Review: Doctor Who, Episode 1.1, “The Eleventh Hour”

Doctor Who is back for its 31st season, although it’s being promoted as Series One. There has already been a Season 1 (1963-64) and a Series 1 (2005), so Series One is a confusing designation. However you refer to this season, it ushers in a new era with a new showrunner (Steven Moffat) and a new star (Matt Smith), among many other changes.

Minutes after regenerating, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) finds himself having to once again save the Earth from certain doom, gaining the assistance of new companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) along the way.

Matt Smith is simply amazing. I’ve never disliked a Doctor yet, and knew that wouldn’t change with this incarnation. From Smith’s initial interviews, there was just something about him that screamed Time Lord. What surprised me is how quickly he vaulted to the level of Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston, and David Tennant in my esteem. He just flat out nails the character and makes this incarnation his own, with some nods to both the Second (Patrick Troughton) and Tenth (David Tennant) Doctors. I also love his costume even more after seeing it ‘live’. It reminds me of a more upscale version of the Second Doctor’s.

Karen Gillan is also well cast as Amy, bringing charm and feistiness to the character, and one feels an immediate sense of connection to her. There’s something very effortless about her performance, and I think she’ll be an excellent companion for Smith’s Doctor. The remainder of the cast is respectably solid, but to say more about individual roles would require spoilers, and I want to keep the review free of them.

Steven Moffat makes a statement with his first episode as showrunner. He wrote this episode himself, and it’s as good as we’ve come to expect from him, but there’s a different tone to it than the episodes he wrote for previous showrunner Russell T Davies. Moffat promised more of a fairy tale feel to the show under his watch, and it does indeed have that quality to it. Action, comedy, drama, this episode has it all. If the rest of the season is as strong, we’re in for one hell of a ride.

Director Adam Smith (who’s worked on Skins and Little Dorrit) bring across the fairy tale tone with his camera work and lighting, and this episode also marks a change in the look of the show, appearing more modern and polished than ever before. Despite being slightly more than an hour long, the director keeps things well paced, not moving either too slow or too fast.

I absolutely adore the new design for the TARDIS control room. In some ways it reminds me of the steampunk design in the 1996 telefilm while still recalling the 2005-09 version, but it’s more complex and detailed, befitting the fact that the show is now shot in high definition video. The accompanying episode of Doctor Who Confidential reveals some subtle touches to the control panel and column itself that speaks highly of how much work was put into the new design.

Murray Gold’s latest arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme is both thoroughly modern and reflects the electronic arrangements used in Classic Who, and works quite well with the new title sequence.

Anyone fearing a letdown as Doctor Who transitions from one showrunner to another, and one actor to another, will quickly have those fears put to rest. This episode marks the beginning of the next great era in Doctor Who history.

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