Bigger, bolder, better: just three words that sum up the opener for this series. ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ sees Amy (Karen Gillan), Rory (Arthur Darvill) and River Song (Alex Kingston) summoned by the Doctor (Matt Smith) on a new adventure involving a trip to the White House, scary aliens, and creepy phone calls from children.
From the outset the episode exudes an epic quality with sweeping shots of the arid Utah desert and scenes from the Oval Office. It is also the beginning of the journey for the audience who will find out who River is. The chemistry between the Doctor and River is starting to fizz, and the series trailer has already revealed that they will kiss. More romance can only be expected if River’s words are anything to go by; “I’m quite the screamer.”
Then there is The Silence, the terrifying aliens who are forgotten the moment you stop looking at them. Have they always been there and we just didn’t remember? And could they be related to River who first appeared in an episode entitled ‘Silence in the Library’. Could these two silences be one and the same? On top of this, River has said she has killed “the best man she has ever known”, is River the astronaut who emerges from the water and shoots the Doctor dead, knowing that he will die if shot mid-way through a regeneration cycle?
The episode is peppered with references both to previous episodes and things outside the realm of the Who universe but not all of them revolve around River. One of the most interesting references is the appearance of The Silence who are based on the Edvard Munch painting ‘The Scream’, as well as resembling the stereotypical grey aliens with their bulbous heads, big eyes and tiny hands with splayed fingers. They are even dressed in black suits with white shirts and black ties, conjuring up visions of Roswell and Area 51. It is innovative the way in which iconic alien conspiracy theory imagery is married into the Who universe, where it is a given that extra-terrestrials exist, thus re-inventing the genre for Doctor Who.
The other reference worth a mention is the chilling, disembodied voice of a child on the end of a phone line which will remind viewers of the Moffat-penned episodes ‘The Empty Child’ and ‘The Doctor Dances’, where the phrase “Are you my mummy?” was enough to send a shiver down the spine of the bravest grown-up. In this episode, the child’s voice retains its unsettling quality.
‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is crammed with action. In between Amy announcing that she is pregnant, the Doctor getting killed and an edge-of-the-seat cliff hanger where Amy accidentally shoots a child, there is hardly any breathing space. However, the confusion is all part of the fascination as audiences try to make sense of what is going on.
Showrunner Steven Moffat wanted ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ and next week’s episode ‘Day of the Moon’ to feel like a series finale and he has certainly achieved this. There are thrills aplenty and the questions keep coming up with more of the same to follow throughout the series.