Doctor Who #843: The Eleventh Hour

"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."
TECHNICAL SPECS: All stories between this one and The Big Bang are in the Series 5 DVD set. First aired Apr.3 2010.

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.

13 comments:

Jayunderscorezero said...

Yes! I agree completely.

No lie: this episode did more to win me over to Doctor Who (as a show, as a concept) than *anything else* I'd seen from the show up to that point. It's a remarkable opener.

Madeley said...

A belter of an episode, an absolute stone cold classic of an opener. So much to love here, but what stands out to me on a completely self-centred level is that the village of Leadworth is played by Llandaff, an area of Cardiff where I used to live, and filmed literally round the corner from my old house (and fair play, it's right bang in the middle of the city too, they did a great job of making it look like a rural village, but it's very picturesque anyway and also, apropos of absolutely nothing, had the best broadband speeds I've ever got).

Anyone here a Roald Dahl fan, specifically the book "Boy"? The infamous rat-in-a-sweet-shop story took place in the building on the corner of the village green, visible (if memory serves) during the Doctor-vision 360 degree shot.

I've often spoken of the effect Doctor Who has had on Wales, because frankly I'm a lifelong Who fan and a professional Welshman continually overwhelmed by how two things so important to me have become inseparable. I was living in a flat in Cardiff when the Ecclestone series was first broadcast, and walked past filming for the series countless times. I worked for years in the administrative centre where they film all their Ornamental Building scenes, and Matt Smith once waved at me specifically* (*a sizeable group of onlookers) from the roof where they filmed the Victory of the Daleks. During Children of Earth the foyer where the massacre took place was the entrance I walked through to work everyday, but most personally of all, I got married at Dyffryn Gardens, aka Where River Song Got Uploaded, and Where Amy Pond Is Going To Grow Old. My best friend got married where Donna was meant to get married the first time. So it's cool, and weird, how Doctor Who has woven its way through my life, even at a low level background kind of way.

The negatives, though? I don't think Moffat was able to keep the momentum up, and I think he's only really delivered on the promise of his early Who career during the 50th anniversary year. I never warmed to either of the Ponds, and the show becomes Pond-centric which is unfortunate from my subjective point of view.

In a way, and on reflection, I've come to think of the 11th era as a parallel to the 5th era: I LOVED the Doctor, and a few of the episodes are amongst the finest Who episodes ever made, but taken as a whole, perhaps a little bit of a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

Man, season two of "Broadchurch" got really weird.

That said, the "you've got to ask yourself ... what happened to them?" montage is far and away my favorite scene in all of new "Doctor Who". I've accidentally punched more Silence guys in the chops watching that sequence.

CiB said...

I saw this episode and thought "Finally! Been waiting until 1989 and finally Doctor Who is back on television".

Awesome episode, and an awesome season to come. Smiths doctor has just a pinch of Hartnell, Troughton (Colin) Baker and McCoy, who happen to be my four favorite doctors (as well as a little Tennant, but bits about Tennants doctor that weren't rubbish), which means unlike Ecclestone and Tennant Smith's doctor feels like the same character who electrocuted Iain Chesteron with the TARDIS console, etc.

And not only is this episode great, it's probably the single best introduction to Doctor Who there will ever be (even more so than An Unearthly Child, after all, so much of what Doctor Who is wasn't set then).

Martin Léger said...

I never really liked Tennant as the Doctor. I always thought it was because I got accustomed to Eccleston and wanted maybe more of him? I genuinely started asking myself why I was watching this show. Clearly I didn't like it that much. Maybe it was the all powerfulness of the Doctor? His sonic screwdriver could basically do anything and he had a time machine, he couldn’t really die, so on and so on.

All I know I clocked out and dropped the show completely around mid/late series 3? But when the Smith introduction came I decided to have peak. That episode single handedly rekindled my Doctor Who flame. Without it, I probably would not be watching it. It kind of showed me what great about the concept and idea. Sure there are barely any limits to what he can do, but that’s not the point. He’s a character like Superman or Vash the Stampede, he believes in people and wants to prevent death as much as possible. That montage at the end made me teary eyed, I’m a real sucker for “fuck yeah!” moments like that.

Randal said...

But...but...but...Rory's badge!

jdh417 said...

One of my favorite episodes. Matt really was a madman with a box in this, a bundle of insane energy. Nothing like the previous performances I'd seen him in. Nobody could have kept up that level of intensity for a weekly show, but it was awesome to witness here.

I'm not too cool to admit that it was love at first sight with Karen Gillan. Overwhelming in looks, personality, and charisma. Watch those big innocent eyes as the Doctor is asking her to trust him after he'd already let her down so badly as a child.

Then that great scene as the Doctor establishes who he is and what he does to entities that cross him. This Doctor episode is so unlike the typical one, yet so perfectly encapsulates the show. Maybe everything they set up didn't pay off as well we'd hoped, but you can always go back to this episode and enjoy how it began.

Jeff R. said...

Rory's badge is probably part of the exact same time anomoly involved in Unit dating.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Rory got his badge from Rory, who is even older than that.

It's a blatant clue!

;)

Toby'c said...

"Possibly the best introductory story for a Doctor ever"

Definitely my pick.

An Unearthly Child - 8.5/10, 10/10 for the first part.
The Power of the Daleks - 9.16/10, 10 for the first part.
Spearhead From Space - 9.25/10, 10 for the first two parts.
Robot - 8.25/10, 10 for the first part
Castrovalva - 8.75/10, 10 for the first part
The Twin Dilemma - 6.5/10
Time and the Rani - 7.5/10
The Movie - 8/10
Rose - 9.5/10, rounded up to 10.
The Christmas Invasion - 8.66/10, rounded up to 9.
The Eleventh Hour - a solid 10/10.

Siskoid said...

I usually try to interject in between comments, but in this case, it was cool to just bask in the love you guys gave to the episode.

On a more practical level, my day included a snow bank right to the door, getting late to work, a huge workload, an art auction, a tournament schedule, bear repellant, a friend's birthday, a stand-up show, three separate bars, and getting home very late indeed.

Anonymous said...

So now we're The Reader Base Who Waited, is that what you're saying?

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Very much agreed. While a more recent contender just finally beat this out as favorite New Who story for me, it remains a favorite, and has the highest rewatch value of a Smith story that I've found. Definitely the best Doctor Introduction story, for my money.

 

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