New Who Openers In Perspective: The Eleventh Hour
Connor Johnston continues the series looking at past openers with Series 5’s
”No TARDIS, no screwdriver, seventeen minutes. Come on, think. Think!”
2010 saw both the ending and birth of two of the most successful eras in ‘Who’s’ history. With both David Tennant and Russell T Davies stepping down from their roles as the Doctor and Showrunner respectively, the seemingly impossible task of replacing such an iconic and loved team fell to Matt Smith and Steven Moffat. It still amazes me to this day that with such a lack of continuity in both the characters on screen and the production list behind the scenes between the two eras, there is such a familiar feeling and tone which undoubtedly screams DOCTOR WHO throughout the entire plot of “The Eleventh Hour” and by extension the entire Smith era.
The Series 5 opener is an episode rich in drama, comedy, charm and with its self-created EPIC atmosphere was has instantly considered a classic ever since its original broadcast and still continues to be to this very day. Personally my favorite series opener of New Who, “The Eleventh Hour” managed to defy all odds by delivering an episode with enough in it to satisfy all types of fans and acted as the perfect introduction to both a new 13 episode run and a new Doctor’s Era. This is “The Eleventh Hour” in perspective.
“I don’t know yet… I’m still cooking”
Of course, without doubt the real spectacle and driving force of “The Eleventh Hour” is the introduction to the new Doctor: Matt Smith. After the incredible success and popularity of David Tennant’s incarnation of the Time Lord, not many fans believed there would be a chance that anyone, let alone a 26-27 year old football-player-turned-actor could ever fit the enormous shoes left behind by the Tenth Doctor, yet after a few minutes into the episode, there was no doubt that he was up to the task. His screen presence was energetic, his personality charismatic and witty, his physicality unmatched by anyone. Throughout the entire episode (and in my opinion his entire run) his character doesn’t fail to impress or falter at any turn.
The defining moment for the episode has to be the “Hello…I’m the Doctor” scene, where we watch as the Doctor disciplines the Atraxi and fulfils the words echoed by Professor River Song in her first appearance in Series 4 (Nice foreshadowing there, Moffat): “I’ve seen whole armies turn and run away. And he’d just swagger off back to his TARDIS and open the door with a snap of his fingers.” Towards the end of the episode, in his tweed jacket and bow tie, with his fish fingers and custard, we watch him outsmart and outwit both Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi in a true “Doctor” fashion, and as we see the words “Matt Smith” appear on the credits for the first time – He’s finished cooking and we now know exactly who he is. We will always remember when the Doctor was him.
“Believe in me, just for Twenty Minutes”
Aside from introducing us to a brand new Doctor, “The Eleventh Hour” was also charged with the enormous duty of introducing us to two brand new companions for the new series. These of course came in the form of Amelia (Amy) Pond and Rory Williams. Many companions that appear in a new Doctor’s first episode are often labeled them as “audience substitutes”, and Amy’s role in “The Eleventh Hour” is no different. The decision to introduce her to the audience first as a child is genius – we immediately form an affection for Amelia and relate quite nostalgically to the innocent idea of falling in love and establishing such a strong belief in something that to a child must feel so mystical and magical, something like the Doctor. As the plot continues and Amy grows up before our eyes – this continued idea of BELIEF and TRUST is focused on quite dramatically. One must remember that Amy is (in the timeline that this episode is set) an orphan – whose childhood has involved an array of psychiatrists and family members attempting to convince her that her “imaginary friend” was exactly that – Trust and belief doesn’t come easy to Amy, she’s grown up now – It’s an idea far too “fairytale” for Amy – by this point she knows better.
As much as this is an episode about the new Doctor finding his feet, it’s also about Amy Pond regaining her ability to believe in something magical and put her trust and faith into people again – ironically regained by the man responsible for the loss of it over 12 years earlier. We are also introduced to her relationship with boyfriend Rory Williams, a character that plays a very subtle but important part in “The Eleventh Hour” before being explored in more depth later in the series. By re-establishing her belief in the Doctor (A plot point later expanded on in all 3 of the Pond’s series) and at the conclusion accepting the Doctor’s offer to join him in his travels, Amy in a way gets to reclaim some of her innocence and sense of adventure – gets to reclaim some of her childhood. The final thing that needs to be mentioned in regards to Amy is the exceptional and instant chemistry Matt has with both Karen and Caitlin Blackwood (Young Amy) throughout not only the first episode, but also the entire duration of the Pond’s run. There is such a strong and immediate bond between the two characters that make the pair (And later the trio not excluding Arthur Darvill) work so well together.
“Prisoner Zero has escaped!”
