S32 (6) 1 – The Impossible Astronaut

Home Forums Episodes The Eleventh Doctor S32 (6) 1 – The Impossible Astronaut

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    Craig @craig

    Repeated on BBC Three on 25 January, the Doctor is seemingly killed at the very beginning. Amy, Rory and River mourn him, but all are soon plunged into an adventure with President Nixon and a new monster, the Silence.

    You can watch it here until 1 February:

    Also contains a namecheck for @jimthefish 😀

    You can read what you all first thought on The Guardian here:

    Juniperfish @juniperfish

    Re-watched this episode yesterday.

    I still love it. In fact, I think it deepens now  we know more of the pieces of the puzzle than we did on first watch.

    In particular I contemplated the loneliness and bravery of River, travelling with her parents and her husband on this adventure at points in their time-streams when only she knew what they all meant to each other. Moreover (we know now) she was forced to witness the murder of the Doctor by “the impossible astronaut”, strongly suspecting that it might be herself in the suit, given that she knew she was in the Stormcage for killing the Doctor (even if, in that time-stream, she didn’t remember the particulars). Again, she unable to share the burden of her knowledge with anyone.

    Props to Kingston for carrying all that in her performance, so that it works both as a mystery and as a now-we-know delivery.

    I did notice something – when Amy was reading about the Doctor’s adventures in history in the red book at the start, it mentioned that the “mysterious Doctor” was borne aloft in his escape from the Tower of London by a “shining sphere” not by a blue box. The make-shift TARDIS which, we now now, the Doctor and IDRIS built in The Doctor’s Wife resembled a shining sphere.

    This happily feeds into the resurrection of the “two Doctors” theory once again and links this Idris TARDIS perhaps to the Lodger TARDIS/ abandoned Silent-inhabited TARDIS… 

    Mr. Hyde (or perhaps Ganger) Doctor alert! <adjusts blue and red bow-ties with hauteur>


    ScaryB @scaryb

    Agree with Juniperfish (and not just cos she supplied the biccies 🙂 ) It’s been really interesting watching Matt’s series again from the start. It’s a different perspective from watching week to week, when we do sometimes get (just a little!) hung up on the intricate details. It’s a bit easier from a longer perspective to see what are just bigger themes/patterns/threads and what may be genuine loose ends which could still be picked up. I suspect Moffat deliberately leaves some of these lying around so he can pick up again as required (or not) depending how things go – eg the repeated swing scene for Amelia.

    I think the time machine in the Lodger, and IA is one of those. OK, it could be budget/time economies – let’s just re-use an old set – but they KNOW that something like that is going to picked up and chewed over, then chewed over again.  And again! Or it’s a set designer’s idea of a joke!  Same as that newspaper in the Snowmen – why go to all the bother of mocking up a period newspaper – then put a completely anachronistic article in it?

    I still think the first 2 episodes of series 6 are among the finest examples of nuWho big budget episodes.  It was slammed by a few for being “sloppy writing” but I just love the way the techniques of filming/editing are used to reflect the influence of the Silence.  The viewer is in the same postition as the characters – we have no idea what’s going on (LOL), how much we’ve forgotten, or missed.  (Why DO I have ink marks on my arm this morning?!)

    And I have no problem with the fixed point in time being the Doctor’s apparent death (not his real one).

    Re River – she must know everything at this point (opening scenes) in Impossible Astronaut ie the Dr she killed is the teselecta, she’s imprisoned for it, but he’s OK (and she’s married to him). As well as all the other family stuff above.  And yes I agree, I think Alex K conveys it well that she knows a lot more than she’s letting on. But presumably this version of River has also had discussion with the Doctor about the way to play this scene ie she’s the one who suggests that they have to destroy the body. Her character also knows that she can’t give even a smidgeon of a hint of what she knows or the game’s a bogey (as we say here in North UK)

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    Alex Kingston’s acting was one of the things I noticed when I rewatched. She did a brilliant job – first time, when I didn’t know the ending, she looked to be reacting naturally. Second time, when you know the ending, you can see how much River’s character is controlling things.

    She keeps Amy away from the Tessalecta Doctor, comes up with a quick explanation about why the Doctor’s body needs to be incinerated and stops Rory and Amy from blurting everything out to younger Doctor. One of the things that fooled me the first time is that River does appear genuinely upset – but when you think that Amy and Rory are her parents, it becomes clear. She’s upset because she knows how much this is going to hurt her parents – and she can’t tell them anything. Yet.

