Sunday, April 24, 2011

Doctor Who - "The Impossible Astronaut"

Matt Smith returns as the Doctor.
Photo Credit: BBC
Review by Paul Steven Brown

'Doctor Who'
Season 6 - Episode 1
"The Impossible Astronaut"

The powers that be at the BBC finally wised up and decided that it would be in their best interest if episodes of 'Doctor Who' aired in the UK, the US, and Canada on the same day. Before there was a lag of several weeks, resulting in those who were impatient and technologically inclined to download the episodes illegally. Because I do not want to pay extra for an expanded cable package just to watch BBC America, I have opted for the next best legal option: an iTunes season pass. While not instantaneous, this does allow me to watch the newest episode of 'Doctor Who' within less than twelve hours of the US broadcast.

Yeah, technology!

Anyway, I'm very excited to have 'Doctor Who' back. Matt Smith's variation on the theme has been my favorite of the 21st century reboot. Even in this season premiere he continues to wow me with an excellent balance of zany humor and calm gravitas. He's a wonderfully realized package of young and sexy meets nerdy and bumbling. "The Impossible Astronaut" opens with a great montage of quirky adventures, quickly reestablishing just what kind of crazy character the Doctor is.

This episode has a few trademarks that let us know that showrunner Stephen Moffat wrote the script:

1. Time travel as Ouroboros - When the TARDIS gang first meet up with the Doctor, we're given a few clues that we're watching the man in different point in time relative to what we're used to. Namely, his age is two hundred years older than the last time he was running around with Amy and Rory. Then he dies. Yep. Dead. Without any regeneration. Enter the Doctor again, but the 900 and whatever years old one that we're used to. Snake eating it's own tail indeed.*

*I recommend that you find the two part little short adventure that Moffat wrote for Red Nose Day. You can probably find it on YouTube. The man really goes to town on the idea of time and space in just under fifteen minutes. It's short, but wonderfully classic Doctor Who.

2. Aliens and the eye - Remember those glorious Weeping Angels that could only move when no one was looking at them? Now we've got aliens that you can only remember if you are looking directly at them. Once you turn away, you forget about them. Also, these buggers are scary. Plus, they provide one of the most graphic murders I can remember on this show.

3. River Song is back! - I wonder if Moffat has a "hands off" clause when it comes to Dr. River Song? She only appears in episodes that he writes. This makes sense in the fact that she has a very complex relationship with the Doctor that moves in opposite directions through time. Alex Kingston once again all but steals the show away from the Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill.

The early moments of "The Impossible Astronaut" were filmed in the western United States and it looks gorgeous. It's fun to see the Doctor and Co. running around a terrain outside of Europe. Director Toby Haynes takes full advantage of the location with some great establishing scenes and some gorgeous long shots. Also, it's fun to see a show that is so identifiably British set up shop in America for an episode or two. There's even a great bit fun too when the Doctor questions the need for the secret service to point so many guns at him. River's answer? "They're Americans!"

As far as setting up a new season, "The Impossible Astronaut" is off to a solid start. We have strange and layered mystery for the Doctor and friends to solve. We've got some super creepy aliens to deal with. Plus, we get some great appearances by noted character actors William Morgan Sheppard and Mark Sheppard (nice touch having the father playing the older version of the son). There's even some movement on a plotline left over from last season (that certainly looked like the other TARDIS control room from "The Lodger" to me). I'd say things are off to a strong start.

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