The Best of Doctor Who: “The Eleventh Hour” (05.01, 2010)

Written by Steven Moffat

Directed by Adam Smith

I said of “Amy’s Choice” that it was quite possibly the episode I’ve re-watched the most of any episode of Doctor Who. If there’s one I’ve watched more, it’s probably “The Eleventh Hour,” the episode that introduces Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor and Amy Pond* and kicks off easily the strongest season of the series’ history.

*Technically, it also introduces Rory Williams, but he is so ill-defined and ineffectual a character, there as essentially nothing more or less than a plot device, that it hardly feels at all like his introduction. That’s not really a criticism of the episode, of Rory, or of Arthur Darvill, but it’s how this episode plays out.

Everything that Moffat does well is on full display here.

I said that part of his formula is that he loves to build up to a melodramatic crescendo and then about half the time he comically pulls the rug out from under the ending while the other half he lets play out. In this episode, he does both. First, the Doctor celebrates his own accomplishment in saving the world by saying, “Who the man?!” only to see Amy and Rory stare at him as if he has just said the dumbest thing in recorded history and then say, “Okay, that was rubbish. I’m never saying that again.” Then, when he brings the Atraxi back and warns them not to return, concluding, “I’m the Doctor. Basically: run,” and that’s exactly what the Atraxi do.

Moffat’s sense of humor results in a number of great comic moments throughout the episode. There’s the sequence of child Amy Pond trying to get the Doctor food he likes, with his palpable excitement at each attempt matched by his disgust at every result until he ends up with the atrocious-sounding fish fingers and custard. There’s telling Jeff to delete his internet history. There’s his dismissive treatment of Rory in saying, “Not him–the good looking one!” And of course, best of all, there’s, “I’m the Doctor, I’m worse than everybody’s aunt!”

Meanwhile, the new principal characters he introduces are quickly defined in ways that make sense. The Doctor has always been a mixture of deep caring and dismissiveness, perfectly exemplified by his willingness to help a little Scottish girl who is afraid of a crack in her bedroom wall but also his treatment of Rory as though his completely worthless. He’s a genius who can figure out that there is an Atraxi prison on the other side of the wall and the crack is deeper than just between those two but also clumsy enough to take 12 years after he says he will return in five minutes. And the new Doctor’s lightness and zaniness are immediately apparent–he evinces none of the internal darkness of the Ninth or even the Tenth Doctor, and he does bizarre things like taste a shed to figure out that it’s far older than Amy says it is. Amy Pond is an adventurous girl with no fear and more than her share of sarcasm, and that’s clear even before we meet her adult self, with her acceptance of the Doctor’s crazy antics and disbelief that he has a time machine.

And then of course there is the introduction of Karen Gillan. Her limitations as an actor are pretty obvious–seriously, explain what the hell she is doing when she talks to the Doctor about the psychiatrists she “kept fighting” with that bizarre, ineffable look on her face. However, so is her magnetic charisma and attractiveness, as well as the fact that her limitations aren’t crippling–she plays her angry, confused disbelief of the Doctor when she locks his tie into the car perfectly and her eventual acceptance of his reality a moment later is also perfect.

Season Five is the best in the series’ history, and it was obvious that we were in for a great ride from the beginning, because it was so obvious that the series was in good hands. Even if you ignored the great work Moffat had done earlier in the series (Spoiler: He has two more episodes on this list. Yes, he wrote the top three.), “The Eleventh Hour” makes it clear that he knows what he’s doing.

Oh, and “I Am The Doctor” is Murray Gold’s finest work, and this is its first appearance.

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