Series 5, Episode 4: The Time of Angels

Anybody in this room who isn’t scared is a moron.”

Caves! So many good Doctor Who stories feature caves. The Silurians, The Daleks, Earthshock, The Caves of Androzani, Underworld… Well, maybe not that last one.

Steve Moffat plainly knows this is a good ingredient, and has used it as the basis for a stunning return of the new series’ most memorable original monsters, those creepy Weeping Angels. Now facing the Doctor properly for the first time in a two parter that’s already shaping up to be excellent, they compete for fanboy heaven with the return of another classic Moffat creation, Dr River Song.

After a disappointing couple of episodes, it’s a relief to see that Moffat still knows how to make a great Who story. This time, he’s gone for the creepy, spooky style that he is probably best known for, and channelled another couple of classic ingredients – homaging/ripping off a classic story (in this case Aliens) and including the nasty idea that, against your will, you can be transformed into one of the monsters yourself.

In their debut story, the Weeping Angels were an unforgettably creepy creation, but they seemed too quirky an idea to become an ongoing monster. But the same could have been said of Alien, and taking that film’s sequel, Moffat has turned it into something very British and very Doctor Who.

From the pre credits teaser on, it was clear that this was going to be a good one. I never really pictured River Song as a kind of combination of Bernice Summerfield and Lara Croft, but this younger thrill seeking version of the character is, if anything, more charming than the more mature woman we met in Silence in the Library. The usual sparkling Moffat dialogue was present and correct, and Matt Smith had an immediate and electric chemistry with Alex Kingston, who was initially glammed up like Rita Hayworth. Their early scenes together crackled with the same kind of energy that Moffat always brought to romantic scenes in Press Gang, and as with that show, the actual ‘romance’ was never explicitly brought out. Is River the Doctor’s future wife? “Nothing so simple.” She’s certainly more than a match for him, effortlessly landing the TARDIS. “It only makes that noise because you leave the brakes on!”

She’s a great character, but at least part of that stems from the mystery surrounding her. We were offered some tantalising hints throughout the episode as to who she really was, with Bishop Octavian threatening what seemed to be a return to prison, but I actually hope we don’t get any answers. Whether she returns or not, the allure of the character is that hints about her are all we have, and it would be a shame to lose that mystery.

With Smith and Kingston chewing up the screen, it might have been a hard job for Karen Gillan’s Amy to get much of a look in, but the script actually gave her some of the best – and creepiest – sequences. The early scene with the Angel moving in, and then exiting from, River’s recording was masterfully played and directed (and an obvious steal from The Ring), and that was followed up by the increasing suggestions that Amy was turning into an Angel herself. Was it just an illusion that dust streamed from her eyes, as it was when her hand seemed to have turned to stone? I guess next week’s episode will tell, but it also led into the genuinely affecting and perfectly underplayed scene in which the Doctor refused to leave her.

Despite being in the first recording block of the series, Matt Smith’s performance here seemed far more assured than it has for the last couple of weeks, effortlessly combining authority and awkward comedy . “Environment check? Nice out.” I’m really liking his ‘young fogey’ approach to the part, with the Doctor often seeming like a sheltered young academic, yet full of enthusiasm for ‘keeping score’. I also love the way he tends to refer to Amy simply as ‘Pond’, just as a schoolmaster would – it’s nicely incongruous with his youthful appearance. If their relationship is going to develop into the sort of pseudo-romance we saw between Tennant and Piper, Steve Moffat’s handling it in a far more subtle way. Mind you, I could live without having the Doctor boast about how great he is for at least one episode!

Some surprisingly effective CG vistas of the ‘Maze of the Dead’ led into a genuinely unnerving and tight teatime horror story. The formless, almost melted statues in the Maze were, if anything, even creepier than the fully formed Angels, and it was a clever reveal when the Doctor started going on at length about the Maze’s original, two headed, builders. That was nicely written and played, and oddly reminiscent of that moment at the end of part three of Horror of Fang Rock when the Doctor realises he’s actually locked the monster in with the humans.

