Review : Doctor Who Season 5 – The Eleventh Hour

With a literal crash and a bang, Doctor Who returned to British TV screens tonight, in a first outing for, well, pretty much everyone involved with this series of Doctor Who, and what a triumphant first outing it was. The Doctor is new and looking younger, but its definitely the Doctor!

As this site is US based, and the episode is two weeks away from airing, I’m going to try and review this first episode without spoiling anything about the story itself. It is going to be very hard, so please bare with me if this review seems in anyway disjointed.

The beauty of Doctor Who is that it forever changes, yet some how stays instantly familiar, and all of those ingredients have been mixed into the pot in an excellent first episode which had to balance the introduction of our new Doctor, companion, the world around her and the new world of the Doctor with introducing a new look and style, whilst keeping everything that made the Russell T. Davies era a real success. The story of the episode itself was fairly lightweight, but still managed to be fun, clever and engaging whilst still allowing us to meet our new team. The story wasn’t one of Moffat’s strongest he has written for Who, but it used his favourite trademark technique of taking something every child can be scared of, and subverting it into a clever scare that will keep the little ones from wanting to sleep quite as early as they might, or for that matter sleep at all. Who knows what is taking advantage of your dreams.

Visually, everything seems cooler, with the warm reds and oranges that marked the Davies era replaced with cooler purples and greys. Adam Smith, who has joined Doctor Who after directing several episodes of Channel 4’s Skins and the BBC’s Little Dorrit handled the episode beautifully, with several visually amazing moments, aside from some issues with the visual effects early on (but as this is Who, slightly poor effects are somewhat part of the history of the series)

The central make or break for many Who fans, especially those who are Who fans because of David Tennant’s reign, is the performance of Matt Smith; our new Doctor. Thankfully Matt Smith shined, playing a slightly more kooky Doctor, with enough nodding relevance to his immediate predecessor as well as his historical appearances. Never did Smith seem out of control of the character, even as his regeneration continued throughout the episode, and yet never did he seem completely sane. To quote a line from the episode, the description of “mad man with a box” seems entirely appropriate and apt as Smith managed to blend the eccentricities of the second and fourth doctor with more of the whimsy of the ninth and tenth, whilst including his own elements. Since seeing Matt in the excellent Party Animals and Moses Jones, I never had any fear of his abilities to play the role. This might be a controversial statement to some, but Smith’s abilities should scare his eventual replacement far more than David Tennant’s should of scared Smith.

A Doctor is never complete without his companion and Karen Gillan’s performance as Amy Pond, and the character’s brilliantly executed introduction to the show stood out. Amy’s character after just one episode is already one with depth. Amy is an alien in her own world whose life has already been affected by the Doctor in unchangeable ways even before she makes her first step into the TARDIS. Her on/off boyfriend Rory is a testament to that, a man whose major formative years have seemingly spent trying to fill a gap in Amy’s life left by the Doctor, but never quite managing. His career as a nurse testament to his life since The Doctor entered Amy’s. Some people were concerned about Karen’s ability, as she was relatively unknown to people outside of viewers of Channel 4’s comedy “The Kevin Bishop Show”. She has already become a fascinating character, and shown that she’s an actress that go a lot further in her career.

There were still negatives to the show, as well as the previously mentioned slightly poor effects (especially on the antagonist) and the somewhat lightweight story. The new titles (video below) are absolutely beautiful. From the look, to the fonts used, to the time spent perfecting them (they were only finished 4 days before transmission), but the new version of the theme is… curious. It keeps some of the elements of the Russell T Davies variations, whilst introducing a some what darker feel as well as bringing the theme back to its more whistled, ghostly sound. I’m sure it will grow on me, but it was jarring agains Murray Gold’s version for Russell, which was loud, crashing and heavy on the electric guitars. This is far more other worldly, and does in some ways fit the new Doctor. These are relatively minor complaints, considering how much work had to be done in the 65 minutes this extended opening episode was given.

All in all the first outing of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who era is an exciting, reaffirming example of how the show that always changes, but still feels warmly familiar can regenerate and vary as much as it’s lead character. Its a triumph. One of the best opening episodes of “New Who”, and more testament to why this show’s 47 year old history can easily continue on Moffat, Smith and Gillan’s shoulders for a while to come yet.

