The Eleventh Hour
|Dates||April 3 2010|
With Matt Smith,
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Adam Smith
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis.
|Synopsis: The eleventh Doctor crashlands on Earth. But there's a crack in the wall that's utterly terrifying.|
Getting much better! by Gavin Smith 5/4/10
I don't like David Tennant. To a lot of people that may sound like heresy but I think he was the most gimicky Doctor ever. Perhaps that's not his fault, maybe it was the part written for him by Russell T. Davies, who disappeared up his own backside some time around New Series 3. Here, however, both Tennant and Davies are pleasantly absent.
First, it is necessary to consider the new regulars. I've argued with people already that Matt Smith deserves a chance, and so far I think I might be right. A lot of people have said that he's too young but personally I like the idea of mixing up the Doctor's dynamics, provided the actor can deliver - and Matt Smith certainly can. Towards the start of the episode, he interfaces brilliantly with the young Amy Pond, the gritty setting and the fish fingers with custard reminded me almost of Roald Dahl. Later, upon meeting Karen Gillian, he displays that Sherlock Holmes level of observation without seeming like a know it all; a stark contrast to Tennant's Doctor. As far as companions go, I feel Amy could be a strong one. She's grittier than Billie or Freema and I think that adds to her charm. Her inability to forgive the Doctor for his extended departures makes the show feel much more realistic, as oppossed to Davies' airy, copout-styled narratives. They make an interesting pair, I particularly like the narrowing of the age gap. It will be interesting to see how they progress in later episodes.
With regard to the storyline, I am largely possitive. The concept of an alien fugitive hiding out on planet Earth is not a fresh one in Doctor Who - Smith and Jones, Partners in Crime - but I feel it is somewhat better explored here. The pacing of the story is also good; the progressive revelation of what is going on is very much in the spirit of Moffat's other scripts and I think he deserves a lot of credit. "I think Prisoner Zero has escaped." Shiver...
There are, however, a few areas where I have some misgivings. The most notable of these were the aliens. Here it feels almost as if good CGI makes it acceptable for complacancy in the actual design. I wonder if those policing aliens would have worked better had they been seen but not heard. Prisoner Zero was a bit better.Its ability to morph was redeeming, and I liked the cameo of Sophie from Peep Show. On the other hand, I must say I like the new TARDIS interior; it's completely different to the previous one, so in other words it's fresh!
Also, I don't like the globalisation of Who. "Oh I'll just get on the phone to my good friends at the UN... and Patrick Moore." I prefer it when the Doctor and those immediately around him resolve things themselves.
In spite of these criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode; riveted to my seat from start to end. Also, the extended trailer for the rest of the series looks pretty juicy. So a big well done to Steven Moffat, Matt Smith and everyone else involved and the best of luck for the future. It seems the show, which has been lagging for a while now, has - like the Doctor himself - regenerated.
But please, someone fix the theme tune.
And Stay Out! by Sam Stanley 14/4/10
Ha Ha! Anybody who said this show couldn't go on without David Tennant was dead wrong! And if they still refuse to believe it, get out! What are you doing watching this show anyway? In the words of Troughton's second Doctor, he's been renewed.
Matt Smith's debut episode not only shows that Matt Smith is perfectly capable of playing the Doctor, it also makes it clear that his is a different sort of Who than from what Russell T. Davies showed us. Because not only does this episode have a very good plot (and it's a regeneration episode!) the story ties itself up quite neatly at the end. And without the sonic screwdriver! Compared to the old series (where the sonic screwdriver was in some cases just that) in which the screwdriver was seldom used, in the New Series it is a sort of quick-fix for everything. I'm not mad about that, I just think it's good the Doctor can figure something out without having to rely on Old Betsy. Love the LED on the new one he receives at the end, by the way.
And the way he solves this caper is brilliant. All he needs is just a laptop, a Blackberry and a fire truck. The way he gets it spotted was clearly written and perfectly logical, as well as being able to understand what the heck he's talking about. Three and Ten are shooting Eleven daggers, I'm sure...
The plot is original, but it also features elements of both The Girl in the Fireplace and Silence of the Library/ Forest of the Dead (man, I miss the serials!). There's a strong sense of childhood versus adulthood playing out here.
The bit with the escaped alien convict was frightening. You can only see it if you look out the corner of your eye; another Moffat thing. He certainly does love the unseen and timey-wimey stuff, doesn't he? The best part was with the closed closet door. I love creepy Who... And you know what? This felt like I was watching Doctor Who. It certainly has a Whoish vibe, so to speak. Few episodes these day seem to capture that mysterious magic ("What?" says Four, giving me a stern gaze with his Cookie Monster eyes) that old Who generated.
