Who Reviews: The Eleventh Hour (Series 5, Episode 1)
“So… all of time and space, everything that ever happened or ever will – where do you want to start?” – The Doctor
It’s a crack. But it’s not just a crack. Because the crack in Amelia Pond’s wall isn’t actually in the wall, it’s in the universe. Remove the wall and the crack would still be there. Amelia has prayed that the crack would go away because it scares her, prayed for a savior to come to her rescue. And that’s when the madman with a box—unsure of who exactly he is yet—drops down from the sky.
After three successful seasons as the Doctor, the ever-popular David Tennant stepped down from the role, as did the series rejuvenator Russell T. Davies. The switch from Tennant’s Tenth Doctor to Smith’s Eleventh was so drastic that BBC actually considered renumbering the show and calling this Series 1. In a way, it really fits. New writers, new producer, new companions, new Doctor.
Matt Smith came into the role with some big Chuck Taylors to fill—metaphorically if not literally—as the Doctor regenerated into his 11th incarnation. The Eleventh Hour was the litmus test for what virtually amounted to a whole new Nu Who. The first thing to notice is that the comic element is amped up. There is a playfulness and whimsy to Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor, as evidenced immediately by his scene with young Amelia fixing him food.
A quick bop into the future to completely destroy a little girl’s childhood later, and the Doctor is soon faced with a grown-up Amy Pond and the more insidious evil that has to do with the crack in her wall. Overall, the use of Prisoner Zero’s escape to Amy’s house is good but not stellar. It’s a freak-of-the-week introduction (meaning Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi are one-off occurrence) and as such suffers from needing to explain the situation to sufficiency. This just adds more things to explain on top of things that needed to be explained. While the Doctor is trying to work out who he is—and the viewer is trying to figure out who the new Doctor is—the Doctor and the viewers also have to figure out what Prisoner Zero is.
Fortunately, The Eleventh Hour manages this brilliantly. Rory the nurse is introduced as a byproduct of Prisoner Zero’s ability to take on the shape of comatose patients. His relationship with Amy is also introduced. All of this while furthering a plot that has the Atraxi searching for their wayward prisoner and the prisoner trying to hide from the Atraxi and the Doctor.
Nonetheless, the episode isn’t perfect: Where did Prisoner Zero acquire a perception filter? (Presumably, he escaped through the crack and would not have the wherewithal to get a perception filter while on earth.) What is the Prisoner’s purpose now on earth? (Was he going to hide for all eternity only to be outed by the Doctor?) How does he know the Doctor? (The Atraxi didn’t know the Doctor at first and he had just regenerated.) “Silence will fall.” (It’s a great line and sets up a lot in the series, but I’m not convinced Prisoner Zero could have known that. It seems evident in the episode that he was trying to avoid to Doctor and not predict the Doctor’s future.)
But The Eleventh Hour really isn’t concerned about the story of this story—I mean, it is, but it isn’t the main focus. The main focus here is the Doctor and who he’s become, and that’s something set up brilliantly through the episode, culminating in the scene where the Doctor speaks with the Atraxi, who turn out to be none too friendly themselves. This was when I knew that Moffat and Smith understand the history and legacy that had been handed them. It’s a rather remarkable scene:
Overall, without the above scene and had they not been introducing a whole new chapter to the mythos, this would have been a below-average episode of Doctor Who. Since “average” is actually stellar, it’s still entertaining and tells a good story, but it doesn’t stand as well on its own. The idea introduced about the evil that lurks just beyond our perception, in the corner of our eye but we don’t want to notice it, is a very real concept that brings to mind any number of real-world applications.
Where this episode shines and what makes it outstanding is in the foundation it provides for the episodes to come. We see the pain brought on by the Doctor’s unintentional leaving of Amy (“Twelve years and four psychiatrists”) as well as her obsession with him despite that fact. The crack in the wall becomes the centerpiece of the series. And by the end of the episode, the Doctor has finally figured out who he is—bowtie and all. The Eleventh Hour becomes the Eleventh’s hour as Matt Smith takes Tennant’s torch and starts running.
And that…is just the beginning.
Care to explain to me why the plot holes I mention aren’t plot holes?
Want to share your favorite quote/moment from the episode?
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