Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour

The Eleventh Hour - Amelia's ToysHigh praise has been thrust upon it from all directions it seems and, I’m afraid, my own opinion of Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour mirrors those plaudits.

It would have been a remarkable piece of television even if we’d never heard of Doctor Who before.  That it was so amazing when we were all so used to the series by now is, I believe, an even greater achievement.  It is very clear that the new production team, headed up by writer extraordinaire Steven Moffat, took their immense responsibilities very seriously.  They had a quite the tight rope to walk – retool the series for a new decade but yet keep it recognisably the same.  Personally I had high hopes for their efforts but even I was surprised by just how good a job they have already done.

Clearly the most obvious change is the new Doctor, as played by Matt Smith.  Moffat is on record as saying he was looking to cast older, probably late 30s to early 40s.  The outcry from certain quarters over the young age of Matt Smith is well documented, as is Moffat’s insistence that Matt got the job because he was the best of the best. Moffat appears to be entirely vindicated as the almost universal opinion appears to be that Matt Smith absolutely nailed the part, with one reviewer, Matthew Bell from the Observer, even saying ‘he might be more the Doctor than anyone who was the Doctor before.’  That’s incredibly high praise given how nervous everyone seemed to be about Matt, especially given how popular his predecessor, David Tennant, is.  Or perhaps I should say ‘given how popular his predecessor, David Tennant, was’ as I’m seeing, in quite a few places now, people turning around and saying how they were fed up with Tennant or didn’t even like him in the first place! Have these people changed their minds over the 65 minutes or are they only now emboldened enough to admit it?  One thing is clear, Matt Smith has taken the part and really made it his own.  The uncertainty that lingered after so many first stories for a new Doctor just isn’t there this time.  He IS the Doctor and hardly anyone seems upset by that now.

People who know me will also know that I had high hopes and expectations for the new companion, Amy Pond, as played by Karen Gillan. Yes, I do somewhat exaggerate my infatuation with Karen Gillan for comedic effect but, of course, she is very attractive and, vastly more importantly, incredibly good at her craft of acting.  I’d previous seen her in the BBC’s The Well web series and, with rather more range, in the Channel 4 comedy sketch series the Kevin Bishop Show.  Again I went into the Eleventh Hour with very high expectations for Amy Pond and was anything but disappointed – she may well end up being both the most interesting and most likeable companion yet.  Just look at those final scenes around the TARDIS console, she absolutely convincingly goes through a whole range of emotions from amazed, suspicious, outright fearful to overjoyed.  Amy is utterly conflicted and you could see all of that in Karen Gillan’s performance.  Amazing stuff.

Before I get onto the story itself I should also briefly talk about the young Amelia Pond, as played by Caitlin Blackwood. Unfortunately I was already spoiled that we’d meet Amy as a child before Karen Gillan took over as the grown up version.  I also knew that Caitlin is Karen Gillan’s real life cousin.  That sounds a bit unsettling to begin with but when you then hear that this 7 year old also had no prior experience with acting and it was all sounding like a disaster in the making.  We’ve all seen far too many child actors destroy every scene they are in (the Phantom Menace, anyone?) and these first few minutes of a new era of Doctor Who really could be a bit of a make of break situation.  What was Moffat thinking?  Entirely the right thing, as it turns out – Caitlin was amazing, a brilliantly funny and natural performance.  She made little Amelia really endearing and it did break your heart to see her sitting out in that dark lonely garden for the Doctor to return when, I’m sure we all knew or had figured out, he just wouldn’t.  A vital set of scenes that both set up Amy’s character and had to hook the audience in to the new series.  The casting people, the director and, of course, Caitlin Blackwood deserve some serious recognition – they gave it a fairytale opening that, I’m sure, almost anyone else would have ruined.

