THIS EPISODE TAKES PLACE IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE TV STORY
"THE END OF TIME,"
'THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES' LIMITED EDITION STEELBOOK BLU-RAY DVD
(BBCBD0130) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2010.
The new regenerated Doctor has twenty minutes to save the world - and only
Amy Pond can help him.
3RD APRIL 2010
And we’re off! Forty-six and a half years since Doctor Who first graced British television screens, the show returns with a new thirteen-part season that nobody can agree what to call, but that everybody is excited about.
There have now been more Doctors in the last fourteen years than Nick Tilsleys, but never before has the arrival of an incoming Doctor given rise to such media fanfare. Even before Matt Smith was cast in the role, former showrunner Russell T Davies teased the audience with aborted regenerations and ersatz Doctors before finally unveiling Smith last January in an unprecedented and impromptu BBC1 episode of Doctor Who Confidential.
Above: 3rd January 2009; the day Matt Smith became a Time Lord.
However, though Smith and his youth have dominated the media in the run up to his debut, he isn’t all that’s new about the 2010 series. The Eleventh Hour also brings with it a new companion in Karen Gillan; a new Head Writer in fan-favourite scribe Steven Moffat; new Executive Producers in the brilliant Beth Willis (producer of what is presently my second favourite show, Ashes to Ashes) and BBC Wales Head of Drama, Piers Wenger (who started early to oversee David Tennant’s departure). And then there’s the new TARDIS, the new sonic screwdriver, the new theme tune, and the new logo. Hell, there are even new fonts! It isn’t difficult to see why some have been referring to this season as ‘Series 1’ because, once again, we find ourselves right back at the start, and everything is new.
Indeed, the appointment of Moffat, coupled with a few illicit and distant snaps of ‘classic’ Daleks and what appeared to be the original, 1960s TARDIS exterior, sparked rumours of a return to darker, more traditional Who stories. The way people were talking, I was half-expecting to hear the 1963 Delia Derbyshire version of the title music and to see a monochromatic title sequence.
But if you look at Moffat’s prior scripts for Doctor Who, whilst they are generally unsettling (and often incomparably so), they are hardly all-pervadingly dark. In fact, what really seems to set them apart is their warmth and their humour, and so I wasn’t really surprised to see a 3D Doctor and Amy Pond burst onto the nation’s cinema screens drowned in violent mauve in the vibrant pre-season trailer.
Above: Electrifying or what?
The new title sequence is similarly energetic. It remains largely faithful to the one that’s been in place since the show returned in 2005, although the animated TARDIS looks a little more convincing in high-definition and the fire of the Vortex is much more imposing than the cartoon red that it replaces. Furthermore, the new logo and insignia both appear in the colour of burnt metal, as if they’ve just been forged in the heart of the Vortex, and even the new fonts used (both for the actors’ credits and the episode title) are much more stylised than those seen over the past five years. Murray Gold’s latest rendition of the title music I’m a little more ambivalent about, perhaps because I look upon the recent ‘rocked up’ version as a personal favourite. The opening bars in particular sound a little divergent, but once the howl kicks in it’s as haunting and as effective as ever.
The real talking point of The Eleventh Hour though is “the best part in British TV history,” and the young man now charged with it. As I write this, I’m still struggling to come to terms with the sobering fact that, for the first time in my life, I’m actually older than the actor playing the Doctor. Being older than England footballers and pop stars I can just about take, but being older than the Doctor feels fundamentally wrong on so many different levels. Needless to say, like many I was surprised by the casting of such a young actor; particularly so, given Moffat’s earlier comments about wanting to cast someone older in the part. However, it only took a matter of moments for me to see in Smith what the production team must have done when they auditioned him – the man is ageless.
“I’m the Doctor. I’m worse than everybody’s Aunt.”
Even without speaking, Smith can convey so much. Everything about his portrayal is a little off-kilter, as if he’s trying to blend into an alien culture and is so nearly getting it right, but he just can’t quite nail the nuances. I’d lay odds that, if you were to line up the eleven Doctors and ask someone with no knowledge of the series to identify the 906 year-old alien, they’d pick Smith every time.
His already unique look is then buoyed by a woefully appro-priate, Einstein-inspired garb, which I understand Smith threw together himself. Whilst it lacks the accessibility of pinstriped suits or black leather jackets (a few examples of which litter my own wardrobe), it is without a doubt the most perfectly Doctorish garb that we’ve seen the Time Lord don since the series’ revival.
And Moffat’s script for The Eleventh Hour serves as a wonderful introduction to the new Doctor. It’s incredibly refreshing to be presented with a post-regeneration story where the Doctor doesn’t exclaim “the regeneration is going wrong…” (or words to that effect) which, ever since Peter Davison took over the part, seem to have become the rule rather than the exception, effectively killing the dramatic impetus that the idea initially had. Instead, this sixty-four and a half minute slobberknocker provides the viewer with exactly what it promises to – a full hour of Eleven.
