Time Lord Tees

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10 April 2010

Written By: Steven Moffat

Directed By: Adam Smith

Original Airdate: 3/4/2010

Reviewed by: Dale Who

Review Posted: 10th April 2010

It's Saturday, and it's just about to begin. There's a steaming mug of tea and numerous snacks next to me, the telephones are all switched off, the blinds are drawn and the Freeview box is recording. We've reached the much-anticipated, long-awaited and dear-God-I'm-worried-about-it first episode of the 2010 series of Doctor Who. New Doctor, new assistant, new TARDIS inside and out, new show runner and mostly new crew.

I'm not worried for the show itself; it's proven it can change and adapt and survive in today's climate plenty of times since 2005. I'm worried about my view of it. I'm like this every time there's a new Doctor, but that's not a bad or negative thing. I care about the character, I've emotionally invested a lot in my hero since I was knee high to a Zarbi, so it's important to me they get him right. However, mixed with that I'm also very aware it's not "my" show any more, it's for the kids that are growing up today; the family audience. Not aging fanboys with robot dogs in their living rooms... although they're always the most vocal, I find. Some Doctor Who fans do nothing but whine as well, and that annoys me. Usually the ones who still think the show should be exactly how *they* want it, and something Russell T Davies took great delight in proving to be a false claim.

The pre-title sequence begins, and such thoughts are banished from my head. It's straight into the action, more or less from where we last left off; with the TARDIS hurtling towards London out of control and on fire. The main difference is The Doctor is hanging on for dear life to the TARDIS base, having fallen out of the flapping doors. Talk about a different beginning: the TARDIS is wrecked, and the Doctor's not going to get to collapse and sleep this one through . Poor bloke's going to be knackered!

The new titles kick in, and I simply stop breathing and stare. They're *so* different. The vortex is reminiscent of the second Dalek film from the 1960s; rather smokey, and there appears to be a lightning storm happening in there too. The theme tune is very different too, a marked departure from the Tennant era. Again, different is not bad. It just means I need to adjust and let it all sink in. The titles are very slick and clever, and then we're back into the action. And I remember I'm turning blue and start breathing again.

Amelia Pond is perfect. Just wonderful. The best child actor I've seen in many a year; she's instantly likable and you're just on her side from the get-go. The whole idea of parying to Santa at Easter, and apologising if you've woken him up, is genius from Mr Moffat. The TARDIS crash-lands, and The Doctor's first line as he pops up from the new swimming pool/library combo he's got going on in the ruined Police Box is perfect. "Can I have an apple?"

After some perfect silliness with food - mmm, fish fingers and custard - and establishing that little Amelia is more than capable of holding her own already in life, there's the first pang of darkness. The crack in the wall. With draughts and voices on the other side... I think a few younger kids with cracks in their walls will suddenly be awake tonight, a little concerned about what may be behind it...

One thing becomes obvious very quickly indeed. This is not what I was expecting. The direction, the locations and the mood and feel of Doctor Who have all changed. This is a very different show to David Tennant's Who - or more correctly to RTD's Who. Again, this is not a bad thing. I loved RTD's era, and I loved Eccleston and Tennant, but this changes the whole ball game. It's still recognisably the same format it's always been, but somehow this seems bigger, better and more epic than I remember it being at any point before. I'm blown away by this. It's gotten better... again! And it was already stunning! 

The new Doctor is insanely likable. He's mad, clever, funny when appropriate, and has me bonding with him in about fourteen seconds. Not once did I think about how David or Chris or Tom would have played a scene. The Doctor - Matt Smith's Doctor - is in charge, and effortlessly so as well. However, grown up Amy's more than a match for him though; a clever new foil for his outbursts and ingenius insanity. She's going to be an amazing companion, that girl, and Karen Gillan is effortlessly natural in the part. Spot on, nailed performance.

The supporting cast are also brilliant (fanboy squee: OMG! There's Sir Patrick Moore! Brilliant!!) and the scene with Jeff and The Doctor comandeering his laptop has me bellowing with laughter. 

Prisoner Zero is another clever idea from Steven Moffat, a shapeshifter that uses comatose patients as a template; although it's a bit rubbish at getting the voices right. The silent dog and the barking man is hilarious; but the girls and the Mother having the same voice in the hopsital stand-off sequence makes my blood run cold. That's a definite chill. Taking the everyday and making it uncanny, unexpected and creepy. Gas masks. Ticking clocks. Stone Angels. We're definitely in Moffat territory. The alien itself is no more pleasant. It reminds me of a deep sea angler fish, and it's ugly. The Atraxi show up and they remind me of Axos and the Mandragora Helix set from Classic Doctor Who, and the Crystalline Enitity from Star Trek Next Gen. Not as in "nicked", just an influence creeping in.

There's a now almost reverent nod to the previous Doctors, and The Doctor's current incarnation is now dressed properly and ready to save the world from being fried with some decent advice to the Atraxi, which he does with style, before legging it back to his now finished and revamped TARDIS.

We finally get a look inside, and aside from a raised eyebrow at some of the controls (again, not negative, just unexpected!) I'm over the moon at what they've done to the best ship ever. The outside has those echoes of the 1960s series to it, and the inside just takes your breath away with the scale and love gone into it. 

It's all over in what seems like twenty minutes. It was actually an hour and five. The continuity announcers do that very, very annoying thing of talking over the credits and shrinking them to half the screen again, and it occurs to me that's the only negative thing I can find. It also occurs to me that I'm now liking the theme tune, and that I adjusted to that one really rather quickly.

