Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut
Doctor Who: Day of the Moon
(2 episodes, s06e01-02, 2011)
Welcome to the Silence.
In the White House, President Nixon answers the telephone in the Oval Office. The line only clicks until he asks, “Is it you again?” A child’s voice tells him to look behind him for a threat that is everywhere but no one can see. When asked, the child says that the spaceman told her about them. President Nixon refuses to believe them.
He hangs up the phone and leans back. A mysterious alien stares at him, but neither the President nor his aide seem to notice.
The Impossible Astronaut
In the 17th century, Charles II storms into the painter Matilda’s room and demands to see the Doctor. Standing before a painting of the Time Lord, who is depicted wearing nothing but a strategically placed red cloth, Matilda replies, “Doctor who?”
She nearly gets away with it except for a sneeze from her skirts. The Doctor is naked, hiding under Matilda, with the explanation that the situation is really not as bad as it looks.
In 2011, Amy tells Rory about the incident as detailed in a history book. It, along with other incidents such as a World War II POW camp and a Laurel and Hardy film, seem to be signals to the Ponds. A TARDIS-blue envelope containing unsigned invitation arrives in the mail and they follow it to Utah.
They are greeted by the Doctor, wearing a Stetson that is soon shot off by River Song (who also got an invitation). They convene in a roadside diner and catch up. The Doctor tells them that he’s been running faster than ever before, but that it’s time to stop. They’re going to have a picnic and then he’s headed to space in 1969.
On the shores of Lake Silencio, the team shares wine, cheese, and fruit. Rory spots one of the creatures from the White House but after she looks away, she forgets about it. The discussion is interrupted by an old man arriving in a truck and waving to the Doctor. The Doctor looks to the lake and spots an astronaut in a full Apollo spacesuit. He tells his companions that, whatever happens, they are not to interfere, then walks to meet the astronaut.
He seems to know what is coming, but his companions are shocked when the astronaut shoots him with an energy weapon. The Doctor begins to regenerate, but the astronaut takes aim and fires again. The mysterious visitor retreats into the lake as the companions mourn the Doctor’s death. The old man brings a gas can, confirming the Time Lord’s identity and death, and River knows that they have to cremate the body.
After the service, the man introduces himself as Canton Everett Delaware III. He received an envelope as well, and he tells the assembled that he won’t see them again but that they will see him. Delaware leaves and the companions return to the diner. River notes that the envelopes are numbered so this was all planned in advance. The Doctor arrives shortly afterward, having held the first envelope, and it is determined that he is an earlier version of himself. He was invited the same as the others.
They all take a trip in the TARDIS to 1969. The team is upset with the Doctor and the companions try to reason through the puzzle, but they have no idea why the future Doctor recruited them all. They also cannot ask the Doctor himself, who nearly turns the TARDIS around when they won’t tell him the truth. After all, River is a convicted murderer and the Doctor does not trust mysterious summonses. Amy asks him to trust the team, swearing that she’s not lying about being under duress. The Doctor places his life in her hands.
Delaware is a former FBI agent who is summoned to the White House by President Nixon. The two men are in a meeting about the mysterious phone calls when the TARDIS materializes in stealth mode. The Doctor pops out of the phone box just in time to hear the recording and is spotted by the men. The President calls the Secret Service as the Doctor demands that River make the TARDIS visible.
In short order, the travelers are held at gunpoint but the Doctor persuades Delaware and Nixon to give him five minutes. As the Doctor helps the Americans to track the call to Florida – home of NASA and the spacemen – Amy spots the alien again. When she looks away, she forgets. She visits the restroom and spots the alien again. While she keeps an eye on it, another woman emerges from a toilet cubicle and is eventually killed after spotting it. Amy snaps a picture of the alien and rushes out to her Secret Service companion, promptly forgetting the encounter.
The phone rings again. On the other end, the child says that the spaceman is there and that she needs help. The travelers jet off in the TARDIS – Delaware tags along by accident – and find the call’s origin at the intersections of Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton Streets, clues provided by the child.
