Friday, August 20, 2010

The Eleventh Hour - An Exciting New Beginning

"I have 20 minutes to save the world and I have a Post Office....and it's shut!"
This is the start of a series of articles I will write on Series Five of Doctor Who. Although I saw all the episodes already, I am going through them again as I view the episodes from the UK vanilla Blu Ray discs.

The official BBC description for The Eleventh Hour:

The Doctor has regenerated into a brand new man, but danger strikes before he can even recover. With the TARDIS wrecked, and the sonic screwdriver destroyed, the new Doctor has just 20 minutes to save the whole world - and only Amy Pond to help him.

The Eleventh Hour could possibly be the most important episode for the series since it came back in 2005. From this episode on, all the key players have changed. Russell T. Davies moved on and Steven Moffat takes over as Executive Producer and Head Writer. We get a new companion played by Karen Gillan named Amy Pond. Perhaps most importantly, Matt Smith takes over the role of Doctor Who from David Tennant. Tennant’s role in Doctor Who’s popularity can not be over looked. He really did raise the profile of the series. While Tennant was the Doctor, the series managed to be number 1 in the ratings a couple of times. Not bad for a series over 45 years old. I wonder what William Hartnell would have thought of that? Anyway, Matt Smith was taking over from a very popular Doctor. His work was cut out for him. (There was no way I could end that sentence without a cliché!)
I was kind of nervous prior to seeing The Eleventh Hour. I was always supportive of the casting of Matt Smith and didn’t care if he was in his twenties. Some said that was too young. What frightened me was the end of The End of Time Part Two. His voice cracked and he was all over the place. I get that the character had just regenerated but I wasn’t a big fan of his first couple of lines. Now, to be fair, the TARDIS was exploding around him with loud crashing sounds and bits of debris flying into his mouth. No one is going to give their best performance under those conditions. Any concerns I had about Smith soon dissolved…..
His first line about apples in The Eleventh Hour was beaming with confidence. When he was on screen, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He commanded the screen. I kept watching the episode with a giddy smile on my face thinking this is the future of Doctor Who. Matt Smith is simply brilliant as Doctor Who. He brings a natural eccentricity to the role that I haven’t seen since Tom Baker. I can’t believe my favourite show was lucky enough to get someone like him. A good actor alone does not make a good series. What about the writing?

This is an extremely strong episode to start Series Five. It has great comedic moments but without being silly. There is some good action and good use of the village as its locale. This is a nice change from the last four previous series as those were all set in London or big cities and most locations for Series Five have a more intimate setting. The threat is reasonable in the form of Prisoner Zero. It is someone on the run and the Atraxi are trying to hunt him down and will destroy the Earth rather than let him get away. It’s a threat that seems containable within the period of the episode. I think it was a good idea to not have the new Doctor to suffer from post regenerative symptoms. He does not have amnesia nor does any silly impersonations of previous Doctors. He notes that he’s not done cooking. This really helps get the story moving.
Steven Moffat has put new people behind the camera to give the series a different approach. Adam Smith directs the episode and we start to see shots that we haven’t seen in previous series. The lighting and colour palette for the episode is different and it’s a nice change. Don’t get me wrong, the RTD era episodes are fantastic. They are well produced and look great. It’s just nice to see things changed up. It’s also interesting that Murray Gold still is the composer but he disposes of all of the musical themes he had created over the past 5 years and all new music is used. It’s all very fairy tale in feel which is what Moffat was going for. I was dubious of this approach when I first heard of this but I am now a big fan. I think Murray has created some of the best themes for music in Doctor Who and in this episode I start to miss them. By the time we get to the end of the series, I love the new direction and feel the music has evolved.
Karen Gillan as Amy Pond has a strong debut too. We see the character in two forms. We first meet her as a child going by the name Amelia and then later as a grown up called Amy. Immediately, it is obvious something is different with this character. She is basically alone apart from an Aunt we do not meet. But the big reveal is at the end of the episode, after the TARDIS takes off with Amy on board that we see back into Amy’s room. The camera pans over countless figures and drawing of her childhood imaginary friend, The Raggedy Doctor, and stops on Amy’s wedding dress. She is to be married the next day.
In every first Doctor story, it seems that we have a checklist of what must be accomplished in the story. Here is a list of those items which happen but are not done in the traditional Doctor Who manner because Moffat is creative and wants to do things more creatively:
Meeting the new companion. As mentioned above, we first meet her as a child. She lives 12 years of her life before the Doctor returns. When he does, we find out that he has greatly impacted her life and he is considered as an imaginary friend. The Raggedy Doctor.
Seeing himself for the first time. Instead of looking into mirrors and making comments about noses or ears, it is Prisoner Zero who takes the form of Amelia who is holding hands with the Raggedy Doctor. The Doctor sees this guy and says, “That’s rubbish. Who’s that suppose to be?” Rory responds, “It’s you. You don’t know what you like?” It’s nice levity when the scene is tense.
Picking the Doctor’s new costume. This hasn’t happened in any of the post regeneration stories since the series returned but in the past the Doctor tries on a load of the old Doctor’s costumes. I am not sure why that ever originated but it is unnecessary. Here the Doctor is going to address the Atraxi and wants to be better dressed so he raids a locker room in the hospital to find the appropriate attire. Very reasonable I thought.
Some things I thought the episode fell down on were the effects. It seems to me that the individual episodes of Series Five do not have the same budget as the Specials. I would assume money is tight and some of the effects are just not as good as some others such as the exquisite Waters of Mars. The Atraxi eyeball ships are kind of silly looking as they are big eyeballs surrounding by tin foil. I was also disappointed with some of the continuity. When I say continuity, I don’t mean established story facts, I mean production continuity. For example, in the scene when the Doctor tells the Atraxi to push off when they are meeting on the hospital roof, the TARDIS key starts illuminating as it is finished. The way the scene plays out we get a long shot of the Atraxi taking off and as they do so, the Doctor reaches in his jacket pocket. We then cut to a closer shot of the Doctor, without his hand his jacket pocket suddenly becoming alert and reaching into his jacket pocket to get his key. It’s just sloppy from a production stand point. I found a couple of these in a few episodes this series. The big question is, the hospital badge Rory is wearing has the date he joined as 1990. This is impossible. Is that a mistake or is that intended for something down the road……

