I’m going to restrain my emotion, and phrase the opening paragraph in such a way that until you click the ‘read more’ link, you won’t know what I thought about this, Series 31, Episode 1 (The Eleventh Hour) of Doctor Who, and Matt Smith’s first whole episode. New showrunner, Doctor, TARDIS and sonic screwdriver. (I’m trying really hard to restrain myself here) Hit the jump to find out what I thought about the latest episode of Doctor Who. Oh, and spoilers, if you haven’t seen it.
AAA! It’s SO GOOD! (allow me a second to compose myself) AAA!
I had almost, almost lost hope. As an eleven-year-old, watching Russell T. Davies, Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper pull back Doctor Who from faded half-memory to ‘fantastic’ actuality was the best thing ever. Little was I to know the slow descent into madness, fatuous bullshit and bad writing that was to come. I may never forgive anyone involved in the parade of ghastly dross that was The End of Time, but watching this episode restored my faith! They made Doctor Who brand new!
Alright, now my inner child has had done his jumping and whooping, let my quantify. The episode begins with some slightly ropey green-screen, as the TARDIS careenes across the London skyline. Then, we arrive at the low point of the episode, the title sequence. I’m not entirely sure how you can take something as awesome as the Ron Grainer/Delia Derbyshire Doctor Who theme, put it in the hands of Captain Bombast himself, Murray Gold, and have it come out that… anaemic. Quite a nice new animation, but… something’s up with that theme tune. Hopefully it’ll grow on me. (As usual, the rest of the music was stellar, but that doesn’t even really need to be mentioned by this point. Murray Gold’s a master of his craft.)
Anyway, theme tune ends and we crash-land in the garden of a young ginger Scottish girl called Amelia Pond. The Doctor then proceeds to bully her into giving him food. All right, it doesn’t happen quite like that, but there is a protracted sequence where the Doctor seems to eat nearly everything in the girl’s kitchen, only to settle on fish-fingers and custard (LMAO random). Fair enough, the Doctor almost always gets a little mixed-up by a regeneration. Then we move onto the Crack In The Wall, wherein there is a hideous evil monster, who subsequently escapes into the house, and then there’s a rather nicely animated giant eye peering through the crack. Before the Doctor can deal with the problem, however, the cloister bell begins to toll, and he’s got to head off to fix the TARDIS; telling Amelia to ‘wait for five minutes’. Inevitably, things don’t go to plan.
The Doctor turns up twelve years later, and is promptly assaulted by Ms Pond, dressed as a policewoman. After a fashion, we learn he’s been gone twelve years. We learn the alien ‘Prisoner Zero’ has been hiding in the house all along, in a room with a ‘perception filter’ on the door. After some running around, and the revelation that Amy is now a ‘kissogram’ (essentially a 12-rated stripper) and some comic antics, they’ve got to sort out stuff down at the hospital, where coma patients are being impersonated by the alien. There are cameos from Olivia Coleman and Sir Patrick Moore, a lot of stuff with camera-phones, and many light comic touches.
So, what’s so great? For a start, the actors. Many friends of mine have expressed doubts about Mr Smith’s suitability for the role, but they needn’t have worried, he acquits himself very well, as does his new co-star
Kieron Gillen Karen Gillan. The new Doctor might seem to be having a near-permanent seizure (judging from the way he waves his hands around), but he appears to have the quirk balance right, so he should be fine. He hasn’t really had a chance to show his ‘serious’ side yet, but it should be fine . His character’s relationship with Amy should also be interesting, given that after he left, he became her childhood ‘imaginary friend’, but there should be less Rose-like simpering from Amy. The episode also introduces characters like Amy’s ‘sort-of’ boyfriend who I’m near-certain will return and play a critical role in future episode, along with her alluded-to aunt (who may well become the Mrs Dooms-Paterson of Doctor Who)
As you would expect from the man who wrote the best damn Doctor Who episodes in the last four series, the first episode is written very well indeed. The dialogue sparkles, with very well-executed humour, (lines like “You’re Scottish! Fry something!” have been missing for too long) and the plot is perfectly suited to get all the business that a series opener needs to get done, done : establishing important characters; revitalising the old; fan-service,(flicking through all the Doctors; possibly a little gratuitous) and, of course, laying the seeds for this series’ overarching storyline – Olivia Coleman says something about cracks in the universe, and a ‘Pandorica’, and ‘Silence falling’ – which sounds a hell of a lot better than ‘The End of TIME ITSELF’. The story itself fits together like clockwork, everything working where it needs to, all the pieces clicking neatly into place, it does its job efficiently, but more than that, with panache. Remember that? What Russell T. Davies used to have, before he turned it into nothing more than protracted “sly” winks at the camera which took up more of the episode than the actual story… (I promised myself I wouldn’t start going on about my hatred of RTD, and I’m damn well not going to.)
My few qualms (and they are few) were with the ‘resetting everything to zero’ plot device, which to me felt a little RTD, the fact that although the Atraxi (a race of giant eyeballs) had spaceships, they couldn’t find an alien standing in the middle of the road (although their ships did look really nice), and the one bit where the camera went for a ride (they’d better not do that again), but these really are minor gripes.
The show’s undergone more changes than are evident on a conscious level – it feels younger. Maybe it’s the Doctor’s youth, the changed credits, the new TARDIS (which, if I may again divert for a second, is fantastic! The new console’s full of old tat, it’s now got floors, and doors leading to elsewhere in the ship, so maybe we’ll see more! The library, the swimming pool, the swimming pool in the library, or maybe even the butterfly room…) but something about it makes it feel… new, fresh. I realise my job as a reviewer is to validate my argument here, but I can’t, OK? It just feels different, refreshed. And that’s very definitely a good thing.
So, so much to look forward to – space-Spitfires battling Dalek saucers, more Weeping Angels, and an episode written by Richard Curtis! For now, though, all you need to know is this. Doctor Who is back everybody! I’m not sure I could be much happier!