I’ve often thought about doing this, and with a new season, a new Doctor, and a whole new production style, I figured, what the hell – let’s do this thing. Doctor Who is THE BEST SHOW EVER, and… you know what, it still is, even after all them thar changes and a Doctor who is, apparently, twelve. Review on the other side of the cut. Big time spoilers ahead.
You know the drill.
When I say run….
“THE ELEVENTH HOUR”
written by Steven Moffatt; directed by Adam Smith; first broadcast April 3, 2010.
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 Silence In The Library.
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 (there’s an XKCD cartoon that pretty much sums up what this must be like, and you don’t want to know what happened to poor Dodo.) 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 raggety 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.
Stories it reminds me of: “Spearhead From Space”, “Survival”, everything Steven Moffatt ever wrote.
Final grade: 8/10