Almost every scene in this episode features Smith’s Doctor, right from his theatrical crash into young Amelia Pond’s back garden in the mid-1990s to his mercurial - but still “proper bonkers” - scene atop the hospital roof that sees him lecture the Atraxi whilst trying on some new threads. That’s right: the Doctor saves the world, the aliens scarper, and then he summons them back to give them a ticking off whilst he picks out his new costume (gone are the days of a leisurely ‘Time and the Rani’ saunter through the TARDIS’ extensive wardrobe...)
Some of director Adam Smith’s long-shots encapsulate the significance of the moment beautifully. Here we have one man intimidating a massive alien ship with little more than his words. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds uncannily like the majestic Doctor that we heard River Song wax lyrical about in Silence in the Library. That’s an Oncoming Storm.
“What did I see? I saw…”
The Eleventh Hour even allows us into the Doctor’s head, in a manner of speaking. By way of an elaborate, sweeping torrent of stills that I can only describe as ‘Doctor-cam’, we are made privy to the Doctor’s brilliant mind and its workings as he recalls everything and everyone that he saw just a few moments earlier on the village green, together with what they were each doing and what was wrong with the picture. It’s a truly stunning sequence, both cinematically and narratively.
Now when introducing a new incarnation of the Doctor, one could see how introducing a new companion at the same time could be difficult. Establishing one new lead in a continuing show is a tricky enough proposition, but two? Well here Moffat makes it feel absolutely effortless, though he does have to pinch a device or two from his earlier works.
“Little Amelia Pond. Waiting for her magic Doctor to return…”
Amy Pond’s story is essentially that of Reinette Poisson - the eponymous Girl in the Fireplace - embroidered and extended, and shifted from 18th century Paris to 21st century Leadworth. Amy – or ‘Amelia’, as she was then – first encounters her “raggedy Doctor” as a young girl, when his blazing TARDIS crashes in her back garden. After eating all of her fish fingers and custard (together, no doubt to the amusement of younger viewers), the Doctor promises to come back for her in five minutes’ time, so that he can show her all the wonders of time and space. And, in fairness to him, he does go back for her… it’s just it’s “twelve years and four psychiatrists” later.
All grown-up, Amy is an acerbic, kooky, ‘dabbling’ kissogram with one hell of a batting arm on her. Following a wistful youth spent drawing cartoons about and making dolls of her “raggedy Doctor”, the intervening years have made Amy scared and hardened, to the extent that when the Doctor does eventually return for her, she all but loathes him for what he’s done to her, leading to captivatingly fiery on screen dynamic between the two leads.
“You were a little girl five minutes ago.”
Amy’s background is also rather inspired. She’s not another Londoner, but a red-headed Scots girl from a sleepy English village – qualities that The Eleventh Hour really exploits for all they are worth. Gone are the familiar red busses and landmarks that have helped the series to become such a soaring international success, and in their place are duck ponds and villagers who live in each other’s pockets, played by noted comic actors from comedies as diverse as One Foot in the Grave and Peep Show. It’s far less gaudy, but every bit as marketable as London. I just wish that Moffat had gone the whole hog and called the place Stockbridge (the rural fantasia often frequented by the Doctor in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, and in a recent trilogy of Big Finish audio dramas).
Both Karen Gillian and her young cousin, Caitlin Blackwood, give fantastic performances as Amy. Gillan is hard and sexy (as she should be, Ms Pearson of the Daily Mail!) but vulnerable with it, and as one would’ve hoped has awesome chemistry with Smith. Blackwood, in some ways, had an even harder job than her cousin, but acquits herself with comparable aplomb.
And though his role is limited here, Amy’s fiancée Rory makes a fine first impression too. Arthur Darvill’s awkward nurse looks like he’s going to be this season’s ‘Mickey the Idiot’, albeit with a lot less spunk and a little more innate likeability.
Turning to the science fiction story, the handcuffs-and-hospitals ‘Prisoner Ze-ro’ plot is small potatoes by Moffat’s usual soaring standards; nevertheless, it serves as a perfect vehicle for both Smith and Gillan. The protagonists are given plenty to do without ever being in danger of playing settle fiddle to the complexities of the plot, which is still full of enough scares and spectacle to hold the audience’s attention throughout.
“If you’re a doctor, why does your box say ‘police’?”
The Eleventh Hour sees Moffat play upon another of his now trademark ‘everyday’ scares: cracks in walls, something that I think most kids can relate to, unless their parents are plasterers. And it seems that the cracks won’t end with Amy’s bedroom wall, if Prisoner Zero’s comments about “silence falling” are anything to go by. Indeed, it seems that Moffat has inherited his predecessor’s predilection for sewing long-running story arcs...
The episode’s dénouement is wonderfully played, and provides us with what smells very much like a second running storyline for the season – getting Amy to the church on time! And Ed Thomas’ new TARDIS interior is gorgeous, fitting Smith’s Doctor every bit as well as his costume. Indeed, when inside the “sexy thing”, for the first time in the whole hour the Doctor appears elegant and assured; undisputed master of his own gadgety little kingdom, as evidenced by that telling click of his fingers which opens the doors.
