Hurtling down to earth on a malfunctioning TARDIS, sonic screwdriver gripped between his teeth, gawping as he narrowly evades Big Ben, Matt Smith’s plucky Doctor hit the screen flying in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Still, compared to David Tennant’s exit, where he spent half an hour waving to the cast of the last three series’, Smith could’ve had an explosive entrance riding in on a tricycle. Don’t get me wrong, David Tennant was an incredible Doctor, but towards the end of his run the persistent pondering of his inescapable loneliness, and fretting over the moral responsibilities of his godlike powers, grew tiresome.
The regenerated Doctor has no ghosts, and Smith’s clearly enjoying the role as much as Tennant did. He piled on the exuberance, eager to prove his Doctor was going to have fun, and it worked. Many of his eccentricities, such as his knack for jubilantly explaining plot points at breakneck speed whilst peripheral characters stand awestruck, echo Tennant. If you can force yourself to stop imagining Tennant delivering every line Smith’s actually quite charming. Unique mannerisms are emerging, but Smith’s ability to shine will be largely dependant on the scripts, and company he keeps.
Having lost the ‘anybody who travels with me is doomed’ mentality the Doctor immediately promises to invite preteen Amelia Pond into his TARDIS. A grown man enticing a child into a box not being the most wholesome of images, the BBC was spared a bombardment of Ofcom complaints by Amelia not stepping into the TARDIS until twelve years later, as Amy Pond. Played by Karen Gillan, Amy’s fiery temperament is on show immediately as she knocks out the Doctor with a cricket bat, handcuffs him to a radiator and interrogates him in a saucy police officer outfit. Her vulnerability is soon made apparent though, as we learn she’s spent the last twelve years struggling to reconcile the fairytale night Amelia met the Doctor. Needless to say, she’s destined to jumpstart puberty for countless adolescent boys, especially if she keeps delving into her kissogram wardrobe.
Doctor Who (1963-1989 & 2005-present) has always been a show to grow up with, rather than grow out of. As the first episode with Steven Moffat as show runner, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ encompassed this in it’s mission statement. After their meeting Amelia’s childhood revolves around the Doctor, with everybody she knows recognising him instantly from the cartoons she drew of the ‘Raggedy Doctor’. Upon his return twelve years later he doesn’t disappoint, instantly refilling her life with magic and adventure. The episodes most poignant moment comes after she’s joined him, and we pan over her array of makeshift Doctor Who toys and drawings; cherished memories now becoming reality once more. Moffat’s ability to construct complex narratives around disruptions in time and space was also exhibited in the story which traversed fourteen years of Amy’s life, offering a jigsaw of timeframes for older audiences to piece together. And Sir Patrick Moore’s cameo certified that you’re never too old for Doctor Who.
No matter how affable the characters, how sharp the quips and ingenious the manipulation of the time/space continuum, Doctor Who needs scary monsters. Prisoner Zero, the creature hiding in Amy’s house, was a pansy. Considering he was a slimy, escaped convict space worm with razor teeth he spent exactly no time trying to bite people’s heads off. Instead he disguised himself as various humans, including Sophie from Peep Show (2003-present), stood still and barked a bit in between bouts of baring his teeth. The Atraxi, or big flying eyes, he was on the run from, determined to destroy the earth rather then bother looking for him, weren’t exactly threatening either. I’d lose more sleep watching Simon Cowell!
Being a tool strong enough to take down media colossus Simon Cowell and his beloved X Factor (2004-present) winner, it’s no surprise that Facebook was so easily utilised to catch Prisoner Zero. By using social networking to spread a virus that sent the number zero to all digital displays across the world, the Doctor ensured the Atraxi’s big eyes couldn’t miss the message and they could trace the virus to his smartphone, so that he could present Prisoner Zero to them. There’s been a lingering fear that casting the youngest Doctor ever could be a big step in shedding Doctor Who’s nerdy heritage, and the use of social networking to defeat aliens seems ominous. Thankfully there was comfort to be found in Smith’s pledge to never again exclaim ‘who da man’.
Looking at an episode guide published in the Radio Times, and the end of episode preview (below), the mixture of historical and futuristic settings on offer don’t leave much room for contemporary technologies, so the Doctor’s going to have to rely on his good old fashioned Sonic Screwdriver. There’s the inevitable return of Daleks and Cybermen, and unsettlingly a Weeping Angels double episode. Moffat’s talents previously lay in crafting ingenious and creepy self contained episodes, hence my trepidation at him serialising his most chilling creation. The diversity of the next twelve episodes has potential though, and the ambiguity of the synopses is so deviously intriguing. Here’s to an un-anguished doctor, a sexy companion and a new generation of nightmares.