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First Look: Doctor Who series 5 - The Eleventh Hour

Matt Smith as the Doctor in Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour. Picture (c) BBC

There have been people hoping and praying that, with Steven Moffat taking over from Russell T Davies, Doctor Who will be headed in brand new directions. Equally, there have been people who love the series as it is, and who don’t want it to change at all.

After seeing the first episode last night, I think both camps will be somewhat satisfied.

The Eleventh Hour — cunningly named, as it features Matt Smith’s first full outing as the Doctor, and has been extended beyond the standard 45-minute episode length — will air on BBC1 on April 3. As with the last couple of series, TV Today will be reviewing each episode in full.

I’ve tried not to give away too many spoilers, but Doctor Who more than most has fans who don’t want to know anything about the show before each episode airs. So for them, take this as a mild spoiler warning — and then join me after the jump…

As The End of Time drew to a close, we saw the burning Tardis begin a crash descent to Earth. That’s where the new series kicks off, with a spectacular special effects sequence involving the usual London landmarks, before crashing into the garden of a cottage in a Gloucestershire village.

The now traditional post-regeneration trauma sequence is handled well, with Smith playing opposite nine-year-old Caitlin Blackwood as Amelia. She helps the audience buy completely into the concept of the strange, mercurial man who has just crash landed into her life.

The opening scenes also set up the threat to the episode. As with some of his previous episodes, Moffat excels at finding the horror in the otherwise mundane, be it faceless gas masks, statues or shadows. Here, it’s a crack in a wall. If you have young children and there are any such imperfections in their bedrooms, you have until Easter to get it fixed. You have been warned.

As the Doctor settles into his new body, he meets the grown-up Amelia, now calling herself Amy (Karen Gillan) — and it is obvious from the outset that the pair are going to work well together. Indeed, it is some fair distance into the episode until the Doctor meets anybody else: the episode’s first few scenes effectively become the Doctor Who equivalent of EastEnders’ trademark two-handers, albeit with two separate ages of the same character.

The crafty humour and celebrity cameos that Russell T Davies loved so much are present too, as we find out that the reason Wilf gave for Sylvia Noble not letting him have a webcam were all too valid, in scenes that adults will find funny for reasons they probably won’t want to go into with young children (who’ll find their own jokes in the same dialogue).

Since the programme itself regenerated in 2005, some of the alien threats have felt a little too easily vanquishable. The main threat here — an escaped prisoner whose presence on Earth causes his captors to threaten to incinerate the planet — suffers a little too much from the “I’m going to stand here looking threatening without actually attacking you for no real reason” problem that has plagued monsters since the 1960s, but its eventual downfall feels right.

A secondary showdown, with the Doctor confronting the aliens who threaten to obliterate Earth, is much more Tennant-like. But with Smith’s delivery, coupled with some crowd-pleasing montages (including flashes of each of the previous ten Doctors in order) it feels much less bombastic than the Tenth Doctor was wont to be.

And it’s the inevitable comparisons to Tennant’s portrayal that is most likely to divide opinion when it comes to Smith’s debut in the role. Of all the regenerations, this one has possibly the smallest change in character for the Doctor. A big difference, though, is that the eccentricity, occasional rudeness and cheeky charm feel more genuine from Smith than Tennant’s performance sometimes did.

Fans will notice nods to earlier stories, especially the Doctor’s appropriation of clothing which nods to both Jon Pertwee’s debut story Spearhead from Space and the 1996 TV movie. The latter also seems to have inspired some elements of the new Tardis interior - of which we see tantalisingly little. There are multiple levels and many corridors and doorways, but the ad-hoc nature of the console controls that has been a feature for the last five years remains, with an ancient manual typewriter now embedded into one panel.

Director Adam Smith generally creates a sumptuous look for the whole episode. There are a couple of flashback sequences that use camera trickery in ways that feel out of place, being more suited to the likes of Hustle than dear old Doctor Who, but in general the move to HD looks like it is finally paying off.

As with previous series, we’ll be reviewing each episode of Doctor Who here on TV Today, starting with a full, proper review of The Eleventh Hour after transimssion on Saturday April 3. Do join us — from the looks of the preview trailer, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

27 Comments

Nice article, but learn to write grammatically, Scott!

OK, so a new Doctor and a new series is worth a bit of space and commentary but WHY do we need a running analysis of every episode? Is someone being paid to provide acres of publicity for this show. Why don't you review every episode of Coronation Street or Casualty as well? Or Lost? Or 24? Or CSI Edgbaston (or wherever it's migrated to now)? Because they don't merit the coverage. And nor, if we're being honest, does Dr Who. If The Stage was written by and for 13-year-old boys I could understand. But those us who aren't besotted by the doctor and don't think his adventures are the most meaningful thing we've been offered since, ooh, off the top of my head, Chekhov, begin to find the constant slavering over the series rather wearing and increasingly ridiculous. If only The (ahem) Stage would devote so much space and time to discussing theatre productions....

