It all started so well.
Expectations – fan and public alike – were high for Doctor Whoâ€™s return in 2010. With The Eleventh Hour, the new team confidently delivered the best season opener since the show was revived in 2005. Better still, the opening twenty minutes – where the newly regenerated Doctor meets the child Amelia – ranks among the most magical Doctor Who sequences of all time.
But by early June, something was bothering me. I was finding the series a mixed bag at best, and distinctly underwhelming at worst. Where did it all go wrong?
Letâ€™s deal with the successes first – of which there are several. First and foremost is Matt Smithâ€™s triumphant performance as the Doctor. Following David Tennantâ€™s superstar portrayal was never going to be an easy task, especially for an actor as young and early on in his career as Smith, but he not only obliterated any doubts as to his suitability for the role but has delivered probably the most surprising and nuanced interpretation of the character since Tom Baker.
An Alien Heart
Whereas the Ninth and Tenth Doctors wore their hearts on their sleeves, the Eleventh is a genuinely alien proposition; Smith makes it very difficult to know precisely whatâ€™s going on in the Doctorâ€™s head, yet dominates every scene with an understated magnetism that not only belies his years but also the relatively short length of time heâ€™s been playing the role.
The direction, too, is some of the most sublime thatâ€™s ever graced the show. For my money, Adam Smith is giving Joe Ahearne some serious competition for the greatest director ever to work on Doctor Who; his tight, absolutely pitch-perfect work on The Eleventh Hour and the Weeping Angels two-parter rightly makes these episodes the series highlights. But apart from some occasionally flat moments early on in the series, the direction across the board has been exemplary, and the decision to employ directors new to the series has resulted in a striking, confident visual style to the series that had perhaps waned slightly in recent years.
So what went wrong? The main, nagging concern I had throughout the run is that although individual episodes were enjoyable enough (with only one serious misfire – the lamentable Victory of the Daleks) the series as a whole felt somewhat less than the sum of its parts. And for a series thatâ€™s given far greater prominence to its ongoing arc than previous runs, this is a serious problem.