A spoileriffic Doctor Who question

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

I want to briefly consider a question about last Saturday’s Doctor Who episode, The Impossible Astronaut.  But the question itself is so spoily that I wont ask it here above the fold.

So please read on only if you have already seen The Impossible Astronaut, and you know what happened.

Still with me?  Good, OK.  I am sure you already realised that I want to consider the problem of who killed the Doctor.  I mean, we already know that an impossible astronaut did it (clue’s in the question), but since the astronaut suit completely covers the actual perpetrator, we don’t know who did it.

(I should have posted this earlier in the week to allow time for a good discussion, but there it is.)

So who was in the suit?  Who are the candidates?

The Doctor?

This perhaps makes most sense dramatically, and fits in well with Moffat’s wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey approach.  It seems that the new series has cheerfully cast aside the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, so the idea of the Doctor meeting himself is not a deal breaker.  (Not that it ever stopped Old Who from staging stories like The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors, The Six And A Half Doctors, etc.)

Does the Doctor have a motive?  Not clear: the killer would obviously need to be from earlier in his own timeline than the version that he killed, which would of course mean that the 1100-year-old Doctor who we met first in TIA knew what was going to happen because he did it himself.  But why?  (Motive is going to be a problem for pretty much all the candidates.)  Could it be that in the missing 200 years the Doctor got split somewhere, as in Journey’s End, and that one of them needed to be disposed of to restore normality?  That would be a little cold.

River Song?

Ah, River bleedin’ Song.  I am in general a big, big Moffat fan, but I do not understand what he sees in this collection of mannerisms passing as a woman.  Who knows why she ever does anything?  Or in what order?  I don’t know whether it’s the writing or the casting, but River is one character who just doesn’t work for me.

Anyway, she is the logical front-runner because we already know that “I killed the best man I ever knew”, and that’s why she was imprisoned.


Why why why?  I am pretty sure that the girl in the space-suit at the end of the first episode was not Young Amy (or Amelia, as we call her), so there’s nothing to tie her to the eponymous I.A.  And yet something in me feels a sort of inevitability that it will turn out to be Amy simply because she, of all the supporting cast, felt it most strongly when the Doctor was killed.  It would hurt her more to do it than it would hurt the others, and I think Moffat is a sadist in that way.


I only mention Rory because he’s on the scene and it would be remiss to overlook him.  Of all the supporting cast, Rory is the one who, were I the Doctor, I would most trust to Do The Right Thing however much he didn’t want to; and so, if I were the Doctor and needed someone to kill me, Rory is perhaps the person I would ask to do it.

That bloke, you know the one?

You know, the ex-FBI agent with the funny name that the Doctor walked in on in the Oval Office.  So far, it’s not clear what his role is in all this, but we know that many years later, the Doctor will send him to the place of his death to supply the fuel for his cremation, so at some point he is definitely going to be a part of it.  Could he be both the killer and the immolater?  And again: why?

The little girl?

She turned up only at the very end, in the spacesuit.  We don’t know who she is (unless I misread her face and she is Amelia), nor what her involvement is.  We don’t know why or how she’s been phoning the president directly every night.  And since we also don’t know what the deal is with the see-them-then-forget-them aliens, we might speculate that she is something to do with them.

The Master?

Please, no.

What does it all mean?

You know, I really have no idea.  Back when I surveyed the possible contents of the Pandorica, most of the possible answers made some kind of sense to me.  And back when David Tennant broke off his two-parter in mid-regeneration at the end of The Stolen Earth, Andrew Rilstone listed six possible explanations for what was happening (none of which turned out to be true, naturally).

But this time I am at a loss to come up with a single explanation of it all that makes sense, that ties together the Doctor’s death, Amy’s pregnancy, the Immediately Forgettable Aliens, That Bloke You Know The One, the girl in the spacesuit, and so on.  Usually the puzzle set by two-parters is: which of the candidate solutions will turn out to be the right one?  But this time, Moffat is asking us, and himself, a harder question: is there any solution?

