Doctor Who’s Back

SFX‘s first reaction to “The Eleventh Hour”, Matt Smith’s debut as the Doctor [NO SPOILERS]

Last night SFX had the privilege – and it really was a privilege – to watch “The Eleventh Hour”, the first episode of the new Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era of Doctor Who. Some 16 hours have now passed since the episode’s Cardiff premiere, and I reckon the fact that I’m still grinning about it bodes rather well for the new series. This is the best season opener since Who’s 2005 return, both a seamless transition from David Tennant’s regeneration, and the perfect springboard for Matt Smith to make the role his own. It’s a chance he seizes with two gangly, massively expressive hands.

The most remarkable thing about “The Eleventh Hour” is how quickly Smith inhabits the Doctor. His performance is so instantly assured, his mannerisms so quintessentially Time Lordy, that you never really think about the previous guy(s) in the TARDIS – though paradoxically, it’s clear that he’s essentially still the same man. Within minutes you’re feeling that Doctor 11 is someone you’d like to spend a lot more time with, Smith’s impish, occasionally school mastery, often slightly unhinged delivery, and otherworldly presence perfectly in tune with Moffat’s flawlessly constructed words. Any worries you might have had that a 27-year-old is too young to play someone with over 900 years on the clock are forgotten straight away, because Smith’s Doctor has the cocky authority of a man who knows he’s always right – even when he’s wrong.

The story itself is a fun, confident, brilliantly constructed romp, a perfect blend of pure, unashamed adventure and the genius ideas that characterised Moffat’s previous Who scripts (think “Blink” and “The Girl in The Fireplace”). Without going into plot specifics – to spoil anything would diminish the experience – the episode has a little something for everyone, whether it’s a very funny food-based sequence to keep the kids happy, or a roof-top moment that’ll bring a tear to the eyes to die-hard Who fans.

Here’s everything else you need to know about “The Eleventh Hour”:

  • Smith gets straight into the action in a brilliant, Harold Lloyd-inspired crash sequence.
  • Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond has the makings of a fantastic companion. Her meeting with the Doctor exhibits Moffat’s trademark cleverness, while Gillan’s chemistry with Smith is effortless.
  • You find out why her police skirt is quite so short.
  • There are hints at a couple of major plot arcs for the season – but we’ll keep quiet about that.
  • The regenerated TARDIS interior is exquisite – you feel the same wow factor as Amy when she takes her first peek inside.
  • The episode’s packed with so many fantastic one-liners that you’ll never remember them all.
  • Smith’s Doctor gets a chance to mark his arrival in much the same way that Tennant’s did in “The Christmas Invasion”.
  • The alien threat is both funny and scary.
  • The night-time shooting has a wonderful fairytale quality to it – our very own Nick Setchfield described the episode as “The Avengers as made by Hans Christian Andersen”.
  • There’s an unexpected (but brilliant) cameo from a veteran broadcaster. “Watch him,” says the Doctor. “He’s a devil.”
  • When the Doctor says that “bow ties are cool”, you really want to believe him – even if you’re inclined to side with Amy’s scepticism.
  • The sizzle reel we saw for the rest of the series was fantastic: Spitfires in space, Daleks with Union Jack insignia, hillsides packed with Weeping Angels, River Song doing femme fatale and [if you want to read a slight spoiler, highlight the following text]Cybermen looking rather the worse for wear.

Alas, the new credits and theme tune weren’t attached to the print we watched, but everything else we saw gets a resounding thumbs up. Luckily, there’s only two weeks to wait until Doctor Who’s return to BBC One on Saturday 3 April. In the meantime, why not read more about the new series in the current issue of SFX – it’s on sale now, and has a really rather good 3D Matt Smith cover.

Richard Edwards