Turned Up to Eleven
- And Look! There's only one! The opening theme. It was complete rubbish, she said with an adolescent whine. Seriously, I have always loved the original Ron Grainer theme with its marvelous electronic, theremin-ish feel, courtesy of Delia Derbeyshire. When I was young, it signaled "Dr. Who" to me. But when I first heard Murray Gold's reworking of it, back in 2005, I let out this huge sigh of relief, much to my own surprise. I hadn't realized that I'd been hoping for something to take the core musical theme past itself. This is a return to the source, sure, the same way Gold returned to the source back in 2005 — but without taking something new from it, or bringing something new to it. Ah, well. It's survivable, particularly since I caught the TARDIS singing. As long as She sings, I'm happy. And there, you see, I heard a difference and didn't mind it. The change in Her song felt like growth to me, not a retread. Oh, stop grumbling, woman.
Things I liked:
- Matt Smith. People had worried that Matt Smith was too young for the role and, while I wasn't worrying, I was aware of his youth. Within a minute of his appearance, in the midst of his first conversation with Amelia, he was simply The Doctor. He was a much much older man than anyone might have thought he could become. I'm talking inside and out, too. Smith carries himself in a mature manner, moves his face in a mature fashion, all the rubber-mask antics notwithstanding. More importantly, you look into his eyes, and he's somehow captured — or at least begun to capture — the reality of an ancient alien. I'm pretty certain this isn't my wishful thinking and perception speaking here, but an accurate analysis. Kudos to Smith for the acting skill, and hurrah for the character.
- The Eleventh Doctor: Matt Smith may have written fanfic to get himself into the Doctor's head, for which choirs of angels should sing him to his sleep, and for whom a fannish crown surely awaits. But the Eleventh Doctor bears no trace of that. There is no delighted fanboy peering out between the cracks of the Doctor's personality, and that was one of David Tennant's, and therefore Ten's, biggest failings. Bless his heart, Tennant was the ultimate fanboy. Much as I like him for that, because he really seems like a jolly young man, it obscured the Doctor more often than I liked.
- Amelia "Amy" Pond, or, as I've seen her referred to several times already, Wee Amy. Even though folks seem to have used it when they spoke about young Amelia, I find it a seductively sweet sobriquet in general. Which, by the way, is probably not right for her. I caught glimpses of steel in Karen Gillan's portrayal of the adult Amy, flashes of sophistication (did you catch that almost raised eyebrow of appreciative assessment as she looked at the parts of the Doctor we couldn't see? That's Coupling, right there, or at least something of the good parts of that Steven Moffat show.) She's not wee inside, methinks, not at all. I also have to praise young Caitlin Blackwood for her presentation of Amelia when she really was wee. She sold me on Amelia before I met Gillan's interpretation, with her blend of phlegmatic (almost irritable) pragmatism and unmistakable curiosity. While I thought there was a bit too much telling rather than showing of her intelligence and imagination as a child, I still liked her a great deal.
- Rory: from the little we see of him, he's smart, he's skilled — he's a nurse, which is one of those fantastic careers whose practitioners I respect like whoah because I don't have the practical empathy to do it myself; he's willing to believe, even if he's a bit of a linear processor when it comes to digesting the Doctor's reality; he notices when things are Wrong and he tries to gather information about said Wrongness. His failings ... those have to do with things I'll mention in the next section. Him? I think he's pretty worthwhile. I also think that the actor's name, Arthur Darvill, is perfect for a British skiffy show. Don't ask me why. Perhaps it's the "Arthur" part.
- The TARDIS. I can't tell you how pleased I was to see the warm red-gold lighting emanating from Her (well, actually, I just did, didn't I? *rimshot*) I'd liked the preview shots of Her interior, because they weren't a retreat to the sterile white room of the past; the multi-level console room, for instance, is brilliant, because it proves, just by its existence, what we've always known about Her immensity, but the lack of coral saddened me — oh, how I loved the coral! And the floors had looked a tad smooth and shiny. I"d been hopeful, but I'd still had that niggling worry about what She'd look like in motion. Seeing the warmth of the place, seeing the hatstand, which reminded me of both the Fourth and Eighth Doctors, seeing the stairs off to who knows where in Her depths, it was all wonderful, even if the time rotor looked the tiniest bit twee, like some county fair art show second prize winner. I'll love even that soon enough.
