What did the team think of “The Eleventh Hour”? Caleb and Swithun’s opinions are currently in the podcast editing suite, but first, our very own James Willetts clocks in with his review!
I’ve rechristened it. From now on I will only be referring to Doctor Who as Doctor WOW.
So, the Doctor is back, and with it comes a whole new cast and mindset. To the hardcore fans it was always going to be either a solid hit or a total let down. It seems like years since we found out that Moffat, for most people the best writer of New Who, would be taking the reins for the 5th Season. With great expectation can come great disappointment, with the outcome being a deflated script and the usual fare, a soggy insubstantial wafer, the water biscuit of television.
So it comes as a real pleasure to be presented with an effulgent feast, a bacchanalian celebration of the Doctor and the best set up to a relaunched series for an age.
Presumably everyone has by now seen the Eleventh Hour. Whilst RTD gave us ‘Rose’, ‘The Christmas Invasion’ and ‘New Earth’ as a vision of what to expect from his tenure, SM has responded with an episode packed full of scares, whimsy, intelligent time travel logic, and Amy Pond. In most ways it was classic Moffat, but it showed clear signs of a wider, deeper complexion, something which hasn’t been possible. There’s been a reimagining, a tweaking, of what DW is about here. It’s something that is very exciting, because this weirdly feels more real, more true, to what all of New Who has been aiming for since it restarted than anything before. This is an opener in which the Deus Ex Machina is deliberately, and self-consciously thrown out. It’s about the Doctor and a companion solving it themselves through legwork, detective-ing, and intelligent reasoning. So there’s little use of the gadgets of Who (from a writer who is very keen on these gadgets), there’s a sense of restraint here, which works because it frees up the lack of restraint to take place elsewhere.
Moffat has always been the poster child for ‘smart’ sci-fi. Never mind that much of it is simply written off with ‘timey-wimey’ explanations, he is almost the only writer who tries to engage with the impact of a time machine beyond the simple vehicle or plot device standard. Pick a New Who episode at random. What is the TARDIS for? Mostly, it’s there to get them to the next location. You may as well replace it with transporters, or a giant space whale, or a rocket powered by solar wind. The TARDIS and Time Travel are not just for setting up the next plot (the Doctor in Pompeii, the Doctor and Charles Dickens, the Doctor in whatever historical nexus we feel like this week). Honestly, if you had full access to a time machine at least do something with it. Keep on repeating your time somewhere to improve it, like the Butterfly Effect. Let’s see that. Come on Moffat, I won’t be satisfied until I see Matt Smith with all his limbs removed screaming in bed.
But what of this first episode then?
It’s a strong start, far stronger than I expected. I think it will be divisive on no other level than that it’s different. People will gripe. They will talk about the recycled ‘Smith and Jones’-esque villain/ police standoff, the illogic of a time machine that can’t later be corrected so you did arrive 5 minutes later, or the fact that it wasn’t the OLD Doctor. No, it wasn’t. But it was a total departure in only one significant respect. It was really, really good.
From the literal cheesiness of the opening credits, the clouds of cheddar, the lightning strikes, it’s all very alien and exotic, even if it does look like a retooled Windows 95 screensaver.
The broad physical comedy of the food jokes, or the walking into the tree, scared me. I’ll be honest – my heart sank.
Doctor Chuckle Brothers, that’s what I thought. A live action ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’, where after consuming everything in the house and spitting it out, the Doctor would step on a rake and smack himself in the face. Repeatedly.
Home Alone, with an amiable alien instead of two creepy thieves.
But then it all got … good. SM loves his passage of time stuff, should have predicted that in the ‘Impossible Podcast’ sweepstakes for what would appear. (I went with people communicating from within a TV). But this actually worked. We’re set up with a character with real abandonment issues, who is fascinated by the Doctor but also knows that he’ll probably disappear for years at a time without contacting them, like a epoch-hopping love rat in a soap opera set on the moon. So little Amy Pond is left sat on her suitcase, with everything but a oversized cap and a little puppy on a string to tell us that there is no way he’s going to be back in 5 minutes.
So when she reappears as a policewoman with Star Trek skirt syndrome, there is every chance that she is just mad at him. What exactly would she have done with him? Kept him chained to a radiator, pretending not to know him? Cut his feet off, like a deranged version of Misery?
I’ll say it now. I love Amy Pond. Love her. SM knows his audience. The rule of geekery is that Red Heads are better. Red Heads who happen to be kissograms? Even better. Probably the best.
Maybe she could be a ninja. Maybe she turns out to be telekinetic, and will eventually be replaced by her own outer spaced double after her sacrifice. Maybe in the future she has an eye patch, and a big gun, and is all that remains. Whatever. I’m sold. Nothing could get better than this.
Unless at some point in the future Jane Espenson turns up to write an episode in which she has to fight a robotic version of herself (and SM, please, make this happen). If we haven’t already, clone her. She’s already been ‘weird scienced’ out of Shrek’s Princess Fiona. You have the technology, now make sure we can enjoy her forever. If she leaves, just boil in the bag another one of her and set her to work.
Of course, this show isn’t called Amy Pond. Yet. So what of the Doctor?
Well, imagine a person. Anyone you like, but they’re half horse. Not like a centaur, but an actual human being with the facial characteristics of a horse ploughed into a mans body, all rolling eyes and tapering face. Now force some gel in its mane and dress it up.
What you’ve created is an abomination. It shouldn’t work. It certainly shouldn’t be on TV. And yet here it is, and it works precisely because he doesn’t look human. He doesn’t look like people. He looks like he’s slightly alien, and he may save us all, or he might just trample us to death beneath his steel hooves, so someone get some sugar cubes, a carrot and an apple for the man QUICK!
People have got it wrong through. He’s not dressed like a Geography teacher, and he’s not so cutting edge it stings. He’s an archeologist. He’s a teacher. He’s Dr Henry ‘Indiana’ Jones, Jr. teaching you about the Neolithic culture. And you’re that girl with a saucy love note drawn on her eyelids.
I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the effects, the sausage skin coelacanth, even the giant naff space ships, complete with not-quite-all-seeing epileptic eye. Sauron, lodged into a freeze framed exploding window. It wasn’t the biggest thing ever; in fact, it probably tried to do a little too much, with no need for a fleet of eyeing saucers. The real conflict, the heart of this was between a monster and a little girl. The Doctor was just there to guide, not to fight, but to teach us how to fight for ourselves, and to equip us to do so. This is the Doctor as I wanted to see him, not prequels-Obi Wan but TO-Obi Wan. A guy who could kick ass but didn’t need to.
But the real treat was the dialogue. None of the real silliness of RTD, but a lightness of touch which has been missing recently. After a year of specials which were (supposed to be) ‘edgy’ and ‘dark’ and ‘meaningful’ it’s nice to have a bit of the comedy injected back in through snark and wit.
All of it – the good, the naff, the comedy, the tension, the scares – all of it, was a joy to behold because of one thing. Finally, we have two main characters who I care for and who actually have some kind of interaction!
Finally I want to know how the two main characters get on.
Sure it doesn’t make sense that the aliens would even notice a computer virus, let alone then be unable to recognise their target. Of course the CGI was terrible. There were flaws here to be sure, missteps certainly.
But so what, it was glorious. It was a Doctor who empowered, who involved, who included. A Doctor who got it wrong, messed it up and just squeaked by. It was a great start, it was pure Moffat, and it looks to be a very exciting season!
Check back soon for our podcast discussion of the first episode!