And so begins my examination of episodes of my favorite TV show, commencing with what I believe is a the best starting point for the new viewer to jump on board, Episode 1 of the 5th (second to last) Season: The Eleventh Hour.
Plot: Following the events of The End of Time part 2, the Tardis crash lands in England, where a newly regenerated Doctor meets a young girl named Amelia Pond, who has no parents and lives with her aunt. The Doctor discovers a crack in the fabric of the universe in her bedroom, through which a prisoner called Prisoner Zero has escaped. Before he can investigate further, the Doctor is forced to make a short forward jump in the still damaged Tardis. He promises Amelia he will be back in five minutes, and she excitedly prepares to travel with him. When he returns, he is knocked out and handcuffed by a woman in a police uniform who tells him that Amelia Pond disappeared six months ago. They are attacked by Prisoner Zero, a shape-shifting alien fugitive. Prisoner Zero’s captors, an alien race called the Atraxi, show up threatening to destroy the earth if Prisoner Zero is not handed over to them. The Doctor discovers that the police woman is really Amelia Pond grown up (and working as a kiss-o-gram, explaining her costume), and that he has been gone for 12 years. Prisoner Zero has formed a psychic link with a series of coma patients in a local hospital, allowing him to change shape into whoever they are dreaming about. Amy’s (as she calls herself) boyfriend, Rory, is a nurse at the hospital, and has observed over time these coma patients apparently walking about, and has taken pictures of them all on his phone. The Doctor tries to use the advanced technology of the Sonic Screwdriver to draw the Atraxi to Prisoner Zero, but it fails when it burns out, as it’s still damaged from the crash. So instead, the Doctor institutes an elaborate plan to draw the Atraxis attention to Prisoner Zero using a computer virus that turns every clock on the planet to the number zero, and allows the Atraxis to trace the virus back to Rory’s phone with pictures of every form that Prisoner Zero can change into. After the Atraxi have re-captured Prisoner Zero, the Doctor calls the Atraxi to face him, and scolds them for threatening earth. Amy is stunned when the Doctor abruptly leaves again in the self-repaired (and remodeled) Tardis. Two years later, the Doctor returns (having not meant to be gone for so long) and invites her to travel with him, which she accepts, even though it is implied she is getting married the next day!
Comments: The Eleventh Hour represents a reinvention of the series in many ways – new producer, new lead actor, new companion, new recurring cast member, new arrangement for the theme music, new opening title sequence, new title logo, new incidental music, and new overarching storyline. Naturally, all this means nothing if the story isn’t any good, but fortunately this particular episode is a terrific blend of good writing, directing, and acting, and a perfect debut for the new Doctor.
When I first watched this story (in India of all places, having downloaded it from iTunes), I found David Tennant (whom I liked) to be quickly turning into a fond memory. It’s not that Matt Smith is a better actor than David Tennant, necessarily, though he is very good. But I think Steven Moffatt’s style as a writer and producer appeals to me, and it’s good to see the Doctor seeming to enjoy himself again after the “heaviness” of the last of the Russell T. Davies stories.
The episode does well with the new Doctor’s first scenes. We get the whole feeling of post-regeneration instability that is present in many debut Doctor stories, but without the bit where the Doctor is unconscious or in a daze for an extended period of time, so we’re immediately getting to know his character. And the story is structured cleverly to allow us to get to first get to know the Doctor through the eyes of young Amelia Pond, and then discover adult Amy Pond through the eyes of the Doctor.
The menace / mystery-of-the-week get rolling along pretty quickly as well. In a way that partially defines this new era of the show, the plot trips along at a dizzying pace, with concepts lightly introduced very quickly with little explanation. The viewer is challenged somewhat to keep up and make sense of it all. There is a lot that is never explained or just hinted at. For example, we don’t know what Prisoner Zero did in the first place to get him into trouble, or anything about the Atraxi to justify their extreme reaction. Our only real cue that Prisoner Zero is so dangerous to inspire all the running around at the start is that he has big teeth. And where does one pick up a perception filter in the first place?
But none of this bothers me because the energy and characterization are so engaging, and because the cleverness of the Doctor’s solution to it all. I like both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan. Caitlin Blackwood (Karen Gillan’s cousin) as Young Amelia is amazing. And Arthur Darvill as Rory didn’t impress me when I first watched this episode, but watching it knowing where the show and the character is going, I quite like him. The design for the Atraxi is great and very memorable, and I love some of the new themes that are part of the incidental music. The script is also very funny, and full of some absolutely incredible dialogue. Some of my favorites:
• The Doctor, having found some food that he can eat in a post-regeneration craving, talks to young Amelia late at night in her kitchen. Amelia has mentioned a crack in her bedroom wall that she is frightened of.
Doctor: So your aunt, where’s she?
Young Amelia: She’s out.
Doctor: And she left you all alone?
Young Amelia: I’m not scared.
Doctor: Of course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything. Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box. Man eats fish custard. And look at you, just sitting there. So you know what I think?
Young Amelia: What?
Doctor: Must be a helluva scary crack in your wall.
• The Doctor investigating the crack, with Young Amelia watching.
