First nights are always nail-biting – even for a 900-something Time Lord. Some Doctors debuted with instant classics (The Power of the Daleks, 1966) while others turned up with undercooked turkeys (Time and the Rani, 1987). But the big question has always been: is this new Doctor any good? And then, will the audience accept him?
The stratospherically popular David Tennant casts a massive shadow. And if anyone’s pining for the tenth Doctor, I sympathise. Truly. Dig deep enough and I’m still sore about Jon Pertwee morphing into Tom Baker way back in 1974 – on my ninth birthday!
I may be chancing my arm, but it’s obvious from the off that the 11th Doctor will be up there with the greatest. Despite his youth, Matt Smith instantly embodies our ancient hero, the “mad man with a box”.
Loping, loose-limbed and long-fingered, his “raggedy Doctor” bowls in like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo! and at the end of the episode he emerges as a fogey but fun physics lecturer who wouldn’t look out of place in Wallace & Gromit.
Both he and new pal Amy Pond are a cartoonist’s dream. Karen Gillan has a Celtic luminosity, a full moon phizog and (in her kissogram cop outfit, not the Stan Laurel nightshirt) unbridled sex appeal. Her legs go all the way up, as my gran used to say.
It’s all change at the top. Revamped theme music – I still miss the hypnotic menace of the radiophonic original. New title sequence – a sort of space/time colonoscopy. And a remodelled Tardis… As the Doctor purrs: “Oh, you sexy thing. Look at you.” It’s a cruise ship lounge designed by Willy Wonka and rather gorgeous. Let’s hope we see that swimming pool, last used by Leela in 1978.
So incoming Who-meister Steven Moffat has tweaked the essentials, but what of the episode itself? The Eleventh Hour – a generous timey-wimey 64 minutes – offers funny lines (“You’re Scottish. Fry something”), directorial flourishes and a host of blink-and-miss star turns. Surely we’ll see Annette Crosbie again… There are nostalgic nods to the past and a seeding of tiny details that can’t be coincidental.
The threat of the Atraxi’s evil eye didn’t bowl me over but, as it scanned the Earth, it symbolised the sharp scrutiny viewers would be giving every detail of this opener. And did anyone identify its voice? Veteran actor David De Keyser dubbed The Flashing Blade and is thus one of the key storytellers for any British child of the 1970s.
The most enchanting moments tonight were the top and tail scenes between the Doctor and Amy. They had a strong scent of Roald Dahl and Raymond Briggs and, as with the very best Who, unfolded like a bedtime story appealing to the child in all of us.
Expect many more nightmarish fairy tales in weeks to come.