Having escaped The Weeping Angels in the catacombs, The Doctor and crew find themselves pursued through the wreckage of The Byzantium. But The Angels are soon to be the least of their worries.
“We’re being attacked by statues in a crashed ship, there isn’t a manual for this!”
I like the resolution from last episode’s cliffhanger. It takes a few moments for everything to become clear, but this would help us to identify with the characters. They are just as confused as we are. The danger is not over, however. The Angels are still on the move.
A forest on a spaceship. That is a fun idea. However, I think this idea has less to do with providing the ship with oxygen and more with presenting an image. Amy Pond is wearing a red hoodie and spends much of this episode in a forest. A girl, red hood, forest. Another image designed to remind us of fairy tales. Amy is also counting backwards from ten, counting down as The Angels continue to assert control over her. The countdown is to do nothing more than make Amy afraid as the Angel inside her mind continues to gain control. The only solution is to shut down Amy’s visual centers, practically, to close her eyes. The Weeping Angel dynamic is now completely turned on its head. In order to survive, we can’t blink, we cannot look away from The Angels. In order for Amy to survive, however, she cannot open her eyes. She is surrounded by Angels at one point, but cannot open her eyes. Terrifying.
More properties of the crack are beginning to manifest. It is growing and has broken in to The Byzantium. The Angels are at first fascinated by it, then frightened by it. It is bleeding light and energy from the end of the universe. The Doctor, River, and Bishop Octavian go in search of the bridge of the ship, leaving Amy with the clerics. The light from the crack grows and the clerics go to investigate one-by-one, and one-by-one they are erased from time and memory. It is hard to not see patterns emerge, not merely for series five, but taking in to account elements that are going to emerge in series six. I’ll hold off discussing that for now. I also wonder if Moffat is at all familiar with Lovecraft. The previous episode had a book written by a madman. This episode had Amy communicating with a cleric as he went to investigate the crack. She speaks to him on the communicator, but we never see his death. Somewhat reminiscent of The Statement of Randolph Carter. Although, Moffat may have little to no knowledge of Lovecraft. Lovecraftian elements have so infiltrated modern horror and sci-fi that a writer can use those elements and not even know it.
More thoughts on River Song. Bishop Octavian reveals that River was in prison because she killed a man. A good man, we are told, a hero to many. The implication is that this good man is The Doctor. But Octavian has, though-out both this episode and the previous, constantly asked River if The Doctor can be trusted or is he just a madman. Octavian seems to have no knowledge of who The Doctor is. So, either Octavian was giving hints to The Doctor and building him up, or it really isn’t The Doctor that River kills. Regardless, the final scene between The Doctor and Octavian is touching and reveals Octavian to be a great and noble character.
The resolution to the story was, in my opinion, quite well done. The Doctor didn’t seem to so much as save River and Amy, he just managed to keep them alive long enough for the Angels to have sufficiently drained the power of the ship so that the artificial gravity would fail. Once it had, the gravity of the ship oriented itself to that of the planet, and the Angels fell into the crack. The crack seems to feed off time energy, and complicated space-time events would serve to close it. The Doctor qualifies as a complicated space-time event, but all the Angels did as well. Thus, the crack isn’t completely sealed. It is still out there, but the immediate danger has subsided.
In all, I enjoyed this one as well. Yes, even the failed seduction at the end. Granted, when I first saw the episode, I was a bit shocked and really irritated that we were going back to the companion-in-love-with-The-Doctor subplot, but that wasn’t really Moffat’s intention. In part, this was done to confront this recurring theme from the RTD era and put it to rest. But it was also done to give us a reason for why The Doctor doesn’t immediately go in search of the explosion at the end of the universe. He must first sort out Amy Pond.
***Spoilers for Series Six and a Theory***
Silence will fall. We know, going in to series six, that there is a race called The Silence. They seem to be able to exist without being seen, and if they are seen, they are able to erase the memory of their existence from the individual who saw them. These are the only details I am aware of regarding The Silence. The light from the crack erases people from time, including all memory of said person. Again, this seems to be the power The Silence have. Is the crack a tool being used by them, or is it a thematic link that introduces the concept. “The Doctor in the TARDIS hasn’t noticed.” “The Doctor in the TARDIS doesn’t know.” We cannot see The Silence and, presumably, neither can The Doctor. Are we to believe they have been existing throughout series five, possibly even as far back as series four, the first hints of their existence being SILENCE in the Library? The Doctor has placed much emphasis on noticing things, including The Eleventh Hour where we are given a sequence where The Doctor analyzes the village green. But we don’t notice The Silence. Perhaps, thematically, Steven Moffat has been giving us hints, but they are hints that are devoid of context until now.
