In 2005, the BBC brought back one of the longest running science fiction shows in television: Doctor Who. The show had been off air since the mid-eighties, due to a drop in popularity and ratings. Executive Producer and Head Writer Russell T Davis reintroduced the character, with Christopher Eccelston in the lead role, to a whole new generation of fans. Instead of completely rebooting, they decided to keep the shows existing history. The previous incarnations of the character, along with all the ‘classic’ monsters were still held as canon.
The show has been steadily on air since and is as popular as it’s ever been, even becoming a huge hit across the pond in America. Christopher Eccelston left the show after a year, and was replaced by David Tennant. Tennant would go on to play the character for 4 years, being replaced in 2010 by Matt Smith with new Head Writer and Executive Producer Steven Moffat. In August 2014, Peter Capaldi becomes the twelve actor to take on the role of The Doctor, in the hopes of continuing the shows success.
But it’s Matt Smiths first appearance, The Eleventh Hour, that I want to talk about today. It’s always the episode that I find myself rewatching the most because it’s my favourite since the show relaunched in 2005.
I love Doctor Who, but it can be so frustratingly inconsistent at times. Often there are episode that just seem ‘okay’ because there’ll be something stopping it from all coming together. A great performance by Matt Smith will be hindered by a mediocre script. Or, a digital effect will seem worse then usual and ruin the atmosphere of show.
The Eleventh Hour is an example of an episode when everything comes together with the end result being a great hour of television drama. From the moment we’re introduced to Matt Smiths Doctor hanging outside the TARDIS as it crashes towards earth, still wearing the rag tag outfit of David Tennants Doctor, from the final moment of him whisking Amelia Pond away the night before her wedding.
There’s a lot that needs to be done in this episode. We’re introduced to a new Doctor; a new companion, a new TARDIS interior. We need to get a general sense of what the season is going to be like and most importantly – we need a satisfying resolution to the episodes story by the time the end credits role. Regeneration episodes are always tricky, because fans always approach new Doctors with mixed expectations. Some fans are open to the idea of the new guy and are excited by the new possibilities. While others are still not over David Tennant.
The script is really strong, having some great lines (“I just saved the planet for the millionth time… So yeah, I kept the clothes”) and introducing the world to Fish Fingers and Custard. It’s also well paced enough so the episode never feels boring.
There’s some flirtation between the hot new young Doctor and the hot new young assistant, made even more complicated with the assistants dosey partner Rory. At this point though, it’s still new and we’re not being reminded for the 4th time that Amy and Rory are MEANT TO BE TOGETHER! Because we’ll be reminded of this a lot over the new few years. Rory obviously sees the Doctor as a threat (and honestly, who can blame him?) But don’t worry, Amy will always pick Rory. She always will. If it’s not made clear, IT WILL BE.
There’s the regeneration nonsense, which has been a Doctor Who tradition for 50 years, with him getting used to his new body. As I mentioned earlier, this introduced the world to fish custard, as The Doctor had multiple cravings when he first regenerates. Rejecting traditional foods like bacon, beans and apples, he finally decides on fish custard. It wouldn’t be Doctor Who without a little weird silliness.
Murray Gold, the shows music composer, is on extra top form as his soundtrack helps with the overall fairy tale feel of the show. The show may have deteriorated since Moffat took over, by Murray Golds music has got better and better.
And what also makes it as good as it is, is the fact that Moffat would struggle to create an episode this good again. Moffat made Doctor Who more serialised than it already was. Russell T Davis had small plot threads running throughout the show, the most famous of which is BAD WOLF, which appeared on different walls and objects as The Doctor and Rose went on their adventures in the first season.
It also has a 50 year history in which everything is canon, so there’s already a ton of backstory and established history there. But Moffats Doctor Who ended up becoming one of those shows were you had to watch every episode to get what was going on, and if you missed a week, you wouldn’t fully appreciate the overall arc of the season. Nearly every good show is serialised, and I personally prefer them to procedural because you get more out of them in the long term, but with Doctor Who involving time travel – it makes it more dense and complicated then it has to be. Just compare Matt Smiths final episode to his first: The Time of the Doctor. It was a hard to follow mess were Moffat tried to tie up every plot thread he had left hanging.
I might be coming across as Moffat hater, but I usually defend him when talking about Doctor Who with friends because of how great he’s been in the past. Along with The Eleventh Hour, he also wrote Blink and Silence in the library, which were two of the best episodes of Russell T Davises tenure.
It’s frustrating because it can take the fun out of Doctor Who, because that’s what Doctor Who should be – FUN. Its a mad man travelling through space and time in a box. Anywhere and everywhere is a possibility.
It’s also alienating part of its target audience – children. The show is often inherently labelled as a children show, and while I don’t completely agree that it is a children’s show (even though having the first person the 11th Doctor meets as a child who would grow up to become a companion is pretty brilliant), when Moffat makes it overly complex and dense, you do have to wonder how younger audiences are finding it.
It’s not something that’s known for being simple and pandering, young audiences probably find the interconnectivity exciting. But when you have threads that have been drawn out over 3 years and often making much sense, it is off putting.
Plus, Doctor Who is about moving forward, thematically and story wise. The status quo changes all the time, since they change the actor every couple of years. It doesn’t do the show any good lingering on plot threads for too long.
The Eleventh Hour is great, and if you’re looking for a jump in point for Doctor Who – this should be your first stop (then go back and watch all the Eccelston and Tennant stuff).