Our first new doctor story, and appropriate too as our next one, starring Peter Capaldi, is not too far off. Soon showrunner Steven Moffat will get a chance to create a second incarnation. For now though, The Eleventh Hour is his definitive statement on how to introduce a new Doctor.
There are enough new Doctor stories now to recognise a few types. Power of the Daleks and Robot are of the “new guy has to prove himself” type. Castrovalva and Time and the Rani are of the “new guy has to find himself” type. The Christmas Invasion gave us something new: the “Doctor’s out of action and everything goes pear shaped” type.
The Eleventh Hour‘s type is one it shares with Spearhead from Space and the Paul McGann TV movie, and it’s “the man who fell to earth”. In each case, the Doctor travelling alone, ends up on earth and convalescing post regeneration when faced with an alien threat to the earth. With a few incidental details, such as pairing up with a young woman and stealing his clothes from a hospital.
In each case, the Doctor is a mystery for his young lady friend to solve. We, the audience, discover this new Doctor at the same time as Amy/Liz/Grace. Unlike other regenerations, in these instances the companions are also newcomers; they know less about the Doctor than the audience do, which is part of the fun. The audience knows the Doctor’s an alien, that he’s eccentric and that he’s always a bit nutty post-regeneration. So part of the joy of these stories is watching the companion’s journey from outsider to one of us.
But in The Eleventh Hour, the companion is never really going to be one of us. She’s also a mystery for the Doctor to solve. In this case, it’s redhead bombshell Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). Amy’s a girl to like to dress up and pretend; her identity is fluid. Is she a police woman or a nurse or a nun? “I dabble”, she confesses at one point. Turns out she’s a kissogram (as sexy an occupation as chaste old Doctor Who can manage. Lord knows what she would have been if this was a Torchwood story.) And later on we’ll discover she’s left one costume at home and we’ll ask ourselves, hang on – is she a bride too? Amy’s inability to settle on any one thing – or to be any one thing – will turn out to be an ongoing theme throughout her time with the Doctor, and it starts here.
Despite the questions about who she really is, The Eleventh Hour positions Amy firmly as our point of reference. Through her eyes, we see Matt Smith’s Doctor climbing out of his damaged TARDIS. We stick with her as she waits years for him to return (as opposed to seeing him pilot the TARDIS in the gaps). She’s with us when we see the Doctor changing into his new costume (as she refuses to divert her gaze). And when the new TARDIS console room is revealed, we see it with Amy. The Doctor is Amy’s point of fascination, and ours too.
And the Doctor himself? Well, he’s daffy. Tennant’s Doctor was funny, but highly incompetent. This Doctor walks into trees. He eats fish fingers with custard. His sonic burns out. He’s generally a bit rubbish at everyday, ordinary things. But he turns out to be brilliant at the extraordinary things, such as repelling alien incursions. I think that’s the main trick a new Doctor has to pull off: he has to be different from his predecessors, but familiar enough to be recognisably the Doctor. It’s the second part of that trick which that other new Doctor story The Twin Dilemma arguably fails to pull off.
So this story feels a lot like what’s gone before; it likeably plays to type. It’s plot feels a bit familiar too: alien criminal hides on earth and even nastier alien authorities catch up with it and don’t care if humans get caught in the cross fire. That harks back to Smith and Jones (hey and that has a hospital and a new companion too!) and throws forward to A Town Called Mercy. And when the Doctor frightens the Atraxi off using nothing more than his reputation (and a handy clips reel) it’s a trick Moffat’s used before in Forest of the Dead, and will use again in The Pandorica Opens.
So The Eleventh Hour is a story that has us looking back and looking forward. In that sense, it’s pretty much everything you could want from the new Doctor’s first day.
LINKS to Frontier in Space: a tricky one, but how’s this… Both contain flashbacks sequences which include a Sea Devil. (Which itself is a bit confusing in The Eleventh Hour, because aren’t they meant to be clips of invading aliens which the Doctor has protected the earth from? That’s not really a Sea Devil’s job description.)
NEXT TIME: You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes… Our random tour next take us to The Caves of Androzani.