Maybe it was one of those patented “perception filters,” but after watching last night’s excellent season premiere of Doctor Who, I’m suddenly no longer pining for David Tennant and Catherine Tate as our titular hero and his trusty companion. Now I’m totally jazzed to see what Matt Smith and Karen Gillan will bring to the respective roles.
It helped, of course, that “The Eleventh Hour” was a tense and funny bit of sci-fi, with the regenerated Doctor trying to hunt down an escaped intergalactic prisoner before an armed fleet of Atraxi detonated Earth in a scorched-planet strategy to execute him. The way things kicked off — with Smith’s Doctor trying to adjust to his new body while helping a lonely Scottish girl investigate a scary crack in her bedroom wall — was filled with classic suggest-don’t-show scare tactics. It’s brilliant what Who can do with half-opened doors, robotically repeated phrases, and a little mood music. Of course, there was humor in the intro, too. “You’re Scottish. Fry something,” the Doctor demanded while trying to quell a mysterious food craving.
Turns out a little time-perception snafu meant that the Doctor’s promise to return in five minutes to wee Amelia Pond morphed into a good 12 years, by which time the kid had grown into lithe kiss-o-gram employee “Amy” Pond (Gillan). That young woman had used modern psychology to almost convince herself she’d never really had a close encounter all those years ago, and hadn’t noticed “Prisoner Zero” hiding out in a second-floor bedroom thanks to a “perception filter” that stopped her from acknowledging the room existed in the first place. I loved the way the runaway alien tapped into comatose patients’ energies to create shape-shifting disguises — anyone get shades of The Shining when he morphed into that benign-looking mother and her two terrifying daughters? — and I loved how the Atraxi’s warning signal wasn’t referring to Amy’s home, but to the entire planet: “Prisoner Zero will vacate the human premises or the human premises will be incinerated.” (Did anyone else find that chant bringing back memories of “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved?”)
In standard Who format, we got glimpses of eccentric humans — the average, flawed folks The Doctor can’t help but want to save — none funnier than Annette Crosbie’s Mrs. Angelo (“I like Patrick Moore!”) and none more cluelessly square-jawed than her grandson Jeff (Tom Hopper), who went from downloading porn to saving the Earth in less time than it took The Doctor to outfit himself in a jazzy mauve shirt and dishy bowtie.
No more “raggedy doctor,” but certainly an intriguing central relationship between our titular hero and his new copilot, a possible runaway bride whose fate may or may not be tied into Prisoner Zero’s chilling final warning: “Silence will fall.” I, for one, am keeping BBC America’s import hit on permanent “series recording” setting. Wherever The Doctor and Amy head next, you can count me in. Well, as long as the former makes good on his promise to never shout “Who da man?” again.
What did you think of the Doctor Who season premiere? Have you bought into the Smith-Gillan partnership already, or do you still need a few episodes to get over the loss of Tennant and Tate? And who’s looking forward to the return of those Weeping Angels we saw in the post-episode coming attractions?