Review: Doctor Who – 5×1 – The Eleventh Hour

Absolutely brilliant

Doctor Who - The Eleventh Hour

In the UK: Saturday 3rd April 2010, 6.15pm (or something), BBC1
In the US: Saturday 17th April 2010, 9/8c, BBC America

Stand down everybody. Emergency over. No need to worry. Steven Moffat has arrived and everything’s going to be okay.

Spoilers and review after the trailer for the whole of series 5/season 31.

Plot
The Doctor has regenerated but is thrown into danger before he’s able to recover.

With the TARDIS wrecked and the sonic screwdriver destroyed the new Doctor has just 20 minutes to save the world… but he has a young woman called Amy Pond to help him.

Was it any good?
I have to say I absolutely loved it. Loved it, I tell you. I wasn’t sure I was going to. I wasn’t especially looking forward to it, I had a whole range of doubts. The clips didn’t really alleviate those doubts.

But I loved it. It was brilliant.

Now, one could easily level criticisms at it. The big theme of it was essentially the same as The Girl in the Fireplace‘s – Doctor meets little girl, promises to come back soon, arrives a few years late when she’s all grown up and has a kind of a thing for him. There were some other standard Steven Moffat tropes -timey wimey stuff…

Oh you know what? I don’t care about the criticisms. There are so few, it would churlish to even bring them up.

It was brilliant. Even Murray Gold was all right 75% of the time, even if the new version of the theme tune is only “okay” at best.

So let’s just be unfannish and nice for a change, hey?

Matt Smith
I had my doubts. I still think he’s a bit weird. But what a performance. Although you could probably struggle for points of comparison – the delivery of Patrick Troughton or Sylvester McCoy, the weird, alien grown-up child of Tom Baker, the running around of Peter Davison and David Tennant – he’s already made the role his own. He’s a crazy, more restrained version of Drop Dead Fred – a child’s best friend who makes things fun and dangerous, and who’s not afraid to bend the rules or steal in a good cause. He’ll eat custard with his fish fingers and get 10-year olds to fry him bacon.

Best of all, he has plans. Not Russell T Davies plans that involve the sonic screwdriver and pressing a button. Our Stevie actually, almost super-textually, sits down and says “Yes, I know the Doctor always gets out of things with the TARDIS and sonic screwdriver as his Dei ex machina. But I’m going to explicitly remove them from the story, make reference to the fact in the story, give the Doctor 20 minutes to save the whole world, and he’s going to come up with a plan to save the world all the same.”

So at every step, the Doctor has a plan – a genuine plan – and when it gets ruined in some way, he has another. And another. And another. He saves the world and for the first time in nu-Who, it genuinely feels like the Doctor has done it and deserved any plaudits he gets.

I really liked him.

Karen Gillan/Amy Pond
Steven Moffat has already proclaimed her the best companion ever and I could see his point. She’s smart, fun, feisty, a little bit mental – she’s “Sally Sparrow plus”. She’ll lock the Doctor to a radiator or trap him inside a car door because she wants explanations.

I’m sure somebody somewhere is already being misogynistic about it, but I love the fact that she may have two boyfriends, that she’s perfectly willing to potentially miss her wedding day for a chance to travel the universe with the Doctor, that she’s a kissogram and that when the Doctor strips off to put on his new clothes, she’s openly going to watch. She’s not a Billy Piper Rose reading Twilight books under the covers, yearning for her man – she’s a 21-year-old with guts and a certain degree of control over her own life, yet she’s willing to throw it all upside down because she wants to, not because she’s failing.

It was also something of a master stroke by Moffat to have the Girl in the Fireplace structure to introduce Amy, since without clunky dialogue, without really any other characters to tell us things, we already know Amy – we feel like we’ve known her for years. We’ve almost seen her grow up, along with everyone else in her village.

The plot
So generic alien – but a scary one – and the world’s at risk. It’s classic Doctor Who. Yet it’s another Steven Moffat genius stroke. The alien comes from the crack in the wall and you can only see it out the corner of your eye. This is a show for kids and our Stevie, just as he did with Blink, comes up with a classic childhood fear (statues are alive, the monsters under the bed are real, the scary crack in the wall really does have something in it, you can see things out the corners of your eyes that you couldn’t see otherwise) and says “Kids, you’re right”, exploits that fear – right down to terrifying giant eyeball – and then uses the Doctor to make things all right again.

Genius.

