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5 March 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 794: The Eleventh Hour

Dear diary,

In the weeks leading up to the broadcast of The Eleventh Hour, I couldn’t have told you the last time I’d been more excited for the start of a series. I’d largely managed to avoid ‘spoilers’ throughout the 2009 filming, so the trailer released after David Tennant’s departure really did a good job of whetting my appetite ready for the new run. But then, in early 2010, I was working on a project which meant I had to be completely up-to-date with Doctor Who, so that the material would still be relevant by the time it hit the shelves. This meant having to do the most exciting thing in the world - go and be locked in a room at the BBC and read some of the scripts, as well as a general outline, for Series Five. All that work avoiding spoilers was for nothing, because this was the ultimate spoiler. I found, in the long run, that it hampered my enjoyment of several episodes on broadcast, because I’d spent months imagining them one way in my head only to be disappointed when they were presented differently on screen.

Largely it’s because I couldn’t have predicted the unique way that matt Smith would play the part, and I don’t think any of us could have predicted the huge shift in tone that the series undergoes from this episode on. Just look at that long shot which looks around Amelia’s garden before leading us to the scared little girl in the house. It’s like a film! And it doesn’t stop there - Adam Smith is one of my favourite Doctor Who directors, and I wish he’d come back to do more than the handful of episodes he was responsible for in this series. The rest of the episode looks completely unlike anything we had in the Russell T Davies era - it properly starts out confident and strong, proclaiming itself to be the start of something new.

Even to this day I can’t decide wether that’s the best thing or not. Everything has changed at this point. New Doctor. New Companion. New Man-In-Charge. New TARDIS interior. New TARDIS exterior. New Sonic Screwdriver… before the series is out we’ll be able to add New Daleks to the list. This is getting on for as bigger a shift in direction as the one between Seasons Seventeen and Eighteen in the ‘classic’ run, and I don’t think we’re a million miles away from the big change of Seasons Six to Seven. In some ways, I like that it’s such a confident casting off of what went before - a programme in a new form which is proud to stand up and be its own thing. On the other, as the original broadcasts played out, I couldn’t help but think it came across as a bit of a middle finger to the five years immediately preceding it, almost as a ‘you did it wrong’. With hindsight, I think it works, and it’s certainly not any kind of disrespect to the things which came before. It’s simply Doctor Who reinventing itself almost totally, which is just what it’s good at.

So, as for The Eleventh Hour as an episode… oh, it’s good, isn’t it? I’d spent so long dying to see what it looked like on screen and then in the run up to the broadcast, I found myself booking a date for the same evening. Even as it was being arranged, there was a little voice in the back of my mind that said ‘You can’t see her that night! That’s the start of the new Doctor Who season!’. Oh we’ve all been there. And what do you do? How do you choose? I went for the simple option - have your cake and eat it. Let’s get pizza at mine and watch the new series of Doctor Who. Yes, that’s romantic. I’m not entirely sure if she was at all keen on Doctor Who by the time the episode had finished (she certainly hadn’t been before hand), and was probably a little put-off by the fact that the date ended early so I could sit and watch the episode again later that night (I know, I know, priorities), but she did return for episodes sporadically throughout the rest of Series Five, so it wasn’t a complete bust!

Oh, but it was good. Immediately after broadcast, the figures of the Eleventh Doctor (in a two-pack with a ‘raggedy’ version) and his new Sonic Screwdriver were released. I’d managed to pick up my figure earlier in the day and took great delight in adding him to the shelf alongside all the other Doctors. Matt Smith had won me over completely, and we were standing at the dawn of an exciting new era. That’s the best feeling in the world…

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