    No wonder she gives the Doctor that whacking great slap.

    Juniperfish @juniperfish

    @scaryb and @bluesqueakpip

    Dammit – I can’t resist… Hmmn well this has exercised my mind. You say that River in The Impossible Astronaut knew how it would all play out, including Tesselecta Doctor.

    I’m not so sure. River tries to shoot the astronaut and then when her shots have no effect she murmurs “Of course not” but to herself – she’s not putting on a show for the others here. So the first time it plays out, I don’t think she knows for sure that the astronaut is her. She knows she is in the Stormcage for killing the Doctor, but she doesn’t know how it happened.

    In The Wedding of River Song this dialogue, about River not being able to remember the murder,  indicates that in “Version 1 of the Doctor’s Death” River had no memory of herself in the suit: 

    River: I tried to fight it but I can’t. It’s too strong.
    The Doctor: I know. It’s okay. This is where I die. This is a fixed point. This must happen—this always happens. Don’t worry. You won’t even remember this. Look over there.

    River: It’s me. How can I be there?

    The Doctor: That’s you from the future. Serving time for a murder you probably can’t remember. My murder.

    River: Why would you do that? Make me watch?

    The Doctor: So that you know this is inevitable. And you are forgiven. Always and completely forgiven.

    The thing is, because River is clever, she found a way to re-write time, so that the second time around she does not shoot the Doctor, she freezes time instead and then he has to go on a quest to undo that freeze (which is causing the universe to collapse) and in doing so he works out the Tesselecta Doctor solution.

    So, the second time it happens, then the-River-shooting-the-Doctor remembers it all and promises the Doctor she will go to the Stormcage for him, to cover up his faked death.



    ScaryB @scaryb


    she murmurs “Of course not”

    I’ll give you she may have forgotten the incident (timey wimey brain-wiping complicated life) but I’d argue that that’s the point she remembers. Maybe she doesn’t remember because it’s a less significant incident than it appears, because it’s not actually the death of the Doctor, it’s just when he drops out of sight. It would have happened a long time ago for the River in IA, maybe 30 odd years before.  The River in IA is older River (she’s done JimtheFish… is she still in the Stormcage? (I’ll need to go back and check that!)).  The slapping can be explained by her being angry that he’s made her and the Ponds witness it – she wouldn’t know there were witnesses. She wouldn’t necessarily recognise the scenery – her younger self would only be focussed on the Doctor.

    We don’t know what prior instructions River got with her invitation – we only assume it’s the same as the Ponds, but we don’t know if there was anything extra in her envelope. We do know that Canton got extra instructions.

    ScaryB @scaryb

    And then there’s Joy. She bugs me.

    Apart from the scene being a cheeky gag* about the Silence being killjoys <groan> it does hint that the Silence care more about individuals than their role as machiavelan invadors would initially suggest. (ie there would be other ways of letting us know her name was Joy if it was just for the gag)

    *(Other scenes set up just for the joke – the poor guys at the beginning of the Snowmen (“I said I’d feed you – I didn’t say who to”)

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    No, both Joy and the guys at the beginning of the Snowmen do have a bigger purpose than a joke. They’re establishing for the audience that these are not nice aliens.

    In a sense, the Silence may have a point about the Doctor – he’s genocidal. But since we see a Silence kill someone for just the fun of it (‘Why did you kill her?’ ‘Joy’), we know they’re the worse option.

    Similarly with the snowmen – if we didn’t see them kill people, we wouldn’t know they were dangerous. Basically, all they do for the rest of the episode is stand around and look menacing.

    WhoHar @whohar

    They are showing TIA and DOTM on the big screen here in Aus. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to rewatch. Sounds like fine acting from Ms Kingston which also means fine writing from Mr Moffat.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    Ah – the start of series 6, and a timey wimey murder mystery with the Doctor as the apparent victim. So much set up here, and I still love the idea of the Silence. The casual nature of Joy’s dispatch after the light humour of the entire “forgetting” thing.