Doctor Who’s season premiere “The Eleventh Hour” debuts on BBC America on Saturday 17th April at 9ET/PT. It is available in the UK in standard definition and high definition on BBC iPlayer until July 3rd 2010.

  • Charlotte Beer

    Bravo Mr Smith, you may have a face like melted cheese, but you are indeed a mad man with a box. You're not the lovely David Tennant, but you may stay. For now…..

  • Ivor Biggun

    He did bloody good if you ask me. Never been a great DT fan – more a fan of 70's WHO but Eccleston, (Some) DT and Mr Smith are up there with the old guys. Bravo, Mr Moff! Bravo!!

  • Ross Davies

    Been a fan since episode 2, I mean Wm Hartnell's episode 2. As far as I am concerned it is onward into a new era of the genre. Adam is cool the companion is pretty and the enemies look kinda scary. Great! Really glad my friend Mark, when I was nine told me I had to watch this amazin tv show with aliens called "Garlics" Well we were only nine yrs old!

  • Walter P Interrante

    I am a person from the USA who was able to watch the show in advance and would like to say that I loved the new title sequence. I thought the story was a little bit weak but I think that Matt Smith did an increadable job of pulling through the episode! I also loved Karen Gillan's caracter too. Even though the show had it's weaks spots with Alien monster exscaped prisoner the show kepted my attention

  • Matt

    It's funny how everyone is down on the effects. My first thoughts upon seeing them were that they looked better than any other CGI the show has had over RTD's time as show-runner. I find it so very odd that this is blatantly true yet people choose to complain about effects. You know what it is. We all know what it is. It's the fact that CGI is the easiest thing to complain about. If it doesn't look completely real, and it never ever ever does, then people will single it out as the point to complain about so it looks like they have something negative to say. it's sad that having something negative to say is so damn important, though.

  • davidpirtle

    Oh come have to admit the effects weren't great, especially in comparison with other sci fi shows (like for instance Stargate Universe's latest critters). It wasn't especially jarring to the flow of the story, but it does bug me that one of BBC's flagship shows never seems to get top dollar in the production department, as it rightly deserves.

  • Janet

    I grew up watching Dr Who and the story is the thing. The gripping Sci-Fi story. The special effects have always been dodgy in places. I thought the Tardis crashing to earth was among the best I've seen. Yes – the strange snake, fish creature was a bit lame…but I really liked all those teeth when it was using the humans. And it scared the …out of my kids. And speaking as someone who thought David Tennant was a great DR, and who was really sad to see him go…Matt was fantastic. True Dr Who Fans know the Dr has to change. DT is gone – MAtt did a great job and I can't wait 'tl the next episode!!!

  • beekers

    ok … I watched the new season this morning … Matt Smith … can't tell you if I like him, but I know he's no David Tennant … I can't believe you would say that, and I quote: "but Smith's abilities should scare his eventual replacement far more than David Tennant's should of scared Smith." Definitely not true! I knew after watching the first Dr. who episode w/ DT that he would be amazing, that is not the case with Matt Smith. I'm going to watch more to see if I like him, of course, but to even imply that he's as good or better than David Tennant is insanity! David Tennant is my doctor, and he always will be! After have DT as a doctor, it is going to be very hard for Matt Smith to fill his shoes. I know every doctor brings his own personality to the character, but I just cannot get more than an "it's doctor who, so I'd like to see it anyway" type of attitude to it now. Before the 1st episode of the 2nd season, I had no idea who David Tennant was, but after just that 1st episode I couldn't wait to see the next one or the one after that or the one after that! Even after this 1st episode with Matt Smith, I'm iffy about watching it … I'll watch it because I love sci-fi and became a huge Dr. Who fan, but not because I'm dying to watch Matt Smith. He's not horrible, don't get me wrong … he's just no David Tennant. I probably wouldn't even get all wordy on here if the writer didn't say that thing about Smith not worrying about David's abilities as much as the next Doctor should from Smith … as far as I can tell, Smith is a mediocre actor while David is superb. People have their own views, I understand that, but just because it is their view does not mean that even 1/3 of their readers agree with them and they shouldn't make such outlandish statements!

