OpinionReviewsTelevision & Film

Mr. Harvey Sees The Doctor

BANNER_WhoKnows2014[from Mr. Timothy Harvey, filmmaker and Whovian]

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Series 6 Episode 1: “The Impossible Astronaut”

The first thing we see is “In Memory of Elisabeth Sladen 1948-2011”. For those who haven’t heard the news, Lis passed away the week before this episode premiered after a long battle with cancer. Her Sarah Jane Smith was one of the longest running and most popular Companions, and she will be missed.

So! Spoilers or not? Let’s do both…

Spoiler Free. Ish.

We open with Amy and Rory taking a domestic break, and the Doctor traveling alone, getting himself into all sorts of mischief. From being imprisoned in towers, escaping from prison camps and crashing a Laurel and Hardy film, he’s obviously enjoying himself, and apparently doing so in such a way that the Ponds can trace his path through history.

And then an invitation, in TARDIS blue arrives, and while Amy and Rory set out for America, River Song having received one as well, begins what can only be described as packing-with-intent from her Stormcage cell.

The reunion of our heroes is handled with a certain amount of joy and callbacks to the previous season. Along with hugs and a stetson and some marksmanship, there’s a nice touch where the Doctor and River compare diaries and find them to be pretty close to lined up. And so The Doctor wants to go on a picnic before heading off to “Space… 1969”, and that is where something happens that even for this more adult, more sophisticated new run of WHO is violent, shocking, and tragic.

This event is foreshadowed by a mysterious figure that only Amy sees, and the arrival of an old man, Canton Delaware III, and leads to a trip in time back to the aforementioned 1969… and the mystery of the Silence.

Canton Delaware is played in 2011 by British actor William Morgan Sheppard, a veteran of many  genre series, including STAR TREK, and again in 1969 by his son, Mark Sheppard. You may be familiar with him from lots and lots of tv work, including BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, WAREHOUSE 13, and STAR TREK as well. Both men turn in excellent performances as one man at two very different points in his life.

River Song is a character that seems to have divided fans. As a time traveller who keeps meeting the Doctor out of sequence, she makes references to events he hasn’t experienced yet, but always holds back the crucial information of who she really is. Alex Kingston, in my opinion, has taken a character who could have been terribly irritating and given her hints of great sadness, and here she reveals quite a bit about who River is. Not the details so much, but the emotions River feels for the Doctor. I’ve always liked River, and never more so than in this episode.

Rory gets some really good moments here, and much of the goofiness of his first appearances has been burned way by the events of last season, but not quite all of it. Some of the best comic beats of this episode come from “Rory the Roman”, and some of the sense that he still feels a little bit the outsider give him a nice balance. Arthur Darvill is a full fledged companion at this point, and it’s nice to see his name in the opening credits.

Amy Pond has some secrets in this episode and all of them play heavily into the story, but one leads to a decision that may be hard to back away from. Karen Gillan continues to bring a nice mix of wonder and joy to Amy, but now she also brings sadness and real anger. Her chemistry with Arthur make this married couple feel real, and for those of us who aren’t fans of the “companion in romantic love with the doctor” of the Davies years, we have an Amy who loves the Doctor, but loves her husband more.

Matt Smith. I grew up with the Tom Baker Doctor, and have enjoyed them all, but Smith may be my favorite. He continues to bring the sense of the alien to the Doctor, and that has always been a favorite aspect of the character for me. And for the youngest actor to play the character, he is excellent at showing the weight of his many hundreds of years. Like Baker and Tennant, he can spin from comedy to outrage on a dime, and make you laugh right before reminding you just how powerful the Doctor really is. And watch for the differences in his performance between the first seven minutes of the episode and the rest.

And what about the Silence, appearing only as a threat in the last series? Honestly they may be the scariest adversaries yet, taking a cue from both the famous MIB’s of UFO lore and the traditional image of aliens, and then twisting it into something rather horrific.

This is a darker vision of DOCTOR WHO, be warned, the darkest series premiere in the history of the show, yet still in tone with what we’ve come to love about the show. This episode has more talk than action, but it’s talk that matters, to the characters and to us. It’s an excellent start to the new series, and a springboard to what seems to be an excellent season. Highly recommended.

OK. Spoilers Ahead.

As our heroes reunite in a diner, the Doctor tells them that he has been running his whole life and it’s time to stop. At the picnic the Doctor reveals he’s been away from Amy and Rory for two hundred years of his personal timeline, and makes the rather odd comment “Human beings. I thought I’d never get done saving you.” A car pulls up in the distance and the driver and the Doctor exchange a wave as an astronaut emerges from the lake behind them. Warning the others not to interfere the Doctor walks down to meet it, telling it,”It’s OK, I know it’s you.” The astronaut shoots the Doctor twice, triggering a regeneration, then shoots him again in the middle of it.

The Doctor dies.

Not a clone, not a trick… the Doctor dies.

The figure from the car reveals himself to be Canton Delaware, bearing gasoline on instructions from the Doctor, and to keep the Doctor’s body from his many enemies, his friends give him a viking’s funeral. As Amy asks “What do we do?”, River responds, “We’re his friends. We do what the Doctor’s friends  always do. As we’re told.”

And we’re only 9 minutes into the episode.

Regrouping back at the diner, Rory and River discuss the mystery of it all, while Amy reels. Clearly the Doctor knew what was going to happen, and arranged for them to be present, while they all, including Delaware, received invitations, they’re all numbered. 2, 3 and 4. Who has number 1?