I really like this episode. It hits the ground running and doesn’t ever stop. I’ll do my best to not gush over it.
We have the return of River Song, this time not a professor. We first met her in Silence in the Library, when we were journeying with The Tenth Doctor. I didn’t care for her then, and I didn’t much care for that story either (well, Forest of The Dead anyway). In her first appearance we discovered that she and The Doctor have had some kind of relationship (romantic was strongly implied) and that she was meeting The Doctor in reverse order. Thus, in Silence in the Library, it was River Song’s final meeting with The Doctor, while it was his first time to meet her. We have a similar dynamic here. The Doctor still doesn’t know exactly who River Song is (although from his behavior he seems to be speculating), and she enjoys teasing him about it just as much as Steven Moffat seems to enjoy teasing the viewers about it. Although, I think the viewers he enjoys teasing the most are the fans of the classic era. It is constantly hinted that River Song could be The Doctor’s wife at some point in the future, which would be a concept that would irritate fans of the classic series more than fans of the RTD era. Moffat knows exactly what he is doing with River Song, and I don’t fault him for it, even if I did have an initial dislike of the character for that very reason.
The scene between River and The Doctor on the TARDIS is extremely reminiscent of the interaction between The Doctor and Romana from the Tom Baker era. In both the companion knows more about how to fly The TARDIS than The Doctor, and this makes him quite petulant. The Doctor has always, even back to the Hartnell era, become extremely irritable when accused of not knowing how to fly The TARDIS. Glad to see this characterization holds.
What I especially love in this episode is that Amy and River do not start a rivalry. Amy loves that River irritates The Doctor, and River seems to accept Amy. Of course, River knows Amy from the future as well, but this aspect is not dwelt upon.
Has Steven Moffat changed the Weeping Angels? Yes. When we first met them in Blink, they had a distinctly different modus operandi. They would transport people to the past and live off the energy emitted by the altered timeline. It was an interesting and fun concept that allowed Moffat to create a chilling villain that technically didn’t kill. Here, The Angels kill. The Doctor mentions that the ones in Blink were “scavengers, barely surviving.” If anything, I would think the ones here are the barely surviving ones. The single Angel in the vault is weak and regaining power by absorbing radiation and temporal energy (we’ll see that in the next episode). Plus, being cornered as it is, I would think the desperation and weakness would drive it to kill. This makes more sense than claiming the ones from Blink were the weak ones. Regardless, The Angels have lost none of their frightening nature. Added to the normal fear of the dark is the video loop from the crashed ship’s security. Being creatures that are temporally active, The Angels seem to be able to exist on video as well as in reality. The Angel on the video loop is, therefore, just as alive and dangerous as the one in the ship’s wreckage, and the scene where Amy is trapped in the briefing pod (for lack of a better term) and The Angel is approaching her on the screen is genuinely chilling.
The journal about The Angels, the one written by the madman, is an interesting idea that I personally want more of. In fact, it is very Lovecraftian. It reminds me of the Mad Arab and The Necronomicon. Anytime Doctor Who flirts with Lovecraft, you will find me, happy. According to the journal about The Angels, anything that takes the image of an Angel becomes and Angel. Practically, this means The Angel in the video loop is an Angel, and the Angel reflected in Amy’s eye will also become an Angel. She continues to suffer to this effect.
Another example of world-building is the church of the 51st century. I’m genuinely intrigued to see more of this. I’m fascinated with church history and would love to know what Moffat is trying to say, whether it is either a religious comment or just the acknowledgment that even in the future the church will exist in some form. It wouldn’t be the first time soldiers were a part of the church. Or maybe it was the juxtaposition of the church fighting an angel. At first The Doctor and Amy are poke quite a bit of fun at Bishop Octavian. In the next episode, The Doctor will change his mind about the man.
As the episode draws to a close, we learn that the statues in the catacombs are actually Angels rather than representations of the dead. The Doctor, Amy, River, and the soldiers are surrounded. The Angels are feeding off the radiation from the crashed ship, a crash that was orchestrated by the Angel that was on-board. Three soldiers are killed, one of whom is Bob, aka Sacred Bob, aka Scared Bob. His cerebral cortex is ripped out by the Angels and used to communicate to The Doctor, which is a gruesome concept when you think about it. The only escape for the humans and The Doctor is through the wreckage of the ship, which is thirty feet above where they stand. No climbing equipment is available. Thus, cliffhanger.