The travelers find stolen NASA technology and alien residue leading into a tunnel network. River investigates and finds a group of the aliens. She rushes out, forgets the encounter, and decides to take another look. The Doctor asks Rory to follow her. As they investigate, they find a maintenance hatch that River picks open while they discuss her relationship with the Doctor. The two are a traveling different directions in time: Her past is his future.
They open the hatch and find a control room similar to the one hidden away in the house with Craig Owens. It sounds an alarm and Rory spots the creatures but forgets them. River learns that there are tunnels like the one they’re in all over Earth and that they’ve been here for thousands of years. Behind Rory, electricity crackles and something approaches.
Amy, Delaware, and Amy hear the child cry for help and they pursue. Amy reveals that she’s pregnant, Delaware is knocked unconscious, and the astronaut approaches them. Amy draws Delaware’s gun and shoots the astronaut, intent on saving the Doctor’s life, only realizing too late that the suit contains the young girl from the telephone.
Day of the Moon
Three months later, Amy is being chased through the Utah desert. Her pursuers, including Delaware, corner her on a cliff. Amy tries to help him remember their escape from the aliens in the warehouse, but he shoots her. She has a series of hashmarks on her arms.
Delaware travels to Area 51 to ask the Doctor, now his prisoner, about the marks. Meanwhile, River is in New York City with a similar set marks. When she spots one of the aliens, she adds a mark to her arm. Delaware arrives shortly thereafter and corners her, but she dives off the building.
Rory is also cornered and shot at the Glen Canyon Dam, and he and Amy are taken to Area 51 in body bags and placed with the Doctor in a cell constructed of dwarf star alloy. The room is impervious to signals and, once sealed, provides the perfect opportunity for Amy, Rory, and the Doctor to stage their escape. To seal the deal, the TARDIS is parked directly behind the Doctor in stealth mode. The travelers and Delaware board the TARDIS, catch River in mid-air, and materialize at Cape Kennedy and the site of Apollo 11’s historic launch.
The Doctor injects everyone with nano-recorders while they discuss the last three months. The marks were from each time one of the creatures were spotted, and it should be easier to find them with the recording devices. They test it with a holographic image extrapolated from Amy’s photograph, and also discover that even the image of the creatures induces the memory loss.
Later, Delaware and Amy arrive at Graystark Hall. They meet Dr. Renfrew and learn that the facility will close in 1967. Oddly, it is now 1969. The walls are also covered in messages to get out, but Renfrew has no idea how they keep appearing. Amy investigates the facility while Delaware meets with Renfrew. She discovers a message she left on her nano-recorder demanding that she get out. She sees her reflection, noting that her arms and face are covered in hashmarks. She looks up to see a bunch of the creatures hanging like bats, but moments later she’s leaving the room without any recollection.
The Doctor installs some type of transmitter in the Apollo spacecraft. He’s taken into custody but soon released under orders from Nixon in a rather humorous exchange. The Doctor asks Nixon to record everything that happens in the Oval Office.
Amy continues on, soon spotting a door with a sliding observation port. A woman with an eyepatch spots her through the slot, but the room beyond is a child’s bedroom. The woman is nowhere to be found. Amy finds photos of herself holding a newborn, then is met by the child in the spacesuit and two of the creatures.
Delaware and Renfrew are interrupted by one of the creatures. Delaware records a brief exchange with it then shoots the creature before running toward the sound of Amy’s screams. Rory, River, and the Doctor join him to find an empty spacesuit and Amy’s recorder. It’s a live transmission from wherever Amy is being held.
Renfrew summons the group to his office to tend to the wounded creature. It identifies itself as the Silence, which the Doctor recalls from the events of last year. They have been on the planet since the Stone Age. The travelers return to the warehouse while Delaware emerges from the dwarf star box after several days with President Nixon. The spacesuit is a perfect life support capsule, which explains how the child survived a gunshot. The Doctor also speculates that Apollo 11 traveled to the Moon because the Silence needed a spacesuit. After all, they don’t make their own technology.
Delaware tends to the wounded Silence in the dwarf star box and uses Amy’s phone to record a threatening message from the being. He transmits it to the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor traces the nano-recorder signal to the console room in the tunnel system. Inside that room, Amy awakens to a room full of Silence, and the TARDIS arrives soon after. The Doctor recognizes the room as he brings a television in and orders River to keep the Silence covered while Rory frees Amy.