I'm relieved and ecstatic that the character I still care about is in a very, very safe set of hands. More than that, I think I've fallen in love with The Doctor and his TARDIS all over again. Released from my hypnotic trance-like state that television's held me in, I glance around. The snacks are untouched, and the tea's now stone cold but undisturbed in the mug. And I remember that it was ever thus. When The Doctor's in town, everything here stops. 

Reviewed by: Chris Kilby

Review Posted: 15th April 2010

The boy done good. Definitely not sick as a parrot. Yup, it looks like football's loss was Doctor Who's gain. But does that mean there's a parallel universe where David Beckham's The Doctor? Or Wayne Rooney? The mind boggles!

The Eleventh Hour was an episode of two halves. Two halves? Four halves more like!

There was the obligatory "I'm mad, me," post-regenerative trauma malarky which was deftly handled with wit and humour - "fish fingers and custard" sounded like a Dr Seuss book and must have had every eight year old in the country going "Yuck!" And I loved the Fermat gag. And "You're Scottish, fry something." Funny's good. Yeah? Tell that to the average fanboy...

Then there was the new companion and her already-tangled history with the Doctor - "Why did you say 'five minutes'?" It shouldn't have been surprising that the first episode of the Steven Moffat era would be so timey-wimey. Starting as he means to continue? And does this mean the next time the Doctor meets River Song she won't have met him yet...? 

This was followed by the supposedly "main" plot which was a bit perfunctory but served its purpose - alarmingly sub-par CGI notwithstanding (the result of cutbacks or the increased cost of switching to HD?). Ironic after Neil Harris' recent DWM column about not-so-special effects. Did he know in advance?

And finally there was setting up the big "Crack in Time" story arc - silence will fall. Phew! No wonder it over-ran. Is it just me or did that crack look like... a smile? And the Doctor's up to something. Why else would he hastily turn that scanner off before Amy clocked it? "Why me?" indeed. It's the seventh Doctor all over again. But in a good way.

So what of the junior Doctor? Well he's a bit gawky, a bit awkward, and, yes, he is a bit young. But this Matt Smith. He's rather good, isn't he? Loved how he savoured saying "Amelia Pond." And that tweedy look's a real grower: a bit mad professor; a bit young fogey. And, it has to be said, remarkably similar to "John Smith's" getup in Human Nature. "Bow ties are cool"? Well they are now.

"Who da man?" was funny cos it made the youngest Doctor ever look like someone's dad trying to sound cool - classic Moffat! Kids think anyone over twenty's old anyway, so what do I know? As for the new Doctor emerging from the face(s) of the old with a jovial "Hello. I'm the Doctor"? Back of the net! David who...?

But sometimes the Doctor needs someone to stop him. Talking to himself, that is. Which brings us to the new companion.

Amy's a bit brittle. A bit highly-strung. A bit cynical. And who can blame her? The Doctor ruined her life - that's what she gets for talking to strangers! No wonder she clouted him with a cricket bat. This is the most interesting Doctor/companion dynamic yet. I hope the new TARDIS has circuit breakers installed, cos there's gonna be sparks. But where was Amy's auntie during all this? And no mum or dad? REJOICE! REJOICE! REJOICE!

The stunning Karen Gillan's good if a little pouty - she kept reminding me of her spot-on Angelina Jolie on The Kevin Bishop Show. And I still can't look at her without thinking "Gritty BAFTA." (Wee Caitlin was great too. It's a pity we won't be seeing her again. Or will we...?)

But it's hard to believe she's even less fleet of foot than Catherine Tate (the other "Runaway Bride") was. Maybe it was that very short skirt that got the Daily Mail in such a tizzy. A kissogram? "It was this or a French maid." What was the keyword for this episode? sexy? Saucy? Kinky?

It was probably "magical." The Moff wasn't kidding when he likened his Doctor Who to a fairy tale. Allusions abounded: apples (which the Doctor tellingly tempted Amy with); Time Bandits; "The Raggedy Doctor"; music straight out of Edward Scissorhands; and, my, what big teeth Prisoner Zero had!

But fairy tales aren't all sweetness and light. What would a good fairy tale be without the stuff of nightmares? (Who said a Disney film?) And few images are as nightmarish as a giant frickin' eye staring at you. But speaking of eyes, that flashy Doctorvision POV sequence was a bit Matrix-y; a bit Sherlock Holmes (the recent one). And it'll get old real fast if it's overused. Like bullet time did.

The vast new TARDIS is a bit busy. A bit lava lamp-y. A bit, well, orange. I think I preferred the silvery / black version on Confidential. You know, the dark one (natch)? But, like the new feme choon, I'm sure we'll get used to it. And if we don't like it we can always lump it.

I suppose the TARDIS should be a bit overwhelming the first time you see it. And a potentially Ecsher-like TARDIS interior could be interesting. But didn't the Moff (who has said the Doctor shouldn't be "young and dashing" - whoops!) say something once about us kids wanting "Narnia not the wardrobe"? Unless we're treated to Die Hard in a TARDIS! Yippee-kay-yay... er, muddy funsters?

There was no messing about here. BANG! And we were off - hurtling across the London skyline. No reprise of the regeneration. No mention of Rose. Or the Time War. Or recent events even. Good. Time to move on. Doctor Who was getting a bit self-indulgent and fan-fictionish of late (even Russell thought so). But this really did feel like series.

The first episode's never the best but this was great - easily the best series opener yet. And if that blinding trailer was anything to go by, the rest of the season's gonna be even better. Blimey!

They think it's all over. It is now!

<mce:script

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