From Apples to the Atraxi to Amelia Pond, our verdict on the 11th Doctor's debut.
How to review a first episode? Do you focus on it as just another story, picking up on the plot and how the guest actors did, or do you evaluate it as you would the whole series, going into detail over how the theme music sounds and what the leads are like? It’s a dilemma that almost matches the one that the newly-regenerated Doctor faced, as he tried to save the world from incineration at the Atraxi’s hands.
See, The Eleventh Hour is mad. Totally, stark-raving mad. The story makes just about as much sense as a fish made of Jelly parachuting into your front room while you’ve got ‘The man’ in to fix the Telly. It’s complete nonsense, but it works in the way you want it to anyway. And, to miss-quote the Doctor, “What’s wrong with nonsense?”.
Though, to be honest, when any show that tells you within ten minutes that the hero of the piece’s favourite food is Fish Fingers and Custard, you know it’s going to be a bit of a bumpy ride. The Matt Smith era gets off to a great start, the kitchen scene was hilarious, if prolonged, although it was vital for discovering who this new Doctor is as a character, and emphasising to us that he doesn’t know either.
Smith himself, however, doesn’t have such problems. From the word go (Or should that be “Fingers”?) he nails exactly who the Doctor is with every line, but at the same time, by the end of the episode he’s slowly began to make the role his own. Normally, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, it would take any actor three or four episodes to solidify their place as the Doctor. Not Smith. Around 20 minutes in, and suddenly memories of Tennant where beginning to fade: Matt Smith IS the Doctor.
Karen Gillan has similar levels of success, although we weren’t convinced by her straight away, she soon proved us wrong, beginning to make a name for herself amongst the vast world of Doctor Who companions. Amy Pond is a strong, funny and most of all likeable character, and the way that we are shown how the Doctor shaped who she is after he crash-landed in her back garden as a child is a very deep idea that works so very well.
The said opening scenes are hilariously funny (Fish custard), drastically sad (The long, lingering shots of Amelia waiting) and ever-so-creepy (The way the camera hangs on the door that nobody notices), and give us an excellent insight into what the rest of the episode is going to be like. Matt Smith certainly gets plenty of possible comedy moments, and takes almost all of them. The script is filled with emotion just like all the best Doctor Who’s are, so naturally being behind some of the best Doctor Who’s, Moffat nails these. And ever-so-creepy is Doctor Who in a nutshell: Obviously there was going to be plenty of that, so thankfully Adam Smith’s direction is excellent, managing to get a great variation of different shots, which when put together with Murray Gold’s fast-paced, beautiful and brilliantly chilling score creates some truly outstanding scenes.
The plot itself is a joyous romp, bouncing along at some pace, you won’t notice that you’ve spent an extra 15 minutes watching this particular story compared to any other ‘usual’ Who episode. We quickly get to know the Doctor as he gets to know himself, and before long he’s driving a fire engine along a public road and we’re perched on the edge of our seats. The story involves the newly-regenerated (And therefore weakened) Doctor ending up in the house of Amelia Pond, but 12 years after the heart breaking opening scenes when he told her to wait just five minutes. Thing is, while Amy (As she would rather be called) is all grown up, she never forgot the Doctor. She has been obsessed with him ever since she was nine, so imagine her surprise when her ‘Imaginary Friend’ the Doctor turns up in her house one day. While there’s some other stuff about an escaped alien convict and an intergalactic jail warden trying to track the sinister ‘Prisoner Zero’ down, at the heart of the story is poor old Amelia, her life ruined by a combination of her deceased parents, her part animal of a Aunt who was never there for her, and her ‘Raggedy Doctor’ who was wonderful at first, but after the five psychiatrists eventually the feeling wore off. This side of Amy, the ‘little lost girl’ if you will, drips through her more grown-up, sophisticated exterior, but she tries to hide it, because she’s almost embarrassed by the way she spent her entire life chasing this man and his extraordinary haircut.
The alien aspect almost gets in the way of the character development at times, although by pushing the Doctor through an adventure he’d for once rather not be having, we do see various new personas under pressure. We aren’t going to spoil anything much beyond the first 15 minutes, but there are some lovely scenes towards the end of the Doctor and Amy, plus her sort-of boyfriend Rory (Played by Arthur Darvill, who does a fine job as the cowardly nurse) that shouldn’t be missed, and the final showdown between the Doctor and Prisoner Zero is well done on the emotional level.
However, the way in which the Doctor does eventually bring down the Earth’s latest threat is, as per usual for a Moffat episode, very clever and works well. The Doctor’s attempt at a catchphrase following the solution is one of the many laugh-out-loud funny lines in the episode, our personal favourite being the one about the Post Office .
But throughout this whole review, we still haven’t answered the question we started with clearly: How do you address a first episode? Well, the Doctor has the answer for us. [Spoiler warning, but it does tie the review up nicely. Skip to the verdict if you haven’t seen it.] The story moves onto its plenary as Smith’s Doctor decides to make a stand. In a faceoff with the authoritative Atraxi who have just attempted to incinerate the entire Earth, he asks them various questions in a bid to make them admit to their crimes. “Is this world a threat to the Atraxi?” he asks. A scan of the Earth, and then, “No.” comes the reply. “Have the peoples of this world committed any crimes under the law of the Atraxi?” Again, it’s a scan, then a blunt “No.”. But that’s not enough. The Doctor has one final question: “Is this world protected?” All 10 Doctors faces flash up on the Atraxi’s scan. Smith steps through, completing the list. “Hello. I’m the Doctor.” And with that, the Atraxi flee: Same man, new face. He’s finished off the episode’s monster by telling them its part of the whole series. That’s how you evaluate an opener. You do it in style.