My immediate knee-jerk reaction to the extremely-long-awaited debut of the eleventh Doctor:
My first thought, during the first few moments of the new much-heralded Doctor Who, was: For a show which now features an actor with the most precipitously high forehead in all British telly, the level of humour in the new Doctor Who is ironically low-brow. Firstly we have him almost being castrated by the minaret atop Big Ben (as previously featured in several episodes) and then, in a matter of moments, he is spitting out food. Again and again and again.
This left a bad taste in my mouth ... Because my big fear for the new series has been that the BBC will use the departure of the three people who brought the show back to life (Russell T, Phil Collinson and Julie Gardner) as an opportunity to make the show safe and predictable and just like every other bland, compromised, lowest-common-denominator show they pump out at a mass audience.
Spitting food and dipping disgusting things in custard is exactly the sort of 'humour' to which Saturday morning children's TV has been reduced. Please, not Doctor Who too ...
Well, okay, people's opinions on what is and isn't funny are as divisive as their opinions on religion and politics, so I'll just have to let that slide. But humour there is here, more than I expected. New show-runner Moffat has, of course, worked very successfully in comedy in the past and has hired a lot of comedy writers for the new series so, maybe, we should expect a show with a lighter, less funereal tone than of late.
Moffat has, at least, retained the child's sense of wonder which, of course, is the show's stock-in-trade. Little Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood) is a delightful creation, praying to Santa and treating the new-born Doctor with a willing exasperation. The moment when she dashes out of the house in her nightie, duffel-coat and woolly-hat to sit on her suitcase and wait for the Doctor's return is delicious. A great testament to children's willingness to accept.
Much as Smith and Moffat must be hoping the children watching will accept them.
So, Matt Smith ... Well, his youth certainly gives him an energy and athleticism greater even that David Tennant's. It's a logical progression to have him act even more wildly than Tennant did; always before Doctors have had to be pointedly different than their predecessor (Baker was wackier than Pertwee, Baker 2 was more solemn than Davidson) but, as Moffat points out in the Confidential documentary that followed on BBC Three, there is no Eleventh Doctor, just the eleventh face of the same Doctor. He's the same person, therefore he should carry a lot of the same traits. Maybe this is why Smith delivers many of his lines exactly as Tennant would and also why Moffat will have (one assumes) deliberately written them to make that happen. Hopefully, this will fade away as Smith and Moffat establish their own character.
The "Geronimo" catchphrase is already annoying me, but at least they got "Trust me I'm a Doctor" and "The Doctor will see you now" out of the way early.
What's the other thing we know about Moffat? Well, he does creepy really well. Here we have an alien which shapeshifts into a man and his dog, which then mirror each other’s actions (which oddly reminded me of Philip Kaufmann’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers). We then have a mysterious mother and her haunted children in a room-full of comatose people (all of which reminded me just a little of Moffat's first foray into Doctor Who - The Empty Child). That's creepy enough and the big shiny eyeballs in the sky are also just icky; but the main monster, Multiform Prisoner Zero, a big jellied eel, really isn't that scary. It has no motivation and, to be frank, doesn't actually do anything except make the sonic screwdriver sticky and turn into a barking man.
But then he (she?) isn't the real threat, The Atraxi are, because they are going to destroy Prisoner Zero and the planet on which he hides. But why are they? To make way for a hyperspace bypass? Why are they so threatened by the Multiform? The script doesn’t find time to explain this during its 65 minutes (which is feature-length by TV standards) run-time.
What it does give us is a sexual charge between full-grown Amelia (Karen Gillan), now abbreviated to Amy, and the newborn Doctor, which begins with her revelation that she's a "kissagram" (but we all know what that really means) in her tight mini-skirt, and continues through her watching him get undressed to her positively flirting with him inside the new Tardis. Maybe this is the result of a heterosexual in the show-runner's seat? We'll see if it develops into something interesting or, given the fact that she leaves behind her fiancé, (either Rory [Arthur Darvill] or Jeff, presumably, we’ll find out soon enough, I imagine), is it simply a retread of the Doctor/Rose/Micky triangle from series one? The face-off on the roof in the latter moments certainly reminded me of David Tennant's "That's the sort of man I am" exchange in The Christmas Invasion. The Atraxi crystal star-ship is itself very similar to The Runaway Bride's Racnoss starship (and let's not even think about how that ties in with the shot of the wedding dress at the end).
The new, improved Tardis looks shiny an more solid and the interior is suitably impressive, with touches of many of the previous control rooms hidden in the details, just as the script reminds one of many elements from previous episodes.
The music, during the dramatic sequences is just as bombastic as we've come to expect from Murray Gold, yet the new arrangement of the main theme is oddly cheery and almost whimsical. I've listened to it a few times now and I think I'll get used to it.
So, overall, how is Smith; do I think he has the energy and gravitas to pull off the role since it has been layered with so much God-like significance? Hard to say yet. I think he may have a greater acting range than Tennant who tended to act through his teeth, but I also fear that his age will continue to preclude me from taking him entirely seriously. But then, maybe that is why they have made the theme chirpier and added more humour, to get away from the weight of consequence that Russell T. brought to the show and which, ultimately, began to hang around its throat like an albatross.
As for Ms Gillan, she'll certainly give dads a motive to watch the show again; although, as a character, I confess I preferred her as a child.
So, the show was certainly not a failure, it rattled along like all the more popular Davies shows, had a good mix of clever ideas and one-liners, introduced some potentially interesting supporting characters, dropped one or two hints of what is to come but, ultimately, didn't quite hang together for me. The villains were not fully-drawn, they had no clear motivation. The script didn't feel as polished as we've come to expect from Moffat and, since this will have been the first he wrote and, therefore, the one he had the most chance to re-work, that troubles me a little.
Various elements will, presumably, become clearer as they return in later episodes, such as an explanation of the knowing looks that pass between Gran (Annette Crosbie) and Jeff (Tom Hopper) while The Doctor is hacking into the world wide web. The 'Myth' brand on the laptop will, one presumes, be a hint of this season's Big Bad. Both suggest that we'll be back in this quaint little village later in the series.
Then, of course, we get the Multiform fulfilling its only significant role (that of dramatic foreshadowing) when it explains to The Doctor that, as with Amy's wall, The Universe is cracked, The Pandoric (?) will open and "silence will fall". Since neither we not he know what any of that means, it'll obviously come back to bite him later. I hope Moffat deals with it better than Russell T. did with all that tedious "He'll knock four times" twaddle that dragged through last year.
But we shall see if he can assuage my concerns as well as if he can answer some of the questions the show left me with, such as ...
Why is it called The Eleventh Hour when the countdown lasts twenty minutes (even if it is twenty TV minutes that last nearer forty) and the show itself lasts 65? (Yes, I know he's the eleventh Doctor but that's not sufficient justification for a punning title).
What's the whole duck-pond exchange about? Was it leading to a pun about Amy's surname, that then doesn't happen.
What about Amelia's aunt? Where is she? Why is the child alone in the house?
Exactly how does Jeff make the world's scientists believe him and help him save the world?
What happens to Doctor Ramsden (Nina Wadia), why was she even in the script, she served no purpose?
And finally ... the montage of coming attractions at the end left me untroubled and unexcited ... it even starts like the prologue of Ashes To Ashes, which doesn't bode well, but there's one image ... a brilliant, striking, perfect Doctor Who image: of Spitfires fighting a Dalek Warship in orbit. Spitfires in Space! Oh yes. Roll-on episode three: Victory of the Daleks! Meanwhile ... see for yourself (Click twice to get it fullscreen):