All right, now for the hard part: critiquing this fellow we call the Eleventh Doctor. All I can say is this: David who? While I'm not saying this guy is better, Mr. Smith certainly seems to own the role almost immediately. He of course acts quirky like dear Four, but I see quite a bit of One and Six in him. Like his predecessor, he doesn't even find a new outfit until the end of the episode, and he steals it all from the hospital he's at (like Three and Eight!). While it seemed weird looking at stills of his costume before this episode, the way it comes together is so natural the viewer can do anything but accept it. The best bits of course was his opening scenes. It shows him suffering from regeneration madness, and I smiled when he had to climb out of the TARDIS with a grappling hook (where'd he get that from, I wonder?) He then has a craving for apples, but finds them disgusting. He then has a scene with Amelia just as funny as Tom Baker's scene with Harry Sullivan in Robot. She gives him various dishes which are considered delicious by us, but are disgusting to him. His reaction to the bread and butter was hilarious. I won't say what happens, because comedy is after all hard to explain. He finally settles for fish and custard. My sister thought it would have been even funnier if he's bitten into an apple and decided he liked that. Oh well.
But even while he's crazy from his regeneration, the Eleventh has an easier time of it than his immediate predecessor and many of his others. Despite incinerating the TARDIS, this Doctor appears to be relatively stable, and is just as fully aware of the menace upstairs as he is with the fact that he doesn't like apples.
One of the highlights of this episode was Eleven bringing the alien race back to Earth to give it a good talking to. The best part was when we got to see all the alien menaces he's faced. Even better, creatures from the Old Series pop up, establishing a very firm sense of continuity (I agree with a reviewer on Human Nature/Family of Blood; scenes from Old Who would have been great there). I'm sure more than one fan will wonder where Sea Devils showed up at, and hopefully might give Jon Pertwee's romps a look-see.
All in all, a very satisfactory episode, and a very interesting way to gain a companion. Matt Smith shows great promise as the Doctor, and I love the new TARDIS design. It looks great, with a mixture between old and new that I really like, and that pulsating sound like a heartbeat was great. I just hope the TARDIS doesn't mess up; Amy has a very special day coming. This story probably beats out a lot of the other regeneration stories of the other Doctors; this one not only develops him, but gives him something interesting to do then just lay around moaning.
On a completely unrelated note, this is my first review on this site, which I am doing a few hours after seeing this episode. I hope to be able to send in more reviews while the new episodes come in.
A Review by Jamie Beckwith 8/5/10
New season, new Doctor, new TARDIS, new companion, new Executive Producer and plenty more new things besides. The potential pressure on this episode and thus the capacity to fail is probably the biggest since Rose when the previous production team took a punt on there still being a family audience on a Saturday night who would appreciate witty and imaginative fantasy drama.
Luckily, this was a great success and for the first time in absolute decades was a good debut episode for a new Doctor because they didn't waste half the episode by having the Doctor unconcious or as an amnesiac; it was straight in to the story and proved that even with no TARDIS and no sonic screwdriver and only 20 minutes to save the world, he's still the same old Doctor and can rise to the challenge.
Within a few minutes, Matt Smith owned the new role and I took to him a lot quicker than I did to David Tennant. I know many people were apprehensive about him before they'd even see a minute's screen time but I had faith in the production team; over the the last 47 years, they've never once cast a dud actor in the lead role. In interviews, people on the production team have describe Smith as a newborn giraffe and there is certainly that element to the physicality of his performance, all elbows and heels, balance shifting this way and that. His lines so far don't match the bullet speed with which Tennant was able to rattle off dialogue but nonetheless there is a distinctive pattern already forming, one which, if you'll excuse far too obvious a phrase, is quite alien. Like the best Doctors of yore, you're convinced that this mad man with a box is from another world.
I was less sure of Karen Gillan as new companion Amy Pond initially, although her flame hair and impossibly short skirt certainly distracted me from it. She had a difficult task of trying to marry the world of wide-eyed wonder and a lifetime of affected cynicism; time will tell as the season progresses how this journey of a lifetime will affect Amy. Kudos though has to go to Caitlin Blackwood, who was absolutely fantastic.
For years, fandom was somewhat ashamed to admit that Doctor Who was a children's programme and some still do, forgetting of course that they were first hooked on the show but grew up, only to be dissapointed that the show didn't grow up with them and thus completely miss the point. There seems to be no such self conciousness from Moffat and we're promised all the scares from our childhood which is the basic crux of what makes Doctor Who so special - the real made unreal. This time it's "the things you see in the corner of your eye" and for the most part it's played well, although I think the audience should have discovered the fake door at the same time as Amy. (Or maybe I'm just too thick and didn't realise it wasn't supposed to be there at first.)
But it's not just the scares, there's the simple fun of being a child and whilst I started to grow impatient with the eating scene I realise of course I'm not the target audience and I'm sure up and down the country there are now poor harrased parents wondering how exactly they can disuade their children from asking for fish fingers and custard.
The Face Tendril was pretty cartoony but at least wasn't as bad as the snake from the Doctor Who Movie but the Atraxi were more creepy even if they were sort of the good bad guys (like the Judoon).
