Once again dear friends, it’s that time again – a brand spanking new season of Doctor Who. And having just watched the The Impossible Astronaut I’m beginning to doubt the sense in this little plan...
Things were always going to be different this year. Aside from the usual intrigues as to what the new season would deliver, there are big structural changes to the series. If you don’t already know, the deal is this – instead of the usual thirteen episodes, this year the season is being split into two halves. So the series that commenced tonight will run for seven episodes until the 4th of June and then return in the autumn (currently pencilled in for September) to air the remaining six.
Now I for one welcomed this plan with open arms. Firstly now there’s a much shorter gap between appearances of new episodes, and secondly we get Doctor Who screening when the nights are drawing in. When RTD resurrected the series, obviously no one could foresee that this hoary old series would go on become the flagship show for BBC1, and therefore it was given the slot in the annual scheduling it has held for the past half decade, spring to summer – a time when audience figures are dropping due to lighter nights, better weather and all manner of holidays tempting folk away for the idiot lantern.
But considering the rating hit the travels in the TARDIS are these days, it’s been long overdue that Doctor Who should move to airing in the cosier, more audience friendly, autumn slot. And besides the frequent outbreaks of spookiness and general weirdness are somehow better suited to being seen on a dark evening when mists are rolling in and the wind is just beginning to howl around the chimney pots.
However as pleasing as all of the above is, what really intrigued me about the change in scheduling policy, was the effect it was going to have on the structure of the series and its story arcs. As regular viewers will know, Steven Moffat is a very devious writer and he meticulously plans this plots. Although we didn’t suspect exactly how devious he or how far reaching his tales were until he took the helm of the series last year and we discovered the “Silence will fall” arc had actually begun with a brace of episodes he wrote for the Tenth Doctor (Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead). So then rather just plan out the usual thirteen episode pattern and screen in it two chunks, you can bet that Moffat is now running a game of two halves scheme, with two series finales in one season effectively.
Now in times past, we’d grown used to the first episode of a season being a light and frothy affair where the story takes a back seat. For every opener so far has had the task of introducing some one new: in Rose we met the Ninth Doctor and …er … well Rose, in New Earth we were bedding in the Tenth, and in Smith & Jones and Partners in Crime we saw the Doctor finding new companions, Martha Jones and Donna Noble. However this time round, the TARDIS crew - Eleventh Doctor, Amy And Rory - were already firmly in place.
So then with this in mind, I was hoping that The Impossible Astronaut would see the show returning firing on all cylinders, rather than gradually revving up the engine as it had to in previous years. And indeed considering that this is the first half of a two part story from Mr Moffat himself, the cloister bell was reassuringly silent and the portents looked good for this to be the case.
Now my usual policy for reviewing two parters last year was to cover both parts at once, as there seemed little point in review half an adventure and getting knotted up in speculation as to how the complete tale would play out. However as we were kicking off the season with a two parter, I thought some sort of taster review was in order...
...But I have a massive problem The Impossible Astronaut - relax, it’s not terrible! Quite the contrary in fact.
The trouble is I can’t really tell you anything without giving something away. The Impossible Astronaut? The Impossible Review more like!
Well that’s not entirely true (yes Rule #1 about the Doctor also applies to me now), but you probably already know it’s set in, and indeed was shot in, America, features the President being harassed by spooky phone calls and a creepy looking alien in a black suit.
And I could also tell you that Matt Smith is brilliant as ever, but that’s a given really isn’t it?Considering all the hullabaloo about his casting and about how young he was, weird isn’t it how now when he’s the Doctor you completely believe his nearly a thousand years old...
What else? Well, this is a good outing for Amy and Rory; Karen Gillan gets plenty of solid dramatic scenes to get her teeth into and Arthur Davrill feels like a proper member of the crew and not just a boyfriend dragged along for a couple of stories. And of course, even if you’ve taken up Venusian aikido to spoiler dodge for the last few months, you’re probably aware that River Song is back. And she’s as brilliant as ever. And it's a credit to Moffat's writing that he can balance such a large TARDIS crew and still find enough opportunities for a ll the characters to shine.
The American locations look gorgeous as does the sets. And there’s a bona fide guest star who will be very familiar to viewers of genre TV. But I’m not saying who - let’s just say that it’s a real delight to see them, on top form as usual, in Doctor Who!
And finally, I can confirm that the show has hit the ground running. Easily the best series debut instalment we’ve had since the show’s return and even a contender for best opening episode in all the show’s history. In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a better opening episode of any series right now.
And you can take that as a full committed recommend! Dodge the spoilers and go in fresh if you can!
So then, we will pick this up in proper detail next week...
...And what a long week it shall be!
And on that note we’ll let silence fall...
JIM MOON, 23rd April 2011