Thursday, 2 June 2011

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut

“I’m going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilise; street level maps covering all of Florida; a pot of coffee; twelve jammie dodgers and a fez.”

Right. Well, I was going to do both this and Day of the Moon in a single post, but my notes for this episode alone stretch to more than three pages, so there’s no way I’m doing that. This is going to be long.

I watched this from a recording I made at the time, so I’ve just been briefly reminded of Don’t Scare the Hare and its cutting-edge animatronics and gripping quiz show suspense, surely the very high point of Sue Perkins’ career. My, wasn’t the world a rather odd place a few weeks ago? Anyway, we get quite a bang of an opening, don’t we? Cavaliers, The Great Escape, silent comedy- it all looks rather swish. And those days of people imagining the Doctor might possibly be asexual are a long way behind us. Time has passed and things have happened, though: Amy and Rory have set up house together, and surely that must have taken a few months; their house seems quite fully furnished. It’s made clear that this isn’t permanent, though; they’re confidently expecting the Doctor to explode back into their lives at any moment. And sure enough, in a scene resonant with Back to the Future II and, indeed, Moffat’s own Blink, someone at the door has an invitation, with a time and a place…

Elsewhere and elsewhen, in the Stormcage, River Song has received the same message. In a rather amusing comment on how often she seems to escape these days, there’s an awful lot of hoo-hah over the mere fact that she’s packing.

We get our first shot of the location scenes shot in America next, and it’s truly magnificent, as are a lot of shots to come. Amy and Rory get off a big American yellow bus into the red Utah desert with all those fantastic sticky-uppy things. And there they meet the Doctor (“I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.), and then River. It seems that was a pistol she was packing. And her opinions of the Doctor and headgear are as firmly expressed as ever.

The Doctor’s being a bit cryptic, though. He was 908 when Amy and Rory last met him; now he’s 1,103. Not only that, but he seems to remember a lot of the events from River’s diary. And he says ominous sounding things, like “I’ve been running faster than I’ve ever run. I’ve been running my whole life. Now it’s time for me to stop.”

The scene switches from a diner (how American!) to a picnic by a lake, surrounded by some breathtaking landscape. The Doctor, sadly, still needs educating about wine. But Amy sees a watching figure: a Silence. (An aside: my hearing is a bit dodgy and I watch pretty much all telly with subtitles when I can. The subtitles always have the Silence as “the Silence”, not “The Silents”: singular “Silence”, plural “Silence”. Are subtitles canon?). And then an older bloke in a car pulls up nearby and waits.

A figure in a late 1960s NASA spacesuit emerges from the waters like a Sea Devil, and the Doctor sees that the time has come. “Stay back,” he warns Amy, Rory and River. “Whatever happens now, you do not interfere.” So the astronaut shoots him point-blank. Twice. He starts to regenerate. The astronaut shoots him again. Dead. At this point the bloke in the distance (Canton Everett Delaware III, who has also received an invitation) helpfully assures us that the Doctor is “most certainly dead.” And Amy, in voicing aloud the clone / duplicate hypothesis, seems to have ensured it can’t happen. Oh dear. It’s all looking rather unambiguous.

Except that, back in the diner, they find a fourth envelope. And the Doctor. It’s his earlier self- he’s only 909- but River slaps him anyway. We now have a situation where Amy, River, and Rory can’t tell the Doctor what just happened in case bad timey-wimey stuff happens. This is a problem, as the Doctor is bound to notice that they’re hiding something big. He does. And he’s not pleased. In fact he’s only convinced by Amy swearing on fish fingers and custard, as you do. And yet… surely the Doctor would have correctly guessed what this would mean? He’s not the type to be satisfied with not knowing, and surely he already knows enough for the possibility to have occurred to him?

In 1969, a young Canton has been called in by President Nixon. Tricky Dicky is being telephoned, every day, by a child who’s afraid of the “spaceman”. The child seems to be called Jefferson Hamilton Adams. Oh, and the Doctor is taking notes, right there in the Oval Office, which gets quite a reaction. But the Doctor, soon joined by the Legs, the Nose and Mrs Robinson, is soon able to get everyone on his side by Being Very Clever. Midnight this ain’t.

That doesn’t mean they’re safe though: Amy sees a Silence again, and remembers the earlier time. Does this imply that the earlier time was the first time she’d seen one? She doesn’t wait long until the next time either; there’s a Silence in the ladies’ loo. A male one, too. What a perv. It’s quite horribly effective how the other woman in the room sees it, forgets, sees it, forgets, and is then dismissively and shockingly killed by a lightning effect similar to that we saw at the end of The Lodger. Amy keeps her wits about her; she takes a pic on her phone, and the Silence doesn’t seem to know what it is any more than would anyone from 1969. There’s an interesting exchange, too. Amy must tell the Doctor “What he must know. And what he must never know.” Interesting. I wonder if we’ve all been understanding this correctly at all? The vague wording suggests some prior conditioning. And it seems that Amy is being told to actively tell the Doctor both what he must know and what he must not, instead of just telling him one thing but not another. Am I reading too much into this?

The Doctor traces where in Florida the calls are coming from (somewhere close to Cape Kennedy), and drops heavy hints at Canton that he should come along for the ride. He knows, of course, that it’s an obvious trap, but it’s intriguing; why is so much ultra-modern, yet indisputably NASA, technology found around here? There’s a manhole cover, too, which River decides to investigate. She’s “quite the screamer”, apparently. Ooh er.

River sees loads and loads of Silence just underneath, and then returns to pronounce the all clear. Interestingly, though, she goes back underground, this time with Rory, and feels momentarily sick. Is this significant?

These tunnels are “really, really old”, and have been here for “centuries” and run underneath the entire planet. Yet no one has ever noticed them, implying one of Moffat’s perception filters. Yet, if that is the case, how come the Doctor & Co noticed this one?

River’s conversation with Rory here is most interesting and tragic. When she first met the Doctor, this mysterious and unflappable stranger, he knew everything about her, and she found him irresistible. But every time she meets him, he knows her less and less: the Doctor’s confrontation with her earlier, in which he made it clear he didn’t trust her, must have really hurt. She knows that one day the Doctor won’t recognise her at all, and “I think it’s going to kill me.” Certainly ironic in the light of Silence in the Library. Speaking of which, about that title… you don’t think? Naaah…

They emerge into a control room exactly the same as the one in The Lodger. They’re surrounded by Silence, all identically dressed. Why are the Silence wearing suits, by the way? Do they dress like humans, or is it the other way around?

Amy and Canton have an interesting little chat too, and Amy says that she hasn’t seen the Doctor for “a while”- I’m asking this a lot, but is this significant? She then chooses one precise moment, just after they all hear the little girl’s voice, to tell the Doctor that she’s apparent. The exact timing of this bombshell certainly is significant: Amy even says that “It has to be now.”

Inside the spacesuit is a little girl. And Amy shoots her. The credits roll. And... one of the actors was playing “The Silent”. You should probably ignore what I said earlier about the Silence / Silents thing. Subtitles might not be canon after all…

That was well good.

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