Sunday, 4 April 2010
Reaction: THE ELEVENTH HOUR
Written by Steven Moffat, directed by Adam Smith, 2010
Over the past five years, it’s been very infrequent that I’ve felt immediately compelled to gush about a story. What I mean is, I don’t get impressed by every shiny new story that comes along. But… I may have to gush now.
Aside from the fact that this is a whole new era, no season opener is allowed to be this good, is it?!
After a pre-titles series which almost outdoes Russell T Davies on what Steven Moffat has called the Superman end of the Doctor Who spectrum, the story is otherwise much more firmly ensconced in the latter’s self-confessed Tim Burton end of the scale. Actually, that comparison annoys me because Tim Burton’s ‘gothic whimsy’ has become so tired and soullessly by-numbers. This is better than that. Let’s just call it dark fairytale, and say it completely comes off.
I love the creepy kids’ story atmosphere that the beginning especially drips with, while the concept of the Doctor first meeting a companion as a child is quite beautiful (albeit with obvious shades of The Girl in the Fireplace), and reinforces Moffat’s talent for tapping into a childlike perspective. Oblique approaches are often the most satisfying, and that is certainly the case in introducing the new Doctor through the eyes of a little girl who will become a companion.
I don’t want to be as gauche as to suggest this is simply ‘better than Davies’ (…or do I?), but this is so much closer to where I personally want Doctor Who to be at. As part of that, it’s inexpressibly lovely to see a bucolic, pastoral sensibility brought to the series, in the form of Leadworth’s archetypal sleepy English village. It makes me realise how starved for greenery we’ve been for the past few years, given Davies’ predisposition toward the urban. Bloody yuppie.
In fact, everything here seems so much more effortless than under Davies – for example, the introduction of (presumably recurring?) characters like Rory, Jeff, and (the wonderful) Annette Crosby’s old dear. Interesting too that they all already know ‘the Raggedy Doctor’ by reputation. Everything feels much more natural and flowing than the jumpy contrivances, authorial whims, and often fatuous tone of the previous era. It’s not so much ‘darker,’ but more… textural? More fleshed out, richer. Alright, Rory may basically be Mickey, but I can forgive that because… he’s not Mickey. (Also – no more companions’ parents!)
I’ve been looking forward to this series, era, reboot – whatever you want – more than I’d probably care to admit. And I knew it’d be great, I really did – but I still had my qualified reservations. Maybe it’ll all fall apart after this… but I really don’t think so.
I don’t even remember the last time I’ve been this excited about Doctor Who after watching a story. I’ve had big problems with the underlying ethos of the show since 2005, and there’s always been some element that soured all but the very best of the stories for me… But this – this is the most vital it has felt for the past five years. It’s enormously pleasing to welcome a whole new eye on the series; Rose, Martha and Donna might have seemed different at the time, but a little distance shows how superficial those differences were, and that the series was still very much anchored by one outlook for that entire period. By contrast, even just visually, the use of glitchy flashback, the Jeunet-like stop-motion Doctor’s-eye-view sequence, and subtle lensflare during the apple scene, are welcome novelties. Suddenly I feel on the side of the production team, and I can’t wait to see where this reinvigoration takes us.
That The Eleventh Hour manages – and it really does manage – to usher in a new era, new Doctor, new companion, new location, and still tell a satisfying, involving story, with lots of atmosphere and ideas, continuity references to not only the new series (the Shadow Proclamation; the finger-click; the glowing key; ‘the earth is protected,’ etc) but also to the old (the TARDIS’ library and swimming pool; stealing clothes from a hospital), whilst balancing a modern yet also traditional feel, sustain a frantic pace (without it merely masking a paucity of story), and still find time for humour and outrageous daftness… (And yes, I know that was a long sentence.) Well, I can’t even really be bothered to justify how immensely impressed I am by this story.
In the interest of slightly spurious balance, I will say that the rearranged theme music is... unfortunate, and the titles (like the logo) are poor; arching electricity is so passé. But, really… Steven Moffat, where have you been all my life?!