“Amy Pond, there is something you better understand about me ‘cos it’s important
and one day your life might depend on it. I’m definitely a mad man with a box. Ha ha…”
And so was there anything I didn’t like? Only if I’m being pernickety, to be honest. As much as I loved the design of Atraxi ships, I felt that their realisation was a little crude in a few shots; particularly when contrasted with the standard of special effects seen in The Waters of Mars and The End of Time. However, if the cinematic ‘Coming Soon’ trailer is anything to go by, this minor quibble looks as if it is going to be limited to just this one episode as before long we are going to see incredibly well-realised spitfires dogfighting in space, Dalek saucers in the throes of battle, Silurians and Sea Devils... and much, much more.
My other complaint is destined to be an enduring one though, I’m afraid.: I’m not a fan of catchphrases at the best of times, and the cheesy “Geronimo” may well be the worst of them! Fair dues, it’s not as wilfully camp as “allons-y” or “monto bene”, and the children watching are sure to run around gleefully shouting it for years to come, but it’s hardly fantastic.
On the whole though The Eleventh Hour was a massive hit with me, and with the missus too, who was completely rapt by Smith’s beguiling performance. So much for early reports of this episode not being accessible to non-Who fans! All told, it’s hard to imagine a more promising start for a new Doctor and companion team, and I for one can’t wait to see where Moffat and the so-called “Series Fnarg” will take them. The Scotsman is frying something...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2010
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Several things stood out when I was watching this episode and all of them put me in a far better mood than when I watched Rose way back in 2005. I am a huge fan of Tim Burton’s movies and I adore his whimsical and fairytale approach to storytelling, and Steven Moffat’s opening story for the eleventh Doctor positively glowed with the same youthful exuberance and dark fantasy. I spent the entire episode sitting there with a huge grin on my face and loved every second of it.
I am of the thought that it is sometimes much wiser to shove an unknown actor into an important part simply for the novelty of finding a great performer if you manage to pull it off. Of course, hypocritically, if it falls flat on its face I usually decry “why on Earth did they use that nobody?” Such is the way with fussy critics. Matt Smith sold himself in the first ten minutes of this story; I had no doubt in my mind that the youthful rogue that leapt from the TARDIS and started whoofing down custard fish was the same man who kidnapped Ian and Barbara, skipped away from the Ice Warriors on the Moon, watched appalled as the Brigadier blew up the Silurians, stalked a giant rat in the sewers of London with an elephant gun, watched his companion die in a spaceship crashing into the Earth, bantered with Davros about eating people, blew up Skaro, snogged an American surgeon, argued the case for an alien race reanimating human corpses, and became human to escape an alien family!
“All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will. Where do you wanna start?”
Smith is all fingers and thumbs at first, body spasms and quirks. He exudes a childlike lack of knowledge about the world and his own abilities, and he charms everybody that he meets. He never plays the part quite as you would expect him to, aided well by a script that keeps him unpredictable and utterly amiable. It helps that he makes no apologies for his mistakes (leaving Amy for years at a time... twice!) but mumbles that he is new at this and moves on. He is a man of action too, dashing off to save the day in twenty minutes but still having time to spend ten minutes helping out a little girl with a problem with her wall. Both my mother-in-law and my husband were unsure about Smith after seeing previews since they both adored David Tennant so much, but by the end of this episode they were laughing and clapping and declaring him the next best thing. I loved that wild look in his eyes when he ask the TARDIS what she has for him this time; he’s mad and thrilling.
Moffat cleverly stops Amy from being Donna mark #II by allowing her to grow up in her debut story, and by giving her balls without having her fall to pieces at the drop of as hat. Don’t get me wrong; I love Donna, and she will probably always be my favourite companion bar Sarah Jane, but it was nice to have a woman who goes on such a journey with the Doctor within one story. The younger Amy was very sweet and the scenes of her packing up her stuff and rushing out with a suitcase reminds us of that giddy child like thrill of being offered the chance to travel with the Doctor like no other before or since. Karen Gillan steps into the role of the older Amy - our Amy - and works her eyes to death with wonder, fear and utter bewilderment. I loved her solution to trespassers in her home (knock them out with a baseball bat) and her fearlessness when she walks into the hidden room. It was a surprisingly powerful moment when she snapped at the Doctor and makes him realise that she is the little girl that he never came back for. It hurt with Sarah Jane in School Reunion but the thought of breaking a little girl’s heart is brutal. Then the story keeps reminding us, how much of an impact he had on her life, right up until the conclusion. The script still never behaves the way it should, we know Amy wants to travel with the Doctor but she makes him wait a little before finally giving him a small “okay”. It’s going to be an interesting relationship to follow, and it is lovely that the story sets aside a lot of time to explore this partnership within its plot.
There were whispers of The Sarah Jane Adventures story Prisoner of the Judoon here (with an escaped convict on the loose and an evil duplicate of the Doctor) but this story has a lot more to it than copying another series opener. He is known for his terrifying storytelling so it was rather wonderful to have Moffat bring this story alive with a more capricious touch. The script is constantly inventive and full of clever ideas and visuals. Fish fingers and custard, cracks in the wall that lead to dark prison cells, doors that aren’t there, an ice cream van portent of doom, a fish eye view of the Doctor’s observations, fire trucks to the rescue, Patrick Moore, a family of women with really bad teeth and a spaceship with a ruddy great eye. The story never threatened to become an adult drama for one second and for that we should be very grateful; during The Eleventh Hour I was ten years old again, surprised and giddy with excitement.
