The Black Archive #29: ‘The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon’

❉ The latest in Obverse’s bite-size reads that explores their subject matter indepth reviewed.

“Toon writes with a pleasingly easy touch and I especially enjoyed his section on conspiracy theories, how they operate and the way the plot of this particular Doctor Who story engages with them, not always in the way you would think.”

The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon is a bit of an odd one.  While it undoubtedly kicked Series 6 off in style with a bang, a mystery, a tangle of timelines and a truly interesting and unnerving villain in the form of the Silents (and perhaps President Nixon, too, depending on your political leanings), not much is really said about it.  That’s not to say it isn’t good, just that people are mostly quiet about it.  Mostly.

Years on, there is one image from the story which fandom seems to find hard to ignore: The Doctor and the action he takes against the Silents in Day of the Moon.

In some ways, it fits in with the idea that ‘the Doctor’ is a role which the protagonist plays, a notion explored by writer and showrunner Steven Moffat elsewhere.  This here is the action of the man not playing the role.  Or is it? Is this action in fact incompatible with the show overall and out-of-character? Some say yes, I’d say not, and John Toon has a lot to say on the matter in this, the latest essay in Observe Books’ Black Archive range.

Toon writes with a pleasingly easy touch and I especially enjoyed his section on conspiracy theories, how they operate and the way the plot of this particular Doctor Who story engages with them, not always in the way you would think.  The use of philosophical schools and thought and theory in relation to the Doctor is also interesting, and while no firm conclusions are drawn by the end (nor should they be), if nothing else this section shows up how jumbled the story of the Silence/Silents is, even with the central mysteries largely solved by the end of Matt Smith’s era.

Unlike some Black Archive essays with a clear through line throughout the page count, Toon here essentially gives us three different lectures: one on conspiracy theories and how they impact upon the episodes; one on the Doctor’s actions and how they square with the character’s own moral philosophy; and one on the nature of the ‘celebrity historical’ and what makes a story qualify as one.

In some ways, this approach makes for an interesting series of bite-size reads that explores their subject matter in depth with some nice use of fan criticism (including the near-obligatory use of Sandifer, who must surely be on commission by the range) and, where applicable, other sources.  On the other, the final chapter/section in particular felt rather jarring.  I wonder if perhaps a more unified central focus with other aspects confined to a series of appendices would have benefited the overall book? As it stands, it’s a bit disjointed.

Whatever the case, this is a short but engaging read, one which shines the spotlight on a series opener you would think would have more cheerleaders.  Maybe it does, though.  Maybe the Silents have worked their magic and we regularly have simply forgotten the praise we’ve give?

Stranger things have happened, after all.  Perhaps it’s all a conspiracy, eh?


❉ The Black Archive #29: ‘The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon’ by Paul Driscoll is published by Obverse Books, RRP £3.99 – £8.99. DOWNLOAD A SAMPLE HERE. CLICK HERE TO ORDER.

 Nick Mellish is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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