Here’s the twist: The Doctor has rigged Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit to transmit a message as soon as he touches the lunar surface. It is the threat from the wounded Silence, telling everyone in the sound of its voice to kill the Silence on site.
The whole planet is watching. The whole planet responds. Today is the day that the human race throws the Silence off the planet.
The Silence respond by attacking the travelers. Everyone runs for the TARDIS as River covers their escape, successfully killing every one of the creatures. The TARDIS takes off as Amy and Rory share an intimate moment, landing in the Oval Office so the Doctor can say farewell to Nixon and Delaware.
The Doctor evades Nixon’s queries about his future with the promise that the president will never be forgotten. After the Doctor leaves, Nixon almost grants Delaware’s request to be married… until he figures out that Delaware is homosexual.
The Doctor leaves River at Stormcage. He offers to take her along, but she declines. They share a passionate kiss, which ends up being the first for the Doctor… which makes it the last for her. As the TARDIS takes flight again, the Doctor asks about Amy’s pregnancy, which is news to Rory.
Amy assures her husband that she’s not pregnant. The Doctor runs a scan on Amy without her knowledge, but is concerned since the Amy is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant.
Six months later, a homeless man on the streets of New York City finds the child from the spacesuit. The child coughs repeatedly, claiming that she’s dying. She soon solves that problem, however, as she begins to regenerate.
This story’s power comes from its frantic and almost disordered plot. It has the potential to confuse the viewer because it requires nearly complete concentration to keep track of the various narrative threads. That frenetic pace ties in beautifully with the nature of the Silence, from missing large pieces of the plot to having them filled in only when it was necessary.
Another potential pitfall is the Steven Moffat habit of being super clever for the sake of being so. This story could have easily done that, but the rewards were substantial enough to make it feel like a significant return on investment. We have a few threads laid down for the season, including eyepatch lady, the yes/no pregnancy, and the regenerating child.
(Of course, having seen all of this before, I know what’s coming. I’ll take a River Song approach and avoid spoilers for anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it.)
And, you know, the parallels with 1988’s They Live just make me smile. I do love that film.
I still have reservations about Amy and her treatment of Rory. She’s open with the Doctor about her pregnancy, but she’s willing to hide it from Rory while still claiming to love him. Her actions speak more of abuse than love. On the other hand, we see the tragedy of the Doctor/River relationship. They work so well together, but the crossing paths nature is heartbreaking at times.
The stories take time out to pay tribute to Elisabeth Sladen. She died four days before the initial broadcast of the first part of this story, and I’d expect nothing less from Doctor Who for one the most popular companions ever.
I loved the symmetry in casting the Delawares. William Morgan Sheppard, the older Delaware, is the real-life father of Mark Sheppard, the younger Delaware. This isn’t the first time that they’ve played older and younger versions of a character, and they have also portrayed father and son pairs. I love seeing both of them on screen from their copious amount of work in film and television.
I also loved seeing the Valley of the Gods and Lake Powell (“Lake Silencio”) on screen again. I grew up in Utah, so the landscape is easily recognizable. The Southern Utah deserts have been popular filming locations for decades. In terms of internal mythology, we last visited Utah in Dalek, though we didn’t see anything of the world outside at that point.
One thing that really intrigues me is the idea that multiple Doctors are in the same location at the same time. The Eleventh Doctor’s three-month-long incarceration at Area 51 coincides with the Tenth Doctor being stranded in Blink and the Second and Third Doctor’s adventures with UNIT (for reference, The Invasion, Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who and the Silurians, and The Ambassadors of Death). Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk also coincides with Blink and The Ambassadors of Death. It adds credence to the idea that we saw in Rose that the Doctor can be in so many places and times at once.
Last but not least, I laughed about River chastising the Doctor about using his sonic screwdriver in battle. The callback to The Doctor Dances was great, as was hanging a lampshade on the tendency to use the sonic as a magic wand instead of a scientific instrument.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Curse of the Black Spot
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.