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Doctor Who XXXI.1: The Eleventh Hour

April 4th, 2010 (03:09 pm)

Much of the effectiveness of Steven Moffat's contribution to the Russell T Davies era of Doctor Who has lain in its presentation of dreams: either characters forced to live nightmare existences, unwaking, such as Jamie and his fellow gas-mask people in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances; or dreams irrupting into real life, whether the Doctor's appearances to Reinette in The Girl in the Fireplace or the presence of the Weeping Angels in Blink. Closing your eyes is dangerous; the nightmares can possess you, but there is a possibility that a good dream will deliver you.

Amelia Pond is seeking rescue - from being an orphan (we presume, but we don't know - clarification will doubtless emerge in later episodes), from her neglectful aunt (who is not a Jackie Tyler figure; whereas the mothers of Rose, Martha and Donna were judgmental presences in their lives, Aunt Sharon is an absence, leaving her seven-year-old niece at home alone, and never referred to by the nineteen-year-old Amy), from England, and from the crack in her wall.

For a lot of viewers, particularly children, that crack in the wall is Doctor Who, coming into our cosy teatime lives with disturbing themes, and waiting for us in our imaginations at night. The impact the nighttime visit of the Doctor has is of course comparable to the impact Doctor Who had for Moffat's generation, and for that section of today's fandom hooked by the horror element in the show, probably between 1967 and 1977. Amy also represents the children who watched Rose in 2005, and are affecting or learning more cynicism as they move into their teens; her dilemma, established at the end of the episode, is a young adult's one, about dealing with responsibility while wanting, as Captain Jack said of Rose in The Empty Child, still to be 'footloose and fancy free'. Rose wanted to avoid entanglements, but Amy allows herself to be tempted out of hers because she is really much closer to her childhood world than she admits.

There's a touch or more of Tom's Midnight Garden in the relationship between the Doctor and Amy, particularly at the end where she dreams the Doctor back into her life at a crucial juncture. Just as Tom's wish for a garden and a friend interacted with the elderly Hatty's dreams of her own childhood as a neglected orphan, Amy dreams before her wedding of her younger self, still waiting at sunrise for the Doctor to return, and feeling betrayed. The Doctor returns to make good his promise on the eve of what society would traditionally have regarded as the day Amy put her childhood firmly behind her; Amy is now triangulated with two different models of masculinity, and feminist critics of Doctor Who's patriarchal stance will have the series on watch to see how Amy negotiates her independence, as she despite the publicity asserting her 'feistiness' and strong-willedness the fact that her personal development has been affected (not necessarily for the better) by a childhood meeting with the Doctor means that the Doctor defines her psychologically in a way that he hasn't other new companions. The best tribute to the impact he has had on her is that Mrs Angelo and Jeff immediately accept that the 'raggedy Doctor' was real, and Rory really does too, even though he doesn't want him to be, as the Doctor is the standard to which he has failed to live up.

The entire programme was a skilful blending of elements from previous Doctor Who, previous Steven Moffat programmes, and other influences on both. Leadworth's English village setting was an Avengerland with a few modern trappings - no facilities except a closed post office - and its hospital (more of a throwback in these days of centralised medical centres, unless it was a specialist unit) combined the gas-mask wards of Albion Hospital in Steven Moffat's first Doctor Who story, with the cottage hospital where the third Doctor was taken in Spearhead from Space, and also with Walker General Hospital from the eighth Doctor's TV Movie appearance. There's a crucial 'Duck!' delivered unorthodoxly, as in Blink, 'timey-wimey', and Amy is the Doctor's little Scottish girl grown up as Reinette in The Girl in the Fireplace was his French girl. Coupling scholars will note the presence of a sexually frustrated Jeff, and Amy is a direct descendant of the archetype of Moffat heroines, Lynda Day of Press Gang. As an orphan living with an absent aunt, she is also something of a Sarah Jane Smith, but her presence is not that of an Elisabeth Sladen, owing more instead to the young Diana Rigg and to Glenda Jackson. The mythology of the RTD era was brought in too, with free references to The Christmas Invasion, appeals to the authority of the Shadow Proclamation, and (from The Age of Steel) in particular but RTD Who in general) the conviction that you can do practically anything with a mobile phone. If the fourth Doctor had known this, Tom Baker might still have been playing the Doctor yet, for that radio telescope from which he fell would surely have been redundant. There was even an actor who last appeared in the series forty-two years ago, the elderly car owner whose vehicle is used to trap the Doctor's tie being played by Arthur Cox, the 'rebellious' Cully in The Dominators.