Of course, the previous methods of despatch employed by the Angels were not, in themselves, that scary. Yes, you’re displaced from your own time, but you don’t actually die. So this time around, they’re snapping people’s necks – far scarier – and there’s a good explanation for the change. This also gives rise to another mountingly creepy sequence in which the Doctor  is speaking to ‘sacred Bob’ over the radio – “I didn’t escape, sir. I died too.” The Angels now have a voice, and it’s a chillingly malevolent one, taunting the Doctor about the fear Bob felt when he died. That it’s delivered in the victim’s own voice is all the more disturbing.

All this skilfully written spookiness demands very good direction, and it’s got it from Adam Smith. With this and The Eleventh Hour under his belt, Smith is looking like a real find for the show, and I hope to see more of his episodes. A whole new team of directors for the new series was always going to be a risky gamble, but in Smith’s case at least it paid off.

Unlike last week, we also got supporting characters we actually cared about. Partly because it was a better structured script than Victory of the Daleks, but also, I think, because a two parter allows you more room to explore the little details and characters of a story. The militarised Church is a weird but enjoyable concept which definitely distinguishes this from American style military romps,and the characters are nicely detailed even when they only have a few lines. It’s a measure of how well this was done that it was actually a bit of a shock when Bob was killed – though I at least was hoping to see rather more of him. Glad to see pretty young men are still on the casting agenda even under the rule of ‘the straight one’.

Obviously, it’s hard to make an overall judgment on a two parter until the second part’s been aired, but the glimpses we saw of next week’s look promising, and Steve Moffat has a great track record in writing second parts that live up to the promise of the first. I’m glad to say that I’m back at the stage of breathlessly anticipating next week’s episode, with my enthusiasm for the new show undimmed by the previous two lacklustre episodes. I’m also glad to say that I watched it on BBC HD, which meant that unlike many BBC1 viewers, I didn’t have the last minute of the action ruined for me by an animated Graham Norton exhorting me to watch yet another overhyped talent show! Roll on next week, and for heaven’s sake BBC Presentation, have a little respect!

Series 5, Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks

I am your sol-dier!”

There used to be a running gag in Family Guy in which Peter’s latest antics would destroy the front of his neighbour Cleveland’s house. Cleveland would be revealed, lying in his bath as it slowly slid down the now tilting floor to deposit him naked on his lawn. As this happened, Cleveland would always say, “No. No, no, no, no NO!”

I mention this because this was more or less the reaction I had during the last half of this unfortunately insubstantial episode. Don’t get me wrong, it started well. I thought the basic premise – Daleks in World War 2 pretending to be our allies – had so much potential, and for the first ten minutes it seemed to be realising that. Then they revealed themselves, teleported back to their ship, and we were watching something altogether different, and far less interesting.

That first ten minutes was very obviously indebted to the classic 1966 story Power of the Daleks, in which a group of damaged Daleks pretend to befriend the inhabitants of a human colony world in order to rebuild their resources. It even cleverly revisited the well-remembered line from that story, “I am your ser-vant.” There was a lot to like in taking this basic premise and transposing it to the Second World War – since Daleks are obviously Nazis, an interesting variety of themes could be developed. I liked the images of them painted military drab with blackout covers on their lights, trundling around the War Rooms carrying box files and offering people tea. It did seem curiously apposite – the Daleks are as much a British icon as the Blitz, and they fitted together curiously well.

The setting was well-realised, with a convincing vista of the wartorn London skyline and all the little details in Churchill’s HQ like bakelite phones and old-fashioned light switches. I loved the faux-period propaganda poster showing the Dalek as Britain’s new secret weapon.

I could have lived with the transformation into a different story entirely rather better if a little more time had been devoted to this intriguing scenario. A longer running time might have helped. The trouble was, once the Doctor arrived and started hitting them with a spanner, they blew their cover almost immediately, when it felt like the suspense of the idea was barely beginning to be established. And when they teleported back to their ship, not only was the suspense blown but we were into a different style of story. The trouble seemed to be that Mark Gatiss was trying to do two different things: a war movie and a Dalek relaunch. And he didn’t seem to know how to fit the two together properly.

