Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer DVR Dump: Doctor Who 6.01: "The Impossible Astronaut"

“Human beings. I thought I’d never get done saving you.”
-The Doctor

Since I’ve decided to cover the second half of Doctor Who series 6 here on MTVP when it premieres in September, I thought I’d devote the second half of this summer’s “Summer DVR Dump” series to catching you up on the first half that started being broadcast Easter weekend. The series began with quite a bang. The show was filmed in the United States for the first time in its history. Although I was wary of this, because one of the things I love about Doctor Who is its inherent Britishness, I think the decision gave the opening two-parter a grander scope. The grander scope was not because the story was dealing with American history, but because of the absolutely beautiful production values that could be achieved by filming in Monument Valley, Utah. It was also an attempt to tell a uniquely American story, tying the incident the Doctor and crew need to deal with to the 1969 Moon landing. I appreciated the change of pace, even if some of the details were a little wrong. I think the change of pace elicited some really wonderful performances from all three regular cast members plus Alex Kingston as time traveling archaeologist River Song. The whole thing was truly epic.

The episode opens with the Doctor doing silly outrageous things throughout time, like getting caught being painted nude and thrown in the Tower of London. And escaping in a ball of light. Rory and Amy, who have been left by the Doctor temporarily to set up their home together, are reading all about the Doctor’s exploits in a book and wondering if the Doctor is specifically trying to get their attention with his antics. Just as they’re really wondering what the Doctor’s been up to, they receive an invitation with a date and map coordinates on it. There is no return address, but the envelope is TARDIS blue, so Amy suspects it’s from the Doctor. At Stormcage, River gets a similar invitation with the number 2 on it (as opposed to the 3 on Amy and Rory’s invite). Soon enough, we find out that River has escaped from prison yet again. That’s mighty strong lipstick she’s got. And mighty stupid guards Stormcage has got if the same trick works every time River tries it!

We then move to the United States, where Rory and Amy disembark from a big yellow school bus…in the middle of Utah. I really don’t understand the random school bus. Is that how Brits think we all get around on this side of the pond? I thought that bit was kind of ridiculous- a Greyhound bus or something like it would have made much more sense. Anyway, they are greeted by the Doctor, who is perched on a classic convertible, wearing a Stetson. The Stetson is the new hat he has decided is cool. The reunion between the three friends is rather joyous, and I love that the Doctor called them “the Ponds” instead of “the Williamses.” I thought that was pretty funny. River also makes quite an entrance, shooting the Stetson right off the Doctor’s head. I guess destroying his headgear is going to be her thing now.

The group catches up at a diner, and when Amy asks the Doctor what he’s been up to, he suddenly gets very somber. He says he’s been running faster than he’s ever run before, which certainly seems ominous. He wants all his friends to have a picnic with him that night, because he needs to stop running. The picnic takes place by a gorgeous Monument Valley lake, and amongst the happy chit chat, the Doctor lets slip that he’s over 1100 years old- about two hundred years older than everybody thought he was. He also mentions “Space, 1969” and says that a lot more happened that year besides the moon landing. All of a sudden, someone in what appears to be an Apollo astronaut suit appears out of the lake and breaks up the party in a big way. The Doctor approaches the astronaut and acts like he recognizes the person inside the suit. The astronaut then shoots the doctor several times, and he doesn’t have a chance to complete his regeneration cycle. The astronaut disappears back into the lake before River has a chance to shoot it. Everyone is devastated, especially Amy, who is hunched over the Doctor’s body sobbing. At that moment, another stranger appears. It’s an older man carrying a gas can who has invitation number 4. His name is Canton Everett Delaware, III.

River tells the rest of the group that they need to use the gasoline Canton brought to burn the Doctor’s body. Even though it will be a painful experience, there are hundreds of creatures out there who would give anything for one molecule of Time Lord. Rory steps up for once and notices a boat moored out in the lake. He thinks that if they have to do this, they should do it right. The result is a nighttime Viking-style funeral for the Doctor. I like that Rory suggested that because he is usually rather passive. The next day, the group piles back into the diner, arguing about what to do next. River thinks they need to continue working on the problem the Doctor started to tell them about, and Amy thinks they shouldn’t bother considering he’s dead. Then they realize that there should be an invitation number 1, and that invitation probably went to the person the Doctor trusted most in the world. Conveniently, Rory spots that envelope sitting on a table at the diner. Not long after that, the Doctor emerges from the diner’s rest room.

To say the Doctor got a chilly reception would be an understatement. Of everyone’s reaction to seeing him alive again, I found River’s to be the most interesting. At first, she slaps him, presumably because she thinks the earlier death was a really cruel trick. When the Doctor has no clue what everyone’s so upset about, though, she turns on a dime and becomes dutiful, signing and giving a resigned trademark “Spoilers.” Back in the TARDIS, the atmosphere is rather frosty. The Doctor doesn’t want to go to “Space, 1969” because nobody will tell him why he’s supposed to go. Telling him about his death would be a spoiler, of course. The Doctor refuses to trust River when she tells him he needs to do what they say. I thought that was a little bit of a continuity break from River’s introduction in series 4, when the Tenth Doctor ends up trusting her based on something she tells him, presumably his real name. He finally agrees to go to 1969 when Amy swears on “fish fingers and custard” that he needs to do this.

