Saturday, April 24, 2010

Doctor Who, Series 5 - Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour

As some of you who aren't fans may have heard, a new season of Doctor Who just started with a new actor (Matt Smith) playing the titular Doctor. I've been approached by friends who aren't fans asking me if this would be a good time to get into the show and friends who are fans asking me what I think of the new series.

So by popular request, personal inclination, a desire to help ease some new Whovians into the show and a desire to put a more diverse line of geeky content on this blog, I have decided to begin writing upon my thoughts on the new season of Doctor Who.


Okay. First things first - Who is The Doctor?

No, this isn't going to lead into an Abbot and Costello routine.

Doctor Who centers upon a character known only as The Doctor. He claims to be just over 900 years old and is, despite looking perfectly human, an alien. He is also the last surviving member of a group known as The Time Lords.

The Time Lords were, as you might guess from the name, Lords (and Ladies!) of Time. They were able to travel anywhere in time and space using devices called TARDISes - Time And Relative Dimension In Space. At some point in the past, The Time Lords got into a war with various evil alien races - chief among them the war-mongering Daleks - and the conflict between the two races spread out into a vast conflict that became known in legend as The Time War.

The good news is that for the most part (some survivors keep showing up in small groups) The Daleks were totally wiped out and it was as if they never existed. The bad news is that all The Time Lords, save The Doctor, were basically erased from the timeline along with the Daleks.

The Doctor now wanders the universe and all of the time stream, going where he fancies but usually finding people in need and wrongs in need of righting. He has a particular fondness for Earth, however, and frequently takes on companions whom he delights in showing the wonders of the universe.

One other thing must be mentioned: why there have been several Doctors and why The Doctors are usually referred to by number (The Fourth Doctor, The Seventh Doctor, etc.)

The Time Lords have a unique ability called Regeneration that allows them to cheat death for a limited number of times (12 to be exact) in cases of extreme old age or severe physical trauma. The Time Lord's physical body reshapes itself as does - usually - some aspects of The Doctor's mind and personality. While the core of The Doctor's personality remains the same (all of The Doctors have been curious and intelligent), other aspects - such as how likely they are to choose a physical fight over a cunning plan - are changed with each regeneration.

As the new series opens, The Doctor has just regenerated into his 11th body.

The show has always favored dramatic openings, with every version of The Doctor having their own unique introduction.

As you can see, each opening shares common themes. All of them depict something in motion, be it the Doctor's own face or his TARDIS. All of them show this motion through space or some sort of ever-shifting extra-dimensional space. And since The Fifth Doctor, all of them have their own unique remix of the Doctor Who theme.

So how does the new intro stack up against the older ones? See for yourself!

Personally, I think it's a worthy continuation of the line. Replacing the more vague blue/red Doppler shift of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors with blue storms and red lava fields gives the introduction an even greater sense of motion and danger. Lighting strikes the TARDIS, for crying out loud! Mixed with the more orchestral version of the Doctor Who theme, this opening creates a greater sense of urgency

Along with the new Doctor, the show has a new head honcho - Steven Moffat. Despite being new to the command post, Moffat is no stranger to Doctor Who having been a writer for the show ever since it the series was revived in 2005. Indeed, many fans believe that his episodes (including The Doctor Dances, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink) are among the best episodes in the new series, if not THE best.

He wrote this first episode of the new season, The Eleventh Hour and it is true to his usual form. More than any other writer on the new series, Moffat seems to understand and honor Doctor Who's roots as a children's program. Nearly all of Moffat's Doctor Who work to date has been based around ideas that are - and understand that this not an insult - childlike. The sort of waking nightmare ideas that you have as a child where everything in the world is new... and at times, very very frightening. And you see the evils and think of dangers that no adult would ever think of because they know that you're a silly child and that such things do not happen.

Living shadows who can eat you alive in milliseconds if you step out of the light. Fireplaces that are portals in time and space a young girl can call for help through. Angel statues that are the most dangerous killers in the universe the minute you take your eyes off them. Such are the mundane horrors that Moffat introduced so effectively that many grown adults have reported being nervous around angel statues after watching Blink.

The Eleventh Hour starts off with a perfect note and the perfect metaphor for The Doctor as a character. Crashed on Earth and left with little to do as he waits for his TARDIS to repair itself, The Doctor is asked by a Amelia Pond - the young girl whose backyard he crashed in - to take a look at the crack in the wall of her bedroom because it scares her.

Now THAT is a perfectly childish thing to be afraid of. Crack in the wall. Totally harmless in and of itself. True, it may be a sign of a foundation problem that could cause the whole house to collapse on you, but that's a rather remote possibility and the crack itself isn't a dangerous thing.

It is in these scenes with The Doctor and the young Amelia Pond that we start to get a feeling for this New Doctor and how he relates to The Doctor as a whole. Of course The Doctor is wise enough to know to trust the feelings of children and sure enough - the crack turns out to be far more than it seems. But in this scene - and throughout the episode - The Doctor is treated like an imaginary friend made flesh - The Raggedy Doctor they call him, due to his clothes being a bit torn after the TARDIS crash.

