Reviewing Who – The Eleventh Hour

Doctor: Matt Smith

Companion: Karen Gillan

Script writer: Steven Moffat

Producer: Tracie Simpson and Nikki Wibbs

Executive producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger and Beth Willis

Director: Adam Smith

Originally aired: 3rd April 2010

This is how you do not fly a TARDIS: during mid-regeneration, while it is on fire, while you are hanging onto the door frame for dear life, or all of the above. While the eleventh Doctor hurtles through the sky above London, narrowly avoiding Big Ben (thank you, show. Breaking it once was dramatic; breaking it twice would just be careless), a little girl called Amelia Pond is praying to Santa Claus. She needs a policeman to come fix the crack in her bedroom wall.

Right on cue, a police public call box crash lands in her garden.

Hurrying outside with a torch to investigate, she is almost impaled when a grappling hook comes flying out of the box. The Doctor hauls himself from the depths of the TARDIS, dripping wet and wild-eyed. “Can I have an apple?” is the first thing he says to her. “All I can think about. Apples!” Then he falls off the box and coughs gold light.

This is maybe not the sort of policeman Amelia had in mind, but he’ll do. She brings him inside and politely offers him an apple. He takes one bite but spits it out, demanding yoghurt instead, only to spit that out as well. He’s staggering about looking decidedly unwell so Amelia humours him with more offers of food, despite his proving to possess the worst table manners ever. Eventually he dives into the fridge for himself, emerging with a packet of fish fingers and a bowl of custard.

The food helps to stabilise him. It strikes him that what with crashing into the garden shed and throwing plates of unwanted food, they should have woken up Amelia’s parents by now. She explains shortly that she has no parents, only an aunt, who is out. The Doctor studies his new friend thoughtfully. “You’re not scared of anything! A box falls out of the sky, man falls out of the box, man eats fish custard – and look at you! Just sitting there. You know what I think?…Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.”

Oh, it is. If you knocked the wall down, the crack would remain, because it isn’t the wall that is cracked; it’s reality. When the Doctor leans close to listen, he hears a voice repeating the same words over and over. “Prisoner Zero has escaped.” On the other side of the crack, there is a prison, and they’ve lost a prisoner.

Grabbing Amelia’s hand to pull her behind him, the Doctor sonicks the crack wide open, hoping the forces will invert and it will seal itself. Through the gap, they see a vast eyeball descend to stare through. It zaps a message into the Doctor’s psychic paper just before the crack collapses: Prisoner Zero has escaped.

The Doctor has a very bad feeling about this. Something is wrong – something at the corner of his eye…

At that moment, however, the TARDIS cloister bell begins to peal. That’s not a good sign – the engines are destabilised and he needs to make a quick hop through time to stabilise them. Amelia wants to come, but the TARDIS is a disaster zone right now so the Doctor, who has his own version of the word ‘responsible’, promises to return. “Give me five minutes,” he assures her, and vanishes in a rush of air and wheezing engines. Stars in her eyes, Amelia runs to pack.

Inside the house, something is watching her.

When the Doctor rematerialises, his first warning is the sunlight: it’s morning. He has obviously been a bit longer than five minutes. He sonicks his way inside, calling Amelia’s name, and is met with a cricket bat to the back of the head.

Meanwhile, in the coma ward of the local hospital, nurse Rory Williams is trying to explain to his unnerved superior how a whole room full of patients can speak – let alone all speak at the same time. When they call out, “Doctor”, he thinks they mean her, but there’s someone else who uses that title in town…

And he’s waking up about now with a very sore head. His sonic screwdriver is missing, his wrist is handcuffed to a heater, and a young woman in a slightly unprofessional police uniform is standing over him. She is the one who whacked him with the bat and from the look on her face, she’d rather like to do it again. None of these things are a priority for the Doctor; he wants to see Amelia, a name that visibly disconcerts his captor. She tells him that Amelia Pond has not lived here for six months, that she lives here now.

And she’s not the only one. Something came through the crack that night, something that has hidden itself in plain sight, behind the protective shield of a perception filter. You have to know you’re looking for it to see it at all. At the corner of your eye…

The girl looks. There is a door behind her, a door she has never seen before. The Doctor tells her not to open it, which of course she does, and then to get out straight away, which of course she doesn’t. She finds his sonic screwdriver on a table in there and picks it up, but still she lingers, sure she’s being watched. The Doctor warns her not to look, too late. She turns fast and sees her secretive tenant for the first time – a silvery, serpentine creature with way too many teeth.

This is the point when she runs, taking the Doctor’s stolen sonic with her. “Will that door hold it?” she asks, backing up against the wall beside the heater. “Yeah, of course,” the Doctor retorts, trying and failing to sonic open his handcuffs. His screwdriver is on the blink. “It’s an interdimensional multiform from outer space, they’re all terrified of wood!”

Just to top off the situation, the girl confesses she’s not a policewoman at all – she is in fact a kissogram, and this was the best costume she had for tackling intruders.

