5.1 – “The Eleventh Hour”
The newly regenerated Doctor crash lands in the garden of 10 year old Amelia Pond, who has a scary crack in her bedroom wall. A giant eyeball in the crack tells The Doctor and Amy that “Prisoner Zero” has escaped. Promising to come back in 5 minutes, The Doctor returns 12 years later to find an adult Amy and the Atraxas demanding Prisoner Zero be handed over or the Earth will be disintegrated. How can The Doctor, with a broken TARDIS, barely functioning sonic screwdriver and a suspicious Amy, find the many-fanged and multi-formed Prisoner Zero and save the Earth?
As the debut story for a Doctor, “The Eleventh Hour” has a lot to do. How can it introduce the new Doctor and assistant, set the tone for the new era and tell a thumpingly good story at the same time? With manic energy and furious wit, that’s how!
Moffat wastes no time in throwing (or rather crashing) the new Doctor into action. New Who under Russell T Davies had always featured series-spanning story arcs, but usually they were only hinted at in most episodes, coming to full fruition in the series finales. Here, the crack in time and space is integral to this story, being the McGuffin that brings Amy and The Doctor together in the first place and allows Prisoner Zero to escape.
The fish-fingers and custard scene is a great introduction to this new era of Who – it’s almost too quirky and whimsical until, just as The Doctor tucks in, Moffat throws in the dark and heavy punchline “Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.” It’s scenes like these that demonstrate Moffat’s writing so well. It’s here to show us the new Doctor, child-like and naive yet fully aware of just who and what he is (“Do I look like people?”), while also plunging us into the story (both series arc and individual episode) and managing to be quirky, funny and scary all at the same time.
We jump ahead 12 years to meet the grown up Amy (and thus our new companion). Ah, Amy; all flaming red hair, saucy fury and oh-so-short skirt. Karen Gillan nails it from the get-go. There’s righteous anger and suspicion at the Raggedy Doctor that left her waiting and made her question her sanity. There’s restrained wonder and excitement at the universe that’s suddenly been hurled back into her life. The scene when she enters the TARDIS to begin her travels properly is simply magic – wouldn’t most of us be rendered speechless rather than just note that it’s bigger on the inside?
Amy is smart and brave – smart enough to knock The Doctor unconscious and lock him up without a key and brave enough to enter the lair of Prisoner Zero and find the sonic screwdriver. Prisoner Zero is a typically scary Moffat monster. It can’t be seen by looking directly at it so, in its native giant serpent-like form, it has the nasty habit of lurking just past your shoulder. And it has some bloody big fangs. There’s more funny-yet-scary when it takes other’s forms; it appears as a man and his dog, but it’s the man that barks and the dog that talks, while both bare their fangs and come after you.
As for Smith, he is simply superb. There is no sense that he is finding his way in this role. With Tennant, it took several episodes to tone back the bombast and self-righteousness but Smith balances the silly and the serious straight away. He can gaze around in boyish wonder yet, in a heartbeat, he can bear the weight of ages. Smith can portray all of this and more with just a simple change in his expression. Somehow his twirls and clicks and rubbing hands and twitches are NOT annoying; it’s a swirl of energy and excitement that dares you to keep up with him. It’s going to be a joyride, a dangerous one, oh yes, but non-stop fun all the way. Except maybe not; does he invite Amy along because he is lonely, or is it so that he can keep an eye on her and her relationship to this crack in time and space?
Dare I say it? Is “The Eleventh Hour” the best debut that any Doctor has had? I say yes. A heapload of fun, a nasty, creepy monster, and a cracking pair of legs. And Matt Smith, a madman with a box inviting us all to join him for the ride. A thrilling 9/10.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes