Proper Who is still dead, and now it thinks it’s The X-Files. I’ve never liked Greys, and with Paul and Roger from American Dad as their more recent portrayals in popular culture, their presence alone could have sunk this for me, but it didn’t. Here’s a story that basically says, “let’s have the Doctor travel back to Area 51 and find out what really went on with that whole Roswell thing.”
It shouldn’t work, it should in fact be horribly embarrassing, but it’s not. Even Nixon is underplayed, which is a relief given what happened with Churchill last year. Mark Sheppard (Romo Lampkin from Battlestar Galactica) is an FBI agent on the outs with his superiors, but his similarity to Fox Mulder thankfully ends there. And the Greys themselves aren’t short lumpy ETs with Paul Lynde voices and penchants for Pecan Sandies, but rather tall sinister beings reminiscent of a certain invented urban legend. Those who accuse Steven Moffat of endlessly plagiarizing himself will find some ammunition in that, like the Weeping Angels, these are creatures you’d be well advised to keep your eye on once you see them.
We start with some farce that cements this Doctor as the least responsible one ever. Despite all that stuff from Ten in “Waters of Mars,” this guy has even fewer compunctions about splashing around in history and behaving like a jackass. Not that I’m complaining. Still, the script acknowledges this without adequately explaining it, and it remains to be seen whether this will turn out to be a sensible part of the plot or just an excuse for some historical hijinks before settling down to what wants to be a heavy and scary season premiere.
“Heavy” because of another favorite Moffat move: killing off an important character. Even if we hadn’t seen this trick before, we’d know it’s not for real, even when they burn the body; instead of being worried or sad, we’re just sitting there trying to puzzle out how Moffat’s going to have the character turn up alive at the end. This is kind of a problem: unless you’re eight years old, you’ve realized by now that this is like a comic book and no one with a costume stays dead. If this ever happened, we wouldn’t know it until much later on, when we’d say, “well…I guess so-and-so really ISN’T coming back,” well past the moment when it would have had some impact. So this business isn’t really dramatic; it’s just a crossword puzzle, or a kids’ detective story (HOW DID ENCYCLOPEDIA KNOW BUGS MEANY WAS LYING?).
“Scary” because of the Greys (who don’t get a name in this episode, but if you’ve done a little poking around you know who they are), who are nice and creepy but lose a little of their scare factor in the bathroom scene where Amy first discovers what they can do. Let’s just say that one of their powers is scary, and the more violent power is more like something out of “Aliens In London.” Still, overall they work for me.
And then we get River Song’s most extended and eloquent description of her relationship with the Doctor yet, and it’s well worth it, and I really really like the character now. And then we get a revelation from Amy that hopefully has a point we’ll understand in the second half. And then we get a revelation from the titular astronaut, and a cliffhanger immediately undone by the “Next Time” trailer, and we see that all that spooky face-marking stuff (straight out of “The Impossible Planet” maybe?) is in the next episode, and we can’t wait for next week. When I say “we” I mean me, but probably I’ll also mean you too.
The theme tune’s still crap, unfortunately, but there’s some nice incidental music. Also, very good hair, Pond.