Doctor Who series 6 episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut

No frothy season opener this year, oh no. Now sit down and CONCENTRATE…


3 and a half stars



Air date: UK: 23 Apr, 2011, BBC One


It shows a lot of confidence for Steven Moffat to jettison the traditional romp-ish season premiere and slam-dunk us in the middle of a complicated arc plot. Russell T Davies always seemed to be of the opinion that the sci-fi fan in the British audience had to be teased out. He was all about convincing the unbelievers to come into our church, tempting them with pop music and council estates and the bric-a-brac of modern living. Moffat, on the other hand, makes it difficult. There's no obvious effort to please the straights. "If it doesn't look like your bag, fuck off," seems to be the modern message from Doctor Who.


Utah! Utah! Utah! That was the impression from the trails, of course made by people whose job it is to tell you not to fuck off. But the Utah thing was a bit of a prick-tease. With 95% of the episode being filmed on Cardiff soundstages, it felt stiflingly studio-bound. And there didn't appear much connective tissue between those bright, sunny, cinematic outdoor shots and the rest of the episode, which was dark and pokey. It was like seeing two different films in two different genres, welded hamfistedly together.


The Silence in a toilet


Just to let you know, I'm writing this after having seen The Wedding Of River Song, so I know how all this ends up. And watching it with the luxury of hindsight makes me forgive a lot of the things I disliked The Impossible Astronaut for the first time round. But not all.


It's still a frustratingly impenetrable arc story, which you shouldn't have to rewatch a full series down the line to appreciate. While the hyper-hardcore bash their bishops over their intellectual athleticism at being able to understand every time-twist ahead of everyone else, the broad-stroke simplicity of Doctor Who at its best is in danger of being lost.


But the beauty of Moffat's writing is in the small details. He's as much a dialogue man as RTD ever was and there are plenty of glitterballs in this one ("I'm quite the screamer. Now there's a spoiler for you" and, "These are my top operatives - The Legs, The Nose and Mrs Robinson" spring to mind).


When The Fires Of Pompeii followed the frothy, Joe Public-friendly Partners In Crime in season four, it actually increased Doctor Who's ratings from 9.1 to 9.4 million. And although 8.86 million tuned in to The Impossible Astronaut, only 7.3 bothered to come back. So while we can look back on this season and marvel at the intricate puzzle box plotting, there's some evidence that there's a lack of patience out there for Brand Moffat. Because in this age, where the boxset series dominates the chattering classes' conversation, it's important to remember that the vast majority of viewers have never seen or even heard of The Wire, Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica or Dexter.


Callum Smith



Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut
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