‘Doctor Who’: ‘The Eleventh Hour’ review

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The first era of the rebooted Doctor Who has passed.

The sound of drums has ceased to be. In the case of the rejigged theme music, that is literally the case: we now have a somewhat spooky Pertwee-type thing going on, full of thunder and smoke. And, of course, that’s not the only thing that’s changed.

Matt Smith has had a case of the Peter Davidsons going on – a relatively unknown, young newcomer, following a phenomenally successful incarnation in the title role – but within sixty minutes, he’s managed to own the role.

Season openers (particularly of genre series) are always a pretty challenging affair, being quite light on story and exposition, and this is no exception, with a plot that was shorter than Amy Pond’s skirt and a lead character who’s still trying out character traits as often as he tries out different flavours. At one point, finding himself the invisible friend of a little girl as he spits yoghurt over her kitchen, you realise that he’s – for the moment at least – channelling Drop Dead Fred. Unless something goes terribly wrong in the next couple of episodes, this is the first Doctor since Patrick Troughton (and remember that name) that is more or less able to hit the ground running moments after regeneration.

It doesn’t really matter who your favourite actor in the role is; within minutes of the TARDIS hurtling over London (in theory, 14 years ago, which will send at least a few fanboys querying the appearance of the Millennium Dome) Smith owns the part. That face is extraordinary, managing to be punk kid not quite in control one second, arrogant Lord of Time the next.

That cocksure confidence is still there, remnants of Tennant’s glee still clinging to him, while (if you want to look for such things) there’s a little of Troughton’s darkness and not being entirely sure what’s actually going on. It’s telling that his first line once he’s first seen in the new costume is both a line that could be borrowed from the Second Doctor’s era, and one that seems sure to sum up Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner: ‘Basically… run!’

It is true that if you look directly at the plot (rather than through the corner of your eye), it doesn’t much hold up, but it doesn’t really need to – we’re meeting your new favourite Doctor and a glorious new companion in Karen Gillan: beautiful, all wide eyes, long legs and mussed up hair. And she knows how to use a pair of handcuffs.

The episode was actually fairly old-fashioned too, with an alien invasion on the village green and the Doctor stealing his new clothes from a hospital. And it’s refreshing that we haven’t gotten so anti-Russell T Davies that we can’t have a few throwaway seedling lines to events later on in the series, from an almost incoherent threat from this week’s Big Bad to a whole mess of uncertainties regarding Amy Pond – her original plans on the day she decides to run off, the fact that she’s an orphan and, most intriguingly, the Doctor’s somewhat upset expression, next to a strange device, as Amy quizzes him on why she has been chosen as a companion. And then he switches the device off. Ah, spoilers…

There wasn’t nearly enough of the wonderful Annette ‘Mrs Victor Meldrew’ Crosbie, although we hope that, being a character that already knows Amy, this won’t be the last time that we see her, and it was cute to see Patrick Moore flirting with her (‘Watch him, he’s a devil’, the timelord warns her, and knowing Doctor Who, that may not be a figure of speech).

The Grand Moff manages to throw in a few kissagram and porn references in, and this may be the first time that the Doctor has ever referred to anything or anybody as ‘sexy’. Throughout the episode, Smith is energetic, smart, funny, inexhaustible, and – yes – sexy.

Trust him. He is the Doctor…

Aired at 6.20pm on Saturday 3rd April 2010 on BBC One.