Miss DW (goldenmoonrose) wrote in doctorwho,
Miss DW

Through the Looking Glass: The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon

This is a little late (which is Moffat's fault for being just too good at what he does), and I'm sure everyone's moved on to discussing this week's episode, but I have to share my thoughts/analysis of this brilliant, deep, insanely rich two-parter.


"Our lives are back to front. Your firsts are my lasts."

Through the Looking Glass:

Mirror Imagery, Dramatic Irony, Psychology, Time and Identity in
The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon



I loved the fifth series of Doctor Who beyond belief. It was like a box of candy sent right to this literature-degree-holding fangirl, containing everything I could ever have wanted; it was brilliant and beautiful, emotionally resonant, laced with character drama and cleverness, and it was just chock full of literary goodies. It was a psychological, dark fairy tale with the Doctor finally becoming what he should have been all along: a trickster teacher figure guiding lost souls through the magical land of Time.

Doctor Who was always great, but, with the fifth series, it became brilliant. It went from one of my favorite shows to settling itself right beside Lost in my heart.

But if there was one niggly little complaint in my fangirl soul, it was that none of the episodes--though beautiful and moving and profoundly deep--never quite reached the "holy shit awesome" that was Moffat's Blink, Silence in the Library, or Girl in the Fireplace.

And, if there was one fear that grew in me over the past year in anticipation of the sixth series, it was that I believed there was no way that Moffat could possibly replicate that extraordinary fifth series.

Well, with The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon, it is now abundantly clear that Moffat hasn't lost his touch; he was holding back on us. In two episodes, not only has he matched the brilliance of the fifth series, but he's perfectly continued and complimented it. I have the feeling that I'm in for quite a ride.

My brain feels about as scrambled as that poor bow-tied orphanage director[1], but I have a feeling that I have just witnessed Moffat's magnum opus. Or, at least the opening movement. Though, really, it might be the middle movement. Whatever.

Not only was The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon on par in terms of storytelling grace and brilliance with Moffat's other fantastic episodes, but it has all of the literary depth and quality of the brilliant fifth series. Using a literary funhouse of mirrors, Moffat delves into the mind and identity, playing again with Time, turning Doctor Who into a Greek mythological drama saturated with dramatic irony and the quest for identity and fate. And I am in love all over again.

Doctor Who has always been about identity. It says so on the tin. And, if you forgot, the first episode has two (one of which is the first line!) of the good old Doctor who? jokes. At the end of the fifth series, the Doctor finally realized himself as being the place between the hero and the monster, the teacher guide through Time and Space. But, of course, the question of identity is not one that can ever truly be solved.

"Time can be rewritten."
"Not all of it."
"Says who?"
"Who do you think?"

Moffat's Doctor Who takes the question of identity and absolutely brilliantly combines it with the motif of Time. Time becomes a metaphor for the quest for identity; Time is a magical land, like that of Oz or Narnia, where the hero must journey in order to realize his identity. This is on the surface, of course, but Moffat twists it even further. Time, on a personal level, means memory. Memory, of course, is part of psychology, the mind, and therefore (for Moffat, at least), the soul. And thus, we are back to identity. Therefore, Time and Identity are one and the same. This theme repeats over and over and over again throughout Moffat's Doctor Who, particularly The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon. And he does it brilliantly through the use of psychological mirroring techniques and dramatic irony, the Silence monsters that screw with memory, and elements of fairy tale, folk tale, and mythology[2].

So, kiddies, put on your swim trunks, Miss D is taking you swimming through the flood of literary devices.

The episode begins with the Eleventh Doctor being his wacky, weird (HOT) alien self bee-bopping through Time and Space, the cool magical alien pal that pops up splayed across a hotrod wearing a Stetson. But, snap, we're through the mirror (a time mirror, naturally)[3]. This is not really our Doctor; it's a future Doctor, an older Doctor. The Doctor that River knows (she exists in his memory, he in hers, and thus both of them have identity).

And then the Doctor dies.

Then, bam, we're back through the mirror again as our Eleventh Doctor walks through the door carrying his fizzy straw. But we're not really back through the mirror. Things have reversed. The Doctor doesn't know who summoned him ( his own identity), doesn't know that he is walking towards his own death (Time, fate, and psychology). This is not how it's supposed to be. It is the Doctor that is supposed to know everything that is or ever will be, not his companions[4]. And thus, we have that chocolately syrup of dramatic irony drizzled over everything.

