Like a bat out of hell, the Tardis — the time traveling police box that has become a staple of Doctor Who lore — is falling to Earth. Hanging on for dear life is The Doctor, number eleven. As the Tardis hurls toward uncertainty, the accompanying score is triumphant. And just as we see him narrowly avoid a hilarious, yet painful encounter with the top of Big Ben,we cut to the opening credits. A new Doctor, a new theme and a new logo. And all at once, Doctor Who is back.
Later he will meet a young Amelia Pond, a courageous little girl who will soon become his most challenging companion. Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of the box, man eats fish custard, and she’s not phased. All she’s worried about is a frightening crack in her wall, a crack that represents a break in space and time. But just as The Doctor is saving the day, the Tardis begins to fire up again — it, like The Doctor, is regenerating — so he must leave. “Five minutes,” he says. “I’ll be back in five minutes.” The next time he meets Amelia Pond, she’s a sexily-dressed policewoman of the age of 20, with legs to the floor and red hair that represents her endlessly fiery temperament.
For those who aren’t familiar with Doctor Who, The Doctor is a Time Lord. A distant alien humanoid who moves through time and space, usually with a companion from our world and time who helps him keep all of existence in balance. And every so many seasons, we get a new Doctor. The last was David Tennant, a madman in Chuck Taylor’s. Of the modern-era Doctors, he is the standard. And seeing him leave after three full seasons and countless specials, fans were certainly skeptical about where things would go next.
Enter Matt Smith, an equally mad and energetic screen presence. A few minutes into his era as The Doctor, there is no doubt that he’s up to the task. He has the charisma, the physicality and the wide-eyed intensity that fans loved from Tennant, as well as a sardonic wit that sets him apart. The lights are on behind the eyes of The Doctor are on, and Matt Smith is out to prove it. As he tells Amy Pond in this episode, he is “definitely a mad man with a box.”
There is also little Amelia — who grows up to become the fiery Amy, played by Karen Gillan. For the first time in the modern era (since Christopher Eccleston met Billie Piper in a warehouse), The Doctor has met his match. She’s tough and she’s not just going to sit back and go along for the ride. There is tension in their relationship, both of the overt and promised varieties. It’s a testament to Gillan, a relative unknown, who stands toe-to-toe with Smith at every turn and brings an equal (and sometimes greater) amount of energy and elegance to her role. If you — like me — had a thing for Scottish accents before, you’re in real trouble now.
For an opening episode, “The Eleventh Hour” is a combination of safe storyline — twenty minutes to save Earth from incineration, that’s safe for The Doctor — and well-planned moments of introduction. It takes its time bringing out the personality of the new Doctor, showing the spirited nature of his new companion and ultimately paying tribute to the Doctors of old. For fans, this reverence will endear them to new showrunner Steven Moffat, a man responsible for some of the Doctor’s most memorable adventures over the past four seasons. Moffat’s show has a renewed energy, an acerbic wit and I’ll be damned — a pair (Smith and Gillan) who have chemistry to spare. In short, Doctor Who is back in a big way.
Doctor Who airs Saturday nights at 9/8c on BBC America. “The Eleventh Hour” airs April 17.