I can only assume that the answer is yes; I hope, I really hope, that when it comes, it makes sense.

23 responses to “A spoileriffic Doctor Who question

  1. I agree that the fact that the big “hints” all point to River Song might mean it isn’t her. BUT the question then arises, who did she kill, and why would we care? Perhaps the most interesting thing revealed to us about River is that the Doctor’s experience of time is running in the opposite direction to hers: “The day is coming when I look into that man´s eyes…and he won´t have the faintest idea who I am”. That day being I suspect, the day she atones for his murder by dying for him in the Library. Poignant? definitely. Too easy? We shall see!

  2. The little girl in the suit – is she someone important? Is she to become River Song? Or is she Amelia’s daughter to be? Or both?
    This was an episode that created so many questions, and I’m not sure they’ll all be resolved by the end of the next episode.

  3. And where is the 1100 year old Doctor’s Tardis?

    Also, regardless of who fired the shots, as far as we know it was still the (future) Doctor who arranged it all, including the petrol cannister (which suggests that the mid-regeneration shot was also expected).

  4. And obviously the BBC wouldn’t commit to the idea of Matt Smith as definitively the last Doctor.

  5. James Campbell Andrew

    Did you also notice that River’s diary and the Doctor’s diary are, or at least appear to be, the same book? Care to bet that he eventually gives her that book?

  6. Strange how the astronaut walks in and out of the lake… what’s that all about? Did the astronaut kill the Doctor before Amy shot him/her, or after? Is the FBI guy the only one who’s timeline is in the right sequence?

    My money is on River :-)

  7. Gareth Jones

    The big underground chamber near the end of the episode looked suspiciously like a cannibalized TARDIS interior to me. My initial thought was that the vanishing-memory aliens might be some sort of Timelord manifestation/projection/[insert appropriate sci-fi babble here], looking for a way back in. Which under Moffat could perhaps be tolerable, maybe, but so far I haven’t much liked the new series portrayal of the Timelords.

    But having read JulesLt’s “And where is the 1100 year old Doctor’s Tardis?” makes me wonder if actually the aliens have acquired the late Doctor’s TARDIS – did he spend the last 40 to 300 years or whatnot hiding out on Earth? (Maybe in Laurel and Hardy films?)

    As for the thing in the spacesuit, all options seem open. River Song is the obvious one, given her story line so far. It’s difficult to see how the “most important man” she killed could be anyone but the Doctor now, but whether this time is it or merely a red herring… I suspect the latter.

    Ah well. Tomorrow.

  8. I’m going to throw this one out there even though I think its almost certainly not the case.

    What if its one of the aliens?

    First, the shooting of the doctor looked similar, though not the same as, the killing of the woman in the bathroom. Incidentally, it appeared that the alien in the bathroom sucked up energy from the lights and then shot her with electricity, perhaps the alien in the spacesuit soaked up sunlight to shoot the Doctor, explaining the difference in the energy bolts.

    Plus, this explains the suit. The alien, and his shooting of the Doctor, would have been forgotten by the companions if it weren’t wearing the suit. They would have forgotten the killing of the Doctor. From their perspective the Doctor would just have fallen over, dead.

    Perhaps the killing of the Doctor was done by the Silence to force the Doctor and his companions into going to 1969 and helping them out of their situation. If this is true, then the killing may be undone by the actions in the past because the aliens won’t need to do that since they’ll be saved/free/?. Yes its a throughly classic paradox, but hey, if it saves the Doctor.

  9. Ok, now I’m gonna argue with myself.

    I think its River.

    In the scene where she’s shooting at the Astronaut. She says the line “Of, course” after missing with every shot. I re-watched the beginning of the episode to be sure of what she said. I happened to continue to re-watch the whole episode.

    Anyway. The “of course” of course means that she knows that the shots miss because its an earlier her in the spacesuit and she knows she wasn’t hit.

