Friday, May 07, 2010

Eyeballs in the Sky

He's back, and it's on Prime! So it appears we're going to be able to watch the new series of Doctor Who a mere four weeks behind UK transmission, and not the months we'd feared, which is nice. What's less nice is having to watch it on a commercial TV station. This is, of course, something else we're going to have to get used to – it's that or we wait a year for the library to get the DVDs in – but any readers of this blog who were outraged by last week's Unexpected Graham Norton in the cliffhanger, I tell you, you got off lightly.

Admittedly Prime's “Next” caption doesn't include any animated bits, and the station ident is just about transparent enough to be ignored, but we've got this every single week, plus five minutes of adverts every ten minutes. Now that's distracting. I don't know how normal, TV addicted people cope with it. Dear British readers, complain about the Norton incident for all you're worth and treasure the BBC while you've still got it.

A few general thoughts before we proceed to the episode itself. We've watched some of the material released online – and I've been soaking up spoilers like a good 'un – so the new theme arrangement and title sequence didn't come as a complete shock. Jo loves them, although I'm still getting used to them.

I get the impression Steven Moffat wants to see fans dancing to the TV theme at convention discos. Perhaps he wants to dance to it himself. It's a lot more four-to-the-floor than it used to be, and note also the little high-pitched “club” motif in the middle of the new bit at the start. That new bit threw me on first listening, incidentally – sounded almost atonal until the main theme kicked in. Liking the ethereal quality of the main tune, a bit doubtful about the choral bits. I quite like it as a whole, but so far I haven't got used to the idea that it's the actual TV theme and not just some novelty cover version.

I'm getting distinctly '80s vibes from the new title sequence. '80s comedy horror, to be precise – the actors' names appearing in a flash of lightning reminds me heavily of Young Frankenstein or The Man with Two Brains, I'm not sure which. Given comedy and horror appear to be Moffat's strengths as a Who writer, this may be more appropriate than at first it seems. Not sure what to make of the billowing clouds that have replaced the time tunnel. I do particularly like the way the “DW” logo turns into the TARDIS, although my cynical mind wonders if we can read anything into this – the brand image becoming the hero's vehicle, the marketing now central to the show. (I think about this too much. Nobody should feel the urge to analyse the title sequence.)

Moving on to The Eleventh Hour itself. Eyebrows were raised at the pre-credits scene. The “Tiggers don't like” food scene was tremendous fun, although this and the pre-creds seem to have been written with the intention of winning over the youngest viewers first. But then the companion-to-be is seven at this point – when she re-appears aged nineteen, she's working as a kissogram and we start to get jokes about Jeff's laptop and Rory being made to dress up as the Doctor (context open to supposition). This is either a crafty synthesis of narrative register and character point of view, or a rather awkward granularisation of the show's humour.

Some in-story emphasis on the “fairy tale” aspect of the show, to go with the heavy emphasis Moffat's been giving it in interviews for months now. (Might be best not to dwell on the fairy tale resonance of Amy being menaced by a gigantic dream-snake that's forced its way through a crack in her bedroom. The Brothers Grimm have got nothing on Moffat, I tell you.) There is, I suppose, something of a fairy tale atmosphere to the young Amy part of the episode, but otherwise nothing much out of the ordinary for Who, which has always had fantasy leanings. The biggest change in style from the last five years that I can see is that the Doctor's visited present-day Earth and we haven't seen a single council estate block or any of Amy's family (what happened to the aunt?). Apart from that, it felt like a pretty typical RTD episode, except that the monsters didn't look like men with animal heads.

I'm not absolutely sure how the Atraxi turned up in Earth orbit. The Doctor claims that they followed him, but I'm not sure how they would do that, especially since theirs is apparently the only species in the galaxy that doesn't recognise him, and since he closed the crack they might have tracked him through. (I'm also not at all clear on how/why the crack links Amy's room to the Atraxi prison, given developments later in the series, but woops! I'm not supposed to know about that yet, and besides, it may be explained even later on.) But hey, they're giant flying eyeballs! And, er, hm, yeah. Giant flying eyeballs with big snowflake spaceships. Very pretty.

Matt Smith – top notch. He's settled right into the role of the Doctor, and we here have no complaints. Karen Gillan seems to be doing all right too, although I've seen the following interesting point made about Amy – at the end of the episode, when she becomes the companion, we don't actually know her. We're introduced to seven-year-old Amelia, but then we're whisked twelve years into the future and the adventure kicks off before we can really get to know nineteen-year-old Amy. And even then we nip forward another two years before she joins the Doctor right at the end. All we honestly know about her is that, thanks to the Doctor, she has some psychological problems, or at least she did two years ago relative to the next episode, since when she's been proven right about him and may not even have that defining descriptor any more. But it does look as though she's connected in some way to the crack in space and time, which may very likely be the reason the Doctor's come back for her. (Very nice final scene, by the way.) So this episode introduces her more as a plot point than as a character. Rory – hmm, early days, we'll have to see how he develops in later episodes.

