The Eleventh Hour
The Doctor: Hello, I’m the Doctor.
Production Code: 1.1.
Story Number: 203.
So, the first story of a new era, was it any good?
Unlike the previous 21st-Century new-era-begins episode Rose, this story was broadcast with Doctor Who having been on TV screens in recent years (with new Whopremo and scribe of this ep Moffat writing the scripts for a lot of the “new classics” of the previous era.) So, for this blog to try and answer the question at the start of the review, it’s this context that the pondering will be in.
Like the story Rose it has a rather kinetic intro before the credits (though even more so in 2010), and both eps start with a pre-credits scene that most of the audience is familiar with – daily life on Earth in 2005 / the TARDIS! Having said that, any audience unfamiliar with the TARDIS, the Doctor, the sonic screwdriver: all these are introduced along the way. Like the story Rose the companion is diverted from “regular life”, and there even seems to be a Mickey analogue (the hapless boyfriend.) The “twist” of the companion not quite being from the “present day” does shake things up a bit – this is quite extraordinary really as by the end of this story we could be anytime in the timeframe of 2010 to 2020 or so (when a few “far future” Sixties DW stories were set.)
More context – this is very much a “Moffat story” though – the trope of a character meeting the Doctor at different stages of her life is one he used in 2006 (this is no criticism, motifs are no bad thing in an oeuvre.) Anyone reading any sort of pre-broadcast publicity for the 2010 show will have read the phrase “fairytale” used as one of the phrases to describe the tone of the forthcoming season helmed by Moffat, though it was still a surprise to hear the Doctor use the phrase in this episode (in reference to “Amelia Pond”.) Also, this Doctor is very much (for one person in the story at least, Amy Pond) someone who has stepped out of a “fairytale.” The great (after-the-credits) introductory scenes for the Doctor were more “Roald Dahl” fairytale than “Tim Burton” though (“fish custard”?) Simple imagery like the apples added to the fairytale atmosphere.
To round out these ruminations on how this story fits into the history and context of the whole of Doctor Who, this review will mention another trope used in these kind of “introduction” stories. The 3rd Doctor era, the Martha’n’Ten era, and the 8th Doctor television, erm, “era” (well, 60 minutes) all used the backdrop of hospital to introduce the Doctor. Like Smith and Jones in this story the hospital place that the Doctor is “passing through” rather than recuperating after a regen. There are no pajamas/gowns involved unlike the other three stories, though the Doctor does change out of his old clothes into his new duds in a manner reminiscent of the 1996 TV Movie, grabbing clothes from hospital lockers to put together a “look”.
Enough of these dry comparisons to DW history – this review should really enthuse about all the magnificent and wholly new scenes and moments that featured. (Maybe some of the great dialogue too, though with so many good lines, difficult to choose.) That McGann-style “grabbing clothes from hospital lockers” sequence does culminate in one of these moments, with the Atraxi’s black-and-white “recap” of the previous 10 Doctors the images that the new Doc emerges from (fully clothed complete with bow tie, fully ready for his new era.) A very dynamic version of the “wardrobe scene” in other DW after-the-regeneration stories – “Hello, I’m the Doctor.”
After-the-regeneration (to wind back to just after the credits) – surprisingly, as The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani have shown that this is perhaps not the wisest course, the Doctor was very much unsteady and wild and disorientated. Nothing as ill-judged as The Twin Dilemma though, but interestingly this is possibly the intended “character” for the Sixth Doctor “done right”: a Doctor who starts very much “out there” after his regen and still has echoes of that wild unpredictability throughout the rest of his era. A warmer, cheekier, less aloof version of the Sixth Doctor perhaps? The kitchen scenes were certainly very charming and showed that “Matt Smith IS the Doctor!” (even though DWM already told us that.)
This The Eleventh Hour, was it any good then? Yes it was brilliant. The plot didn’t have the clockwork simplicity of Moffat’s The Girl in the Fireplace or Blink, and with the extra 20 minutes to the running time the plot really did have space to sprawl – however, the disparate strands were woven back together, specifically 48 minutes into the story as Amy’s “dream self image” that Prisoner One uses (a Sciencey-Fictiony concept established earlier) dovetails with the emotional aspect of the Doctor meeting her earlier in her life.
Karen Gillan fizzes as Amy Pond, and the way Moffat introduces Gillan’s “Amy” is certainly surprising, more “Carry on Policewoman” than anything more after-the-watershed though.
So the new TARDIS duo are established by the end of the story, and the requirement for a new era is resolved – a Doctor and his companion together, ready for adventures in time and space: simple! However the Doctor switching off the mysterious waveform as he welcomes Amy aboard the TARDIS suggests things are more complicated than that…