Last Saturday brought the long-awaited first episode of the new season of Dr Who. “The Impossible Astronaut” is the 771st episode of the longest running SciFi TV series, featuring Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor. The series has made it into the Guinness World Records, employed writers such as Douglas Adams, and experienced a revival in 2005 after 16 years off the air. The run up to this event has been carrying on since the Boxing Day episode – nearly exactly five months of countdown.
I must take this opportunity to point out that while I have a lot of love for Dr Who, it is a relatively new joy in my life; last season was the first that I watched from start to end, so some of the more hardcore fans may take issue with how little I actually know about the series. I will do my best. For those of you who, like me, needed a little persuasion to actually sit down and watch what seemed to be a totally ridiculous series the first time I was forced to sit through 45 minutes, I will give you a short summary.
Dr Who is a Time Lord. Boiled down to the very basics, this means he owns a craft that can travel through space and time, and he is very old. The reason I say craft rather than spaceship, or any other type of ‘ship’ is because the vehicle (from this point on known by its proper name, “The Tardis”) is a police-box. The police-box is a rather historical British object; simply a blue telephone-booth style box that gave direct access to the police ‘in the old days’ (read the 1950’s). The Tardis is rather more special – aside from the obvious fact that it is can travel through space and time, it is also bigger on the inside than the outside. Incredible.
The basic premise of the show is that it takes either an historical event, or an event out in the Universe somewhere, and applies Dr Who, the Tardis, various extraterrestrial beings and Dr Who’s side-kick (normally a girl from Earth somewhere) to this event. Previous examples include The Blitz, the death of Van Gogh and even the Big Bang. The current side-kick is Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan (who seems to be a firm favourite with all the men!)
I’m going to take a moment to discuss Matt Smith as Dr Who. I absolutely love him. He has got a frantic air about him that I find particularly endearing, and the way he delivers his lines has me actually cracking up. A good example: “I wear a fez now.” This is from last season (I’m sticking to my no spoilers promise), and while in writing it looks fairly innocuous, it was one of the better lines of the entire show. I remain convinced that this is entirely his doing.
I’ve tried my best to persuade you to watch – now on with the review.
The opening scenes of “The Impossible Astronaut” bring the characters we came to know and love over the previous season together – Amy Pond, the side-kick that was introduced last season with custard and fish-fingers, and a particularly racy policewoman outfit; her husband, Rory, the “Roman soldier”; River Song, a mysterious lady who has been dropping hints about her and the Doctor for as long as he has had this incarnation; and, of course, Dr Who himself.
BBC Wales has branched out and teamed up with BBC America to give a different direction to the historical events and geographical places. Without going into too much detail, a mysterious figure, a voice down the end of a telephone, a president and an agent from a government organisation present the quandary that the team is presented with. Add a healthy paradox into the mix, and the scene is well and truly set for what seems to be an explosive episode.
The relationships between the main characters have evolved. Amy and Rory got married, the Doctor has been away for a while, and River Song remains as enigmatic as always. With some shock statements from both Amy and River Song indicating they are to remain relatively volatile, Rory has again landed the role of good ole dependable. The Doctor, who has never been the most straightforward to understand, is even more confusing, which in my opinion only makes him more appealing.
The traditional good vs. evil line has become confused; a number of new characters are introduced, and their roles, which seem relatively clear-cut at the beginning, were totally confused by the end of the episode. I won’t lie – these baddies apparent terrified me more than a little bit. I left the beach to watch it, on a glorious sunny day with a friend who I haven’t seen for several years, and was in the process of getting to know again. On several occasions, despite trying to keep a brave face for the friend and the sun beaming into the kitchen, I actually squawked with fear. It was a little reminiscent of the Weeping Angels, and added a healthy dose of adrenaline to my viewing experience.
With the ups and downs that the episode brought, it suddenly, horrifically, ended. I was absolutely stunned. It lasted 45 minutes, but I had been so absorbed that I felt it was only about five. The characters had only just been introduced, the storyline only just set up. Most Dr Who episodes are self-contained, with only a loose storyline that ties a series together.
Cliff-hanger aside, I found the whole episode rather refreshing. With a typical Imperial attitude I have viewed the Tardis returning to the green lands of Britain time and time again with some scepticism. (Why Britain? You could go to, like, Antarctica, or Kyrgyzstan, or somewhere more interesting than Britain! I can understand the economical restraints – BBC Wales is only a small company – but still.) It was great to have some of my favourite TV characters on screen again (Rory!!) and I love the fast pace. The music was typically uplifting, and the whole episode excited me in a way that few TV programmes manage to.
The cliff-hanger was probably the worst thing they could have done to me. After all of that waiting, I felt absolutely cheated of any sense of resolution or satisfaction. I’m now so intrigued that I absolutely cannot wait until next week, so I guess it worked. It’s shaping up to be a good one and with exams coming up, Dr Who will provide a welcome revision break each weekend.