Eleven at Eleven

(Spoilers for The Eleventh Hour below. I won't be shy about it.)You know what I like about Steven Moffat's writing? Lots of things, actually, but to start with: Metaphors. Even in the simplest of sci-fi plots (and since this serves as an introduction not only to the two leads, but to an entire style of Doctor Who making), he adds a metaphorical layer that rewards repeated viewing. And I don't mean the hit you over the head Messianic stuff RTD used to churn out, but far more subtle stuff. In fact, you may want to accuse me of over-analysis. In The Eleventh Hour, there is a peculiar use of apples and serpents that begs to be explored. What I see is the Doctor as Adam (a newly made man), dropped into the Eden of the sleepy village of Leadworth. It's an unfinished world, much like the Doctor's own unfinished self, with few of the facilities that would be available in London or Cardiff and no ducks in its pond. Amy plays the Eve role, offered the apple of knowledge and biting into it. Sure, the Doctor holds the apple of proof, but it's the serpent-like Prisoner Zero that creates the situation by escaping through a crack in her wall.

And speaking of Prisoner Zero. What kind of a name is that? Well, if Cain is credited with the first murder, the source of all crime is Satan. So that's Zero in the same sense as "Patient Zero". So long-lived as to be immortal, takes the shapes of human beings (possesses them, if you will), and being kept under watch by a giant eye... The Atraxi play the role of God or at least His angels (the imagery is conducive to this), ready to smite the human race for the evil of one, until our Adam intercedes (Man's free will wins him a more dangerous place in the world... Amy will leave her Eden in due course). One line from Prisoner Zero stuck with me. It doesn't want to return with the Atraxi who will likely kill it: "If I am to die, let there be fire." The rebel Lucifer being confined to Hell? There's something Miltonesque about all this. Let's not forget the story begins with a young girl praying. Yes, to Santa, but then this is a universe where angels and demons are extra-terrestrials.
But how was the new Doctor, you ask! Matt Smith inhabits the role perfectly, in my opinion. He had me from his first momen, even though he was channeling Tennant for parts of the episode (on purpose, I'm sure, as he was "still cooking"), in particular his "Hallo!" and some of the manic behavior. Matt's Doctor congeals as the episode progresses, and I find myself liking his quiet confidence a great deal. Tennant was all, like, "IT IS DEFENDED!!!" and Smith's all, like, "I'm the Doctor so... yeah... fair warning." He's only stating facts. Hey monsters... basically... run. By the time he takes Amy on board, he's well and truly himself. "Bowties are cool." He's turned the Doctor's natural arrogance into a kind of self-deluded matter-of-factness. The Doctor hasn't been this disarming since the McCoy years.

And what can I say about Amy Pond? This: If she'd boarded the TARDIS as a 7-year-old girl, I'd have been happy too. As a bit of 21-year-old pretty, I'm rather content as well. I love her fearlessness and how unapologetic she is about her job and fantasies. What a great, sassy character. Though Moffat of course reuses a device from his "The Girl in the Fireplace", this is a completely new way to recruit a companion, and for once, a real motivation for someone to go with the Doctor. She's been dreaming about this since childhood, it's been built up. (It's also a bit of the ol' Moffat meta-text I love so well, as Amy is like every fan who ever wanted to take a trip in the TARDIS.) At first, I thought her lack of parents made her a perfect candidate for time travel, but I guess "it takes a village". Everyone in town knows her. A charming twist - she's the girl LIKELY to be missed - and it makes me want to come back to Leadworth again and again, even though I can't believe it would be in trouble with aliens very often (the crack!).
But while changing the actors changes the show, Moffat had to do more if he wanted his Doctor Who to stand apart from Russell T Davies'. And he did. His Doctor Who just doesn't look or feel the same. The camera work is more intimate, with more close-ups, and the color seems desaturated compared to RTD's candy store tv. The editing is unlike what we've seen before on Doctor Who, with quick comedy cuts (such as in the food tasting sequence or being hit with a paddle) that reminded me of Spaced, and the Doctor's CSI-type Observo-Vision ("What did I see?") speaks of breaking the mold when it comes to Who's visual look. I'm hoping the show'll continue to try new things when it comes to both visuals and narration. It's not quite so extreme as say, going from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica, but the potential is there to be a lot edgier than it's been. The one place where I've heard complaints, and they're not wrong, is with the wobbly CGI. I remember being underwhelmed by "Rose"'s cartoony effects as well, until it just became the house style. This episode's effects attempted more photorealistic subjects and at times came off as disturbing collage. Or is the HD screwing with my eyes? I dunno. Too early to tell, but I hardly watch Who for the effects!

The show also sounds different in that the quiet moments are actually... QUIET! This is a subtle but major change from RTD's almost George Lucas-like wall-to-wall, intruding soundtrack. I AM glad however that Murray Gold has stayed on board. His music is one of the best things about the last 5 years and I own a copy of every soundtrack. All new themes starting with this episode, and already I have my favorites. That last bit with the driving adventure strings getting the benefit of semi-comical piano notes... LOVE IT! LOVE. IT. Another sound choice I hope continues into the rest of the series is the use of the cliffhanger sting. I've always loved it at the end of the opening teaser, and of course has its place when there is a proper cliffhanger. However, the last five years have used it at the end of every episode, often clashing with a quiet ending. The Eleventh Hour places it AFTER the trailer, which is a good place for it. Keep doing that. The new theme will take more time to get used to. It's a bit understated and doesn't even sound like Who as it opens (but then I hated the electric version from Voyage of the Damned onwards, and got used to that).

