The Eleventh Hour

Matt Smith and Caitlin Blackwood as the Doctor and Amelia
Giving myself the daunting task of reviewing the first episode of this new era of Doctor Who, I cast my mind back to previous occasions – namely 2005’s Rose and 2006’s New Earth. While the former managed to reintroduce Doctor Who to a new generation, the latter was a campy runaround lacking any real substance.

With Steven Moffat at the reins, and also scripting this episode, there was the strong likelihood that some of the excesses of the Russell T Davies era would be reined in by traditional Scottish frugality (and given the Doctor’s attitude to Scotland’s perceived affinity with fried foods, there’s no reason for me to feel guilty about that!).

The thing is, I could have been expecting too much. The Eleventh Hour could have been utter sub-Time and the Rani crap.

It wasn’t.

Now, with a new series, a new Doctor and a new companion – not to mention a new lead writer – there is by definition a lot to get through in a review such as this. While the plot of an escaped convict hiding on Earth has been played out before on Doctor Who (as recently as Smith and Jones in 2007) let’s remember that the idea originated in Doctor Who Magazine’s legendary comic strip. While Russell T Davies wasn’t afraid to borrow freely from other sources, Steven Moffat meanwhile seems happier to apply his own ideas.

“The Grand Moff” (as we call him on Kasterborous) has become renowned for his use of that traditional Doctor Who staple, making the mundane frightening, since The Empty Child uttered “are you my mummy?” in 2005. By giving young Amelia Pond a crack in her bedroom wall with voices behind it – that turns out to be a crack in the fabric of the universe – he cleverly gives nightmares to children with cracks in their rooms while also (potentially) giving us some form of cataclysmic foreshadowing that might become relevant later in the series. While the clues are for loyal viewers, the question is, will the Doctor see them?

The chances are, he won’t. Frankly, he’s probably not up to it. Why?

Because he’s bloody bonkers.

Now I know I’ve left it late to talk about Matt Smith’s new Doctor, but there’s a reason for that. You should be seeing him within the context of a new series, a new location (Leadworth) and a new companion (more on her later) rather than standing him side by side with his emo predecessor. While there is some continuation of speech patters (“Amelia Ponnnnd”) there is also something much, much more.

The Eleventh Doctor is truly a brand new man – he’s even got a new mouth. A craving for apples (recalling The Christmas Invasion) and various other foods that got spat out (in a manner that might cause a few problems with the Easter Sunday roasts today) lead to the bizarre sight of an apparently grown man dipping fish fingers into custard. Yep, he’s bonkers alright, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Throughout The Eleventh Hour, the new Doctor (wonderfully known to the Leadworth locals as “The Raggedy Doctor”) stumbles and collides with scenery, furniture and structures, and looks as though he hasn’t the faintest idea if what he’s doing is going to work. While this might be down to the lack of a working sonic screwdriver and TARDIS, the regeneration seems to have stripped him of the omnipotent “know-it-all” power that his previous incarnation regularly wielded.

All of this brings a whole new dynamic to the show. While the humour remains (“Get a girlfriend, Jeff!”) and the Doctor remains the central character, there is something tangibly different from what has gone before. It’s almost as if the show is continuing not from the revamped 2005-2010 series but from the “finally good again” Season 26, back in 1989.
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as the Doctor and Amy
This isn’t just down to the new Doctor or the new showrunner. Many elements have combined to bring us this new series of Doctor Who. Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond is one such element. And by god, she’s fantastic.

It should come as no surprise that The Eleventh Hour features plenty of time travel and a riff on one of Moffat’s successes, The Girl in the Fireplace. By throwing the Doctor and Amy together not once, not twice but three times, we not only get a companion who will quite possibly surpass Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler in levels of popularity (not to mention a return of a Time Lord who can’t control his TARDIS) we also meet a girl who has had therapy following her first encounter with the Doctor. The shot of the young Amelia Pond sat on her suitcase, waiting for the bonkers alien to return was a bit of a tear-jerker; finding out that she bit three psychiatrists was laugh-out-loud funny.

Of course, if you put it all together: psychiatrists, stories of “The Raggedy Doctor”, a girl who talks on a fake radio to a “Sarge” while dressed as a policewoman (when she is in fact a Kissogram) and a collection of paintings and figurines of the TARDIS, the Doctor and Amy herself, it becomes apparent that Ms Pond isn’t quite the type of young woman the Doctor should be taking with him through time and space.

So, The Eleventh Hour – complete with references to a “pandorum/pandorica” opening as well as silence falling – has set us up for a subsequent twelve episodes will take Doctor Who into a fresh new era.  With underplayed guest appearances from character actors like Olivia Colman, Arthur Cox, Nina Wadia and the wonderful Annette Crosbie, flying eyeballs, a recap of previous Doctors, acquiring a new set of clothes in hospital (echoing both Jon Pertwee and Paul McGann’s Doctors)  and a resolution requiring the Doctor’s ingenuity and not a Big Red Reset Button/deus ex machina… well, I’m getting excited. I think you get the point – The Eleventh Hour was great, fresh and fun.

Admittedly, there were some elements of this new episode that perhaps weren’t as polished as expected. The CGI snake of Prisoner Zero for instance was comparable with the CGI snake seen in the 1996 TV Movie, and internet fandom seems to be split on the matter of the opening titles.

For my part, I think the new vortex effect is superb, and I’m pretty happy with the arrangement of the theme tune (although I daresay from the longer recording there may well be better choices for the closing section). Curiously (and back to the Paul McGann episode again) the previous 2005-2010 opening titles and various theme tune arrangements were never that far removed from the 1996 Doctor Who one-off. With The Eleventh Hour, we find ourselves introduced to the Doctor’s adventures in a way that has never been done before.

With little to criticize and so much to praise, The Eleventh Hour does everything it should – that is, introduce a new Doctor and dispel the memory of his predecessor within the allotted time, introduce a superb new companion and kick off a new series in a way that hasn’t been done since the series returned in 2005.

A triumph.


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