DOCTOR WHO 6.1 (32.1): The Impossible Astronaut

The beginning of the new season felt like the end of one — and not just because the Doctor was killed less than 10 minutes out of the gate! The episode had so many reveals (and a guest appearance by River Song) and such a grand scale that it felt like the sort of thing that is normally reserved for a season-capper; the kind of show that leaves a lingering impression to lure viewers back next season. But in “The Impossible Astronaut,” all that effort was directed at making people tune in for the rest of the season.

But did we see what we thought we saw? (Or is that, “are seeing”?) As fans learned last season, executive producer Steven Moffat is not the least bit afraid to revisit an entire season, shake it around, and cast it in a different light. In this case, it looks like he’s going to circle back at some point, rather than have the Doctor directly backtrack through the stories, as in Series 5’s “The Big Bang.” I suspect the identity of the person in the spacesuit will be a long time coming — though I don’t think I can bear to wait until No. 13. (My initial guess? It’s Amy. Having the Doctor say, “My life in your hands, Amelia Pond,” is just too larded with portent. Moffat doesn’t waste words.)

The story began with Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) gathering in the American Southwest, obeying instructions contained in four mysterious letters. As the group picnicked by a lake, a mysterious spaceman appeared and killed the Doctor — striking him down in the middle of his regeneration, thus permanently destroying him. Amy, Rory and River disposed of the body, only to be confronted by another version of the Doctor — this one some 200 years younger than the one who was just killed, and completely oblivious of the fate awaiting him 196 years down the line. The assistants agreed not to reveal the ultimate “spoiler” to the Time Lord, and instead follow the course the older Doctor was intent on: visiting 1969. There, they encountered the problem of President Nixon (Stuart Milligan) receiving mysterious phone calls from a child. Aided by former FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware III (Mark Sheppard) the Doctor traced the calls to a warehouse in Florida, where River and Rory uncovered an alien craft seemingly identical to the timeship visited in last season’s “The Lodger.” All along the way, Amy was dogged by a mysterious, skull-faced creature known as a Silent, from a group of powerful and deadly monsters who operate in secret because the moment you look away from a Silent, you forget him. The Doctor and Amy found the Spaceman, and a panicked Amy blindly shot at the figure — before realizing the suit was occupied by the mysterious Little Girl (Sydney Wade) who had been calling the president…

See what I mean by likening this to a season finale? There was a lot of story packed into this one episode, so it’s no surprise Moff needed a Part 2. The Silents are another one of Moffat’s trademark “gimmick” monsters: You’re only aware of them when looking directly at them. (Compare to the Weeping Angels, who move when you’re not looking at them, and Prisoner Zero, who can only be seen out of the corner of the eye.) Clever girl, that Amy, snapping a pic of that Silent! Let’s see if that turns out to be the key to defeating them. The Silent appeared to kill Joy in the same manner that the Spaceman killed the Doctor, leading to the initial impression that one of the creatures was wearing the spacesuit, but… why? (Could it be as the Doctor suggested – that the suit is just so “cool”?) Moffat claims the Silents will become the scariest DOCTOR WHO monsters ever, but they need to amp it up in part 2, “The Day of the Moon,” if they are to have any hope of overtaking the Weeping Angels. My biggest complaint about the Silents? The oversized hands that look like Mickey Mouse gloves! Those hands can kill – but I’d be afraid of dying laughing!

Matt Smith was at his buoyant best in this episode, really coming into his own as the Doctor. He knows where he wants to take the Time Lord, and he’s going there full throttle! The Doctor’s childlike joie de vivre, obsession with hats (“I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.”) and fascination with shiny objects (“Look at how cool this stuff is!”) make him a joy to watch and fun to root for. He’s the perfect hero for children — of all ages. Smith’s trademark physicality is still there, but dialed down a little. I can’t wait to find out what the Doctor was trying to accomplish while gallivanting through time in the pre-title sequence.

Gillan’s Amy is still clearly the lead companion here, and I couldn’t be happier. Domestic bliss has not mellowed Mrs. Pond; she’s just as brassy and smart and brave and irrepressible as ever. Is Amy really pregnant, or just assuming? (Remember, she was pregnant in “Amy’s Choice.”)From the way she was enjoying that wine at the beginning of the episode, she didn’t think she was pregnant then. So when did she have time to pop over to the chemist (or whatever the Scots call a drug store) and pick up a pregnancy test? I’d hate to see Amy tied down with a baby, and a TARDIS is no place to raise a child.

Darvill continues to make great strides with “Rory the Roman.” Originally, I didn’t like the character (although, I have to admit that may have been due to some slight jealousy that Amy fancied him), but over the course of last season Darvill built him into a charming and loyal friend. Rory doggedly standing watch over Amy inside the Pandorica for 2,000 years was probably the most romantic gesture in all of SF/fantasy. And he took Amy’s name when they married, so how can anyone resist that kind of dedication?