It's difficult to pin down Matt Smith's Doctor. He inhabited the part immediately; looking back to The Christmas Invasion I found that I thought Tennant's Doctor "superb", but I developed doubts during the course of the 2006 series. Whether I grow reservations about Smith remains to be seen, but where Tennant's Doctor often seemed to be a performance, the Doctor maintaining an air of jollity to disguise the sadness beneath. Smith's seems a much more whole person, much more understated. Together with this the series feels to have lost a little of the joie de vivre it had under RTD and Julie Gardner; but it perhaps had it in excess. For all the reliance on old-fashioned portrait shots, this episode seemed that little bit less engaged with its lead characters than those produced on Russell T Davies's watch, encouraging rather than defying the audience to gain some perspective on them, and then presenting us with mystery; whereas almost all we needed to know about Rose, Martha or Donna was given to us in their debut stories, we have a lot to find out about Amy and Rory yet. While The End of Time presented the tenth Doctor's departure as a death, this Doctor is not really newly-born, but reconfigured; a distance was maintained from the previous story by avoiding a recap or any explanatory narrative about the regeneration (the Doctor talks about his new face, but doesn't explain why), and only acknowledging the departure of the tenth Doctor towards the end in that montage in which the new-look programme presented its genealogy, Tennant's face filling the screen only for Smith to walk through it and proclaim that he was the Doctor.

There was some unevenness of tone, mainly derived from the performances: Nina Wadia's Dr Ramsden was just that little too broad, and likewise Arthur Darvill doesn't seem to have quite found Rory yet, though he's less annoying than Noel Clarke's first attempts at his counterpart Mickey. I appreciated the new, bluer colour palette, and the dreamlike lighting of the night sequences. Caitlin Blackwood was remarkably controlled as Amelia, though. One should also commend the well-behaved dog playing one half of one manifestation of Prisoner Zero.

Obvious changes were the music (not convinced); title sequence (not as varied as I was expecting) and the TARDIS console room. I've seen it described as steampunk, but there's more than an exhaust fume of what has been called 'dieselpunk' there, and some psychedelia in the lava lamp-like display on the one wall; the new console room is a cross between a BBC election coverage set, Richard Hudolin's console room from the TV movie, the Peter Brachacki set from 1963, and the original lab from the 1970s incarnation of The Tomorrow People.

Next week seems to offer a variant on the basic premise of The End of the World; trailers and previews suggest that many of the themes of the first series will be revisited in a way that tries to stretch what from the 2006 series became the formulaic season structure. Like RTD, Steven Moffat knows the power of imagery, but his juxtapositions are more subtle: elements of fairgrounds, the church, urban dystopia and deep space are combined next week. One hopes that Amy (and her nightdress) are made of strong stuff.

The Doctor has ulterior motives for wanting Amy to come with him, one suspects - while the heterosexual male section of the audience already seems unanimous that he could not be blamed for this, it appears that she is part of or contaminated by the crack in the fabric of space-time which ran through her bedroom, as the crack appeared on the screen above the console in the closing TARDIS scene, and the Doctor seemed keen that Amy should not see it. The Pandorica will open...

A correction: Aunt Sharon is referred to by the nineteen-year-old Amy - "You're worse than my aunt!" She's a point of comparison rather than a presence, though.


Posted by: Penny Paperbrain (pennypaperbrain)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)

Yeah, but what we're asking here is did you like it? 'And did you fancy Amy?' adds Ponder, who fancies Amy.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)

Yes, I liked it with a few reservations as stated above. Assure Ponder that Amy is indeed fanciable.

Posted by: Adilo Creamon (the_marquis)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)

Ah but did you(Penny) fancy Amy? ;-)

Edited at 2010-04-04 07:26 pm (UTC)

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)

Edit OK - I knew who you meant... ;)

Posted by: skordh (skordh)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 09:32 pm (UTC)

Very interesting review!

I was also struck by the echoes of Stephen Moffat's earlier Dr Who stories. Another common factor seemed to be the importance of spotting something unobtrusive but significant (an extra door, an extra shadow, ticking despite a stopped clock, a man taking a *different* photo, a statue in a new position).