The new TARDIS interior... I'm in two minds about. I liked it more the second time I saw it although I still think (though this probably says more about my dirty imagination than anything else) that the 'spindle' in the central column looks a lot like a glass dildo! I absolutely hated the new theme tune and title sequence but that's just window dressing. I like the new logo when divorced of the title sequence but when it's actually being used then it looks pretty silly in the new, cloudy, sub-DS9-wormhole time vortex thingy.
All in all, a good solid start to the season and it was better than Rose (sorry Eccleston and Piper) but didn't pip Smith and Jones as my top season debut. I'd give it 7 out of 10 and can't wait to follow Doc 11 and Amy's adventures for the next three months.
The Eleventh Doctor is in! by Tom Marshall 30/5/10
Although superficially Moffat has a much easier job in introducing the new era of the show in The Eleventh Hour than Russell T Davies had to in Rose (in the former, the show had been off-air for 9 years), let's not forget that during his tenure David Tennant was often voted the greatest Doctor in the show's history This was an episode that was bound to be scrutinised very closely and I'm happy to say it not only lived up to my expectations for something high from Moffat but it exceeded them. It subtly eases out the old era and segues in the new.
It's not vastly different, of course. Although you want a new tone with a new actor and camera crew, keeping it much the same show at least for the first half of the episode was a wise move: Tennant's screwdriver and TARDIS are the ones on show until the very end, whilst his psychic paper also makes an appearance and, at least at the start, Smith's performance vaguely mirrors that of Tennant's, until he shakes off his predecessor's mannerisms and picks up his own voice. The Eleventh Hour opens spectacularly only seconds after The End of Time, with an excellent special-effects sequence depicting the TARDIS almost smashing into Big Ben.
Then the titles smash in. I liked the Eccleston/Tennant era titles but I think these ones are marginally more impressive; the theme tune is very different, more modern and classier but every bit as haunting when you hear the familiar 'woo-oo' bit. The FX of the titles themselves also impress, having the new TARDIS spinning through a crackly electric-storm vortex. The new logo and the names of the actors are also done in an almost metallic effect, implying a sturdier and more mythic vortex than the slightly cartoonish one of yesteryear. Both the fonts used - for the logo and for the episode name - are very stylish and look good on screen.
Soon though the last scream of the titles fades and Moffat's plot kicks in. The first sequence - about ten or fifteen minutes - featuring just the Doctor and the young girl, is marvellous. Adam Smith directs it wonderfully, with the slow pans through the garden at night giving the Doctor and the TARDIS a fairytale quality (a sentiment echoed by the Doctor himself, calling her a "fairytale name"). Caitlin Blackwood is marvellous as the nine-year-old, one of the greatest child actors out there I reckon and her rapport with Smith's Doctor is quite simply excellent. It's always fun to have a bit of regeneration silliness and with a hilarious extended food-cravings scene that's exactly what we get.
Brilliantly though, Moffat doesn't dwell on the traumatic experiences the Doctor underwent in The End of Time and his recent regeneration. It's all systems go, and soon Earth is about to be incinerated once again; but first the Doctor finds himself in the charming Gloucestershire village of Leadworth. Which, as settings go, is one of my favourites. I love London as a place but in the RTD era it was getting a tad overused, and so having a small and relatively insignificant 'village green' is just marvellous; the kind of place where nothing much happens and everyone knows everyone else's business. Leadworth is also filmed very well (particularly the inspired Doctor-memory sequence where he flashbacks to everything that he could see in the village. Quite Sherlock Holmes but also quite brilliant!)
As plots go, The Eleventh Hour is not up there with the very finest but it probably has the most engaging of any new-Doctor story. The 'crack-in-the-wall' and the monster which appears out of the corner of the eye are typically creepy Moffat trademarks but they don't feel stale and they in fact work tremendously well. Who can forget the imagery of what's in the wall? And Prisoner Zero might be a slight rehash of Smith and Jones and the SJA story Prisoner of the Judoon, but when you're having this much fun, who cares? It's a decent enough effect and its different guises creep one out rather than make you laugh (which they can do with these bodyswaps)...
Arguably, Prisoner Zero isn't the real threat though, global incineration at the hands of outerspace policemen the Atraxi coming to the fore. These are beautiful in design - how Doctor Whoish! - and as a species in themselves they seem relatively similar in motivation to the Judoon if even more dogmatic and dedicated to the task in hand. The plot is resolved in a slightly typical RTD-manner, but it works and it's classily done so that part of the episode gets a tick.
The guest cast are also superb; Annette Crosbie was fun as the doddery Mrs Angelo (quite Minnie-Hooper-esque but a bit less naughty) whilst one also instantly feels a liking for Jeff the naughty-stuff-on-the-Internet-watcher and Rory Williams. Arthur Darvill particularly impressed as the latter, with his character set to become this year's left-behind Mickey, but he's a lot more likeable in some ways and I at least found him a character I was rooting for by the end.