Even better, Adam Smith directs the story with a lightness of touch that gave the story a wonderful fairytale feel so that a cover opening and closing upon the beginning and end of the story wouldn’t have gone amiss. There are some terrific images throughout: the Doctor hanging for dear life as the TARDIS crash lands, the glowing TARDIS on its side in the garden, Amy in the hidden room with the horrid snake grinning behind her, the glowing Doctor and Amy, the eleventh Doctor stepping through the tenth to claim his show... the story is a visual feast. The idea of setting the story in a sleepy little English village was a stroke of genius and very refreshing after so many trips to London’s metropolis. The story feels very small scale despite the fact that the entire Earth was in danger but very idea of a Doctor without a TARDIS, sonic screwdriver or friends, with only twenty minutes and a Post Office to hand is inspired. No news readers, Peggy Mitchell or talk of the economy. This story wasn’t trying to be topical or modern; it was just trying to be a good story.
Above: The eleventh Doctor stepping through the tenth to claim his show...
Finally, I really like the new TARDIS design which is somehow even more quirky than the last one with its impressive staircase design, nutty professor console, and warm lighting. I love the idea of a TARDIS with a split level, it is going to make for some interesting scenes later in the season and even better the console has some of the most bizarre items stuck to it like an old fashioned typewriter and taps!
All told this was a great introduction for the Doctor and Amy, a confident and enjoyable piece of storytelling and a reassuring new direction for the series. I have never been fond of Rose or New Earth but I really like Smith and Jones and Partners in Crime. The Eleventh Hour manages to top both of them by keeping me on my toes throughout and dishing up the most interesting Doctor since Troughton. Bring on the rest of the season.
Copyright © Joe Ford 2010
Joe Ford has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
Finally, after much anticipation, the era of the eleventh Doctor arrives. It’s been three months since we first met him, in the final moments of The End of Time, and a year longer since Matt Smith was first unveiled on Doctor Who Confidential. It’s strangely easy to empathise with young Amelia Pond, although at least it hasn’t been a whole twelve years between our first and second meetings with the new Doctor. Now, while The Eleventh Hour is a fine, thrilling episode, and perhaps the best season opener since the series returned back in 2005, what everyone is really interested to know is obvious: just what is the new Doctor like? And, just as importantly, will he be as good as David Tennant?
Well, the answer to that is clearly: yes.
Matt Smith is absolutely perfectly cast as the Doctor. I don’t think any of us were expecting a twenty-seven-year-old ex-footballer to get the role, but Smith really does nail it. He’s youthful and energetic, but carries with him an aged, unfathomable quality; a genuine sense of the peculiar and alien. Smith’s Doctor is quirky and odd, in the best traditions of Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker, but with an endearing naturalness to his performance.
“Beans are evil. Bad, bad beans...”
The performance is comedic and a little broad in his first couple of scenes, as he walks into trees and eats fish-custard, but this is a perfect way of immediately appealing to the kids, young Amelia included. Even here he shows touches of the gravitas that many doubted he would have. Of course, much of the over-the-top pratting about soon disappears as the Doctor settles down a fraction and stabilises, but his oddness and ‘off-kilter-ness’ never quite vanish. He carries himself like his body doesn’t quite fit, and not just because the Doctor is getting used to it - you really get the feeling that Smith genuinely walks like he doesn’t quite know what his legs are doing. He’s oddly handsome, sexy but, at the same time, distinctly odd in his appearance. Some reviewers have claimed that he is too similar to Tennant, but, aside from his youth and certain elements that are common to all Doctors’ characters, this is really confined to his earliest, occasional deliberate ‘Tennantisms’. The script drops in lines directly from previous tenth Doctor adventures (all by Steven Moffat, unless I missed any), with Smith perfectly recreating the tenth Doctor’s delivery. He even corrects his diction after he’s hit with the cricket bat - putting his ‘t’s back on the ends of those words. There’s a hint of poshness in this Doctor - just a hint - that was totally absent from the Mancunian ninth and the mockney tenth, but never does it take away from the feeling that this guy’s just your new mate from outer space.
By the end of the episode, Smith completely owns the role. Striding out onto the roof to confront the Atraxi, still perfecting his new look, you’d nonetheless think he been playing the part for years. And, on the subject of that new look, I have to say I think it’s perfect - studenty yet professorial; fogeyish while still a little trendy, throwing in the feel of Troughton with just a touch of Henry Jones Jr. After the self-consciously modern and ordinary look of the ninth Doctor, and the indy-cool eccentric-chic of the tenth, it’s pleasing to get back to something so very Doctorish. The fact that Smith chose most of the ensemble himself, vetoing cool pirate-style gear is telling - the man just gets it.
So, that’s the Doctor covered. What about the rest of it?
