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Dr Who: The Eleventh Hour
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lil_shepherd
I've never been a fan of NuWho. Hell, I've never been a real fan of classic Dr Who, though there are episodes and serials I've enjoyed. Of the rebooted series, I quite liked Nine, but I detested Rose-the-Chav. I disliked Ten intensely - I'm not sure if it was Tennant's gurning or the self-obsession that annoyed me most. There was nothing admirable about Ten, who never really considered his effect on anyone or anything else.

Then there were the scripts, which, unless written by Moffat or Cornell, were totally unoriginal, often illogical, rarely convincing, and full of some truly awful whimsy and even worse jokes. Above all, I could not take the obsession with family, the hatred of middle-aged women, London (and the masquerading of Cardiff-as-London was never convincing) and Rose-as-one-true-love. Often these scripts were bad fanfic written by fan-haters (of which Love and Monsters was by far the worst). Dr Who has always been Science Fantasy rather than Science Fiction but few of the writers seemed to realise that all fantasy needs to obey its own internal logic - if anything is possible then there is no surprise and no tension.

So here we have a whole set of changes - Moffat is now in charge of affairs and Moffat has always been subversive of the Rose romantic involvement. He it was who brought both Reinette and River Song into the Doctor's life.

I don't know how much more Moffat wishes to change Dr Who - rather a lot, I personally hope - but if he does he cannot do it all at once. Indeed, my suspicion is that he is in this for the long haul (he is already commissioning scripts for next season if we are to believe Gaiman), coming back from films and Hollywood to take charge of Who. He must not kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs for the Beeb, so any important changes will be gradual.

This episode is a starting point. Its job is to establish the newly regenerated Doctor, the new companion, their relationship, and the new TARDIS (all signalled from the first by new credits and new musical arrangements, not to mention a new and fresher colour pallete) all the while reassuring RTD/Tennant fans that nothing much has changed while promising those who weren't happy with the last status quo that there were going to be changes and reassuring BBC execs that they had made the right choice. Meanwhile he has to amuse the kiddiwinks, scare the pre-teens, excite the teenagers and intrigue adults and satisfy the canon-savvy fans. None of these people are going to give him an inch of leeway.

You can see Moffat ticking the boxes; silly food sequence to amuse the kids, monster with big teeth to scare the pre-teens, lots of running and driving around - in a fire engine! - and a countdown for teenage excitement, and a clever twist on the use of mobile phones and computers for the adults. Then there's the old-time fan service, with the Doctor being hit by a cricket bat and getting his outfit a la Pertwee! There are aliens, an English village out of The Avengers, lots of good one-liners and the Doctor saving the day by using his brain.

There is nothing original about the plot, which uses both previous Moffat and borrowed RTD elements (and that reassures the BBC execs and the Rusty-worshippers) but that's not the point of the episode. Thanks to its internal logic, it works. It also works because, with so much else unfamiliar, the familiar plot points help anchor the show in this, its - hopefully transitional - phase.

What pleases me is that this plot makes sense on its own (rather low-key) terms, and you haven't been able to say that about much Who in the last couple of years.

I also suspect that Smith will lose the Tennant mannerisms that he showed during the regeneration very quickly (these are, of course, traditional.) He's an intelligent and physical Doctor (who touches people a lot) and he moves totally unlike Tennant. He's only handsome from some camera angles, and this is, again, a good thing. The Doctor as sex symbol was introduced by Davies and cannot be taken back, but it may well be played down. Certainly, Amy's relationship with the Doctor is nothing like Rose's or Martha's or Donna's or Jack's or Mickey's. It looks back to Romana and Leela and Sarah Jane, just as Smith's doctor looks back to Troughton, Pertwee and Davidson. One of the things I like most is that he has plainly stopped moping, is reckless rather than suicidal and manic rather than depressive. He's enjoying himself. This is good.

Then there is Amy, who already knows better than to trust the Doctor, whose obsession with him is child-like because it formed as a child, who is bright and beautiful, but whose childhood (and that obsession) have left her unsuccessful as an adult. I note that she's an orphan and that, after his run-ins with Rose's family, Martha's family and Donna's family, it is no surprise that the Doctor thinks this is a good thing. That family obsession has gone. I approve.

And her boyfriend - and may I suggest that he is the audience identification character rather than the RTD tradition of making the companion fill this role - is not totally stupid, though he is played for laughs.

I don't know how this series is going to evolve. There is, FSM help us, a Chris Chibnall double episode to "look forward" to (not), and Mark Gatiss is being given the Daleks to play with. However, there are six Moffat episodes this season, which makes me happy.

There is a heavily signalled 'arc'. I wonder, though, whether this will be subverted. I would not be surprised if it is - but then I really don't know where Dr Who is going, and this makes me more excited about the show than I was when RTD was appointed to revive it. And yes, I was excited about that, because Davies's earlier shows are excellent. That lasted maybe five minutes into Rose. I'm still excited.

Bring on tonight's follow-up!
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I was never bothered very much by the charcters in NewWho; it was the stories I didn't like. They've been more horror than science fiction, at least in the first three series, which are all that I've watched. What I want is shows in which the Doctor works out clever ideas. They might be hokey and implausible -- that's what the show is like -- but they should at least be clever. The last episode I watched was one in which the Master reduced the Doctor to absolute degradation and helplessness for most of the episode, then the Doctor magically fixed everything once he was restored, as an afterthought to the restoration itself. If the show moves far, far away from that kind of episode, I'll consider watching it again.

There are no real sf stories in Who - at least none I can remember. Hence my characterisation of Who as science fantasy. I wouldn't classify most Who as horror, though Blink was and I found it excellent.

Who has always been centred round the characters and the villains, just as it has always been aimed either at children or, as now, at a 'family' audience.

In this particular episode, the Doctor uses his brains quite effectively, despite being in regeneration, and deprived or both TARDIS and sonic screwdriver. (Would that the latter was permanent.)

I loved how there was all that controversy over the companion being a policewoman in a short skirt. I reckon they arranged that on purpose. When it was finally explained I was like "oh - of course!"

Yeah, I was a bit annoyed by the simplicity of the story. It felt a bit too similar to the plot of the Christmas special that marked Tennant's arrival ("it is defended!"). Still, it was good fun and engaging in a way that the previous Doctor Who finale was not. I'm also very excited to see where it goes next.

I see what you mean about Chris Chibnall. I've never seen any of the Torchwood stuff, but his single Doctor Who episode was the entirely unmemorable "42".

"The Idiot's Lantern" wasn't such a bad episode, but it was a little overly reminiscent of other episodes and more impressive for the big bad television monster saying "I'm hungry" than for anything that actually happened. Still I think we can afford to give Mark Gatiss another shot. It can't be worse than Helen Raynor's "Daleks In Manhatten" double-episode.

It can't be worse than Helen Raynor's "Daleks In Manhatten" double-episode.

This is true. Most of Torchwood is appalling (and that is giving it the benefit of the doubt!) but Chibnall's episodes are worse than most.

Certainly, the plot was by far the weakest part of this opening episode but there is only so much a writer can do at this point, and given the heart-wrenching second episode...

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