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New Who 6.1: The Impossible Astronaut

So Moffat certainly does love his historicals. I noted at the end of last season that he was delivering a hit-rate of historical stories almost equivalent to Doctor Who in the mid-'60s. And it's not just that the bulk of this episode was set in 1969. It was the tropes he was playing around with at the beginning that really struck me - because they came straight out of the mid-'60s episodes.

See, I've got a little file of all the times 'history books' were directly referred to in Doctor Who in the mid-'60s - usually so that they could stand for the established, 'objective' view of history, as known to humanity, which the Doctor's adventures would then subvert and dance between the lines of. And that's exactly what we got at the start of this episode, too, when Rory asked Amy, "Do you really think he's back there trying to wave to us out of the history books?"

And I've flagged up case after case of in-story use of television screens as a parallel for the real-life viewers' experience of following the Doctor's adventures on their own televisions. That one's not unique to the '60s - it's been deployed over and over again throughout Doctor Who's history, including as recently as Moffat's A Christmas Carol. But this week's specific device of placing the Doctor within a Laurel and Hardy film reminded me very strongly of some of the '60s examples of it, and particularly the First Doctor's visit to a silent film set in The Daleks' Master Plan.

So, in short, it's not just that Moffat is setting stories in the past a lot. It's that he seems to me to be doing it with a very strong awareness of how Doctor Who has done that same thing within its own past. Indeed, as I've also said before when commenting on Whovian historicals, there does seem to be a particular tendency for Doctor Who stories which are set in the (real) past to become commentaries on the show's own past as well. And I could definitely see that going on here.

But of course that is by no means all, because the new thing which Moffat has really contributed to Doctor Who's treatment of history is his trademark tangling of time-lines - which was once again absolutely central to this story. That makes it hard to assess this episode it is own right at the moment. We've seen terrible and amazing things, but we've also been reminded that time can be rewritten. So who knows how it will all pan out next week. I've just got three squees and a question, which are going safely behind a spoiler cut:

  • The TARDIS being drawn to landing on Saturdays - fits beautifully with the Doctor's claim in Silence in the Library that he never lands on Sundays because they're boring, and is a lovely meta-reference to the fact that the show broadcasts on Saturdays, too. So of course they're the best!
  • Both versions of the Doctor greeting Rory as 'Rory the Roman'. That makes the Classicist in me cheer every time it's referenced - but it also looks like we're being reminded of it for foreshadowing reasons. Cannot wait to find out how and why.
  • And that ship which River and Rory found in the tunnels underneath the abandoned warehouse looks like the same one (or the same type, at least) as the ship in The Lodger. That seems to fit in with the news that James Corden will be back at some point during the current series, and perhaps suggests that the story of exactly how the one from The Lodger came to be on top of his flat will extend beyond the confines of the current two-parter. Cool.
  • And finally, if Amy feeling sick is television short-hand for her turning out to be pregnant, does that mean River, who felt sick while investigating the tunnels, is pregnant too? There's a lot of interesting potential there...

'Kay - till next week, then.

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( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 23rd, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
One thing I noticed is that this incarnation of the Doctor looks to be schedule last about 200 and odd years. It's about time he had a good innings, as he's been going through regenerations at an awfully fast rate - 11 in 39 years!

When River felt sick I just assumed it must be a side-effect of the memory wipe, but the pregnancy does change that (if it's not just Amy's mind playing tricks with her by 'explaining' her sickness that way).

This is shaping up to be rather better than the last troglodytic race who've always been here but are hiding under ground, featuring Meera Syal.

River's speech about how her last (his first) meeting with the Doctor will kill her didn't gel very well with my memory of the jaunty River Song we saw when that meeting actually took place, in "Silence in the Library".
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
I'd hope that's true about the length of his eleventh incarnation, but unfortunately he clearly lies about his age on a regular basis, so I wouldn't trust him to be either 1103 or 908 just because he says he is!

