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The Girl Who Waited: "The Eleventh Hour" on Doctor Who

The Doctor might travel through time and space in his trademark TARDIS, a little blue police call box, but the true time machine is Doctor Who itself.

When the series truly clicks, it functions as a way to travel back to our own childhoods, to recapture that feeling of awe and surprise that are unfortunately usually lost on the long road to adulthood. What Doctor Who can do is transport us back to our younger selves, to a time where we saw a very different world: one that's full of possibility and magic.

I thought that the opening sequence of this weekend's season premiere of Doctor Who ("The Eleventh Hour"), written by Steven Moffat and gorgeously directed by Adam Smith, managed to achieve just that as it introduced both the Eleventh incarnation of the Time Lord known only as the Doctor (Matt Smith, taking over for David Tennant) and his latest companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), the girl who waited.

Arriving to seemingly rescue Amy, the only Scottish girl in a small English village ("rubbish," she calls it) from her mundane existence, the Doctor discovers a crack in Amy's wall, the escape of an alien known as Prisoner Zero, and the fact that, even for an experienced traveler such as he, Time itself has a mind of its own.

What did I think of "The Eleventh Hour"? Let's discuss.

(You can read my spoiler-light advance review of the first two episodes here and find a post collecting all of my cast and crew interviews and features here.)

Amy Pond is truly The Girl Who Waited. Little Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood) has her heart broken when the Doctor promises to return in five minutes and waits in vain for him to return from his brief jaunt. I loved the whimsy of their early scenes together as Amelia looks to find some food that the Doctor can stomach, from bacon and beans to apples and bread and butter, before the Doctor settles on fish fingers and custard. The appearance of the TARDIS in Amelia's back garden, the seeming answers to her prayers, gives the entire sequence an aura of fairy tale, with the shot of Amelia making her way through the "woods" of her garden heightening this sensation.

But, despite the Doctor's promise (one that clearly echoes of that of her dead parents), he doesn't turn up in five minutes and Amelia gets her heart broken as she sits waiting for him until morning. When the Doctor does return, he discovers that twelve years have gone by and Amelia has grown into an adult, Amy, who works as a kissogram and doesn't have time for the raggedy Doctor that she dreamed about as a child.

I thought that Smith and Gillan had the sort of natural chemistry that is impossible to manufacture for the screen. Gillan's Amy seems to be the perfect combination of awe-struck wonder, modern moxie, and adult sensuality, representing perhaps the best possible combination of aspects of Rose, Martha, and Donna. Their own newness--Amy as a traveler and Eleven in his new body--creates a feeling of instant kinship, as those each is someone uncertain of their first steps.

Together, they solve the mystery of Prisoner Zero, a pan-dimensional entity that has taken up residence in Amy's house these past twelve years, hiding in a room that's hidden by a perception filter. I thought that Zero was a hell of a lot more terrifying when he couldn't be seen. I did like the idea of him transforming himself into the coma patient and his dog, but I thought that the actual physical and serpentine appearance of Prisoner Zero wasn't particularly fearsome at all. (In fact, the CGI was pretty shoddy, rendering his snakelike form a little humorous in the end.)

But the central thrust of the episode--will the Doctor and Amy, with the help of Amy's boyfriend Rory (Arthur Darvill), be able to capture Prisoner Zero and stop the Atraxi from incinerating the planet--wasn't really the important bit. Instead, it's an introduction to the Doctor, the set-up of Amy's twee universe and her friends and family, and an opportunity for the Doctor (and Matt Smith) to step up and claim the mantle of Time Lord.

It's this last bit that gives "The Eleventh Hour" some heft and grit. Determining just what this persona will look like (at least in terms of wardrobe), the Doctor demands that the Atraxi return to confront him and never return to Earth again. Scanning the Doctor, the Atraxi see all ten incarnations of the Doctor before Matt Smith steps through the blue-hued image to announce himself as Eleven. It pays homage to the actors that have come before while establishing Smith as the latest in a long line of Doctors, bow-tie and all.

Likewise, the episode is also about change: as Smith completes his regeneration, so too does the TARDIS itself, which rebuilds itself in a new and whimsically loopy style (while on the outside we get the nifty St. John Ambulance logo), while it creates a new sonic screwdriver for the Doctor, one with a green light that's symbolically different to his destroyed silver-and-blue model. It's the little touches such as those that display that there's a new Doctor and his accoutrements have been updated similarly.

I'm not one who believes that it's an either/or proposition when it comes to the Doctor. You can both love David Tennant and Matt Smith; they're not mutually exclusive. I was terrified initially by the thought of someone else stepping into Tennant's shoes and taking over as the Doctor but this episode quieted my concerns altogether. Smith is a deliciously quirky Doctor, all gangly arms and squinting eyes, fire and passion, ice and logic, all at the time time.

He gets one last chance to reward Amy for her waiting and blows it once again: a quick trip to the Moon to break in the TARDIS results in another two years gone by for poor Amy Pond. But this time, she gets the chance to claim her reward, an opportunity to see the stars with the Doctor, to experience the impossible and the unimaginable. It might be a change of pace from her "boring" life in a sleepy little English village but it's also an escape route: Amy, you see, is about to be married in the morning.

Just who Amy is meant to be marrying is a mystery. Is it her boyfriend Rory, whom she was dating two years ago? Or is it her friend Jeff (Tom Hopper), whom Rory had expressed some jealousy toward? Or someone entirely different? Hmmm... (FYI, Steven Moffat wouldn't say who Amy is marrying when asked at the BAFTA/LA event I was at on Thursday night, saying that the first season would answer that question.)

