Sunday, April 4, 2010


3/4/10 “The Eleventh Hour”

“This is all perfectly normal.” –The Doctor

The Doctor Who episode in my dream was called “The Four Doctors” and starred Matt Smith, Paul McGann, Johnny Depp for some reason, and I am to assume Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant showed up later, but unfortunately my alarm went off before they could arrive. It involved Matt Smith and food and had the Cloister Bell in it, which rather made me wonder if I was psychic as I watched “The Eleventh Hour,” Matt Smith and “showrunner” Steven Moffat’s debut. I hadn’t gotten excited about the new series of Doctor Who, much as I’d wanted to. It was only after my interrupted dream that I began to anticipate the new season—I hadn’t even bothered to read the latest Doctor Who Magazine and had more or less skipped the interviews with the new producers in the DWM before that. I think the Vast Toffee understands the brilliance of the concept of Doctor Who, and that’s why it can mean so much to people and why it can and does elicit such excitement and joy. I’m more skeptical of his assertion that his Eleventh Doctor is still the same man as the First Doctor, but I digress.

My two fears for the new series were that everything would be tonally the same to what the Vast Toffee had done before in his Ninth and Tenth Doctor stories (giving us gems like “Blink” but equally stories like “Girl in the Fireplace” which didn’t completely work for me), and by extension worries that Doctor Who would resemble Coupling more than Press Gang. My other fear was that Matt Smith’s Doctor was going to be too similar in personality to David Tennant’s. I haven’t vanquished these fears completely based on “The Eleventh Hour,” but they were assuaged to the point that I could enjoy this debut a great deal and surprise myself with a renewed love for the Doctor Who of the here and now as opposed to nostalgia. I hope it’s not too facetious to reflect that “The Eleventh Hour” is the distillation of all other Moffat Doctor Who episodes ever made before + the TV Movie + “Rose” + “Castrovalva” + “Smith and Jones,” but still enjoyable.

Like “Rose,” we start on Earth, first with shots of Earth to guide us there. We start with young Amelia Pond praying to Santa Claus (!)—as opposed to Rose getting ready for work—as opposed to Reinette and the Doctor in the fireplace. I confess I couldn’t focus on the new title sequence (although there are new fonts! Whee!) because I was listening so hard to the new theme tune remix. I’m not sold on it, I will have to hear it again, but I do like it better than the rejig from the Specials last year. I think it is safe to say this is the first regeneration the Doctor has ever had on his own, with no companions to see him through, which is quite an interesting and meaty challenge if you think about it. No, I take that back, the poor Eighth Doctor regenerated in the morgue, which seems quite a bit more lonely and indeed contributed to his state of amnesia. Which is just one of a few ways I find “The Eleventh Hour” resembles the TV movie.

The Doctor’s crash-landing into Young Amy’s shed in the garden, with the TARDIS landing on its side, reminded me of “Castrovalva.” The Doctor notes that “Amelia Pond” is a fairy tale name, and indeed the early sequence with the Doctor and Young Amy reminded me of Wonderland and The Time Traveler’s Wife. There is something surreal about the whole house, rather Gothic and not quite 100% of this world. We never saw Paris in “Girl in the Fireplace,” mostly the interior of Madame de Pompadour’s living quarters (I’m sure as much about the necessity of filming practicalities as it was symbolic, but it contributed to the notion of a make-believe realm, contained and somehow in need of exorcism, like the house in “Ghost Light”).

While I still felt the insouciance of the delivery and the speediness of the writing for the Doctor’s dialogue upon entering Young Amy’s kitchen quite Tennant-y, that didn’t prevent me from laughing, and I’m sure eager children watching were having a ball (though I hope they didn’t try to repeat the Doctor’s performance with their dinners!). What was pleasing was to see the Doctor not only suffering from post-regenerative stress, but also acting more alien than ever (“definitely alien”). Classic fans punched the air when the Doctor mentioned not only the swimming pool but the library. Being Vast Toffee, in between all the wit were some strong lines. “Who are you?” Young Amy reasonably asks. “I don’t know yet. I’m still cooking.” The girls I was watching it with and I did all laugh when the Doctor walked right into a tree (a hint of Troughton-esque buffoonery?). Being a Miltonist I thought for sure the Doctor’s saying “I love apples” was going to have repercussions, but it was more like the Doctor in “Kinda” saying “An apple a day keeps the . . . oh never mind.” Not apples, nor yogurt, nor bacon pleased the Doctor’s palate (“You’re Scottish—fry something” seemed like a cheap shot, and maybe I’m out of touch, but would someone as young as Young Amy be allowed to use the gas range?); and in the end it was the universally ewwww-inducing combination of fish fingers and custard. (I felt sure he was going to succumb to a cup of tea!) I thought at first the Goldilocks-food thing was going to be Moffat’s answer to the cliché of the wardrobe scene, but we’ll get to that.

