Firstly, a bit of business. This review of the opening two episodes of Doctor Who series 6 is spoiler-free. That, having just sat through said two episodes, is no easy task, so you’ll have to forgive me for erring on the side of caution. Hence, I’m going to be deliberately sketchy on whatever story points I talk about. Nor will there be any hidden, subtle clues I’m tucking away.
For trust me on this one: this is one series opener that you don’t want spoiled for you. And I’ve no intention of doing that.
What I can tell you is this. In 90 minutes, Steven Moffat has not only laid down a fascinating, intriguing path for the show to follow over the coming months (dying to tell you more there, but can’t), he’s also put together an opening adventure that’s quite brilliantly funny, narratively intricate, contains genuine jumps (it’s exceptionally creepy at times), and sets a very, very high bar for what’s to follow.
I do appreciate that few come out of an early preview of Doctor Who saying it’s rubbish. But this is the real deal: if you want proof that Britain can produce world-class science-fiction television, it’s right here. And it goes out to a family audience at Saturday teatime.
Enough superlatives for the minute, though. The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon mark the first time that Doctor Who has opened a series with a multi-part episode since it was revived back in 2005. Both episodes are penned by Steven Moffat, both share the heavy lifting between four main characters (the Doctor, River Song, Amy Pond and Rory), and both are set to have you screaming at your TV sets when the credits roll (both boast excellent cliffhangers, certainly).
Moffat has tremendous fun here setting everything up, too. When we first meet Matt Smith’s Doctor, it would be fair to say that he’s not in his usual outfit, and he’s not in his usual place. And before five minutes has been clocked up, we’ve had a bit of Laurel & Hardy, an escape movie pastiche, and a series of invitations being passed around.
As the episodes progress, too, the humour doesn’t let up. There’s an inspired use of a swimming pool, plenty of playing on the American location for most of the adventure, some clever lines based around real world events, and Moffat even sneaks in a “Is that a Star Trek thing?” line, and gets away with it.
But there’s very much sinister business at work, too, and here’s where the story backs into one or two of the unresolved threads from the last run of the show. It’s an uneasy Doctor we meet, and what follows takes the story to some quite dark places. That means that Matt Smith’s ability to switch between light and dark at the flick of a switch is very much required.
Smith, as you might expect, is more than up to the job. Yet the story hinges on four key performances, from Smith, Arthur Darvill, Karen Gillan and Alex Kingston, and not one of them lets the side down. Credit, too, to director Toby Haynes, who is on equally strong form.
I did think at the mid-way point of the story that this was the kind of adventure that could have sat later in the run in years gone past. Yet as things moved on, and more and more new and old plot threads were brought in (and one of the new plot threads at least might just melt the Internet), its positioning became clear: The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon are joining two series together, and with considerable skill. It does mean you need to pay more attention than you might be used to for such early episodes, but that’s hardly a bad thing.
For let’s make no bones about this: this is a dense, tremendously ambitious and elegantly constructed way to open a series. It pushes those four core characters in very different ways, and establishes moments that I wouldn’t be surprised if we were flashing back to come the winter, when this run of Who comes to an end. In fact, I’d pretty much guarantee it.
I should also point out that amidst the packed 90 minutes, there are some brilliant monsters, very much schooled in the Moffat way. And there are some excellent devices brought in to make the most of them.
You can read as much into the words above as you like, by the way, but they’ve been kept very, very vague, even if they don’t appear so. Honestly.
It’s probably fair to say, by way of counter-balance, that The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon won’t win many fans amongst those who haven’t liked how Steven Moffat went about Doctor Who last year. But then we’ve not met too many people who fall into that category, quite honestly.
For everyone else, I can only endorse what you already know: Doctor Who is in exceptionally safe hands, and if you had doubts over whether the new series could live up to the last, then I’d wager they won’t be around come the end of the month.
The last word is saved, though, for the people at the BBC in charge of giving Steven Moffat future commissions and lots of money. They are the people who would be wise to follow the words of the Doctor early on in The Impossible Astronaut, when he says “Whatever happens now, you do not interfere”.
For behind Doctor Who is very clearly a genius at work. And on the basis of these two opening episodes, the show itself is in exceptional, confident form.
The rest of the series certainly has an awful lot to live up to. I’ve a feeling it might.
Follow Den Of Geek on Twitter right here.