Happily, this is a cracking episode. It’s complex enough to be interesting, but fast-paced and coherent, carrying the viewer along so well that you don’t realise that you’re being bombarded with information. Having the vital middle twenty minutes of plot in almost-real-time gives a real sense of impetus, far more effectively and in a less-contrived fashion than in the previous attempt (the 2007 episode 42). It’s also great to see the Doctor save the day without the use of the magic set of the TARDIS and sonic screwdriver; although a computer virus is equally as clichéd, at least here it’s used in a fairly original way - not to nobble the alien ship, Independence Day-style, but to alert it.
And there are some great conceits here. The crack in the wall being a crack in the universe is particularly appealing, although not much is made of it, as the plot soon moves on from there - although, the crack does still seem to be visible on the TARDIS monitor at the end of the story, so perhaps more is to come. The Atraxi provide an arresting image - crystalline starships supporting huge, rolling eyeballs and intoning in deep, sonorous voices, while Prisoner Zero is a straightforward, and therefore very effective, villain. Images such as men barking instead of their dogs and little girls growing sharp, fish-like teeth will no doubt stick in many a child’s mind, although the monster’s eel-like true form is perhaps better glimpsed than seen full on in the light of day.
Above: The crack does still seem to be visible on the TARDIS monitor at the end of the story...
There are some excellent performances here, from Olivia Colman as the female face of the Prisoner, Tom Hopper as the likeable Jeff, and Arthur Darvill as Rory, a character who is immediately appealing by being so perfectly ordinary and out of his depth that the viewer can’t help but empathise. Annette Crosbie steals the few scenes that she’s in. It’s even got Patrick Moore in it, for crying out loud! What more could you want?
Still, when it comes down to it, there’s one more thing that is absolutely vital to this episode’s success, and that is the realisation of the new companion character, Amy Pond. Even with a perfect Doctor and immaculate storytelling, the comp-anion is the viewer’s window into this world, and the show can stumble if he or she isn’t portrayed well. Thankfully, Karen Gillan is excellent in the role, taking a playful, yet mature character and bringing her to life. Yes, she’s feisty - all female characters on television today are feisty; it’s a tradition, or an old charter, or something - but she isn’t in-your-face or over-the-top. She’d believable and good fun, and Gillan brings a strong perf-ormance to the role. Seeing that she shares most of her screen-time with Smith, she doesn’t dominate, but it’s clear to see that she could do in future instalments. What’s more, she’s stunning to look at - and that’s never a bad thing.
And let’s not forget the young Amy/Amelia, played by the adorable Caitlin Blackwood. Not only is the physical resemblance between the two actresses a fine fit, with their being cousins and all, but you can believe that the one will grow up to be the other. Young Caitlin is absolutely brilliant here, all the more impressive considering that this is her first ever professional role. She even hits just the right sinister note as she plays Prisoner Zero. I foresee a great future for this young actress.
So, any negatives to report? A couple; nothing’s perfect. There’s the occasional slightly ropey effect, and I’m not too keen on the new theme tune, although I’m sure it’ll grow on me (and the continued presence of Murray Gold is a godsend, providing the only real sense of continuity between this latest version of the series and the Russell T Davies era). It’s also hard to believe that Amy, however much she may want to finally take up the chance to travel with the Doctor, would actually trust him to bring her back in time for her wedding, given that he’s missed her by years on two occasions (unless she doesn’t really want to back by morning?) Other than that, this is a grand new beginning, accessible to fans and new viewers alike. Even my girlfriend has gone from reluctantly admitting that the show isn’t that bad to saying that she know loves the show, and fans who refused to accept that David Tennant could ever be replaced are now eating their words. So now we can join the Doctor and Amy, in the fabulously redesigned TARDIS, in the brand new Series 1, or 5, or 31, or 11A†, or-†
† I’ll stop you there, Dan. I think we’ll stick with the unequivocal “2010 series”, at least
until we see what they’re gonna stick on the season’s DVD covers! I know; I’m no fun.
Copyright © Daniel Tessier 2010
Daniel Tessier has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
So what do I think of The Eleventh Hour? In a word, repeated thrice: Fun, fun, fun! Without wishing to sound sycophantic, I never had any doubts about Matt Smith or Karen Gillan as the newest Doctor and companion team – yes, they are both practically kids, but since when is Doctor Who not a show for kids or kids at heart? And goodness did Steven Moffat’s first episode, The Eleventh Hour, speak to the kid in me. Right from the start we had the Doctor dangling from the falling TARDIS, sleeves rolled up and screwdriver between his teeth. The old Doctor was gone and the new Doctor was hard at work being himself: fixing, flying, fighting to stay alive literally by the skin of his teeth. When the new theme tune and opening titles were done burning into the screen I couldn’t help but feel a rush of excitement – the sense of knowing someone old was now something new – when I saw young Amelia Pond praying (to Santa of all things!) about removing the crack in her wall. I don’t know if anyone has ever seen the 1965 Roman Polanski film Repulsion with Catherine Deneuve, but ever since watching that little bit of cinema, I can honestly say I find wall cracks absolutely horrifying – not only is your paint job ruined but what is there’s something pushing against the other side of the wall?