And then the Doctor walks in the door.

Quickly it’s revealed that this Doctor is younger than the one who died on the beach, and has no idea of what’s to come. I can’t remember in the history of the show where the Doctor has ever known less about what’s going on than his companions and the debate they have about telling him the truth leads to him confronting them about the secrets they are clearly keeping from him. It’s an uncomfortable scene, revealing the anger and distrust the Doctor feels about the mystery surrounding River, and also how much he trusts Amy.

Hunting down Delaware in 1969, we find him as a disgraced FBI agent, called to a private meeting with President Nixon. Nixon has been been receiving a series of disturbing phone calls that can’t be traced, apparently from a small child in danger. The Doctor manages to make the TARDIS silent and invisible and steers it to the Oval Office to hear the recorded message, something that the Secret Service isn’t terribly happy about. River turns off the invisibility, and the Doctor convinces Nixon and Delaware to accept his help, and those of his friends…

“These are my top operatives. The Legs, The Nose, and Mrs. Robinson.”

“I hate you.”

“No you don’t.”

While the Doctor gets five minutes to prove he has answers the others don’t, Amy sees the same mysterious figure she saw on the beech, but forgets it as soon as Rory blocks her view, Suddenly nauseous, she goes to the bathroom to find the figure waiting for her.

The Silence, or The Silent according to the credits seems to be about 7 feet tall and is genuinely creepy. When a woman steps out of the stall, Amy tries to warn her about the creature but discovers that when the woman can’t see it, she can’t remember it. And then the Silent kills her in a pretty graphic manner. Amy snaps a photo of it so she doesn’t forget it, and asks why the woman had to die. The Silent’s response is both horrible and also makes clear that they know about the future Doctor’s death, and are somehow involved.

And then Amy forgets.

Another call from the child comes in as the Doctor reveals he knows where the calls are coming from, and with Delaware in tow, they take the TARDIS to Florida to an abandoned warehouse. Signs of an alien presence and suits from the moon program are found as a figure in a space suit watches from the shadows.

River and Amy discuss the possibility of stopping the astronaut from killing the Doctor, with River saying they can’t and Amy clearly not accepting it, and River discovers a manhole cover leading into tunnels under the building, full of the Silence. Which River promptly forgets. When Rory joins her, they find a door with a sophisticated lock, and while River tries to open it, Rory asks a very important question.

Here we have a moment where Alex Kingston shines and River becomes much more interesting. Hints we’ve gotten sure, but here, here we see a woman who every time she meets this man she loves, he knows her less. And she knows that one day he won’t know her at all.

Inside the locked room is a duplicate of the TARDIS-like ship from “The Lodger”, and while investigating it, something happens to Rory and we cut to…

Amy and Delaware are talking as the voice of the child draws them and the Doctor into a room where Delaware is knocked unconscious and Amy reveals one of the secrets she’s keeping: She’s pregnant. But before the Doctor can properly react, the astronaut reveals itself, opening it’s faceplate to reveal the child inside as Amy, desperate to save the Doctor, grabs Delaware’s gun and shoots it and… TO BE CONTINUED.

Dark. Dark, dark, dark. I really believe this is the darkest season opener of the series, and to be honest, not at all a good place for someone who isn’t familiar with the show to start watching. But then this show, and this production team in particular have shown a lot of trust in their audience to follow along and roll with the punches. And the mix of humor and horror that has often been a hallmark of DOCTOR WHO comes fast and furious here, with Smith making us smile even as we know we’ve just watched him die. The interplay between the characters is wonderful, especially between River and the Doctor. When their diaries, and the personal timelines are seemingly aligned between River and the future Doctor, her joy at being in sync with him is palpable, making the scene where she reacts to his death and later tells Rory about how she feels all the more tragic.

Amy’s response to the Doctor’s death and how she plans to save him are also tragic, with her reaction to his death quite powerful and the choice she makes at the end out of character in a completely believable way. Karen Gillan is actually one of my favorite companions, and this episode is an excellent reason why.

Rory is quite sensible, funny and very brave in turns throughout the episode, and the idea of the viking’s funeral is his. When Amy is falling apart he holds himself together and asks the right questions.

Stuart Milligan, playing Nixon, doesn’t quite look like him, but he comes across well, and both Sheppards are excellent, William carrying a mix of knowledge and sadness that makes his brief appearance very weighty, and Mark as the outsider thrust into a mad situation and adapting quickly to it at every turn.

Matt Smith… wow. As the future Doctor he keeps letting a sense of inevitable doom slip through, something quite clear in repeated viewings. His walk to his death is assured and clearly with a purpose. His younger self is very frustrated with not having the answers his friends have and his moments of lashing out at them are something to behold. His odd relationship with River is something that intrigues as well as infuriates him.

Timey-wimey. We have a future Doctor with a plan, a younger self whose life is in the hands of his friends and villains who are both horrific and mysterious. And this season’s just begun. Wow.

[“Doctor Who” page on BBC]  [“Doctor Who” on BBC America]

Timothy Harvey

Timothy Harvey is a Kansas City based writer, director, actor and editor, with something of a passion for film noir movies. He was the art director for the horror films American Maniacs, Blood of Me, and the pilot for the science fiction series Paradox City. His own short films include the Noir Trilogy, 9 1/2 Years, The Statement of Randolph Carter - adapted for the screen by Jason Hunt - and the music video for IAMEVE’s Temptress. He’s a former President and board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City, and has served on the board of Film Society KC.

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