Retro ‘Doctor Who’ Reviews – Vol. 11.1

Racing against the clock…

The Eleventh Hour

And here we are in the latest chapter, the Eleventh Doctor (we presume). The Tenth Doctor’s regeneration has left the TARDIS is a damaged state and it crashes to Earth, winding up in the garden of an English house in the middle of the night. The child Amelia, who takes him in and feeds him fish fingers and custard, finds the gangly, physically younger and emotionally childish new Doctor in a smoking wreck. Afterwards the Doctor promises to return immediately after repairing the TARDIS to collect the lonely Amelia.

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When the Doctor does return he is initially unaware that 12 years have passed on Earth. Amelia Pond spent the years thinking she had an imaginary friend and is now an adult dating a male nurse named Rory. The Doctor grows concerned about a crack in Amelia’s wall that the girl is strangely oblivious to. It is actually a crack in the skin of the universe, through which the snake-like Prisoner Zero escapes into Earth. While Prisoner Zero is stealing peoples image the Atraxi alien race announce their intention to destroy the planet to recapture their foe.

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It’s always a tricky proposition introducing a new Doctor, especially when they’re following on someone as popular as David Tennant. Matt Smith is a similar type to the Tenth, emphasising the quirky and caring over the scientific and eccentric. Smith is to date youngest of the Doctor’s and while his ability and manner seem older he is the goofiest of the performers under the role, acting outright childish at times. What truly cemented him in the part in the eyes of the viewers in the now classic ‘Hello, I’m the Doctor’ scene, which was added to the script at, well, the eleventh hour.

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In addition to the somewhat complex introduction the new companion Amelia we get a pretty good alien menace story. The prisoner taking the form of coma victims is more than a little disconcerting, especially when the fangs come out. Rory also gets a good introduction although he features as a supplementary character at this point. Even without the important function of introducing the main characters this is a good episode with plenty of mystery, action and a global scale.

The Beast Below

There’s nothing like a good sci-fi setting to kick of an episode. The Doctor and Amy travel far into the future and arrive on the Starship UK. Due to solar flares the population of Earth was forced to evacuate and took up residence on a giant spaceship that, through its layout, mimics the old country. The ‘Smilers’, creepy robots who enforce the rules, manage the society. Any who do not obey them get fed to the ‘beast below’. The mystery deepens when they learn that the starship does not operate on normal engines, and the engine room is merely a front.

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The crux of the problem comes in the form of a voting booth. Every adult on the starship must routinely view a video that reveals the truth about the starship and the beast below. Afterwards they must vote to protest or have their memory of the video erased – and no one has ever elected to protest. Along with an unusually away citizen named Liz 10 the Doctor learns that the ship is built around the last remaining Star Whale, a gargantuan creature who is controlled through jolts to the pain centre of its brain.

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This is the kind of moral dilemma that makes a great Doctor Who episode. Although the themes of the episode, and the manner in which it unfolds, is quite clever this is not an especially striking episode. The setting ultimately plays a small role, with much more potential laying in the concept of Starship UK than we get to see. The ecosystem vs the human race does press all the right buttons and seeing Amy’s response to the vote and her videotaped warning before being made privy to the real situation is a good way of building the tension. Ultimately it feels like a step backwards from the introduction these characters had in the previous episode.

Victory of the Daleks

At the conclusion to the previous episode we saw the Doctor receiving a call from Winston Churchill, who has the ominous shadow of a Dalek lurking behind him. The Doctor and Amelia head straight for the war bunker housing Churchill – a month late – and are shocked to discover a horde of Daleks roaming the halls. Unusually they seem to be at the command of the military, specifically the scientist who is credited with building the Daleks, or ‘Ironsides’ as they call them. Dr. Bracewell lends credence to the notion that the Ironsides are under the control of the government and only exist to aid the war effort.

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Naturally the Doctor finds this suspicious but it’s his interference and investigation that triggers the danger. Upon revealing who he is in order to prompt a response from the Ironsides an orbiting ship of Daleks activate their Earth bound conterparts. Dr. Bracewell is revealed to be an android, unbeknownst to him, carrying an explosive. On the Dalek flagship the Doctor finds that more Daleks have escaped the Time War and five new, superior models have been created.

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Everything in this episode feels like a set up for a much bigger Dalek conflict that has never been made. The story concerning the Daleks embroiling themselves in the British military during the era Churchill is a damn fine Dalek story but by the end it winds up a cliff hanger in the larger scheme of things. Ian McNeice as Chruchill certainly ups the quality of the episode, he is without a doubt one of the best actors for the part, and his banter with Matt Smith with one of the highlights of the season.