This story also treated fans to another appearance by River — who is “Dr. Song” at this point in her timeline. Apparently she waltzes in and out of Stormcage Prison whenever she wishes; in fact, she is so blasé about escaping, she takes the time to pack before busting out! Kingston has this character down pat now, and seems relaxed in the role. She’s good at playing confident River, but also vulnerable River. She revealed that on the day she first met him, he knew everything about her, but she knew nothing of him. Now every time she encounters him she knows him more, but he knows her less; they’re traveling in opposite directions in their personal timelines. She knows that one day she will be a complete stranger to him – and it will kill her. And longtime fans remember that the first time the Doctor met her – in his 10th incarnation (David Tennant) in “Silence in the Library”) River will be proven right on both counts, as the Doctor had no knowledge of her, and she later died (“Forest of the Dead”).

Moffat’s script, while packed with action and plot, was also overstuffed with great dialogue; laugh lines (“I really hate you/him!”) and portentous lines: “A lot more happened in 1969 than anyone remembers,” the Doctor mused. “Human beings… I thought I’d never get done saving you.” And the eternal “Doctor…who?” gag was actually used twice!

In a lot of ways, this was also a heartbreaking episode. When the Doctor died, I got a little misty (even though I know he’s going to be okay…right? Right?); when Amy vouchsafed on “fish fingers and custard,” I nearly burst into tears. There was nothing more meaningful that she could have said. “My life in your hands, Amelia Pond,” he sighed. Was the Doctor…frightened in that moment?

And then there were the grace notes: Dancing with Laurel & Hardy in a fez; syncing diaries with River; the Doctor in the Oval Office, motioning to Nixon to continue talking while he took notes; dubbing his assistants “the Legs, the Nose, and Mrs. Robinson”; Canton getting the honor of reciting the traditional “It’s bigger on the inside” line; the Doctor saying, “Brave heart, Canton!”

Yes, the Series 6 premiere did everything perfectly, including a card dedicating the episode to the memory of Elisabeth Sladen, our beloved Sarah Jane Smith, who passed away on April 19. It’s hard to figure how this opener could have done anything better. On to the next part, “The Day of the Moon”…

25 thoughts on “DOCTOR WHO 6.1 (32.1): The Impossible Astronaut

  1. Another thing about the Lodger. When the Doctor did his re-wind in Big Bang, one of his stops was on that street!
    I love the way Moffat sprinkles in clues throughout the series, like RTD did with Bad Wolf and Vote Saxon.
    I think it was the guy from Babylon 5 who said: If you’re going to use a gun in episode 5, make sure you see it in episode 1.


  2. I remembered the bit about the little girl referring to a “Spaceman.” Also, she begs the president to look behind him, which plays into the idea that she’s referring to a Silent.

    Having her be Amy’s yet-unborn daughter would be just timey-wimey enough for Moffat. But that would mean Amy is living in 1969 with her daughter, which seems unlikely to me. Amy is far too modern to choose to settle in that year. (Unless she had no choice…)

    Oh, one question that’s been bothering me: How is a little girl wearing/operating a NASA spacesuit designed to be worn by strapping young men? (In 1969, all astronauts were men.) I would assume she’s barely big enough to fill one leg of that suit, let alone walk around in it and have her face visible in the helmet! 🙂


    • Having her be Amy’s yet-unborn daughter would be just timey-wimey enough for Moffat. But that would mean Amy is living in 1969 with her daughter,

      Who says?

      My current theory is that the child was conceived in the Whitehouse restroom, and that Rory is not the father. That would be a horrible thing to do to Amy, but Moffat has said that making the worst possible thing happen to the companion is part of the Author’s mission statement.

      So the Silence are going to take the child, probably at birth. Their purpose behind all this, I cannot guess, but it would explain their interest in Amy.


      • Well, I based that on the fact that the president was being phoned in 1969, but I suppose the Silents could have enough power to route the call from another time. Or steal the baby. But, knowing Amy, wouldn’t we expect a vengeance-minded version of her to show up, looking for her kidnapped child?

        Have you read the theories that the little girl is a young River Song?


        • Or steal the baby.

          That’s my theory. Or steal Amy before the baby is born.

          But, knowing Amy, wouldn’t we expect a vengeance-minded version of her to show up, looking for her kidnapped child?

          Vengence is more River’s style than Amy’s. Amy might turn into supermum doing anything to save the child, but I doubt we’d see her making the Silents beg for mercy before killing them.