    I really hope that Mark Sheppard could be courted back at some point to play Canton. Or even his dad, Morgan, for an extended look at old Canton. I was actually stuck at inlaws who have been diagnosed Time Lord intolerant when it was first shown, and I can remember watching it on a really small portable in a Caravan. Not the best circumstances, but I can remember being really excited at the end of the show. A great cliffhanger as the threads to Florida find Amy, the Doctor, Rory and River (a great team) really in jeopardy at the end.

    Like the wine the Doctor spits out, it’s a fine vintage this one.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord

    The Confidential for the Impossible Astronaut. SMs comments that surely as a Time Traveller the Doctor knows his own grave is out there takes on a new meaning after “Name of the Doctor” and possibly shows ideas for Trenzilore were fermenting even back then?

    Bluesqueakpip @bluesqueakpip

    @phaseshift – Yes, I think he definitely had Trenzalore in mind when he was writing this episode. It’ll be interesting to find out, when Mr Moffat retires from producing Who and cashes in his pension plan writes his book on his time as producer, exactly how far in advance stuff was planned.

    It was certainly left open that we could see Canton again – there’s over forty years available between 1969 and 2011. The only problem with Mark Sheppard is that he’s really, really busy. If I recall correctly, he had to juggle quite a lot of stuff to be able to do this two-parter – and he juggled it because he wanted to be in Doctor Who very badly indeed.

    This really is an excellent episode, though; however many times I watch it, it’s never boring,  not even when you know how the Doctor gets out of his ‘death’. And I think @scaryb‘s post #2009 above is quite right – River didn’t really know where and when she was when she was in the astronaut suit, and she didn’t realise her older self had witnessed the Doctor’s ‘death’. Until the moment the astronaut comes out of the water.

    PhaseShift @phaseshift
    Time Lord


    You do have to love Marks entire “I KNOW who could play an older me… my dad”, because he knew his dad regretted having to turn down a role in the Pertwee era due to other commitments (his dad having appeared in the eighties version of Day of the Triffids and Babylon 5 as a Soul Hunter probably informed his son that genre was the true way to immortality, and his son made it an artform. 😉 )

    Just to touch on your original theme of repeating memes, I think this and a couple of thoughts on RTD recently have made me appreciate how long Moff and RTD have been dwelling on their respective ideas. In the Faces blog, I revisited the Virgin New Adventure Novel Damaged Goods (writer RTD) in which the Seventh Doctor encountered the Tyler family on an estate, and saw a woman trapped at the heart of a Gallifreyan N-form (basically a giant stompy robot) wrecking havoc (cue thoughts of The Next Doctor).

    Moff first postulated the idea that the label “The Doctor” had been bequeathed to space and time because of the actions of the Doctor on an internet platform. The Story of Amy/Mdm Pompadour is so similar (although one has the benefit of “the slow path”) it’s breathtaking. Although details change, I’m sure, the fundamental ideas are really long standing, and perhaps the power of the new series? When those ideas and views of what the Doctor is/are run out, perhaps that is the time for a well deserved rest?

    I have to admit, if SM writes his experiences of the show in a “Writers Tale” kind of way, I’ll be at the head of he signing queue.

    Rewvian @rewvian

    I remember as season 6 was debuting, the show continued to get more promotion in the United States.  The setting and plot of the first couple episodes involved the USA, too, and it all kicked off with a school bus, the Doctor in a Stetson, and a 50’s diner.  So much about the episode does have a different, much less British feel.

    The monster in this episode is the Silence.  (And, maybe the astronaut.)  Back when they were first shown it reminded me a lot of the Slender Man that was a popular horror thing around the time.  I guess they also kind of look like a poor man’s Ood, except in a suit instead of a jumpsuit.  I think there is some connection there between the secret service and the Silence, sort of an Area 51 vibe.  I had forgotten the Silence could even talk, and that the one in the bathroom totally electro-vaporized the woman there.

    The Silence being able to be forgotten the minute you look away from them is kind of like the same power of the Weeping Angels.  The looking away is bad.

    There is a scene where River seems to suggest that the Doctor and herself are meeting in literal reverse from one another.  This wouldn’t make much sense.  I still choose to believe they’re meeting more in a sort of randomized order.

    Of course the mystery of the season, or at least part of it, is what is going on with the astronaut killing the Doctor.  We eventually revisit a lot of this, but as of the conclusion of the episode all we know is the astronaut is actually a little girl in a space suit.

