, especially on a show that involves time travel. It's been about two months since The Doctor and Mr. and Mrs. "Pond" (That must drive Rory mad) have seen each other, although that doesn't reveal how much time has passed since the end of last season's finale The Big Bang. We know of at least one brief adventure they had, as chronicled in the two-part story  Space and Time, produced for this year's Red Nose Day telethon. At that point, the pair were married, and there are any number of private bedchambers on the TARDIS, and...well, there's nothing saying that the blessed event took place in their flat. A lot of folks start down the road to family-hood on their honeymoon, and they spent their honeymoon on a ship about to crash into Sardicktown.

On The Doctor's side (at least the one we see at the start), it's been nearly two centuries since he last saw the pair, and he still considers them among the people he trusts most, though based on how the envelopes are numbered, not as much as River Song. He's seen her QUITE a few times in between - their diaries are far more in sync than they've been before.

Also interesting - in those two centuries, he's not needed to regenerate. The Doctor's had a few periods of assumed longevity over the years. It's always been presumed that the Hartnell incarnation is his first, and at that time he's already several hundred years old. By the time of the end of the original series, his age is in the seven hundreds or so, but by the time the new series starts, he's nine hundred-odd years old. Again, it's presumed there were no regenerations between McGann and Eccleston. However, his age has always been under question, as he seemed to pop around age-wise, or more likely just lied about it quite a bit in the past.

River is "still" in Stormcage as the story starts, though based on her own statements, before the events of the Pandorica, and indeed, any of the other times we've seen her. There's a number of questions that come up here - exactly how long is she in Stormcage totally? How much time will pass between this journey and the one in  The Pandorica Opens? Also based on the guard's statement ("she's doing it again - she's packing") she seems to pop in and out of incarceration more often that the average Batman criminal. So one wonders why they would ever trust her to a new guard, as they did in that story.

I WAS A MAPMAKER BEFORE I BECAME A BAD ACTOR - The map references on Amy and Rory's invitation lead to Monument Valley, Utah, just over the Arizona border, which is exactly where the scene was filmed. The San Juan school bus is  presumably from San Juan, UT, about two hours away from that point by car. The date on the invitation is the day before the transmission date of the episode. It's the second time in two years that events on the show are concurrent with the real world - the end of the universe was stated to happen the same day as the broadcast of the final episode; June 26, 2010.

This scene is reminiscent of a sequence from North by Northwest, where Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is given a place and time to meet the mysterious (and non-existent) George Kaplan. He gets off a bus in a similar middle of nowhere, though his greeting is far less cordial.

The Doctor is lounging atop a 1959 Edsel Villager. The Edsel is legendary for being one of the most calamitous failures in automotive history. While no one can put a finger on whether it was the design, the ad campaign or the price point, car buyers stayed away in droves. Today, there are vintage car clubs dedicated solely to the Edsel. Considering The Doctor's perennial support for the underdog, the choice is rather valid, and utterly cool.

THE STAMPS! THEY'RE WORTH A FORTUNE! - Considering those letters were sent to a varied number of locations across the world (And in River's case, another planet and time entirely), it's no surprise they needed a lot of postage. There's a riot of stamps on those letters, both standard and barcode. It's a shame they couldn't have gotten an early art sample of the new Shakespeare stamps featuring David Tennant, just released last week.

OLLEH OLLEH ROTCOD - Once again, River Song and The Doctor are meeting up in the wrong order. Though at first The Doctor remembers far more of their adventures together, when we meet "our" Doctor, that's no longer so. As mentioned before, their relationship is very similar to the concept behind The Time-Traveler's Wife, where they meet up at utterly varied points in their personal timelines. 

"Aren't you going to say 'It's bigger on the inside'? Everyone else does..." - It's almost tradition; new passengers refer to the relative size of the TARDIS upon entry, sometimes asking various gibbering versions of "how?". But it was actually explained once. In a bit of sparkling expository dialogue, The Doctor explained how the TARDIS can be bigger inside than out perfectly (and Leela utterly failed to grasp it) at the beginning of The Robots of Death.

"I've already explained the jokes" Rory is watching Flying Deuces, starring Laurel and Hardy. The dance number featured isn't as legendary as the one from earlier classic Way Out West, but but does feature Oliver Hardy singing "Shine on Harvest Moon." Plus with all those fezzes, The Doctor was likely drawn to the shooting like a moth to a flame.

"He said you'd need this" - Very interesting fact - The elder Mr. Delaware is the only one of the quartet to receive specific instructions for this reunion. The rest only get the date and place. He also seems to have positive knowledge that it is indeed The Doctor, which begs the question how he knows this. He's set to appear in next week's episode as well, but one wonders if he'll show up (in either his younger or older form) in any others in the series.

"A Time Lord's body is a miracle" - Lawrence Miles first brought this concept up in his novel Alien Bodies, and was earlier referenced when The Doctor built a pyre for The Master's body in Last of the Time Lords.

"I'm being extremely clever up here, and there's no one to stand around looking impressed" - Liz Shaw had The Doctor pegged perfectly. After she left (I believe the only companion who didn't get an on-screen good-bye), she was quoted as saying "All The Doctor needs is someone to hand him test tubes and tell him how clever he is".

"Fishfingers and Custard" - Amy swears on a moment she and The Doctor shared - his first meal in his new regeneration, as seen in The Eleventh Hour. She doesn't swear on her returned mother and father, not on Rory, but on the moment they first met. Rory has still got a lot to worry about.

"Big temporal tipping points where anything's possible...the TARDIS can't resist them" - It does rather explain why The Doctor never seems to land on Thursday afternoons, doesn't it?