Karen Gillan is quite stunning as Amy Pond, her slightly wild kookiness really setting her apart from the companions of yesteryear. And she's a little less honourable than some of the others, but she gets more to do than run about helplessly. As I've said, in a way the plot is a backdrop for the Doctor's relationship with Amy; brilliantly, by the end of The Eleventh Hour Moffat has already taken Amy on a journey. Gillan is one of the finest companions we've had for ages, probably even more feisty than those that have gone before her... and a lot sexier, too.
It's fun to compare it to arguably the other recent great new-Doctor story, Tennant's first in Xmas '05. Admittedly there was a very solid plot in The Christmas Invasion but frankly if you have to choose between a solid plot and lots of fun meeting the new Doctor and companion, I (and Moffat too, it seems) would go for the second every time. In The Christmas Invasion, Tennant was good but we didn't really know what he was like by the end. This story is very different; in fact, it delivers exactly what is promised: a full hour of the Eleventh Doctor. And what a Doctor he is!
Matt Smith instantly impresses as the Eleventh Doctor. Sorry, who was David Tennant again? Well maybe not quite but I must confess Smith has won me over with his charm and madness, and he blew me away in almost every scene in which he appears (thankfully, most of them). One just knows this is the same man as the previous ten Doctors; his food cravings, the fire engine, his jokes... they're all so very Doctorish. Moffat has written a brilliant Doctor and if it were not for the regeneration slant of the episode one can very much imagine any of Smith's predecessors tackling such a script with gusto.
As it is, however, The Eleventh Hour was written for Matt Smith's Doctor; and so what are my first impressions? Bloody brilliant! Moffat promised we'd see the same magic he saw in the audition, and evidently we have. Not since the days of Tom Baker exuding his own eccentricity has someone so inhabited the role. Tennant was brilliant as a world-weary and yet cheerfully eccentric time traveller, but one couldn't forget he was acting one. Matt Smith feels like he actually does these mad things in real life, as if he is simply playing an extension of his own mad self. He really is the Doctor; he really is ageless; he really is alien. The funny lines are there, the youthfulness is there and the ancient authority is there. I defy anyone to watch this and not be won over by Smith's marvellous performance.
The rooftop confrontation with the Atraxi is superb, possibly my favourite scene in the episode, and the moment where he steps through the hologram shot, wearing his professorish costume, and says "Hello. I'm the Doctor!" is a truly punch-the-air moment. Kids will always remember the one where the Doctor tells the bad guys to push off and gets changed into his new costume at the same time. And as a Doctor who has the zaniest and most explorable TARDIS yet (brilliant set from Edward Thomas, even better than the last one), he's sure to take us on some thrilling adventures. Other top lines: "Basically, run" (simple and cool) and, best of all, one of my favourites in the show's long history, "I am definitely a madman with a box."
In conclusion, people in the 2030s will no doubt look on The Eleventh Hour as merely a fun piece of entertainment, but if you watched it at the time you will not forget the incredible number of rave reviews and media coverage Smith obtained after his turn as the newest incarnation of the Time Lord. There are brilliant jokes, fun effects and a romping great plot, with Gillan's brilliant turn as Amy Pond, but in the end it's all about the riveting central performance. To quote one particularly enthusiastic reviewer, "Matt Smith fights aliens. He wears tweed. He eats custard. He is the Doctor. And he could be more the Doctor than anyone has been ever before."
A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 26/8/10
The last year I have had a minor worry hanging over my head. A new Doctor! Matt Smith, the youngest man to take up the role; it was a risky decision by the new production team and I think I can safely say it definitely was a risk worth taking.
So the actual story is nothing special, a crack in a bedroom wall that turns out to be a crack in the universe isn't exactly unheard of in the world of Doctor Who. The whole premise of an escaping alien and their jailer attempting to execute them at the expense of the humans is incredibly reminiscent of Smith and Jones. Is this really the same man who brought us such narrative brilliance as Blink or The Girl in the Fireplace? The idea of a little girl meeting the Doctor and waiting years for him to show up again is just like The Girl in the Fireplace, only better because this time we get to see her afterwards and see the effect. Here is someone who has been let down and has actually become hardened a little because of it, but in truth is ready to follow the Doctor with the same eagerness as when she was a girl.
But what makes the episode so great was of course the new Doctor. Like his predecessor, Matt manages to make his performance in itself worth watching the episode. This new man is a combination of Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton with just a bit of the nutty professor in him. The new TARDIS looks great as well. When the series was brought back, the whole idea of the TARDIS having different rooms has sadly remained unexplored now it has doors to other rooms in every direction. The console has a very steampunk look; the only thing missing is a kitchen sink and it really captures the wackiness of the Doctor.
So, new Doctor, new companion, new TARDIS and, with Steven Moffat at the helm, Doctor Who is definitely not going anywhere from our screens any time soon.
Moffat's Greatest Hits by Andy Hicks 6/3/11
So, let's see: there's a little girl with something scary in her bedroom, and the Doctor swoops in and saves the day, thus implanting himself into her mind as an imaginary friend, just like in The Girl In The Fireplace. There's an alien force using coma patients for its own ends, just like in The Empty Child. The other aliens keep repeating the same thing over and over again, also like The Empty Child. The alien threat is, apparently, something you're not supposed to look directly at, which is the polar opposite of what the angels are doing in Blink. Then, at the end of the day, the Doctor stares the baddies down by telling them, essentially, to Google him, which is exactly how he beat the Vashta Nerada in Forest of the Dead.
