Review: Doctor Who – S5E1 – The Eleventh Hour
Doctor: Alright, we are save, you wanna know why? She sent for backup!
Emilia: I didn’t send for backup!
Doctor: I know, that was a clever lie to save our lives. Okay, yeah, NO backup, and that’s why we’re save as long as we don’t threaten you. If we HAD backup then you’d had to kill us.
Booming Voice: Attention Prisoner Zero! The Human Residence is surrounded! Attention Prisoner Zero! The Human Residence is surrounded!
Emilia: What’s that?
Doctor: Well, that would be backup. (to alien) Okay, one more time! We do have backup! And that’s definitely why we are save.
Booming Voice: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.
Doctor: Well, save for, well, you know, incineration.
David Tennant was in his best moments a truly brilliant choice for the Doctor. I think there is no arguing about that. And Russel T. Davies was a wonderful producer, able to make the series into something special again. Nevertheless the last few episodes both seemed to be crushed by their success, the half-season of specials we got treated with the last year was good, but not overwhelmingly so, and the 10th Docter seemed to become more and more unstable and unlikeable as time progressed. Even if it progressed in a rather wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey sort of way. One could say that the show started to be more navelgazing than storytelling when the big finale came around.
It is too early to say if Stephen Moffat will do it better, now that he has taken over as producer. All the episodes he did in the series so far were brilliant, but those were individual episodes, not a whole series.
Me, I just watched the first episode of the new series.
I now could make it easy for myself and just tell you the new series is brilliant. But I won’t. There are another 12 episodes to go, but it does look promising at least.
On the other hand: if they keep it around the quality of that first episode it certainly will be an entertaining ride.
Spoilers after the jump:Synopsis
The Doctor (900something, time-travelling alien in a blue police box looking space/time machine with the ability to regenerate bodies), just regenerated at the end of the last Christmas special.
Now being played by Matt Smith he (crash-)lands in the backyard of a young girl who just needs someone to look at that mysterious crack in the wall of her room. The Doctor gets through his typical post-regeneration antics (thankfully rather quickly), finds out there is an alien prison at the other side of that crack and a prisoner just escaped into the girl’s house, then hops off in his time-machine again to fix some things, to come back in just 5 minutes. Of course we know the Doctor. The next time he appears in that backyard and tries to warn the girl he just missed the 5 minutes by a mark of 12 years. and young Amilia has grown up into an attractive young woman with a boyfriend and a Doctor fixation. Can you already see where this is getting us?
We do not get to think about that too much, even though the whole episode is longer than usual it has to telegraph the regeneration, the meet and greet between the main actors, and a storyline about alien cops surrounding the fugitive alien and threatening to blow up the human residence if he doesn’t leave. The human residence in that case of course means Earth, what did you think?
Yeah, he wins. After all it was the first episode and there are another 12 coming. It’s not like we would be surprised.
The whole thing then is more of a character study than a serious episode. Yes, the world gets threatened, again, and there is a fugitive alien on earth, again, and he meets a new companion. But that’s not important. Just like “Rose” did so many years back, it mostly shows us the Doctor and his new companion. And Matt Smith is the Doctor from the first time he climbs out of that crashlanded police box. He echoes Tennant a few times, but his whole shtick seems to be less the machinegun-mouth lunatic that was the Tenth Doctor, but more of a suave traveller with more gravitas and balance than both his predecessors. Smith actually pulls off something quite fantastic in those moments. In some scenes he appears to channel Tennant almost perfectly, only to move back to his own interpretation of the character within seconds.
Karen Gillian is… ah well, let’s say it: she’s male bait. A redhead with thatthat body, that face, and that accent? Do we even need characterisation? Yes. yes, actually we do. Luckily enough we get some: She also has a Doctor fixation from the one time she met him when she was a small child. Also she has a wedding on exactly the day after he whisks her away at the end of the episode. You remember all that soap opera in the other seasons ever since he first met Rose? Yup, it’ll be in the new series as well.
The Tardis actually got quite a nice overhaul into something resembling a mad scientist’s laboratory. The Doctor even lampshades it in the end. Quite nice actually, even if the change itself seems to be a bit forced. But the production team obviously wanted a new look.
The aliens are new as well, and a bit bizarre at that: Prisoner Zero seems to be your run-off-the-mill shapechanging alien snake, but the Atraxis, the other side, are giant eyeballs in spinning ships. Yet, although they are bizarre, totally unscientific, and as of yet unseen on the show, they are oddly conservative considering the usual Moffat-aliens. Maybe he’s saving that for later episodes.
And then the style of the episode itself: subdued, but quite powerful in that. It uses it’s effects for full effect and while it is noticeable that it hardly is on the same budget as American Science Fiction-shows it uses it’s effects much more effectively. The alien ships might not be looking as realistic as the Galactica, but they are bizarre enough for us not to notice. The pacing is decent, sometimes even a bit too fast. We want to know more about the background, about Amy, the aliens, anything really, but we never have time to learn anything. There is a time limit of 20 minutes in the episode. As always in TV this is stretched horribly in the end, but there still would be room for more background. This might be a good sign.
There are some references to the old series in this episode, more so than in Davies’ run of the show. We see not only footage from the new series, but of the old series as well. All the Doctor’s are shown on screen, making the painful guessing game of earlier seasons moot.¹ On the other hand Moffat seems to try to establish a new myth arc, just like Bad Wolf or Torchwood in earlier seasons, but this one falls a bit short with Prisoner Zero doing all but proclaiming “Hey, write that down! This is going to be important for the season’s finale!”. This actually would be the second worst thing in this episode.
The worst? The new theme. Hardly as bad as it is reviled as over the whole internet it changes the one thing in the series that did not need changing at all. There was something in that old theme that made you come back for more. This one is as bland as it gets.
All in all: a good start. Not the best episode of Doctor Who I have ever seen, but one of the, if not even the, best “firsts” of a new Doctor. This special kind of episode often feels a bit lackluster due to the introduction of the replacement Doctor,² even though the last two incarnations pulled it off rather well.
A solid, good first episode that makes one want to see the rest of the series.
¹ for the uninitiated: the new Doctor Who needed three seasons to acknowledge on screen that the old series as well as the 90s TV-movie are all canon.
² the worst was most likely Colin Baker’s first appearance which made him into a lunatic buffon. Something the whole series suffered from until it got cancelled