Well .... let's start with the obvious. Mr Matt Smith. Prior to his Doctor-debut, I'd seen him in very little (TV/film/drama wise) and knew even less about the man himself, so he's been something of a blank slate for me. I'm pleased to report that I really liked him. All the right qualities needed for the Doc - entertaining, eccentric, endearing, energetic (right, that's enough "e" words), funny and ... cute! I just quickly nipped over to my fellow blogger Steve's site to see what he had to say (no, not steal!) and Stevenage states that Smith has "... an eccentricity that appears to be genuine and is, I suspect, as much a part of Smith's true real-life make-up as that of the character he plays" - which I am fully in agreement with - from the few interviews I've seen of Matt S, he really does seem to be delightfully oddball in real life, which can only lend further weight to his performance as the Time Lord. Favourite Dr bits in this episode included:
- the comic food-eating/rejection scenes with the young Amelia at the start of the episode - a nice piece of role reversal with the Doc coming across as exceedingly kid like and all over the place, whilst Amelia played the part of the grown up doing the cooking - "Beans are evil! Bad, bad beans!"
- the scene when the Doc enters Mrs Angelo's house and is lecturing Amy:
Amy: "You're worse than my Aunt."
Dr: "I'm the Dr and I'm worse than everybody's Aunt."
What am I doing in my nightie? And oh - why is this place bigger on the inside than the - actually that's NOT what I said!
- the final scene in the TARDIS when the Dr persuades Amy to follow in a long line of travelling companions - Amy: "I started to think that you were just a mad man with a box". Dr: "Amy Pond, there's something you better understand about me because it's important, and one day, your life may depend on it. I am definitely a mad man with a box. (Amy laughs) Ha ha - yeah!" (I loved Matt S's delivery of these last lines and the laugh - sweet and rather unnerving at the same time.).
- on entering the newly regenerated TARDIS: "Oh, you sexy thing."
Lots more that was good about Mr S too but too much to trawl through - all in all though an engaging debut from "Who dat man" (Oh yeah another comic bit - and the Whovian geek in me feels obliged to tell you that this was actually about the third or fourth story that Matt Smith filmed, so not, strictly speaking, his "debut" - there you go). I look forward to more of the same! One other thing I should add - whilst I acknowledge David Tennant's merits, I was never his greatest fan - the silly tics and OTT elements of his incarnation of the Dr ("New-new-new-new York") really grated at times and its refreshing to see these aspects are largely absent from Matt S's performance. I hope I'm going to like Matt Smith more.
And Miss Amelia Pond - well, I've got to say, I actually liked the younger version of Amy more than the grown-up version - a relatively rare occasion where a little girl actress isn't cloying and irritating but manages to convey innocence and knowingness at the same time which Caitlin Blackwood did very well (fact: did you know she's Karen Gillan's real-life cousin?) The opening scenes, with young Amelia and the Doc, made for fun viewing and a different approach to the "first new Dr"story. I kind of wish that "little girl" Amy has been given the chance to travel with the Time Lord after all, rather than being left high and dry sitting on her suitcase - then again, it would have probably led to floods of letters of complaint being sent into the BBC, with accusations of the show promoting "dodgy" and "corrupting" adult/child relationships, or probably worse, if you get my drift.
Still on the subject of Amy, I also loved the whole "Raggedy Dr" fairy tale aspect of the story, with the Dr's encounter with the wee Scotts lass becoming the stuff of legend (or should that be myth?) amongst the villagers of Leadworth. The idea that the older Amy had been creating dolls and drawing pictures of the Dr since his crash, 12 years previously, plus the revelation that she'd been forced to undergo years of psychoanalysis because no-one believed what had happened to her, made the Dr-companion dynamic a lot more different and unusual - good writing on the part of Mr Moffat here.
As for the older Amy who we shall of course be seeing much more of over the next 12 weeks, Karen Gillan was very good in her own way too - intelligent, independent, feisty and sarcastic. In spite of my comments about the potential cheapening of the character through making her a "kissogram", this was dealt with in a nicely satirical way that did not detract from the character - her rather defensive conversation in Mrs Angelo's house, for instance:
Mrs A: Hello Amy dear, are you a policewoman now?
