PLEASE NOTE: This is a SPOILER~FREE review. No plot~points or revelations are given away. Feel free to read on in safety….
Cripes, Moffo wastes no time here with the opening Series 6 story – he flings us in, quick as a fast thing, steeped in mystery and oozing with confidence. And funny. Damn funny. The pre~titles sequence is a blur of locations and time~zones (not un~reminiscent of The Pandorica Opens) with The Doctor sending a message of sorts with his antics (and they are antics) as he places himself throughout history (sometimes literally). But it’s through mysterious envelopes that our gang is brought back together….
The laughs continue as Team TARDIS catch up. Most notably River and The Doc’s “diary syncing” where Matt’s striking looks are compared to the Easter Island statues. And it’s not long ’til we are plunged into the events that will shape this two~parter (and probably the series) along with an introduction to some of the main players – Canton Delaware III and The Silence (the new “monsters”). Delaware, played with some style by Mark Sheppard, quickly becomes an ally of sorts after being impressed by The Doc’s remarkable entrance in the Oval Office.
Story~wise, that’s yer lot. The plot is so involved that revealing what’s going on would necessitate a spoiler, but needless to say that our heroes go on a quest to find out the cause of mysterious phone calls to President Nixon (as witnessed in the Prequel) and come across much more than anyone bargained for – a mystery going back hundreds, thousands of years and a familiar looking set from Series 5…., moving on…
The Silence make an appearance fairly early on and mighty unpleasant they are too. Claims that they are the “scariest” ever may be slightly premature (from this story, anyway) but they are certainly unnerving. Their uncanny look will unsettle; at first, their facial immobility will creep you out but when it does begin to move you’ll be reaching for your loved one/bottle of wine/cushion for comfort. The realisation of the creatures is excellent though, it has to be said, their clunky~looking hands do divert the eye on the odd occasion. But when these blighters do their thang, it ain’t their hands you’ll be staring slack~jawed at.
The notion behind The Silence and their threat is top~notch. Again, I shan’t ruin it but it does play heavily on memory and neatly explains how these little guys have existed for so long without detection. Odd however, that the monsters weren’t slowly built~up, as we normally get in Who. They’re shown full on, fully lit almost from the get~go; no wasting time in shadows (though they do go back to that later in the episode in an eerie sequence with River Song).
As you will have seen from the trailers and promotional pictures, The Impossible Astronaut is beautiful on the eye. Cinematic aptly describes, especially during the scenes in the Oval Office where Doctor Who and the US have never seemed so at home together. The direction is exquisite with almost every frame a treat on the eye, whilst the sets are equally gorgeous. Most captivating of all is the flamboyant location work; the “picnic” scene early on makes you glad to have eyes. Stunning stuff.
Musically, Murray Gold continues his fine form with an utterly heart~rendering melody during one particular scene (and no, I can’t say which). But there’s also a change in how the music is used in this episode with, ironically, much more silence from the orchestra than usual. One wonders if this is a stylistic change or just a one~off for the story. In any case, it worked, enhancing the luscious sounds from Muzza & Co. when they did appear.
On the cast~front, Matt continues to excel as everyone’s favourite Gallifreyan as Moffo gifts his lead actor so many great lines and scenes to deal with. Smith is a joy to behold as proclaims, “I’m the King of OK!” and “Just popped out to get my special straw – it adds more fizz!” Despite the numerous comical turns from him, and there are a few, he turns so effortlessly to both his softer and darker sides. 10 points a gold star to Steven Moffat for including a lurvely Peter Davison nod of “Brave heart”.
Rory and Amy, despite their marriage, continue as ever but it’s “guest” stars Alex Kingston and Mark Sheppard who grab the limelight. Kingers, as I believe nobody calls her, is as trouser~tighteningly brilliant as ever. Like Matt, she gets a wealth of playful material to deal with (usually involving The Doctor) and the line “I’m quite the screamer” may have you spitting out whatever is in your gob at that moment. But there’s also a heart~breaking scene where River reveals to Rory the nature of her relationship with the Time Lord and for the audience, it brings a whole new slant to her death in The Library two~parter in 2008. Moffat’s emotional pen runs so smoothly beside his Coupling~style bic.
The Impossible Astronaut is a very different kind of opening story and the early reports of this being more like a finale are spot on. The action, the highly charged atmosphere and the impending sense of doom all feel like we’re already at the end. And that cliffhanger. Jeez. The boys and gals at the Dr Who department are really trying to keep us watching every week. Judging by this installment, we most certainly will.