And then there's the beginning of the season-long arc. Just what are the cracks in the skin of time of space? When did they begin to form and what is causing them? What does Prisoner Zero mean when he says, "the Pandorica will open [and] silence will fall"? Looks like Moffat has already engineered this season's overarching mystery and I, for one, can't wait to see what happens next.

All in all, I thought that the first episode set up the dynamic between the Doctor and Amy and introduced the Doctor in a compelling and tragic way that shaped Amy's life from a formative age. It's an intriguing origin story for the Doctor's companion, one who hasn't bumped into him but rather one who has spend the days and nights of her childhood dreaming of the man who will rescue her. Little does she know that he'll be placing her in danger right from the start...

I'm curious to hear what you thought of Number Eleven, new companion Amy Pond, and the first episode under the reins of new executive producer/head writer Steven Moffat.

Did Smith's performance win you over? Are you still missing David Tennant's Tenth Doctor? What did you think of Amy Pond? And her, er, predicament, as revealed by the final shot of the episode?

And, most importantly, will you tune in again next week?

Talk back here.

Next week on Doctor Who ("The Beast Below"), The Doctor and Amy travel to Britain of the future, where people live in a giant spaceship; Amy comes across the terrifying Smilers.


Tempest said…
I was a fan of Matt Smith's before this (from Masterpiece Theatre), so I was pretty excited going into the new incarnation.

Oh yeah, absolutely, I'm in. Loved it. Loved it. (Also, loved the shout out to the previous doctors -- and, btw, isn't the doctor supposed to get twelve regenerations? Isn't he on his last one?)

For me, Smith nailed it from the get go. Can't wait for more.
Anonymous said…
Best. Doctor. Yet.

There I said it.
Anonymous said…
I found it to be mediocre, at best. The best part was the retrospective of all the Doctors toward the end. After all of the hype and promotion, I expected the best thing EVER. Instead, it was BLAH. I will continue to watch and can only hope it will get better.
The Doctor does get 12 regenerations and since we are on the 11th Doctor he's had 10 although there is talk of circumventing that to keep the series going.

I did like The Eleventh Hour and will be sticking with the show until the end or if it loses its magic. I also like Matt's Doctor and feel that he and Amy make a brilliant team but so far Tennant is still my Doctor. Even if that never changes I'll follow Smith's Doctor faithfully.
MsCarabas said…
Matt Smith is a pretender to the throne. He just doesn't have the chops to really BE The Doctor. (If you don't believe me just wait until you get to 'Victory Of The Daleks'.)
Tennant will always be my Doctor, and I continue, unrepentant nerd that I am, to mourn his passing.
You believe in Tennant's Doctor. You want to go with him. Smith lacks the charisma, the emotion and the intensity necessary to convey the magnetic appeal of such a character.
There have been too many needless changes for the sake of change, and not enough of the brilliance of the past to make me think that this series will live up to it's predecessors.
Holly said…
I loved it! I've been looking forward to Moffat's dark fairy tale for a long time. The Doctor is the mysterious prince who arrives to save the world from the monsters, and in the process he makes those around him more than they would have been if they had never met him. Smith and Gillan pulled it off beautifully. I, for one, am an enchanted seven year-old girl sitting on a suitcase and gazing at the stars.
nel said…
Tennant was, as they say, my doctor and still stands as the best in my opinion, though that being said i went into this episode wanting to love it, especially since Moffatt is my fave writer. Maybe my expectations were too high after reading so many reviews, but I just liked it. i quite like Smith as well but still want to see him settle into the role.

I loved the opening scenes but found my attention wandering a bit in the middle.

Oh and, it's possible to miss Tennant and still like the new guy. Yes, it can be done! ;) despite many fans and reviewers annoyingly insisting on framing it as an either/or proposition.
Anonymous said…
Love the new pairing!! I was heartbroken when Christopher Eccleston left. It took me a while to love the David Tennant characterization of Doctor Who. When I saw pictures of baby-faced Matt Smith, I was concerned.
After last night's show - completely sold. I'm looking forward to it all!
Anonymous said…
I've never been into Dr. Who - I saw a few episodes during the marathon near last season's end. I'll check this out.

But - where the CORK is your Fringe review?!
A&O said…
My hubby and I both love and miss David Tennant, but we love Dr. Who so much that we went into the Eleventh Hour with open minds. We had goosbumps on our goosebumps and loved every minute of it. The relationship with the Doctor and Amy is so "meet cute" and we can't wait to see how it all plays out. The 10th Doctor was amazing, but we say let's give #11 a chance.
TVWatchtower said…
Wonderful recap of "The Eleventh Hour." You managed to capture some of the whimsy and mysteries introduce in it and hit upon all the key points -- most signficantly, that Amy is the girl that waited for the Doctor and how that shaped her. Both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan were charming and enthusiastic. It will be fun watching them throughout this next season.
Bella Spruce said…
I totally agree that Prisoner Zero was a bit, er, hokey but the fairytale of how Amelia Pond and the Doctor met was brilliant. The two of them make an excellent team and I can't wait to see what adventures like in store for them (and us)!
Mapeel said…
I'm in. I'm a huge David Tennant fan, and it remains to be seen if 11 does have the chops for the gravitas that is needed. But the youth of the 2 is very sexy, and Moffat is to be trusted.

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