That River Song – she knows how to make an entrance!
Hallucinogenic lipstick, red stilettos, laser pistol. “She’s here…” Then 12,000 years later: “Hello, Sweetie” inscribed in Old Gallifreyan… Back to: “Like I said on the dancefloor, you might want to find something to hang onto…”
And whoosh! She blasts down an air corridor in space, through the police box doors, flattens her Time Lord toyboy and demands, “Follow that ship!”
Fast, funny and exhilarating, this five-minute sequence is a blinder, and arguably the most impressive opener to any Doctor Who yet.
Steven Moffat is relying on the fact that viewers will instantly remember River, the Doctor’s future love, from the library of flesh-eating shadows two years ago. (My parents certainly don’t.)
But I love the sight of her commanding the Tardis controls, amazing Amy and deflating the Doctor as she initiates the never-before-mentioned blue stabilisers. Her smooth Tardis landing harks back to the 1970s and the one-upmanship between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Time Lady Romana. River’s “You leave the brakes on” is a great line, even if fans know every other Tardis has made that racket, too.
Alex Kingston reprises the role of the intergalactic archaeologist with gusto, and looks magnificent – be it glammed up like Rita Hayworth or roughing it à la Orla Guerin in army fatigues. I was worried that, aged 47, she might overshadow such a youthful Doctor and Amy but they match her with their own peculiarly timeless edge and assured performances.
Karen Gillan is cheerfully free (so far!) of the emotional baggage that mired her predecessors, and Matt Smith really is shaping up to be the best Doctor since Tom Baker. Simultaneously intense and subtle, he doesn’t put a foot wrong for me.
The petrifying Weeping Angels are also back and Steven Moffat turns the fear dial way up for the first time this season, investing his creations with deadlier powers than we saw in his Bafta-winner, Blink (2007). Back in March he told RT, “I did watch The Ring on DVD on a plane not long ago, and I kept jumping and shrieking…”
It’s not clear whether he caught the bleak Japanese original (1997) or the schlockier US remake (2002), but Moffat has cleverly distilled The Ring’s nerve-shredding denouement for a family audience. I mean, of course, the scene tonight where Amy is trapped by a video recording with a life of its own. Not only will young viewers look twice at statues, now they’ll be unnerved by the TV medium itself. With any luck…
Studded with tension and shudders (“They’re Angels. All of them”), this is simply superb television. The writing, direction and Murray Gold’s urgent Doctor theme work in beautiful harmony. I know it can’t be like this every week, but this is just the way I like my Doctor Who served.