I'm not the first to say this, but The Eleventh Hour really is Steven Moffat's Greatest Hits.
Lawrence Miles was the first to write, on his often-insane-but-frequently-insightful blog, that Mr. Moffat has a certain formula. It's a very, very good formula, but it's still a formula. Basically, he writes fairy tales, with certain elements that can be easily imitated by the kids at home, and with the Doctor as a cross between an all powerful wizard and Peter Pan. And it usually works: his monsters are instant icons, his one-off characters are always the ones you want to see return, and his stories are, by and large, the most popular ones.
The Eleventh Hour, however, is the first time the formula becomes really, really obvious, and that's a problem because it's also Steven Moffat's first time running the show. The individual elements are striking, the plot makes a lot more sense than certain Russell T. Davies episodes we could mention, but it's all very familiar. I'm withholding absolute judgment until later in the season, however. Moffat also wrote next week's effort, The Beast Below, so we'll see if he uses the same puzzle-pieces approach there. The trailer seems to feature Amy Pond talking to us from a television (see: Blink, Silence In The Library), but the tentacled alien with the sharp pointy claw banging blindly against the metal floor reminds me of one of the creatures from the game Half-Life, and that thing was so viscerally disturbing that the episode may well be the creepiest one yet.
In other words, I'm fine when Doctor Who cannibalizes unexpected sources. I'm even okay with it cannibalizing itself. Parts of The Eleventh Hour, however, felt like the show was sitting down to a huge meal made up entirely of bits of itself, and washing it all down with fish sticks and custard.
It should be noted, however, that after five years of huge-scale, can't-possibly-top-this invasion stories resolved by deux-ex-machinae and other contrivances, a story featuring one alien being chased by one spaceship in a small town is a refreshing change. Forcing the new Doctor to save the day without the TARDIS or the Sonic Screwdriver while in the midst of a regeneration is equally satisfying. This episode is the polar opposite of something like Voyage of the Damned or Journey's End, and that's a good thing.
The plot's beside the point, though, isn't it? Well, yeah. There's a new Doctor and a new companion and a whole new production team. Let's deal with those things in reverse order. First of all, it's beautifully shot. The scene immediately after the opening credits - where the camera pans through the garden, past the swing set and into the creepy old house - looks delightfully unearthly. There are lots of little touches throughout the episode that make the mundane look strange and off-kilter, like a toned-down Tim Burton. The ice cream man's glasses are just slightly weird. The shapeshifting alien turns itself into a woman holding hands with twin girls. The Doctor commandeers a fire truck. The companion's a kiss-o-gram. The alien guard is just a big flipping eyeball. Patrick Moore. If this is the new "normal", I want to go to there.
Amy Pond is an interesting character. Ever since the New Adventures books in the '90s, fans and writers have been exploring the psychological impact of meeting the Doctor Here's someone who the Doctor meets as a little girl, promises he's going to return in a few minutes, and misses by twelve years. Meanwhile, she's grown up obsessed with this strange man who showed up one night, ate fish sticks and custard, and saved her from the scary voices in her wall. This has led to years of therapy (the kid already has abandonment issues from her parents) and a bizarre fantasy life where she makes her playmate dress up as "the raggedy Doctor". And now, after he's unintentionally messed with her head for most of her life, she's gone off traveling with him the day before her wedding. Either she'll finally get the time-travelling thing out of her system and thus be able to settle down happily with Nurse-Boy (or is it him...?) or she won't. As Moffat seems to love to use time travel to torture his characters (Blink, The Girl In The Fireplace, his short story Continuity Errors) my bets are on the latter.
Then there's the Doctor himself. Some commentators have already gone ahead and declared, "David Tennant who?" but really, that's just unfair. Matt Smith's Doctor is instantly lovable. The scene where he tries different kinds of food and hates them all might be one of the funniest moments in the history of the series. His Doctor is gangly and slightly rude and awkward, but ultimately good and brilliant. We'll get to know him better as the series progresses, as with any Doctor. If there's a fault in his portrayal, it has nothing to do with Matt Smith as an actor or the choices he's made or - dear God - even his age, as the youngest Doctor ever and the *gulp* first Doctor who's younger than I am. The fault - the sole fault, and the one that will no doubt become less apparent as Smith acclimates to the role - is this: no Doctor in the history of the show has ever so closely resembled his immediate predecesor. Troughton was clownish where Hartnell was brusque. Pertwee was suave where Troughton was tramp-like. Baker was eccentric where Pertwee was authoritarian, Davison was kind where Baker was aloof.... and so on. As things stand right now, the Doctor has regenerated from a youngish, fast-talking, flirty know-it-all into.... an even younger fast-talking flirty know-it-all. The only noticable difference is that he's lost his fashion sense ("bowties are cool!") and says "Geronimo!" instead of "Allons-y!"