The only thing I have left for this episode is to ponder the identity of River Song. She is still an enigma, although Moffat is now playing with the fan theory/nightmare that she is The Doctor’s future wife. This is the theory Amy holds. Part of me wonders if this is an indication that River Song is not The Doctor’s wife. The answer is too simple, and Steven Moffat is rubbing our faces in it. Perhaps it is somewhat more complex than this. I would like to think that River is a character we have met before, which would make the payoff amazing. But there is no guarantee of this. It may turn out that she is someone who has gotten under The Doctor’s skin in some way, but has no real intrinsic meaning. She may be a con artist in this way. She knows The Doctor, trusts him because she knows him, but also knows that since they only meet in reverse order, she can manipulate his opinion of her by pretending to be something she isn’t or even hinting she is something more than she is. Even more mind-bending would be if The Doctor himself created the illusion, fed her the information to get his “younger” self to do certain things. How awesome would that be, The Doctor manipulating himself through River Song.
Hopefully the revelation won’t prove to be less interesting than the payoff.
The Doctor and Amy visit Winston Churchill and discover Britain’s newest weapon against The Nazis–The Ironside. Or as The Doctor knows them, Daleks.
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would give a favorable reference to The Devil.”
How great do those Daleks look?
Yes, I’m talking about the WWII Daleks.
Okay, here’s the deal with Victory of the Daleks and why I think it is a decent, although not great, episode. It has all the hallmarks of a checklist. First, Dalek merchandise sells, and while we are currently in a bit of a financial bother, every dollar counts where BBC Worldwide is concerned. It makes total sense that, with a new Doctor, a new Dalek would be commissioned. Steven Moffat doesn’t own Doctor Who, nor does he call all the shots. The BBC can still demand something. Thus, it makes total sense for the BBC wanting new Daleks for new merchandise. That’s one of the dominant fan-theories for the redesign. So, this is item one–BBC Mandate.
Item two, we have the Russell T. Davies continuity of The Daleks. More specifically, we have had four years of “there-are-no-more-Daleks,-oh-wait-here’s-another-survivor”. The show cannot do this anymore. The Daleks must either go away or they must have a story explaining their re-emergence as a power in galactic history.
Sure, we would like to have a better story than this, but if the BBC mandated a Dalek story, then Moffat must produce a Dalek story. Not wanting to sacrifice all story-telling credibility, he would have to address Item Two from above. Given how tightly Moffat likes to plot things, it makes perfect sense for him to regulate this less-than-desirable story to a single episode. This way, it creates less damage for the series-arc and can quickly be left behind. Plus, we can get a few Dalek cameos in the series finale just to help showcase the new design, whether we like it or not.
Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but the above scenario is what I think happened. I could be completely wrong, but I think the story we get certainly fits.
So, how does one go about writing this particular story with these particular mandates? Mark Gatiss is a fan-favorite writer from the wilderness years of Doctor Who, so he is a perfect choice (plus, he and Moffat are working on Sherlock together, so they understand each other). Gatiss, being a giant Who nerd, seems to have chosen Power of the Daleks as a template. Well, more than a template, actually. He’s blatantly re-adapting it without making it completely obsolete. Power of the Daleks is one of the best Dalek stories, it shows how the Daleks go from complete disadvantage to advantage using nothing more than cunning, and it is a lost episode. Only the die-hards will make the obvious connections. The new generation of fans don’t need to know about Power, and if they ever go back and listen to the audios, then they will see it as an in-joke.
Victory of the Daleks is significantly different from Power in that The Daleks in that the Daleks were not discovered, they were supposedly invented. This is a significant change. Bracewell believes he created The Daleks, when in reality, they created him. This isn’t the first time The Daleks created a humanoid robot.
We learn in this story that Amy has no memory of The Daleks. This references both Doomsday and The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. Steven Moffat is already attempting to undo certain elements of The RTD era. I don’t know if he means it as a criticism of what came before, but I do know he once made comments to the effect of setting Doctor Who back in the universe where it started. I don’t know that he did this, per se, but he has written out a large chunk of RTD Dalek continuity. I’m rather curious what he will do with the pepperpots, but am more than happy to let them be off-screen for a season or two.
