The long wait was finally over on Saturday as the new series of Doctor Who returned to our screens, heralding the start of Matt Smith’s reign as the 11th Doctor. And as well as the change of faces on screen, there were big changes behind the scenes also as Steven Moffat took over as lead writer and executive producer from Russell T Davies, who had been at the helm since the show returned back in 2005. Could the new team keep up, and build on the success the show had enjoyed over the previous five years, and would the relatively unknown Matt Smith be able to win over fans missing David Tennant?
Well, The Eleventh Hour won me over completely, and I found it to be one of the most enjoyable, and satisfying episodes the show has served up since it’s return. Matt Smith nails the character of the Doctor right from the offset, with just the right amount of eccentricity and humour, whilst the new companion Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan was great, and showed lots of promise, as well as being very pleasant on the eye. The plot when broken down was quite a simple one, but as with any great yarn, it was all in the way it was told. For those familiar with their Doctor Who writers, they’ll know that Steven Moffat has already given fans some of the mosts popular episodes of the last five years, having contributed The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (for Christopher Eccleston), and The Girl In The Fireplace, Blink and Silence In The Library for Tennant’s Doctor. Whilst the main efforts of the writing here were to introduce the new Doctor and companion, there was still plenty of action and thrills as the Doctor has twenty minutes to save the Earth from a bad tempered inter-galactic prison jailer. And save the world he does, with time to spare.
Did the new production team bring a new approach to the show? On the surface, it probably didn’t for a lot of viewers, but scratch a little deeper and I think you can see quite a few differences in style. As the season goes on, we’ll see how much of this is deliberate. The Eleventh Hour started with a pre-credits sequence with the new Doctor hanging on for dear life to a Tardis hurtling out of control over the recognisable sight of London and the Millenium Dome, which really wouldn’t have been out of place in the last (Russell T Davies) era. It was I suppose meant to give it a blockbuster feel, but we’ve seen it all before. In fact, we saw David Tennant’s Doctor fall from an even greater height on New Year’s Day in The End Of Time. Anyway, it’s a fun start to the series, but I’m not surprised the BBC put the scene up to stream on it’s website the week before…
…and then a brand new title sequence and version of the famous theme tune is upon us! Exciting apart from the fact that they’re both a bit rubbish. They seem to have removed most of the tune, or the best parts of it, at least. I didn’t think much to the new titles either, they didn’t look very impressive watching on BBC HD, maybe they looked better on BBC One? It’s not important though, the show has had it’s fair share of stinkers in both departments over the years.
As soon as the adventure properly gets under way, everything has a different, and new feel to it. The Doctor’s meeting with the young Amy Pond (played superbly by Caitlin Lockwood – real life cousin of Karen Gillan) and the country village setting create something of a fairytale feeling, and it avoids the trappings of recent series by refusing to tie the proceedings down to any specific time, or year (I’ll return to this point later). There were none of the usual ‘pop culture’ references dropped in, such as namedropping famous pop stars, and when later on the whole world is being threatened by Prisoner Zero, we are spared the over-used idea of using contemporary BBC News coverage and presenters, as we did so much during RTD’s era. And of course, we were spared having to see Cardiff double up as London for the umpteenth time, which was perhaps becoming a little tired.
Naturally there were some things that gave some continuity with the old series. Little things like the Tardis key glowing when it was repaired (first seen in Father’s Day), another mention of The Shadow Proclamation, the psychic paper, and of course the sonic screwdriver all served to remind us this is ultimately the same show we’ve been watching for the last five years. In fact the main thing about it that hadn’t changed was the incidental music provided by Murray Gold, who has provided all the music on the show since 2005. I’ve never been a big fan of his music used in the show, or more to the point, the excess to which it is used within it, so had wished that a new production team might have opted for some form of change in this area. Having said that, I didn’t find it as obtrusive this time around, but do hope that he might adapt his style more as the new series continues.
So from early reviews and viewing figures for Saturday’s episode, it looks like Moffat and Smith will continue to steer the Tardis in the same successful direction it was taken on by Davies and Tennant. The Eleventh Hour served up an exciting, witty script, and Smith himself gave an excellent performance belying his young age, full of energy, enthusiasm and bewilderment. And as well as the regulars, the guest cast were good too, and included a few familiar faces in Annette Crosbie (One Foot In The Grave), Olivia Colman (Peep Show) and Nina Wadia (Eastenders), that could all have gone perhaps to lesser actors on other occasions. Not to mention Patrick Moore as himself.
I said earlier I’d return to the point about what year it was set in, because it could be a rather interesting point that may have an impact on future epsiodes. If you were eagle-eyed enough, or are handy with the pause button on your Sky+, you would have noticed that in the scene where the Doctor is tracing back what he’s seen on the village green, the close-up of Rory (Amy‘s boyfriend) shows his hospital pass as having been issued in 1990. Obviously he’s not old enough to have been working for twenty years, so is this an important (future) plot point, or a mistake by the production team? Is something affecting time, perhaps the ‘crack’ in the universe from Amy’s room? Or something else maybe, Prisoner Zero hints at something, before saying that “Silence Will Fall”? Why was the crack in Amy‘s room, and why was the piece of equipment in the Tardis that the Doctor was looking at when he asks Amy to join him showing a pattern that was identical to it?
Doctor Who continues this Saturday, and there’s a trailer (courtesy of YouTube) below with a taster of what’s coming soon…