Now, as any scarf wearing Doctor Who fan, I need to judge some of the new elements introduced in this episode. These are items that appear in the forthcoming episodes. Here we go:
New Logo: I think the new logo is quite nice. It is a nice departure from the previous version. I wasn’t sure to think of it when I first saw it but now I really like it. Blue is a big part of the new colour scheme and it is very different from the reds that were used a lot in the previous series. I prefer the banner version of the logo opposed to the stack. I was unimpressed when I saw it in the title sequence but I was watching it from heavily compressed avi files. Now that I am watching it from the vanilla Blu Ray, it is very good. It is metallic and reflective from the fiery affects going on around it.

New Title Sequence: It is good. I think the animation is of a higher quality than the previous version. Though, it better be since the previous one was conceived over five years ago. The clouds are very realistic. My only complaint is that it is the same as the previous title sequence just with different graphics. It’s not very original. I wonder if this sequence will be changed when we get the Christmas special or Series Six.

Here is a link to Framestore's web site with the full version of the title sequence. They had very little time to get it together before the start of Series Five. Go here to view title sequence.

New Title Music: It grew on me. It really is a new take on the theme music. I didn’t really care for it at first. The base line is still there but almost non-existent. It also seems like Murray took his inspiration from Dominic Glynn’s Trial of a Time Lord version of the theme. Now, I actually quite like it and often find myself humming it. Not the Doctor Who theme, THAT version of the Doctor Who theme.

New TARDIS Exterior/Interior: The police box is nice and new looking. It looks beautiful in HD. Especially the way that not only the windows light up but so does the FREE FOR USE OF PUBLIC sign. The Police Box also sees the return of the St. Johns Ambulance badge. The window frames are white and although I prefer the blue, this does look nice.
The interior is also quite nice. It has shiny copper walls and copper over hangs. The console sits on a completely different level. The only thing I don’t like is console itself. It just fails to impress me. I also think that having 2 levels actually makes the console room look smaller.
The Doctor’s Outfit: That’s more like it. It not only fits Matt’s character of the Doctor, it fit THE character of the Doctor. It is perfect and has no question marks.

I am viewing these episodes from the Vanilla Blu Ray discs. The episode is gorgeous and very clear with an amazing amount of detail. The only thing that sucks is that these episodes, and the episodes on the forthcoming boxset, do not have the NEXT TIME trailers. I don’t really miss them but what we do miss is the trailer at the end of The Eleventh Hour that is a nice preview of what’s to come with a nice voice over from Amy Pond.
Regardless, The Eleventh Hour is a bold confident new start for the next era of Doctor Who. May this era endure for many years to come!

Next Week: On Sunday I will post a small review on the second episode of Series Five, The Beast Below. I never had time to write anything up for Live and Let Die but I will post next week on an episode of the Nigel Kneale classic series Beasts. The episode is Buddyboy!


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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