I can’t help but wonder at times if Steven Moffat (at least where series five is concerned) is attempting to “one-up” Russell T. Davies. Is he attempting to “do Davies better”. There are quite a few coincidences between the RTD era and Series Five, elements that could be perceived as showing RTD how to do things “properly”. For example, we have a feisty red-head who is a runaway bride. We have a goofy boyfriend who is threatened by, then later “improved by” The Doctor. We have a companion who falls in love with The Doctor. Turn Left gave us a threat as indicated by stars extinguishing, something that also happened in The Big Bang. Refugees fell through rifts and cracks in time (Gelf and Vampires-fish-people). There are many revisited elements between School Reunion and Vampires in Venice (which we’ll address later). We have a series-ending that involves the destruction of all reality. We have a series-long arc setting up a deus ex machina, although in the case of Series Five, the reset button is set up quite a bit better than RTD usually set things up. These may be nothing more than coincidences, but Moffat is definitely using Victory of the Daleks as an opportunity to begin re-writing continuity, primarily the continuity of the last five years. He doesn’t completely reject it, but he does seem to say it no longer matters if it is there. So, in this case, perhaps Series Five is a bit of a patch-up, like one would do when buying a previously owned house.
But, back to the episode. The basic plan of the Daleks (sounds like an episode title) seemed to involve three Dalek survivors trying to convince The Progenitor that they are, indeed, Daleks. Being Dalek technology, it does not recognize their altered DNA (Are they the Daleks from Parting of the Ways with their human/Dalek DNA? Are they the Daleks from Journey’s End, who are cloned from Davros?), so they need a testimony that they are Daleks, and who better to give that testimony than The Doctor, the greatest enemy of The
Daleks. Once this plan is revealed and The Progenitor activated, the episode starts to lose something. The World War II setting is really incidental. It could have been Rome. It could have been Alexander The Great’s Greece. It could have been Daleks at The Battle of Hastings posing as gods. Instead, it is WWII, a cool setting in general, but wouldn’t we rather see Daleks fighting with The Nazis or Daleks involved in a WWII story that makes the setting a major point of the plot? Perhaps The Daleks see The Nazis as a human version of themselves and want to use them to help conquer the planet? I don’t have any real suggestions, but it seems to me that we’ve wasted both an opportunity for an historical about Churchill AND a story about Daleks involved in World War II, rather than Daleks just trying to rebuild their army with a glorified cloning machine.
Honestly, by this point, I hardly see the need to criticize the rest of the episode. It hardly matters, the dogfight in space, the disarming of the Bracewell bomb. By this point, the story has already shown its stripes, and those stripes don’t seem to want to be taken too seriously. Don’t think I am attacking Gatiss, because I’m not. Writing is hard work and screen-writing has to go through many people, from producers to editors to directors. Quite a bit can change from page to screen. In addition to this, if my theory of the conception of this episode is in any way accurate, Gatiss did a good job of plotting and writing a story that probably, initially, wasn’t really wanted. Even convincing Bracewell to go against his android nature and use his happy thoughts to disarm the bomb works as a type of thematic foreshadowing to the series finale where Amy remembers The Doctor. Is it magic? Yes, but Steven Moffat doesn’t seem to have a problem with magic in Doctor Who, so long as it is set up in advance. Judging by fan reaction in general (to magic, not this episode), I think the majority would agree.
And no, I don’t much care for the new Daleks. They look too plastic and bulky. Not sure about the colors. I would like to see them in a different design with the colors before making a final opinion on that.
So, in the final analysis, did I like the episode. Inexplicably, yes. Sure, I have problems with it and I don’t think it is anywhere near as good as it could have been. But for some reason, I still enjoyed it. Maybe it was down to the performances.
Addendum. I thought of this last night while I was trying (unsuccessfully) to fall asleep. One of the recurring elements in this episode is Churchill pleading with The Doctor regarding The TARDIS. Churchill wants to win the war and knows The Doctor has technology that would enable a victory. Even after The Daleks leave, The Doctor dismantles the spitfires. “It’s now how it works,” The Doctor continually chides Churchill. This attitude seems in stark contrast with the rest of the Moffat era (up to this point), which makes a big deal about time being re-written. Is this a contradiction? Perhaps not. Theory number one is that The Doctor’s continual insistence is a character stance. At this point, The Doctor doesn’t know history can be re-written, so Victory could indicate his old belief, which is about to be challenged and changed. Theory number two is that the rest of the Moffat era will show that time can be re-written, but HISTORY cannot. Thus, in Victory, we are being told that Earth history cannot be re-written, but future history (and fictional present history) can. If the former theory is true, it isn’t quite clear enough to come across. If the latter, it is also not clear, and a heavy-handed way of addressing the old dilemma in Doctor Who of “if history can’t be changed, why does the Doctor interfere with future-history and change it all the time?” Surely all the alien planets The Doctor visits have their own history? If either of these theories are true, I don’t think they work, but I prefer the first one, even if it doesn’t quite come across.