But like a good storyteller Moffat introduces his elements one by one, and before the wall crack was investigated we were treated to some very charming Doctor / Amelia interaction. And what an introduction! Imagine if we could somehow have a perfect fan world where we knew what the Doctor and his incredible TARDIS were and have them crash land in our own backyard? As long as the Doctor survived the crash, this would be wonderful, and so imagine my thrill to watch the new Doctor fall from the sky into Amelia’s backyard and climb out of the TARDIS, asking for apples. I have seen a few regeneration stories in the last few years, but I don’t think a new Doctor has ever asked for food as a means to calm his regenerating form. (A side note about the regeneration: I loved the return of the golden coughs; nice holdover from previous CGI.) Of course, if a strange man crawled out of a box in my backyard and asked for apples, chewed on one, spit it out, then asked for all types of grub while similarly spewing the chewed contents in disgust all about my kitchen, I might not question the quality of my cooking so much as his sanity. And yet Smith’s delivery of this culinary tastelessness was masterful; he simply seemed like a newborn alien finding his way in life through the most conventional means available. At least to him.
The other half of this remarkable first impression is of course Amelia Pond, played with astonishing strength by ten year-old Cattie Blackwood, cousin to actress Karen Gillan, the grown-up version of the character. But more on her in a moment (or twelve years). Cattie’s Amelia is an interesting girl: hopeful but experienced in loneliness, she is very much an independent child perfectly capable of being alone but certainly hoping for company. There is something odd about Amelia’s situation: she has no parents, but even at age seven can remember her mom carving happy faces into apples, and her aunt leaves her alone at home in the dead of night, when anyone can visit – like a Doctor or a monster.
Thankfully the Doctor finds Amelia first and when he sees such a fearless child afraid of the crack in her wall he can’t help but rush to investigate. The cr-ack itself is simply that; a crack, but not in the wall. It is a break in the skin of the universe where two parts of space meet when they never should. And on the other side of the crack there is a voice, warning of Prisoner Zero’s escape. Now, I have to say when the TARDIS crashed in Amelia’s backyard I could feel the sense that the series had taken a new turn in its storytelling, but never was I more sure of this when the Doctor opened the wall crack and a giant eye appeared on the other side. This moment reminded me of the My Teacher is an Alien series; specifically the fourth and final novel, My Teacher Flunked the Planet, which featured an alien creature – Big Julie, I believe it was called - so large only its eye could be seen through a space in a wall. In other words, the moment made me feel like a kid again.
And then just as the Doctor was about to track down the missing Prisoner Zero, the TARDIS went wobbly (and probably timey wimey) and the new Time Lord was forced to time jump to save her engines. What was a promised five minutes wait for Amelia before she could see the TARDIS became, as should be expected by now (think Reinette), became something much longer. For the Doctor, of course, it was the fast path to the future and when he returned he had figured out the location of Prisoner Zero, but a cricket bat to his head delayed that revelation. Moffat uses this literal break in the action to shift scenery from Amelia’s home to the local hospital where we meet Rory Williams, a young intern who has noticed the resident coma patients speaking in their sleep. Rory alerts the hothead doctor to the phenomenon because he thought the speakers were calling for her. In fact, they were simply calling for the “Doctor.” Rory has also seen the coma patients walking about town and has pictorial proof of this on his mobile phone, but the (marked for death) head doctor refuses to listen and orders Rory to take time off.
In a nice blur of transition, we see the Doctor once more chained to a radiator and at the mercy of what appears to be an English WPC with a decidedly under-regulation-length skirt. Through delightfully awkward conversation, the Doctor asks for Amelia and the shaken WPC reveals the girl has been gone for six months and the house is now her home. The Doctor directs the woman’s attention to the extra room in the house, which he failed to see on his previous visit: it is here Prisoner Zero has hidden. As seemed per adventure with the series, despite the Doctor’s warnings, the people around him knowingly head into danger as the WPC enters the “new” room and discovers the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver (which had rolled under the door after the misadventure with the cricket bat) has somehow rolled up a box and covered itself in slime. After a back-headed game of cat-and-mouse, the WPC sees the mega-mouthed Prisoner Zero (an interesting home decoration if chandeliers were eels) and flees the scene. Tensions mounts as the Doctor’s damaged screwdriver seals the door but cannot uncouple his bonds, and at the speak of intensity the WPC reveals her earlier call for backup was hoax as she is in fact a kissogram with a sweeping liberation of her long, incredibly ginger hair (a moment to be forever replayed on countless fan forum member’s avatars).
“Vacate the human residence or the human residence will be destroyed.”
Prisoner Zero quickly overcomes a wood door and confronts the Doctor and Amy in the form of a man and his dog, which the viewer sees is a psychic pattern based on one of the coma patients, whose dog sits faithfully at his bedside, at least as a photo. Back at the former home of Amelia Pond, Prisoner Zero is distracted by the blaring, repeated warning of its captors, who demand the convict “vacate the human residence or the human residence will be destroyed.” Finally free, the Doctor flees with the bat-handy kissogram, only to discover the TARDIS won’t let him inside before her reconstruction completes. The Doctor also discovers that the garden shed his TARDIS has demolished when he met Amelia has somehow re-formed. A taste-test of the shed’s rust (very Tennant-like) indicates twelve years have passed since the building’s reconstruction, and when the Doctor demands to know why the faux-WPC lied about the time Amelia left, the increasingly agitated young woman blasts him for lying about waiting five minutes.
