So this is the point where those of us who've been quietly confident about Matt Smith for the last 15 months get to sit back and quietly nod and say "oh really? That's nice, dear," while a load of people who've been screaming that he won't be as good as St David of Tennant suddenly think they're the first person to notice he actually does
seem to have the makings of a great Doctor. Yes, the whole internet's already exploded in the 24 hours since it was first broadcast but I'm going to pitch in with my review of the Doctor Who
Series 5 opener as well.
Where to start on "The Eleventh Hour?" Well I think I'll start in the middle, with something I've not seen mentioned much elsewhere but which particularly struck me about the episode: From his own perspective, the Doctor has been in his current form for minutes, maybe an hour at most, but thanks to the accidental 12-year-jump he's in a world where he, and specifically his current form, has a mythology surrounding him, and the way Steven Moffat builds this is fascinating. When RTD relaunched the series, we had something equivalent in Rose
, where we saw a website showing Christopher Eccleston's Doctor in many famous historic contexts, establishing this new incarnation as the character. Moffat goes for a much smaller scale that's at the same time much more involving: A lot of people in the village recognise Matt Smith as The Doctor, but this isn't as the Oncoming Storm or the saviour of the Universe; this is simply a very small community, so they're all familiar with the somewhat disturbed but sweet young girl, and her insistence that her imaginary friend, The Raggedy Doctor, was real. And that's the mythology that introduces Eleven, not the recent trend where everything has to be epic and the Doctor is more or less a god. It's also a brilliantly practical move - for any kids who had David Tennant as *their* Doctor, it's a great way to have a number of people state, with absolute confidence, that Matt Smith is who he says he is. This is so successful that the eventual scene of Eleven stepping out of Tennant's image is almost redundant for settling him into the character. If anything this scene has more of the bombast of previous series, and I wonder if it was partly there to counteract some of the effect of "The End of Time" (as I mentioned back then, Ten's constant repetition in that episode that his regeneration would be like a death and the new guy wouldn't really be him felt almost like a deliberate slight on the incoming team.)
So the episode was an extended one at 1hr and 5 minutes, and if I have a major criticism it's that it was maybe 5 minutes too long. Quite rightly, the villain-of-the-week was a McGuffin, as the introduction of Smith and Karen Gillan was the real story, but that did mean that at times the Prisoner Zero/Atraxi story felt like it was stretched a bit thin.
In tone though it was exactly what Moffat and Smith have been promising for a while now: If the RTD years were a blockbuster movie, the Moffat years will be a Tim Burton movie, a dark fairytale. The word "fairytale" itself was used by the Doctor to describe Amelia's name, and the opening 15 minutes especially were well on-theme: The little orphan girl, the strange man at the bottom of the garden, the scary crack in the wall. The "tasting food with a new mouth" scene was one of the best-done post-regeneration "wacky" scenes I can remember, and still had that storybook touch of a mischievous elf or something that the heroine's invited into her house and who proceeds to cause chaos. And then of course the promise that he'll take her away from all this only for him to disappear, seemingly forever, little Amelia all packed with nowhere to go was heartbreaking. It also sets up what is the darker, more Tim Burton side of the fantasy, namely that this experience has quite a traumatic effect on Amy: It's kinda thrown away (which is probably appropriate in a family show) but Amy's been in therapy ever since, with some violent tendencies. The long delays between the Doctor's appearances may be The Moff stealing ideas from himself, but this isn't "The Girl in the Fireplace" and Amy doesn't just hold onto the wonder in the way Rainette did, she also holds onto the disappointment, and it makes her a very different companion to the ones before: Not a bored Rose, an adventurous Martha or an underappreciated Donna, this is someone who needs
to travel in the TARDIS, and has needed to for most of her life. It'll be interesting to see how far this gets taken in the series to come.
Of course in the modern series so far Moffat was best-known for making something scary out of the everyday, and although this isn't designed as primarily a spooky episode, the man can't seem to help himself - god help any parents whose kid has a crack in their bedroom wall. He also throws in another one, the thing you can just see in the corner of your eye but isn't there when you look properly. To be honest that has always made me jump so it's just as well I didn't see something like this when I was a kid, it might have become a genuine phobia. Elsewhere The Moff continues to come up with some great one-liners; clearly the early favourite in this episode is "You're Scottish, fry something."