I’ve honestly liked all of Mark’s previous work on the show, even his performance in the otherwise lacklustre Lazarus Experiment, but this was far from his best. The story structure was all over the place, with climaxes seeming to pop up at random just when they didn’t belong there, like the Daleks’ big reveal so early or the Earth’s salvation being followed by lots of lengthy discussion and sentiment. True to form, he shoehorned in some amusing references for people: 633 Squadron was mentioned, and I genuinely chuckled at the line “Broadsword calling Danny Boy”, best remembered as Richard Burton’s gruff catchphrase in Where Eagles Dare. The usual Quatermass reference was dutifully present as one of the WAFs was called Breen, presumably named after Quatermass and the Pit’s Colonel Breen.

But Breen was a good example of where the story fell down. She had a couple of lines early in the episode about her boyfriend being in the RAF, but we barely got to know her as a character, much less care about her. And then we were expected to be moved when she tearfully discovered that he’d been killed over the Channel. In fact, there were pretty much no developed characters on the Earth side of the action, with the exception of Bracewell and Churchill.

Winston Spencer Churchill was nicely incarnated by Ian McNeice, an actor I very much like who’s played him before on stage. The archive footage shown on Confidential demonstrated that the real man was considerably slimmer than McNeice’s barrage balloon figure, but that’s a minor quibble.  The real problem was that Gatiss seemed so much in awe of this larger than life historical figure that he had trouble writing him any distinctive dialogue. “Keep buggering on” was nice, but other than that it was a curiously flatly written role. And considering that the man famously spent most of the war drunk, it was odd not to at least see him with a glass of whisky at some point.

Bracewell, by contrast, was almost overwritten. Bill Paterson, a great actor who should have been on Who before now, did his best with the part, but it was a kind of overwrought combination of the Tin Man, Pinocchio, and most obviously Lieutenant Commander Data. When Churchill asked him, “I don’t care if you’re a machine – are you a man?”, I half expected him to respond with, “I am fully functional… programmed in multiple techniques…”

Matt Smith’s performance as the Doctor was a little over mannered here; his delivery of the lines in the laboratory confrontation with the Daleks came across as forced and rather peculiar. I like the approach he’s taking to the character, but he seems at this point to have not quite settled down in quite how stylised he wants his acting to be. Mind you, I did love the bit with the Jammie Dodger – a perfect ruse for this new Doctor, and comedically played to perfection as he confronted the new Daleks.

Ah, the new Daleks. That’s going to cause ructions in online fandom. Not even John Nathan-Turner dared to mess with the design of the series biggest icon. In one way, I salute Steven Moffat for doing something so incredibly brave; he obviously really wants to stamp his mark on the series and what better way than with such a radical change? (Though the cynic in me did envision Character Options’ Managing Director rubbing his hands with glee at the opportunity to sell a whole new range of toys).

A lot of parallels have been drawn with the new, gaudily coloured Daleks. The colours are very obviously drawn from the two Peter Cushing films, but I’ve already heard them compared to iPods, Smarties and the Power Rangers. For me, though, the inescapable similarity was with the revolting range of colours offered by British Leyland in the late 70s. As the new Daleks impressively lined up in front of the ‘Progenitor’ I kept picturing them as Austin Allegros.

ado67index_11  new Daleks

They’re as chubby as Allegros too. While there have been minor tweaks to the Dalek design over the years, nobody’s ever felt the need to change the basic proportions of Ray Cusick’s iconic original design. I seem to recall even Russell T Davies saying that the original was so perfect there was no need to change it. I don’t mind their elevated base sections – though in another 70s parallel they uncannily remind me of platform shoes. But I frowned at their bulging mid sections, which looked very much like the middle aged spread of a habitual beer drinker, and wasn’t too sure what to make of them apparently now being hunchbacks. And what was that peculiar thing in their backs that looked like a giant scart socket?

But my reaction is that of the hardened fanboy, and we don’t make up the vast majority of the show’s audience. Another fanboy friend of mine has already told me that his children love the new Daleks. I think they’ll ultimately be accepted by the fans, but it’s going to be a hard job getting used to them. Plus, the obvious expense of the new props does lead me to the conclusion that they’re yet again going to be at the centre of the season finale, a gambit which is already tired.

