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WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS!
The Doctor has regenerated into a brand-new man, but danger strikes before he can even recover. With the TARDIS wrecked and the sonic screwdriver destroyed, the new Doctor has just 20 minutes to save the world, and only Amy Pond to help him...
In The Eleventh Hour, the new Doctor (Matt Smith) emerges from the TARDIS like a newborn, wet (from the swimming pool, which is in the library) and unsteady on his feet. He’s also a fussy eater, due to having a new mouth with new taste buds. These early eccentricities certainly made me laugh and endeared him to me, though I am a little concerned that younger viewers might copy his antics and cause their parents grief by believing it’s cool to spit out their food! Gradually, as the after-effects of his regeneration subside, the Eleventh Doctor’s personality settles into a unique blend of new and old Who, with instances of Tennant-style chattiness, surprise and anger combined with quieter Troughton- and Davisonesque moments.
No newly regenerated Doctor has ever been so active before. A new Doctor often spends much of his first adventure physically or mentally incapacitated. Even Troughton had a bit of a lie down at the beginning of The Power of the Daleks. However, the Eleventh Doctor is forced to solve problems straight away, starting with the mysterious crack in the bedroom wall of little Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood).
Blackwood is brilliant as the seven-year-old Amelia, leading one to ponder how the series might have developed with the child as the Doctor’s companion.
To my mind, the best part of the episode is the first 16 minutes, during which the action centres on Amelia’s creepy house during the night. The plot loses some of its focus, and some of my attention, when it widens its scope to encompass the village of Leadworth.
This is not to discredit Karen Gillan, who dominates the screen as the grown-up Amy during the final 45 minutes of the show. She combines the bolshiness and wide-eyed wonder that are essential to the role of the modern companion with an eccentricity all of her own. Amy’s sanity has been tested to the limit during the twelve years of the Doctor’s accidental absence, his existence having been called into question by four psychiatrists and her own inner doubts.
Gillan is sexy too - and not just when she’s wearing her kinky kissogram policewoman outfit. In fact, she has been accused of being too sexy for Doctor Who. Evidently the critics voicing such opinions have overlooked the miniskirts and other skimpy outfits worn in past decades by Zoe, Liz, Jo, Leela and Peri. However, there is a new element of physical desire in Amy’s attitude to the Doctor, which is evident here when she lustfully observes the Time Lord getting undressed. Though eyebrow-raising, this is arguably more realistic than the chaste adoration of Rose and Martha.
A characteristic of Steven Moffat’s writing for Doctor Who is his propensity to adapt, revise and revisit (one might, less charitably, say rehash) old ideas, especially his own, and this episode is no exception. As in Moffat’s own The Girl in the Fireplace, the Doctor encounters a little girl, leaves her for a few minutes of his own time, only to find that years have passed by for her. As in The Christmas Invasion, the new Doctor makes a chaotic landing, breathes out golden post-regenerative breath (though this is forgivable on the grounds of consistency), doesn’t don his new outfit until the end of the episode, and scares the aliens into retreat. As in another post-regeneration story, Spearhead From Space, the Doctor steals his clothes from a hospital. However, unlike Spearhead, he does not become a patient himself, as I was momentarily fooled into thinking when the action cuts from the Doctor being knocked unconscious to an ambulance arriving at the hospital.
Despite its repetition, The Eleventh Hour is a strong start to the new series, the new Doctor and the new companion.
The version released on this DVD is, however, not exactly the same as the programme that was broadcast on BBC One. For some reason, BBC DVD has elected not to include the trailers that aired just before the closing credits of each episode, and the opening titles of The Eleventh Hour lack the usual lightning sound effects (though some fans may regard the latter omission as an improvement). I hope these elements, especially the trailers, will be reinstated when the complete series box set is released.
The Doctor takes Amy on her first trip in the TARDIS to the distant future. Starship UK houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home. But as Amy explores the vessel, she encounters the terrifying Smilers...
Following the wit, intrigue and excitement of The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below is something of a disappointment.
There are lots of good ideas here, too many ideas in fact, but they don’t all hang together. The survivors of an entire country escaping a devastated Earth in a spaceship - good idea (and a nice nod to The Ark in Space). Sinister painted mannequins in booths, whose smiling faces give way to angry frowns or demonic grimaces when citizens fail to obey strict laws - good idea. A voting system that offers a choice of death or amnesia - good idea (and great satire: “once every five years, everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action”). A gun-toting, Cockney-accented, future monarch - good idea (and well played by Sophie Okonedo: “I’m the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule”). A giant space whale - good idea (and also the subject of Big Finish’s The Song of Megaptera). However, all these ideas don’t really mesh into a coherent narrative. It’s as though the episode was cobbled together from leftover ideas that Moffat couldn’t work into other instalments.