As for Matt Smith, I'm still looking out for traces of earlier Doctors in him. His voice isn't actually that different from David Tennant's, perhaps a little less mockney in the accent, so there are reminders of his immediate predecessor. But the occasional bit of poshness that comes through reminds me of the earliest Doctors. I know it's been said that Matt Smith has become a huge Patrick Troughton fan and some of the physicality is similar, plus there was one line delivery ("Get a girlfriend, Jeff!") that reminded me of how Troughton might have said it, if family TV had been in the habit of doing not-very-oblique references to porn in the 1960s. I also don't think I've seen a Doctor with so much innate alien-ness since Tom Baker. Slowly I'm sure we'll start to see the facets that are particular to this incarnation: There's a rudeness, an abruptness to him that we've not seen for a while, and I wonder if it's a mid-regeneration trend or if it'll stay - I quite like it. Despite him being more physically imposing than the First Doctor (my objection when Colin Baker tried to go this way, as it made him come across as a bully,) I thought Smith got away with it. Perhaps because he has that otherworldly quality I mentioned earlier, his occasional sarcasm and abruptness comes across more as if he's slightly out of sync with what sort of behaviour would be polite, rather than just being an angry, impatient know-it-all like C Baker. One other moment that already felt very much an Eleven touch that I couldn't compare to anyone else: "You know when grown-ups tell you everything's going to be fine and you think they're probably lying to make you feel better? Well everything's going to be fine."
There's been a lot of talk about how the cast change is matched by a complete overhaul in the creative team, but that's not quite true, it's mainly the producers and directors who are all-new. Yes there's a new head writer/showrunner but after RTD Moffat is the most prolific writer of New-Who
; and there's only two "new" writers on the staff this year (Richard Curtis and Simon Nye,) which seems to me about in keeping with previous series. Also rather importantly we've still got Murray Gold and Ed Thomas, for incidental music and production design respectively. The former I've never loved or hated as much as some people do; I didn't feel the sound levels were off this time around so his music never actually blocked out the dialogue, but I do wonder if he's running out of idea for themes, the music never stood out for me much this week. The latter of course is responsible for the new-design TARDIS interior that got pretinama
all excited with its steampunkyness, and me all excited with its possibilities for 360-degree shooting angles, and its stairways suggesting so much more to the ship than its control panel, something we almost never got in the RTD years (the only hint I can ever remember was Nine giving Rose convoluted instructions to go round past the bins.) Here we got signs of how much more TARDIS there is in Moffat's script as well, plus how things in there are maybe not quite
bound to the rules of physics:
"I was in the swimming pool."
"You said you were in the library."
"So was the swimming pool."
It reminded me of Five having to jetisson random bits of TARDIS to keep it going.
I've gone on quite a bit and not even got to guest appearances by Nina Wadia, Annette Crosbie and Olivia Colman - the latter only making a brief appearance as I suspected, but what a memorable one it was. There were some little annoyances - if the village is so small how come it has a fairly well-populated coma ward? In that small village, how does Amy find work as a kissogram? (And has anyone outside of a sitcom ever actually been
a kissogram, or was it just a TV invention so they didn't have to say stripper?) What exactly is the time period by the end, given we saw the O2 in the teaser and it wouldn't have been there 14 years ago? (Or did the TARDIS jump back those 14 years somewhere between flying over London and crashing?) But there was so much to like, it all feels nit-picky, and the final point is one they may well deal with later in the series. We even got some reassurance that RTD's departure won't mean the loss of gratuitous male totty, what with Jeff (is it just me who actually fancies Arthur Darvill's Rory more than Jeff? I mean, I'm not saying I'd say no, and maybe I just need to see Tom Hopper when he's not
pulling Jeff's perma-gormless expression to judge properly.) And if the Doctor himself is more your thing, The Moff even gave Matt Smith a topless scene in his first episode.
So I'm just going to finish up by mentioning the credits because they're the one big bone of contention - although as rad said over on lowculture
, it really says something about the rest of the episode if all people can find to complain about is the opening credits. I liked them more than most people seem to have. I was a bit disappointed that it was another variation on the Pertwee/Baker "Time Tunnel" opening credits, which in fairness are the most iconic, certainly to people my age and a bit older. But I'd been hoping since there were so many versions of the original credits that Moff & co might have tried for something completely different than the previous one. Still, if that's what you're going for I like this version more than the last - again it's a "dark fairytale" interpretation rather than a big glitzy blockbuster version. As for the new theme tune arrangement I seem to be in a very small group of people who really liked it - largely because it did what I'd hoped the credit images would do, i.e. took the basic melody and made something new out of it. Considering that's what Delia Derbyshire's arrangement did back in the 60s, helping to make Ron Grainer's theme as iconic as the TARDIS and the Daleks, it seems apt that it should continue to be tinkered with fairly boldly.
OK, next week I'm going to try not to write quite