Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Impossible Astronaut: Press Reaction

A roundup of some of the comments in the press for the premiere of The Impossible Astronaut. Please note that as these are reviews, spoilers may be present.


United Kingdom

Gavin Fuller writes in the Telegraph:
Moffat clearly loves the way Doctor who can play around with concepts of time, and this episode was one which dealt in a mature manner with this, aided by some fizzing dialogue as the episode progressed; this was quite a wordy episode which concentrated more on atmosphere than pace and visual thrills.

Matt Smith still arguably needs to find the right balance between serious and humour. The latter occasionally jarred in such a deeply layered episode as this. I don’t quite see why Amy had an urgent need in the middle of a warehouse to tell him about her pregnancy, unless the Silence’s instructions to her previously in the episode were responsible in some way (tricky though as she’d surely forgotten them after leaving the rest room?).

This minor quibble aside, this was a cracking start to the first part of the 2011 series, with the shocking ending of Amy seemingly shooting a girl making one keen wait for the conclusion next week to see how it all resolves itself.
However, Robert Colvile, was less impressed:
The central problem, however, is that while the Nixon references were wonderful (who knew the Doctor was to blame for Watergate?) and the jokes sparkling, many of the elements felt not just frenzied, but familiar. It’s one thing to refer to previous episodes, but Moffat recycled a host of tropes and tricks from his own work on the series ... It could be, given Moffat’s stellar record on both Doctor Who and Sherlock, that this was entirely deliberate, and will pay off later. But stir in the brain-melting time-travel paradoxes and multitude of dangling plot threads, and this felt like a writer stirring everything into the pot, and damn the need for exposition. The result was an episode that rewarded the dedicated fan but could leave the younger or casual viewer baffled.

Similarly Dan Martin of the Guardian enthuses:
Hello sweeties! And welcome back. There's really nowhere else to begin than with that death scene. Sudden and brutal and unexpected even though, on thinking about it for even a minute, it was really quite obvious who was going to die. But the cremation on the boat and Amy's numb horror ramps things up to a series-finale level of intensity from the off – and it doesn't let up for the duration of this staggeringly confident series opener. There's little time to even breathe as the episode then switches into an Oval Office comedy of manners, morphs into gothic horror and finally flings you to the ground with its cinematic cliffhanger.
However, Andrew Anthony of the Observer observed:
The key to great fantasy is that it conforms to its own reality. It doesn't matter if there are three-headed dogs, pink seas and everyone worships Dermot O'Leary, as long as it's all logical in that particular universe. The problem with Doctor Who is that logic long ago collapsed like a neutron star and there is no reality, but instead an ever-more frenzied effort to cover up the absence of what, back in this universe, we still refer to as a coherent plot.

... Most of the script was taken up with characters repeatedly saying things such as "Who's he?", "What's he doing?" and "Who are you?" It was like watching TV with one of those people – some of whom I share a house with – who keep asking you what's going on, except that on this occasion they were on the TV itself.

Kevin O'Sullivan of the Mirror was similarly disappointed:
SATURDAY night, BBC1... and Doctor Who storms back with the first of a two-part ­adventure called The Impossible Astronaut. As in impossible to understand. ... this ball of all-round confusion was no way to start a series. But I’m guessing the second instalment will end with the sonic screwdriver guy saving the world with seconds to spare. Again.

Dan Golder of SFX said:
So what we have here is a clever, ingenious plot, packed with standout set-pieces and boasting a feast of quotably funny lines. It feels darker, it feels slightly more adult, and it feels like a show willing to take risks. The direction and lighting are outstanding – especially in the underground scenes, which are edgy as hell. But there are some niggles.

At times it’s undeniably a little talky. There is an awful lot of information – a lot of it important, series-spanning information – and meaningfully salient character points shovelled into the mix, and this leads to a bit of story-telling drag occasionally. ... In fact, a lot of vital info suffers slightly by being delivered like a stand-up comedian going for a gags-per-hour record. Okay, we don’t want a return to the days when every piece of information was spoon-fed to us, but conversely, if something’s important then it shouldn’t be treated like a throwaway line. There’s a difference between watching something with your brain in gear, and having to hang on every single word, making notes.

But none of this cancels out the fact that “The Impossible Astronaut” is unique, exquisitely acted, beautifully shot and quite unlike anything else you’ll see on TV. Doctor Who’s back but you can’t help thinking – with delicious anticipation – that this year, things are going to be very different.

Simon Brew of Den of Geek:
... One final element I want to praise, and that's the setting, and how director, Toby Haynes, made the most of it. The last time Doctor Who tackled America, it was the troubled Daleks In Manhattan, notorious for British actors attempting to do American accents. By shifting the location shoot to the US, Haynes has some glorious scenery to stage his shots in, and he really doesn't disappoint. This is, at times, wonderfully cinematic Who (backed by a terrific Murray Gold score), and hopefully, such ambitious location shoots will be back on the agenda again in due course.

The Impossible Astronaut was, in all, a triumphant return for Doctor Who, bubbling with confidence and throwing down story strands that hint at an engrossing series. I could quibble about the fact that I struggled to always hear what The Silence had to say, if I was being really picky. But I don't want to be. This was glorious television, all the more remarkable for being a 48-year-old show that's still, time after time, finding interesting stories to tell.


United States

Rick Marshall of MTV:
Steven Moffat and the "Doctor Who" crew offer up yet another great episode with Toby Haynes behind the camera — though the episode's big cliffhanger will likely cause more than a few fans' heads to explode. Much like they did in "A Christmas Carol," the cast and creative team show a knack for playing with the wibbly-wobbily nature of time and keeping things moving at a pace that prevents you from pondering the criss-crossed timelines The Doctor leaves in his wake.

Robert Lloyd of the Los Angeles Times:
One year in, Matt Smith is screwed into this role good and tight. Like many a mythological figure, his Doctor is an ancient child, an unstable mix of authority and impulsiveness. "I'm being extremely clever up here, and there's no one to stand around looking impressed," he says irritably, his three friends having gone off to discuss something he can't be allowed to know. "What's the point of having you all?"

What "Doctor Who" gives us, that so much science fiction does not nowadays with its pathological analysis of heroism, are romantic mad adventurers, not without their moments of doubt and pain but having a good time in between: The series conducts its serious business with a good deal of comedy. (These opening episodes are very funny, even by local standards.) That's not to say the darkness doesn't get in, within and without them; indeed, stories have gone repeatedly to the brink of nothingness — the extermination of the Earth, the unweaving of reality.

Matthew Milam of Chicago Now wasn't so impressed:
A few minutes into it, under the pen of current executive producer Steven Moffat, I came to realize one thing. The people behind the scenes of Doctor Who are beginning to run out of energy. As a result, they have run out of ideas. .... Doctor Who used to be a show that was fun. A show that never took itself seriously and a show that had the sense to cast good actors in the role who could take the most typical of science fiction plots and give them a new life. ... I cry because no one, including the actors, seem to be fighting for the show anymore. I cry because I believe I have officially come to the close conclusion that Doctor Who needs to retire again. Perhaps, I dare say it, forever. ... The reason I say cancel Doctor Who is not because I am a spiteful arse. I have written some good reviews for Doctor Who on Blogcritics. The problem is that good episodes of Doctor Who are far and few between. Even in the classic series that was an issue, but at least it felt like there was some attempt at making the characters connect with you. Maybe, just maybe, the BBC in now seeing this as a cash cow don't feel the need to develop strong stories, or even cast good actors for the show.