The plot invites a number of unanswered questions. Why does Starship UK favour design styles from the 20th century: red telephone boxes, London Underground signage, old BBC lettering? (Answer: because it’s easier to realise within the budget than something futuristic - once again in new Who, the future is retro.) Why was the UK left behind when all the other nations departed the planet? (My guess is that the UK, a country with a history of separatism, was initially sceptical about the threat of the solar flares and didn’t wish to buy into the project with the other nations.) If the UK had the time and resources to capture a star-whale and build a massive spaceship around it, why it couldn’t make an engine, as the other countries appear to have done? (Maybe the Earth’s resources of certain essential materials had by then been exhausted.)
The Beast Below redeems itself with its ending, though, in which Amy saves the day by making a beautiful observation about the Doctor and the star-whale, thus proving her worth as a companion. Then, of course, we see another crack in the universe... What a shame that the excellent “next time” trailer for Victory of the Daleks, which had been the icing on the cake on the broadcast version, is missing.
When I first watched The Beast Below, I was disappointed. Viewed again in the context of surrounding episodes, it can be regarded more favourably, as a typically lightweight but inoffensive early-in-the-season episode, whose foreshadowing of things to come (more amnesia) initially went unnoticed.
The Doctor is called to London during World War II by an old friend, Winston Churchill. To the Time Lord’s horror, he finds the Daleks posing as a man-made secret weapon that Churchill calls “Ironsides” and hopes will win him the war...
I really wanted to give Victory of the Daleks a higher mark, because it gets off to a great start. The first 14 minutes are excellent, practically a retelling of Troughton’s missing debut story, The Power of the Daleks, transplanted to a Second World War setting. The Daleks, at their most devious, are once again pretending to be robot servants, and Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) is all too eager to accept them if they can defeat the Nazis. Instead of “I am your servant”, the first Dalek we see tells the Doctor, “I am your soldier.” As in The Power of the Daleks, the Doctor knows what these creatures are, but no one will believe him. As in The Power of the Daleks, the Daleks recognise him, despite his recent regeneration: “Now, you know who I am. You always know.”
Appropriately enough, the Eleventh Doctor is at his most Troughtonesque in this episode, in terms of both Smith’s performance and Mark Gatiss’s writing. Watch Smith’s body language as he confronts a Dalek for the first time, and later as he storms past one of them, giving it a glare. The Doctor’s line, “What does hate look like, Amy? ... It looks like a Dalek, and I’m going to prove it,” is pure Troughton. Later on, he threatens the Daleks with “The final end”, a line delivered by the Second Doctor in The Evil of the Daleks.
Unfortunately, following “Power of the Daleks in 14 minutes”, the plot veers off in a less interesting direction. I could have done with more intrigue with sneaky Daleks in the Cabinet War Rooms during the first half of the episode and fewer drawn-out, anti-climactic scenes with Bracewell (Bill Paterson) towards the end.
The writer doesn’t delve too deeply into Churchill’s darker side, though he does show hints of it in the lengths to which the man would go to win the war. Churchill’s line, “If Hitler invaded Hell I would give the Devil himself a favourable reference,” paraphrases an actual statement attributed to him: “If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.”
The new production team resists the temptation to continue the recent celebrity historical tradition of having the companion imitate the speech patterns of the time or try to coax a famous quotation from a renowned historical figure. I had fully expected Amy to try to get Churchill to discuss fighting on the beaches, and for the Doctor to tell her, “No, no, don’t... don’t do that...” but it was not to be. However, they couldn’t resist a sly reference to the Churchill car insurance ads, when Amy shouts, “Oi, Churchill!”
I could have done without the redesigned Daleks, though I accept some of the reasons for changing them (which are revealed in a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, The Daleks - Monster Files, also included on this disc). The new look aims to recapture the nostalgic appeal of the colourful Daleks seen in the 1960s in the TV21 comic strips and the Dalek movies. Though personally I prefer the previous redesign, the sleek new models arguably remain truer to the intentions of the Daleks’ original designer, Raymond Cusick. Though the 2005 production team retained the basic proportions of his design, they added lots of bolts and rivets, giving it a tough, armoured look. However, when Cusick visited the new series studios and production offices (as seen in the special feature Cusick in Cardiff, in The Space Museum / The Chase box set), he revealed his belief that the design should not show any such methods of construction, because bolts and rivets are products of human technology, whereas Dalek technology is far more advanced. I hear that the new Daleks look better in HD, though I am unable to confirm that. In any case, now that the money has been spent on them, and given their escape at the end of the episode, I have no doubt that the new Daleks are here to stay.
Despite the anti-climactic nature of the Daleks’ victory, it makes a nice change from the previous production team’s trend of having the Daleks “destroyed utterly”, only to return via some unlikely means. This way, the Daleks will always be around, as they were during much of the old series.
It’s only a partial victory then, but the relaunch of the Daleks has its moments.