However, I really like where I think this show is going. The slight weirdness in the directing, the very different relationship between the Doctor and his companion, the emphasis on small-scale crises instead of global catastrophes, the casting of two near-unknowns in the lead, the inevitable bittersweet conclusion to Amy's character arc, and the general sense that this is a fresh, new take on an old classic... I like it all. I don't even hate the new opening theme too much.
Final grade: 8/10
Return of the Lense Flare by Thomas Cookson 23/5/12
I think I love this story more and more each time I watch it.
But when I first watched it, it didn't entirely wow me (then again that's true of Horror of Fang Rock and State of Decay and they've since become among my favourites upon various rewatches) and I did have some marked criticisms, but I'll get to them later.
I can't really answer the critics of Moffat. There's many complaints made about Moffat's era that I just can't see. But I do suspect that part of it is down to the show for the previous five years feeding expectations of an excess of pleasure from the show, and Moffat's era instead is scaling things down and even playing it a bit aloof. I guess that's bound to cause frustration. But I also honestly believe that RTD's era did eventually, as much as many loyalist fans would deny it, wear down fan enthusiasm. Quite often with fans who are down on Moffat's era, it's because something in them died when they saw The End of Time. It killed their enthusiasm. And that's a general feeling I remember at the time. I'm actually still baffled that in the months between The End of Time and The Eleventh Hour, there seemed hardly any anticipation on the message boards for this coming new era. Everything just seemed kind of apathetic and exhausted. I think fandom had already reached a point of burnout then. Which might explain why many fans were far more grumpy with Moffat's era. The opening teaser actually did strike me this time as a silly leftover from RTD's era, and one that's almost dated along with that repugnant era. But then the credits give way to the magical panning shot of little Amy's house. It's perfectly colour coded and cinematic in a way that shows up just how horribly dated RTD's era already feels, and it feels like a refreshing clearing of the air.
I still get a smile when Amelia is praying, only to be distracted by the Tardis crashing whereupon she prays "back in a moment". And then she goes to the upturned Tardis, suddenly a hook emerges and clamps to the door and out climbs the Doctor. Already it feels like there's a greater devotion and discipline to build up and payoff rather than just vulgarly chucking everything at the screen, writing with a sledge hammer, and making every other line a cheap titillation or every other moment a spectacle. There's a sense of the show actually having a sense of craft and a sense of purpose, beyond vulgar ratings whoring. Even the scene of the Doctor trying out various dishes of food before settling on the right one that hits the spot (I sure do feel sorry for that cat; did he actually hit it with that chucked plate?) actually cements a feeling that this is going to be an era that exercises genuine good taste, which again is such a soothing relief after RTD's unpleasant and off-colour era.
By the way I have tried Fish Fingers and Custard when it was being served as a pub lunch, and it does actually taste very nice.
So then attention goes upon the crack in the wall. It's nicely and leisurely paced this story, actually. And the idea of a child's bedroom wall having a crack that opens into an alien world of giant eyes is exactly the kind of imagination that's been so sorely lacking throughout Russell's aggressively philistine version of Doctor Who in which aliens were usually just jobsworths with animal heads on them. In any case, the Doctor quickly goes on the mission and his goodbye to Amelia is genuinely sweet. This is much more like it. The Doctor isn't being a cocky, in-your-face lothario anymore. He's being genuinely charming and he's certainly winning me over. This could indeed be the best introduction story to a new Doctor since Spearhead from Space, or even Power of the Daleks.
And so the action skips ahead 12 years, and this is where some of my criticisms kick in a bit. In terms of the overall Series 5 arc, it was overall dependent on Amy's life and her treasured childhood memories of the Doctor. I would disagree with many hysterical complaints that Amy's character is emotionally vapid. I would stick by the camp that sees Amy as representing a realistic sense of a woman who's lived alone so long and has grown up with abandonment issues that it makes sense that she's so flippant and clearly has emotional hang-ups and fears of commitment, at the same time as being flighty and flirty and child-like and sometimes prone to being a bit rude and insensitive in what she says to people. I personally know a girl who's just like that. But having said that, I think there was perhaps a missed opportunity here to show the transition over 12 years from Amy's perspective rather than the Doctor's. So that we'd see her growing up and learning a lot more about her, which again would have paid off far more in the finale.
A cynical part of me feels that the reason we don't see this is because Moffat didn't want to compromise his cool by writing from the heart that much. Because basically Amy is a fangirl. If he were to write about her growing up and idolising the Doctor, he'd have to write about all the fannish activities that Moffat's probably done himself and is now probably kind of shamed by and would rather play down. The story kind of hints at Amy's childhood drawings of the Doctor and her own writing of fanfiction, but this again seems to be hushed up quickly the moment it's made a point of. Which is a shame really, because there's something about that idea of Amelia doing her drawings and writing her fanfiction out of her adoration for the Doctor that's genuinely sweet.
