This week ...
Amy, Rory and River are keeping a secret from the Doctor ... they have just watched his older self die at the hands of a mysterious astronaut. All they will tell him is that they must go to America in 1969 where President Nixon enlists their help in saving a little girl. But from who, or what? By the end of this week's episode it's fair to say we're not really any the wiser, but boy can we not wait till next week to find out!
What's right with it?
As series openers go, this certainly does not want for ambition, complexity and style. The concept of apparently killing off your main character within ten minutes of the episode beginning is a bold one and doesn't pander younger members of the audience. Director Toby Haynes takes Steven Moffat's trademark timey-wimey script and runs with it as we see the younger Doctor and his friends dive straight into the mystery given to them.
Bringing the show to the US is a clever move - the Utah filming looks stunning and gives the episode a truly filmic feel on what I imagine is a fraction of the budget. Once the action moves to Washington the plot starts to move along at a pretty relentless pace. Who is the little girl? How does Canton fit into all of this? And who are the 'Silence' creatures Amy keeps seeing? Speaking of those creatures, blimey, they're a bit on the scary side! Maybe not quite up there with the Weeping Angels, but very creepy nonetheless. While this is all happening we still have room for some nice character development.
The Doctor is on sparklingly cheeky form, especially with River - strong chemistry there Smith and Kingston, keep up the good work. Speaking of River we also have a lovely moment where she foreshadows her own death in her debut story, 2008's Silence in the Library. Very touching. It's also good to see Arthur Darvill's Rory get some decent lines and build on his 'everyman' character that was established throughout last year. The episode ends very strongly as well, with some shocking reveals: The tunnels under Florida run all over the world, the fake Tardis from last year's episode The Lodger is back and Amy claims she's pregnant. Also, has she just shot the little girl they are trying to save? Gripping stuff.
What's wrong with it?
While watching this I occasionally felt that little concession was being made to the casual viewer. Lots of references were being made to the events of last year and beyond which may be lost on someone not avidly following the show. Similarly I felt this episode may have been a little too complex for the younger members of the audience, with the plot moving forward by more subtle explanations than obvious ones. Maybe I'm doing the youth of today an injustice. Or perhaps I'm just getting old and my brain is slowing down. It really could be either of these. Curiously, I found the whole idea that the Doctor might actually have died in the beginning of the episode rather uninvolving. I mean, obviously he's going to get out of that somehow. Right? Oh dear. We may have a franchise without a hero on our hands.
This is not the first time Doctor Who has taken to distant shores for location filming. The first foreign shoot was way back in 1979's City of Death, which saw Tom Baker and Lalla Ward (of Castle Ward to you) take a romantic jaunt to Paris where they got caught up with spagetti headed aliens, fake Mona Lisas and dodgy time travel. As you do. The image of a creepy spacesuited person was also key to Jon Pertwee's 1970 serial The Ambassadors of Death. In this story, we met aliens clad in spacesuits who could kill by touch and were never named ... Could this be their work again?
The bottom line
The hype surrounding the beginning of this season would appear, so far, to have been entirely justified. The opening episode of this two parter is excellent fun, chilling and gripping to boot. It would also seem questions are being set up about what lies in store for the Doctor and his friends which may not get answered until later this year... Regardless of the long game, I'll definitely be tuning in next week for the outcome of this cracking adventure.