The Eleventh Hour

'Doctor Who' 5x01 'The Eleventh Hour' (3rd April 2010)

“20 minutes to save the world and I've got a post office, and it's shut.”

To say the arrival of the eleventh Doctor has been highly anticipated by fans is an understatement. They've certainly been teased about it for long enough. It was way back in October 2008 that David Tennant announced he would be quitting the role. Media speculation immediately went into overdrive as to who might be taking over. They didn't have long to wait to find out who it would be. A 26 year old unknown, Matt Smith, was unveiled as Tennant's successor and he was the youngest Doctor to date. This didn't go down with maximum enthusiasm. Is a younger Doctor what the role needs? Is this trend of younger and younger actors a good thing? We had a while before we would find out.

2009 brought no full season of Doctor Who but a series of specials. Russell T. Davis's attempt at a last hurrah. Those culminated in “The End of Time” over Christmas and New Year 2009. To say I wasn't especially a fan of these would be to put it lightly. A few moments of emotional resonance and Tennant's fearless approach to his Doctor's demise aside; they were all over the shop, with badly paced action, nonsensical plot lines and what appeared to be a case of RTD running out of ideas. He did a great job bringing back and updating Doctor Who, but a command of quality sci-fi and making sure the story ruled over everything else was never his strong point.

This leads to me the second reason for the excitement surrounding season 5. That would be Steven Moffat. In the eyes of fans, Moffat has been the 'second man' behind New Who's success. Since Eccleston's first season, his episodes immediately separated themselves from RTD's with original stories and great dialogue (The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace and Blink). So after RTD announced he was leaving the show for greener pastures, the Doctor Who community immediately demanded Moffat take over the reins. Some what ironically (RTD left Doctor Who to try and find fame in the US) on being offered the role Moffat turned down a burgeoning Hollywood career. He had already co-written the first of Steven Speilberg's upcoming Tin Tin films and declined the second and third to take on the biggest job on UK television.

So how did they do? After the end of the “End of Time” Tennant's Doctor died with a slightly pathetic, almost uncharacteristic whimper and the Tardis was on a collision course with Earth. This is when Smith “Geronimoed!” into existence. Cut to, with miraculous aim, the Tardis hurtling towards a major London landmark and the doctor hanging out of the, door clinging on for his Eleventh life. After some sputtering and stalling he crashes it in a seemingly innocuous back garden. Out of the house comes a little girl to see what all the commotion was. Here we are introduced to a young Amelia Pond; inquisitive and fearless she confronts the intruder and questions his strange manner of speech and general weirdness. The Doctor's personality still in flux after regeneration, he doesn't quite know himself yet, but his interest is piqued by finding a time/space crack in the wall and the presence of an Alien intruder in little Amelia's house. But then he's off again; leaving a lasting lasting impression on the young girl.

After some considerable time the Doctor returns to save Amelia (now adult Amy) from the monster hiding in her house. Rather unsurprisingly this monster's (Alien's) mere presence on Earth might just end the world. With his Tardis still out of action and his 'deus ex machina'... I mean Sonic Screwdriver (!) busted, it's up to our new, still a bit wobbly, Doctor to solve the problem and kick some Alien ass with nothing more than his smarts and the contents of a sleepy village...and the post office is closed.

And so goes the Doctor Who plot we've seen a good few times before, it's a shape-shifting gribbly with an identity problem, no complicated time travel in this one. For a Moffat episode that's pretty straight forward. They'll be no boats rocked, darkness descending on Saturday nights and no minds blown, to start with at least. So it was left to the dialogue, direction, and strong characters to keep interest. Luckily all these elements were pitch perfect and that made this episode very entertaining.

Hark! 'What of these lead characters' I hear you ask. Well, Amy Pond is feisty and self assured, she didn't immediately submit to being protected by the Doctor. With his broken promise to come back for her, she didn't trust him off the bat like Rose did in season 1. So it took a little persuading on the Doctor's part to get her on-board. Hopefully this dynamic will be developed over the season. As for the Doctor himself, Matt Smith has certainly made his stamp. He has brought intensity and a directness which feels new and refreshing. He also has a confidence and drive that doesn't stray towards Tennant's or Eccelson's manic mannerisms. This grounds the show and draws it away from camp 'kids show' label which has been increasingly stuck on it in the past few years. The Doctor now commands others to do what he wants with proper aggression. “How long!?” he barks at Amy when she's dithering. Then he grabs people by the scruff of neck when they are wasting his time. This is very welcome indeed as it shows the Doctor isn't some meandering push over, he takes charge of the situation. He also doesn't worship the human race and get caught up in the past like Tennant's Doctor did. It's definitely time for the Doctor to get over himself, stop messing around and get the job done. Smith can bring us that Doctor.

Things aren't all rosy though. When we are greeted by the new credits sequence (which they rightly kept under-wraps), we are left disappointed. The Tardis animation looks fine-ish, if slightly less interesting than the previous one. Like a Doctor Who screen saver or something. But it's the re-jiggering of the theme where we have problems. The music itself seems okay but unfortunately it's been obliterated by the lightning sound effects. The audio mixing of the show has long been a large source of complaint; seemingly getting worse over the course of last year's specials. Who exactly is responsible for this isn't clear. Some people blame the composer Murray Gold, but given he has done some beautiful scores (Martha's theme being my favourite), I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. A composer doesn't deal with the show's sound editing and mixing after all.

Then, last but not least, the other overhaul of the show has been the visuals. Aside from some dodgy, budget CG, this new series looks wonderful. The first of many new visual flourishes (hopefully) is 'Doctor Vision', made from the stop motion camera stills (as seen in Doctor Who confidential). Then there's the quality of photography and lighting itself. This has been given a major boost over even the HD broadcasts from last year. The beeb likely put up some dough for upgraded camera equipment and digital grading, the Ashes to Ashes opener yesterday was just as ridiculously good looking. Then there's the sets, including the new Tardis, which look fantastic. If indeed the budget has been re-routed from the CG department to everywhere else, it's made the show look gorgeous and personally I'm thrilled with that. CG will always date no matter how much money they throw at it, solid photography and a well developed visual style on the other hand is a very good investment. I have no doubt the series will make for an excellent Blu-Ray boxset, given right encoding love.

This awesome opening episode and the teaser at the end has left me very positive about what we are to see in the coming weeks and months. Roll on episode 2.

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