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.