Thoughts on Doctor Who “The Impossible Astronaut”

Rather than doing what I used to do – vague and somewhat crappy spoiler free reviews, I think I will instead focus on my reactions to the episodes as I watch them.

Spoilers ahoy!

Well, let’s face it…Steven Moffat is messing with us now. Last night was the premier episode of season 6 of Doctor Who with “The Impossible Astronaut.” As one can imagine Moffat has continued to shake the shackles of the overdone and frankly tired “repeated meme as theme for season” motif as seen in the previous seasons (e.g. “Bad Wolf”, “Torchwood” etc), and Instead we have been treated to a new idea in which we see something horrendously shocking (i.e. the apparent death of The Doctor) and it’s hopeful resolution. Last season a few folks complained that the show wasn’t wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end, there were still questions left to be answered.  It seems that this season we may get some answers, but we are already getting plenty of more questions along the way.

The first quarter of the episode is a real “WTF moment” as we are treated to the aforementioned “Death of the Doctor”. Amy, Rory, River and a man named Canton all end up with blue envelopes detailing exact coordinates to meet in the American Southwest.  We meet a slightly older, and somewhat “shaken” Doctor, who keeps talking about how he has “run for far too long”.  It can be assumed that The Doctor sent the notes himself as he wanted these people to witness what was to unfold.  Amidst all of the “catching up” and cheerful laughter, an Apollo astronaut or a reasonable facsimile (we still don’t know what it is) rises out of the water and shoots The Doctor with some sort of energy weapon triggering a regeneration, right as we can assume that Moffat is going to tease the twelfth Doctor, another shot rings out dropping him stone dead.

This brings up all sorts of questions like:

Who shot The Doctor?

Who sent the letters, are we sure it was The Doctor?

Why did he only send four letters, wouldn’t The Doctor want more folks to see what happens?

How will this inevitably be resolved?

As you can tell this isn’t the typical beginning of the series “fun romp” that many are accustomed to, instead we have a VERY dark and mature episode full of character development.  In the past year a lot of “trollish” people complained incessantly that Amy and Rory didn’t add to the show and were “just sort of there”, this seems to be exactly what these folks wanted as we are treated to a TON more characterization than what we are used to.  This is especially relevant with River Song, as we are really starting to get clues as to her true relation to The Doctor.  Here’s hoping that we find that out either this or next season!

I believe we are already witnessing this season’s “big bad” a.k.a. the one responsible for the cracks last season and the reason we heard the voice echoing “THE SILENCE WILL FALL” during the climax of last season.  The episode’s principle villains (which we find out are called “the silence” according to the website) have the creepy ability to make one forgot their very existence once they are not being directly observed.  We see this in action many times as Amy, and later River, see the large Tuxedo clad “leader” of the silence and forgot about it each time they turn their head.  This makes for a creature nearly as unsettling as the weeping angels, and would make a great one-off villain, but one thing sticks out that paints these guys as far more important as one initially notices.

When River and Rory stumble into what I can only assume is their lair, they end up walking into a very familiar Tardis-esque ship.  This contraption was revealed in last season’s “The Lodger” an episode where we never actually found out who was behind the whole ordeal.  It was basically assumed that a rogue Tardis-like machine showed up, lost its pilot and was killing people whilst trying to find a new master of the ship.  What we never found out was the person or thing behind the fake Tardis, and what it’s purpose was.  I have a feeling that we are about to find out.

I’ll hold off on any theories and such until we see part two of this opening two-parter, but if this episode was any indication of what is to come, I’m all on board for season six!

Frankenstein by National Theater Live

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were able to attend a showing of The National Theater’s Frankenstein, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.  Being fans of Cumberbatch from the BBC show Sherlock, we jumped at the chance to attend and luckily have some like minded friends that would take us on a road trip.  Before anyone gets the impression that we have somehow made our way over to England or something, what we saw was a screening of the play filmed as a movie in St. Louis.  This new initiative, Called National Theater Live, is designed to get folks from all sorts of cities all around the world a chance to see a play normally just shown in London.  The play was directed by Danny Boyle, the guy behind the hugely popular film Slumdog Millionaire, and relied on an intriguing premise: on each night the two prominent actors (Miller and Cumberbatch) would switch roles, one night Miller would play Victor, the next he would play The Creature.  It’s a novel idea, but I still can’t stop thinking of a skit from That Mitchell and Webb Look:

As a young boy I had read the actual book, Frankenstein, and loved its dark science fiction elements far more than the Universal Pictures movie of the same name.  What always bugged me about the film was that they removed all the substance from the character of The Creature.  They literally took his voice away and made him well …. crappy.  This is no jab at Boris Karloff, but that film just isn’t my cup of tea.  Since then, I have seen a handful of films and TV miniseries that try to take the actual story seriously, all of which have fallen flat.  It was a great pleasure to finally see a version of the story true to the book in all its vile twisted glory!

The version we watched had Miller as Victor and Cumberbatch as the Creature, we only found out that the St. Louis Tivoli Theater was planning to show the later version a few days ago, but another trip to the other side of the state is largely out of the question this month.

The acting was, above all, top notch. Cumberbatch played the role of The Creature almost as if he based it on someone with a severe learning disability.  while immensely intelligent, the creature lacked any sort of social skills to exist in human society, not to mention his abnormal looks.  Miller was equally great as Victor, portraying him as a truly detestable man, someone that takes no responsibility for his actions whatsoever.  There were also appearances by a handful of actors that I’ve seen on other things including Karl Johnson, the guy who played the old man police constable in Hot Fuzz.

One felt true anguish watching the monster get beaten down and mistreated when what he really needed was nurturing and help.  This lead to horror when the creature, taking cues from a society that he sees as evil, does the most evil deeds one can imagine.  When you have Victor acting like an arrogant jerk as he does in this play, the question really becomes – who is the “bad guy” in all of this?  Once leaving the theater we felt emotionally drained and pissed off (at the world not the production), emotions that one should feel when watching something like this.

My only gripe with the play was a small problem with the otherwise awesome production. Towards the beginning of the play we were treated to a bit of interpretative dance as the Creature is hurled into the streets for the first time after being rejected by his creator.  A “steam locomotive” made up of dancers then pulls up and a weird Andrew Lloyd Weber-esque song and dance scene occurs.  This scene was very beautiful visually but sticks out as doing nothing more than dragging out the beginning of the play.  I’ve heard that the actual dance scene is something like twenty minutes long, thank God all we got was the edited down version.

If this ever comes out on DVD or is your city is holding a showing, I would greatly recommend seeing this, as it made for the highlight of a long road trip.