Friday, 18 October 2013
The Eleventh Hour
I like all of Doctor Who, of course. Even the Pertwee era. And I think the Eccleston/Tennant episodes are wonderful, even if I roll my eyes at the occasional bit of nonsense. But the standout stories are, without a shadow of a doubt, The Empty Child, Blink, and Silence in the Library. (Closely followed by The Girl in the Fireplace and, to be fair, Dalek, The Impossible Planet, Human Nature, Utopia, and The Fires of Pompeii.)
In The Eleventh Hour Moffat shows again that he writes the sort of Doctor Who I really like; but as his own era begins, he also proves that he can choose the right sort of Doctor. From the very first moment he opens his mouth Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor is a marvel. That's his base level, his starting point. That he improves from there - continuously, throughout his first series and, arguably, beyond - is just bewilderingly brilliant.
And if I worried about those last few seconds of The End of Time, I was an idiot because The Eleventh Hour is the best introduction a new Doctor could have. As with all of Moffat's writing, it is fiendishly clever. To outflank audience anxiety about Smith's tender years, we are instantly pitched into a child's eye view of this new Doctor. The Fish Fingers and Custard scene is traditional storybook stuff, part Roald Dahl, part The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and it's utterly charming, engaging and hilarious (we all still laugh out loud, even after many viewings). It's impossible not to be won over by this opening, and the newness, the strangeness of the new man is inextricably woven into its charm.
This episode is really a cleverly handled transitional state, almost between Doctors. By keeping Tennant's suit, but losing the jacket, we end up with a distinct new look that nonetheless seems familiar. It's not until the very end that the new Doctor finally appears, brought into being by the adoption of his new outfit. The accent develops too - compare "Can I have an apple?" with "Turn our back if it offends you!" and it becomes clear that the previous persona is gradually being replaced by the new.
And the Doctor that emerges is such an improvement. No longer wearing his broken hearts on his sleeves, he has become quirky, quick-witted and inspirational. Best of all, the Doctor finally seems to be as clever as he has always claimed. Throughout this episode he is continually thinking, rationalising and working things out: examining the crack in the wall; persuading Prisoner Zero that he and Amy are safe because they do (or do not) have back up; finding Rory on the green; debunking Zero's assertion that Amy is dreaming of him, "No, it's because she can hear me...". And his plan, when it is revealed, is properly clever and (be still my beating heart) actually makes sense! This wonderful show, which has always had courage and (since 2005) heart, has at last been given some brains as well.