The door smashes open. A man and a dog emerge. One is barking, but not the one you might expect; this particular multiform is not good at managing its mouths. Probably all those teeth don’t help. The Doctor is on full manic babble, trying to come up with a reason why it shouldn’t kill them on the spot, when a voice booms down from the heavens. “Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated.”

On the plus side: good distraction! On the negative: INCINERATION. The Doctor finally manages to get his sonic working, freeing himself from the heater, and races outside, only to be distracted himself by the garden shed. He accidentally demolished the last one, so how can there be another that’s had time to get so old? He turns on the policewoman/ kissogram/ wielder of cricket bats in indignant astonishment.

DOCTOR: Why did you say six months?

AMELIA: Why did you say five minutes?

Yep, this is Amelia, twelve years and four psychiatrists later. She has a few issues. The Doctor gapes at her, appalled; as far as he’s concerned, he was only five minutes and somehow Amelia the unflappable little girl has turned into Amy, an angry, leggy redhead with a penchant for short skirts.

But they have bigger problems. Every device within earshot, from a jogger’s iPod to an ice-cream man’s speakers, is blasting the same message: Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence or the human residence will be incinerated. It hits the Doctor that this message may not mean what it first appears. To confirm his theory, he bounds into a nearby house and grabs the resident old lady’s TV remote, flipping from channel to channel. Every one shows a vast eyeball, and plays the same message.

It’s not Amy’s house they’re threatening to blow up, it’s her PLANET.

The Doctor makes the sort of calculations you only know if you’ve actually seen a planet get incinerated before and announces to his audience – Amy, the old lady and her baffled grandson – that they have about twenty minutes before Prisoner Zero’s erstwhile gaolers destroy Earth. Racing back out into the street, he assesses the village of Leadworth. No airport. No nuclear power station. There is a post office; it’s shut. This is not an ideal location from which to save the world.

Above his head, the first stage of destruction is already taking place. A force field spreads across the sky, sealing off the atmosphere and leaving the sun an unnatural orange. The good people of Leadworth respond by meandering into the park with their camera phones. One of them, however, is not aiming his phone at the sky. It’s Rory, and he’s more interested photographing the man with a dog who is watching events unravel from the street. The Doctor is about to leap into action, the beginnings of a plan taking shape, but Amy has had enough. She grabs his tie and slams it into the door of the nearest car, ordering its nervous owner to go have coffee while she sorts out whether she wants to help her captive Time Lord or deny all evidence of his existence.

He puts an apple in her hand. She gave it to him that night, five minutes ago to him, twelve years to her, the night he crashed into her garden babbling about apples. “Just believe me for twenty minutes,” he pleads. She glares at the apple, then at him, searching his eyes.

She lets him go.

Step one of the plan: accost Rory, snatch his phone. Amy introduces him to the Doctor as ‘a friend’; “boyfriend,” Rory tries to add, but the Doctor isn’t listening. The phone is full of photographic proof that coma patients are walking the streets of Leadworth, a situation hospital management have refused to investigate. The thing is, these people are all disguises for the same person. They are not even in comas. Prisoner Zero has established a psychic link with each one, allowing itself to use their forms. If it took its real form, its gaolers would detect it immediately. For that matter, their scans would detect any sign of extraterrestrial life. That was how they tracked the Doctor here, after all; they are only late because he is.

And what says extraterrestrial louder than a sonic screwdriver?

It’s a plan that really should work. Unfortunately, the screwdriver doesn’t. It explodes into sparks, Prisoner Zero melts down the drain and the Doctor to come up with a new idea. He sends Amy and Rory off to check out the hospital and returns to the old lady’s house to co-opt her grandson Jeff’s laptop, crash an emergency internet conference of experts and prove his cleverness credentials with outrageous genius and also by not letting anyone else get a word in edgewise. Within a matter of minutes he’s whipped up a computer virus and whizzed off, leaving the actual explaining to Jeff.

Amy and Rory, meanwhile, have arrived to find the hospital in chaos. Impersonating a policewoman, Amy manages to get herself and Rory into the restricted area where whatever happened, happened and in a wreckage-strewn corridor they meet a woman with twin daughters who babbles anxiously…in a little girl’s voice.

Wrong mouths again.

Amy and Rory run. They barricade themselves inside the coma ward, but that doesn’t hold Prisoner Zero for long. The Doctor proves he is capable of the odd incidence of excellent timing by arriving in a borrowed fire engine, smashing the ladder through the ward window and scrambling up to join the party. Well, take it over, actually. He tells Prisoner Zero to either take its true form or open another crack and escape that way. But Zero did not open the crack, only found it, and knows full well its gaolers, the Atraxi, will not risk another jailbreak. This time the sentence will be execution. “If I am to die, let there be fire.”

The clock above the door quietly clicks over. The Doctor’s virus has been sent out, and its effect is very simple: all numbers turn to zeroes. It takes the Atraxi no time at all to track that message back to Rory’s phone, which just happens to be full of photos of all Zero’s forms…The Doctor is all set to celebrate the first success of a brand new regeneration when behind him, Amy collapses. Zero has one last card left to play. The Doctor is facing himself, though it takes Rory to point that out; this new face hasn’t been near any mirrors yet.