I also couldn’t help but wonder if, in allowing Bracewell to escape in the end, The Doctor was already planning on visiting a time when Bracewell died to make sure the technology that made him was disposed of properly. We’ll just assume that he does.
The Doctor and Amy find Starship UK, a ship transporting the survivors of Britain to a new planet.
Amy: What are you going to do? Doctor: What I always do. Stay out of trouble. Badly.
The Beast Below is a different story from Steven Moffat’s usual writing. Time travel is not a narrative device. There are clues to what is going on, but the mystery and resolution are nowhere near as complex as the usual tale he weaves. Honestly, for Moffat, this story is quite pedestrian. He is obviously riffing on The Ark in Space and, to a lesser extent, The Ark. The Earth has been made inhospitable due to solar flares, humanity has gone in search of a new home. Rather straightforward stuff, but the twist involves the dark secret that is at the heart of the police state of Starship UK.
The police state is represented by The Smilers, part clockwork men, part humans. The role of The Smilers is observation and enforcement of rules. Honestly, we shouldn’t think about The Smilers and the police state too closely. They are representative of something being wrong, even filling the role of danger and menace, but the more you consider how Starship UK became a police state, a police state that seems to have the sole purpose of hiding the existence of the Space Whale, you start to realize how many unanswered questions and holes exist in this plot. This can be frustrating. Doctor Who has always had plot holes, but often the world-building was thorough enough that we would often turn a blind eye (or make knowing jokes). Modern Doctor Who shows itself to be just as influenced by shows like The X-Files and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer as by the classic series. Plot-arcs with the occasional alien-of-the-week stories. The new series format doesn’t easily lend itself to the world-building of the past, and in the two parters (where you genuinely have the time to do so) telling epic and cinematic stories seem to be the higher priority. So, by its very format, new Who is probably going to have plot holes because we can’t linger too long on any individual detail since doing so would kill the momentum of the 45 minutes. With this in mind, we have no choice but to ignore questions like the ones above. How did the police state come into existence? Are the people cowed by more than just forgetting? We must move forward and not concern ourselves with details such as these. We have bigger things happening. Besides, look at our wonderful production values! Doctor Who has never had that before, eh?
“And once every five years everyone chooses to forget what they’ve learned. Democracy in action.”
I have seen reviews claim this story is a critique of British politics. I can’t make any claim to this, being from the US, but I can find an alternate meaning for those of us not living in the UK. Humanity will naturally exploit that which enables it to survive or achieve a certain amount of luxury. It doesn’t matter if you take the Space Whale to be a metaphor for climate, ecological stability, foreign labor, or even constant tinkering to improve the natural world. We constantly exercise dominion over the world, often to the detriment of the world or ourselves. In the case of The Beast Below, this is Britain subduing and torturing the Space Whale to take them to a new planet, an act that the whale would gladly do without the torture. In practical terms, this could be deforestation to create places of commerce or provide lumber and resources to societies that demand it. It could represent sweat shops where our clothing is made. We turn a blind eye to what becomes the support of our society, ignoring those who suffer for our comfort and security. We choose to forget. Keep in mind that the video Amy watches reminds voters that protesting would discontinue the program, “with consequences to you all.” This is a vague threat. Yes, it could mean we all die, but it could easily mean that our way of living would be over. The announcer goes on to say that forgetting would “allow you to continue to enjoy the safety and amenities of Starship UK.” The appeal is to safety and comfort.
In the end, this episode isn’t as grandiose as many of Moffat’s other stories. It tries to establish a bit more characterization for The Doctor, much in the same way The End of the World did way back in 2005. The atmosphere in the first half is rather nice and ominous, and The Smilers look wonderful . . . when they are in their hooded, human form. The Beast Below tries to make a statement, but is vague enough that you can get multiple meanings out of it, so long as the core of “humans can do some horrible things” is still maintained. But I get the impression Moffat is still easing us in to his reign.
And it looks like the next episode involves Winston Churchill and The Daleks. Nothing could possibly go wrong there, eh?
Once upon a time, young Amelia Pond met a mad man in a blue box.