We then flashback to 1969, where a younger version of Canton Everett Delaware, III, played by genre TV legend Mark Sheppard, is having a drink at a bar. He’s just been kicked out of the FBI, so he’s very surprised to hear that President Nixon wants to speak with him personally. In the Oval Office, Nixon plays a recording very mysterious phone call for Canton. It’s the voice of a little girl who is afraid that a space man is going to get her. Moffat certainly does like to use certain devices over and over again, in this case the disembodied child’s voice. I was surprised the little girl didn’t bust out with an “Are you my mummy?” Meanwhile, the Doctor and crew are trying to land the TARDIS in the Oval Office. River goes around correcting things the Doctor is doing to try to make the TARDIS fly in silent and invisible. I didn’t especially like that. It was kind of funny the first few times River acted like the harried wife who has to fix everything her oafish husband does wrong, but it’s not so funny anymore. The Doctor is supposed to be the smartest man in the room, and River often undermines that. That never would have happened with the Ninth or Tenth Doctors.

The Doctor doesn’t get an especially warm reception when he’s spotted taking notes while the mysterious phone call recording plays. The Secret Service makes a big fuss over it, as they do, and the doctor pleads for River to make the TARDIS “blue” again. The rest of the gang appears in the Oval Office, and the Doctor starts pretending he and the rest of the crew are from Scotland Yard. He even has code names for all of them, which I loved. They’re “The Nose, The Legs, and Mrs. Robinson.” The Doctor essentially saves the day with bravado, which I think is one of the important hallmarks of a good episode of Doctor Who. Amy sees a freaky looking alien creature that looks like a cross between the stereotypical Gray aliens often seen in fiction and the Gentlemen from the classic “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Hush.” She had seen one of these guys earlier during the Utah picnic, but both then and now, she forgets it as soon as she’s not looking at it anymore.

After seeing this alien, which we would later learn is a Silent (as in “Silence will fall,” last season’s creepy catch phrase), Amy feels a bit sick. Of course, in TV world, when a woman feels sick to her stomach, it’s automatically OMG she’s pregnant! Before we get that far, though, a Secret Service guy kindly offers to escort her to the rest room. In the rest room, Amy encounters another Silent. Another woman using the facilities sees it too. There’s a whole rather creepy routine where the woman sees the Silent, laughs it off, then freaks out when she realizes it’s real. She does this about three times, reciting identical lines of dialogue each time, because she keeps forgetting she saw the Silent. The Silent has had enough of this and zaps the woman out of existence. It doesn’t zap Amy, though. It only acts vaguely threatening towards her. Amy wanders back to the Oval Office, forgetting what she saw. She’s just in time to hear Nixon get another phone call from the creepy little girl. The Doctor figures out that she’s located at Kennedy Space Center, so the regular gang plus Canton all hop in the TARDIS for a trip to Florida.

The TARDIS materializes in a warehouse at Kennedy Space Center, and what follows is a series of “What not to do in horror movies” moments. River opens a hatch and climbs down to see a massive network of tunnels. There are several Silents in the tunnels, which understandably, freaks her out. Unfortunately for River, and the rest of the group, really, she promptly forgets what she saw, tells the rest of the gang the tunnels are all clear, and takes Rory down into the tunnels with her. While she’s trying to pick the lock on a closed door, she explains her tragedy to Rory. Her personal timeline and the Doctor’s personal timeline are roughly opposite. Their relationship, whatever it is, has been back to front. He appeared to her when she was young, and the fact that he knew all about her was quite intriguing. She knows that there will come a day when the Doctor won’t know who she is, and she thinks it will kill her. Very perceptive, that River, since we already know how her story ends. Behind the locked door is a makeshift TARDIS that looks almost identical to what the Doctor and Amy found in “The Lodger” last series. And of course there are loads more Silents, and they’re not happy.

Above ground, the little girl can be heard crying, and Canton, the Doctor, and Amy follow the sound. The Doctor and Amy find Canton unconscious, and Amy finds a really inopportune time to tell the Doctor something she’s been trying to tell him all episode but keeps forgetting. She’s pregnant. This isn’t entirely unexpected, and it will probably provide a segue into a new companion for the Doctor sooner rather than later. Anyway, after that big reveal, the Doctor and Amy see the menacing space suit start to walk towards them. Thinking maybe she can save the Doctor from his future Utah fate, Amy starts shooting at the space suit like there’s no tomorrow, screaming as she does. Then we see through the mask that inside the space suit is the little girl. Holy confusing and twisty ending, Batman!

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