Season 31 Episode 1 – The Eleventh Hour, by Steven Moffat

April 3, 2010

review by Martin Odoni.

That was good stuff, a very promising start for the new era. Matt Smith definitely has that something that a classic Doctor needs, which is the ability to be effortlessly weird. He’s a natural for the role. (In fact, David Tennant was too, but he kept trying too hard when he didn’t have to, and that often spoiled his performances, especially early on). The writing has also improved immensely. It still has the odd unwelcome moment of zaniness, but the dialogue is nowhere near as crude, unnatural or exposition-heavy as last year, and the characterisation is a lot less short-hand. The characters in The Eleventh Hour were not exactly deep, and a couple of them were clearly one-scene jokes still, but they were more real and a touch more serious than most of the walk-ons of the RTD era.

More important, Steven Moffat can actually carry a plot, and progress one without lazy get-outs. There are one or two moments that resembled deus ex machina technobabble in the resolution the Doctor comes up with, but in fact if you can follow what he’s saying in his (sadly rushed) explanation, it does make sense, is comprehensible, and is just about possible with technology that already exists on Earth. With Russell T Davies holding the pen there would have been a hidden button on the side of the sonic screwdriver that, when pushed, would cause the starships orbiting the Earth to implode, or some such guff. But here, the Doctor is back to what he always used to be, a cunning, calculating genius who has to think of a solution rather than pluck a previously nonexistent superpower out of his rectum.

Down points. Murray Gold’s music is still too over-the-top. He was always blaming this on RTD’s instructions previously, but he no longer has that excuse, and he really needs to tone it down a lot. Also, I was hoping we’d seen the last of that screwdriver when it burned out, and I was saddened to see another one pop into existence out of nowhere, especially as it still seems to have ridiculously overblown abilities. It used to be a convenient tool for picking locks, but has been turned into a more powerful gun than Megatron’s fusion cannon. Please get rid of it! It’s just an all-purpose plot device for exhausted writers to get themselves out of a plot corner.

Also, despite the enjoyable earlier moments of the Doctor adjusting to his new generation (fish-custard? Fabulous idea, will try it for lunch tomorrow), a lot of the dialogue he got sounded very much like it was written expressly for DT, particularly some of the “hyper-dramatic revelation” moments, one of the more annoying qualities of the Tenth Doctor.

Further, there are unhealthy signs of recycling. The Doctor saying, “I’ll be back in a minute” and then not coming back for years is a direct lift from The Girl In The Fireplace, while a young girl hearing voices from another reality was done in Silence In The Library, and arguably even Blink.

But these are minor niggles, and there were bound to be a few of them with the big change of production crew. All-in-all, the script was as fast-paced as any in NewWho, but still managed to cram in plenty of tightly-presented plot, and avoided being speed-for-speed’s-sake, and made suficient room for familiarising us with the new Doctor and companion, both of whom seem interesting and likeable. (I’m sure Amy has been designed to be what they were aiming unsuccessfully for Donna to be.) Special mention for Karen Gillan, who I think looks set to be one of the best companions in terms of facial acting. Jury’s still out on the vocals so far, but those eyes are a gift; they convey a tremendous amount of emotion and thought.

Impressive start. 8/10.

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