Still, they were always going to be a divisive point in the episode, but it had many other flaws too. The Daleks’ plot doesn’t actually make a lot of sense – they needed the Doctor, so pretended to be Churchill’s friends because they somehow knew that Churchill had a magic phone line to the TARDIS? And the Progenitor doesn’t recognise them as ‘pure’ Daleks? If these are the last survivors of the fleet from Journey’s End, they’re cloned from Davros himself – how much purer can you get? Why does the progenitor redesign their casings? For that matter, since it’s explicitly stated that it contains DNA, why does it give them casings at all? Surely there should have just been some helpless Kaled mutants wriggling around on the floor.

The ‘Spitfires in space’ was a fun set piece, but that was the trouble with it. It was, as Mark Gatiss explicitly stated, something Steve Moffat thought was cool and then had to be shoehorned into the story somehow, which was the very mentality I used to criticise Russell for. Plus. it’s been done before by Who’s greatest rival, albeit in a slightly inverted form. The opening story to season four of Enterprise contained the memorable sequence of the titular starship being chased through the skyline of 1940s New York chased by laser-equipped Messerschmitts. And, Dalek technology or not, it seemed massively implausible that the British could equip and launch the planes in the stated ten minutes they had before the Luftwaffe entered London airspace. For that matter, how were their propellors driving them through space? There might have been air inside the ‘gravity bubbles’ but all that would do would crash the plane into the side of it. And if the propellors weren’t driving them, why have them turned on?

That’s quibbling, I know, but there’s a bit of real criticism there. Increasingly, the new series is using the ‘advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ argument to get away with, effectively, using magic to get out of tight corners. That strikes me as lazy scriptwriting, in much the same way as the 70s over reliance on K9 and the sonic screwdriver as an instant solution to any problem.

And as for talking Bracewell out of blowing himself up, what on Earth was all that about? It might have helped if the Doctor had said something about the android being able to override the detonation if it just had the motivation, but that was left very unclear. On the plus side, I liked the cutaway to Amy’s reaction when he talked about the death of his parents – very nicely played by Karen Gillan. On the negative side, it seems to be increasingly becoming a pattern that Amy has to leap in and save the day just when the Doctor fails. I hope we’re not going to see a revival of the Eccleston episodes, where the solution almost always came from Rose.

Ultimately, this was a forgettable comic romp in the style of a war movie, though the plot would have worked equally well (or badly) in a contemporary setting. The main reason I found it such a disappointment is that the premise had so much potential to be both deeper and more exciting, and it almost seemed to be ditched in favour of a big relaunch for the series most iconic villains. Against that, there was probably no real point at trying for depth. In the end, I didn’t enjoy it because I saw it a wasted opportunity, though my young boyfriend has made the point that I probably shouldn’t have expected Power of the Daleks Mark2.

Still, the story arc is looking more and more intriguing. So Amy doesn’t remember the multiple Dalek invasions of recent history? Have the mysterious cracks erased the last four series (and specials)? Torchwood and Sarah Jane are in trouble if they have…

Series 5, Episode 2: The Beast Below

"We all depend on the beast below.”

So after spending most of the first episode introducing the new Doctor, Steven Moffat this week gave us an episode which had more of a plot. It felt like a fairly slim plot, though, and as some have noticed was basically the same plot as Encounter at Farpoint, the dreary intro to Star Trek: TNG.

It’s a measure of quite how good last week’s episode was that I found this one somehow disappointing, but it’s not really fair to say there was anything particularly wrong with it; if anything, to consider The Beast Below as not that great is a reflection on the high expectations we’ve been given by five years of mostly very good stuff. As with the first season of the new revival, the episodes seem to be put in the order they are to firstly show the new Doctor dealing with a threat on contemporary Earth, then in space in the far future, then in Earth’s past. Consequently, this had the feel of a retread of The End of the World, but in keeping with Steve Moffat’s writing, it was much, much darker.

It’s the little details of this story that really make it. The observation of Britain reflected in Starship UK was intentionally idealised; it’s fun to imagine a 30th century where British identity boils down to a hackneyed, rundown version of the 1950s. Nice to see a sign for Magpie Electrical, and noticeable that the Starship UK logo displayed on screens was obviously based on the old BBC one. The ‘Vator’ with its London Underground logo, was very much the same kind of lift that takes you down to Covent Garden tube station, and the ‘London market’ was so obviously out of Eastenders that it even had a Queen Victoria pub!