  • Allegra

    I thought Matt Smith's debut as the doctor was far greater than Tennant's. Yes, Tennant was an amazing doctor overall, but I had been disappointed after Ninth left. But Matt Smith just swooped in and stole my heart in the first five minutes. Fish sticks and custard?! It was brilliant, he was brilliant, and I can't wait until the next episode.

  • JILL

    I so can't wait 'til the next episode… Moffat is up to the standards of Davies! I just can't wait… it is like so sick!

  • Michael

    I have been a Dr. Who fan since the Pertwee years and agree that the best thing about the show has been the story and not the special effects. Having said that the special effects in the 11th hour were pretty sad. Just because the show originated in the 1960s doesn't mean that it has to look like we still have the budget and special effects of the 1960s.The new inside of the Tardis. One word "AWFUL". Granted it isn't supposed to be high tech, but a typewriter on the console. Come on. The console and inside of the TARDIS looks tacky and cheap. They could have changed the inside and left the console the same. Or at least used a console from previous seasons. It just looks silly.

  • Radu

    i was a very big fan of first 4 seasons, but now, mister smith will make me(and much ppl) leave the show. Cmon, that guy a timelord? is a bad joke, the show will go down in my opinion if the new doctor dosent regenerated again fast :(

  • A. Peetoom

    Having viewed the first three episodes I think that the program is going down the tubes. Matt Smith reminds me of the plastic mannequins from episode one who is reading his lines from a teleprompter. Karen would be great if she had someone to play off of.The main focus of the new brains is to change the appearance of the show to to express that they can do it better. Instead of redesigning the TARDIS. the Daleks, the theme music, etc.they should spend more time making the show understandable. Racing thru a script to cram as much as possible into it does not make it more enjoyable. There is no time for the give and take between the characters that made the first four seasons fun.This is not a documentary guys. Stick to K.I.S.S.Peet

  • Simone

    Let me start off by saying Matt Smith is definitely no David Tennant. I know that the Doctor has to regenerate and change and because of this I was very apprehensive about watching the new season because those are some pretty big shoes to fill (David Tennant's). But after waiting a few months I finally started watching the new season and I have to say I am bit impressed. Matt Smith is holding his own quite well. I don't think the season is going to flop. Mr. Smith has his own special thing he brings to the Doctor. It's like he's still growing in his skin. As for Tennant. He was a natural! Again like I said Mr. Smith no David Tennant. He's definitely worth watching though. New Doctor, new era.

  • Fiona

    I am so disappointed in what is going on in the new series. I haven't liked any of the new episodes much at all. I especially hated the Star Whale episode. Why are they dumbing down the Doctor and as if he wouldn't have figured out the answer to the Star Whale situation. He is supposed to be brilliant but they keep making Amy smarter than him. What is that about? I also find it annoying that he isn't just calling her Amelia when he likes that name better because I think that the Doctor would do that. I hate how they are making the Amy/Amelia character into a bit of a slapper too. Why can't the companion just be the companion like Donna was? Rory could be more but they made him into an even more insipid version of Mickey. BLAH! I know it is almost an impossible thing to have to follow someone like David Tennant but Matt Smith isn't really being the Doctor, he isn't being anything at all. It is partially him and partially the scriptwriting that doesn't seem to ever go anywhere it has the potential to go. Come on producers, pick up your game!!!

  • Whokiller

    I agree that this season sucked and was very disappointing. The writing (except for 'Victory' & the last two episodes) simply wasn't good. What happened to a 'darker' show we were getting? It was darker, it was very cheap looking ( like the original series) and boring. The space whale was a cop out. But all of the performances were great, especially Matt Smith as the Doctor.

  • Whokiller

    I agree that this season sucked and was very disappointing. The writing (except for 'Victory' & the last two episodes) simply wasn't good. What happened to a 'darker' show we were getting? It was darker, it was very cheap looking ( like the original series) and boring. The space whale was a cop out. But all of the performances were great, especially Matt Smith as the Doctor.

  • Whokiller

    This is what happens when budgets get cut. You are wrong, the effects this year are a step back and it really showed.

  • Whokiller

    This is what happens when budgets get cut. You are wrong, the effects this year are a step back and it really showed.

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