Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour

This review is spoiler-ridden as hell so, if you’re avoiding them, turn back now

It’s hard to know where to begin with “The Eleventh Hour”. I suppose the very beginning. In fact, the beginning puts my feelings about this episode very nicely in perspective: I love the sense of scale. For all its new special effects and the long format, Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who always felt quite small. The first series was set entirely around Earth for reasons of production team confidence, and even after the universe had been blown open to include so many races and planets, the scale was collapsed into a finite, Star-Trekish universe by that scene with Captain Jack and the many monster cameos in “The End of Time”. Moffat’s Doctor Who is bigger. The tracking shot above Earth as the TARDIS fell established the scale, and the sense of grandeur was maintained despite the story being set in a tiny little village in the Home Counties. There’s a big, wide universe out there. There’s a crack in time, a fleet of powerful space prison guards, and a fourteen-year span of events in Amy’s life. Even the TARDIS feels bigger; it’s not just got a couple of gantries in the console room, it’s got rooms all over. And the console room feels bigger just on its own. In fact, even the Doctor feels bigger. The climactic scene where the Doctor recalls the Atraxi to warn them away from Earth is, in fact, a Davies trope done one thousand times better. Davies made a habit of the Doctor telling monsters how afraid they should be of him. This time, the Doctor gets to go one better, letting the Atraxi play images of monsters that have threatened humanity followed by images of “what happened to them”: ten incarnations of the Doctor. Then Smith steps out of the monochrome projection to complete the run, setting him firmly in a context of over thirty-five years. This is a more confident show. It’s not ashamed of its past and it’s not afraid to aim high – it’s a cultural icon.

I think the series has come back with a bang; everything about it seemed perfect to me. Companions have always been used to give the viewer a window into the Doctor’s world, but this is the first time the show has literally run with “what if the Doctor dropped into your life as a child?” – a surprise given that Doctor Who is ostensibly a kids’ show. The Doctor’s post-regeneration lunacy was handled with a brilliant sense of humour that still managed to segue easily into the more frightening tone of the scene with the crack in the wall. The pacing was brilliant, the sense of menace was well-pitched, the humour was spot-on, and the new Doctor and his companion were introduced with a real sense of what they’re about. “The Eleventh Hour” ticked all the boxes for an opening episode with a manic grace that never felt laboured or hackneyed.

I must admit to one reservation, though. Amy deliberately watching the Doctor change clothes and the fact that she didn’t tell him about her impending wedding do make me worry that we’re about to have another sledgehammer-subtle sexual dynamic smashed into our faces. I know I speak for a few fans when I say: this has really got old now. I know it’s early days, and perhaps this Doctor-companion relationship really is more subtle than “they love each other” or “she fancies him” or “the series is riddled with jokes about them not being a couple”, but in a world where literary characters’ genitals have to be shoved in our faces to get our attention I have to admit to being bored of this game. That said, there have been no Rose references, or any sense of the Doctor seeing Amy as anything other than the ten-year-old child he first met, so maybe…

This little worry aside, I have to say that “The Eleventh Hour” was a very good debut for a new Doctor with a tough act to follow. Matt Smith really does have a sense of age beyond his years, and he is a very good actor. His character hasn’t really developed yet, admittedly, but his debut performance certainly holds a lot of promise. Karen Gillan shows similar promise as Amy and, although I doubt I’ll have the soft-spot for her that I did for Martha, her character seems very likable. Overall, it looks like the new series is going to be as good, if not better, than its predecessors.

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~ by Scary Rob on 5 April, 2010.

2 Responses to “Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour”

  1. TBH, I got the impression, certainly from the clothes changing bit, that they were avoiding the sledgehammer bit- The tone I got was that she was just checking out an attractive bloke in the buff, as part of the ‘very confident, no shit from everyone’ theme I was getting from Amy. The fact that she was willing to do it in front of her boyfriend, who two years later would be her fiancee, helped as well. The not telling about the Wedding bit might be that she thought the Doctor would leave her behind if he knew that.

    The very opening zoom-in sequence was extremly reminiscent of “Rose”, which had a similar space zoom at the beginning.

    I like the new control room. The RTD one seemed a bit too alien to me.

    On the LJ intro to this post- don’t worry! It’s an improvement on previous episodes, which is good. Don’t feel you have to rush it out Saturday evening- letting things stew for a day or so is probably better

  2. Great comment Rob, and one that I pretty much whole-heartedly agree with.

    I’m looking forward to this new series with far more anticipation than trepidation following the first episode.

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