Doctor Who is commonly divided up into eras (we’ve discussed this before), but each era is not necessarily distinct. In fact, prior to Matt Smith becoming the Doctor, the only time in the show’s entire history where there was no continuation of characters, producer, or even production codes from one ‘era’ to another was 2005’s Rose – and even that featured a past monster.
Now let’s look at The Eleventh Hour. New Doctor. New companion. New producer. The production codes are reset – this is story 1.1 (Rose had also been 1.1). There are no returning characters or monsters. It’s practically a whole new series!
Or is it?
As the season progresses, it gives us some nods to the past – appearances from the Daleks, the Weeping Angels, the Silurians, River Song. The Pandorica Opens has a whole host of returning monsters, going so far as to namecheck ancient one-hit wonders such as the Drahvins, the Draconians and the Terileptils. However it’s not just in these overt ways that it demonstrates its connections to what’s gone before.
The popular Christmas song ‘Rocking Around the Christmas Tree’ includes this lyric: ‘Everyone’s dancing merrily, In a new old-fashioned way’. Doing things in a ‘new old-fashioned way’ – well, that sums up what was going on here pretty well.
One of the (many) genius moves by Russell T Davies, the showrunner who helmed the successful revival in 2005, was to make the Doctor and his companion seem ordinary at first glance. The Ninth Doctor – Northern accent, buzz cut, leather jacket – could just be any bloke down the pub. Rose was an angst-free teen from an urban, multi-cultural estate, who worked in a shop and ate chips. But most of all, what they were – and what the new series was as a whole – was cool. Frock coats, cravats, question-marks, obvious eccentricities – nothing like that had a place in modern Doctor Who.
It had been a very long time since Doctor Who was cool. The Ninth and Tenth Doctors’ eras were almost Doctor Who by stealth – rather like a parent sneaking pureed vegetables into their child’s pasta sauce, the world had been tricked into loving this ultra-cool show, not realising it was really that hideously twee embarrassing old nonsense Doctor Who.
Then along comes the Eleventh Doctor. As we go into this new era we’re suddenly presented with a tweed jacket and braces, not to mention a bow tie (like a magician forcing a card, the Eleventh Doctor even insists to us that bow ties are cool. Fezzes too). Post-regeneration, the Tenth Doctor was revived by the most ordinary of drinks, tea. The Eleventh Doctor, on the other hand, goes for the decidedly more quirky fish fingers and custard.
The Seventh Doctor story Survival is often considered as a precursor to the 2005 revival because of its contemporary urban setting – but really, that’s only skin deep. All other elements – particularly its Doctor and companion – bear no real relation to the eras of the Ninth and Tenth Doctors.
The Eleventh Doctor, however, glories in his eccentricity. He’s a master manipulator who has no problems playing around with time. His companion Amy has a whole load of backstory herself – so many things have happened to or are centred on her that she has closer ties to Ace, the Wolf of Fenric who was swept up in a timestorm, than Rose, who lived with her mum and worked in a shop. Amy’s home town of Leadworth is a peaceful country village (albeit with much alien involvement), the sort of traditional ‘cosy’ setting that’s miles apart in more ways than geography from the Powell Estate.
It’s true that there are elements of this season that may seem to bear no relation to the Doctor Who of long ago. Doctor Who pre-2005 didn’t really go in for big emotional or character stuff, but the show from Rose to The End of Time did. On the surface, then, stories such as Amy’s Choice, Vincent and the Doctor and The Lodger look like they should be categorised alongside Father’s Day or Love and Monsters or Turn Left. But really, this is the Survival affect in reverse – set aside those outside trappings and the stories of The Eleventh Doctor’s first season are actually pretty traditional.
So here was a new era of Doctor Who that really had made a huge break with what came immediately before it, adding in all sorts of things that the previous production team had steered clear of. The question is – did it work? Could it survive the re-introduction of such elements and still be cool?
The answer, luckily, was yes. The children didn’t need their vegetables hidden any more, they had gradually discovered that they actually liked vegetables after all. The Eleventh Doctor’s new old-fashioned way was a hit. Let’s all dance merrily.
1. “Every statue in this Maze, every single one, is a Weeping Angel.” Two heads are better than one – the Doctor realises the terrifying truth about the Aplan Maze of the Dead. The Time of Angels.
2. “But how did you know it was a dream? Before you crashed the van, how did you know you wouldn’t just die?” “I didn’t.” Rory finally gets to learn just how much he means to Amy. Amy’s Choice.
3. “Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all… He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty.” In the year 2010, the Doctor enables Vincent Van Gogh to discover how he has been judged by posterity. Vincent and the Doctor.
4. “The Pandorica was constructed to ensure the safety of the Alliance.” The monsters assemble, and the Doctor discovers that the Pandorica and the legends surrounding it were a trap – set for him. The Pandorica Opens.