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The Doctor AND HIS FRIENDS ARE summoned to assist President Nixon in saving a terrified little girl.

Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011


E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.







So, after weeks of speculation, I finally discovered who was destined to die in this year’s opening episode, when The Sun decided to ruin the surprise for everyone by printing a big picture of the Doctor being shot in its TV section on Saturday morning. I only read the bloody thing at work - if I’d had the day off, I could have watched it on broadcast and avoided the spoiler! Thankfully though, this didn’t damage the overall effectiveness of the scene. As soon as the Doctor tells his friends not to interfere, whatever happens, and approaches the impossible astronaut that has risen from a lake in the middle of America, there’s an air of tense, foreboding and inevitability. It can only be deemed a great triumph of writing, acting and direction that, even with events clearly going this way, the scene still packs an incredible shock.


In retrospect, it could only really have been the Doctor who died; who else could still be a major player from beyond the grave? Nonetheless, the scene has a powerful emotional resonance, due to some excellent performances all around. Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston portray absolutely convincing horror and belief at the Doctor’s death that sells the scene completely. Having the act itself play out at such a distance only adds to the effectiveness of the scene, strengthening the feeling of helplessness as we watch the Doctor walk calmly to his death. After several years of seeing the golden regeneration effect used and reused, there’s immediate recognition of what’s happening; this is then subverted when the Doctor is shot again right in the middle of the regeneration, killed for good. The series’ now arguably over-familiar tropes are utilised in such a way as to shock the viewer.


“Just popped out to get my special straw. It adds more fizz.”


It’s indicative of the confidence of this episode that the stand-out scene occurs within the first ten minutes. This is a show that is now being produced safe in the knowledge that five million people are going to come in from the sun specifically to watch it. It’s a brave choice to open the year with a deliberately challenging two-parter, rather than the more familiar approach of kicking things off with a fun-filled romp. Not that fun and humour are absent here; given the overarching seriousness of the situation, the amount of comedy is gratifying and greatly needed, and there are some truly hilarious lines throughout (the Easter Island one is my favourite). Still, it’s questionable just how the casual or younger viewer would take such a complex, talky episode. Such ambition and confidence is laudable, but is also an undeniable risk.


A multi-layered and slow-paced episode, The Impossible Astronaut demands, and indeed deserves, close attention. There’s a great deal on offer here. The central performances are superb; it seems that everyone has settled into their roles now and are perfectly embodying the characters. Arthur Darvill is hugely sympathetic as Rory, who brings a much-needed grounding to the show as a recognisably ordinary and everyday character. Alex Kingston is playful and likeable as River, never drifting too far into the cocksure side of the character that can make her irritating, and instead showing us a more emotional, vulnerable side. Karen Gillan is astonishingly good in the small, quiet moments in which she has to face the Doctor, confront his suspicions and earn his trust. Matt Smith shows just how much he’s made the role of the Doctor his own, perfectly balancing slapstick humour and straight, earnest drama to give a powerful performance. Mark Sheppard is an immediate success as new face Clanton Delaware III, drifting nonchalantly between gravel-voiced, hard-faced gravitas and schoolboy enthusiasm. It’s a performance not a million miles from Smith’s, and he’d be an interesting choice of Doctor one day (and before anyone gets irate at the idea of an American actor as the Doctor, Sheppard is in fact British, not that you’d guess from his flawless American-ness here). Credit must also go to W Morgan Sheppard, his father, who plays the older Clanton with great dignity.


These tunnels... they’re running under the surface of the entire planet. They’ve been here for centuries!”


The much talked about enemy, the Silence, finally make their debut appearance, and do not disappoint. One of the series most effective recent designs, they combine the look of such classic American sci-fi elements as Men in Black and Roswell-style Greys with good, old-fashioned creepy skeleton men. The voice of the creature that addresses Amy is somewhat indistinct, which is a shame as this damages the scene. This is a small quibble, though, when put against the ingenious concept of the creatures, beings who can remove themselves from your memory as soon as you look away. The notion that these skull-faced beings are all around us, watching but unwatched, is creepy as hell (although I wonder why none of them have ever shown up on film before - perhaps Amy’s mobile snapshot will lend some clues). The mouthless face, suddenly opening up into a gaping maw, only adds to their distinctly disquieting nature.



The pace increases towards the end of the episode, promising a more action-oriented conclusion. There are elements that are unsatisfying in this episode - the continual feed of revelations means that, by the time Amy suddenly, insistently reveals that she’s pregnant, the surprise is lost amongst the information overload. In fairness, however, the pregnancy was signposted half an hour earlier, when Amy didn’t object to the Doctor mentioning that she’d put on a couple of pounds. What’s more interesting to wonder is whether Rory knows about this yet - I’d suggest not, or he’d be even more protective of her. Each scene is near perfect, yet the episode as whole seems strangely less than the sum of its parts. However, I expect this has as much to do with its nature as the first of a two-parter, and that the overall package will be more satisfying. The mystery of the astronaut and the little girl is strange and compelling - how is a child looking out of the visor of an adult-sized spacesuit? How is she contacting President Nixon? How is she involved with the Silence? And how is she related to the astronaut that shoots the Doctor in 2011? We don’t know if they’re the same or not. Other mysteries pertain to the Silence themselves, as we still have no idea what they want, or, looking back, how or why they were involved in the destruction of the universe in The Pandorica Opens. They also seems to be holding a TARDIS-like control chamber in their sewer-like base - one which appears to be the same, or at least very similar, to the one seen in The Lodger.


“If were gonna do this, lets do it properly.”


Of course, all this pales against the mystery of the Doctor’s death and his plans surrounding it. With references to the past and Doctors from the future, The Impossible Astronaut builds on the successes of last year to create a mystery that is characteristic of Steven Moffat’s thought-provoking, complex approach. Under his stewardship, Doctor Who has ceased to be a series that simply uses a time machine to move from one adventure to the next. It is now a series about time travel, and the nature of time itself.



Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2011


Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.


The Doctor who dies in this episode claims to be 1,103 years old. If he’s been telling the truth and speaking in Earth years since Rose, then this makes him 184 years older than the Doctor that he summons, yet not a day of it is visible on his face. Earlier incarnations (particularly the Doctor’s first, fourth and seventh bodies) have appeared to age as their lives have worn on.


Following the Doctor’s death, River speaks of how valuable and dangerous the Doctor’s corpse is, before proceeding to immolate it. The notion of the Doctor’s corpse as a commodity formed the basis of Lawrence Miles’ popular novel, Alien Bodies, which saw the eighth Doctor stumble upon an auction for his future self’s cadaver. That novel also saw the eighth Doctor bury his final incarnation’s body on the planet Quiescia.


The Impossible Astronaut also has much in common with Steven Hall’s recent audio drama A Death in the Family, in which the seventh Doctor dies outright in the opening episode, only to return at the storys end. Let’s hope Eleven does as well...


Silence technology was first seen in The Lodger.


This episode reveals that the TARDIS is equipped with a cloaking device. The Doctor’s lack of expertise when it comes to using it might explain why it hasn’t been utilised before.



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