I thought the setting of Leadworth was very interesting - a contrast to the London setting of Rose and so many RTD stories and a really good way of making a fresh start in new surroundings with a different 'feel'. I began to think "what about the international audience who only know London?" but realised that of course they know at least one other iconic place in Britain: the archetypal English village!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 5th, 2010 12:59 am (UTC)

Thank you! I'd not really processed the unobtrusive-but-significant details and their importance as a Moffat motif. I should also have added - and was reminded by the reviews at Behind the Sofa - that the Atraxi's officious messages from space owed an obvious debt to the Vogons from The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, thus complementing Good Friday's Radio 4 documentary, The Doctor and Douglas. The reviews there are worth looking at, if you've not seen them already.

There's a definite wish to escape Cardiff-as-London this year; though the late addition of the aerial view of London as a pre-credits sequence was probably in part designed to ease the change in locale. Then again, we have London coming up in two weeks, complete with Winston Churchill, so that will please those who like the Doctor identified with recognizable British icons.

Posted by: Lady Summerisle (strange_complex)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
Doctor Caecilius hands

I think that review was well worth skimping on your essay-marking for! Good points especially about the absence of the aunt (quite a relief by this stage, I think) and the way the crack in the wall signifies the impact of Doctor Who breaking in on viewers' lives.

I think you're probably right that Smith's Doctor is more whole, too. Maybe that is partly because a slightly younger man can carry off the manic-ness without it looking like an act, whereas a man in his late thirties will inevitably look like he is play-acting when he does it? I'm not saying it isn't also because Tenannt was deliberately playing it as an act - I think he was. But I mean that his very slightly older-looking face must have helped him to look more convincingly like an over-grown child when he did it.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 5th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
Davison Clock

Thank you! I managed two essays after finishing writing the review - my pace isn't very great, unfortunately.

As for the impact the Doctor has had on Amy, lots of other commentators are picking up on how obsessed she must be, still to have her Doctor finger-puppets out, but there are signs she has been packing - or has she brought them out of that same small suitcase, wishing the Doctor back into her life. There's a lot to play out with Amy, and we're nowhere near having all the pieces yet.

Posted by: Lady Summerisle (strange_complex)
Posted at: April 5th, 2010 08:13 am (UTC)
Girly love Alma Tadema

Actually, in Roman culture, a bride had to give away all her childhood toys on the night before her wedding. So maybe this is a bit like that - one last look before she puts them away for ever?

I rewatched the episode last night on BBC3, and was much more struck the second time around by how important those extra two years are. They have given Amy time to come to terms with the fact that the Doctor is real, which must surely be a great positive reinforcement of her own belief in herself, after years of being told that he wasn't. And she has certainly grown enough to move from being uncomfortable about admitting that Rory is her boyfriend to being ready to marry him (well - we assume it's him!). It means that the Amy we see in next week's episode won't be quite the same as the one we saw this week.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 5th, 2010 10:10 am (UTC)

That's a good point about Amy having changed over two years, which she is bound to have done. I didn't know about Roman cultural practice either, but it does fit.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 7th, 2010 02:08 pm (UTC)

Familiar elements, yes, but it's the former guest chef showing off his signature dishes to tell the audience that he's now in charge.

I expect The Beast Below to start off at a point comparable to The End of the World, but head off in another direction. If it doesn't I'll be disappointed.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 7th, 2010 12:57 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

Interesting review, although I had more mixed views about the story, as I said on my own blog.

Changing the subject slightly, was the 'lost regeneration footage' story in DWM an April Fools hoax? It seemed rather unlikely to me for several reasons even before the name "Augustus Honeybun" turned up, but the fact that my copy of the magazine arrived on 31 March made me slow to realize it could be a hoax.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 7th, 2010 02:20 pm (UTC)
Hartnell words

Most definitely an April Fool's hoax - the photographs can be found somewhere on the internet at an episode guide for the late 1950s crime series Dial 999, Hartnell and Troughton both being guest performers in the same episode.

I dimly remember Gus Honeybun on television from family holidays in the south west when I was small, and of course knew the name from my dedicated study of television listings. I think I was a bit disappointed when I saw him, as Gus Honeybun's Magic Birthdays promised more than Westward's continuity studio could deliver! Running a television archive in Cornwall is exactly what he would be doing now, of course. (Those who don't know who we are talking about should take a look at this picture.)

Edited at 2010-04-07 02:20 pm (UTC)