A friend of mine recently asked where he should start with Doctor Who. Knowing that most modern viewers can’t stomach the pacing and lack of color of The Hartnell Era, I figured it wasn’t good to start with An Unearthly Child. And lets face it, Doctor Who really isn’t the same show anymore. Sure, there are similar elements, but the show has evolved in its nearly 50 years of existence. This serves to keep it fresh, on the one hand, but also serves to estrange and isolate if you like certain eras more than others. There is the opinion in fandom that any Who is good Who, but I don’t think this opinion is necessary. Like Neil Gaiman, I believe some actors really were The Doctor, others were actors playing The Doctor, and others still were only actors. So, while I may think The Hartnell Era is the ideal start for Doctor Who, I understand that my friend may need another starting point. I went with Rose, because for all Russell T. Davies’ faults, he crafted a great way to introduce Doctor Who to a new generation. He didn’t bog it down in continuity, introducing elements gradually. He drew quite a bit of inspiration from The Hartnell Era, even if it isn’t obvious on first viewing.
So, if this is a review of The Eleventh Hour, why am I talking about Hartnell and Rose? Because The Eleventh Hour is not a good introduction due to one scene: the pre-title sequence. The TARDIS is out of control and plummeting to the Earth. This follows on from the regeneration sequence of The End of Time, and thus serves to link it directly to what came before. A new viewer will immediately want to know what is happening. How did The Doctor arrive in this situation, and, frankly, why should I care? Supposedly Steven Moffatt wrote this scene at the behest of the BBC, an attempt to link it to what came before, but it more effectively takes the viewer out of the show. Besides, if you hated The End of Time, this only serves as an unpleasant reminder.
Truth be told, I think Steven Moffatt has an unenviable task in this episode. While Rose served to introduce a new generation to the basic mechanics of Doctor Who, The Eleventh Hour must follow a wildly successful run on a show that, for this same generation, has had only one creative force behind it. I don’t know that Doctor Who was ever as popular as it was under RTD and Tennant, and that includes Dalek-mania. And so we have a show-runner who defined the new show, and a Doctor that has won the hearts of many children and women (and some men) and both have stepped down and moved on. Steven Moffatt was a fan favorite writer during the RTD era, so he was an ideal choice for follow-up, but his style of storytelling is a far cry from RTD. Moffatt likes tightly constructed plots with seemingly unconnected elements converging into a unified whole with a healthy dose of horror and time-travel. On paper, this sounds rather exciting. But if Blink, the characterization of River Song in Silence of the Library, and the miniseries Jekyll are any indication, Steven Moffatt’s biggest weakness is his awareness of his own cleverness. While I thought Jekyll had many strengths, what constantly annoyed me about the series was how thoroughly clever the show’s dialogue felt. Don’t get me wrong, I like good dialogue, but I don’t like it when the show seems to know when it has good dialogue. It draws attention to itself. It takes you out of the show.
With The Eleventh Hour, Moffatt must start his new era of Doctor Who while somehow assuring fans of the RTD era that this is the same show. And make no mistake, Moffatt wants to assure fans of classic Doctor Who that he is also on their side. So, how does it fare?
For me, it is a mixed bag. I must admit that the episode is growing on me, but it has taken repeated viewings. First, I confess to not really enjoying the food sequence. Yes, I realize that this was done primarily for the kids, but it still feels overdone to me. Apples, bacon, beans, toast, fish and custard. In general, the rule of three is a good guideline for pacing. Two attempts (at most three) with a final success. Steven Moffatt is building the tone of this season as a fairy tale, and the number three is woven through fairy tales. Goldilocks and the three bears, three wishes from the genie, tasks or trials in fairy tales tend to number three. And let’s not forget The Three Little Pigs. I can’t say for sure I would enjoy the sequence any more if it had followed the rule, but I would probably be more likely to give it to him. As it stands, it comes across as a scene about a funny adult doing funny things, which will certainly ingratiate you to children faster, but will it really make them think you are safe?
Okay, I’ll bring it up now. Matt Smith is young. Yes, he is a very good actor, but he is young. This show needs The Doctor to have authority. The Doctor must make children feel safe, especially if we are going into the horror realm, which Steven Moffatt seems to love so much. One of the constant justifications of the horror in the Hinchcliff/Holmes era is that children, despite being scared, feel safe because they know The Doctor will win. They know The Doctor is in control. They know The Doctor is an authority figure like their parents and that they will be safe. I don’t think Smith’s age would stand out so much in this sequence if not for the eleven year old girl who needs him to be the parent. Their first meeting involves him droning on about apples and libraries in swimming pools. The look on young Amelia’s face says it all, “you, sir, are very strange.”