Oh, man, I love dramatic irony! It is like candy for us literature geeks[5]. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows more than the characters, particularly when the audience knows the future or destiny[6] of the characters. Thus, once again, Moffat has melded brilliantly together Time and Identity. But, as I just said, we are through the looking glass. Usually, the Doctor lives in a constant state of dramatic irony, knowing the future, destinies, and identities of all the people around him (we are even reminded of this fact when Nixon asks the Doctor if he'll be remembered, which is again time and memory and identity, but I digress…). But now we have the reverse: the Doctor doesn't know. The Doctor, rather than being surrounded by dramatic irony, is now the object of it.

"1969. The year of the moon. Interesting, don't you think?"

Which is incredibly appropriate considering where we are: the moon landing. (I love this. Ready for this?) The moon with its four phases is symbolic of life and death, specifically, in representing the maiden (waxing moon), the mother (full moon), the crone (waning moon), and the new moon (death and rebirth). Space imagery for the phases of life and death. Perfect for Doctor Who, right? But we're not done. Because, not only that, but these phases represent the three Fates Clotho (maiden), Lachesis (mother), and Atropos (crone). Fate, the combination of identity and time[7] (future), of course, is what the Doctor is facing as he's facing his own death. And he's got his own maiden (the girl in the Apollo suit), mother (pregnant Amy), and River (the "Mrs. Robinson" crone), all three lost little girls, determining that very Fate[8]. And thus, Moffat has cleverly turned a historical moment, a completely Whovian historical moment, into a brilliant, beautiful Greek myth.


If the women are the three fates, then Rory[9] is Charon the Ferry Man on the River Styx, sending the Doctor into the afterlife. Death has finally come for the immortal. But then he comes back, and Rory pokes him ("How can you be here?"-- directly mirroring the Doctor in series five), which begs the question: if the Doctor can always come back (in a manner of speaking) after his death, then is he ever really dead? And, if so, is he ever really alive? When you are so wound up in wibbly wobbly timey wimey, how can you possibly have a true identity when you have no beginning and no end?

And thus the man with no name is running away once again. He is once again running away from his destiny, from fate, even as he is running towards his identity. And anyone who's read Oedipus Rex knows that these things are one and the same. It's only a matter of Time.

"I think the word you're looking for is 'Opps, run.'"[10]


That we have gone through the looking glass in terms of dramatic irony and the Doctor's destiny, fate, and identity is cleverly reinforced with associating the Doctor as a child. The teacher has become the child; the students have become the masters. They always determined his identity (can't have a teacher without a student), but now they determine his fate. The Eleventh Doctor appears with his fizzy straw, and River demands he tell them how old he is (like a five year old, he obeys). In the TARDIS, the companions are "downstairs" doing grown-up things while he paces and pouts upstairs ("Rory, is everyone cross with me for some reason?" "I'm being extremely clever up here and there's no one to stand around looking impressed, what's the point in having you all?"). The Doctor sits down and the companions, like angry parents or teachers in a classroom, stand over him, scolding him. Rory pokes the Doctor and says, "How can you be here?", an exact mirror image of what happened in the finale of last series, and thus, it is clear: the companions and the Doctor have switched places.

Of course, this is not particularly new for the Doctor. He's been out of his element before, been the one that "doesn't know", particularly in two instances: River and the Silence.

"We're traveling in opposite directions. Every time we meet, I know him more, he knows me less. I live for the days I see him, but every time I do, he's one step further away. The day's coming when I look into that man's eyes, my Doctor, and he won't have the faintest idea who I am. And I think it's going to kill me."

River, of course, is particularly important. River has always been a mirror to the Doctor, forcing him to deal with an identity-less time traveler who is a part of his destiny. When the Doctor realizes that he has to trust his companions (they are the ones driving this ship this time, not him), he refuses to trust River because, naturally, he doesn't know who she is (identity).

"You know what they say, there's a first time for everything."
"And a last time."

River, according to her in this episode, is a direct Time mirror to the Doctor. Her firsts are his lasts; as she grows closer to him, he moves further away. From each of their perspectives, the other is moving backwards. Once again, Time and Identity, are all about perspective and the mind.