Basically it's a relief to have the show in the hands of a writer and producer who actually seems to trust his audience, which Russell never did. Well until the high-profile fan criticisms, and talk of falling ratings and lost viewer loyalty seemed to make Moffat panic and feel the need to desperately fall back on the worst excesses of RTD's era in Series 6.
But I have to say it did niggle at me a bit the way Moffat wrongfooted the viewer into thinking Amy was genuinely a policewoman and that Amelia was someone else. It's not a clever deception that adds anything to the character. In fact, in a way it makes her seem less believable as a person. That kind of deception better suits the villain rather than the audience-identification figure. And if it's a fake policewoman suit, where did she get the real handcuffs from? It actually revved me up for a darker, more urgent story in which Amelia actually had been abducted by Prisoner Zero and it was up to the Doctor and Amy to rescue her. Hence why maybe the misdirect made me feel disappointed the first time I saw the story.
But having said that, this story as it is does have a genuine momentum and meat to it, a sense of each moment being involving and meaningful, the stakes being continually raised, and the story moving with pace but without taking anything for granted. The means by which the Doctor's plan with the sonic screwdriver goes wrong and how even his grand plan at the end seems nearly undone when Prisoner Zero morphs into him, is one that keeps this edgy and unpredictable throughout. It is actually the first of the feature-length stories I can say that about.
Okay I've got to confess to having had moral concerns about the story on first viewing. Namely, the Doctor doesn't really try to understand what Prisoner Zero is supposed to be guilty of. Given that the Atraxi jailors are prepared to destroy the Earth to destroy him, he surely can't trust the fairness of their justice system. They sound like a bunch of fascists. Add to that the fact that Prisoner Zero has lived in Amy's house for twelve years without ever harming her and I'm left thinking Prisoner Zero should actually be the very underdog the Doctor usually protects. There was an ambiguous hint that it had killed the doctor who'd been picking on Rory, but that was after the Doctor had made it panic by nearly revealing its location to the Atraxi. This has nagged at me for a while about the story, but I think this time I was more alerted to its menacing, savage presence to realise that negotiations would probably not be on the table. I also picked up on the hints that Prisoner Zero must have been a member of the Silents, which would explain why it was imprisoned and how it knew so much about how 'Silence will fall'.
The story does leave some unanswered questions about Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi but I personally don't get the sense that they were left unexplained out of neglect. There were many times when RTD's writing really made it obvious that he'd not even bothered thinking the story through or maintaining any consistency. A case in point being the random, contrary justice system of the Judoon in Smith and Jones, which made it clear they just do what the plot needs them to (I think overall it was only Midnight and Tooth and Claw that were the exceptions to the rule with him). But I don't get that sense here. I get the sense that Moffat has thought about the whole story and the universe he's writing in, even if he's not giving us all the details. That to coin a writing expression from Philip Martin, he knows this universe like God would know it. That there is a self-belief to the story that's been sadly lacking in seasons prior. But the fact that the explanations and emotional ramifications are laid on very thin makes this feel cool and lean and refreshing. I don't feel overwhelmed by it, but I feel tantalised, like good gentle foreplay.
So, overall, a great pay-off. It delivers in the right moments, is made of win and has many genuinely magic touches. It satisfied in every way. In terms of the final scene in the TARDIS, the sentimentalist in me is a bit dismayed that the Doctor seems to have invited her aboard more to study the phenomenon of the crack around her, than because he genuinely likes her company. But all the same, Amy's reaction to the TARDIS is perfect, with the right moments of awe giving over to dread and even her most original first words upon entry into the ship "I'm in my nightie."
And I am so glad the old eyesore TARDIS room has gone. I think at last after having to endure some council-estate soap opera for the previous five years, I'm going to finally get that 'trip of a lifetime' I was promised back in 2005. This has actually done it. It's made my fan enthusiasm about this show peak again just when it couldn't have gotten any lower after The End of Time.
Everything's gonna be fine by Evan Weston 26/12/16
Other than Rose, maybe, The Eleventh Hour had to be the most nervously anticipated Doctor Who episode ever released. Could Steven Moffat keep the delightful magic of the Russell T Davies era alive? Could Davies' formula even be improved upon? Or would Moffat muck up the structure of the show, choosing a random unknown to play the title role? The answers to these questions, as with the answers to most of the running plot threads from here on out, are quite complex, but I can basically say this: Moffat's show is still definitely Doctor Who, but it bears very few similarities to the Davies version, despite mostly embracing the same surface format. When you boil it down to its core, Doctor Who is a very simple concept - a charismatic alien travels through space and time in a 1960s police box, often with one or more human companions - and it allows for an artist to really take the show into his own creative vision. Moffat's Who is simply a fresh take on that idea.
