“The Eleventh Hour” – Review: Redux

Amelia Pond “Dear Santa, Thank you for the dolls and pencils and the fish. It’s Easter now, so I hope I didn’t wake you. But honest, it is an emergency. There’s a crack in my wall. Aunt Sharon says it’s just an ordinary crack but I know it’s not. Because at night there’s voices. So please, please could you send someone to fix it.”

The Eleventh Hour

Do you remember that bloke who used to play the Doctor: David, erm, something-or-other? No?! Me neither. Matt Smith was a tiny bit awesome as he took his bow in the title role. It will be interesting to see how he develops into the role but the post-regenerative debut that he gave in the “Eleventh Hour” was fascinating. At first, he was a melee of arms and legs, struggling to come to terms with his new body. The eating scene raised a smirk, which is quite an effort on my part because I usually find that kind of base comedy a little off-putting: my inner snob gets released for a moment. But as he settled down, especially after the face-to-eye encounter with the Atraxi on the rooftop, I think we got to see a little bit more of how our new, favourite Doctor will be. As Eleven stepped through the (unflatteringly distorted) face of David Tennant to say “Hello” to the big eye, it reminded me of The Christmas Invasion, David’s first episode, where it was proclaimed that “We. Are. Defended” – the Doctor was back and saving the Earth like nothing at all had changed. The assuredness of the Eleventh Doctor after that fantastic moment was a glimpse of welcome insight in to the Doctor that Steven Moffat and Matt have (re)created for us to enjoy.

In keeping with the “new everything” approach explained by Steven Moffat in the Doctor Who Confidential instalment that followed, of course, meant new theme music and title sequence for us to enjoy. The word that seems to be used by most to describe the new theme is “funky”. I can’t help but agree but have to say it is not my favourite version of all time. It never did grow on me. Having said that the new vortex looked great: a much cloudier, stormier affair that sees the TARDIS get struck by lightening as it hurtles more chaotically than ever through the swirling eddies. Throughout the episode though, Murray Gold’s musicianship continues to shine. It might be my imagination but it does seem to be maturing with age and becoming wonderfully more subtle: the CD Soundtracks are essential purchases as I think I’ve said before.

I have spent far too long in the review already without mentioning the following two magnificent words: “Karen” and “Gillan”. Again, we can see the excellence of the casting process. Initial reactions around the more cynical areas of fandom were expressing grave concerns about putting the future of their show in the hands of such relative acting novices. Concerns were clearly misplaced. The episode began with young Amelia being played, I think coincidentally more than through nepotism, by Karen’s cousin, Caitlin Blackwood. She absolutely shone in her first acting role, and to be dropped in to play such a pivotal character in BBC1′s flagship show needed another stroke of genius from the casting people. Of course, when Amy grew up we got to meet the new companion who will travel with the Doctor for, it was announced at the time, the next 26 episodes at least: a Doctor/Companion duration not seen since the series returned. Consequently, everything in the success stakes for Moffat’s Who depended upon this relationship and it was wonderfully subtle, deeply meaningful and signposted as being imbibed with a sense of fun… to wit: Doctor “What happened to you?”, Amy “I grew up”, Doctor“Oh, we’ll soon fix that”

Adam Smith gave solid direction with his stand out moment being the Doctor’s eye view of Leadworth Green. The camera zoomed in to the Doctor’s Eye where he then went on to  analyze the memory of what he had seen a moment before, looking for the clue that help solve the problem. It was a moment that highlighted the alienness of the title character, while giving insight in to how his mind works. Some nice visual touches too, with the mysterious crack in the universe and the “silence falling” which was telegraphed as being of deeper importance than just this story and which cleverly reappeared towards the end on one of the TARDIS scanners. Unfortunately, elsewhere it still seems to me that the production is still coming to terms with the requirements of putting together the necessary special effects required for a tale of this level of complexity, on a budget, for 13 episodes, and in HD. It’s a gargantuan undertaking and admittedly, I did watch in high definition on a pretty big screen, so criticism is somewhat churlish (Hey, give me a break, I was clutching at straws). I think the Prisoner Zero in snake form was a little bit, well, Sarah Jane Adventures. The Atraxi spaceships were an example of this – didn’t like the idea of the big eye or the way it was designed but that’s just a personal thing on part.

The end of the story delivered in spades though. The appearance of the nation’s new sweetheart, Olivia Coleman, does nothing but add a dose of quality to Doctor Who’s ever burgeoning guest cast list (although there is a great debate to be had about the treatment of guest actors in the RTD-era versus the Moff’s. The Doctor’s five-minute trip to the moon and back while Amy waited for 2 years, was a sensationally clever piece of writing and the denouement of the wedding dress reveal served up a certain je ne sais quoi to end proceedings. The way that the story was written such that after a single hour of TV, Amy had a 14-year experience with the Doctor was just… have I used the word “genius” yet? While I can quibble over one or two of the other effects in Eleventh Hour, the new interior of the TARDIS was, in all honesty, a triumph. The detailing, the lighting, the levels, the console, the steps, the bit under the control panel were beyond all expectations and I cannot wait to see how they explore and experiment with it in coming years. The “next time” trail was replaced by a “coming soon” one and gave a tantalising glimpse at what we are in store for in the next twelve nights.

Highlight: The perfect pace and plotting

Lowlight: The Atraxi ships

Talking Point: “Eleventh Hour” versus “Rose”: which was the best debut

Demon’s Run Rating: 18 out of 20

Original BBC1 Broadcast: 3rd April 2010

Marathon Status: Feels like the second half has begun

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