The Silence, of course, is the most brilliant villain ever of Doctor Who. Nothing beats a psychological monster. They might not be as shit-your-pants scary as the Weeping Angels, but come on! How could I not love monsters that erase themselves from your memory so that you're actually afraid because you're not afraid[11]. And they say a whole hell of a lot but don't have mouths. Come on! That's gold that Campbell and Jung couldn't have come up with! Oh, the symmetry is glorious.

Dramatic irony is a constant when we are discussing the Silence. We know that they are right there, lurking in the creepy shadows, standing right behind the characters, even the characters know that, and yet, they can't remember it. In a very real sense, the Silence are erasing themselves from Time by erasing themselves from the mind (once again, that place where Time and Identity meet at memory). This is further horrific because the Silence don't only mess with the mind in erasing themselves, but they plant ideas in mind. By screwing with memory and time, they actually change one's identity, making one do things that one wouldn't normally do. From now on, we can never know why any of the characters are doing what they are doing (or, really, who they are) because we don't know if this monster has gotten to them. How incredibly cool is that?! Dalecks and Cybermen, consider yourselves officially owned!

"Cool aliens?" "What would you call me?" "An alien."

And just as River mirrors the Doctor, so does the Silence. The best Doctor Who monsters do. And that is because the Doctor himself is very monstrous. He's just as alien to us as Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels, the Ood, and the Silence. He drops out of the sky and takes us on fun adventures, he saves the earth over and over, and yet, he is constantly straddling that line between the monster and the angel. His power (to change history, to change Time, to change identity), his brilliance, is deeply frightening, even disturbing. We've seen that his anger, and even his benevolence, is that of an angry god. So, the best Doctor Who monsters must mirror the Doctor, and, consequently, put a mirror up to him. The Weeping Angels did this brilliantly. And now, so do the Silence.

"They get other life forms to do it for them…
They've been standing in the shadows of history since the very beginning…
They can influence human behavior any way they want."

The Silence have sat in the shadows of our entire existence, poking and prodding us, changing our fates and destinies. Sounds just like the Doctor. And here, also, we have Moffat's fantastic motif and theme that began way back at the beginning in The Eleventh Hour and played brilliantly throughout the fifth series: the theme of the beast below.  The monster in the shadows, the monster lurking around the bend, the monster hidden, the monster forgotten, the monster lurking in the brain, the monster lurking inside the self. This is never more true than for the Silence who lurk within our own memory[12]. The mysteriously appearing tally marks on the skin cause the characters to literally be afraid of their own bodies and own reflections (literal mirrors!)[13]. The recordings implanted in our heroes' hands warn them about the monsters in their own voice[14]. Thus, the self has been divided by Time, divided in two, just as the Doctor was at the beginning (oh, lovely, lovely duality). With a divided self (between present and future), we have the divide between destiny and identity. So, once again, we have the overlapping of the monster and memory, the beast and psychology, the beast and identity and Time. In fact, in these episodes, the Doctor turns the Silence on themselves (using the recording of the Silence ordering their own death sentence), in perfect mirroring of what the Silence themselves do. But, in doing so, the Doctor causes the lines between hero and monster to blur[15]. But this mirroring goes even further: just as the Silence order their own death sentence, so did the Doctor at the beginning of The Impossible Astronaut. Thus Time (fate, destiny) and Identity (monster or hero) are one giant, fucked up, scrambled mess.

Because, when you've got mirrors, even opposing mirrors, you can also see the lines of definition begin to blur. And we've got that all over the place here, particularly in terms of the Doctor. First is the mirroring of the Doctor and River with Rory and Amy. The Doctor says that River is "just a friend", just as Amy did in The Eleventh Hour regarding Rory. Then the lines between Rory and the Doctor blur as Amy's cryptic love "letter" is justifiably misinterpreted. Why all this blurring? Because, of course, it is to further confuse the identity of everyone, particularly that of the Doctor and that of the little girl, the child. Is she Rory and Amy's? The Doctor and River's? A combination thereof?  


At the moment, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that we once again have a little girl. A little girl being chased and eventually "eaten" by a spaceman. And all fairy tales start with a little girl, particularly the Doctor's fairy tales. Amy and River both are the Doctor's little girls (River and Rory's conversation make this absolutely clear) that he whisked off to adventure and the cosmogonic journey cycle of identity through time. But the disturbing part to both of their fairy tales was that the Doctor knew who they were, knew their identity, of course, because of his relationship with Time. In a very real sense, the Doctor (as a master of Time), is in charge of their identities. And that absolutely changed their destinies.

