For example at the time of watching Tennant’s final stories I felt it was somewhat anti-climactic and the bid to give the brother the longest regeneration sequence ever – was a bit much for the whole thing, though understandable because of the sterling job Tennant’s done in the role. That’s how I felt then, when I watched it for what must be the fourth time just before watching The Eleventh Hour I felt pretty much the same, I was not convinced that the story did anything other than to be a tool for others to build to what we all knew. Nothing wrong with that if it comes off well, but there were some irritating bits to it that didn’t hang for me. Like the narrator bit with Dalton.
What am I doing, dogging the old administration now that they’re gone? Nah, their role has been crucial in establishing the show as a major force in British television. That’s why taking over from them is a tough task – but not insurmountable. A good start is important, but for all the hype and preparation is that what we got with Matt Smith’s first outing?
Well let’s get the overview of the story first. When we last saw the Doctor the intensity of his regeneration had damaged the TARDIS sending it careening back to earth. As ever with the Doctor it conveniently falls back to England near London in the garden of a small girl called Amelia Pond. Amelia has recently made a prayer to Santa, her parents aren’t on the scene and she’s staying with her Aunt, she’s also concerned about a crack in her wall, so the arrival of the stranger is hope for her.
The Doctor is still in the early stages of the regeneration, he’s still unsure as to who he is as he stumbles out of the TARDIS and meets Amelia. There is the scene where he tries out what he likes to eat only to find he doesn’t like them in a very similar way to a little child. It transpires that the crack in the wall is a link to some alien voice who’s obviously looking for a missing prisoner who may exist in the house. There’s no time to explore, however, because the TARDIS is calling out to the Doctor as it needs regenerating of its own. Having established a good rapport with the innocent and inquisitive Amelia, the Doctor promises her that he’ll be right back in five minutes so as to give the old ship a chance to heal itself.
That five minutes turns out to be twelve years and on return to the house the Doctor is clubbed with a cricket bat by the now young lady that is Amy. The problem that affected her house before is maintaining its haunt and now the Doctor and Amy are pursuing the prisoner on the run especially seeing as though the ones chasing the prisoner have threatened to burn up the planet in 20 minutes. The chase also involves Any’s boyfriend who happened to be an orderly/nurse on the ward where the prisoner, who’s a shape-shifter, has taken over some of the comatose patients.
As ever in the end the Doctor saves the day with a mixture of bluff and stumble before figuring out the way to identify and move on the alien prisoner and not only that but issue a warning to the alien who threatened the earth to let them know that the earth is once more defended.
Some of the ingredients that make for a good Dr. Who story is the right mixture of action, excitement, character development, mystery and fun. Establishing the new Doctor was crucial for this episode as well as introducing us to the new companion. To have the added bonus of the new TARDIS as well stacked up the expectations for this episode.
This episode surpassed those expectations. The new TARDIS interior looks wonderful and truly gives a hint to the fact that this box has a whole world in it. The little touches with the old stuff strewn around the console reminds us that though it is a time machine, it’s as much about time past as time to come. It will be fun to see how they make the most of this in the episodes to come.
Yet as exciting as that it – and it is exciting – that is just the cherry on top of a substantial and satisfying cake of delight in all that’s new about this Doctor. The introduction of the new companion was spot on. The touch of the Doctor meeting the companion when she was a girl, thus affecting her years since then, gives a better spin on the relationship to the one that kicked off this era of the Doctor, namely Rose and Eccleston’s Doctor. There it completely dominated the show and we had the whole romantic thing to it leading up to the sad departure of Rose and how her memory lingered throughout the rest of the Doctor’s life.
Thankfully now the dynamic is very different. There is still an element of people needing each other – Amy needing the one who promised to solve her issue and take her away from her world, and the Doctor recognising again that it’s not as much fun on his own. That element though is not, as yet, romantically involved. Remember the Doctor is helping a child who has essentially now grown up. This is a relief to me.
I know some people are banging on about the sex appeal factor – if that’s the way you swing in terms of the style, etc. I was happy, though, that it wasn’t all about the legs, but that look on Gillan’s face – the look of an innocence lost and desperate to be regained.
Yeah she’s gritty and she’s taking no prisoners. She’s not part of the screaming female companion lot of the old days. There’s enough in her to suggest there’s much to invest in her character and we shall see, what we shall see about her. Also noting the superb performance of Caitlin Blackwood who played the young Amelia with that sort of child-like nous, no sense of anything contrived.
What pleased me most about this episode was that it reaffirmed my faith in the programme essentially being about the title character. Other agendas can get in the way of that, the reintroduction of aliens, an imbalanced focus on companions, the ingenuity of the story in itself. The show is called Doctor Who – it’s about the Doctor and who he is and this episode got that absolutely spot on. I don’t want to go too much over the top and make it out to be the best thing every … but it has got to be the best debut performance.
Eccleston’s and Tennant’s were strong and good introductions to their Doctor. McGann never really had a chance with that hackneyed TV movie deal. Poor Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were already hamstrung at the start. Troughton’s apparently was alright and Hartnell of course would grow on us. So we’re left with the debuts of Pertwee and Tom Baker to get something by which Smith’s performance can be compared. I can’t say anything about Spearhead in Space because I never saw it. I did however watch Robot and I enjoyed the story and thought it was a very good introduction to the guy who really is the standard Doctor.
In the light of what I saw from Smith, though, he even beat Tom Baker as an opening performance. There was just something whimsical, witty, eccentric, grounded, serious and yet still finding his way around the role.
The real deal maker that had me applauding out in the open was the scene in which the Doctor calls back the alien ship who were tracking the prisoner to let them know the earth was defended. The monitoring device that went through the previous enemies and especially the last ten faces of the Doctor for Smith to walk through the previous incumbent and announce clearly he was the Doctor was very impressive. It was said with a conviction that had me thinking not Doctor Who, but David who? That’s a good thing.
This sets him out on his own and gives him the pressure to live up to those standards, but he’s doing it on his own terms, the weight of carrying on the legacy is evidently something that he will take on and shape around himself. He is utterly convincing as the Doctor already and it is remarkable what he has done to the role already in immediately dissuading any concerns about age or any such nonsense. The way he even grows up from the kid-phase of trying different food to inviting Amy aboard the new TARDIS is engrossing and engaging as a Doctor should be.
Yeah it is early days. This is the first episode. There should be mistakes on the journey, awkward moments, miss-steps, bad episodes and performances – that is inevitable. This, however is the best possible start to the new era and sets us up well for what we are about to receive.