We get our first glimpse proper of the new Doctor (Matt Smith) hanging on for dear life outside an out of control TARDIS, performing deftyfying acts. This is actually a fairly accurate description of how the returning Who is prepared to play a gamble rather than play it safe when it, like the malfunctioning TARDIS, is flying high in the ratings and with critics alike.
Following ‘the greatest Doctor Who…ever’, AKA Sir David of Tennantshire, Smith and new show runner Steven Moffat (taking over the Head Writer and Executive Producer reins from Russell T Davies) have basically reset the TARDIS clock to zero with some dizzying changes and given us a whole new Who for a new era.
Let’s be very clear here. This isn’t just a new Who actor but a whole new Who, period. New Head Writer, new titles, new assistant, new logo, in short a massive reboot of sorts. Even with fan and critic fave, Steven Moffat, as the new head honcho, this is a massive gamble, living on the edge just like our newly introduced timelord, as what had come before had been phenomenally successful.
But if that other 60s British institution, James Bond, can do it then so can the good Doctor. Sticking with the Bond/Who analogy you could almost argue that – with new Who viewed as its second phase – Eccleston’s single season tenure could be seen as akin to that as one shot wonder George Lazenby and that, with his universal acclaim and ingraining in our psyche of what makes a good Doctor, Tennant is the defining Connery of the piece. Only time will tell whether Smith will be more, um Moore, Dalton or indeed Brosnan or Craig.
Certainly after some of the excess that we saw in both the series 4 finale (which felt like Tennant’s swansong in a way) and ‘The End of Time’ two parter, these Davies penned epics could on one hand be seen as pushing Who to its TV boundaries of believability limits as the likes of Moonraker had with Bond, so, whilst still retaining the fantastical perhaps this ‘first’ season of Who will bring us and the character down to earth a little bit more, and I don’t mean in a U.N.I.T. based episodes Pertwee era kind of way.
When Who returned in 2005, it did in my mind what always made the exploits of the Doctor stand out, it wasn’t just about the time travelling or the myriad of monsters but it was also about taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary, the policebox being the classic example. But what the returning Who did was to take objects we had no fear of and make us, or more specifically the child viewing audience fear them, whether that be people-eating wheelie bins – imagine the trepidation of walking to school the next bin day – gasmasks or statues, the latter in arguably the best new Who episode, Blink, penned, of course, by one Steven Moffat.
I am happy to report that such fixtures are still very much a part of Who series 5, with cracks in the bedroom wall being the latest unexpected new bringer of nightmares, although I feel this element wasn’t fully explored. There were some elements that made this, The Eleventh Hour, a fantastic episode and those that marred it a little for me.
First, those all important positive points. He may have a face that takes a bit of getting used to but Smith looks to have the makings of a damn fine Doctor about him, with great delivery of both comedy and drama. Much of it you could still see as being delivered by Tennant, which is only natural with the time he spent in the role but also as the character of Who will still retain some of his mannerisms and ways of doing things until he finds his feet. His best scenes, and the best scenes of the whole episode, where those spent with Amelia, which were reminiscent of sort of the cinematic Doctor (Peter Cushing) with his granddaughter, Susan, which I felt was a nice touch.
The scene of the ‘mad man in the box’ eating and hating everything from apples to yoghurt was also inspired and very funny genius, with Smith’s handling of the scene reminiscent in part of Johnny Depp as a certain Captain Jack Sparrow.
The premise of Who visiting a little girl, Amelia, and then returns to her 14 years later having dominated her life in-between with hundred of childhood drawings and the idea of the Doctor as her imaginary friend was an inspiration and really gave a timeless feeling to the character and really added to his mythic status. I also loved the fact that she found him at the bottom of her garden, the place where fairies come from and the fantastic happens.
The ending, which also tied back into showing these crayon drawings, was also very powerful, as was the tying in of Smith with the other incarnations and foes that had come before him, really helping stamp his arrival as a continuation of the character. As ever, the music, by Murray Gold, was exhilarating as ever, especially in the climax, which really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, even if it was a little bombastic.
Sticking with music, the reimagining of the title music will no doubt grow on me, for now it feels a little too different still though, as will the lightning effects that bounce round the TARDIS, although I’m still less sure of the new marketing-machine friendly DW titles which look more like something that a Blue Peter competition winner designed. For me this is more New Coke to the old logo, so I live in hope of a return of what has come before, still the titles seem to go through more changes than we’ve had Doctors. At least there was no winking a la McCoy.
I also loved the fleeting appearance of Patrick ‘Games master’ Moore, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before that other great astronomer, Brian May, gets his Who call up, wouldn’t that be great: Doctor Who by way of Flash Gordon and Highlander with some electric guitar shaped weapon device – yes please!
But in the end it was only the bookends of this episode that I thought were great, the rest I felt was a bit all over the place and disjointed, for want of a better description the middle was a bit of a muddle in an oddly Avengers/The Village-esque chocolate box locale. For me it was trying to do a little bit too many things and not really being successful at any of them. In short, a strong opening and ending with a rather saggy middle filled by lots of running, at times it even felt a little bit Sarah Jane Adventures.
I have to say though it does look as if some of the best is yet to come if the rest of the series teaser is fulfilled, taking in everything in from Stonehenge to vampires, the Daleks and those pesky statues again. Here’s to an exhilarating 12 weeks!