@Tom Laydon: Do I smell a little cultural elitism? It's true that there's plenty of terrible television around, but to be honest there are terrible plays, too; though because theater is no longer mainstream they don't get as much undue attention. There are plenty of brilliant TV shows out there that I think would've merited coverage in their time - The Wire, Blackpool, and The Ray Bradbury Theater come to mind, and although I'm not up-to-date with the latest shows I'm sure there's something currently airing that's just as good. Doctor Who isn't always amazing television, but occasionally, especially when Moffat is writing, it's absolutely brilliant.

Most of The Stage is already devoted to theater productions. Notice that this article is part of a blog entitled "TV Times." I think it's completely appropriate for a blog with such a name to discuss current television rather than what's on stage.

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Wow another white doctor is this the manifestation of the divine ? Or just the BBC emphasising only white people can become incarnations of the universal architect and other skin pigmented people are sidelined as his servants. This is the last bastion of an outdated and institutionally racist dogma, when will we see an Indian, African or Chinese doctor ........ it seems never.

At Reginal Perrin:
Yes I am a Doctor Who fan and hence could be considered biased, but, The Doctor not having "skin pigmentation" is just not at all racist. People audition and the right actor is awarded the role.

The Xmas episodes showed Timothy Dalton play a timelord Rassillon, prior to this inacrnation Rassillon has been played by a number of other actors one of which being Don Warrington on officially licensed BBC audio-plays.

The right actor who auditions gets the part. To try and pull racism into things where it is not actually present does damage and harm to the instances of genuine racism by devaluing them.

Lets all stop shouting racist at situations where it doesnt exist and concentrate on situations where it actually does.

Oh! Martha had a different skin colour!! Was the BBC just ticking an equality box when they hired her?? No it was because she was right for the part.

Lets see how Matt Smith actually does, and if good or bad, hail or criticise based on performance, not skin colour.

Amazing, Reginald, you must be one of the most brain washed commenters I have ever seen.

Let's remember the more accurate and updated definition of racist:

Racist: 1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive term for a white person. 2: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, if promoted by white people. 3: a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race, if promoted by white people.

I am sure Matt Smith will leave his mark as the Doctor, by all accounts he is a very talented young man. Please, pulling the race card in a show like Doctor Who? can we all grow up a bit? The show has bent over backwards to show equality even when it compromises the historical setting the Doctor is travelling through. Last time I looked there weren't that many ethnic minorities in Elizabethan England. Yes Reggie I am talking to you.
I am hoping for good things from Stephen Moffett. Blink and the empty child were (IMO) two of the best hours of televison I've watched in genre TV period. I'm looking forward to my tardis fix at saturday teatime

I don't get why, in order to praise Smith, you have to have a pop at Tennant. Does it have to be a competition?

arrrgh he's still not Ginger! still they are obsessed with getting a brown haird guy to play the part of The Doctor, why could they just let that go?

@Walkin' Dood - I agree with you basic argument and, indeed it's certainly the case that there was no racial element to the casting of the Doctor in recent times (I suspect they'd have only cast white men in the original run, though). But I have to take issue with:

"The show has bent over backwards to show equality even when it compromises the historical setting the Doctor is travelling through. Last time I looked there weren't that many ethnic minorities in Elizabethan England. "

You can't literally look at Elizabethan England, but if you took the time to look at some historical sources you might be surprised:

http://www.odu.edu/ao/instadv/quest/Shakespeare.html
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/pathways/blackhistory/
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.17488

@Reginald Perrin, I had a similar reaction to the BBC's recent film "Mrs Mandela", in that I was disgusted to see, once again, a black actor playing Nelson Mandela. When will white or Asian actors get an opportunity to play him?

Wow, you guys. I can't believe no one's made a case yet for a Mexican Doctor Who. As a Mexican living in the UK who has never seen more than three episodes of the series across it's many different Doctors (and probably won't be watching any of the new series because to be honest it simply isn't my cup of tea), I believe that Mexicans are underrepresented in British television and the only way the BBC could possibly atone for this is via the hasty sacking of Matt Smith, the issuing of a public apology and the immediate casting of Gael García Bernal as the 12th Doctor.

On the subject of race and whether a non caucasion could play the doctor successfully . The character has always been dipicted as an eccentric British man . Its hard to see how the public would accept a huge deviation from what they ve become used to . It would be a little like the doctor suddenly becoming amerian or a female . While its possible in terms of the series it is highly debatable whether it would work . Personally I would have prefered Paterson Joseph get the part over Matt Smith . Matt in my opinion does'nt seam right for the roll . But my opinion may change as time goes on .

How can you say Matt doesn't seem right for the role unless you have seen him act as the Doctor? You may be surprised. I love Tennant, but he decided to leave the show and so now we have a new Doctor. Moffat chose Matt Smith for a reason. Most likely because he best fit the role out of all the actors that auditioned, including Paterson Joseph.