As the Doctor very precisely pointed out early on, this was obviously a police state with a dark secret, and the real driving force of the plot was to find out what that secret was. The Smilers, clockwork enforcers for the State, were a typically memorable Moffat creation. Even in ‘smiling’ mode, confined in their fairground booths, they looked very sinister – it might actually have been even better if they hadn’t had an ‘angry’ face, and had shown their displeasure in some more literal way while still wearing that blank smile. The ability to somehow have three faces despite only appearing to have two was never remarked on, but their scariness was somehow undercut by never having any idea of what they might actually do; the shock moment when we see them get out of their booths certainly makes you go ‘Whoa!’, but then a moment’s thought reveals that they don’t appear to be armed in any way. All they do is menacingly walk forward until someone shoots them. Nice to have them apparently run by clockwork though, in a presumed nod to Moffat’s previous clockwork droids in The Girl in the Fireplace.

Appositely enough for an episode that went out in the week a general election was announced, there were some amusingly blatant political jokes contained therein. The voting booths, where every five years the citizens are told the truth then choose to forget, was obviously a sly dig at the political system, and Liz10 was a brilliantly conceived character – “I’m the bloody Queen, mate”. Hard to know what would shock the Daily Mail more – the idea that the Queen was black, or that she speaks like Captain Jack Sparrow. Sophie Okonedo, clearly knowing she had a terrific role, overplayed it to perfection. Less well used was Terrence Hardiman, who doesn’t seem to have aged since The Demon Headmaster – maybe he really is a demon. His Chief Cleric was clearly the real power in Starship UK, but didn’t really get much to say or do, which is a shame as his few brief appearances were very bit as charismatic as his evil teacher of some years ago.

This was also our first real chance to see the new Doctor and the new companion properly in action. Matt Smith’s performance seemed oddly different than last week – presumably a consequence of shooting the episodes out of order. He was no less engaging though; his fussily precise, slightly stuffy diction were very reminiscent of Patrick Troughton, and his almost mannered physicality is a clear evolution of the previous week’s. And he does righteous anger every bit as well as David Tennant. I don’t know whether this was one of the eariler episodes shot, but it very much showed his stated intent of playing the Doctor as an older man in a young body. Not that I’m complaining, it worked very well – and it’s a rather nice younger body too! And he’s still slyly evasive with Amy, as his avoidance of answering her question about him being a parent showed.

Amy was not so easy to get, though. Karen Gillan is certainly very attractive – for those who fancy girls anyway – and it was a brave decision to have her spend the entire episode in a baggy nightdress rather than the microscopic skirt she wore last week. But I’m still unsure if she matches up to Catherine Tate in the companion stakes. It’s entirely fitting that she’s the one who sees the real solution to the thorny moral problem the Doctor’s ultimately faced with, as it shows that he still needs a human perspective, and the continuing mystery about her upcoming wedding is obviously going to be a major plot point. Steve Moffat has pre-empted jokesters by saying that he doesn’t have a ‘Scottish Agenda’, but with the quips about Scotland wanting their own ship following last week’s exploration of Scottish frying, one has to wonder…

But what about the children? (As the Daily Mail might say). Children were the major plot point in this episode, from the little boy disappearing down below in the pre-credits sequence to the little girl who ultimately helped the Doctor and Amy solve the mystery. It smacked somewhat of a sentimentality that I’ve not previously seen Mr Moffat display for the space whale to have wanted to save Earth because it couldn’t bear to see children crying. Though frankly, it must have been a bloody good-natured space whale to still want to help after hundreds of years of torture. I’m pretty sure my reaction under the circumstances would have been to say “bloody sod you then” and leave the UK to rot. Amy’s faith in its good nature was, with this in mind, one heck of a gamble.

It also disappointingly relieved the Doctor of having to make a decision on the moral dilemma he was presented with. It was a good one, too; either leave millions of people to die in space or destroy the mind of a beautiful and unique creature. It’s been a trademark of the series for years , the idea that a new Doctor gets presented with a moral dilemma to solve, and it seems like cheating a little to cut the Gordian knot with a sword. Still, I note from the trailer that at some point we’re going to see him actually using a gun, so maybe he’ll start doing the dirty deeds himself this year.