Because this isn't just a fairy tale, this is mythology. This is destiny and fate. A mysterious child, a child apparently destined for something great due to her parentage. A lost child, and a child with a horrific fate: to kill the Doctor.  Thus, this little girl is the perfect embodiment of Moffat's overlapping themes of Time and Identity because she has pushed the Doctor through the looking glass. His archetype identity as the teacher guide warped to being the child/student, his fate dependant on a child, is now warped and changed. It is not one of life, but now a destiny of death.

This move through the looking glass is reflected over and over throughout the two episodes. We learn of her horific destiny before we learn of her epic birth. Her mother (Amy) tries to kill her[16] while pregnant with her. Even the fact that the villain, the monster that will end the Doctor's long life (and therefore his identity), is a little girl (who should be the hero, guided by the teacher-guide, the Doctor), is a step thoroughly through the mirrored visor. The best mirror of all was right with us from the first scene: a spaceman killing an alien, but it is the spaceman that is the monster and the alien that is the hero.



Series five consisted of series of boxes (the TARDIS and the Pandorica being the most significant), representative of Time and Identity. More specifically, the Pandorica, in particular, is a prison, made to contain the Doctor, made by monsters to contain the hero (the monster's monster). This is integral to the beast below theme, the monster within the self, and of course the theme of identity. We see all this again in Moffat's series opener. First, there's River's prison, one that she returns to after the adventure is complete. Second is a prison built to hold the scruffy Doctor, built brick by brick around him. But, of course, we're through the mirror, and this prison actually provides freedom for the Doctor, a rebirth of life for his companions, and even the TARDIS (Time and Identity) itself. In the end, this prison, will contain one of the Silence[17].

But prisons evolve in The Impossible Astronaut/The Day of the Moon beyond simple boxes. It is not a box that initially contains the Doctor at the beginning of the second part; it is a straightjacket[18] and chains. A suit, in other words. Meanwhile, the little girl is also imprisoned in a suit, the Apollo 11[19] space suit. Amy's womb could also be considered a prison-suit of sorts, and one that her child has escaped from. Both the Doctor (even biting his handcuffs) and the child impossibly escape from their prisons (one of many ways that the now child-like Doctor and the little girl mirorr each other). Suits, therefore, are yet another thing to remind us of identity and psychology and inescapable fate. And if we're discussing suits, the image that comes to my mind is the Eleventh Doctor's iconic suit.



Particularly that bow-tie. And, as we all know, a bow-tie is not just a bow-tie any more. Therefore, it is significant that the Graystar Hall Orphanage director is also wearing a bow-tie. Yes, of course, he's a mirror of the Doctor, another near-insane protector of children. One, also, who writes notes to himself without even knowing that he's doing it.[20] "Please, yes, come right into my Southern Gothic novel."[21] Oh yes, the orphanage just made my American Literature concentration go all tingly. Part Kate Chopin's The Yellow Wallpaper, part William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily, part Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of Seven Gables[22] the orphanage reeks of the depths of the psyche[23]. A child taken away by monsters (reminiscent of faerie changeling tales), raised in a prison (a tower) meant to keep her happy and healthy (with both a clock and a star-mobile to symbolize her origins), so that she may fulfill her destiny (whatever that may be).  How very fairy tale. How very Greek mythological.



The first episode of the series ends with Amy informing the Doctor that she is going to have a child and then almost immediately trying to murder a child, both of which show that Amy is no longer a child. And, in no longer being little Amelia Pond, no longer can her imaginary friend, the Doctor, exist. In a very real sense, then, Amy's child will kill the Doctor. There will be no more trips to Never Neverland, the place where time stands still. This is a fate that both Amy and the Doctor desperately try to escape. Amy, the runaway bride, has become the runaway mother.

"What kind of doctor are you?" "Archeology. Love a tomb."

