"Amy Pond, there's something you'd better understand about me, because it's important, and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a madman with a box."
IN THIS ONE... The 11th Doctor meets Amy Pond and Rory, who help him defeat Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi.
REVIEW: Everything old is new again. A cool new opening sequence (though the lightning crashes need to be mixed out). A new logo, which seemed gimmicky at first, but is really well integrated into the opening credits (and frankly, I never liked the RTD era's look). A new TARDIS, both in and out, love the levels and return to An Earthly Child exterior, but I feel like I'm done with the bric-a-brac console. New musical cues, including the excellent bit that closes the show (in fact, I can listen and look at the last 12 minutes on a loop and have). Speaking of music, the cliffhanger "sting" is finally gone from the end of episodes that don't end in cliffhangers, which I thought often undermined the tone of episodes in the RTD era. New sonic screwdriver. New characters, obviously. And a far more naturalistic look overall, with no soft lenses or extreme, colored lighting. The one thing that's the same is the use of prophecy to set up seasonal arcs, which I'm really sick of. And with Moffat, it's even worse, because "seasonal" might mean years down the road and I already know how unsatisfying some of the answers were. But the cracks, the Silence and the Pandorica are all name-checked.
Directorially, Adam Smith in fact brings a lot of interesting flourishes. The "eye" leitmotif, for example, ties the whole episode together - the Atraxi's, the corner of the Doctor's and Amy's, the Sherlock-like Doctor-vision, the use of camera phones - and highlights how much of this is about perception. The story has a shapeshifter, for one thing, but we're also, as an audience, looking more closely than we normally might, judging this new Doctor, comparing him to his previous incarnation (and it doesn't stop at the Doctor, since a new "era" has also started). But the theme is also present in the story's twists and turns, always trying to confound expectations. The audience and the characters, sometimes together, sometimes separately, are led to believe one thing before the truth is revealed, a trick that manages to increase tension AND drive comedy. Just look at how the scene where the Doctor tests his taste buds. It's broad comedy, lulling us into a false sense of security before he asks Amelia about the crack in her wall, moving from odd and comical to creepy. It's also a metaphor for the transition between Doctors; as he finds what he likes, so do we. What kind of Doctor is he? He's fish sticks and custard. And of that doesn't make you accept him as the Doctor, well, I don't know what could. Just as things don't taste like he thinks they should, so goes the story. There aren't the number of rooms you think there are in Amy's house. The Doctor doesn't return to her house when he thinks he does. The crack in the wall isn't really in the wall. The Atraxi aren't good guys despite being opposed to Zero. Amy isn't a policewoman like it might have seemed from the trailer. Back-up isn't coming, then it is. Jeff isn't Amy's beau, it's Rory (who, as we'll see, won't be another Mickey). And strange moments like a shadow going through Amelia's kitchen, her hearing the sounds of the TARDIS in a dream, or even the wind moving things in her garden will eventually be revealed as the Doctor revisiting old episodes (and not just in The Big Bang either).
The new cast is instantly likable. Matt Smith is a great Doctor right from the start, looking the part (looking both old and young), bringing his own brand of eccentricity, funny yet dark, and though he uses some of Ten's verbal tics initially, makes us forget what we have lost. The scene where he's "done cooking", taking clothes from a hospital (for the third time in his lives), and walking through Tennant's holographic face DONE, is great. Bringing back the Atraxi just to threaten them with "Basically... run" is a huge punch-the-air moment, and I'm a big fan of his slightly low-tech solutions (yes, even the computer virus is low-tech in the Whoniverse); he's a genius, not a wizard. I believe that tracks with the new sonic that's more of a scanner than a weapon. Amy, the girl who waited (14 years in all), actually gets trumped by little Amelia (Karen Gillen's real-life cousin, and you can actually see the family resemblance at times), who would have made a fine companion (in a world where children can work these schedules, which we wouldn't want to live in, surely). Amelia was in a fairy tale, while Amy is living the disappointment of finding out Santa (or the Doctor, they're fairly interchangeable in Moffat's view) isn't real. This has merged with her abandonment issues (her missing parents, having moved from Scotland) into an acceptance of that disappointment. She's settled for a non-career (kissogram) and what will at first appear to be an unexciting boyfriend/husband. In many ways, her first season is about her returning to childhood and getting back the things she's lost so she can move ahead in her life. First, the Doctor and the fairy tale. Leadworth, where everybody knows your name and the Post Office is likely closed, isn't to be another Powell Estates. No characters but Rory are ever seen again in the flesh, but since Jeff is at least referenced, we can at least hope he got that great job the Doctor promised and didn't get eaten by the crack.
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: "Meanwhile in the TARDIS", a scene that fits between The Eleventh Hour and The Beast Below, doesn't add much to the narrative. Amy asks questions about the TARDIS' more absurd traits, just on the cusp of panic, and the Doctor has a nice line about what he keeps behind the TARDIS doors (everything) before he pushes Amy out into space, spoiling the beginning of next episode a little bit.
SECOND OPINIONS: My original review, Eleven at Eleven, goes on and on and on about each aspect of the episode.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Possibly the best introductory story for a Doctor ever, The Eleventh Hour is to this day one of my favorite Doctor Who stories in the canon.