"...Trust me, I'm the Doctor..."
The Doctor has regenerated into a brand new man, but danger strikes before he can even recover. With the TARDIS wrecked (and left to regenerate itself), and the sonic screwdriver destroyed, the new Doctor has just 20 minutes to save the whole world - and only the enigmatic & arresting Amy Pond to help him.
EPISODE REVIEW COMMENT
Matt Smith's DOCTOR WHO - THE ELEVENTH HOUR debut is a remarkably accomplished for a first episode, yet, unlike DOCTOR WHO - THE CHRISTMAS INVASION, it seems like the corner piece of a 13-piece jigsaw puzzle that you have memorise as you put it back in the box until later. Some like jigsaws and some don't. There were too many "possibles" than "probables", with hints of what is to come in the future.
Definitely, a "fan episode" rather than a casual viewers episode (even though everyone will recall the "fish finger and custard" scene, musically scored with a hint of "Keystone Cops" or "Laurel & Hardy"), and I can imagine that the audience will diminish by 50% across the following 13 weeks.
Doctor: Your Scottish - fry something.
DOCTOR WHO - THE ELEVENTH HOUR is a highly polished, beautifully photographed (Director of Photography by Owen McPolin), cleverly editing (excellent use of "jump-cuts" as a method of suggesting the movement of linear time) and adorned with a rattling musical score that we have come to welcome by Murray Gold but, perhaps, it tried too hard to be enigmatic.
However, unlike the previous NEW SERIES "introduction" episodes (ROSE and the aforementioned THE CHRISTMAS INVASION), this episode focuses on Smith's character. He's there from start to finish, and is either a brave move from its writer (Steven Moffat) - he believes that Smith's talent will prevail and the length on-screen time will be relished by both the actor and the viewer alike - or a calculating move - i.e. putting Smith/11th. Doctor up-front so the viewer will not have the time to remember Tennant/10th. Doctor. Probably the former, and it succeeds. It should be noted that in a filming sequence, THE ELEVENTH HOUR was filmed third (following the two-parter THE TIME OF ANGELS, THE BEAST BELOW and VICTORY OF THE DALEKS), so by this episode Matt Smith had homed his character; he had to re-set at "zero".
The episode is set in Leadworth, England (the date is unknown - though if we assume that the Atraxi "hunt" takes place on present day Earth then the Doctor would have originally met Amelia Pond at Easter 1986) but even that does not add up (abandoned by Aunt Sharon, Amelia is left home alone at night; who are Amelia's parents, and where are they? Dead or divorced or travelling? What/who is the shadow in her kitchen? Why is a there a crayoned picture of a burning house with an adjacent pond sans foul? Why did the Doctor comment about the town's pond without any ducks?).
Doctor: Amelia Pond, like a name in a fairy tale.
Is Leadworth a time-space reality or a timey-wimey aberration dreamt by a child called Amelia or by a young woman called Amy?
And the crack in the wall?
Doctor: The crack isn't in the wall - it's a split in the skin of the world.
When did Prisoner Zero ensconce itself within the Pond household, and how did it travel through the "crack" if the Atraxi could not? If the arthropod-snake-like alien uses a psychic link to create alternative form, had it taken consumed Amelia's Aunt Sharon? And, if so, why had it not murdered Amelia? And how does the alien know of the "Time Lord", something called the Pandorica, and what will happen when it opens (a creature from the future-past thrown backwards in time to traverse the crack in Amelia's bedroom?);
Prisoner Zero: And silence will fall.
Too many unanswered questions. Fantastic. It's like a lateral twist on an Agatha Christie; This episode is a "why do it?" as opposed to a "who done it?"
Intelligent writing, with fun, wit, adult confidence and creativity but is it DOCTOR WHO? Undoubtedly.
Doctor (to Jeff): Blimey. Get a girlfriend, Jeff.
Doctor: Who da'man?
Doctor: Oh, I'm never saying that again.
Of course, with over 200 individual DOCTOR WHO stories to recycle or refer to, there will be tenuously intentional or coincidental references from the past, so for eagled-eyed viewers/fans it will be either a case of (1) appreciation or (2) annoyance. Me? I love them.
