I had high hopes for Matt Smith and Steven Moffat as the revived Doctor Who series enters its fifth season, and so far I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen. “The Eleventh Hour” is well-written, imaginative, and contains some of Moffat’s trademark creepy touches. And most importantly, the plot hangs together from beginning to end without relying on a deus ex machina to resolve it.
The story picks up exactly where “The End of Time” left off. The Doctor has just regenerated, only he’s somehow been thrown out the TARDIS doors and is hanging on by his fingernails above London in a fun sequence where he tries to avoid crashing into Big Ben. He crashes instead in the back yard of Amelia Pond, a little girl with a crack in her wall that becomes very important very quickly. The post-regeneration ailment this time around leaves the Doctor a little mixed up and spastic, but not incapacitated as he tries to figure out the mystery behind the dimensional crack and stop the TARDIS engines from exploding. Some might criticize the food sequence as going on too long, but it gives us a relatively quiet moment with this new Doctor before heading into the main storyline, so it’s not without merit. Plus it gives the Doctor and Amelia time to bond, which is important later on since he apparently had quite an impact on her. And it’s a funny scene, so I like it.
The main storyline concerns the escape of prisoner zero from his prison on the other side of the crack, and his jailers the Atraxi. The Doctor realizes quickly that when the Atraxi talk about destroying the human habitation that they aren’t referring to Amy’s house, where prisoner zero has hidden for eleven years, but to the entire Earth. And so the race is on to attract their attention so they can capture Zero, who just happens to be a “multiform”, a shape shifter who can look like anyone. The story is a ‘race against time’ plot as the Doctor and Amy try to find and expose prisoner zero before the Atraxi incinerate the planet.
One of the most refreshing aspects of the story is the way that the Doctor is stripped of his TARDIS and sonic screwdriver, and has to stop the destruction of the Earth without either all purpose plot device while stranded in a village miles from anywhere. Thankfully this is the age of the internet and camera phones, even in remote villages, so the Doctor is able to use his vast technical knowledge to first convince a group trying to deal with the crisis to listen to him, and then to write a computer program they can use to send the Atraxi a message. This is the Doctor as he should be: an improvisational genius who uses the tools at hand to solve his problems.
There are a number of nice touches and well-thought out moments throughout the story, and I can’t touch on them all. Just to mention one or two, I enjoyed the jokes about the pool and the TARDIS library, the Doctor’s failure to recognize himself because he’s had a “long day”, and the montage of previous Doctors and monsters as the 11th Doctor dresses down the Atraxi. The expression on Amy’s face as the Doctor strips off-camera made me laugh out loud. The basic plot is sound and enjoyable, but it’s the touches of character and humor that really make the episode.
Overall: A great start, both for Moffat’s tenure as show-runner and Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor. As I write this review I’ve seen eight of his episodes, and I’m honestly thinking that he’s the best Doctor since Colin Baker, or possibly even Tom Baker. Time will tell whether that continues to hold true, but he’s easily blowing the socks off David Tennant and Christopher Eccleston. He ‘channels’ the Doctor’s character quirks and attributes in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a case of great casting paired with great writing. Well worth watching.