Young Amy explained that they weren’t in Scotland, they were in a small English village (actually Llandaff, how funny is that?!) and that she lived with her aunt (shades of Roald Dahl?). I didn’t think it was ever satisfactorally explained why Young Amy’s aunt had left her alone in the house, nor did I think it believable that Young Amy could cut a smiley face in an apple with a knife and without supervision. But it was sweet and sad, and yet there was no hint of angst from the Doctor when he said he didn’t have a mother or father or aunt. Fixing Young Amy’s crack in the wall told them that a giant eye ball was after Prisoner Zero. The Cloister Bell cut in; the Doctor spazzed a bit. He had to leave for a few minutes to fix the TARDIS. Young Amy, naturally, wanted to go with him. He told her he would be right back and told her to trust him. “Do I look like people?! Trust me—I’m the Doctor.” As Young Amy sat down to wait for his return, older viewers knew from the format of the show what was going to happen and what psychological damage the embryonic and unsuspecting Doctor was going to wreak on Amy; younger viewers who might have seen “School Reunion” or “Girl in the Fireplace” guessed. Those who hadn’t seen any of those were clued in by the Vast Toffee’s writing, which knows how to tug at the heart strings (and Murray Gold’s slightly heavy-handed music).

Across the village, and into the realms of “Smith and Jones,” Rory the nurse was busy monitoring the conditions of people in comas. He could swear he had seen them walking around, and they had all started speaking, calling for the Doctor (“The Empty Child”). In Amy’s garden, the Doctor was hit by a cricket bat (oh, the mortification) and handcuffed to a radiator by a “policewoman.” There were multiple layers of deception going on here, as the audience knew the girl was a grown-up Amy but the Doctor didn’t; Amy knew who the Doctor was but didn’t let on; Amy knew she wasn’t a real policewoman but the Doctor didn’t and neither did the audience, at first. I don’t think it’s really clear how Amy’s career could be much in demand in such a small village (unless she uses Rory’s car to drive to out-of-town gigs) nor how it could pay the bills on such a large house. Yet the fact that she’s a Kiss-o-Gram has a certain charm (if you’re willing to overlook the fact I think she would be cast as something much less innocent were this the New Adventures—“it was this or the French maid”).

With the Doctor chained to the radiator (the key lost, which I didn’t actually hear her say, I had to ask my fellow viewers why she couldn’t just unlock him rather than use his molding sonic screwdriver) and Amy going into the room “in the corner of your eye” where Prisoner Zero is hiding out (“Why does no one ever listen to me?”) the personal developments between the two are nicely paced against a backdrop of imminent danger (rather like the Judoon searching for the Plasmavore in Royal Hope Hospital, I thought, but that’s just me). Amy’s anger and inability to trust the Doctor make perfect sense; her aunt and her friend Jeff both exclaim upon seeing him, “it’s the raggedy Doctor!” and invoke embarrassing memories of “cartoons you did when you were little.” The Big Brother eye in search of Prisoner Zero starts blotting out the sun, leading the Doctor and Amy to the village green, where the Doctor’s superior powers of deduction (and a very impressive, ultra-modern sequence which rather shamed the rest of the somewhat bland CGI work) lead him to Rory. Rory, it turns out, is Amy’s boyfriend.

With their help, the Doctor engineers an impressive world-wide plan for attracting the Big Brother eye’s attention—Patrick Moore and other experts are on the case. Jeff’s laptop, I noticed, had a MψTH logo on it, which I assume will be significant later? The Doctor, with outrageous Doctor-ishness, has commandeered the village firetruck. Moffat, while letting his sharp ear for dialogue and keen sense of emotions and pacing drive the episode, lets his feel for true creepiness back in for Prisoner Zero, the “clever old multiform.” It has so far taken the form of a man and a dog, its ability to communicate hindered by the man growling and barking. In the hospital coma ward, where the Doctor has realized the multiform has been hiding in a series of living but dormant human beings, Rory and Amy race. They are not fooled by the disguise of the mother and two little girls (makes me think of Charbydis and Scylla, or worse, Sin and Death in Paradise Lost). When the Doctor arrives to save the day, Prisoner Zero takes advantage of a psychic link with Amy (forged by years of living under the same roof) and takes the form of the Doctor and Young Amy. We really laughed when the Doctor exclaimed, “Well, that’s rubbish. Who’s that supposed to be?” It’s a well-loved cliché for the Doctors to be dissatisfied with their appearances after regeneration according to the actors’ most prominent features. Fortunately, Amy’s trust and belief in the Doctor causes the multiform to dream itself into its own shape (very like the snake/Master in the TV Movie, I thought). This causes the Big Brother eye to capture Prisoner Zero and then the Doctor goes on the rooftop to have a “Christmas Invasion” moment.

First, though, he wants to “drezz for the occasion”!! Maybe it’s more fair to say it’s a hint of his Sixth self. In any case, he goes through a hospital locker room for clothes, just like the Eighth Doctor, and adopts his new look, though he leaves the bowtie for last. “Amy, he’s taking off his clothes.” The purpose of this scene is for the Doctor to show that he’s alive and well, but what had me kicking and screaming with delight was the images the Big Brother eye saw when it scanned for information about the Doctor. I suppose it was a cheap way of keeping us old skool fans, but it worked. I shouted, “Sea Devils!” and then babbled incoherently as we saw all the former Doctor incarnations (though I don’t recall seeing Hartnell for some reason). I do think Murray Gold has his moments of genius, and his score was emotionally twinned to the impact of this scene. Oh, I have to go all fan-girl. I loved this.

I didn’t really understand why the TARDIS changed shape and why there was a new console room. “Oh, you sexy thing,” the Doctor murmured. I had to think of Phantom of the Opera where in the first act, the Phantom gets unmasked but the audience isn’t privy to the secret just yet; we have to wait ‘til the second act for full-on deformity. Likewise, the Doctor flies off in the TARDIS to return (“I always come back”—he had already told the aliens that though he wasn’t from Earth, “I put a lot of work into it”) before we can see the interior of the TARDIS. When we did see the interior, I won’t lie, I said, “I like! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!” I hadn’t spoiled myself on anything about the new series, no trailers since the first one, I avoided reading episode titles when I could, and for me the sheer delight, with no expectations, of the new console room gave me a magical moment not unlike Amy’s. I liked the homage to the “steam punk” of the Eighth Doctor’s TARDIS and the crystal-like, ephemeral nod to the series’ lean toward fantasy and fairy tale (so far). The new TARDIS is beautiful and seems alive, full of fantastic touches like the typewriter and the blown-glass central column. No kidding: phwoar.

It’s the same old Doctor, though. “Why me?” asks Amy in response to his offering to travel the universe with him. She rightly guesses that he’s lonely. His promise that he can get her back for tea-time made me shriek, “She’s got a wedding tomorrow!” and perhaps unsurprisingly, I was right. People have already started likening Amy to “mini Catherine Tate.” I’m not sure if it’s because of the red hair, the sarcastic responses, or what, but while I can see their point, I think it’s a bit unfair. While Karen Gillan’s constant expression of wide-eyed wonder was getting a bit one-note, there is a warmth to Amy that is appealing. Not to mention the emotional baggage that appeals to us at a very human level because we, the audience, are implicit in it, more so than even the Doctor who doesn’t quite understand what exactly he’s done to her. I think all of us can identify with being left waiting, if not literally than figuratively: waiting for someone to change their mind, waiting for them to fall in love with us, waiting for them to give us the approval we so desperately crave. And we’ve all been let down, often by people who do it unintentionally and without a hint of malice.

On a very superficial level, we can see Amy perhaps developing a Madame de Pompadour-like fixation on the Doctor and perhaps, having been the savior of her childhood, she will develop romantic feelings for him. However, I don’t think Moffat is going to go down so easy a route. Amy’s been too hurt, and her cynicism and mistrust derive from other peoples’ reactions to her as much as hers to the Doctor. It’s a small village and a less trusting era than the eighteenth century, and Amy isn’t a Reinette. “I grew up,” she repeatedly tells the Doctor, and he is more there to bring her back to a childlike state of belief in magic than to inspire her as an object of lust. Still, their relationship is problematic and ripe for conflict. Rory seems to have been set up as another Mickey, but what role will he actually play? Mickey always felt second-best to the Doctor, but Rory has quite literally lived in the legend of the Doctor’s shadow. We all laughed with knowing malice when Rory said Amy used to make him dress up as the Doctor. It was only touched on briefly, but Prisoner Zero lived with Amy and watched her for twelve years. Now that she knows that, won’t something like that prey on her thoughts as well? The Doctor is showing her fairy tales (when he told her they would go “wherever you like,” I swear he adopted a Troughton-esque tone) but as we all know, there are dark sides to fairy tales, too.

Even more than the episode, my mouth dropped open as I saw the trailer for the rest of the series. My brain was beating out a Morse code of

We are lucky, indeed, to live in this age of Doctor Who.

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