Thankfully, once we get past the silliness, the story picks back up. The scene between The Doctor and Amelia at the kitchen table is quite touching, due primarily to Caitlin Blackwood. She is an excellent actress. This is the first of many wonderful scenes that she will steal. Amelia Pond, has no parents, lives with her aunt. Again, fairy tale. But also very Doctor Who — a convenient orphan who meets The Doctor and is ready and willing to travel with him. Thankfully, Steven Moffatt will turn this particular element on its head. We rush upstairs to confront the crack in Amelia’s wall, a jagged line that we will see multiple times this season. It is a crack in time and space. At this point in the season, it is almost like a magic door, enabling two different points in space to be connected. One could even pass through the crack. We discover later that it has a second property: it erases things from existence. Exactly what causes each property to manifest isn’t yet known, and I’m not entirely sure Steven Moffatt plans to divulge this. The crack is just a threat, a symptom of a larger dilemma. Why it allows us to see a prison cell in one instance, and time-and-space-consuming light in other instances is not that important to the story. It’s a magic crack. It does what the author needs it to do.
I still get a bit choked up when Amelia, having been assured that The Doctor will return in five minutes, packs her little suitcase and goes into the yard to wait. She trusts him implicitly, more than any other adult she has known. And he lets her down. This scene
carries the weight of every disappointment we have ever had, when we had the audacity to become excited about something that was not to be. We sit, on our suitcase, hopefully facing that which we anticipate, a dark, dangerous house looming behind us. A failed job interview, a failed relationship, the death of a loved one, we look toward that which we hope will take us away, ever-aware of the threat of the mundanity and potential hopelessness of life which stands behind us. The Doctor is freedom and danger on our terms. The house is danger and sadness that we cannot control. The old life versus the new. And The Doctor fails to arrive. At least, not when we expect him to.
“Do I have face that no one listens to? Again?”
Once we get to the main threat of the episode, Prisoner Zero and the destruction of the Earth, the episode starts to pick up. We have this juxtaposed with Amy’s distrust of the adult she trusted, an adult who is now closer to her own age (in appearance anyway). There are definite hints of Troughton in Smith’s performance. He is very animated, constantly moving. He is somewhat bumbling, where Troughton was bumbling but always seemed to know what was going on as he tried to co-ordinate the situation toward a specific end. At this point, Smith is Troughton without the subtle manipulation. In much of The Eleventh Hour, The Doctor seems to be rushing to catch up, formulating on the fly. The reason given is the regeneration trauma, also a plot device meant to reassure fans of the previous era. There are definite Tennant-isms as Moffatt moves The Doctor between
incarnations. In this instance, Moffatt is being much more subtle than even Troughton was when he took on the role after Hartnell. The Second Doctor just gets right to it. It is only during the JNT era when we start having major regeneration trauma. Well, there is The Third Doctor, I suppose, who had a bit of trauma. But I’m chalking that up to the trial, forced regeneration, and exile. My blog, my prerogative.
Even at this early stage, I love Rory Williams. Rory is Steven Moffatt’s riff on the companion’s boyfriend, the one who has every reason to be threatened by The Doctor. Rory is the new season’s Mickey. And yet, there are definite differences. Mickey, in series one, was truly an idiot. He was content with the life he had and The Doctor upset that. While we have every indication that Rory is also happy, he is not an idiot. He may be a bit nervous and get tongue tied, he may not have had experiences to make him grow into a more dominant figure (and truly, with Amy as his girlfriend, he has most-likely been dominated into submission by her force of will), but he is observant and intelligent. We are told he is a good nurse, even if Doctor Ramsden loses her patience with him. Apart from The Doctor, Rory is the only other person in this story who notices something is wrong. The Doctor has more pieces, but Rory’s observation is crucial: coma patients seem to be walking around town. Sadly, no one believes him. Thankfully, The Doctor seems to see that Rory isn’t an idiot and doesn’t really treat him as such. He is firm, to keep the man focused, but he isn’t smug and patronizing like previous Doctors.
I absolutely love the speech The Doctor gives to Jeff. Sure, maybe it is Murray Gold’s inspiring music swelling in the background, but for the last few season of Doctor Who we have been told that The Doctor makes people better by showing them a different way of living. The Doctor is Jesus, basically. But here we have something different. Yes, Jeff’s life could very well improve after this. Opportunities can arise. The difference is that The Doctor gives Jeff an opportunity to grow here and now, not by traveling to distant planets or other periods in time. This could be anyone. As The Doctor said when Jeff asked why he was chosen, “It’s your bedroom.” There is no exclusivity. No, not everyone can travel on board The TARDIS, but everyone has an opportunity to fly.
