Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fish Fingers and Custard

Last night, BBC America premiered the fifth season of the revived version of Doctor Who. Along with the new series, it marked the first episode in which the role of the Doctor was played by the former unknown Matt Smith. (Of course, the episode actually premiered in the UK two weeks ago.)

Smith is the eleventh actor to play the role of the Doctor officially. The Doctor is an alien who can heal himself when he is fatally wounded or dying, but in doing so changes his body, and to some extent, his personality. This is why the show has had over 30 years on television, over a 47 year period that included a 16 year hiatus. Filming at 27, Smith is the youngest actor to play the role.

In addition to a new star, the lead producer and writer ("showrunner" as they are called in the UK) has been changed with writer Stephen Moffat, who penned the mini-series Jekyll, as well as previous Who episodes such as "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace."

The story opens with the Doctor's TARDIS crashing through time (and the skies of London) before crash landing just outside the home of Amelia Pond, a little girl who lives in Leadworth, England. Amelia has been concerned about a crack in her bedroom wall, and observing it, the Doctor, who is still recovering from his recent regeneration, discovers that it is a crack in time and space, and deduces that it leads to a prison. A giant eye is seen in the crack, claiming that "Prisoner Zero has escaped." Before the Doctor can do anything else, he discovers the TARDIS will self-destruct unless he vents the engine by taking a quick travel through time. He promises Amelia to return in five minutes.

When the Doctor returns, he can't find anyone in the house, until he is unexpectedly hit with a cricket bat. Recovering from the blow, he discovers the resident, who tells him Amelia moved out six months ago. Soon, he exposes the presence of Prisoner Zero, a serpentine multiform alien who soon assumes the shape of a man and a dog. The Doctor manages to make the new homeowner let him go, and they both run out before the Doctor realizes the shed the TARDIS had destroyed on his first visit has been replaced. He quickly deduces that it has been there twelve years. Amelia is now Amy Pond, a "kissogram."

Amy and the Doctor quickly discover that all radios and televisions are broadcasting the message "Prisoner Zero will vacate the human residence, or the human residence will be incinerated." The Doctor realizes that the aliens, a space police force called the Atraxi, are referring to the Earth. With only twenty minutes to spare, the Doctor must find Prisoner Zero and make the Atraxi take him, or it's the end of the world.

"The Eleventh Hour" offers some excellent writing, if this is your kind of show. Though the episode runs at a special length to introduce the new Doctor, his new companion Amy, his redesigned TARDIS (a time machine/space ship that looks like a common 1950's police call box on the outside), and the new sonic screwdriver, it manages to retain a tight plot, and keep the audience interested.

Matt Smith is excellent as the Doctor, bursting with energy, keeping a keen eye for investigation to rival Sherlock Holmes, and yet, he manages to feel like a continuation of the same character fans have been watching all along. Karen Gillan as Amy Pond is also amazing, and very easy on the eyes. Amy is strong willed, and even when she gets into a tight spot, manages to not feel like the typical damsel in distress. (Particularly as her boyfriend happens to be in the same tight spot.) Gillan's cousin Caitlin Blackwood plays the younger Amelia, and does it amazingly well for a child actress, setting up the strong companion who we'll see later.

If you've been a fan of Doctor Who for years, you will love this episode. If you're just curious, I think this would be a good episode to start with.