The suddenly-grown-up (and once more Scottish) Amelia drags the Doctor from the danger, despite his repeated, incredulous “what!” (also very Tennant-like). Amelia explains the change in her age and behaviour with an ironically obvious fact: “Twelve years…and four psychiatrists.” The years were bitingly bitter; the psychiatrists she bit with bitterness. With the re-introduction of Amelia Pond we have her nineteen-year-old version as played by Karen Gillan. Like Matt Smith she entered the stage of Doctor Who as a relative unknown, but unlike Smith I had not seen her acting at all beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. For starters, she is a striking image on-screen. With her very attractive features, green-blue eyes, elfin-shaped face, and fire-red hair, she truly appears at home in the fairytale tone of this new phase of the program. Perhaps even more astounding is the fact that she is so unbelievably tall; it has been quite a few TARDIS teams since the Doctor / companion actors were at an eye level, but in the past that was during the rare time the Doctor was short. From initial impression, Matt Smith appears to be on the tall side, and therefore Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond is not only tall, but perhaps upwards of six feet tall! Nevertheless, in my opinion, the actress’s statuesque stature is a positive element: she is the eleventh Doctor’s equal in practically every way, in this should spell for an interesting future dynamic in the TARDIS.
Back to the main story: the Doctor’s inquisition of Amelia’s sudden growth halts when the foreboding warning to Prisoner Zero they heard at the home is suddenly shouting through every local electronic device (and did anyone else think the ice-cream man look remarkably like a certain Doctor Who producer from the 1980s?). The Doctor rushes into an elderly woman’s home to see upon the television screen the same giant eyeball he spied through the crack in Amelia’s wall. As the Time Lord complies information, the story become quite informative on other fronts: we learn Amelia now calls herself Amy as the longer name was “too fairytale,” and the woman – plus her laptop-carrying grandson, Jeff – recognise and can name the Doctor, despite his new face. It seems Amy had spent the intervening years regaling her town of tales with “the Raggedy Doctor,” a name the real Doctor doesn’t find terribly appealing. Names aside, the Time Lord deciphers what Prisoner Zero’s captors mean by “the human residence” - not simply Amy’s home but the entire Earth, which they will destroy unless the said prisoner leaves the planet. Cue the very welcome CG shot of the giant eyeball and its true socket: one of many identical crystalline ships owned by the Atraxi, a race Prisoner Zero will later name as its captors. But let’s keep to the narrative flow…
The Doctor estimates that the Atraxi will destroy the Earth in twenty minutes and scrambles to think of what he can do in that time without his TARDIS. With Amy in tow he shouts the bleakness of his situation, and then proceeds to question why the town has a duck pond without ducks. Then, as an atmospheric forcefield discolours the sun and the local populace takes to their mobiles to capture the moment, the Doctor remembers (via a nifty visual technique not unlike a unlike a series of screencaps) that one of the people is recording not the sun but a man with his dog. The Doctor tries to enlist Amy to help him save the world but in a wonderfully comic and ill-timed moment of defiance; she refuses and locks his tie in a car door. She demands he tell her who he really is, and the Doctor shows Amy the happy-faced apple she gave him, still fresh after twelve years. The Doctor urges Amy to believe in him for twenty minutes, and thankfully, she does.
Unlocked from the door jamb, the Doctor confronts the person with the phone, who is in fact Rory from the hospital, who is also in fact Amy’s boyfriend, and who in fact also recognises the Doctor from Amy’s tales. From Rory’s phone the Doctor discovers the photos of the coma patients whose forms Prisoner Zero has taken. Prisoner Zero itself is also in sight, just as an Atraxi ship flies over searching for the presence of aliens. Since nothing is more alien than a sonic screwdriver, the Doctor activates the device to make the local electronics hyperactive, but the damaged, trusty tool disintegrates before the Atraxi can make a fix on its quarry. Prisoner Zero dissolves and escapes, but the Doctor knows it will return to the hospital to make a new psychic disguise.
Sending Amy and Rory to the hospital, the Doctor seeks out Jeff with the laptop, and uses said laptop to network an impromptu conference call with the world scientific community (including Sir Patrick Moore, CBE, HonFRS, FRAS), first to declare his indomitable credentials, and also to prepare a plan to alert the Atraxi, which includes Jeff as mediator and Rory’s mobile phone for reasons the Time Lord refuses to share at that moment (I spy a plot climax). Amy and Rory reach the hospital to find chaos. The Doctor, in transit with a commandeered fire engine, phones in and reminds Amy of her costume. With her hair re-pinned, “WPC” Amy and Rory venture deep into the hospital corridors. They encounter a woman holding hands with two identically dressed girls. The woman and the girls, all speaking with the woman’s voice, tell them a monster has killed the head doctor (I thought so!) but the woman realises she’s got the voices wrong and chases after Amy and Rory. They retreat to the coma ward, but the new-formed Prisoner Zero break through the door and taunts Amy, the girl it’s watched for twelve years. Then the Doctor makes a grand entrance through the window via fire ladder and confronts the prisoner. Prisoner Zero knows its captors (here named the Atraxi – best never miss the details!) will be become its executioners and so it refuses to give up. The Doctor wonders how it made the crack in the universe; Prisoner Zero says the crack was already there and mocks the Doctor for not knowing who put it there. There is a further warning that “The Pandorica will open… Silence will fall.”