And that makes perfect sense, because at his core, The Doctor is the manifest dream of what all young children wish for adults to be and most of them dream of in an imaginary friend at some point or another. He knows everything but is more than willing to listen to you. He's a child at heart when it comes to seeing new things and exploring but he has an adult's wisdom. And he's more than capable of fighting the monsters in the closet that force you to hide behind the couch.

Anyway, The Doctor tries to get the TARDIS repaired and offers to take Amelia for a ride after he takes a brief five minute trip to get things recharged. Five minutes, however, becomes 12 years and The Doctor quickly finds himself being assaulted by a grown up Amy Pond, who has apparently become a policewoman but never forgotten about The Raggedy Doctor, despite years of therapy.

The two are forced to unite, despite Amy's misgivings, as it becomes clear that a monster escaped to Earth through the crack in her wall and the wardens of its' prison are ready to destroy the Earth rather than let it get away.

I'd like another episode or two to fully judge Matt Smith but so far... I'm cautiously optimistic. I admit to being worried when I first saw a picture of Mr. Smith and thought "Ick! He's way too young and he's got Emo Hair and he looks like a dork in that outfit!" Wisely, Moffat has Smith start out in David Tennant's old suit and his hair - at first - somewhat resembles Tennant's trademark spiky hair-do. As the episode progresses, Smith gradually changes more and more of his appearance and clothing until finally - near the end - he is in his "uniform" as it were. And he manages to establish who he is - in a scene similar to one David Tennant had in his first story, when confronting a group of would be alien invaders. And he does so with a greater economy of language.

Hello, I'm The Doctor. Basically... run.

It's a bit early to tell, but... I think the new kid is going to be alright. And I comfort myself in knowing that it took a few episodes for me to get used to David Tennant too.

I'm also enjoying Karen Gillan as Amy Pond. She seems to have combined Donna Noble's nerve with Rose Tyler's adventurous spirit to create something that is... well, not wholly definable yet. Still, it says a lot that she winds up knocking out The Doctor, tries to bluff him with her costume (she's really a Kiss-o-gram girl in a policewoman's costume - not a real cop) and is ready to keep him bound and helpless until she gets an explanation for his just randomly appearing in her house.

Besides... redhead with a Scottish accent... what's not to like?

The Final Verdict: It's not the best episode ever. It's not even the best introductory episode ever. (Rose still holds that honor, in my opinion.) But it is a solid episode and a good start for the new season, the new Doctor and the new show runner. I can't wait for the next episode.


  1. So...if Doc can only regen 12 times they are going to be pretty much screwed after the guy they get to replace Smith decides to leave...

  2. With you on all points, actually - though I admit that I liked Smith when I first saw him. I can't help it. Geeky, odd-looking guys do it for me. Why do you think I'm such a huge fan of Nine? :D

  3. I know this blog is about comics, but for the most part the comics are about Heroes (at least most of the ones you read ;) okay?) and lets face it.. the Doctor is about the biggest damn hero you ever did see..

  4. I figured it was a thing for guys in leather. :P

  5. True. But as my profile says, this is... "a sporadically updated blog regarding numerous geeky matters of interest to its' author and - judging by the replies it gets - no small number of fans".
    So yeah - it's mostly about comics. But I left myself the freedom to write about anything geeky that interests me. :)

  6. Having...ahem..."obtained" the next few episodes that have aired in England so far, I have to say that Smith is winning me over more and more. He won a lot of points for me in the second episode with a...well, without spoilers..."angry" speech.

  7. I notice there hasn't even been a whisper about the 12 regenerations thing since they restarted the series. I wouldn't be surprised if they've just quietly dropped it. Although that wouldn't be the best move on their part, since I predict a lot of fans will be making a lot of noise about it if we get as far as a 13th Doctor.

  8. If you're cautiously optimistic, then call me cautiously pessimistic. I reserve my final judgment until this Doctor has had a chance to come into his own, as he spent too long transitioning from his previous personality to really show himself properly yet. But the actor was giving me a seriously creepy socially-awkward nerd vibe, and I normally like the nerdy type. And oh gods, the hair... I shall be watching the next few episodes with trepidation.

  9. That was me above...
    I think they should regen the Doctor at least once as a female! Or is there something in the canon that prevents that? I think it could be awesome.

  10. Yeah, they HAVEN'T said anything yet, have they?
    It may be a case of burning that bridge once they get to it.

  11. As was said above, apparently he gets quite good.
    I guess we shall see tomorrow night, eh?

  12. Re: That was me above...
    Nothing in the canon forbids it, no. And Steven Moffat certainly didn't object to the idea in Curse of the Fatal Death even if that WAS a joke story.
    For that matter, we could have a Black Doctor...

  13. I find myself enjoying it all so far with two exceptions. I don't find the opening music to be orchestraic I find the synth drum to be more Lady Gaga and the overall score muddled. In short it's trying too hard.
    A new green sonic screwdriver. Would it be wrong to have the old blue one for just a few episodes so it does not scream "I'm the new show runner so it all has to be done my way!"?

  14. I thought it was a nice little change, actually. The sonic screwdriver has always changed a little bit between Doctors. It staying the same for Nine and Ten was the anomaly.
    Give them credit for at least giving a reason for the change, though. :)