With barely any time to say "Hello Sweetie!", Steven Moffat kicks off his second season of Doctor Who with a bang (quite literally). What begins with a rush of first episode silliness—the Doctor going about his usual shenanigans throughout history as Amy and Rory Pond watch from the sidelines of married life—promptly morphs into a dark and high-stakes adventure, something that usually comes mid-season.
Following the instructions sent to them in a not so mysterious TARDIS blue envelope, Amy and Rory make their way to the plains of America, where they are united with a Stetson-wearing, red station wagon-driving Doctor. Not long after, the trio are joined by the ever trigger happy River Song (who seems to just come and go as she pleases from her high security Stormcage prison), and our adventurous foursome enjoy the peace of a glass of wine and a picnic on the lakeside.
But the respite is short-lived.
With the ominous appearance of the titular impossible astronaut, the Doctor and his team are catapulted back into the TARDIS and dive straight into the White House 1969, where President Nixon and his telephone are haunted by the disembodied voice of a child who is being chased by "a scary spaceman."
Joined by ex-FBI agent Canton Everett Delaware III (played by the gravelly voiced Mark Sheppard), the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River embark on a search for this mysterious astronaut—but there is something lurking silently in the background, something more frightening than a scary spaceman in a warehouse.
No doubt, Matt Smith continues to dominate his role as the Doctor, capturing the many sides of our hero's personality: the glee of a child full of nonsensical antics, the solemnity of a man who is tired of running, and the sinister presence of a Timelord who does not like to be threatened. "Don't play games with me. Don't ever, ever think you're capable of that." he utters as a warning to his companions when he senses that they are keeping secrets from him.
Amy, Rory, and River's withholding of secrets brings about a refreshing change in team dynamics in the TARDIS. For once, the Doctor does not know what is going on, and must blindly put his complete trust in the hands of his friends.
This shift in roles also gives us some new insight in our characters. Arthur Darvill continues to play Rory with a goofy charm, but we also get a deeper look at the insecurity he feels over Amy's adoration of the Doctor. Alex Kingston also reveals River's secret heartbreak caused by her time-twisted relationship with the Doctor—but she hides it well behind her constant flirtations.
Even Karen Gillan's feisty Amy Pond has grown more somber as she carries the weight of her secrets and also faces a new terror from the mind of Steven Moffat. A mouthless, skeletal creature clad in a black suit and tie makes a very striking visual, but no one seems to remember it the moment they turn away.
Being forced to look at its grotesqueness lest you forget it creates fantastic psychological terror, something Moffat's monsters really enjoy doing. (And although it is not explicitly stated in this episode, these creatures are The Silence that the Doctor has been warned about.)
Not only does Moffat ramp up the level of action, but he and the director Toby Haynes expertly use the vastness of Utah's Monument Valley to make the episode even more cinematic. The scene with the Doctor and the astronaut near a shimmering blue lake has a very surreal, western feeling—and the contrast between the beauty of that long shot and the shocking events that follow makes the scene even more effective. Hopefully, this grand style of filming is carried through the rest of the season.
The audacity of this season opener hints at a very exhilarating (and mind-twisting timey wimey) story arc, hopefully one filled with answers to last year's questions, like "Who is River Song?" and "What (or Who) is the Silence?"
One thing to count on is that the following episodes will be filled with ramped up energy, punch-in-the-gut cliffhangers, and an underlying sense of doom for the Doctor. No need to worry about any second year blues from Steven Moffat and Matt Smith—the only thing we need to wonder about is how far the show can push the level of frenzy and whether or not your heart will be able to handle the thrill.