Unfazed, the Doctor reveals his plan: a computer virus which makes every electronic device read “0,” which the Atraxi trace to Rory’s mobile phone. The Atraxi lock onto the hospital and the Doctor uploads from the phone the photos of all the forms the creature has taken, but Prisoner Zero takes one final form: the Doctor (a clever way for the new version to see himself for the first time), or rather as young Amelia Pond holding the Doctor’s hand, thanks to the psychic link the prisoner has formed after hiding in Amy’s home for twelve years. The Doctor realises that if Prisoner Zero can also take his form from Amy’s memories then Amy is dreaming of him; and he manipulates her dream to remember the true shape of Prisoner Zero. Prisoner Zero copies its own form and the Atraxi retrieve it, but not before the final warning: “Silence will fall.”
Now in a normal forty-five minutes episode this would be the end, but with the extra twenty minutes of a Doctor introduction adventure, the Doctor capitalises on the extra time to recall the Atraxi with an invocation of the Shadow Proclamation (so, it still is the same series!). He heads to the roof (via a nice Pertwee / McGann homage trip to the hospital locker room for new clothes) and has an eye-to-eye chat with the Atraxi, scolding them for threatening the Earth and reminding them of who is the planet’s protector: the ten men who have called themselves the Doctor (the current convention for substitute multi-Doctor adventures – oh, if only we mortals were eternal), and now himself, the eleventh Doctor, complete with tweed jacket and bow tie. The Atraxi flee from the Doctor’s presence and the glowing TARDIS key signals the ship’s completed regeneration. The happy Time Lord returns to the just noticeably different Police Box and basks in the new (as yet unseen) interior’s warm glow. A dematerialisation later and poor Amy Pond, just too late to catch the Time Lord’s flight, watches the Doctor leave her life once more…
…at least until he lands in her garden once again. Like the first time, it is night again, and Amy, still in her nightie, hurries out into the darkness to meet the long-awaited visitor, now self-secure and bow-tied. The Doctor offers Amy the chance to join him, but she tells him all the wonderful events with the Atraxi were two years past. Without skipping a beat the Doctor says fourteen years is long enough and with a finger snap the TARDIS doors open and we see through Amy’s wide eyes the ship’s new interior. At first glance the new Console Room is not worlds away from the previous model: all is still mostly bronze and metal, but gone is the simple, rounded cavern of coral. There are nooks and crannies, staircases and many levels to this new TARDIS space. From this single scene I cannot yet render a complete opinion of the architecture, but I like it, simple as that.
And so the episode finishes with Amy choosing to join the Doctor, on condition that he can bring her home the next morning. In a shot of Amy’s empty room after the TARDIS departs we not only see her many Raggedy Doctor dolls, but also a white wedding dress hanging in the closet. One can easily imagine that the next morning is Amy’s wedding day, but one can only imagine what the Doctor’s true motivation is for taking Amy with him. Yes, I can believe he is lonely and wants company once more, but the way Moffat framed the scene with Amy stating that the loneliness is the Doctor’s only reason for her company, while he confirms this as the only reason, all while standing in front of the new scanner boldly displaying the same crack once set in Amy’s wall.
So to sum up, The Eleventh Hour was well worth the long wait. Matt Smith debunked any doubts of his age with strong bouts of solid acting and genuine quirkiness; Karen Gillan and Cattie Blackwood were effortlessly charming as the Wendy Darling-like Amy Pond caught in the Doctor’s dark fairy-tale; the supporting characters of Jeff, Rory, and the locals of Leadworth were well-oiled cogs in the new Moffat dream machine. And yet, through the sparkle there is they mystery: when is this taking place? Presumably in 2008 and 2010, but if so why does Rory’s medical badge bear an issue date of 1990? Why are the cars of Leadworth also using license plate models from the early 1990s, while the people are using laptops, web cams, and mobile phones? What is the wall crack’s true origin, who made it, and what is their silent connection to the Pandorica? More importantly, what is the Pandorica and does it have an unseen connection to Amy Pond? As said before, it’s very early days, but once more we have days ahead of new Doctor Who, so onward and upward, and may the future shine bright!
Copyright © Chris McKeon 2010
Chris McKeon has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This episode suggests that, just like their Time Lord pilots, TARDISes are capable of regenerating (or should that be changing their “desktop theme?”) if they have been irreparably damaged. It also seems that this ability extends to replacing damaged or destroyed on-board tools, such as sonic screwdrivers.
When is now? As Flesh and Stone confirms that this episode’s closing scene is set on 25th June 2010, the eve of Amy’s wedding, we calculate that the events following the TARDIS crash landing take place during Easter 1996 and the principal events of the episode take place some time in 2008 (the year that Harold Saxon became Prime Minister of Great Britain.)
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