The choice of Matt Smith as David Tennant’s successor seemed to catch most people by surprise, I think because nobody had ever heard of him before; he seemed too young for the role and looked a bit like John Merrick. Despite this, people were being cautiously optimistic about the return of Doctor Who yesterday because the man in charge of the whole affair is now Stephen Moffat, responsible for writing some of the best episodes during Russell T. Davies’ tenure; Blink and The Girl in the Fireplace to name but two. Given that, the general feeling seemed to go, this Matt Smith tyke must be — at least — tolerable.
So when I started watching The Eleventh Hour, I was very much in a ‘I’ll give him a go’ sort of mood. What I hadn’t expected was for Smith to own the role so completely in such a short space of time. From the moment he’s on screen, Smith is The Doctor. Breathlessly whimsical at times, darkly serious at others, Smith may be the youngest Doctor yet but the age of the character shines through, and he brings a welcome sarcastic edge to the role, despairing at the sight of his beloved humanity watching the end of the world through their camera phones.
As for the episode itself, The Eleventh Hour is made by the quality of the script, Smith’s energetic portrayal and his snappy interactions between both the young and slightly-less-young Amy Pond. The story itself isn’t anything special; it’s largely a re-tread of 2007’s Smith and Jones which also featured a wanted alien criminal and an alien security force indirectly threatening humanity. Nevertheless, it’s a strong start to the series and perhaps a sly dig at some of the episodes from Davies’ series — the Doctor saves the day without using either the TARDIS or his sonic screwdriver, two deus ex machina standbys that have been a bit too easy to rely on in the past.
It helps that Smith is free of the baggage that Tennant’s been carrying around. With an entirely new production team, new TARDIS, new theme tune, new logo and no returning characters or hungover storylines (yet), there’s no mourning for Rose or Donna, no agonising over his attempted genocide of the Daleks or his destruction of Gallifrey and the Time Lords. These were important facets of both Ecclestone’s and Tennant’s Doctor, but Smith feels fresher and lighter without them. While the Ecclestone-Tennant regeneration was all part of the same story (and a useful introduction to Who newcomers to the concept of regeneration itself), The Eleventh Hour is a line in the sand. Everything here is new.