The 11th. incarnation "borrowing" a new set of clothes from the Royal Leadworth Hospital's staff room echoes 1970's SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE as the 3 rd . incarnation did, in addition to "commandeering" a vehicle (Fire Tender and Edwardian "roadster" respectively). The use of a mobile phone to broadcast a mass-communication message as a plot resolution echoes SERIES 4's THE JOURNEY'S END (as did the digital online meeting of talents from the same episode). Following a scan of the Doctor, the Atraxi report "flashback" sequence was wonderfully (and tastefully) designed (though why the Hath featured as they have not invaded Earth, and neither had the Ood) to reinforce not only the credibility of this new face but to cement within the viewer that whilst it's all change (new lead actors, new TARDIS, new music, new logo and new title sequence [by FRAMESTORE and not THE MILL], etc) that it, the drama series, is the same.
The direction (by Adam Smith) was smart and, at times, for DOCTOR WHO, innovative (such as (1) the Doctor's photographic recall and (2) Amy's memory of entering the perception filtered room to discover Prisoner Zero), complimented by resplendent yet natural lighting design The night exterior sequences around Amelia Pond's house were, for "High Definition" broadcast, crystal clear with reflective moon light (i.e. the precise level of blue-white tone). Excellent.
Now filmed in "High Definition", one concern is the incremental increase in the quality of post-filming special CGI effects. Has the digital effects production company, THE MILL invested (for television series) in a software upgrade, and has BBC WALES the financial resources to permit "acceptable" and "credible" CGI inserts? Initially, having seen "flatness" in the scenes where Amy and Prisoner Zero come face-to-jaw, I have to say not. The two elements seemed distant (a problem of taking inadequate atmospheric/lighting readings by THE MILL during filming?) or flat, with a harshness around Amy. The design of the creature seemed odd; how did it support itself? Proboscis sucker at its tail? Clawed?
However, the organically centred crystalline Atraxi vessel-alien is a triumph of audacity & ingenuity (leading to a CHARACTER OPTIONS' "collect and build" deluxe action figure, perhaps?).
DOCTOR WHO - THE ELEVENTH HOUR is, it goes without saying, Matt Smith's tour de force, and, in the space of sixty minutes, as extinguished the smoldering grimace of the 10th. Doctor and has created a truly fascinating television character; cheeky, charming, modest, ebullient and friendly.
He's our new Doctor, and has, like Tom Baker before him in 1974, embraced the role and I have done the same. Now, I'm not easily persuaded, impressed or naïve but this Smith (along with Moffat's guiding written word) seemed to have been born to play this character. Nuances of Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker are prevalent but not accentuated (i.e. Davison's occasional "high-pitched" voice of inquisition) for laughs. One in particular is charming simple yet to defines this new personality; review the episode and watch as the Doctor encourages Amy to travel with him. The scene is subtle, meek, and respectful but there is sense of danger & excitement in his tone (and non-verbal cue). Delightful.
Doctor (on a replacement Sonic Screwdriver): A new one. Thanks dear.
The (professional) critics - and not the "fandom" versions like myself - have stated that Smith could be the best Doctor ever. Did they say that about Tennant, or even Eccleston? Sadly, they could be right and given the time & support of BBC ONE television he will be.
Karen Gillan's Amy Pond is a perfect foil for Smith's Doctor, naturally feisty (she's Scottish, don't you know!), confident and inquisitive enough to seek out trouble before it finds her. Of course, the characters back-story will be key to SERIES 5's denouement; was the crack accidental to her life or, in the same way that BAD WOLF was a "message", is it pre-destined and created by her in a timey-wimey alternative timeline? And did you see the crack displayed on the TARDIS monitor screen? And why did the Doctor dismiss it so readily?
One comment to BBC WALES' DOCTOR WHO production team: following five years of NEW SERIES "arc stories" ("Bad Wolf", "You are not alone , "Vote Saxon", "Medusa Cascade", and "He will knock four times") it may refreshing for viewers to have a set of 13 stories without a cognitive thread running throughout. Get into the TARDIS, press a button and travel. Like the old days.
DOCTOR WHO - THE ELEVENTH HOUR delivers, boxes were "ticked" and Matt Smith confidently ensconced as the Doctor, and with nearly 10 million UK viewers it can be regarded as a resounding success.