Doctor Who 2.1: The Impossible Astronaut review

Review

The Impossible AstronautThe Impossible Astronaut review

River: Hippy!
The Doctor: Archaeologist.

Production Code: 2.1. (Footnote [1]).
Doctor Who Season: S32 (Ep1).
Story Number: 214a.

Wow…

The Hippy is dead.

River and the Doctor’s exchange halfway through the story (“Hippy! – “Archeologist.”) illuminate what, in part, this story is about. 1969 was the souring of the American Hippy Dream – the Beatles were ending, Altamont Free Concert happened.

A review in four parts.

DOMESTIC BLISS

The Impossible Astronaut review

They pulled in just behind the bridge[2]
He lays her down, he frowns
“Gee, my life’s a funny thing
Am I still too young?”

He kissed her then and there
She took his ring, took his babies
It took him minutes, took her nowhere
Heaven knows she’d have taken anything

David Bowie, Young Americans.

After the Doctor’s mini-escapade that opens the season, the season is shown to really start at the abode of Mrs and Mr Pond – as Amy’s recounting the Doctor’s antics to a less-than-fully-interested Rory.picpicpic

It’s quite startling for the season to begin with this echo of Amy’s Choice – the domesticated couple waiting for the Doctor to turn up as we’ve been used to the idea of this brand new TARDIS team trio from A Christmas Carol and Space and Time. (What is significantly different though from Amy’s Choice is that Amy isn’t heavily pregnant. Spoilers.)

It seems the Doctor is “getting the gang back together” and the rendevouz is “Planet America” (as River’s hapless would-be-jailors phrase it).

THE SHINING LAKE

The Impossible Astronaut review

Scanning life through the picture window, she
Finds the slinky vagabond
He coughs as he passes her Ford Mustang, but
Heaven forbid, she’d take anything

But the freak and his type, all for nothing

David Bowie, Young Americans.

The British Invasion. It’s what they called the huge success in America of British pop and rock music (spearheaded by The Beatles) halfway through the Sixties (a few years before this story’s focus of 1969). Something that BBC America seems keen to duplicate in telefantasy form four decades later – with Being Human, Torchwood, and, yes, Doctor Who.pic

There was another “British Invasion” between these, circa 1990, this time spearheaded by Alan Moore, and this time in the medium of comicbooks or graphic novels (or the Ninth Art as those French describe it). The significance of this particular invasion? It’s mentioned in this review for several reasons. Number one the painterly way the story is told, almost a sequence of tableau (like a graphic novel), rather than the moving pictures of regular television.

Like so:
The Impossible Astronaut review
There’s a quite clear intentional resonance with religious art (if Jesus thought wine tasted like wine gums), with figures lamenting the central figure, though we’ll stick with Neil Gaiman and Moore and Grant Morrison of that British Invasion for now. Note – the latter two have a link to Doctor Who as they polished their storytelling skills with DWM (or when it was DWW), and Gaiman’s written the fourth episode of this season.pic

Another reason to mention these people is, that, as Doctor Who “ended” in 1989, there was something of that Doctor Who spirit of wild invention and very British fantasy that was carried on into the next decade by comicbooks such as Gaiman’s The Sandman or Morrison’s The Invisibles or Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Moffat is of the same tradition of keeping the spirit of Doctor Who alive and seems to be drinking from the same well of influences as these three – specifically Grant Morrison. “Parallel evolution” is how I would presume to describe how this DW story and the poster from Morrison’s forthcoming film Sinatoro[3] seem to be synchronised. pic

Both Moffat and Morrison are working with the same bold palette of Americana – long dusty highways, Astronauts reaching for the viewer, this jolting juxtaposition.

Morrison also recently penned a story – Final Crisis[4] – in which a god is slain by a cosmic gun, a weapon that is travelling backwards through time. It’s no secret (it’s shown on the cover) that, also, the central hero is slain. Batman is dead.pic

Doctor Who is dead. The way the scenes unfold are shocking and there’s a dreamlike quality from the painterly images onscreen. The amazing American landscape is like a Dali painting. The Doctor’s sendoff in this American land is very British, the half-submerged strands of British culture that flow from Celtic lore and Norse settlers that is. It’s very “Excalibur”, very Viking.

THE OVAL OFFICE

pic

Do you remember
Your President Nixon?

David Bowie, Young Americans.

After the shock of the younger Doctor who isn’t 1103 years old meeting them in the classic American Diner, it’s off to meet Nixon.picpic

The new monster introduced – as Amy ventures to the restroom – is a curious one. Part-modeled on Munch’s The Scream (more painterly influences on this story), part mockery of an FBI agent, they seem to exist in the same warped sphere as the Weeping Angels.

It’s their victim’s sense-data, the sense-data people are absorbing from the universe, the monsters use it to trick and trap (and with these, ZAP) their prey.

THE CAVE OF SKULLS

pics

All the way from Washington
Her breadwinner begs of the bathroom floor, “We
Live for just these twenty years, do we
Have to die for the fifty more?”

David Bowie, Young Americans.

In the third act, as River and a much more reluctant Rory venture into what is really a distillation of all that’s scary about Doctor Who – the very first serial 100,000 BC involved a “Cave of Skulls” and the skull-like Silents skulking in the darkness really are disturbing. (Though of course neither River nor Rory remember them.)pic

Whoa, there’s the “TARDIS” from The Lodger. Intriguing. It’s coldly amusing as neither of the cave-venturing TARDIS team could recognise it from that story. pic

What’s even darker perhaps is the duo who orbit the central duo of the Doctor and Amy sharing their bittersweet unhappiness.pic

River’s lament of the problems of a girl being dazzled by the brilliance of the otherworldly god is something that Rory can relate to.pic

You get the idea he’d rather be watching a DVD on the sofa.pic
pic

We love Doctor Who like Amy Pond does.

We may love someone like River does.

Like Rory – we’re not a god.

We are all Amy.

We are all River.

We are all Rory.

Nobody is the eleven-hundred-year-old Doctor.

Not even the Doctor.

Yet.

“Never trust a Hippy”.

Rating: 5/5 (for this part of the story.)

———

(The Impossible Astronaut iPlayer)

———
Footnotes (and links)

1. ^

The production code 2.1 signifies it’s the second season produced by Moffat’s production team. It’s the 32nd season of the television programme Doctor Who in total – which is one long narrative. 2010 and 2011 are one long narrative too. What this isn’t really is “series 6” of anything much – the longest story began in 1963, and this story of the Doctor and Amy began in 2010. It’s the second season of that tale.

2. ^

The misunderstanding that Bowie is singing “fridge” rather than “bridge” chimes even better with the first scene of Amy and Rory.

3. ^

Sinatoro website, link.

4. ^

Final Crisis the book (link).

Note the cover teases in broadly the same manner as Doctor Who Magazine, a heroic character will die.

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