Onto the plot of The Eleventh Hour itself.  On the face of it, it’s a bit slight.  That’s not the point of a first episode like this though, is it? We need to see the new Doctor stamp his mark on the series, we need to be introduced to the new companion.  Not since the episode ‘Rose’ in 2005 has so much had to be done in a single story of Doctor Who.  But wait, is it as slight as it at first appears? I don’t think it is, I think there is a lot more going on in this story than meets the eye (no pun intended!) I’ll leave such speculations to the end, though.  For now, the plot – there is a crack in Amelia’s bedroom wall and the Doctor discovers it’s actually a crack in space/time (or something like that).  On the other side of the crack is a prison and ‘Prisoner Zero’ has escaped through that crack to Earth.  The Doctor appears to close the crack before having to rush back to the TARDIS, where upon he returns not 5 minutes later but 12 years.  Grown up Amelia (now Amy) and the Doctor rush around for 20 minutes trying to avert the destruction of planet Earth by Prisoner Zero’s gaolers by pointing out the shapeshifting prisoner’s whereabouts to them.  Once that is done, and the Earth is safe, the Doctor goads the alien destructor fleet back to give them a good tongue lashing and a veiled threat that he’d sort ’em out if they ever tried that sort of thing again.

As plots go that doesn’t sound much for the extended 65 minute (well, 63 minute) running time.  It doesn’t but I didn’t find any slack moments, in fact it is just full of gem after gem.  Little Amelia ‘praying’ to Santa (despite it being Easter) for some help with the crack in her wall, maybe a policeman, just as a Police Box crashes in her back garden. The wonderfully funny food sequence, including the immortal line – “You’re Scottish, fry something!”  No doubt the sales of custard and fish fingers have increased markedly this past week, too!  A bit earlier the whole: “You’re soaking wet.” “I was in the swimming pool.” “You said you were in the library.” “So was the swimming pool.”  Or how about: “On this floor, how many rooms? Count them for me now.” “Why?” “Because it will change your life.”  Or, a minute or two later: “Oh yeah, yeah, course! It’s an interdimensional multi-form from outer space, they’re all ‘terrified’ of wood!”  Then there’s the: “Blimey. Get a girlfriend, Jeff.”  Or the whole scene: “Amy, he’s taking his clothes off. … Are you not going to turn your back?” “Nope.”  Or: “No TARDIS, no screwdriver, two minutes to spare… Who da man? … Alright, I’m never saying that again, fine!”  Or: “Hello. I’m The Doctor. Basically… run.”  I could go on and on but I think we all get the idea!

I’m rapidly running out of time here, trying to finish off this review before the Beast Below begins in about 10 minutes!  I don’t want to spoil this review by tainting it with knowledge of the next episode.  I’ll just sum up the episode quickly then, before getting onto a bit of speculation.  Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour was a triumph.  It had the darkness, that much talked about ‘fairy tale’ quality that we’d been told to expect, a great sense of humour that really enhanced the darkness by contrast.  Great pacing, wonderful music (ignoring the new theme tune, I’m still undecided on that at this point!) and generally (and genuinely) a fresh and invigorating take on Doctor Who.  I can’t say enough good things about it. Superlatives fail me!

On 2nd, 3rd and 4th viewing I am noticing things that might hint at the wider story arc.  People were a bit concerned that Moffat made it all a bit too obvious with the crack and the talk of the Pandorica and silence falling.  I suspect that’s only the tip of the iceberg and in 12 weeks time we will look back at The Eleventh Hour in an entirely new light.  My theory is currently that time has shattered somehow and Amy’s home village of Leadworth is either at the heart of it or at one point of failure.  Some potential evidence:

  • The Doctor seemed remarkably surprised to have skipped 12 years.  Even after the TARDIS is repaired he doesn’t realise 2 further years have passed. Is that because time isn’t working correctly in Leadworth?
  • Just when is the ‘modern day’ Leadworth meant to be set anyway? Modern laptops and mobile phones suggest sometime around 2010 but…
  • Why does Rory’s hospital badge say issued 30th November 1990? Wouldn’t he have been about 8 years old back in 1990?
  • Rory’s car is an ancient N reg mini.  Is that a coincidence?
  • Is Amy really dreaming that young Amelia hears the TARDIS and looks up?
  • Why does Amy seem to have a doll or two of the Doctor with him wearing a brown top rather than his blue shirt?

And a few general questions:

  • How did Amy explain the shed to her Aunt? Presumably said it was the Raggedy Doctor, was she punished for lying?
  • Just what happened to Amy’s parents?
  • Where is/who is Amy’s aunt?

Yes, I’m convinced Moffat has something a little more interesting for us than the usual RTD season arc we’ve all been used to.  I’m very much looking forward to further speculation as the episodes come along.

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