Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 809: The Impossible Astronaut
This was the last episode of Doctor Who to air before I moved to live in the home of the TARDIS - Cardiff. Specifically, it aired the night before I made the track across the country. The next day, upon arriving in Wales and having - for the first time - no intention to return ‘home’ any time soon, I took the family out to a little diner in the Bay to celebrate and have some food… and then realised that it was the very same diner that had appeared as part of the Doctor’s adventures the night before. That’s the kind of welcome you want when coming to Wales - a bold statement that says ‘you’re in Doctor country, now…’
Before we set out on Series Six, I have to make a confession. This series has long been my real nadir of Doctor Who. For whatever reason, I simply failed to ‘click’ with the programme, to the point that I didn’t see some of these episodes until a little while after they’d debuted on TV. For whatever reason, Series Six simply didn’t connect to me in the same way that the previous five (and a whole slew of the ‘classic’ run) had. That’s not to say that I’d gone off Doctor Who in general - I still dutifully bought and enjoyed the DVD range each month, and spent every spare moment engaged in some TARDIS-based discussion (I even wrote a book with a friend, Nick Mellish, in which we made our way though all the Eighth Doctor’s fantastic adventures. And The Creed of the Kromon) - but certainly 2011-vintage Doctor Who simply wasn’t my cup of tea at all.
That’s fine, in many ways. Part of the beauty of Doctor Who is that it’s always evolving. It completely reinvents itself every few years into something that’s superficially the same programme, but for all intents and purposes might as well be something completely different. Only yesterday I was saying how A Christmas Carol felt a million miles away from The End of Time, and I love that about the show, Crucially, I tried to avoid publicly ‘rubbishing’ the series at this point, because while it wasn’t to my tastes, I knew it appealed very much to people who perhaps hadn’t been enjoying the show for the last few years while I had. The downside to all this, though, was that it coloured my opinion of the Matt Smith years as a whole. Series Six is his middle season, and it’s the one which resonates strongest with his overall arc. Bits of Series Five and Series Seven tie into it, yeah, but the majority of the stuff you need it in here. Because this wasn’t my cup of tea, it put me right off large swathes of the arc. But that’s been the charm of The 50 Year Diary! I can watch these things again and see how my opinions have changed, and in the best of times, they’ve changed for the better. Here’s hoping the same is true of this next couple of weeks…
Certainly, we’re not off to a bad start here. As season openers go, we’re a million miles away from something like New Earth, which feels almost provincial next to this one. Fifteen minutes in, the Doctor has been shot (and we’re repeatedly told that he’s dead, no coming back from this one), and then a younger version of the Doctor arrives on the scene, and the TARDIS has been parked on the rug in the Oval Office. I don’t think any other season opener in modern Doctor Who has hit the ground running in quite the way this one does. We’ve thirteen weeks to tell a story; let’s get on with it!
It’s also the first tine that we’ve had any real filming in America for the programme, and they really make the most of those locales to give us some stunning vistas here. As with Planet of the Dead a few years prior, they’re really making sure that they’re screaming at you about the fact that they’ve actually travelled all that way to tell the story. It’s impressive, and it looks gorgeous on screen. Even when we’re back in Cardiff, they still don’t let up - I’ve been enjoying comparing Doctor Who’s Oval Office set with the one from The West Wing.
Something else I’m impressed with is the inclusion of Canton as a kind of ‘fourth companion’ for the story, having already established how important he was by inviting him alongside the ‘proper’ companions to witness the Doctor’s death. It’s an interesting approach (as is pushing our resident historical celebrity - Nixon - into the background to largely be set dressing), and one I really enjoy - there’s something quite fun about watching his reactions to things, and pairing him off with Rory for many of the big revelations certainly provides some needed levity to the story.
I’ll not go into any detail about the Silence or the story arc at this point - I’ll reserve judgement on all of that until tomorrow - but for now… it’s a decent start to the series, and that gives me hope for the future…