The ending, with Churchill randomly able to call the Doctor on the new TARDIS phone, felt a little tacked on to give us a teaser of next weeks Dalek appearance, but was well handled for that. Ian McNeice is clearly great casting as Churchill, and having the Dalek appear as just a shadow in his office was nicely foreboding. Mind you, I’m not sure what to make of the idea that great historical leaders can simply call the Doctor for help whenever they need to. Perhaps Gordon Brown will be on the blower to him soon, to ask for help dealing with the menace of David Cameron.

So after a storming season opener, this one seemed rather low key, but there was still plenty to enjoy. Some clever design, great dialogue and performances, and some lovely CG of Starship UK in space. I notice it’s got another one of those cracks in the universe in it though; I know it’s a little early to speculate, but I wonder if it was there before the Doctor showed up?

Series 5, Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour

Hello, I’m the Doctor. And basically… Run.”

So, after months of unrevealing trails, the new era is on us. The Moffat years! The first change of showrunner since Russell T Davies brought back the show we love and turned it into a juggernaut of ratings success. With so much riding on it, it was probably the most important episode since Rose opened the new series in 2005. A new Doctor. A new companion. Even a new TARDIS. Would the viewers be able to cope with so much change? What will we do without David Tennant?!

Reactions to The Eleventh Hour seem to be universally favourable, and with good reason. As the best writer of ‘The RTD years’ and a lifelong fan, Steven Moffat has an instinctive understanding of how to make the show work, and almost all his decisions here were spot on. The episode had superb pacing, a suitably spooky monster, and excellent dialogue to introduce a very well-cast new Doctor.

Matt Smith logically carried the lion’s share of the episode, since the plot had to somewhat come second to the idea of introducing the new Doctor. And he grabbed the opportunity of a lifetime with both hands, clearly relishing the part. The first quarter or so of the episode does little more than introduce him, but with his verve and enthusiasm eating up the screen, it’s never dull. And speaking of eating, the ‘my favourite food’ sequence was genius – showing the newly regenerated Time Lord at his most engaging and childlike. With an actual child to sound off against, he exhibited a rather Tom Baker-like combination of childishness and grown up cynicism – “You’re Scottish, fry something", being an unlikely thing for a child to say.

The dialogue, as I’ve come to expect from Steven Moffat since Press Gang, sparkled on the screen (well, it wasn’t actually visible, but you know the metaphor).

“You know when grown ups tell you everything’s going to be fine, and you think they’re lying?”


(smiles) “Everything’s going to be fine.”

Matt Smith’s Doctor, as the episode progresses, is clearly reset from David Tennant’s latter ‘weight of the universe on my shoulders’ persona, as he should be. He crackles with the joie de vivre of someone simultaneously grown up and newly born, and puts a physicality into the part that seems very new; he clearly thinks hard about how his movements affect the performance. Thus, he progresses from flailing uncoordinatedly about at the outset to purposefully striding and pirouetting around as he grows more comfortable with his new form. By the end of the story, he’s plainly settled down into his new persona completely, and something about it seems, despite his outward zaniness, a little bit darker than we’re used to. There’s a hint, just a hint, that he’s not telling Amy the whole truth as to why he wants her to travel with him – that enthusiasm seems for a moment a bit darker, shifty, almost evasive. I like that. Despite his bounce, this Doctor has a core of steel.

And what of Amy Pond, new travelling companion? Moffat’s given her an instant depth that previous companions have never had, by cleverly writing the Doctor into her life in sporadic instances from her childhood. I don’t know whether she’s going to carry on the previous trend of having a near-romantic relationship with the Doctor, but she’s already obsessed with him as the ‘imaginary friend’ of her childhood. So obsessed, in fact, that she’s willing to duck out of her wedding at a moment’s notice to travel with him – she can’t have believed, given her previous experience of the Doctor, that he actually would be able to get her back in time for it.

In fact, the whole idea of her having the Doctor as a childhood imaginary friend is typically clever in a number of ways. How many old-school fans – I’m betting including Steve Moffat – spent their childhoods dreaming of the TARDIS, ready to leap off into time and space as soon as the opportunity presented? And how many children of today feel the same way?