- The Doctor and the TARDIS. I think he's going to listen to Her more as Eleven than he did in his previous incarnation, perhaps the way Nine did. And I appreciate that; he showed Her a great deal of love and respect, and that's fantastic.
- The crack in the universe, and the warnings of things to come. I have come to want to see an underlying arc (can an arc be underlying?) in DW seasons (I'd been a fan of them since seeing the Key To Time episodes when I was much younger), and I'd worried, I admit, that we would be treated this season to a series of rollicking, fun, totally un-connected stories. They would be wonderful, but ... arcs are one way, one very good way when they're done well, of making an imaginary universe real. They're the weft of the tapestry. Our own universe may be completely random — may be — but a created universe is, by its nature, not random, and it needs a pattern to strengthen its reality. A a crack in the universe, a threatened silence, and the tiniest hint that the Doctor may have had something to do with it? A nicely spooky foreshadowing of ... whatever is to come.
- Also, most of the incidental music, which was several times better than the opening theme.
- The Moff's recycling of Girl in the Fireplace themes. Really? For your debut? I understand what Moffat says about wanting DW to be a bit more about The Fairy Tale, and I'm confident that he understands both the wonder and terror of Faerie. He certainly wanted to introduce them hard and fast in this first episode. I also understand that he may have wanted to re-imagine, and revisit, GitF, or have another shot at some of that tale's conceits and themes — Time as a trickster and a heartbreaker, and a Timelord who can't really control it — and bully for him. A good writer always wants do-overs, because good writers are always certain they can Do It Better. But not for the first episode, not if you want to avoid the susurrant whispers of "tired ... lazy ... dead horse ..." that, in all honesty, probably aren't deserved but are to be expected when you jump with the first thing that enters your undoubtedly brilliant head. Save it for later; if it's a good idea, it'll keep. Wow us the first time out with something we haven't seen before (or at least not recentlly.) Then you can coax us into revisiting the ideas you love.
- The useless boyfriend. As I said above, I like Rory. But the Moff played him more than a little bit as a fool. He certainly made Rory as passive as Mickey was when we first met him in Rose; look at the "comic" way he backed down from the Exasperated and Oblivious (tm) medical administrator. (That, by the way, also smacked of lazy writing; better writing would, at the very least, have seen Rory push the phone in front of her face, only to have her make some irritable comment about Photoshop. As it was, it screamed, "Because The Plot Says To.") Moff has put the pieces in place for a recurring character, but I don't want to see him as a Useless Male, anymore than I want to see Amy as a This Side of Unpleasantly Irritable Female. Those are the down sides of Coupling characters, and I hope they don't show up too often in what he personally writes for this season.
- The rootlessness of Amy, and the potential infantalization that I shouldn't worry about, seeing as how it's only the first episode, but I have to mention it. I've read some reviews in which the writers have cheered Amy's real life. Someone mentioned that it felt as if she had a real life, and not just a back story. I'm afraid I felt just the opposite. We meet Amy as an orphan, whose absent guardian leaves her alone at night with no explanation. We meet her again, 12 years later, and she's still alone, living in that mysterious house — and how does a "kiss-o-gram" messenger make enough to keep the house up? Did the conveniently dead parents and the conveniently still-absent aunt gift her with an annuity that still, somehow, requires her to dress up in pink tights and a miniskirt to earn her daily bread? She has a boyfriend she denies is her boyfriend, much less her fiance two years later, (and that is a potential piece of emotional callousness that is too reminiscent of Sally Sparrow for my liking. I like Amy, and I don't want to see her Sparrowfied.) Compare that with Rose, who had a real family and real friends immediately (even if Jackie and Mickey were played initially as boorish comic relief, that soon gave way before the three-dimensional characters they became, and the real two-way bonds of affection between them and Rose.) Also, — and this may be a nitpick, or, worse, me reading something into the story that isn't there and isn't going to be there — but for the grave and surprisingly adult Wee Amelia to give up that wonderful name, as the Doctor notes, and take up the decidedly less mature-sounding Amy ... it was unsettling. Still, I am more than willing to see how her life develops. She seems worth it, particularly if being with the Doctor brings back some of that wonderful gravity I saw in Wee Amelia.
- The food follies. That was far, far, far too obviously trying for laughs, and was very forced. Bless Matt Smith for being willing to do it, though.