Doctor Who reviews: The Eleventh Hour
|REVIEWS - DOCTOR WHO|
Matt Smith takes on the oldest remaining mantle on British TV...
The Eleventh Hour gets off to a manic start with an impressive teaser sequence in which the new Doctor is doing an impressive bit of trapeze work, flying by the skin of his teeth from the out-of-control TARDIS. Nervous? Not half as much as The Doctor was, especially when avoiding a very narrow escape from Big Ben.
All of which is appropriate for the Eleventh Doctor's much-anticipated debut. A lot was riding on this first adventure. What if Matt Smith's premiere performance had gone down as well as an hour-long Go Compare advert? What if the viewing figures were about as high as a tower block for ants?
Admittedly, after the impressive teaser sequence, things get a bit shaky. The new titles and music crash in quickly, but aren't as impressive as the credits for the Eccleston and Tennant stories. We're whisked down another vortex, which looks like a journey down a futuristic kitchen sink. To make matters worse, there's the revamped music. An unholy fusion of what sounds like the duff 1986 Dominic Glynn arrangement and Rock N' Roll by Gary Glitter, the new arrangement is made even worse by Murray's Pompous Choir bellowing angrily at the end. Not good.
Having crash-landed in the back of Amelia Pond's back garden, it seems that the new Doctor is now something of a fussy eater. Like a Masterchef judge on acid, The Doctor reacts to Amelia's home cooking by spitting out her efforts over and over again. In the end, the new Doctor heartily tucks into a meal of fish fingers and custard. Expect a packet of special Doctor Who Custard Fish Fingers to be displayed in your local supermarket very soon.
"Matt Smith's debut performance blows any doubts out of the water"
I'm being churlish of course, since Matt Smith's debut performance blows any doubts out of the water. Combining wacky eccentricity and a strange alien presence, Smith nails the part from the moment he clambers out of the TARDIS. A lot's being asked of Smith, since previous Doctors have been bed-ridden or incapacitated in their first tale. Here, The Doctor is the focus of his first story: We see how he deals with a crisis and how he relates to the world around him. Like Patrick Troughton or Tom Baker, I get the impression that The Doctor we see in The Eleventh Hour is The Doctor that we end up with in future adventures.
What's interesting about Smith's performance is how understated and relaxed it is. The 11th Doctor still has that confident swagger, manic energy and dozens of one-liners, but Smith doesn't overplay the role: The role seems to come naturally to him. The lengthy prologue allows us to get to know the new Doctor a bit more in a brave move. There is no intercutting with other scenes, just a straightforward two-hander between The Doctor and Amelia.
With that in mind, Smith's Doctor really draws upon the concept of the Young Man In An Old Man's Body. He takes a protective attitude towards Amelia without being patronising. And when she's all grown up and ready to start a-kissing in her skimpy uniform, The Doctor's none too impressed with her career or even with the fact that she's reduced her name to Amy. He's also aghast to find a large stash of internet porn on Geoff's laptop, just like a weary father. Despite this though, the new Doctor's still a whirling dervish, all limbs and trips and stumbles and runs. He's also called upon to use his wits with both the TARDIS and Sonic Screwdriver out of action.
"It's early days still, but Smith's Doctor looks like a welcome return to the genuinely benevolent, brainy alien that made Tom Baker's and Patrick Troughton's Doctors so successful"
Using the resources close to him, it's telling that the new Doctor manages to solve the crisis with such ease, even with the regeneration still fresh. It's early days still, but Smith's Doctor looks like a welcome return to the genuinely benevolent, brainy alien that made Tom Baker's and Patrick Troughton's Doctors so successful. Fortunately, Moffatt seems to have the Midas Touch when it came to choosing the unknown Smith to take on the role of The Doctor.
The other debut is Amy Pond. Amy's a sharp contrast to Rose, Martha and Donna in that she has no real nuclear family to support her and return to. Even as a youth, she's one smart cookie, accepting The Doctor at face value without batting an eyelid. The Amy-Doctor dynamic looks set to be different to previous companions in a number of ways. For one thing, there's less of the romance or the hero worship that we've recently had. To Amy, The Doctor is an elusive fairytale character, the sort that exists in storybooks.She makes drawings, puppet figures, and dreams of a life away from her rather sad existence. Paradoxically though, despite being umpteen years too late, The Doctor's one of the few constants in Amy's life that doesn't let her down. Another point to make is that The Doctor allows Amy to have the childhood adventure that she never had. By accepting The Doctor's invitation to join him on board the TARDIS, Amy is allowed to live out an entirely magical new life.