Of course, this being a Moffat script, there were moments of humour that were aimed more squarely at adults than kids (though kids often understand a lot more of that sort of thing than we give them credit for). Amy’s occupation as a ‘kissogram’ (surely ‘strippogram’ in earlier drafts of the script) gave rise to some saucy gags along the way, notably with the ever excellent Annette Crosbie – “I thought you were a nun?” “I dabble.” Not to mention tacit acknowledgment of what all young men with laptops in their bedrooms are inevitably looking at; although I’d have sworn that, given the look of Jeff, the Doctor would have been more likely to admonish him to “get a boyfriend” rather than a girlfriend. Even Patrick Moore got in on the flirting – “Doctor, who was your lady friend?”

Prisoner Zero was a typically scary Moffat creation, its mouthful of pointy teeth looking particularly scary in the face of Peep Show’s Olivia Colman. As with previous Moffat episodes, the ordinary and mundane was given a twist to give kids the same sort of nightmares that I had during the Philip Hinchcliffe era. How many kids now look with dread at the cracks in their walls? And after his terrifying depictions of statues and shadows, too! Moffat has a gift at pitching the scary factor at just the right level, which I think bodes very well for the forthcoming series.

But it wasn’t just a new Doctor and a new companion. We also got a new TARDIS, and even a new sonic screwdriver! Steve Moffat has publicly said that anyone who pitches him an idea solely for merchandising purposes would be thrown out of his office; nonetheless, I think there’s going to be a lot of those new screwdrivers sold this year. I’ve got mine already.

As for the new TARDIS, it’s a thing of beauty. The script has openly acknowledged now that it has more rooms than just the Console Room, and what we’ve seen so far shows that very well. The console’s in a nice separate area with a glass floor, and has itself been redesigned to reflect the new Doctor’s rather wackier persona. The controls now include a pair of bath taps and an old Olympia typewriter, and the whole thing has an overall cleaner look which no longer reflects its past as a relic of the Time War. The exterior regenerated too, with a new door sign, new window frames and even a new key – a standard Yale item this time, but seemingly unnecessary as the Doctor can now open the doors with a click of his fingers. Best of all, just audible in the Console Room is what I think of as the ‘proper’ TARDIS sound effect, the one I grew up hearing in the 70s and 80s.

Unlike Rose, the series is now so established that it can more openly acknowledge having some forty seven years of history behind it, too. So we got a marvellous moment of seeing all ten previous Doctors from the point of view of giant eyeball the Atraxi, culminating in that superb moment when Matt Smith stepped through their final projection of David Tennant to declare , “Hello, I’m The Doctor. And basically… Run.” Undoubtedly the crowd pleasing moment of the script, met with rounds of applause in the pub where I was watching it.

So, an almost perfect start to a new era and a new Doctor. The ‘almost’ part, for me and a few others, is the anaemic and lacklustre new interpretation of the theme music. Murray Gold, having got it pretty much right from the outset, has never been able to resist tinkering with the arrangement, and for me has now taken that rather too far. There’s so little of the original tune overtly left in it, particularly in the end credits, that it’s very disappointing. Even accepting that, it really lacks punch compared to the previous versions of the last five years, seeming almost too light and fluffy. That’s a shame, because it’s coupled with a lovely new opening sequence which is very reminiscent of the classic 70s  ‘time tunnel’ effect, and has a great moment where the centre of the new logo turns into the TARDIS and spins off into the distance. The only thing which could make it better would be the inclusion of Matt Smith’s face, but that might be too retro for some. Still we’re obviously stuck with this version of the theme tune for this year, though for once I actually really hope Murray will rearrange it for next year.

As for the rest of the series, it looks every bit as good if not better. There’s obviously a story ‘arc’ (I still prefer the term ‘storyline’ myself, but I know that’s rather old-hat). Prisoner Zero dropped some very heavy hints about ‘the cracks in the universe’ and the Doctor’s apparently surprising ignorance of their cause; also something about how ‘silence will fall’ when ‘the Pandoracle is opened’. Oooh, interesting. And it’s all to come, in a series that promises us vampires in Venice, Daleks in World War 2, injured Cybermen and much, much more. I’m so breathless with anticipation, it’s like being a kid again, waiting for that final part of the exciting adventure you’ve been watching for weeks. I can hardly wait! David who?