1. The Impossible Astronaut
  2. Day of the Moon
The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon

Story No. 233 and 234 A fixed point in time
Production Code Series 6, Episodes 1 and 2
Dates April 23 and 30, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Toby Haynes
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.

Synopsis: The Doctor is dead, shot by an astronaut.


It's like he's being deliberately ridiculous by Evan Weston 18/6/18

Series 5 tried something new for Doctor Who. Instead of simply setting up a "mystery" for the characters to resolve in the series finale, Steven Moffat wove in a full arc plot of "the cracks in time", concluding with the wildly overcomplicated-yet-entertaining The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. With Series 6, Moffat decided to go a step further, introducing a serialized arc over several episodes that would answer his era's two biggest questions: the identity of River Song and the meaning of "silence will fall". This format, as the production crew would likely attest, did not prove a comfortable fit within the show's structure. Whether or not that was due to a poor storyline or the way the show works isn't quite known.

Still, for all of its failures, the Silence arc gets off to a pretty decent start in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon, as all this two-parter has to do is introduce the villains and the season's running plotline involving the Doctor's "death". It completes the former brilliantly and the latter quite poorly. Of course, that storyline is itself subpar, so it's difficult to blame this specific story for that. With the entire arc, I'll be balancing just how much of the arc plot's faults lie with the specific episode under review. I can tell you right now that A Good Man Goes to War is going to bear most of the blame.

As a standalone, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is pretty good. It feels far more epic than any season opener to come before it, thanks to Moffat's sense of cryptic wonder and the extra length (Series 6 was the first to do away with the traditional Russell T. Davies series layout). It feels very much in the style of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: very complicated, a bit pretentious and extraordinarily fast-paced. Over the course of 85 minutes, we cover 2011 Utah, 1969 Washington (several times), the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an abandoned orphanage and Apollo 11 itself. The breathless pace actually helps The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon from being overburdened with exposition, unlike the irresponsibly slow The Big Bang.

There's also far less exposition required, thanks to what are easily the second-best New Who-era monsters and one of Moffat's most inspired creations. The Silents are exceedingly simple and, if not outright terrifying like the Weeping Angels, at least incredibly creepy. They're definitely carved from the mold of the Angels, built on a scary gimmick and blessed with unique and clever design. The memory wipe (admittedly marked a bit too obnoxiously by the sound team) is deeply disturbing, and the idea of the Silence running our lives is way too plausible. Their look matches their concept, with their giant, pink alien heads contrasted brilliantly against a plain black suit. Director Toby Haynes makes it just hard enough for the audience to remember them, as well, never lingering for longer than a couple seconds on any shot. This becomes tiresome by the time River is blowing them to smithereens and we have no clue what's happening, but that's a small quibble with an otherwise brilliant monster introduction. Wait, hang on, I've got another. Their plot arc within the episode makes less sense on a second go; I don't know if I buy that "you should kill us all on sight" would end the Silence's reign, considering they are fairly powerful and intimidating and people aren't generally carrying weapons. They also, for the first of many times, choose not to just kill the Doctor where he stands and instead enact an elaborate plot to... get someone very specific to do it for them. Ugh.

However, at least in this story, the Silence manages to avoid the overcomplication that plagues the episode's other main arc, the titular astronaut and the little girl trapped inside. It's implied that the girl is Amy's child, but then she's part Time Lord. This virtually gives away that River is Amy's daughter right from the get go, and yet we know nothing about how the astronaut gets into the lake or why the Silence would want her there in the first place. This marks a trend with Moffat's arcs that has always bothered me - they're either too easy or too hard to guess. The exception is the cracks in time, which was just tricky enough, but from here on out and through the Clara mystery in Series 7, Moffat's puzzles just aren't very much fun.

Yet we struggle through them, and these moments are the worst of The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon. I never bothered to care about the little girl, because I had no idea what was going on, nor would the episode reveal anything to me. The orphanage scene is full of this and it drags on far too long. It introduces the Kovarian subplot (don't even get me started), shows Amy's parentage, gets her kidnapped through that stupid nano-recorder plot device and tries to advance the Silence story all at the same time. It's an absurdly annoying piece of overstuffed drama by Moffat, and it throws way too much at us while slamming the brakes on the pace at the same time. If only we could just have Amy walk through the nursery with dozens of Silence hanging over her head.

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is peppered with these moments of awesome, and, more than any other "big" Moffat episode, it has the potential to be a classic. The stupidity of the plot holds it back, but there's a ton to commend here. The opening sequence to Day of the Moon is fantastically fun and an example of Moffat at his timey-wimey best. Basically every major moment involving Mark Sheppard's fantastic Canton Everett Delaware III is a highlight, and it's one of the best guest spots of the season. Stuart Milligan's Nixon is also hilarious without being too silly, and he provides some much-needed comic relief. As for the principals, Matt Smith is quirky and fun as usual, while Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill mostly react to what's happening around them. The best player here is Alex Kingston, who is once again even better than last time as River Song. Her character continues to intrigue at this point, though by the middle of the series absurdity takes over her arc.

1969 is reproduced quite nicely by the production team, which comes through with solid work once again. The Haynes-Pehrsson duo does well in their Doctor Who swansong, though at this point in the series, there's very little that goes wrong on the technical side of things. The Silents' makeup deserves special mention, especially when they rear their heads back to shoot lightning bolts out of their awesome giant hands. Yup. Murray Gold also continues his improvement with a slashing score that drives the action forward marvelously.

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is basically a slightly better version of The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, with a better pace, more interesting enemies and better guest performances. However, Moffat's overextension has only just begun, and with all the shoddy set up going on here, the Series 6 arc plot was bound for a letdown. But, as a standalone season premiere kicking off a brand new format for the show, it certainly could have been a lot worse. For Series 6, that's a pretty decent victory.