A new showrunner, a new Doctor, a new companion, a new Tardis, new logo, new titles and a whole new story arc, The Eleventh Hour wipes the slate clean and says “time for something new”. It’s one of the freshest and most confident season openers since Spearhead from Space saw Jon Pertwee tumbling out of the Tardis in colour.
I’ve moaned about introductory episodes being set on Earth during some sort of invasion, and while The Eleventh Hour is no exception, this is an example of when it can work really well. As the title suggests, the Doctor is up against the clock and has to stop the Atraxi ships from incinerating the Earth while stuck in a small English village (with a closed post office), without his Tardis or sonic screwdriver, and he only has twenty minutes. Not the sort of thing you want to have to do on your first day.
There’s so much new stuff to cram into this episode, it’s a testament to Steven Moffat’s efficient plotting that it all fits and makes sense. New girl Amy Pond has to be introduced twice, once as a little girl and again twelve years later (her character somewhat mirroring the other ‘girl who waited’ from The Girl in the Fireplace), introduce Rory, the boyfriend competing with Amy’s obsession over her ‘imaginary’ friend, the Doctor has to find his feet, eat fishfingers and custard, investigate the mysterious crack in the Universe that has manifested itself as a crack Amelia’s bedroom wall, explain dimensional barriers, perception filters, Prisoner Zero escaping and then convince a scientific consortium to help him reprogram every clock in the world using a mobile phone. It’s just insane.
The script is full of wonderful one-liners and witty banter, the plot has some great misdirection (who Amy is, what ‘the human residence’ means) and clever ideas like the man barking like his dog because he didn’t know which voice was which. There’s a good mix of creepy and whimsical; I loved all the creepy stuff with the extra room in the house and the door in the corner of your eye, but it’s just one of many ideas that whoosh by too fast.
Matt Smith makes a terrific first impression. Inevitably, the manic style of the Tenth Doctor has taken grip now, so there’s no change there, but the mannerisms are more alien and weird. The eleventh Doctor doesn’t quite understand human customs or good manners. He’s more of a fairy tale character here. His weirdness is amplified due to being newly regenerated, but to be honest, he doesn’t change much going forward.
While I think this is an incredibly strong opening, there are some less favourable elements creeping in. Murray Gold’s music is bombastic and overbearing, and “that theme” that he keeps reusing starts here. This is also the start of the Doctor’s “don’t mess with me, look what I did to all my other enemies” phase, when he becomes increasingly arrogant. No, perhaps it started earlier with David Tennant, but it’s blossomed into its own thing now and will continue to get worse. Finally, while I enjoy mysteries and story arcs, I seem to recall the Crack™ doesn’t get a satisfactory resolution. In fact, its appearance in this story (as a gateway to a prison dimension?) doesn’t correlate with what we later learn about it. Much of the story arc is incredibly convoluted as far as I can recall, but I’ll re-appraise that properly at a later date.