Oh, and she's about to get married...
Karen Gillan's debut performance is just as impressive as Smith's. I was worried at first that she'd be speaking in a haughty posh drone. Fortunately, her natural Scottish accent kicks in, and Gillan brings a winning mix of humour, feistiness and charm to the role. Another inspired choice is Gillan's cousin, Caitlin Blackwood, who is also marvellous as the young Amelia.
In amongst all these breathless meets and greets is a plot. Well, somewhere. To be honest, after a clutch of masterworks such as the Library two-parter and Blink, The Eleventh Hour is oddly low-key. The main fright of the story is a toothy fish thing called The Face Tendril, or Prisoner Zero. With the concepts of the crack in the wall and the mysterious appearing room, these draw upon childhood fears quite successfully, but they lack the creep factor of the Weeping Angels or the Skeleton Spaceman.
The other downer is that none of the supporting characters are fleshed out enough. There's cameos from Annette Crosbie as the dotty old biddy and Crass Stereotype Battleaxe Masood as a Crass Stereotype Battleaxe Doctor. Heck, even Cully from The Dominators pops up as a bewildered old man who's car-jacked by Amy. Problem is, none of these characters make any impression, although Olivia Colman is suitably convincing as the possessed Mother. Dr Ramsden's death, for example, could have been a memorable shock-horror moment, with Amy and Rory chancing upon her grisly remains. Disappointingly, though, her death is kept off-screen.
"It's too early to tell what sort of character Rory will make - possibly another Mickey, given his propensity for being a bit useless and whinging"
About the only character with any semblance of substance is Rory, Amy's husband-to-be. It's too early to tell what sort of character he'll make - possibly another Mickey, given his propensity for being a bit useless and whinging. But at least Arthur Darvill shows promise as the henpecked intern.
Despite the lack of threat or characterisation, Moffatt's script is well up to scratch. It's fast paced, well reasoned and frequently witty. The Doctor's solution to the threat of the Atraxi blowing the planet to smithereens is well worked out. It's a typically Doctor-ish thing for him to let Geoff take a credit, as is his resummoning of the Atraxi after they've upped sticks and left. There's even a cameo for Patrick Moore, which is genius.
Adam Smith's direction is generally very good, with some inspired shots such as the opening sequence, The Doctor's Total Recall moment on the green, and the way in which the new Doctor bursts through the image of his predecessor to announce that he's the new kid on the block. Despite the alien threat, there's a quirky Englishness to The Eleventh Hour that only Doctor Who could provide.
The tiny, rural village of Leadworth conjures up images of The Daemons and The Android Invasion. And what other sci-fi character could munch on such an English mismatch as fish fingers and custard?
So much to pack in. So little time to do it. The Eleventh Hour is as appropriate a title as you can get. In the last 15 minutes, we get our first glimpses of The Doctor's new outfit and TARDIS. The outfit works, even with the oddball bow tie. And the brand new TARDIS works too. The slow pan-in to the TARDIS is well shot by Smith, the interior initially obscured by a bewildered Amy, and then slowly revealed in all its glory.
"It's funny. It's hugely entertaining. It also poses the question of what the big season arc will be"
Perhaps it doesn't matter that The Eleventh Hour's scare factor isn't too high. Or that the supporting characters are only puppets on strings to support the new regime. The Eleventh Hour chiefly functions as the doorway to a whole new era, and in that respect it succeeds admirably. It's funny. It's hugely entertaining. It also poses the question of what the big season arc will be. Silence? Hope Moffatt's not been watching Buffy too much. Altogether, The Eleventh Hour is a triumph, but more importantly, the double whammy of Smith and Gillan means that this new Doctor-Companion team could be one of the best yet. From the lengthy Coming Soon trailer, could it be that the season could also be one of the best? I can't wait to find out...
John Bensalhia limbered up for the mammoth task of reviewing every TV Doctor Who story EVER at Shadowlocked with a full four-series review of Blake's 7, and writes professionally and recreationally all over the web. Check out his portfolio of work at Wordprofectors.
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