Interestingly enough, “The Eleventh Hour” doesn’t follow the traditional Doctor vs Villain template, but instead puts the Doctor in the centre of a dispute – The bystander in a confrontation between the reprehensible criminal Prisoner Zero and the equally intimidating and menacing role of galactic authority: The Atraxi. What sparks the Doctor’s involvement is not a sense of duty to assist the Atraxi in the capture of Prisoner Zero, but rather due to the fact that the two parties are using Earth as the battleground and viewing the human race as insignificant collateral damage in their enforcement of the law. Both make for effective and equal threats for the Doctor, but for very different reasons.
The Atraxi make a lasting impression thanks to their overwhelming and daunting amount of power they have to their disposal, able to destroy the whole Earth without batting an eyelid – that is before they’ve had a word or two with their Doctor. Prisoner Zero however gains his reputation through Steven Moffat’s brilliant decision to give the creature multiform ability, and therefore through his various portrayals, highlights his different yet haunting characteristics: In both his original form and his “Man with Dog” form focusing on the rabid, savage, animalistic side of the MONSTER, and in his later form played by Olivia Coleman which stresses the insane, cunningness and slyness of the CRIMINAL MASTERMIND.
“I’m the Doctor… basically, run.”
Director Adam Smith shone through his work on “The Eleventh Hour” – a shining success for the show that begs the question why he never returned to the show afterwards, with his only other ‘Who’ credit being Series 5’s Weeping Angel two-parter “The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone” which was the first full serial filmed with Matt Smith. Although riddled with direction highlights, the real winning scenes for the episode include firstly the “Doctor’s perception Scene” – aka “What did I see, What did I see” – which really gave us insight to how the Doctor’s mind works internally, constantly ticking over in a very Sherlock-esque way, and truly showed us how much more advanced the Time Lord Brain is compared to a humans. The second directing highlight has to be the first entrance to the new TARDIS interior, which you can watch below, portrayed Amy’s awe and the massiveness of the TARDIS to the audience perfectly.
After 6 years as primary composer for the show, one would have assumed Murray Gold might of run out of ideas before Series 7 began – but that couldn’t be closer to the truth! Gold excelled in scoring “The Eleventh Hour” with a stunning list of tracks including the CRASH-BANG-WALLOP of “Down to Earth”, the innocent and gentle “Little Amy”, the playful “Fish Custard”, the hauntingly beautiful “Can I Come with you?” And of course the epic. magic and exciting musical highlights: “I am the Doctor” and “The Mad Man with a Box”.
“The Universe is cracked…The Pandorica will Open… Silence will Fall”
The conclusion to “The Eleventh Hour” clarified to us the direction the Moffat era would head in – An extremely clever one. In the defeat of Prisoner Zero and the discipline of the Atraxi, we receive a peek into the kind of Doctor Matt Smith will grow to be and established the close relationship between the Time Lord and the Ponds. The episode bookends both Series 5, and essentially the entire Smith era perfectly – introducing us to a more “magical” “fairytale” but still “intimidating” way of storytelling – Because at the end of the day that is exactly what the episode it’s: magical!
It remains, for me at least, the ultimate ‘converter’ episode to show those sad, less fortunate human beings not obsessed with Doctor Who. Of course the best thing about “The Eleventh Hour” is it’s still relevant links to Doctor Who today through both the cracks in space a time and the introduction to the “Silence will Fall” arc through the words of Prisoner Zero (who apparently is the president of the Doctor Who Intergalactic Fan Club given his knowledge of the Time Lord’s future) – both plot points still in use in the most recent episode of the show, Matt Smith’s swan song “The Time of The Doctor”. It’s from “The Eleventh Hour” that we take off on a brand new adventure; with a new TARDIS, a new companion, a new showrunner, and a brand new – yet so familiar: Mad Man With a Box.
Throughout this series of In Perspective articles we are going to provide a rating for the episode to allow for some comparisons and to see what elements are actually important to making a good opener. The following ratings were produced by taking the individual ratings of five contributors (David Selby, Jack Hudson, Lewis Hurst, Simon Mitchell and Tomas Edwards). These ratings were then averaged to provide a number which should be relatively free of individual bias. The results are as follows:
- Episode Rating: 9.5/10
- Effectiveness as an Opener: 9.7/10
- Monster Rating: 8.3/10
- Character Rating: 9.3/10
This gives the episode a total score of 36.8/40 So far this leaves the episode one ‘Leader-board’ looking like this:
- The Eleventh Hour: 36.8/40
- Smith and Jones: 34.9/40
- Rose: 34/40
- Partners in Crime 31.7/40
- New Earth: 28.4/40