Even Jeff, providing he gives up the porn.
“Did he just save the world from aliens and then bring all the aliens back?
We are breaking in a new Doctor and a new creative staff. As such, a heavy plot is not entirely necessary. Sure, we have end of the world stuff going on, and while Steven
Moffatt plays fair with the end of the world stuff, he is more interested in setting up the arc. But that doesn’t mean he skimps on plot. As is typical with Moffatt, we have many different threads that pull together in the end. Even The Doctor’s resolution of The Prisoner Zero crisis is carefully planned and quite clever. There are no super weapons. No crazy gadgets. Just a simple computer virus that sets every number to zero (i.e. Prisoner Zero), a virus that can be traced to Rory’s phone, which also has photos of all the coma patients as they walk around town. The Atraxi can sort it all out. Quite clever, I think. Prisoner Zero then takes Amy’s form (somewhat), which pads the plot out a bit more. I don’t know that it was entirely necessary to have the “and-we-stopped-him-oh-wait-no-we-didn’t” moment, but it does bring the threat just a bit closer to home for The Doctor.
The remaining moments in the hospital are for fans of both the old and new show, with references to Spearhead from Space as The Doctor steals clothes from a hospital, shots of all ten Doctors and various alien menaces from the new show and a few from the old. All carefully crafted to tell the viewers that nothing has really changed, so long as you keep in mind the tradition that has led us here. On this particular point, there is still disagreement among some fans. Is it the same? I believe it all depends on what constitutes “proper” Doctor Who. As part of a tradition, sure, you can make a good case for it. If certain eras define “proper” Doctor Who, however, there will be some agreement but much more disagreement. As long as they tell good stories, I’m sure I can silence my inner contrarian.
Silence will fall?
Series Six debuts about three weeks from now. I’m apprehensive. Looking back over this episode, I can say I enjoyed it. Looking back over the entire season, which I hope to review in the coming weeks, I remember enjoying that as well. Why should I be apprehensive of the new series? I think it is because Steven Moffatt hasn’t entirely won me over yet. I confess that I really disliked series four and the specials. I was ready for RTD and Tennant to leave. In my mind, the ideal way to experience series four and the specials is to listen to the soundtracks and imagine whatever ending you prefer. Murray Gold was able to effectively distill the emotion of Tennant’s last 18 episodes into music, which tells its own story. It compliments the episodes, but can also work effectively without them. How much of my enjoyment of series five was due to my desire for something different? I know I can’t expect Doctor Who to have the same magic it did during the Hartnell and Troughton eras. I know the show has and will continue to evolve and change. It regenerates just as The Doctor does. But I still don’t believe, at this point, that it is the same show. Each new era brings with it a new dynamic, some more drastically different than others. And while this really didn’t make much of a difference in the beginning for a variety of reasons*, the show has moved into an era of storytelling which luxuriates in continuity and internal mythology. Look at how tightly Steven Moffat crafted series five. Details are important, references are important. RTD played in mythology, both as a storytelling device and crafting a mythology for what happened while the show was away, The Last Great Time War which was fought off-screen. Doctor Who now exists with its own internal mythology that has been retconned voraciously since fandom began writing for the show (JNT era, New and Missing Adventures, EDAs and PDAs, New Who). If the show had been created in 2005, not merely revived, all these mythological details would be hammered out. Instead, we have a show that gets a reboot every three to five years, and each reboot brings a new storytelling style and interpretation of the essence of Doctor Who. It will, by virtue of the diversity of fandom, continually change and contradict itself. Even should rules be established, they will be broken. Not “may”, but “will.” As of A Christmas Carol, Steven Moffatt shows no interest in maintaining the rules established by David Whitaker. But, neither did Dennis Spooner 4X years ago.
But I’m just rambling on now. Ultimately, the quality of the stories is what matters most. Opinions of “proper” Doctor Who are as varied as the fandom that watches the show. The Eleventh Hour works for me, barring the intro sequence and the fish custard sequence. It serves to introduce the new characters, establish some groundwork for the arc, and set a tone. The Doctor, Amy, and Rory (well, soon if not immediately), Silence and River Song, fairytale, time travel, and horror. It remains to be seen if these will be Moffatt’s opening statements, or the entirety of his era.