DOCTOR: Why me, though? You’re linked with her. Why are you copying me?

ZERO: I’m not. (From behind the duplicate, little Amy emerges, seven years old and full of accusation). Poor Amy Pond. Still such a child inside, dreaming of the magic Doctor she knows will return to save her. What a disappointment you’ve been.

DOCTOR: (pause) No, she’s dreaming about me because she can hear me.

And if she can dream about him, she can dream about something else – something she saw in the hidden room of her house. Prisoner Zero is forced into its own snakelike shape and the Atraxi, incompetent in many other ways, are fast enough to notice that. A beam of light descends to secure and remove the prisoner. The force field dissolves, Amy wakes up, birds begin to sing. The world is officially saved!

But the Doctor’s not done yet. He rings up the Atraxi spacecraft and orders them to come straight back. “Did you think no one was watching?” Heading for a rendezvous on the roof, he detours into a changing room to pick out some new clothes. To Rory’s excruciating embarrassment, he then proceeds to strip.

Amy doesn’t mind so much.

Emerging onto the roof several minutes later, they are confronted by a vast eyeball set within a hovering spacecraft. “You are not of this world,” the Atraxi gaoler points out. “No,” the Doctor concedes, trying on ties, “but I’ve put a lot of work into it.” This world has been invaded many times. Who held back the tide? Who stands between the Earth and all those who would take it away? The Atraxi’s scanner swims with images of ten men who are all the same man, and the Doctor steps through it with a smile on his face and a bow tie around his neck.

“Basically,” he says quietly, “run.”

The Atraxi can’t run; no legs. It flies instead with all possible speed. Amy and Rory are still staring after it when the TARDIS key materialises in the Doctor’s hand. He’s already gone by the time Amy turns around, and she arrives in her garden just in time to see the TARDIS disappearing.

Two years later, she sits bolt upright in bed to a very familiar sound. She runs downstairs in her dressing gown and sees the Doctor waiting in the dark, leaning against his blue box, looking quite pleased with himself. He couldn’t resist giving his remodelled old girl a quick trip, he explains, but she’s all ready for the big stuff now. Is Amy? “I grew up,” she retorts. The Doctor beams. “Don’t worry. I can fix that.”

He snaps his fingers. The TARDIS doors fly open, revealing a glowing new interior spangled with every kind of shiny thingamabob. It even has a hatstand! And a new screwdriver! This is Amy’s childhood dream, and it’s terrifying to finally touch it.

AMY: There’s a whole world in here, just like you said. It’s all true. I thought – well, I started to think maybe you were just, like, a mad man with a box.

DOCTOR: Amy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me because it’s important, and one day your life may depend upon it. I am definitely a mad man with a box. Goodbye, Leadworth! Hello everything!

The Verdict: I had become a little disenchanted with Doctor Who towards the end of David Tennant’s run. Nothing drastically dreadful, and nothing to do with Tennant himself – it had simply gone too far for my taste. The Master had become a maniac, the Doctor a lonely god. The Time Lords had been tossed out of the universe, AGAIN. What with one thing and another, I was not at my most fannish.

Then came ‘The Eleventh Hour’.

This episode is pure magic from start to finish, and if you think I quoted too many lines, that is what restraint looks like because I wanted to quote them all. Matt Smith’s Doctor is immediately different from Tennant’s; he is younger and older at the same time, argumentative and diffident and ridiculous. He falls over things a lot. He’s adorable.

And AMY. Some people say bad things about Amy; they don’t like her short skirts or her job or the way she hits on the Doctor (spoilers!). Ignore these people. Amy wears short skirts because with legs like that, why the hell wouldn’t you; her job may not be a dream career, but it allows her to be as erratic as she wants; and she hits on the Doctor because he’s amazing and he’s there. He’s her hero, her imaginary magician, her crush, her best friend. She loves him, and over time that love takes different forms, but it never goes away, and it doesn’t mean she loves Rory any the less – in fact, in the end, it means she loves him more. Amy is proof that growing up doesn’t have to mean letting go of the things you love most. It’s also wonderful to see how as this season goes on Rory’s relationship with the Doctor goes from ‘tolerated associate of the real companion’ to a beloved friend in his own right.

I think what happened with them and River was a disastrous mess. I hated the whole pregnancy and abduction plot in season 6. Steven Moffat gets it really wrong sometimes, but when he’s at his best he’s remarkable and it’s thanks to him we got to know two of the best companions ever.

So that’s…it, I suppose. Only of course it’s not. Matt Smith might be on his way out, and I will miss him so very much, but there’s a new Doctor waiting in the wings and so many stories left to tell. Today, in about half an hour’s time, the next chapter will arrive on my TV screen.

I can’t wait.


One thought on “Reviewing Who – The Eleventh Hour

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