In 2010, Steven Moffat officially became Doctor Who’s new showrunner for the next six seasons of the show: a Scotsman who (like his predecessor) had been a fan of the franchise for decades, so this opportunity was basically his dream job. Steven Moffat had previously written a few very well-received stories from the RTD era like “The Empty Child“, “The Girl In The Fireplace“, “Blink” and “Silence In The Library“, and managed to impress Russell T. Davies (who always had a very hands-off approach when it came to overseeing Moffat’s work), so he was a pretty natural choice for the job. In the Doctor Who fandom, you can find plenty of people who liked Moffat’s work on the show, and plenty of people who hated it and thought it was too large of a departure from Davies’ writing style. For me. personally, the Eleventh Doctor’s era is probably my favorite period in NuWho so far: it’s the culmination of all the dark fairy tale themes Moffat has always tried to weave into his stories, portraying the Doctor Who universe as a world that’s wonderful, whimsical, wrathful and terrifying all at once.
Moffat has gone on record that “The Eleventh Hour” was one of the hardest scripts he’s ever written, because it had to juggle so many different tasks at once. It had to introduce a new Doctor, a new companion, a new look for the TARDIS, and set up a new direction for the series to go in with the Series 5 story arc, and it had to do it all in a way that felt natural. As a result, “The Eleventh Hour” employs a lot of economical story-telling. Not a single moment is wasted, and the plot moves along at a very brisk pace, but the big dramatic moments are still given time to breathe in-between personal talks the Doctor and Amy have. “The Eleventh Hour” also serves as something of a fresh start for the series. Series 5 is the show’s first major jumping-on point in four seasons, that’s designed to be as accessible to newcomers as possible (the only major carryovers from the Tennant years are the Daleks, the Weeping Angels and River Song). Moffat will start to incorporate more continuity from the RTD era in later seasons, like bringing back UNIT and the time war arc in Series 7, but for now he’s primarily interested in crafting his own characters, setting up his vision for the show and allowing it to stand alone.
“The Eleventh Hour” picks up where we left off in “The End Of Time“: the Eleventh Doctor is crashing down to Earth, having lost control of the TARDIS when it was damaged by his regeneration, and he eventually winds up landing outside the home of little Amelia Pond. The Doctor is still recovering from the whole process of rebuilding his entire body from the ground up, so he’s dazed and disoriented throughout most of this episode, but still very lively. Furthermore, the Eleventh Doctor’s early scenes with Amelia quickly establish one of his signature traits: how well he works with children. Steven Moffat really likes to emphasize the Doctor’s paternal streak as a former father whenever he writes for him, and Eleven is frequently shown to be very sympathetic to the problems of children throughout his tenure, being quick to strike up a bond with Amelia when she invites him into her home.
Eleven has a very manic personality and he’s a fast talker, while also being a bit absent-minded: he jumps from tangent to tangent so quickly, trying to juggle so many different things at once, that it’s easy for him to lose his train of thought. Thankfully, Matt Smith is pretty charmingly earnest when it comes to portraying his various oddities and eccentricities. In contrast to Ten, who spent most of his debut episode recuperating in bed, building his strength back up, Eleven is totally active throughout his first episode. He’s forced to solve a mystery about an outer space fugitive and his jailers, and save the world within an hour, while he’s still recovering. “The Eleventh Hour” gives us a chance to get to know the new Doctor’s personality, inside and out, as he’s forced to work under pressure, and considering he had some pretty big shoes to fill when it came to following David Tennant (who got a lot of love as the Doctor), it was probably a smart decision to have Eleven hit the ground running and sell people on Matt Smith early on.
Another significant personality trait Eleven has is that he is very good at multi-tasking. Unlike Ten, who preferred to do everything himself whenever he could (to minimize the risks for everyone else involved), Eleven likes to delegate tasks to his companions. If there are enough capable people on hand, he will split up the gang so they can cover more ground and save precious time during an emergency (the most notable example of this is probably “Day Of The Moon“, where Eleven and his friends spend months scattered across America, trying to solve an alien conspiracy). Like every Doctor, he’s a wizard at spotting details, tiny little clues that something isn’t right that most people wouldn’t think twice about, and he processes information with the speed of a computer inside of his head.