The episode ends with the haunting image of a homeless man filling a baby carriage with garbage, reflective of the sad, lost little girl who has also been thrown away like garbage. The little girl dies, but she regenerates, just as the Doctor did at the beginning (sort of). Meanwhile, the Doctor dismisses searching for the child ("We should be trying to find her." "Yes, but how? Anyway, I have the strangest feeling she's going to find us."), brilliantly bringing together his role as the teacher/guide (the student must do for herself) and also his flawed tendency to try to escape his destiny. Instead, he runs off on new adventures with his pals, saying "you only live once", and thus he runs away once again from destiny and fate, from his own identity, from Time itself.

"Don't worry, I've put everything back the way I found it.
Oh, except this.
There's always a bit left over, isn't there?"


[1] At the risk of sounding like I'm talking to my 6th grade language arts class, I have to say that Moffat does exactly what he should in a series opener: he establishes character, plot, and problem. Brilliantly. And that's about it. We get a complete story, but, really, not at all. Instead, we get mystery and problem and flawed characters. And that is BRILLIANT! That's what we're supposed to get. Plus, we got Canton (who didn't fall in love with him?!), Nixon, Area 51, the Moon Landing, the scariest fucking monsters ever, Time bending, River, and a billion other candies. What more could you possibly want?! Best. Opener. Ever.

[2] Which, as anyone who's ever read Campbell or Jung knows, is the imagery of dreams and the mind.

[3] The opening is steeped in reversals and flips: the Doctor in the tunnel upside down, the Doctor under the skirt.

[4] It was River's death and end that we're supposed to know, not the Doctor's.

[5] It's my most favorite literary device! And, yes, we have those, us literature majors. I also have a favorite archetype. Incidentally, the Eleventh Doctor embodies that as well.

[6] In the case of the Doctor and Oedipus, both destiny and the future (Time) are synonymous with identity.

[7] Greek mythology is full of this. Heroes, in seeking out their destinies, must learn their identities. The demigods from Hercules to Theseus to Perseus must discover their godly parentage and what the Oracles (prophecies/future) tells about their identity in order to know their future. The most tragic is, of course, Oedipus, who quested to find his destiny (and why his city was cursed), only to discover his true identity, which revealed that he had married his ma and killed his pa. And thus, identity and one's past and future (destiny/fate) are one and the same, at least to the Greeks, who gave us not only their brilliant literature, but also their knowledge of astronomy. We were so grateful, we named our spaceships after their god of the sun.

[8] As the Eleventh Doctor is the teacher guide, he has determined the Fate of these three lost little girls. But, now, we are through the mirror, and it is his fate that they are determining. As the mirror reverses, of course, the lines of definition between student and teacher are brilliantly blurred.

[9] Oh, Rory, so glad you're here. And wearing that suit. Well, at least we know how Pond Jr. was conceived. Probably as soon as Amy got an eye-full of Rory in that 1960s get up. Yow-za!

[10] Quite the reversal from his iconic, "Basically, run."

[11] I'm envisioning the Silence, the Doctor, and FDR in a future episode. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." "Uh, no, actually, be afraid when you're not afraid, actually."

[12] Both our personal history (our time) and our identity.

[13] The Silence literally turn our heroes into monsters both in their actions to the Silence themselves (the Doctor committed genocide once again) and may even being doing something much more sinister than we know by influencing their actions. Thus, our heroes have every reason to be afraid of their own selves.

[14] Mirroring the Doctor's TARDIS blue letter to himself.

[15] Of course the Doctor uses psychology (memory, mind) to destroy the monster.

[16] How Daniel Faraday! Moffat is starting to rival the mindfuckery of Lost.

[17] It is probably not accidental that this is where the Silence orders their own death sentence, allowing the Doctor to once again become the monster's monster, to turn them on themselves, and to trespass over morality.

[18] A straightjacket, of course, reflective of insanity, a prison of the mind.

[19] And, yes, I'm sure it is highly significant that this is Apollo 11.

[20] I have a feeling that the orphanage, with its insane red-painted warnings all over the inside is symbolic of the Doctor's external and internal world throughout the series as he'll send more than just TARDIS blue envelops from the future.

[21] Moffat, I know you're a Scot, but, please, give me more of this!!

[22] Yes, not technically Southern, but we New Englanders did Southern Gothic before the South knew what they were doing. :)

[23] As for the "I think she's only dreaming" woman, besides the fact that that was the fucking scariest fucking thing on Doctor Who ever, I have no idea what in the hell that was, but, as the Silence did, she further blurred the lines between reality and the mind.


Tags: academia, discussion, religion and myth, reviews and reactions
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