Simultaneously, he gives the adults and the fans things to work with. Jokes that actually worked and were funny. The alien that can impersonate two creatures at the same time but only give them one voice. Amy’s other boyfriend looking at Internet porn. The walkthrough of the Doctor’s photographic memory so we understand just why he’s the guy who saves the planet. The redecorated TARDIS that echoes the William Hartnell/Peter Cushing/Paul McGann TARDISes and gives you a real sense of scale and impossibility. The full-on pictures of the previous 10 Doctors from which the 11th emerges. Even the episode title – The Eleventh Hour – with its images of things being fixed at the last moment, the hour of need, and of course the 11th Doctor.

And there’s a series arc. Ooh. What can it all mean?

Direction
This was Adam Smith’s second Who story – he directed a forthcoming two-parter first – and all I’ll say is that he did a fantastic job. It looks even better in HD, too, but there were moments here that you’ll remember for a long time to come, particularly the extreme close-up work involving the eyes. Nice work Adam.

Conclusion
So I loved it. I reckon you got that. I love Matt Smith, I especially love Karen Gillan/Amy Pond, but I love Steven Moffat most of all. He took everything that made old Who good, everything that made nu-Who good, everything that made his own previous efforts good, stuck ’em all together and in an episode that was an introductory episode, so had a hell of a lot of other work to do anyway, gave us one of the best nu-Who stories so far, with so very, very little to complain about, I’m sure there are actually going to be empty blog pages somewhere where there should have been nothing but hate.

Budget cuts, be damned. Pointless celebrity cameos, be damned. Murray Gold and his constant attempts to match Delia Derybshire be damned.

I’m looking forward to Doctor Who again. I’m 37 and I’m looking forward to Doctor Who again. How remarkable.

  • Agreed.

  • Agreed — apart from Murray Gold, who was OK precisely none of the time. And the new theme in its abbreviated form is utterly awful.

  • Hey, I’ll be 55 in June, and I’m like a little kid again with this show. But then I was never planning on growing up anyway.
    Interesting your mention that Adam Smith directed a two-parter to come before this one. That means Matt was already somewhat comfortable in the role before taking on this intro episode (leaving the finale of “End of Time” to the side for now).
    Because yesterday I was reading so many reviews online saying “Well, give him time to grow into the role and settle down” (but still praised overall). I guess we have to look at it as the Doctor settling down into his new life, because Matt Smith must already have a handle on what he’s going to do.
    Lots of things for Toobworld to play with (You already know about the eyes; probably the ships as well) and promise for more to come!

  • MediumRob

    “That means Matt was already somewhat comfortable in the role before taking on this intro episode (leaving the finale of “End of Time” to the side for now).”
    They did the same thing with Peter Davison. Castrovalva was second or third in shooting order with Four to Doomsday first IIRC to give him time to get a grip on the role

  • Loved it loved it loved it. I’m nearly 45 and I’ve fallen in love with Dr Who all over again. Kids really enjoyed it except no 2 who think she’s going off Dr Who anyway. Youngest TERRIFIED and didn’t watch, but wanted to watch the repeat last night. Agree totally with your review, will be doing my own some time, but it’s the Easter hols, computer time severely limited!

  • Hannibal

    You’re right, all great apart from the new theme version which is apalling. Matt Smith was wonderfully bonkers and Karen Gillan was a great new companion. Nice to see the Silurians amongst all the new aliens in the memory sequence; I assume that means they’re back this series, but will they still be wearing those fetching fishnet smocks? New Who? Yes please.

  • I am SOOOO glad that so many of those who got their major pull towards DW from Tennant are staying, because yep, how could we have ever doubted the Moff? A positive reaction here then and I’ll be linking this back to mine.
    BUT the new theme especially is Murray Gold being ‘okay precisely none of the time’ as Craig so deftly put it – what a great remark!

  • “BUT the new theme especially is Murray Gold being ‘okay precisely none of the time’ as Craig so deftly put it – what a great remark!”
    I agree on that. Great line, Craig! I remember thinking when I read that last night – if he was alive, Douglas Adams would have wished he wrote that line….

  • TemplarJ

    I thought Matt Smith was stunning. I really like the new theme music, I think for the first time since 1979 it actually sounds strange and scary and out of step with everything else on the BBC. I thought the first fifteen minutes or so were wonderful, and the shots of a lonely little girl sitting on her suitcase waiting for the Doctor to return were heart breaking.
    The rest of it was just okay.

  • Those would be Sea Devils, young man. The fishnet smocks went out with Warriors of the Deep, when they became underwater samurai. As for whether they’re back this season, I couldn’t possibly comment…

  • sabine

    I haaaattte being SO close to the UK and not actually having any way to watch this legally.
    I only get BBC entertainment, and they’re currently on season one.
    I’ll cross my finger to finding it in good quality on the interwebs. Unless the BBC have a pay-to-see website with current shows that I don’t know about?

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