The Doctor defeats Prisoner Zero by turning his own power against him, a personal favorite trick of Eleven’s that we’ll see him use against his enemies loads of times over the next three seasons, and once he’s done with that, he turns his attention towards his jailers. Back in “Forest Of The Dead”, the Doctor learned from River Song that he can use his hard-earned reputation as a time traveler to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies and get them to back down, and he makes good use of it here, scaring the Atraxi away from Earth forever. The problem is, the Doctor uses this trick a few times too many over the next two seasons. Over time, he starts to buy into his own hype and comes to believe he really can overcome any challenge that’s presented to him, and his overconfidence comes back to bite him in the backside several times before he learns his lesson (most damningly in “The Pandorica Opens” and “A Good Man Goes To War“). The way the Doctor handles the Atraxi in the climax is an awesome, character-establishing moment for Eleven, but it’s also the start of a really bad habit for the Doctor in hindsight.
“The Eleventh Hour” is also our first introduction to Amy Pond, the Eleventh Doctor’s primary companion. Amelia Pond (Caitlyn Blackwood) is a little Scottish girl who has an encounter with the Doctor one night, when he appears outside her door like magic, and he winds up leaving quite an impression on her when he investigates a wormhole in her bedroom. If that set-up sounds familiar to you, then it should. Steven Moffat previously used the same premise for Reinette in “The Girl In The Fireplace” from Series 2, though I would say it’s used to greater effect here, since we get to know Amy’s character and sympathize with her over a much longer period of time. Amelia is very much a daydreamer, a kid with a big imagination. She’s stubborn and tenacious, but she’s also very lonely: it’s implied her home life isn’t the best, even before we learn what the cracks in time did to it.
When she discovers the Doctor has a time machine, she naturally wants to come with him to see the stars. The Doctor leaves for a few minutes, to work on fixing his ship, and promises to return to her, but he winds up breaking that promise when he accidentally returns twelve years later. Amelia held onto her hope that her magic Doctor would return and make good on his word, but everyone around her either tried to convince her that she imagined it all, or accused her being a liar. As a result, the adult Amy (Karen Gillan) has grown up to be cynical and jaded and is slow to trust people. By the time the Doctor returns to Leadworth, Amy herself isn’t sure anymore whether it was all real or not. Amy already had some abandonment issues from losing her parents to the crack in her wall, whether she consciously remembers them or not, and that whole business with the Doctor ditching her didn’t help them.
Amy pretends to be a policewoman to get some answers from Eleven, and a character arc she has over the course of this episode is accepting that she’s not in control, as well as learning to trust the Doctor again, when the monsters from her childhood return to threaten her world. Eleven spends the latter half of the episode winning her over, and while she’s reluctant to admit it, by the coda, she’s just as starstruck by the Doctor’s world again as she was when she was a girl. One aspect of her abandonment issues is that she’s afraid to really commit to anything, for fear of being hurt or disappointed again, which can unfortunately manifest in her taking her boyfriend Rory granted. Amy and Rory have some serious problems they need to work out in regards to their relationship, because the two of them really aren’t on the same wavelength when it comes to what they want for their future or what they want out of life in general: something Amy hasn’t told Rory about yet, and something that will be fully expanded upon in “The Vampires Of Venice” and “Amy’s Choice” later this season.
One of Amy’s biggest character flaws is that when it comes to handling tough emotional issues, she often tries to avoid her problems: so when the opportunity presents itself, she decides to avoid having a serious talk with Rory about her cold feet for a little while longer, by running off to go have fun with the Doctor. The Doctor feels bad about letting Amy down and having a negative effect on her life, so he takes it upon himself to restore the sense of wonder and imagination that she had as a girl. The main premise for the Eleventh Doctor’s era is set up by the end of this episode – a young woman’s imaginary friend from her childhood days is real and he frequently takes her and her hubby off on fantastic adventures in time and space – and it was a pretty great direction for the show, appealing to kids and adults alike for the next three seasons.
