Review: Doctor Who – The Eleventh Hour – A Critical Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era / Author: Andrew O’Day / Publisher: I.B. Tauris / Release Date: Out Now
Publisher I.B. Taurus has in recent years released several scholarly appreciations of everyone’s favourite Time Lord. This, the latest, focuses on the series during the tenure of the recently departed Matt Smith and current showrunner Steven Moffat.
Editor Andrew O’Day has previously contributed to several Who-related works, as well as co-authoring a book on Terry Nation. Here he has put together a collection of essays by various academics looking at different aspects of the series under Moffat’s stewardship, as well as the show’s wider cultural context. It also contrasts Moffat’s version of the show with those of his predecessors, in particular Russell T. Davies.
What the book is not, however, is an episode guide. You’ll find no discussions of the merits, or otherwise, of individual stories. Rather the book takes an overview, looking at different aspects of the show over the first three years of Moffat’s era.
Matt Smith’s performance, the look of the show, Murray Gold’s music, Christmas specials, selling the show to America and marketing all get their own chapters. There are even sections on the online games that accompanied Season 5, and The Sarah Jane Adventures’ story Death of the Doctor, which shows how the BBC dealt with the tricky problem of how to portray the returning Davies in the Moffat era .
By far the most entertaining section is Brigid Cherry’s chapter on Who fandom. For those unacquainted with the world of Doctor Who forums (which include this writer), it offers a glimpse into some of the more extreme reactions to be found online. Particularly enjoyable are some of the hugely negative overreactions that appeared following Smith’s unveiling as the Doctor in 2009, with one particularly surreal Facebook comment claiming that the actor ‘looks like a gay dog’. Another section highlights those fans who see nothing contradictory in decrying David Tennant's female fanbase, while trawling the net for pictures of Karen Gillan in her underwear.
On the subject of sexism, a whole chapter is dedicated to gender portrayals under Moffat. The current showrunner has come in for a great deal of stick for his portrayal of female characters on Doctor Who. The chapter offers several interesting arguments which would seem to counter that, looking in depth at the portrayal of both Amy and River as strong, complex (and yes, sexually confident) female characters.
The breadth of topics is comprehensive, so it's a shame that, rather than looking at the whole of Matt Smith’s era, the book only goes up to the first half of Season 7, as far as The Angels Take Manhattan. Whilst the back cover blurb and the episode list suggest it covers the whole era, even cheekily making mention of Peter Capaldi, in fact no episodes from the anniversary year, or 2012’s Christmas special, The Snowmen, are discussed. As a result, Clara doesn’t get a look-in beyond her appearance in Asylum of the Daleks. It would have been interesting to see her character given the same kind analysis afforded the 11th Doctor’s other companions. Also suffering as a consequence is the otherwise interesting chapter on the Christmas specials since, of the four Smith/Moffat shows, only Christmas Carol and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe are covered.
Although primarily aimed at those with an interest in the field of television studies, the insights offered by The Eleventh Hour means it should easily find an audience outside of academia. Despite occasional lapses into technobabble that even the Doctor would struggle with, it is, for the most part, a fairly easy, entertaining read. Whether you’re a fan of the show under Moffat or not, it offers an intriguing, insightful look at all aspects of the series. It’s just a pity they couldn’t have waited a few months and covered the whole of Matt Smith’s era