Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut


Poor Kevin O’Sullivan.  He really doesn’t seem to get it.  He’s been writing in the tabloid press.  Ok, The Sunday Times.  And this is what Kevin has to say about last night’s massively self-assured series opener, The Impossible Astronaut.  Kevin says it’s ‘impossible to understand’.  And Kevin claims that the episode has been written for ‘strictly sci-fi nerds only’.

Where has Kevin been hiding?  Maybe he’s been transported here from the pulp fiction days of the 1930s?  Maybe his is an artificial and volatile intelligence?  Or maybe, like The Silence in The Impossible Astronaut, as Kevin watched the intricate plot unfold, he promptly forgot about it again, as the next scene appeared.

Someone should tell Kevin science fiction is no longer a sub-culture.

Science fiction’s proliferation in the form of books, films, tv, games, and graphic novels reflects its increasing impact. It has moved into the mainstream with the advent of the information age it helped realise.  Of the fifty highest grossing movies of all time, science fiction films account for half the entries. Audiences of all ages will pay a tenner each to watch the latest science fiction blockbuster on the big screen. And in the ever-expanding field of computer gaming, science fiction titles dominate. The fastest selling media product in history was Microsoft’s science fiction video-game Halo 3, the game’s sales generating US$170 million on its first day.

This first episode of Matt Smith’s second season as The Doctor was watched by an average audience of 6.4 million viewers, according to overnight viewing figures.  They were handsomely rewarded.

The series starts with the shocking sight of The Doctor’s death scene.  A Viking burial and heart-wrenching send-off later, and The Tardis warps into the Oval Office.  Here we’re confronted with the entertaining spectacle of President Nixon’s bevy of Mad Men security goons being outflanked by the relativistic Time Lord.  As if that isn’t enough, the plot moves apace into the gothic sight of The Silence aliens, apparently inspired by Munch’s The Scream, before the final spectacle of a cinematic cliffhanger.

The American setting is well judged.  Stephen Moffat and his team have drawn a selection of potent symbols to paint out their US odyssey: Utah plains worthy of a John Ford western, The Doctor in a Stetson, and River donned with a leather holster, a specially constructed Oval Office (thanks Dr Who confidential), and of course NASA itself.  And through it all, our oddball British fab four soldier on, like a reverse cowboy episode of Scooby Doo.

It seems that killing The Doctor has introduced a number of interesting dynamics.  For one, no character seems safe.  For another, Amy, Rory and River face the daunting dilemma of keeping this secret from the man himself.  And it’s not the only mystery.  When will the Silence fall? And what exactly do these weirdoes want? Who made Amy pregnant? (That’s not a statement)  Who’s the screaming kid? Who’s the astronaut?! And what do this strange cornucopia of creatures want with The Doctor?


    Peter Grehan

    April 25, 2011

    It’s interesting, is it not, how often science fiction is denigrated as something childish or escapist and yet it seems to be something its critics have trouble comprehending because the complexity of multilayered, or should that be multidimensional, interpretations of plot and symbolism.

    This story does seem to have moved well away from the comfortable and familiar Eastenders meets Doctor Who centred world of the Davies era, thank God. A definite notching up in the quality of the scripts.


    April 25, 2011

    I quite agree, Peter. And even when SF is on the brink of gaining at least some recognition from the establishment, they call it speculative fiction!

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