Contributor: Gregg Wright
Season 6 opens, most appropriately, with a brief textual tribute to Elizabeth Sladen. I’m sure that her death must hit especially hard for classic “Who” fans that watched her in the Sarah Jane Smith role right up to the end. For my part, I knew her only from her appearances in the new show. But I can imagine how much longtime fans must have appreciated the new show’s continual efforts to stay connected with the classic show. Despite not being as familiar with Elizabeth Sladen as many other fans might be, I saddens me to see such a beloved part of the franchise disappear forever.
With Steven Moffat penning the two-part season opener, I was fairly sure that I’d enjoy it. (There was only one Moffat-written episode from the previous season that I disliked.) The first thing I noticed about this episode was how rushed it felt, at least early on. There’s the reunion, the astronaut, and before you know it, the Doctor is dead. Amy, Rory, and River are as devastated as one would expect. But it was so obvious that the Doctor would quickly return that the scene lacked any emotional impact. I think if the episode had spent more time on the set-up for this scene, it would have helped sell it better. And it didn’t make much sense for the Doctor to leave his companions so desperately under-prepared for everything to come. That said, the episode manages to quickly make up for all this confusion and become clever again, which is what I’ve come to expect from the show. Who does the Doctor trust more than anyone else in the universe? Why, himself, of course.
It’s extremely convenient that Mark Sheppard and William Morgan Sheppard both act, and can convincingly pass as either father and son, or in this case as older and younger versions of the same person. I’ve liked both actors for quite some time, so I appreciated seeing them both here. Mark Sheppard’s American accent could be a little more convincing, but it’s a minor quibble. Maybe I’ve just gotten overly used to hearing Sheppard use his native accent in other roles.
I’m assuming that the American setting is a deliberate nod of appreciation to the show’s growing fanbase in the states. Considering how often American movies and TV shows portray our country as being the center of the universe, I haven’t minded seeing things from the English perspective on “Doctor Who” at all. However, being American, I’m glad to see the United States factor into a “Who” story for once (or has this happened before?). The trip to the oval office is easily one of the highlights of the episode.
Perhaps Steven Moffat’s greatest contribution to “Doctor Who” has been the Weeping Angels. And now, he’s prepared a new alien menace. While they certainly don’t top the Angels, they’re a successfully creepy bunch. With the Angels, the twist was that they couldn’t move if you were looking at them. For these aliens, you actually forget about them when you’re not looking at them. These creatures don’t seem interested in outright slaughter, though. They seem to want to stay hidden, for the most part, likely in preparation for some greater plan.
Despite some of my early misgivings, “The Impossible Astronaut” is a pretty good hook for the rest of the season. A new enemy is introduced. The Doctor is put in peril (while his companions must carry the burden of knowledge for once, while he remains oblivious to his ultimate fate). And there’s a strong feeling that we will learn much more about the relationship between River Song and the Doctor, and what River ultimately did to land herself in prison. With his first season as showrunner under his belt, I’m hoping that Steven Moffat’s second season won’t have as many missteps. Season 5 was much better, overall, than I ever expected it to be. But the episodes not written by Moffat were hit-or-miss. Stronger planning would probably help. But I suppose there’s only so much Moffat can do for the episodes he doesn’t write.