Overall, I think I was stoked more by the LACK of RTDisms than anything. Don't get me wrong, I loved what he did with the show. But eventually, you get sick of the head writer's little obsessions. The sturm and drang of it all. The goofy comedy aliens. The fart and poop jokes for the kids. "He's the most wonderful man in the world!" (when he's not Jesus Christ outright). None of that is really here. The only RTDism that seems to have crossed over is that appearance by Patrick Moore, finally seeing the outside of a Doctor Who DVD extra. Granted, Moffat has his own obsessions, and they're here (Amy is a modern version of Renette, aliens talk through your TV, temporal anomalies on an old house's wall), but to be fair, he's laid in homages to many other Doctors/eras, most notably picking a wardrobe in a hospital (Doctors 3 and 8).

New! New! New!
New TARDIS: I think they learned a little something from the Torchwood set, because this multi-level version of the TARDIS has far more corners to shoot scenes in than the previous "coral" dome. The TARDIS is getting more and more bric-a-brac in its old age, and I'm really not sure about that rude rotor in the central column, but there's potential here. The lava lamp window and the flip-clock are fun, and with all the mention of there being a whole world inside the TARDIS (the pool, the library, the wardrobe), we might actually see other parts of it this time. Amy deserves a room, doesn't she? And will the Doctor be able to control as well as he has in the past few years? He made some big mistakes in The Eleventh Hour. Is that a sign of things to come? Might be a nice call back to the old series, and the TARDIS is getting on in years.

New opening credits: I like the roiling clouds of the new vortex, though I could do without the TARDIS being buffeted by lightning bolts (especially as they make sounds that cover the music). The TARDIS logo is well integrated into the sequence, much as I'd hoped, and I do like the new font used for credits.

Things to Look Out For
-Cracks in the universe: Obviously, this will be the big series arc. We've got our prophecy about falling silence, and the Doctor's oscilloscope studying the crack in the TARDIS (he shuts it off when Amy walks in, what's up?). More to come on this for sure.
-Amy's wedding: Amy was taken on the eve of her wedding (to Rory? to Jeff?), and may well find herself unwilling to settle down after some time in the TARDIS. Will the Doctor return her to the chapel in time? And what is it with red-headed brides and the TARDIS anyway?
-The mystery of Amy's parents: Sent to live with her aunt at a young age, and of the opinion that "people always say [that they'll come back]", Amy has parents (her mum's trick with the apple), clearly, so where are they? Sarah Jane Adventures did something akin to this for Sarah, so I expect a different kind of explanation.
-Sea Devils: Did you notice? The Sea Devils are the only new classic monster footage used in the Atraxi scan of Earth's history. I keep seeing reptiles in the trailers, but the new designs don't really point to anything. Related or not, I think this sequence heralds their return! Yay! (I would be remiss if I didn't also point out continuity mistakes in that sequence, including footage from Pete's World and the Hath who never came to Earth at all).

So judging from the very exciting trailer for the first half of the series, I think you can expect more thoughts on Series 5 from me. Stay tuned.

8 comments:

Sea-of-Green said...

Is it me, or does the interior of the Tardis keep looking more and more like the "American" version (the one for the "Eighth Doctor" Paul McGann)?

Siskoid said...

If you mean low-tech, then yes, though this is more 50s-60s chic than it is Victorian.

As long as it doesn't go back to overlit white, I think I'm happy.

Teebore said...

Question for you, Siskoid. I've never watched Dr. Who. Not a minute.

I know, I know, revoke my geek card. But I'm American, and didn't watch much PBS when I was a kid (where random Dr. Who eps aired; my wife remembers watching some as a kid, the "one with the scarf") and by the time I was old enough to really seek out a program (instead of just watching what was on/coming on) I had other geeky interests and Dr. Who was this sprawling mythology to which I didn't have full access. So I never got into it.

Nowadays, being a geek, on the internet, with Dr. Who a seemingly larger part of the geek zeitgiest, I'm certainly aware of the basics (the Doctor, the companion, the Tardis, Daleks, etc.) but would like to know more.

Long preamble aside, here's my question: could I just dive in with this new series? I get BBC America now, I have a DVR, all I need to do is setup a recording and watch, but will I be lost? I know this is a new Doctor, new creators, etc. but does it tie back to the most recent incarnation strongly, or is everything I NEED to know right there in the first ep (obviously, I'm sure the greater your understanding of past events, the more there is to take away)?

Siskoid said...

Quite honestly, I think you can jump in with The Eleventh Hour and not miss a beat.

You'll want to go back and see some classic or post-2005 episodes eventually, but you can easily start with the 11th Doctor's first episode. Easily.

Teebore said...

Cool, thanks!

Siskoid said...

When you do wanna go back, check out Part III of my Understanding Doctor Who series for suggestions.

Teebore said...

Thanks, will do!

I do usually read most of your Who posts; even being unfamiliar with the property, I like to stay somewhat in the loop, and your writing is enjoyable enough on its own merits even if I don't have personal experience with the subject.

Siskoid said...

Just as I frequently look at your Lost posts without ever having watched an episode, then!

 

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