Time for gripes. If Prisoner Zero can dissolve completely into a kind of mist, why does it need to worry about disguising itself? Especially if it takes so much time to create a link with a human mind. And why does it cover the sonic screwdriver in clich├ęd monster goop? Why does it stick around instead of making a run for it, since the Atraxi are so rubbish at finding it and won't arrive on the scene for another twelve years? When the Atraxi are retrieving those pictures of monsters the Doctor's protected the Earth from, why do they come up with some that haven't been anywhere near Earth? (A simple gaffe, of course.)

By and large, a fair episode. Generally well acted. Well directed, with notable moments. Pacing was good – it felt like sixty minutes was the right length for it, which is more than can be said for some of the extended New Who episodes. As far as the story is concerned, the jokey bits and broad plot strokes tend to distract from the slightly creaky bits, and as season openers go it's pretty solid. Nice intriguing bit at the end to lead into the rest of the season. 7 out of 10, perhaps? Let's say 7.


Christopher Pittard said...

OK, I'm a bit late to the discussion of this one, but I missed it first time round and only just around to watching it to bone up (hehe... bone) for the series finale next week. I got the impression that it'll require some passing acquaintance with what's gone on here, but now I'm not so sure.

Anyway... I'm glad I came to this one almost last, because if I'd seen that pre-credit sequence unprepared, that would probably have been it for me. As it is, I can safely disregard it as some residual spectre of RTD and instead concentrate on the real introduction of Matt Smith five or so minutes later. The first scenes were good, although the food sequence felt like padding in an episode which already struggles to fill its running time. I'm assuming that, as always in these cases, the Moff had to specially request an extra fifteen minutes or so, but I'm not sure they were worth it in the end, especially given the rather protracted ending *and* a trailer at the end.

Had I watched this first time around, I would also have no doubt been perturbed as to how much this resembled an RTD runaround. I know the opener has to introduce the characters, but does that really mean we can't have a decent plot as well? I'm also surprised at how many people are brought in to do very little indeed; Annette Crosbie, Nina Wadia, Patrick Moore... Olivia Colman does get a little bit more, but surely they could have found something a bit more involved for her to do? In the 80s, she would at least have been the commander of some base or something. And how the hell does Geoff (Jeff? Strangely, I realise that I heard it with a 'J', without not really knowing why) know exactly to do after two minutes of rather vague pep talk from the Doctor?

All in all, it starts well (well, except for the very start, of course), but really it's another RTD style fluffy opener. I'd say 5/10. Maybe an extra point for the blatant Karen Gillan voyeurism. Now that's what I call classic Who.

John Toon said...

You said "bone up"! Heheheh, heheheh!

Yes, it's a very RTD-flavoured episode. I suspect Moffat's still trying not to scare off the RTD fans, and that goes for a lot of the rest of the series, too. The whole first Moffat/Smith year has a transitional feel to it, and I expect we'll see something different again next year. Then again, maybe this really is how it's going to be for the forseeable.

I hadn't really considered the matter of padding-despite-extended-runtime, but you're absolutely right. Just like Voyage of the Damned, eh? Extra time just means less strict editing and flabbier episodes.

Christopher Pittard said...

And another thing - why that title? I was hoping it would have some more specific relevance, but if it did I missed it. "The Fifth Room" or something similar would have been much nicer. It just reminds me how most of the series openers (and, indeed, all of the series finales) have had cliched titles.

John Toon said...

Well... it introduces the Eleventh Doctor... you see... and it's about an hour long... It's not the best, for sure.

I've just noticed I've agreed with you here about padding, whereas my original reaction was that the episode was well paced. (You're polluting my memory of the episode, dammit!) I think in the abstract I can see that the food scene etc are padding, but at the time they were sufficiently lively and amusing that I let them go. It's *good* padding.

Perhaps my 7 was generous, but I wouldn't go as low as a 5.

Christopher Pittard said...

Actually, Tooners, I don't think you're that far off the mark after all - it does make a bit more sense of the inclusion of the 'Previously on 47 years of Doctor Who' rundown we had on the hospital roof. I'll admit, the significance of 'eleventh' passed me by completely. Looks like the prize for 'Vaguest Title' remains with Russ' "Partners in Crime", then.