One notable side-character in this episode is Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), a male nurse who’s also Amy’s boyfriend. Rory is a well-meaning and socially awkward guy, who seems to have trouble standing up for himself. He lets people walk all over him a bit more than he probably should, as we see in his introductory scenes, where his boss is quite nasty towards him. Instead of confronting someone directly with his grievances, Rory has a bad habit of bottling them up and stewing passive-aggressively in his irritation, until it all comes bursting out in inopportune moments – which is a major character flaw that he’ll have to overcome down the line. Even so, there are hints very early on that Rory is companion material. He’s a pretty observant guy and the only one at his workplace to notice Prisoner Zero’s activity when everyone else dismisses it. Like Martha Jones, Rory also has a good deal of compassion for people in need, which is why he chose to study medicine.
Between our three leads, Rory is the straight man of the group who’s constantly bewildered by everything. Unlike Amy, who’s something of a daredevil, he prefers to avoid unnecessary trouble whenever he can, but he’s a loyal and reliable person, and he won’t abandon his friends when they need him. As Amy’s oldest childhood friend, Rory grew up hearing all about her magic Doctor and felt like he was living in his shadow a bit as he tried to impress her. In the present day, Rory doesn’t know how he feels about the Doctor being a real person, as all those old insecurities come trickling back again. Rory doesn’t get a lot of screentime in this episode (and a first time viewer probably wouldn’t think much of him), but all the essentials for his character arc in Series 5 are set up quite nicely here, and he goes on to have a major impact on Eleven’s era.
Prisoner Zero serves as the one-off villain for this season premiere: a shapeshifting alien convict who manages to escape his prison cell through a wormhole connecting it to Amy Pond’s bedroom, half a galaxy away. From there, he proceeds to lay low, hiding inside her home for twelve years while taking advantage of the local resources like a parasite. Moffat once again taps into some classic, primal fears when it comes to his core concept for the creature: the idea that some unknown, predatory beastie could be hiding in plain sight, just out of the corner of your eye, for years is more than a bit unsettling. He forms a psychic link to dormant minds in the nearby area whenever he wants to assume a new form, like the coma patients in Rory’s hospital, and he can disguise himself as more than one creature at a time, but he doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to getting all the right voices to come out of the right mouths, which is a telltale sign of his true nature and leads to some pretty freaky visuals.
With that much having been said, as far as Doctor Who villains go, Prisoner Zero isn’t that much of a threat. He’s certainly dangerous to all the humans in the area (Rory’s boss, for example, quickly gets the axe), but he isn’t out to conquer the planet or destroy the world like most of the antagonists in this show. The real threat comes from his jailers, the Atraxi, who promise to destroy the entire planet if the human race doesn’t turn him in, something the Doctor does not approve of. Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi are both dealt with in short order, but the danger isn’t over yet by the time the end credits roll. The crack in time in Amy’s wall caused all of this to happen, and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, setting up a mystery the Doctor intends to solve throughout the season. And as he’s hauled away by his captors to be executed, Prisoner Zero seems pretty confident that the cracks in time will be the Doctor’s undoing.
Adam Smith is the director of the week for “The Eleventh Hour” and he does a masterful job helming this episode, giving us some truly beautiful visuals: like an early panning shot traveling through Amy’s garden at night; the gratuitous lens flare flowing across the screen when Eleven is convincing Amy to put her trust in him; the impressive size difference on display between Eleven and an Atraxi ship during their rooftop confrontation; and the euphoric final shots of Eleven and Amy disembarking in the TARDIS, showing off the spacious new set that was built for the console room. When it comes to the show’s lighting, direction, cinematography and special effects, Doctor Who’s production values have steadily improved, year and year, and they take another large step forward during the Matt Smith era, making this a very visually stunning period in the show to watch (weirdly enough, the show’s budget actually got smaller during the Matt Smith years, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at it, so I guess the crew got really good at making every dollar count).
