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Fish Sticks and Custard

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | April 20, 2010 |

By C. Robert Dimitri | TV | April 20, 2010 |

“I’m the Doctor. I’m worse than everybody’s aunt.”

And…we’re off! Thrown right into the action, we find the TARDIS in flames, and our new Doctor (Who? That youngster Matt Smith!) is dangling out the open door of his signature police box as it careens wildly over London. There’s a near miss for the Doctor’s groin with the top of Big Ben that had me wincing in anticipation, but — fear not, fellow Whovians — the great Steven Moffat is our new show-runner, and he has proven that when it comes to writing episodes of Doctor Who (see “The Empty Child” / “The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink,” and “Silence in the Library” / “Forest of the Dead”), he is not one for the lowbrow.

After we are treated to a new rendition of the appropriately timeless Doctor Who theme, we meet Amelia Pond, a young girl who has an unsettling crack in her bedroom wall from which foreboding voices emanate. One evening Amelia prays to Santa for help with this problem (a nice non-denominational entreaty for those of us who are heathens), and her request is seemingly answered by the crash-landing of the TARDIS in her yard.

Still feeling those pesky physical aftereffects of regeneration, our new disheveled Doctor emerges from the wreckage and bonds instantly with Amelia. I must interject that said bonding is one of the more charming introductions for both a Doctor and his companion in the program’s history.

Now I must interject within the interjection. Hold on — this little girl is the new companion? Didn’t we read that Scottish lass Karen Gillan has the job? Well, they both have red hair, and this is a show that features time-travel, so I’d say the jig is up fairly quickly on that one, Mr. Moffat. The transparent attempt at subterfuge matters little; like I said: charm-ooze.

As Amelia cooks for the hungry Doctor who is trying to learn the preferences of his new taste buds, we learn that she lives with an in absentia aunt. After vehemently and comically rejecting a few foods, the doctor settles on a delicious combination of custard and fish sticks. His craving sated, the Doctor examines the crack in Amelia’s bedroom wall and determines that it’s an inter-dimensional fault in the space-time continuum. (Isn’t an inter-dimensional fault in the space-time continuum just always the way?) The aforementioned voice is searching for “Prisoner Zero,” and temporarily prying open the hole in the wall reveals a giant eye that is on the lookout for the escapee.

The Doctor recognizes the grave danger of the situation and pops off for “five minutes” in the still-ailing TARDIS with the promise of an immediate return. Amelia is absolutely enthralled by the Doctor, and packs up a child’s suitcase complete with teddy bear, presumably to take up residence in the TARDIS indefinitely where she will be able to enjoy the swimming pool and the library. She patiently sits by the spot where the TARDIS disappeared.

The Doctor shows up again on what he presumes is a slightly tardy next morning. Using the always trusty sonic screwdriver, he reenters the locked house and frantically calls for Amelia. A cricket bat to the back of the Doctor’s head leads to him hand cuffed to a radiator, and now we have the big reveal of our new companion, “Amy,” played by Karen Gillan. Amy is looking very cute in a bobby’s uniform. (Please count that sentence as fulfilling my quota for two important obligatory elements in any Doctor Who recap: the ogling of the Doctor’s companion and my feeble attempt at trying to fit in with the British via the use of slang.) She does such a convincing job of being a police officer, feigning surprise that the Doctor is looking for Amelia Pond, and calling for backup, that for a couple minutes I did doubt that she and Amelia were the same person.

The Doctor reveals to Amy a hidden room in her house that has remained just outside the field of her vision ever since the arrival of Prisoner Zero. Still immobile, the Doctor warns Amy not to investigate, but — like so many of the Doctor’s intrepid and curious companions before her — she does so regardless. In this room Amy gazes upon the true form of Prisoner Zero, a terrifying moray-eel-like creature, and retrieves the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.


Back in the hall she gives the Doctor the sonic screwdriver so that he can free himself. Prisoner Zero appears before both of them, but this time the “multi-formic” creature has taken the form of a local comatose man and his dog. There’s a brilliant and amusing bit of Moffat doublespeak dialogue by the Doctor that is contingent upon whether or not Amy is a cop who has called for backup that is meant to keep Prisoner Zero at bay, and then the malfunctioning sonic screwdriver finally does its duty, putting he and Amy on the run.

In the course of their escape from the house, the Doctor learns from Amy that she is in fact the same Amelia Pond twelve years later and that she is not a police officer. Instead, she is wearing the trappings of one of her outfits in her work as a “kissagram” girl. Over the years Amelia’s brief encounter with the Doctor has served as the source of her fantasies, stories, and psychiatric sessions.

Meanwhile at the local hospital nurse Rory Williams reports to the physician on duty that the entire coma patient ward has been calling for the “doctor.” He also reveals that he has seen the patients wandering around the village. Rather than looking at the photographic evidence he has recorded on the phone, the disbelieving physician puts him on leave.

