Review: The Eleventh Hour Doctor Who Column: Reverse The Polarity With Darren Blackburn

Posted by: Darren Blackburn, U.K. Correspondent
05/08/2010 - 10:51pm | Updated: 1 year 16 weeks Ago
Beware Spoilers Ahead!   Okay. Major apologies! I was planning to do a good preview leading up to the premiere of the new season, but fate has other ideas -- namely a rotten flu bug that's kept me offline for weeks. Thankfully, I'm better now -- really I am, because tonight was the night! That's right -- it's back! Just about two hours ago BBC 1 showed the first episode of Series 5 (or Season 31!) of Doctor Who. New Doctor! New companion! New Tardis! New head writer! And to use the catchphrase from Christopher Eccleston’s ninth Doctor it was "fantastic!" New head writer Steven Moffat has definitely changed the rules. Doctor Who is going back to its original remit of being both scary and dark mixed with a delicious fairytale quality that would make Tim Burton proud. "The Eleventh Hour" is the best season opener since Russel T. Davies [RTD] revived the series back in 2005 with "Rose". From the start of this excellent 65 minute episode (the rest sadly will go back to the usual 45 minutes) the signatures that defined Moffat’s previous stories such as “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” are well and truly present. Gone is the “In your face, Wham! Bam!” RTD approach. Here is pace and style, but more importantly plot and wonder. Before we get into the story proper, we have to pick up from "The End of Time." The Tardis is hurtling out of control over the nighttime cityscape of London circa 2011, having been badly damaged by a very violent and explosive regeneration -- and immediately the 11th Doctor is in trouble, hanging on for dear life as the interior of his time machine explodes, the burning police box narrowly missing Big Ben before crashing headlong into the new title sequence! Yes, new titles! Dark vortex of blues and purples and a new arrangement of the classic theme which is different, really different. Even a hint of the old radio phonic vibes from the ‘70's. Then, the fairytale begins and immediately you see a difference in tone. Murray Gold's music loses its usual over the top vibes as we get drawn into the tale of Amelia Pond, a little girl all alone in a house in the village of Leadworth. Her aunt's gone out for the night (rotter!) and she's praying for someone to bring her an Easter egg … and oh, she's afraid. There's a big nasty crack in her bedroom wall and she can hear voices whispering from it! She prays for someone to come and repair it, and you can guess what happens! Smash! Crash! Wallop! And one very battered blue box smashes into her garden shed. She runs out, amazed, and sees a young man dressed in a ragged shirt and trousers emerge. "Have you got an apple?" he asks. "I really want to eat an apple!" And this immediately sets the tone for Matt Smith's incarnation because this new Doctor is absolutely bonkers! Mad! Nutty Professor on steroids! Post regeneration is always a traumatic time for a new Doctor and this is no exception. Here, he's reckless; had an immediate craving choosing what foods he likes and dislikes, swinging from one emotional state to the next and yet never frightening young Amelia who is absolutely in awe of her new “imaginary” friend. Of course there's the crack in her bedroom to deal with -- and here Mr. Moffat again shows why he can take something mundane and make it scary. This crack is a crack into space/time, to a prison. And something has gotten out! Enter the Atraxi, another species of intergalactic policemen who, like their associates the Judoon, have endeavored to contain the now escaped Prisoner Zero, a metamorph who takes on the form of coma victims from the local Village Hospital. Their solution to stop their prisoner from getting away? Incinerate planet Earth! Here the story slightly loses cohesion, dipping partly back into RTD territory, but Moffat writes it with far more gravitas and reality than Russel so I'll forgive him this time. This story also takes a novel approach to how the new Doctor eventually ends up with his new companion. Unable to deal with Prisoner Zero immediately, due to the Tardis about to die, the Doctor leaves 8-year-old Amelia, who is keen to go with him -- even packing a suitcase with her favorite stuffed toy and toothbrush -- only to meet the Doctor again 12 years later due to "time displacement" while the Tardis now begins to repair itself. We have a grown up Amy who is disappointed that her imaginary childhood friend, the "Raggedy Doctor," didn't come back. Going back to Amy's house, it seems Prisoner Zero didn't go too far, cooped up in a room that is "only seen from the corner of the eye" and here a good comedy point raises its head (let’s face it, Matt Smith isn't exactly Abercrombie & Fitch material) as a very annoyed and exasperated Doctor tries to stop Amy from going into the mysterious room. He shouts that no one seems to like his new face! Loved that bit! As the Atraxi close in, Amy and her boyfriend Rory (who conveniently works as a male nurse at the hospital) reluctantly join up with the still regenerating Doctor to save the planet -- with only 20 minutes to spare! To draw Prisoner Zero out of hiding, the Doctor sacrifices an old friend, drives a fire engine and even gets annoyed the local duck pond doesn't have any ducks. Eventually cornering Prisoner Zero in the hospital -- a ruse with a mobile phone (I hope this stops as RTD rather overused mobile/cell phones for convenient plot devices!) leads to the Atraxi apprehending their prisoner -- but not before the Prisoner tells the Doctor what the new season arc is. It seems something referred to as “The Silence” is coming and that cracks are appearing across the universe, and it’s strongly implied that the Doctor caused them. With the now fully regenerated Doctor having borrowed his Indiana Jones- style tweed suit, braces, boots and bow tie from a hospital dressing room, he’s not finished with the Atraxi. He actually summons them back as he wants a final word with them! As they read his mind, we get a glimpse of his past incarnations, and if to truly echo David Tennant's departure, the new Doc walks through his former incarnation's image declaring he's back and everyone better watch out! Then, to round things off, catching up with Amy two years later, he persuades her to become his new companion saying he's had enough of traveling alone and we get to see the new Tardis exterior and interior! And that's only the beginning. For a newbie actor, Matt Smith is exceptional, taking the role and flying with it. Don't discount him being the youngest actor ever to play the Doctor. He may be only 27 years old but he acts like a true professional, with Troughton's Doctor and Albert Einstein being the main inspirations framing how his Doctor plays out. Karen Gillan is also good; again the Companion stands level with the Doctor, not necessarily trusting him yet able to support him and deal with the new dangers and wonders that she craved since her parents died so many years ago. The Tardis, too, looks exceptional. Reborn, a bright blue police box now based on the classic ‘60's Dalek/William Hartnell era stories with the welcome return of the long missing St. John Ambulance logo. This also echoes the new interior set: bigger than before, true Jules Verne era now, a mix of Victorian splendor, copper walls and roundels, levels and staircases. Yes, staircases leading to other rooms from the console chamber, echoing that perhaps we're finally going to see more of the Tardis as the ever-elusive swimming pool gets several mentions! Also refreshing is the change of locale. Gone is the hustle and tussle of contemporary London and in comes the fictional village of Leadworth, Amy’s home, a typical English village complete with church, local pub, village green and café selling cream teas and scones. Good, as I think it’s about time you guys really see what life is like in rural England, that green and pleasant land that is actually filmed in Wales just outside Cardiff. But you’ll love it as the village will play a significant role in later stories. The only slight point is it’s not made clear what year Amy finally decides to travel with the Doctor -- and wait! Isn’t that a wedding gown in Amy’s bedroom alongside drawings of the Doctor which she drew as a child so many years ago? Saturdays nights are really alive again now that the Doctor is back! On the screen. Where he belongs!   « « New Series Tidbits | Review: "The Beast Below" » »