5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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THE ELEVENTH HOUR
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK
Party hats, paper streamers, those whistle things that unroll. We loved it. We loved it.
We werenít sure we were going to. When the casting of Matt Smith was announced, we had a distinctly queasy feeling. This wasnít because of his age: although a lot of people thought we wouldnít like him because he was too young since we thought the Fifth Doctor was too young, that wasnít what was bothering us. Thereís no right age for the Doctor, just right actors. Peter Davison was too young for the role (as, we always have to point out, he says himself), but that doesnít mean every actor around that age is too.
Nor was it because he was a relative unknown. Some of the best Doctors have been on the obscure side: letís face it, whoíd ever heard of Tom Baker? (Sorry, Tom.) We think itís a plus if anything as the actor doesnít bring any baggage to the role.
No, what was bothering us is that weíd seen Matt Smith in one of the few roles heís had, Jim in Philip Pullmanís Ruby In The Smoke series, and we were utterly underwhelmed. Of everyone in the cast, he had the least presence by a long shot. On the other hand, we had faith in Steven Moffat. We havenít loved every single thing heís done, but weíve loved a lot of it, and we were pretty sure that if this Smith guy really did have the charisma of a mouse Moffat wouldnít have picked him.
And oh, wow. Was our faith ever justified.
As The Eleventh Hour unrolled, the scales fell from our eyes. Itís not that we didnít like David Tennant or find any of his stories entertaining. He did an excellent job with the material he was given and hit some real heights with it on occasion. But Matt Smith is on another level altogether. Watching him, we realised that good as he was, David Tennant was always AC-TING. With Matt Smith, that layerís simply not there. This guy is the Doctor.
His performance is a sheer, unalloyed joy to watch. Moffatís script is, as you would expect, extremely funny, and Matt Smith wrings the absolute most out of it. Now thatís a gift you donít take lightly. Allow us to climb on our comedy-writing hobby horses for a moment. Giddy up! Although drama gets all the kudos and comedy is considered something light to pass the time with, comedy is hard. Itís bloody hard to write, and itís bloody hard to act. Matt Smithís comic timing is impeccable, and itís without the stylistic tricks we saw over and over from David Tennant.
We canít pick out lines from the script for special mention, because there are just too damned many good ones. Like the Doctor says, ďfunnyís goodĒ. So say we all. But if we had to pick just one delightful and utterly characterising moment, it would be when the water shoots out of the glass. Perfect.
And itís not just the funny stuff. Thereís a range of the darker stuff in here and heís great at all of it. Full stop.
More than anything, we realised as we watched The Eleventh Hour how bored weíd got with Doctor Who over the last few years. Some episodes were better than others, and David Tennantís performance was almost always a highlight even in the direst story, but the repetitiousness of the Doctor he was given to play coupled with Russell T Daviesís often, er, misguided direction meant that new episodes were too often a chore to watch. But with The Eleventh Hour, our love for Doctor Who awakened all over again. We were entertained. We were convinced. We were entranced. Long may it continue.
Itís not just Matt Smithís Doctor, either. Amy is an inspired companion and Karen Gillan is excellent in the role. Amyís got the comedy mad skillz too, thank God, and sheís as smart and capable as we could wish for, but thereís also her touching backstory that lends her a heartbreaking vulnerability. We love the touch that after a childhood of creating stories about the Doctor, she chooses a job that involves dressing up and playing pretend: now thatís some primo showing not telling. And weíre intrigued by the little cloud of mystery hovering around her: whatís the dealio about the wedding? And how about that mysterious unseen evil stepmother, we mean aunt? We canít wait to find out more.
The scenes with Young Amelia are also perfectly judged. We havenít seen a more original way of handling post-regeneration confusion, and while the fish fingers and custard thing on paper looks embarrassingly wacky, as played itís just right. Caitlin Blackwood puts in an astonishingly assured performance that conveys her loneliness, her wariness of the Doctor and the process of her being won over by him.