    I thought Nixon was cast okay.  Once again it was so American we have a scene with tons of handguns being pointed at the Doctor.  River, too, uses a revolver in the astronaut scene.  I liked the Doctor attempting to make the TARDIS silent and invisible and failing, only to have River correct it.  I’m still not sure why the little girl kept calling Nixon, or if this is explored further.

    This was also apparently the first episode played after Elizabeth Sladen passed away.

    Dentarthurdent @dentarthurdent

    @rewvian I was thoroughly misled by the suggestion that the Doctor and River met in literal reverse order – which implied that River was somehow moving backwards in time. This, obviously, is impossible, how would they interact? It took me ages to realise it made more sense if they met in random order.

    I wasn’t going to make comments as I watched it (done that once before) but the scenic value of Monument Valley got my fingers itching.

    Just watched the Prequel. I kind of like it that they didn’t make Nixon all bad. I remember a time when he was regarded as the worst ever (by me included), but – he never invaded Iraq on totally and transparently false pretexts, and – though he lied on occasion, he had sufficient sense of decency and shame to be embarrassed at being caught out. That’s as political as I’m going to get 🙂

    They certainly made the most of the scenery – Monument Valley (or wherever it is) is impressive.

    “Easter Island – they worshipped you there, have you seen the statues?” Okay, so Smith’s nose is a little on the long side – but trust the Moff to notice that.

    My god, the Doc’s car – it’s a Ford Edsel (possibly Ford’s most famous commercial failure). I’d also say it looks hideously over-styled but, frankly, compared with some of the other regrettable styling monstrosities of the period, it’s almost restrained. Made 1958-60 – why does the Doc have such an old car? I don’t think there’s any significance though.

    But anyway, there’s something of the atmosphere of a Western about this part of the episode – which I guess is understandable.

    So the Astronaut shoots the 1100-year-old Doctor, then in the diner they meet the usual 900-year-old version. So it’s a future Doctor who got shot. (I’m still trying to get my head around this).

    Love the whole Oval Office scene. River quietly correcting the Doc’s driving of the Tardis. The reaction of the Secret Service when River makes the Tardis visible. The Doc, casually – “You think you can just shoot me?” River (bursts out of the Tardis) “They’re Americans!” at which the Doc instantly gets his hands up.

    And of course, Nixon’s famous tape recorder.

    The Silents are second only to the Weeping Angels in scariness.

    It took me some minutes to realise why the FBI guard asked Amy what her ‘phone’ was. In 1969 – it’s lucky she wasn’t arrested on sight for possession of a bomb.

    In full geek mode, I tried searching for Jefferson, Adams and Hamilton streets in Google Maps, but I couldn’t find such a location. It appears to be fictitious. Too bad.

    The Silents in the tunnel are really, really scary. And the way you forget them the instant you look away is as horribly disconcerting as the way the Angels move when you’re not looking.

    Rewvian @rewvian


    In either this episode or the next River actually implies that they are meeting in literal opposite order, so I think the show itself began all of our confusion.

    I thought the scenery was stunning, especially at the beach where the astronaut was.  On Nixon, I try to remember he did some good things too, like improving relations with China.

    I completely must have missed the Easter Island and Americans with guns moments lol.  I’m also not a car person so I appreciate you pointing out the unusual choice of the car the Doctor is resting on.  Maybe it suits the Doc’s eclectic tastes.


    Dentarthurdent @dentarthurdent

    @rewvian Yes I agree about the implied order of meetings. I think River meant it figuratively, and we took it literally. I think, if River and the Doc met in exact reverse order, there would be no point in comparing diaries.

    At the time, I thought Nixon was entirely bad. My opinion has softened since. In retrospect, I think he was well-intentioned, but he was let down by his natural combativeness and a certain degree of paranoia about what his ‘enemies’ were plotting.

    There was an Americans-with-guns moment on the other side of the coin in Day of the Moon, in the childrens’ home – CANTON: Are you armed? SILENCE: This world is ours. We have ruled it since the wheel and the fire. We have no need of weapons. CANTON: Yeah? (Shoots the Silent.) Welcome to America.

    I missed the car on my first watch. Only spotted it this time because there’s one shot by the lake with the gang around the picnic and the Doc’s car head-on in the background – the Edsel had a very distinctive ‘vertical’ grille. I would guess Edsels were quite rare (and probably valuable for the usual paradoxical reasons) by 2011.

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