Glad to see that someone else thinks Tennant's self-conscious eccentricity was sometimes unconvincing. He was the first actor that it took me a while to get used to the concept that he was the Doctor. In the clips I've seen, Matt Smith is already more believable.

you don`t have to be white to be a racist,i`ve dated alot of women of differant ethnicites. thier families never liked me but that didn`t stop me i`m a mutt and proud of it German .french ,native american and Italian gypsie thats a mutt.

you don`t have to be white to be a racist,i`ve dated alot of women of differant ethnicites. thier families never liked me but that didn`t stop me i`m a mutt and proud of it German .french ,native american and Italian gypsie thats a mutt.

Firstly I have few things to say to certain people:

To Reginald Perrin: To be perfectly honest its people like you who are the cause of much of today's racism. Racism is a disgusting horrible thing but when people like yourself blurt it around and accuse others of it because of the most ridiculous things it lessens the worlds opinion on the severity of TRUE racism.

To Roberto: Regardless of whether or not you’re mucking around or being sarcastic or not the point still stands. Racial Representation on TV is outrageous. Just because a show has predominately White or Black or Asian or American or Indian doesn’t mean it should have a random mish mash or ethnical cultures to compensate. When people moan about this rubbish it just makes me lose all respect for that person! Example: Bollywood Films...Not enough White British Males; Americans; African; or Iranian Culture Ethnicities. Do you get my point about the stupidity!

To googajoob: Thank You! I'm not in any way racist but this is the truth, The Doctor is a role always for decades been represented as a White British Male and ultimately should stay that way, the way the original creator's intended.

And another note to Reginald Perrin's 'other skin pigmented people are sidelined as his servants' comment: Since then reintroduction of Doctor Who onto British TV and in fact World TV the companion has been represented as an equal, in fact so far better than the Doctor himself. Rose Tyler, ultimately saved the Doctor from the Daleks in The Parting of Ways Series 1, and again gave up her life to save him and the world in Doomsday Series 2. Martha Jones (BLACK might I add) saved the world, the Doctor and the Universe from war by walking around the earth for a year Series 3. We have Donna Noble who saved the Universe and all of reality from destruction and was in fact represented as a better doctor for being a human instinct gifted Timelord Series 4. We also have River Song for sacrifices her life in order to save the Doctor also Series 4. These are all examples of how the companion who is NOT a slave to the doctor but in fact more often than not better than him.

Sorry for my rant but just reading the comments made me feel determined to put my point across.

KML

How very peculiar - this article has for some reason been hijacked by people wanting to debate racisim. Dr Who has nothing to do with that unless anyone thinks that daleks and other non-humans are unfairly treated. I always feel slightly sorry when alien races are killed off though we always find that at least a few survive to reappear in another series! Having seen and enjoyed every episode since William Hartnell first introduced us to The Doctor I am looking forward to the new incarnation. If Matt Smith is not a success that is not a problem - we can always get a new Doctor and that is the beauty of the whole concept.

To John, the ginger Doctor is supposed to show up eventually to become Merlin in King Arthur's court in an alternate dimension, at least according to the story Battlefield broadcast way back in 1989. Of course by this time it has obviously become something of an in-joke, but with the show's tendency to over-rely on its own myths I'm sure we'll have at the very least an explanation as to why there isn't a ginger Doctor by the end.

I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE NEW SERIES TOMMOROW!! It looks FANTASTIC
and i think audiances around the world and here in the UK will love it. :D

I notice that early comments criticise the BBC for a racist agenda in DR Who, primarily it seems with having another white Doctor. Of course, if the BBC turned down the best actor for the role on his acting merits simply to prioritise on someone of a differing skin colour, that wouldn't be at all racist would it?

What total rubbish. It seems to me that comments like this are an example of the increasing "politically correct" INVERSE racism that is overtaking society. When you feel the need to intentionally exclude people of white skin, so as to appear unbiased or indeed not racist, you are actually being completely the opposite.

As for Matt Smith - having just watched his first episode, he definitely ticks all the boxes so far. An amazing and strong debut. Lets hope the rest of the series keeps up the pace.

Wow, can't wait for the next episode! Series looks promising :)

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Wonder if someone complained that the Dr Who post failed equality and opportunity standards set by the laws of the land. How many people did the interview for this particular role, the genders, ethnicity etc, i guess he was hand picked by the nepotistic narcissistic claque within the BBC, nvm its nice to see where our license fee aka tax is going to pay more egotistical and banal actors. Few years ago there was gossip about a black actor having the potential to become the next doctor. Again another ploy by the BBC and their PR minions feeding fallacies to the media as to give the impression of equality. This time the black quota is fulfilled and no more black sidekick female or emasculated males to rescue, business as usual. Racism in the BBC exists and in many industries especially the public sector and even more so with the current economic climate, overt racism is a thing of the past for these on screen examples are meant to last.

Reginald Perrin
You have severe issues, maybe you should look at your own mentalities and attitude before throwing accusations and massaging your own ego trip.

Doctor Who is a feel good series that is for everyone. It has ups and downs in all of the series that have gone so far, however I am looking forward to the angels this Sat.

Great article. Ready to read more.

Anete Kuree
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