          I say “might” because she hasn’t shown much maternal instinct so far. In Amy’s choice, “look after our baby” were Rory’s last words in the Leadworth dream. She didn’t. And, assuming she was pregnant and knew about it at the time of the Utah picnik, this didn’t stop her from drinking wine.

          Have you read the theories that the little girl is a young River Song?

          Yes, but I’d already thought of that possibility. I’m leaning against it on the grounds that, River would probably already know that she was interacting with her own past, which would make her insistence on keep the Doctor from knowing this about himself rather pointless.

          Here’s another of my theories about River Song: She’ll one day meet a younger version of herself, and teach her to fly the Tardis. After all, in “Time of Angels” she said that she learned from “the best” and that the Doctor was away that day. Who do we know who knows the Tardis controls better than the Doctor?


  3. I’ve just watched the episode for the fifth time, and finally realised what’s been staring me in the face all that time. The little girl phones up the President to ask him to rescue her from a scary astronaut, right?

    Wrong! She didn’t say “astronaut”. She said “space man”. She’s talking about the Silent. She’s in the space suit, because she’s hiding from it.

    I’m also betting that she’s Amy’s as-yet-unborn daughter.


  4. Though the timeship from the Lodger resembled the alien craft in this episode, it did not occur to me that they could be related !! (I thought it was just a re-use of a set.) Great thought ! Especially when you recalled that it was a little girl’s voice to drew in a passerby!!
    Moffat is really pushing the limits on this one… even further than the destruction of the universe in Big Bang !! Can’t wait to see next week’s part 2.
    By the way, Sladen’s tribute wasa very stingy on BBC America. Wish they had shown the 15 minute segment that aired on cbbc.


    • Not just a little girl’s voice, but the exact same words: “help me!”

      Want more? When the victims stepped though the door, there were flashes, as of electricity. After that, all that was left of them was toxic dust seeping into the apartment below.

      Never ignore a coincidence…


    • There are no coincidences! LOL Clearly, this is why James Corden is coming back; the Doctor must decide to revisit his old place! And I believe Craig retained his memories of the Doctor. Should be interesting…


    • Hi, Lowiczanka, thanks for visiting again this season! I’ll bet the producers would love to save a penny by reusing sets like back in the day, but modern fans are so obsessive that everything would be noticed, and they’d never get away with it!

      Remaking the universe is old hat by now, so all Moffat can do is help us look at this universe in a new way.

      Can there ever be a suitable tribute to Lis Sladen? She was everyone’s companion…


  5. I suspect the identity of the person in the spacesuit will be a long time coming — though I don’t think I can bear to wait until No. 13. (My initial guess? It’s Amy. Having the Doctor say, “My life in your hands, Amelia Pond,” is just too larded with portent. Moffat doesn’t waste words.)

    I agree that those words are portentous, and that Amy’s action will be critical in deciding whether he ultimately lives or dies, but I don’t think the Astronaut is Amy. Just as the companions rushed forward toward the dead Doctor, the Astronaut turned to face them, its visor still up. Rory at least got a fairly good look at it.

    My best guess is that Amy will have to sacrifice herself in order to save the doctor. The music accompanying the Astronaut’s entrance at the end comes from “The Pandorica Opens”, and is called “The life and Death of Amy Pond” on the series 5 soundtrack. There it symolised Amy’s death. Perhaps the Astronaut will kill her, or her actions then will lead to her death.

    I have one other observation about this episode. The last time we saw a little girl saying “help me” was in “The lodger” where it was a hologram luring passers-by into a proto-tardis similar to the room just discovered by River.


    • Thanks for the cogent observations! Clever of you to notice the musical cue! I will be very sad if Amy doesn’t survive this series — even if her sacrifice saves the Doctor…

      You very well could be correct about the Spaceman’s identity. I was trying to come up with an explanation that avoided the obvious choice of River. The Doctor recognizes his assailant, so maybe I will change my guess to… another version of the Doctor himself! He certainly would know how to permanently kill a Time Lord.

      It appears “The Lodger” is worth another viewing. In addition to reviewing the Little Girl’s presence and the proto-TARDIS, I want to rewatch Amy’s scenes in the TARDIS. There are two instances when she calls out to someone offscreen, then seemingly forgets them. In retrospect, this could be an early appearance by the Silents.

      As always, thanks for stopping by!


      • I’ll be sad if Amy dies too. I have a total crush on Karen/Amy. I haven’t had such feelings toward a celebrity/fictional character in over thirty years. At my age, this is embarrassing.

        River inside the Stormcage for having killed the Doctor is way too obvious, but it could be subverted by having it revealed that she’s inside for killing someone else… And then have her kill the Doctor as well. So I don’t think this is impossible.