"I'll look into his eyes...and he won't have the faintest idea who I am...and I think it's going to kill me" In her speech later in the episode, River says she and The Doctor are meeting in exactly opposite order, that can't be entirely so. There's a very important event that hasn't been pinned down, namely when he gave her a beefed up version of his Sonic Screwdriver, as she uses in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead. Unless she's specifically chosen not to use it, she doesn't have it in any of the "subsequent" times we've seen her (which to her, are occurring in the opposite order). She's referring only to the times she's seen him so far to her - again at this point, she's personally yet to have the adventures we've seen. So at some point in both her and his future, He'll visit her and deliver that very important tool to her.

She is, however, exactly right in her prediction - the last time she will see The Doctor will be the first time he's met her, in the aforementioned Silence / Forest two-parter.

"I wanted to get married" "Is that a crime?" "Yes." Russell T. Davies started the tradition of including homosexual characters in an unassuming, matter-of-fact fashion in the new series, and the baton has been picked up by many other writers, as well as the new production team. While other writers would be tempted to make the characters' sexual predilections a main point of their story's plots, rather it mentioned in passing, under the radar, as if it's as incidental a part of their personality as their hair color or shoe size. Which, hopefully, is how it will be treated in the world someday. Thomas Kincade Brannigan introduces the Doctor to the Cassini "sisters" in Gridlock, Sky Silvestry referred to her recently divorced spouse with feminine pronouns in Midnight, not to mention the ravenously omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness.

"He's my friend...if 'friend' is the right word" - It's the exact same question The Dream lord asks in Amy's Choice, and once again calls back to the point made by the mad Dalek Caan that The Doctor doesn't need to carry weapons, he turns his companions into weapons.

BIG BAD REPORT - The Silence are clearly this season's major threat of the series; it's been stated that they'll be appearing throughout the series. Looking back on all the references to "silence fall(ing)" in the previous season, it's clear that Moffat is working on a multi-year plotline, as opposed to the single-series arc we've seen so far. While the assumption was that this was referring to a literal silence, perhaps as a result of the end of time itself, it seems it refers to this race. Or, perhaps, a mix of both.

Also, as opposed to the subtle hints and clues laid amongst early episodes before, we're presented with major events (including what appears to be the end of The Doctor's story itself) right at the beginning, and will spend the rest of the series working backward to the explanation, like a starcrossed Columbo episode. This accelerated schedule is likely also due to the new broadcast format of the series. We'll be getting seven episodes in the spring, ending in what is allegedly a shattering cliffhanger, and the remaining six episodes in the late Summer/early Fall of the year. So with less less episodes before an interval, they need to get to it that much faster, making for a faster and more thrilling ride.

The control room River and Rory find is almost identical to the one from the nonexistent second floor of Craig's flat in The Lodger (almost as if they were the exact same set...). Considering Craig and Sophie are confirmed to be reappearing in the second half of the series, it's safe to guess that connection will be investigated. While the ship on the flat is running on auto-pilot only, the one in Florida is clearly still populated. Considering almost 40 years have passed between the events, is it at all possible it's the same exact ship?

Amy reveals she's pregnant at the end of the episode, but the references to tummy trouble certainly put the suspicion into many minds. But when River Song ALSO started referencing gastric distress, also after seeing a Silent, it suggested that it might have been a side-effect of the experience; perhaps a blast of stomach acid from the shock. So when the pregnancy is confirmed, it certainly does raise the question about River's reaction. 

We've been promised that we'll find out who River Song really is this season. That doesn't mean The Doctor or any other members of the crew will, however. We know she's in Stormcage for killing someone, and there's a pretty obvious guess who that is, but it's only one of so many questions about her that we'd like to know more of.

As for The Silence, there's currently photographic evidence of them on Amy's phone. The Silent in question seemed to want her to tell The Doctor about his future events, but whether or not that's to save The Doctor, or to further the agenda of The Silence, we don't yet know. But either way, it's likely why he allowed the picture to be taken.

CLEVER THEORY DEPARTMENT - Here's a new section of the recaps, where I'll present and discuss ideas and theories on what's coming up in the series, both mine and yours. If you'd like to chime in, post your thoughts to the Newsarama Facebook page and we'll pick the best and wildest.

I'll throw a wild River Song hypothesis out there to get the pot stirring. Many have theorized a connection between River and Amy, maybe even being the same person. But consider - Amy's Preggers. Have you been reading Booster Gold, and his relationship with Rip Hunter? Just sayin'...

Also, we may be in a Back to the Future scenario as well - at the beginning of the episode, there are two TARDISes in Utah in 2011. Although we only see him driving an Edsel, the 1103-year-old Doctor presumably arrived in his TARDIS, and since he's dead, it's sitting somewhere unused (likely cloaked; why go to the trouble of introducing a concept you're only going to use once?) and the one flown by "our" Doctor (look in the diner - he's parked it back where the bathrooms are) is the second. What are the chances that second TARDIS will come into play? The same TARDIS, from two points in its own timeline...Blinovitch must be spinning in his grave.


The Silence is (are?) everywhere, we just haven't noticed. And somewhere in the future, The Doctor is still dead. The action shoots back to Utah, to New York City and more than a few places in between.  Day of the Moon is seven long, long days hence.

Vinnie Bartilucci was first told about Doctor Who when he was seven by a rather attractive (as he chooses to recall it) Scottish relative, and waited impatiently until seventh grade or so, till it was shown over here.  His increasingly-incorrectly named blog The Forty Year-Old Fanboy is the primary source of his obsessive prattlings, save for the occasional piece here.

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