And I agree about River's speech about what her last meeting with the Doctor will be like not really matching Silence in the Library. Once her story arc is over, one thing I'd like to do is sit down and watch all her appearances in the order which she, rather than he, experienced them. I'd like to think Moffat is clever enough to have ensured that the journey makes not only plot-sense but emotional sense as well.
Apr. 23rd, 2011 08:53 pm (UTC)
I thought they were both feeling sick as an after-effect of seeing things. Also Amy's nausea doesn't look anything like morning sickness as I've experienced it or observed it in others - she's showing something much more acute and severe rather than chronic and merely unpleasant.
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:20 pm (UTC)
I thought that at first too, until Amy announced to the Doctor that she was pregnant. Of course, it could be some kind of bizarre auto-suggestion thing which the aliens have done to both of them (as steepholm says above), but Amy definitely really believes that she is actually pregnant, at least.
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Good idea regarding the pregnancy being a phantom one - and if the Silence are so powerful, how may they have already influenced our perception of Doctor Who's narrative? Historical or otherwise...
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
Ooh - exciting thoughts! And a nice potential method of undoing the Doctor's (apparent?) death, too, since we know that one of them was there.
Apr. 24th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
But she was drinking wine at the picnic not too long before that; I know she's a bit of a wild child but I don't think she's that irresponsible, is she? (Oh, apart from the fact that the last time she was pregnant she decided to kill herself and her baby in a fatal car crash. Maybe she is.)
Apr. 25th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Many members of the medical profession will tell you that limited amounts of wind or beer are not particularly harmful to fetal development after the first few weeks. I have known doctors to actually recommend a small glass of Guinness to women in their second and third trimesters.
Apr. 25th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
I know that to be true, I just find it a little difficult to believe a self-trumpeted "family show" would be remotely incautious on the subject. Still Steven Moffat is a dab hand at misdirection, so I half-expect everything to be a double or triple bluff by now...
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
Yes! I thought the ship looked like the one from The Lodger! Yayy!

I heard the Doctor saying 'Rory the Rover', though...
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
That would suit him too, but I'm pretty sure it was 'Roman'. The thing about the ship is confirmed by Wikipedia, which I assume means that someone has actually checked it against The Lodger.
Apr. 24th, 2011 09:46 am (UTC)
Roman makes much more sense, and is better: will listen harder when I rewatch it.

(Still loving that icon.)
Apr. 24th, 2011 08:18 pm (UTC)
I also heard Roman both times, too!

Edited at 2011-04-24 08:18 pm (UTC)
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:35 pm (UTC)
I've had a quick check - the ship in the Lodger is very similar to that in this episode, but not identical. The Lodger ship had purple/yellow control panels, whereas this one was more angular patterns in red at the top. The 'new' one also has blue lights in the panels, whereas the lodgers didn't (as far as I can see - you didn't get a really clear view of it)

Edited at 2011-04-23 09:43 pm (UTC)
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:56 pm (UTC)
Ah, thanks for that. In the world of SF, those sorts of slight differences usually mean that it's another ship belonging to the same race, but not the exact same one. It's probably meant to mean that the creepy aliens from this story (probably The Silence, but we don't know yet) have been trying to land in and colonise various periods in human history, but that the ship we saw in The Lodger was a failed attempt.
Apr. 23rd, 2011 10:01 pm (UTC)
yeah - I'd initially thought the colouring was totally different, but on re-checking you get to see more of the top of the panel when River is tinkering with it, and more of the whole panel in The Lodger in the long shots.

The patterns on the panel appear to be jolly similar though.
Apr. 23rd, 2011 09:49 pm (UTC)
Brilliant summary of the key issues. The idea of the Doctor being specifically a traveller through human history first really emerged under Pertwee, I suppose, with his throwaway lines, but has been transformed in the 2005+ era, and is now changing again with the inclusion of as controversial a figure as Nixon.
Apr. 24th, 2011 08:46 am (UTC)
(Here via who_daily)

And finally, if Amy feeling sick is television short-hand for her turning out to be pregnant, does that mean River, who felt sick while investigating the tunnels, is pregnant too?

I'm guessing the Silents have made Amy think she's pregnant for some reason, as she and River both only started feeling sick after seeing them.
Apr. 24th, 2011 08:27 pm (UTC)
My question is ...

if humans forget about the aliens every time they turn their backs (which I thought was an interesting kind of play on the Angels), how is it that the one in the ladies' room expects Amy to be able to tell the doctor.

I also wondered if Amy felt sick for the same reason as is making her flash in and out of what seem to be different times/timelines/realities.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 25th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
Well, yes -- but that's a lot of "if" to rely on. She'd have to remember that she'd taken a photo, or have some other reason to look at the photos on her phone. So again, I wonder about the alien master plan.
Apr. 25th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
another thought - after River tries to shoot the Astronaut walking into the water, she runs out of bullets then sighs and says 'of course not.'

Any thoughts?
Apr. 25th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC)
I think that's probably an in-joke for fans of UNIT-era Doctor Who. Back in the Pertwee days, the Brigadier was constantly ordering his men into battle against a dizzying array of alien menaces - but of course ordinary Earth weapons were always completely useless against them. This became an in-joke at the time - hence the Brigadier's line in Tom Baker's first story, Robot, "You know, just once I'd like to meet an alien menace that wasn't immune to bullets." I suspect River is going through much the same thought process in the scene you mention.
Apr. 25th, 2011 07:53 pm (UTC)
ah, cool! I thought you'd know. :-)
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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