A brand new cast of characters means Murray Gold gets to write a lot of new material in his score for this episode, establishing his template for the rest of the season. The main Doctor Who theme song is given another revamp, with a brand new opening to reflect Eleven’s reckless and adventurous personality. Amy’s childhood self is given two leitmotifs, “Little Amy” and “Amy In The TARDIS“, that will be making plenty of appearances throughout the rest of her tenure, capturing her innocence and her sense of wonder as a girl. The Eleventh Doctor’s primary theme, “I Am The Doctor“, is very bold and heroic, portraying the drive, fire and determination he has, as well his nobility and geniality. His secondary theme, “The Mad Man With A Box“, is very breezy, whimsical and almost romantic: a love song about the Eleventh Doctor and the two great loves of his life, his TARDIS and River Song, that’s often used in his more contemplative moments.
“The Eleventh Hour” had a lot riding on it, as both Matt Smith’s debut outing as the Doctor and the set-up for the rest of Series 5, and I’d say it was a rousing success all around, giving us a likeable new cast of characters that I’m glad we’ll be spending the next few seasons with.
* It’s so weird to think “The Eleventh Hour” comes right after the events of “The End Of Time” for the Doctor. Considering how angsty and miserable Ten was in the last episode, Eleven seems pretty damn chipper in this one.
* There actually is some resemblance between Amy’s younger and older actresses, due to Caitlyn Blackwood being a real-life relative of Karen Gillan.
* The ‘fish custard’ scene is (surprisingly) a reference to “Winnie The Pooh” – Pooh trying to find something to feed Tigger after he rudely invites himself into his home, only for Tigger to reject everything he has to offer – and my inner child will always approve of a shoutout to “Winnie The Pooh”.
* “You know when grown-ups tell you everything’s going to be fine and you think they’re probably lying to make you feel better?” “Yes” “…Everything’s going to be fine”.
* “People always say that” “Am I people? Do I even look like people? Trust me. I’m the Doctor”.
* That shot of Amy waiting outside with her suitcase, ready to see the stars, is so adorable.
* “Will that door hold it?” “Oh, yeah, of course. It’s an interdimensional multiform from outer space. They’re all terrified of wood!”
* Amy gripes about how her aunt Sharon sent her to four psychiatrists as a girl. Ironically, by the time Amy and Rory’s tenures are over, they both probably need a lot of therapy from all the messed-up, traumatic stuff that happened to them on this show.
* Out of the three lead actors, Karen Gillan has had the most successful career in Hollywood after Doctor Who, especially in the MCU, which is a pleasant surprise. Good for her.
* “I don’t believe you” “Just twenty minutes. Just believe me for twenty minutes. Look at it: fresh as the day you gave it to me, and you know it’s the same one”.
* “Doctor! The drain. It just sort of melted and went down the drain” “Well, of course it did”.
* “Laptop! Your friend, what was his name? Not him, the good-looking one” “Thanks” “Jeff” “Oh, thanks” Oof, Rory did not deserve that burn.
* “I like Patrick Moore” “I’ll get you his number. But watch him, he’s a devil”.
* “Now, any questions?” “Who was your lady friend?” “Patrick, behave”.
* “Listen to me. In ten minutes, you’re going to be a legend. In ten minutes, everyone on that screen is going to be offering you any job you want. But first, you have to be magnificent. You have to make them trust you and get them working. This is it, Jeff, right here, right now. This is when you fly. Today’s the day you save the world”.
* “Oh, and delete your internet history” Never change, Eleven.
* Those creepy vampire children are going to haunt Amy and Rory’s nightmares for years.
* “Did he just bring them back? Did he just save the world from aliens and then bring all the aliens back again?!” You’ve got it, bro.
* “Okay. One more. Just one. Is this world protected? Because you’re not the first lot to come here. Oh, there have been so many. And what you’ve got to ask is, what happened to them? Hello. I’m the Doctor. Basically, run“.
* My heart grows a little bit warmer from the way Eleven’s face lights up with pride when he sees how the TARDIS has redecorated herself. She’s more than just a ship, she’s the Doctor’s oldest friend, and she is so very alive. So I’m glad we get an episode devoted to Eleven’s special connection with his TARDIS in Series 6 (“The Doctor’s Wife“).
* “I started to think that maybe you were just like a madman with a box” “Amy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me, because it’s important, and one day your life may depend on it. I am definitely a madman with a box”.