As for the alien story, itís a tiny bit thin, but so what? Itís the B story anyway, and as such itís perfectly serviceable with some really nice bits thrown in. While weíre unenthralled with the Russell T Davies-alike threat to the entire Earth, on a more micro scale thereís a really great sense of menace. The crack in the wall - so simple! - and the eyeball are sheer brilliance, and the scary room is genuinely terrifying. All right, the CGIed eel thing is a bit sad, but this is a BBC budget weíre talking about. And we love the way the Doctor saves the Earth: itís ingenious. Itís Doctorly.
There must be something wrong with it, surely? Well, all right then, itís not perfect. Theme tune = ugh: too much wibbling before the all-important oo-wee-oos kick in. In fact, the music in general is as rhino-chargingly unsubtle as ever: as Matt Smith flew over London hanging on to the TARDIS by a fingernail, one of us commented gloomily ďOh. Hasnít fired Murray, thenĒ. And about that flight: mmm, no. Too Russell T Davies by half.
Then there are the inevitable plot holes. If Amy has been obsessing about the Doctor for years, how come she doesnít recognise him when he shows up again? What does an eel want with a bunch of packing cases? How come the nurse (nurse! See what they did there? Doctor, nurseÖoh, never mind) is the only one to see the coma patients wandering around the village green? And what are they doing, anyway? Did the eel fancy an ice cream? What was it that made the patients all yell out for the Doctor? And why does the doctor think the nurse is nuts for seeing the patients up and about when heís put filmed evidence of it right in her hand?
And there are also the thematic repetitions. Weíve seen a version of this story before in Girl In The Fireplace, when the Doctor appeared to Reinette when she was a child. Couple this with the patients all saying the same thing in The Empty Child and the repeat of the weeping angels in the trailers, and we just hope Moffat has enough original ideas up his sleeve.
There: weíve done our duty and pointed out the bad stuff. Not that any of it impinged on our love of this episode in the slightest.
Of course, itís always possible that Doctor Who is just another job to Steven Moffat, but we doubt it. With its care, love and craft, The Eleventh Hour looks like the episode heís waited all his life to write. Itís vivid, itís thoughtful, itís layered, it transitions effortlessly from comedy to deep seriousness, it captures the new Doctor in minutes. We think itís hands down the best post-regeneration story. Ever.
MORAL: Eels. Theyíre slippery.
THE ALL-SEEING ICICLE
The eyeball snowflakes! Pretty pretty!
How exactly do you manage a career as a kissogram in a tiny village with no car?
One post office (shut) andÖ. a hospital? Must be one of those cottage hospitals Harriet Jones was so fired up about.
JUST SPARE US THE VENUSIAN AIKIDO
The post-regeneration story this really reminds us of, what with the hospital and the naked scene and the nicking of stuff and all, is Spearhead From Space. Itís a small but perfectly formed nod to the Pertwee era.
Canít say weíre all that bowled over by the Doctorís outfit (bowties are cool? Good luck with that, Doctor), but unlike the hideous fashion faux pas perpetrated by Captain Jack, the Doctor is at least not wearing a belt with his braces. THANK YOU.
Itís not just the Doctor and companion who shine here: thereís a range of beautifully realised secondary characters and none of the actors puts a foot wrong. Particular shout-out to Annette Crosbie and Olivia Colman. And the good-looking one.
What sort of rubbish coder is the Doctor, anyway? He has to ask Patrick Moore at al to email his virus - um, aren't viruses supposed to sort that out for themselves?
Itís not just Amy who has an Air Of Mysteryô. As well as the now yawnsomely predictable series arc, thereís the Doctor, too, who isnít quite as upfront as he pretends. Oh yes, Doctor, we saw you. What was that thing on the TARDIS scanner you were in such a hurry to turn off?
Buy this Doctor Who DVD: UK
Buy this Doctor Who DVD on Blu-ray: UK