Although the era of Doctor #11 declined as it went on (not as a whole, there were still some good episodes here and there) watching the Eleventh Hour is a stark reminder of how amazing a start Matt Smith’s time on the show got. In just an hour a lot of new cast got introduced and a new Doctor got to show his thing, while an overall season-long story arc got teased and a few new enemies got thrown in. It’s really well done, and filmed with an interesting and unique style. Comparing this to Series 6 or 7 shows how much the series fell… Still, we’re not here to talk about that, this is about Doctor debut stories, so let’s look at this Doctor’s debut story!
The newly regenerated Doctor and Amy Pond must save the world in less than 20 minutes from galactic policemen known as the Atraxi, as well as the escaped prisoner they’re trying to find…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Cast of Characters
The Doctor, Amy and Rory, soon to a be a hit trio!
The Doctor (Matt Smith) – The Doctor has reached his final body, and like most people who reach old age, The Doctor is acting (and looking, though that’s less like most people…) more youthful than he has in some time, possible ever. What to do with all this youthfulness and energy? Well, save the Earth of course!
Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) – Amy was terrified by a crack in her wall when she was a child, but luckily for her a man, a Doctor, arrived and helped her, promising to come back five minutes later… so, twelve years later…
Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) – Rory is the childhood friend-turned-boyfriend of Amy, and a nurse at the local hospital, where some rather strange things have been happening…
Prisoner Zero (William Wilde and others) – A criminal from another world who can take the form of the body of an unconscious person / animal. What its crimes are is unknown, but the Atraxi will stop at nothing to make sure its captured, or killed.
Atraxi (David de Keyser) – Atraxi are a law enforcement agency, or prison guard, to where Prisoner Zero was being kept. They tracked the being to Earth via The Doctor, and will now either recapture it, or burn the Earth to cinders to make sure it’s dead…
Right from the get-go Matt Smith nails his Doctor’s more… zany antics, and while that trope may get rather annoying later in his run, it works here. It starts off as a weird case of post-regeneration crisis, but even when he settles down towards the end he balances the wacky with the serious well. The now iconic scene at the end of the episode, where he literally walks through a holographic projection of his past selves towards the camera and tells the Atraxi “Hello, I’m The Doctor. Basically… run.”, which it then does, is still a great moment.
Likewise, the characters of Amy Pond and Rory Williams are good from the get-go. We see Amy as a poor little girl, then as a somewhat emotionally damaged girl with a grudge against the man who said he’d be back in five minutes but instead took 12 years. It’s a fun dynamic, that Amy starts off hating The Doctor for leaving her and making everyone think she was crazy, but he wins her heart all over again. Rory is immediately likable as the wimpy and sarcastic boyfriend, as well as a concerned nurse whose claims of coma patients talking and walking about are met with harsh (though understandable) criticism, leading him to try and get proof, rather than ignore it all for the sake of his career. The two aren’t together on screen for too long in this opener, but when they are they still play off each other well.
Setting the whole story in a sleepy English country village is unique, after the 9th and 10th Doctors pretty much living in London, and it lead to some nice scenery. I’ll mention here actually something I don’t often think of mentioning: the direction! It was really noticeably good, with close ups of eyes as they slowly turn to see something horrible, one shot where the Doctor tries to think back at something he missed and we see a sweeping shot of everyone frozen in place but the camera panning around them, the aforementioned shot of the Doctor walking through his own hologram, it’s all very stylish and well done.
There are some strong teases here, Prisoner Zero mentioning “the Pandorica will open and silence will fall”, and the whole cracks in time thing. It may all fall to pieces from Series 6 onwards, but for now it’s a well written mystery, just enough to get people to want to continue to tune in, but not enough that it makes this episode feel any less standalone. The final scene of The Doctor coming back to pick Amy up and getting it wrong by two years again, but her going off with him anyway, despite it being the day before her marriage to Rory, is also a nice tease for later events.
Let the jokes about “Amy’s crack” begin!
Ignoring the poorly dated CGI, both Prisoner Zero (who amounts to a snake who is always mysteriously hanging off of something off-screen) and the Atraxi (big eyeballs with bits of blue crystal around them) are really dull. It’s no wonder neither have been revisited, they don’t stand out in the memory at all.
There are some now-annoying Moffat-isms here, especially over-reliance on child actors (because children like The Doctor, you see, so they have to see people their age interacting with him, or some nonsense) and Amy being all fiery and sexualised, including being a “kissogram”, which is basically a stripper but she kisses people at parties rather than undresses, and scenes like refusing to turn around while The Doctor was changing, and being proud of it. To be honest, I’m willing to forgive the child actor part, because the young Amy Pond actress is actually good (there’s a rarity!) but Amy is just River Song again, pretty much… I mean, that sort of makes sense, story-wise, but still! The fact Clara is much the same makes it worse… I don’t know… It never really bothered me at the time, I guess just looking back on this episode now, after so many years of Moffat, it has made me look at it in a different light? *shrugs*
The Doctor and Amy do have a great dynamic here, at least. Certainly not your classic companion debut story!
Apart from picking up straight after “The End of Time”, and the teases about the Pandorica opening referencing the final two-parter of the Series, “The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang”, there isn’t much. There are lots of little references, especially in the scene where the Atraxi show images of past foes on Earth, followed by all ten (then known…) versions of the Doctor, but nothing else specifically ties this in to another episode, beyond being the debut for certain long-running characters.
The Eleventh Hour is a perfect debut for Matt Smith’s Doctor, as well as Amy and Rory. All three are debuted and fleshed out well, and all three own their characters straight away. The actual threat seen in the episode is on the extremely dull side, but thankfully that doesn’t matter too much. This is the Eleventh Doctor’s debut episode, and it pulls that off extremely well.