Aired 03 April 2010
‘The Eleventh Hour’ picks up directly where ‘The End of Time Part Two’ leaves off, with the newly regenerated Time Lord desperately trying to land a careening TARDIS on Earth, and immediately sets about the task of introducing us to the new lead Matt Smith and the style of the new showrunner Steven Moffat. Moffat, of course, is no stranger to modern Doctor Who, having already penned several standout episodes for both Eccleston and Tennant, and ‘The Eleventh’ Hour is brimming with his trademark style right from the start, taking a seemingly innocuous crack in the wall and that sensation of inexplicably seeing something out of the corner of one’s eye and bringing both into the realm of fantastic. This combination helps to make the story of Patient Zero just a little more unnerving.
Both the beginning and end offer very well-written scenes for Matt Smith to show off his skills, and he takes full advantage. Whether lightheartedly interacting with a child, wryly and dutifully instilling confidence into others, or brazenly and determinedly warning the alien threat to leave and survive, the Eleventh Doctor is put through a range of situations that allows viewers to get to know just what kind of man this new iteration is. Able to so believably portray comedy and drama opens up incredible potential for the stories going forward. Some of the comedy seems a bit forced and out of character, but this is still a Doctor trying to find himself as he re-experiences the world for the first time, and these flashes will undoubtedly subside as he becomes more comfortable with himself.
As if bringing in a new Doctor wasn’t already difficult enough, though, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ also introduces the newest companion, Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. In a bold move that plays with the time travel nature of the programme, the Doctor initially meets Amy as a child; leaving to repair the TARDIS, he accidentally fails to return for several years rather than the five minutes promised. This clever approach reveals an incredible amount of background on the companion character, much more than realistically could have been achieved otherwise. Smith and Gillan instantly mesh with each other and, even though this story doesn’t test the extremes of either, their characters’ burgeoning friendship and already apparent excitement and confidence is certainly a highlight.
In some ways, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ can be compared to ‘Rose’ as both are incredibly efficient with their introductions and, by necessity, focus more on the characters than the alien threat at hand. While the escaped Patient Zero is undoubtedly an ominous menace and the Atraxi are clearly formidable threats, neither is overwhelmingly present throughout; this is actually pays off well since, as it is, the more condensed storyline of these forces offers just enough expository information and just enough threat to keep the plot moving without relying on padding or unnecessary action scenes. The setup and payoff of the impending threat does allow, however, for the introduction of Amy’s boyfriend Rory- though he is understandably sidelined for the majority of the episode- as well as some very clever scenes with comatose patients in the hospital and with a disturbing secret hiding in plain sight in Amy’s house revealed.
While inevitably more low-key than Tennant’s final tales, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ sets a strong foundation for the series going forward, offering more of a character-driven tale that reveals a lot of the motivations behind the new Doctor and new companion and proving already that they are a forceful combination together. Seeming story arcs are set in motion as ‘The universe is cracked’ and ‘The silence will fall,’ and, without a doubt, Moffat, Smith, and Gillan have proven that the show is still in capable hands.