That said, The Eleventh Hour takes great pains to say "hey, this isn't all that different," even if it's obvious that the show is headed in a brand new direction. For one, Matt Smith's Doctor wears David Tennant's costume and brandishes Tennant's sonic screwdriver for nearly the entire episode, going with the choice to have the continuity pick up right where The End of Time left off. Smith is also settling into the part, and it's clear that he used Tennant's performance as an inspiration. Never is the Eleventh Doctor so much like the Tenth. The villain here is also clearly defined and even given a bit of a character, in contrast to Moffat's previous and many of his future scripts. It's very much a transitional episode, and that works enormously in its favor. It allows the audience to slowly sink itself into the new show without feeling like what it loved is being taken away.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that The Eleventh Hour is a ripping good yarn, acted marvelously and told wonderfully by Moffat. The opening crash sequence is a great start, and then the following 10 minutes we spend with the new Doctor and Amelia are utterly wonderful. The Doctor's cravings are good for huge laughs, and we get to know this strange, lonely little girl so well in such a short period of time. Then, once it jumps into the future, the story never tells us anything outright, allowing the audience to put together the pieces itself despite how obvious it all is when Karen Gillan makes her first appearance. The last ten minutes act in much the same fashion, rocketing us forward while also making us feel right at home and excited for the new era.
The story checks off everything it needs to, and it starts with Matt Smith's Doctor. He's immediately wonderful, spitting up his food with hilarious disgust. "And stay out!" drew an audible guffaw from this viewer. He's magnetic throughout the episode, mimicking Tennant in many ways - just as Tennant played up to Eccleston in his own debut episode, The Christmas Invasion - but already displaying the quirky alien naivete that will come to define the character very shortly. Smith feels right at home in the role, and it's clear from the get-go that he's a terrifically talented actor with a very bright future. Any worries about Moffat's casting choice are certainly dismissed right away.
The companion is also served quite nicely, both by Karen Gillan's lovely performance and by the script, which sets up her story as both tragic and intriguing. The idea of a companion who's spent her entire life idolizing and being shunned for the Doctor is incredibly interesting, and Amy Pond engenders immediate sympathy and curiosity. Though Amy isn't always used correctly over the course of her run, she's never less than engaging because of her phenomenal backstory, spelled out in The Eleventh Hour. It's probably the best character set-up in the history of the show, and even though I know what's going to happen, I left The Eleventh Hour extremely anxious to see Amy's travails again. Gillan is terrific here, already setting up the now-famous interplay between her character and Smith's Doctor.
Not to be outdone, Arthur Darvill's Rory Williams gets a nice introduction here as well. It first appears that Rory will be a one-off plot device as the observational nurse, but then it turns out he's Amy's boyfriend (seriously, way to go, Rory), and suddenly you're sure he's going to be Mickey Smith Part 2. But Rory is far more sympathetic than Mickey right off the bat, and his inclusion in future adventures is welcomed by the end. We also have the phenomenal performance of child actress Caitlin Blackwood, who is given the insanely difficult task of being the first performer to interact with Smith's Doctor. She pulls it off with easy charm and then switches to creepy as the final voice of Prisoner Zero at the episode's climax.
Speaking of, the story in The Eleventh Hour is no slouch. While previous introductory episodes (specifically Rose and Partners in Crime) have skimped on the plot in order to pull off the heavy lifting, The Eleventh Hour invests heavily in its "20 minutes to save the world" story, so much so that it tends to seem like too much. It helps to have an extra 15 minutes to be sure, but Moffat still tells a terrifically exciting and concise story, putting his Doctor through the paces and setting up Amy and Rory nicely along the way. We get a solid villain in Prisoner Zero, whose snakelike form is genuinely creepy, and the hoops through which the Doctor jumps to save the day from the reckless Atraxi are actually quite complex. At times this gets to be overkill, and Moffat becomes so lost in his story that the focus of the episodes drifts. Luckily, by the time we reach the loving tribute to the Doctor's past as Smith tells off the Atraxi, everything is under control.
There's so much else going on here. The Moffat era, thanks to being shot in HD and with a new directing squad, has a distinctly different look than Davies' episodes. The direction and cinematography is much tighter, with sharper camera angles and quicker cuts. This is generally a positive development; I've always felt that the Moffat era looked a lot more professional, and I think the stronger focus on production values is the reason why. The high-definition is a big part of it, and it looks fantastic. The set pieces are marvelous, as well, with the Atraxi eyeball ship as the obvious highlight. And how about that new TARDIS! Casting away the vaguely alien look of the Davies TARDIS, the new one is sleek, sophisticated and modern. It's a truly wonderful contraption; in fact, of the three main console rooms in new Who, it's probably my favorite. It just feels welcoming to the passing traveler.
The Eleventh Hour is a great time and stands above Smith and Jones and The Bells of Saint John to claim the title of best introductory episode of Doctor Who. It's not perfect; we've already mentioned that the story ties itself in a few too many knots, and the pace gets way too frenetic in the middle, holding it back from that feeling of true greatness. But if it's not an instant classic, it's pretty damn close, matching most of the Moffat era's best output. And when you consider all of the heavy lifting that had to be done - new showrunner, new Doctor, new companion, nearly a completely new show - it's all the more remarkable.