I just watch the first episode of Matt Smith era Doctor who, The Eleventh Hour.
In a word – excellent.
I blogged recently about discovering the Russell T. Davis/Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant version of Doctor who. I happened to come in at the tail end of the run, so I had the pleasant ability to watch it all is a great stream, over a couple of weeks. I finished just in time to catch the grad finale of the arc, The End of Time.
It’s worth repeating; those four+ seasons, watched together, constitute some of the best television I’ve ever seen. great in all respects: writing, plotting, acting, casting. But mostly, it’s a triumph of a show-runners vision, because all the disparate episodes form one single, cohesive story told in fragments over five years.
The problem with all this, of course, is what do do for a fucking encore.
Normally what one would suggest is, don’t. No sequel, no encore. Tell a story with a finite end, make the end good, and leave it. Truly great stories have an end. But Doctor who has a constraint, in that the character is all but immortal, and the show, by it’s nature, has to go on.
Davis did what he could; he ended his doctor who, in a very definitive way. He told a story, and gave it a conclusion. Rose’s story was over, and with it, the 9th/10th doctor’s era concluded.
But the show itself has to continue, as the character must. And that leaves a very big problem for whomever comes after.
The good thing, for a long-time fan of the show, is that one knows this doctor, for good or ill, is just a stop on the way. Some of them memorable, some less so, but when the 11th doctor’s run is over, the long-time fan knows, there’s a 12th. This is a bit harder for those, like my daughter’s friend Kevin, who’ve now grown up watching the Davies-Eccleston-Tennant Doctor; yet even she (Kevin is a girl, despite the name) understands the mythology of the show.
All this let me come to this new Doctor with an open mind. Even after re-watching The End of Time, Tennant’s crowning moment, I was still entirely willing to like Matt Smith’s doctor, but also with appropriately lowered expectations. The recent trailers have been encouraging; Smith manages to convey both the appropriate level of whimsical silliness, and the air of power and sadness behind the grin. He looks like he’s capable of a fight (if less so than Eccleston, then more so than Tennant). He also has a sort of goonieness that neither of the recent doctors posses, but which harkens back to earlier versions. The trailers have been full of Daleks and Cybermen, explosions, peril, and memortable one-liners. Also, Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond, has an appealing look, if no evident personality one can get from the trailers.
I’ve been waiting for weeks to see this new Doctor. So when a friend pointed me to a pre-US-release version of The Eleventh Hour, I simply couldn’t take the antipation any longer.
I have to say, it exceeded all my expectations.
It’s no surprise that the episode is well written; Steven Moffat, the new show’s runner, is the author of several of the Davies era’s most memorable episodes. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that Smith is terrific as the doctor, given all we know of the show’s casting history. Yet Smith manages to bring both a new energy, and a clasic sense of ‘whoness’ to the character. He doesn’t have Tennant’s Shakespearean sense of comic timing, nor does he have Eccleston’s tough-guy edge; but he has his own identity, and is appealing enough already that I want more.
From the moment he emerges from the TARDIS (crash-landed in a Gloucestershire garden), Smith inhabits the character. Both physically and verbally, he’s hysterical in an early scene, desperately hungry, yet with a ‘new mouth’ (‘like eating after you’ve brushed your teeth’, he says; ‘everything tastes weird‘). The bit concludes with the Eleventh Doctor calmly discussing time and the universe with a tween-aged Amelia Pond while stuffing himself with custard and fish fingers.
From there, of course, all hell breaks loose, and Smith adds new quirks to the doctor’s powers and character; he manages to look both awkward and heroic when he’s running, and has a spaced-out look most of the time. He has comically exaggerated features; less handsome than Tennant, he still manages to be completely charming in a daft way. His high forehead and just-a-bit-too-long hair, together with his tweedy looking dress, give him a sort of absent minded professor air, almost someone you can image teaching at Hogwarts.
When the new adult Amy Pond was introduced, I pretty much instantly fell for her. Red haired, fresh faced, with a scottish accent and an adorable little scar above her left eyebrow (which I think is a left-over from a healed piercing), she’s a bit damaged, and pretty much exactly my type. Promo photos do her no justice whatsoever (she looks much younger in the promos, and like a sort of a generic grunge-girl.) They don’t convey the sense of self-possession the character has, nor do they convey how pretty she is moving. They also don’t convey how adorable she looks when she’s introduced, in a kiss-o-gram police girl outfit (complete with working handcuffs). In a later scene, she declines to look away when The Doctor is changing clothes, and makes a sort of a yum face that cemented it for me. I completely love her.
As a Doctor WHo episode, it’s a good one. Maybe a great one, it’s hard to tell on one watching. I think it’s a better piece of TV then Rose, the Eccleston introduction, and Christmas Invasion, the Tennant introduction; neither one are truly great Doctor Who episodes, for all that they contain some of my favorite moments of the show ever. But I was completely without significant complaints; and immidiately wanted to look up clever quotes and screen grabs of interesting aliens.
I’m not just encouraged; I’m excited. This was good, in a lot of ways. And it has the look of a show that can carry on from where the previous team left off, forging new ground while not forgetting where they’re coming from.
Near the end of the episode, there’s a quick montage; several major Who villians (Daleks, Cybermen, SOntarans, etc), and then a montage of every incarnation of the The Doctor from William Hartnell to David Tennant. SMith walks through the tail end of the montage, saying I”m the doctor; and dammit, it looks like he really is.