        Another theory: Rory saw the Astronaut’s face, but then never discussed its appearence or even mentioned it to the others. It’s almost like he’s forgotten he ever saw it…

        I think the whole of season five will need to be reviewed in the light of 6, but yeah, “The lodger” in particular. And never again am I going to believe a seemingly light and inconsequential episode really is light and inconsequential.


        • Amy is my new favorite companion. My first fave was Sarah Jane (*sniff*), then Ace, then Rose. But Amy wears the tiara now. I’m in love with her, too! (Damn Rory! LOL)

          I don’t think River is currently in Stormcage for killing the Doctor; in “The Time of the Angels” she told Octavian she was once in prison for killing “the best man she ever knew.” That could refer to a previous stretch in the facility.

          Are you sure Rory saw the Spaceman’s face? Maybe there was glare on the face shield LOL!

          Yeah, there are no longer any “throwaway” episodes. But does this mean there might be hidden meaning in “The Beast Below”? (I’d rather not watch that one again.)


          • Jon Pertwee and Sarah Jane Smith are “my” Doctor/Companion pairing from the Classic Series. I have some very dim memories of Jo Grant, and even some of Troughton, though none of the Troughton companions. I was four-years-old when the 2nd Doctor regenerated into the 3rd.

            Actually it was Octavian who told the Doctor that River had killed a good man, and this was why she was in his custody. River later confirmed this to the Doctor:

            The Doctor: Octavian said you killed a man.
            River: Yes, I did.
            The Doctor: A good man.
            River: A very good man. The best man I’ve ever known.

            There could be some Jedi truth here. The “best man” might not be the same “good man” she’s currently in prison for, but another murder she committed. It’s also possible that she might not view the Doctor as a man at all.

            Nevertheless, If we accept that Octavian at least was telling the truth, then at the time of Angels she was in prison for murder.


          • Are you sure Rory saw the Spaceman’s face? Maybe there was glare on the face shield LOL!

            The visor was up, the Astronaut was facing him, and Rory looked directly at if for a fraction of a second, but long enough to recognise someone he knew.

            There’s one other thing to consider. Where was the sun in this scene? If Rory was looking into the sun, that could make it difficult to see. In fact, there is a continuity screwup in the lighting of that scene. When we looked at the Astronaut from Rory’s viewpoint, we see the sun over it’s shoulder, yet when we looked at Rory face on, the shadows are to one side.

            I really liked the Beast Below. The dud in the pack for me was Victory of the Daleks.


          • I’ll tell you what bothered me about “The Beast Below”: Remember in the beginning, when the Doctor was showing Amy Starship UK from above? Well, had he approached the cityship from another, lower angle, he would have seen the Star Whale, and there wouldn’t have been a story. So the whole thing depended on the Doctor and Amy not getting a good glimpse of the ship.

            Having said that, I really did LOVE the bit where the Doctor let Amy float in space. There was a real sense of wonder attached to that!

            Hey, I just remembered: Amy had a choice to “Forget” everything she learned in the voting booth. That Moff is a clever one when it comes to recurring themes…


          • Yes, the obvious thing to do once you realised there was a mystery about the propulsion would have been to return to the Tardis, and fly around the ship to get a good look from the outside.

            There is a fan theory that suggests that there was a cowling around the whale, which was what kept it trapped. When Amy made Liz 10 abdicate, that cowling was blown away, which is what caused the ship to shake.

            So perhaps the doctor did fly around the ship in the Tardis, and saw nothing but the engine cowling. I don’t assume that everything the Doctor does during an adventure makes it into the episode.

            There are other plot holes in this episode. The “United” in “United Kingdom” refers to the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland. Without Scotland there is no UK, yet Mandy tells Amy that the Scots had their own ship.

            Why does the Government keep feeding children to the Whale once it’s established that it won’t eat them? And why does it keep them around afterwards.

            But you can find plot holes in anything if you try. Why don’t the Daleks just shoot the Doctor the moment they have his testimony? They have him right in their gunsites. They don’t want him for anything else, and as long as he’s alive, he’s a threat to them. Why didn’t the Allience kill the Doctor the moment they had him in their power, instead of sticking him in a box? And if you’re stick him in a box, why make it easy to open from the outside? It’s not like they don’t know that he has companions.

            What makes or breaks a story for me isn’t the presence or absence of plot holes, but whether the dialog “works”. I can watch the interactions between the characters in TBB over and over again, and love every line. By contrast I can see what buttons Gatiss is trying to push in VotD, but the lights don’t come on for me.

            I really did LOVE the bit where the Doctor let Amy float in space.

            He didn’t so much “let her”, as “make her“. I like that scene too, particularly as it gave us the first full development of Amy’s Theme, which had previously only been hinted at in Little Amy’s music in the Eleventh Hour.


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