'Doctor Who' Season 6 opener: An 'Impossible Astronaut,' a death and a new companion?

doctor-who-season-6-episode-1-520.jpgThe Doctor is dead. Long live the Doctor!

That question of which primary character "Doctor Who" would dispatch in the Season 6 opener gets an answer fairly quickly in "The Impossible Astronaut" when, after summoning Amy ( Karen Gillan), Rory ( Arthur Darvill) and River ( Alex Kingston) to the middle of the Utah desert, the Doctor ( Matt Smith) took a lakeside meeting with a mysterious astronaut -- who shot and killed him.

There's no regeneration, no second heart to defibrillate, just the swan-song of a previously immortal alien who's been on television for almost 50 years. And to really drive the point home, some random old guy shows up with a bucket of gasoline, allowing for a makeshift Norse funeral. (Maybe that's how they roll on Gallifrey...)

The remaining trio is justifiably confused, distraught and bitter (the Doctor seemed to know what was going to happen), so they do as people do when they're in America and bereaved and head to a diner. And in walks the Doctor!

Obviously, the flexible laws of "timey wimey" stuff are stretched to a near breaking point. This incarnation of the Doctor, apparently 200 years younger than the one we just cremated, received an invite himself. And though no one can tell him that they've just witnessed his death (spoilers!), as much as he pushes them to explain the awkward mood, they become otherwise occupied when the Tardis draws them to 1969 Washington, D.C. -- materializing inside the Nixon White House.

And because nothing's more fun than a revisionist speculation over what made Richard Nixon such a mess, it turns out he's paranoid over crank phone calls from a child frightened of a spaceman. This is "Doctor Who," after all, so there has to be a creepy kid.

Working with Nixon and his mysterious consultant ("BSG's" Romo Lampkin, Mark Sheppard), The Doctor looks over maps (more on that in a minute), while Amy takes the world's worst bathroom break.

I failed to mention that during the Doctor's pre-death picnic, Amy saw an alien figure, dressed in a handsome mod suit, on a nearby hilltop. She turned away and seemed to immediately forget. Well, it followed her to the bathroom. And while she's snapping a camera picture of it so she doesn't forget again, a White House secretary comes out of an adjacent stall. (I'm assuming she's a secretary because it's 1969. And I'm sexist.)

Each time the woman turns away from the alien, she forgets it's behind her, until the lights start to flicker, it makes this creepy suck-face, and blows her up in a dramatic display of electricity. Sparing Amy's life, it lets on that it knows her name, it knows something about her and it knows the Doctor just died. Amy leaves the bathroom (without washing her hands, ew) and forgets once more.

The Doctor has determined that the mysterious child is calling from an intersection near Cape Kennedy in Florida, and after taking the Tardis to the building, they find it filled with foreboding astronaut accessories and a manhole leading to some grimy tunnels that run under the entire planet. (No one ever noticed, OK? No big deal)

These tunnels are filled with a whole bunch of folks who look like that unfriendly White House bathroom attendant, and Rory and River enjoy their own game of "look at the well-dressed suck-face aliens and immediately forget." They stumble into some sort of control room, and River portends her own death in "Forest of the Dead."

What happens next is just mean.

This two-parter does not skimp on the cliffhangers. Rory is engulfed in the same electricity that toasted that White House secretary, Amy tells the Doctor she's pregnant and then, in an attempt to save his future self, she shoots the mysterious astronaut from the lake (oh yeah he's here) -- though it looks like it's actually just the little girl with Nixon on speed dial. The Doctor, slow-motion yelling, is not happy about this.

Now the full discussion of what's happening here will have to wait for next week, with the second episode ("Day of the Moon"), but two matters require immediate addressing:

Is Amy Pond pregnant with a human baby that she's going to carry to term, give birth to and tote around through time and space? This is honestly the last thing I saw coming -- or at least it was until she started clutching her stomach.

And, more importantly, will Matt Smith be the last man to ever play the Doctor? The series has always managed to skirt around casting and storyline dilemmas with the eternally useful time travel loophole, but this seems unavoidable. As of now, the Doctor will die, in his current form, in 2011.

...  But more on that next week, when "Day of the Moon" takes full advantage of that U.S. shoot (see the trailer below). At least it looks like Rory's going to be fine.

Photo/Video credit: BBC America