Amy: Well, sometimes -
Mrs A: I thought you were a nurse.
Amy: I can - be a nurse ...
Mrs A: Or actually a nun?
Amy: I dabble (nervous laugh)
Dr: And what sort of job's a kissogram?
Amy: "I go to parties and I kiss people ... (self conscious throat clearing) ... it's a laugh! (last lines uttered very aggressively/defensively).
It's also clear (even from just one episode) that Karen G is a gifted actress - her vocal delivery was spot on at times (see above, and her mocking pronunciation of the Dr's "bow tie" near the end, for instance) not to mention her facial expressions - she can do wide, starey eyes very well - whilst this could be deemed annoying if overused, it was very appropriate in the scene where she discovered the "extra" bedroom in her house and the revelation that something nasty was hiding inside.
I also loved the look on her face as the Dr stripped off in the hospital corridor and her response to Rory's question: "Aren't you going to turn your back?": "Nope".
I did find older Amy ever so slightly up herself though - a bit too self-assured and self-reliant to the point where she sometimes came across as contemptuous of others. But as I recall reading somewhere else, I guess you've got to take into account the traumatising effect of a) meeting a strange man from outer space who then promptly buggers off for 12 years b) having no-one believe you regarding a) - which has presumably made Amy into the defensive and rather guarded young lady she now is. Hopefully we'll see the ice on "the Pond" start to thaw over the resultant weeks and the ginger one showing a few more vulnerabilities.
The English village setting was also nicely used (as others have observed, shades of the Pertwee era), the guest cast also put in some nice turns, especially Annette Crosbie and the handsome young fella playing Jeff (damn, why can't he be the new "half-companion" instead of the rather dull Rory? Erm, presumably cos if he was Amy's boyfriend, she's have less reason to stay on Earth and forgo the excitement of travelling with the Dr for another kind of excitement ... )
Also good to see actress Olivia Colman (of Mitchell and Webb fame / other comedies) as a nasty alien Mum.
And I like the newly designed TARDIS - after blowing up at the end of the last story, the reborn space/time machine is definitely futuristic but this time round with more retro and antique touches (the typewriter on the keyboard, the "ding ding" bell, the 80s style trim phone ... the Time Lords are a kitsch old bunch really aren't they?) One thing that bothered me prior to seeing this episode were the rumours I'd heard that the Dr would be given a "more modern", "replacement" TARDIS for this series only because the old one was such a write-off - which didn't really ring true - where would he get it from? So to have the same craft literally regenerating like the Dr himself made more sense.
The not so good
That was a long enough "good" list, wasn't it? I'm pleased to report there was far less "not so good" about this episode. Only:
As mentioned Rory isn't a desperately exciting character - somewhat bland and dull. And we're gonna get some more of him later on this season. Ho hum.
Prisoner O, though a frightening proposition when in the form of a barking man and dog, or a mother and two little girlies (liked the stretched n' fanged teeth) was less so when in alien form - looked like a plastic/airfix worm and you could tell it wasn't really there. Presumably the Beeb are saving the really good special effects, not to mention the budget, for the remainder of the season (and if you look at the Star Wars style spaceship battles in the trailer you can kind of see why...)
And that is that. Until next week (although I suspect I'll have less time on my hands then owing to the fact that it's now Easter and I've had time off work...) One other quick observation to make (which should really go in the "good" list): under the new regime of Steven Moffat, Dr Who already feels different to the Russell T Davies era - whilst still recognisably DW, the show seems to be moving in a maturer, more quirky direction, which was sometimes lacking during RTD's reign. The jarring "soap opera" elements - e.g. the Tyler family and their bust ups and all of the self-conscious pop cultural references - are largely gone. And I'm not particularly sorry about that.
4 out of 5 btw. A tip top start to a tip top show!