Doctor: You know when grown ups tell you “Everything’s going to be fine,” and you think they’re probably lying to make you feel better?
Young Amelia: Yes.
Doctor: Everything is going to be fine.
• In the midst of Prisoner Zero attacking and the Atraxi showing up, the Doctor discovers the truth about the woman he’s met in young Amelia’s home
Doctor: You said six months. Why did you say six months?
Amy: We’ve got to go!
Doctor: This matters. This is important! Why did you say six months!?
Amy (furious): Why did you say five minutes?!
• With the Atraxi threatening the earth, the Doctor hacks in on a conference call of all the worlds scientific experts (including Patrick Moore, doing a cameo as himself). To get them to listen to them, he proves his credentials:
Doctor: Fermat’s theorem, the proof, and I mean the real one. Never been seen before. Poor Fermat got killed in a duel before he could write it down. My fault. Slept in. Oh, and here’s an oldie but a goodie: why electronics have mass. And a personal favorite of mine: faster than light travel with two diagrams and a joke. Look at your screens. Whoever I am, I’m a genius. Look at the sun. You need all the help you can get. Fellows, pay attention.
• And finally, in a scene that for the fan of the show is a Crowning Moment of Awesome, the Doctor tells off the Atraxi as flashbacks are shown of various monsters who have invaded earth and all ten of the Doctors who have defeated them:
The Doctor: Is this world protected? Because you’re not the first lot to have come here. Oh, there have been so many. What you’ve got to ask is, “What happened to them?” Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically…run.
Frankly, I love this episode!
Things to watch out for (Warning: veiled Spoilers for the rest of the season) Referring to things that set up the show’s overall arc, both for this season and beyond, there are several points, some very obvious, and one more thematic. The obvious one is Prisoner Zero’s cryptic statement: “The universe is cracked. The Pandorica will open. Silence will fall.” The cracks are really the theme element of the season, and a crack is seen again on the Tardis scanner at the end of the episode. The Pandorica opening will be hinted at again and explained by the end of the season (there is an episode called The Pandorica Opens after all). The reference to “Silence will fall” runs all the way through the following season, and we still aren’t sure if we’ve made complete sense of it all.
The other obvious moment is Amy’s wedding dress at the end. We aren’t told but can guess who she’s engaged to, and that engagement becomes a major theme for the season, and her relationship with the person she’s engaged to continues to be a major story point in the following season as well.
There is another more subtle moment that I believe sets up the season’s themes very well, though I have no idea how intentional it was. It comes as the Doctor first enters the town of Leadworth. He is looking for resources to help defeat Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi and we get this exchange –
Doctor: What is that?
Amy: It’s a duck pond.Doctor: Why aren’t there any ducks?
Amy: I don’t know. There’s never any ducks.
Doctor: Then how do you know it’s a duck pond?
Amy: It just is! Is it important..the duck pond?
This little bit of dialogue, which seems to come from nowhere and wind up in the same place, actually sets up a major point that gets brought out by the end of the season, to do with understanding the truth about the series’ more important Pond.
Making sense of it all (Warning: blatant spoilers for the rest of the series): The Pandorica was created by a confederation of the Doctor’s enemies. Hints of it’s knowledge were seeded into history to get the Doctor’s attention. They did this because they saw the cracks and knew that they heralded the end of the universe and also knew, somehow, that the Doctor was responsible for them. Prisoner Zero seems to be aware of all this and is surprised that the Doctor isn’t aware of where the cracks came from. But is it aware that it appears the Doctor’s enemies are being manipulated to ensure the Doctor is out of the way so that the universe will be destroyed?
What exactly is Prisoner Zero meaning by “Silence will fall?” If it refers to the end of the universe, nearly brought on by the unseen, scary-voiced personality who causes the Tardis to explode, why is Prisoner Zero so relaxed about it? If it refers to the religious order known a the Silence that we see in Season Six, that seems to imply that Prisoner Zero knows that the Pandorica trap will fail.
Hmm, maybe Prisoner Zero knows the same as the rest of the Doctor’s enemies – that he is somehow responsible for the cracks. Zero is aware of the Pandorica trap, and believes that with the Doctor permanently out of the way (in the Pandorica), the universe will not be destroyed and the Silence will achieve whatever their goals are. (Those confusing goals will be addressed when I get around to writing about Season Six!)
I’d like to believe that by the end of Season Seven of this series, and the 50th anniversary of the show, that all this will make sense and come together, but I have my doubts!
Notice in this episode also that young Amelia Pond remembers her mother (she talks about how she would carve faces into apples). This is only odd because in The Big Bang, we discover that Amy’s parents were swallowed by the crack in her room and erased from the universe. But perhaps Amy remembering her is similar to the other ways she is seen recalling things that no longer exist, and it’s a function of sleeping near a crack all her life, with all that temporal energy pouring into her room as she slept. We’ll see that the cracks and their “erasing” people from history have a bit of a funny way of functioning.
Last Word: The Eleventh Hour is the best debut story for a new Doctor since An Unearthly Child, and manages to successfully introduce a whole new era for the series. Capping it off with the viewer seeing the new Tardis set at the same time as Amy puts us right into the shoes of the Doctor’s newest companion, overwhelmed to be on board.