DVD Extras (box sets only) include:
"The Eleventh Hour" has a similar appeal as his season 28 story, "The Girl in the Fireplace" (story no. 175), interweaving creepy frights with romantic tensions, further complicated with age-defying time travel. Here it is more polished. It's also a bit more compelling, thanks to the fact that Moffat is now head writer and this looks like just the beginning of a set of longer arcs. Where Russell T. Davies would previously give the audience what looked like a random series of episodes, which he just happened to tie together during the finale in almost arbitrary fashion, you can sense here that Moffat is already setting his hooks into the audience, making them anticipate further depths of mysteries that will be answered later.... Excellent.
Really, the opening hook is not good. A brand new effects shot gives us a verbatim repeat of the content of the re-used opening shot that so many other season openers and Christmas specials began with - zooming down to Great Britain from space, followed by the flying police box instead of the interdimensional one, topped off by having the Doctor flying the ship with his magic screwdriver while hanging off of the outside edge of the door. It couldn't get any more clichéd and ridiculous all at once. A short recap of the regeneration from the final moments of "The End of Time" (the previous story) would have been much more preferable, and told us more about what the Doctor and his vehicle were going through. All this makes it very noticeable when young Amelia grounds the drama with her practical, helpful presence.
Although I think the sequence of the Doctor rudely rejecting and spitting out one item of food after another is in bad taste and far too visually gratuitous, I'll give the story a significant point in that this sequence is pretty much the ONLY problematic symptom of regeneration trauma that it wastes time on, and it is short. The rest of the story lets the Doctor be the Doctor, and do it fairly well. Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor feels very generic at this point, as he focuses on the portions of the character that remain the same no matter who is playing him, much like Peter Davison did in "Four to Doomsday" (story no. 118), which had always worked for me and is a wise move in my book. Smith also seems quite chameleon-like in both his features and his acting, as though youth and ancient experience have merged together in the same face and developed a working truce. Although his debut doesn't quite spark as much immediate excitement as David Tennant did in "The Christmas Invasion" (story no. 171), this is a MUCH better story for consistently engaging the Doctor properly, and Smith's potential seems hugely promising.
Karen Gillan has a bit of an uphill challenge to match the excellence of the actress who previously played her character at a younger age, particularly in achieving the practical centeredness. Her initial costume doesn't help her get taken seriously as a police officer, and both that and her actual vocation seemed to threaten to lose the considerable female audience that the show had built since 2005. However, Gillan gives a good performance that highlights the character's strengths and makes you feel like there's a lot more interesting things going on with her that we haven't seen yet. And thank goodness we finally have as attractive and interesting a regular companion as most of the one-off guest stars that have appeared on the show for the past few years. Things are looking up.
Much of the story itself is simple, effective creepiness and mystery, one of Moffat's strengths which he utilizes well, in this case particularly to focus on our two new regulars and get them off to a good start. It's a remarkable success in that regard. There are lots of little things I would have left out or cut out to suit my tastes, but thankfully these are little things.
One point of contention worth pointing out is the fact that the viewers are denied a shot showing exactly how well the Doctor managed to close the crack in Amy's wall - we cut away while it still shows a thin glowing line, and never go back to it during the rest of the episode's vast amount of screen time. All of this helps muddle our ability to follow the movements of prisoner zero, and you have to wonder if that's what Moffat intended, or if he slipped up.
Motivation is also a bit muddled. Prisoner zero and the Atraxi are clearly on opposite sides here - but why does the Doctor automatically help the Atraxi catch their prisoner again? Why does he not try to get prisoner zero's side of the story? Prisoner zero works as a suitably freakish and dangerous alien up until the moment when it begins to speak English..... and then it's just another silly vindictive woman adversary like the kind Russell T. Davies gave us way too much of, at which point you really need to get its side of the story to keep the Doctor on principle. At least he deals with the Atraxi in a more fair and balanced fashion, which is excellent. But in fairness, we probably haven't seen the last of the repercussions and/or precursors of this event....
The story's Earthly and English setting isn't anything to get excited about, since we seem to be ignoring the galaxy too much yet again, but it does feel different and more claustrophobic to be confined to one little village which makes a nice change from cities like London and Cardiff. However, Amy's vocation seems to need the large population of a major city - it's too specialized to be self-sustaining with such a small customer base. So give her a car to expand her range, or give her a second job that she can tell us about.
Watching Matt Smith spend most of the story running around in the tattered remains of David Tennant's suit is perhaps one of the least effective moves of the story, particularly as Tennant's suit had very little of a distinctive, eccentric nature to it. Smith's own costume is perhaps only slightly more distinctive, while also feeling reminiscently Troughton-esque. It'll probably work well. One can easily imagine multi-Doctor gatherings where Matt Smith and Patrick Troughton nervously band together to defend the coolness of bow ties from the barbs and jibes from the other Doctors.
We get a nice sequence of flashbacks to learn about the Doctor and his history with many adversaries, and it is excellent on the part of the script that new characters and new audiences are meant to be learning here. Nice. Much better than the "Clive" sequence back in "Rose" (story no. 161).
Much anticipation is built up towards the reveal of a new TARDIS interior control room, which I had been advocating since 2005. Sadly, this one is only slight improvement. The hexagonal shape of the console is back, along with straighter, more mechanical looking lines and greater cleanliness throughout the architecture.... and although this episode isn't that great at showing it off, the architecture itself is a big improvement in having corridors, staircases, and doorways that appear to lead off to other portions of the maze-like TARDIS interior. Much better than the 2005-2009 console room, which didn't seem to have any way to connect to the rest of the TARDIS interior. But for improvements.... that's about it. The lighting, walls, roundels, and moving time rotor still aren't near enough to the definitive one from seasons 15 through 25 for my tastes, and the scanner screen and actual controls look more like a collection of Christmas toys from the 1800's than products of an advanced alien civilization. The typewriter is particularly silly. Oh well. Maybe they'll get it right again one day.....
Another big improvement deserves mention. Thankfully, the irritating, redundant spoiler ads for subsequent episodes are no longer embedded into the end credits of the show. Superb move! Also, the cast members' names are large enough and scroll slowly enough that you can actually read them in real time. Not quite as easy to catch them all as in the classic years of the show, but almost as good. Nicely done!
Did the writer/producers inadvertently build anticipation for something completely different to what they planned to eventually deliver? We know that Amy became a bit obsessed with the Doctor, to the point where she had to get help from four psychologists. We see that she has been a bit dismissive towards her boyfriend, but we also learn that she has had him dress up like the Doctor for her..... Finally, this episode ends with a long pan across various items in her bedroom, seemingly to tell the story of just how obsessed she is, from creating dolls and cartoons, and who knows how many other fantasies.... and then it all ends on a wedding dress. Does this represent her ultimate fantasy with the Doctor? Has Moffat created an impression in the viewers that he did not intend? If so, will it work for or against the arcs he has planned?
This story has become available on DVD.
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Note: The full season sets contain commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and other extras. The smaller volumes only feature the plain episodes.
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