    The other question remains then as to why the distant future would put her in jail for killing the Doctor in the present. No statute of limitation I guess. Also, I wonder if River knows that the Doctor will somehow avoid her killing him. There’s gotta be a trick there, the Doctor can’t die.

  10. timey-wimey? I always thought it was timely-wimely! :-) I’d have to go back and see, I suppose… Just a bit of picking at nits. :-) I’ll get to the question when I have read the entire post.

  11. Ok. Answer is “none of the above”. My guess is that Moffat has us all bumfuzzled! :-)

  12. Was the control center underground not similar to the spaceship control center from the lodger episode. In the lodger there was a little girl that needed help too.

    Or am I looking for a pattern that doesn’t exist?

  13. I’m going for River Song as the Impossible Astronaut.
    I’m also going for the suggestion that River Song, Amelia and the girl in the spacesuit are all related. It would be all timey-wimey teary-weepy if Amelia shot her daughter who is River Song who shoots the Doctor who sacrifices himself as a solution. Maybe the Silence (which is probably going to destroy all of reality in all universes) and the Doctor are linked and by killing the Doctor, the threat of the Silence is removed.

  14. Stephen Moody

    I’m not sure what’s going to happen with this next episode but i do have the feeling that the child in the spacesuit has something to do with River or Amy or possibly both.

    Very sure that the doctor that gets shot at the start of the episode is not going to happen, but the missing Tardis idea is interesting.

    The way the doctor acted with the spaceman at the start seems to indicate that he knows who it is.

    The “Next week” segment at the end showed a lot of interesting clips but did nothing to show any answers. It was a very bold opening start to the series and i am very much looking forward to see if tomorrows episode is going to make any sense of what we have seen so far.

    Overall though i’m really looking forward to the rest of this series

  15. @Dan G

    I forgot about the girl in the lodger episode. Also, yes the consoles underground are _exactly_ like the end of the lodger.

    Plus, I also just remembered this, didn’t people “forget” that there was a second story to the building? Or at least its existence was messed with within their memories.

  16. I think this is either the Doctor or River, and that his death clearly isn’t final. It’s probably some massive gambit. Interrupting the regeneration would require either instruction of a timelord, or experience killing them; River likely has both of those. The room with the machine in it really DOES look like the machine from The Lodger, that struck me very immediately.

  17. I think it is River Song.
    The quote about killing the best man she has ever known, the manner in which she held Amy back, the certainty that the Doctor was dead, and her resistance to going back and preventing it; all point to her.

  18. Stephen Sykes

    River: “Whatever that was it killed him in the middle of his regeneration cycle”

    “Whatever that was”…. well at least she isn’t, at this point, admitting that it’s her (if it was).

    But then she does say “Of course”, as if remembering something a few seconds earlier (as Jason pointed out).

  19. Stephen Moody

    Enjoyed the episode but it explained noting at all!! Should have known it wasn’t going to be that easy

  20. Pingback: Day of the Moon (Doctor Who series 6, episode 2) | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  21. Denis Miller

    Firstly, the Blinovitch Limitation wasn’t blatantly violated; the 1100 year old Doctor (D1100) in the Nordic funeral dropped out of the story line before the 900 year old Doctor (D900) appeared in the diner. The first invites we saw (Amy’s and River’s) had a fair few stamps on them, so a series of forwarding addresses – but that is a bit odd, you would think D1100 would have had a fair idea where each of the addressees were when he posted them.
    Secondly, there is only supposition that the same astronaut and suit appears at Lake Powell and in the warehouse
    Also, I haven’t been able to locate the concurrence of street signs – they all occur in close proximity in Cape Canaveral, but parallel

  22. The impression I got about the “of course” moment was just that “of course she ran out of ammo just before the shot that she took the most time to aim for”. I think that she would have made that last shot if she hadn’t wasted a bullet earlier shooting the Doctor’s hat off.

  23. i dont know who was in the suit i think it was the little girl (Melody Pond) but the suit pretty much controlls itsself, so there is really almost no way to know. the suit could’ve “swallowed” anyone like it had “swallowed” Melody.

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