“I’m the Doctor. Do everything I tell you, don’t ask stupid questions, and don’t wander off.”
Oh, how I love DOCTOR WHO, my favorite TV series of all time — and how eagerly I have been waiting for the dawn of the 11th Doctor’s era. I am elated to report that “The Eleventh Hour” was worth the wait. And whether you consider this Series 5 of the new era or Series 31 overall, we fans are going to be all right. Under the guidance of new show-runner Steven Moffat, new star Matt Smith and companion Karen Gillan, once again, the Doctor is in!
While this may not have been the best story, it worked wonderfully as an introduction to — and reboot of — DOCTOR WHO. It really captured the manic charm of the series. It echoed the past just enough to please this old fan without alienating fans of the revival and casual viewers. It ranks right up there with the very best initial Doctor stories.
What impressed me most was how quickly Matt has glommed onto the role and made it his own. He incorporated quirks to remind us of his predecessor David Tennant’s version, but then moved on and paid tribute to other past Doctors as he grew into his own. “I’m still cooking,” he told young Amelia. The sequence in which the brave little girl attempted to feed him was hilarious, and a painless way to introduce the idea that the Doctor’s skewed outlook. All the Doctors are rather scrambled in the head right after regeneration, and Matt made the affliction particularly charming. He wavered between enthusiasm/loathing for various foods, but instantly snapped into a “business mode” when talking about the crack in Amelia’s wall in a manner that was really quite sinister. Matt has injected an amazing amount of physicality to the role. Just look at the amusing way that he bodily corkscrews rather than merely turns around. It was reminiscent of Sylvester McCoy‘s Seventh Doctor tipping his hat to everyone he met in “Time and the Rani.” In fact, Matt quite reminded me of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. When he finally replaced 10’s raggedly clothing with an outfit “borrowed” from a hospital (just as Jon Pertwee‘s Third Doctor did in “Spearhead From Space”), I was well-pleased. The tweedy-professor look should please old-guard purists like myself — who enjoy seeing the Doctor wearing a “costume” — and new series fans who prefer their Doctor in regular clothes. Matt seems to have an intrinsic grasp on portraying his Doctor as a very (very, very) old soul in a young man’s body.
And then there was Karen Gillan as Amy Pond. Is it possible to be in love with a companion after just one story? Rose…who? Martha…what’sername? Karen was by turns brave, sexy, determined and quick-thinking. A key moment in the story — and for the actors trying to mesh in portraying the TARDIS team — came when the Doctor begged Amy: “Just believe me for 20 minutes.” It was vital that his charm and dedication win her over. It was brilliant the way the blue lens flare symbolized Amy slowly seeing the light, realizing that the Doctor could be trusted. Amelia Pond has matured from the girl with a fairy-tale name into a dream companion.
Of course the story itself was not perfect. Apparently Moffat felt that Prisoner Zero itself was such a blatant MacGuffin that he felt no need to even define the threat. Prisoner Zero certainly harbored no ambitions of taking over the Earth, since it spent 12 years sitting quietly in a shrouded room in Amelia’s house. No, the real threat was the Atraxi, the jailers who were willing to boil the Earth to recover their escaped prisoner — the lost prisoner it took them 12 years to track… Moffat also revisited a trope from his initial foray into DOCTOR WHO, “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances.” Prisoner Zero did not understand where the human body begins or ends, just as the Chula nanites in “The Empty Child” could not discern a person from his gear, and thus “repaired” people by melding gas masks to their faces. And, obviously, Moffat was enchanted with the idea of the Doctor revisiting a young girl at various points in her existence (and becoming a recurring motif in her life), a gambit he pioneered with “The Girl in the Fireplace.” (One senses that the Doctor and Amy will eventually have to deal with her abandonment issues. “Why did you say ‘Five minutes?!’” she screamed at him. Hold a grudge much?) Finally, what is the obsession with the Doctor meeting redheaded brides-to-be?
But enough picking nits. It was the overall effect of the story that mattered. We saw the Doctor take direct action; step up and save the day personally. And he did it in classic fashion, turning the baddie’s own actions back on it. Too often the 10th Doctor pointed his companion in the right direction, backed off and let her save the day; I prefer it when the Doctor lends a hand himself. In my book, writing a computer virus counts as cobbling together a gadget.
Loved the Doctor telling the Atraxi that he has “put a lot of work” into the Earth, informing them the planet is protected. The crowning moment of the entire story came when the Doctor stepped through the holo projection of all his previous incarnations to announce (rather non-chalantly) “I am the Doctor.” I got chills. Literal chills! Then he calmly told the Atraxi, “Basically: Run!”
The TARDIS may have reconstituted itself, but the Doctor still cannot fly it properly. He meant to nip out to the moon for a quick shakedown flight, but ended up being gone two years. Some things never change. Nor should they!
“All of time and space. Everything that ever was, or ever will be,” the Doctor intoned. “Where do you want to start?”
Lead on, Doctor!