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The Doctor is In: Thoughts on The Eleventh Hour…

The Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who is officially over. The man who revived the franchise has departed, passing the reigns to Stephen Moffat. Similiarly, David Tennant has hung up his iconic brown trechcoat, to be replaced by virtual unknown Matt Smith. The Eleventh Hour, the opening salvo of the show’s fifth season since its return to television, aired tonight on the BBC and we were impressed. Mighty impressed, might we add. This isn’t a review (I’ll do a year-end round up in about twelve weeks), just some thoughts on this new era in television’s longest running science fiction show, based on a sixty-minute opening episode – particularly  on the Doctor-Companion relationship. There are minimal spoilers within. 

“Anywhere you want, any time you want… one condition: it has to be amazing.” 

– The Doctor

"Run!"

Moffat gets the Doctor. While this show isn’t foreign or alien to someone who watched and loved the early years of the series when it came back, there’s a slight shift in tone and ideas that can be detected. From the moment that Davies put pen to paper on Doctor Who, starting as a novellist while the show was off the air, he imagined the Doctor as a celebration of the wonder of everyday life, the magic of the ordinary world that passes us by as we live our quiet little lives. For the show’s first five years, Davies centred the show on the estates of London. As late as The End of Time, Part I, his penultimate episode as show-runner, he demonstrated the fall of mankind by spending a two-minute montage inside a council estate (rather than taking us outside into ‘the wider world’ – that council estate was the whole world). It was very much as show that, while it celebrated the fantastic, was anchored in the ordinary world. 

Moffat acknowledges the show’s charm in grounding itself in such a way, but he sets up his Doctor/Companion relationship as a much more magical and fanastic one than Davies’ intersections with day-to-day life (the Doctor met Martha and Rose at their work, and Donna at her wedding). Perhaps Amy’s voice over from the “Coming Soon” trailer highlights the difference best: 

When I was seven, I had an imaginary friend. Last night was the night before my wedding. And my imaginary friend came back. 

– Amy Pond 

Yes, for Martha and Rose and Donna the Doctor was very much an escape from the real world, but for Amy he is the very embodiment of her imagination. He is fantasy, embodied – not just the gateskeeper to a magical box, he is magic of himself. The Doctor existed very much as a very real person to his previous three companions, whether as the object of Martha’s misplaced affections or the surrogate father that Nine was to Rose or even just as “a mate” to Donna (“you’re not mating with me, sunshine” may be my favourite line of the show so far). He was a very organic and real person. If not for the fact he had two hearts, you get the sense that he could have been some random stranger with a time traveling police box. 

I love the way that Moffat has set up the relationship between the two. Sure, he arrives accidentally in the life of a seven-year-old Amy Pond, but he stays with her throughout the fourteen years he inadvertently missed. There are pleasant echoes of Moffat’s early script The Girl in the Fireplace, where he met Madame du Pompadour as a child, but followed her through her life. Unlike Rose and Donna who seem to be traveling for the sake of traveling, and Martha who never really dealt with the responsibilities she dropped to travel with the Doctor, there’s a very strong suggestion that Amy is consciously running on a flight of fancy. Her imaginary friend returns the night before her wedding and sweeps her away. It isn’t that, like Rose, she has entered the real world and found it boring; nor is it, like Martha, that she’s simply taking a breather before she returns to pick up where she left off. Amy consciously shrugged off her boyfriend Rory and her reckless decision to run off in the TARDIS seems to be a serious attempt to delay the real world. To hold off the responsibility that comes from having a family. She doesn’t tell the Doctor about the wedding, because she’s not sure she wants to be back for it. 

There’s all something just a little bit Drop Dead Fred about it all – the story of a young woman whose imaginary friend (played by two-time-but-never-really Doctor Richard E. Grant) returns to her in adult life to bring a touch of magic. Except it’s far more exciting and magical. 

That’s not to denigrate the fantastic work by Davies over the past few years. The show can be different things to different people at different times. There was little of Three’s era in Five’s tenure in the TARDIS, for example. It’s just fun to attempt to spot the differences in approach to the character and show between the two creators, especially this early in. Like when I took a stab at predicting about the possible themes of Moffat’s tenure before the show began.

This is the first episode of the season. It isn’t heavy or particularly original. Then again, Rose, New Earth, Smith and Jones and Partners in Crime weren’t the best episodes of the show either. What The Eleventh Hour needs to do is to set the tone for the year to come. In fact, one might suggest the episode has to set the tone for the years to come. Establishing Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillen as Amy Pond is the episode’s core, as well as offering us a hint of what’s to come. The story, heavily borrowed from dozens of episodes throughout the years, doesn’t need to exceptional. It’s standard alien invasion fare, but is well executed – in fact, it feels like an archetypical Russell T. Davies story as told by Stephen Moffat, perhaps the perfect transition between the two writers. I loved the little shout backs to previous Moffat scripts like the line “I’m not done yet” or the intimidation of an alien threat by having them look the Doctor up. As of this viewing, The Eleventh Hour is already vying with Smith and Jones as my favourite season opener since the show came back.

One thing is clear though, after a year of sporadic specials, I am really looking forward to twelve more weeks of this.

And isn’t the “coming soon” trailer awesome?

Spoilers follow. Well, spoilers from a coming soon video. Anyway, here we go…

I think I might be excited about the return of the Daleks even after years of oversaturation. Spitfires in space! Dalek saucers! Churchill! Daleks branded with the British flag! And is that the wonderful combination of Cybermen and Romans I see? I think it’s great that Moffat is using the two most iconic adversaries of the show in standalone episodes, because making an event of their return (having previously only appeared in two parters or specials over the past four years, with Dalek the only standalone episode to feature either) inevitable leads to disappointment. And there’s Toby Jones! And Bill Nighy! And Toby Jones! Other than that, loved the “tell me the whole plan! (pause)… (sigh) One day that will work” line and the badass boast which rounded it out:

There’s one thing you never put in a trap. If you’re smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow – there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap… me.

– The Doctor

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