The voice searching for Prisoner Zero has returned and is broadcasting over all the local radio and television signals. We learn that this voice is tied to the Atraxi space armada that is now surrounding Earth. Prisoner Zero has been taking advantage of its multi-formic nature to hide amongst the humans, and as a result the Atraxi will incinerate all the planet’s residents if it does not surrender.

The Doctor and Amy investigate the broadcast warning over the television in an elderly neighbor’s house. The neighbor — along with her son Jeff — recognize the Doctor from the “cartoons” of the “raggedy Doctor” that Amelia had created in the interceding years. That’s a cute revelation, but there is business to be done, as the Doctor ascertains that they only have twenty minutes before the Atraxi make good on their threat. The Doctor and Amy bicker a bit more as the Earth’s atmosphere is surrounded by a force field in preparation for incineration, and the Doctor makes the connection that he just saw Rory recording Prisoner Zero in his man-dog-tandem form.

The Doctor questions Rory about this taping and learns of the coma patient situation. He also learns that Rory is Amy’s boyfriend, and Rory echoes the disbelief that this is the “raggedy Doctor” come to life. More amusingly, we learn that Amelia forced Rory to dress up as the Doctor when they were kids.

The Doctor tries to summon the Atraxi to Prisoner Zero’s exact location. This is almost successful, but the sonic screwdriver smokes, sputters, and fails, thus leaving the Doctor without his two most trusty devices for the remainder of the adventure, as the TARDIS has locked him out in order to complete its automated repairs.

The Doctor returns to Jeff so that he can borrow his laptop. He taps into the world emergency conference that is discussing the planet’s imminent crisis, transmits several scientific proofs that are beyond the current level of human knowledge to convince them of his credentials and usefulness, and sends them a computer virus to reset counters across the world at a particular moment. In yet another bit of this episode’s manic comic brilliance, the Doctor leaves Jeff to supervise the world’s leaders before the Doctor runs off to see the plan come to fruition.

Back at the hospital Amy and Rory run into Prisoner Zero, now in a creepy mother-with-twin-daughters tandem form. The Doctor arrives just in time to save them on a commandeered fire engine. The Doctor tells Prisoner Zero to give up and go back through the crack in space-time, but Prisoner Zero taunts the Doctor for not knowing the source of the cracks and is no mood to cooperate.

The Doctor’s plan comes together as the Atraxi track the source of the computer virus to Rory’s camera phone, which has all the images of the coma patients that Prisoner Zero has assumed. Prisoner Zero has one final trick up its sleeve (or up its alien pseudo-reptilian husk, if you will), though, as it renders Amy unconscious and assumes the form of a young-Amelia-Doctor tandem, having established a psychic link with her over the many years since its arrival. The Doctor realizes that Amy is thinking about him and pleads with her to remember Prisoner Zero’s true form that she saw in the secret room. This succeeds, and the Atraxi are finally able to use one of their spacecraft to pinpoint and capture Prisoner Zero.

Perhaps foreshadowing a season-arc to come, Prisoner Zero offers an ominous warning: “Silence, Doctor. Silence will fall.”

The Atraxi leave, but the Doctor summons them back for a tongue-lashing. In a stirring crescendo, the Doctor sifts through new outfits pilfered from the hospital closet as he makes his way to the roof. There he makes certain that the Atraxi are aware that this planet is not to be incinerated under any circumstances, as it has had a most reliable protector over the years. The giant Atraxi eyeball renders a visual projection of Earth’s history and a montage of the preceding Doctors’ adventures as the Doctor states his case, and right on cue the Doctor bursts through the final hologram of our old friend David Tennant in our first look at the Doctor’s new appearance in full (bowtie!).

The Doctor returns to the now fully self-repaired TARDIS and takes it for another quick jaunt. His skip to the moon and back is only a mistaken two years later, much to Amy’s continued chagrin. Now, however, the Doctor is ready to offer a trip to anywhere/when “the girl who waited” would like to go. After a bit more bickering, Amy is too impressed by the TARDIS’s interior to pass up the opportunity, even though we catch the hint that she has an important event the next day. The Doctor and Amy take off in the newly designed TARDIS, and our final image is a pan across Amy’s bedroom. We see the dolls she made as a child of her and the Doctor, but more importantly the final image is Amy’s ready-to-wear wedding dress waiting on a hanger.

Having re-watched the episode and absorbed all the details, I suspect and hope that we are in for a great time with Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Steven Moffat. The dialogue, the comedy, and the chemistry are spot-on, as the Brits might say. Matt Smith in particular has believably leaped into the role, delivering the “timey-wimey” vernacular at breakneck speed with the appropriate blend of authority and jest. He should immediately assuage all doubters. Long live David Tennant, of course, but if “The Eleventh Hour” is any indication, Matt Smith is “the man,” even if the Doctor promises in this episode never to use that phrase again.

C. Robert Dimitri spent many of the prime Saturday nights of his youth staying home to watch syndicated episodes of “Doctor Who” on PBS, and his social skills might be beyond repair as a result. He’s not the most hardcore Whovian, but he’s a respectable representative. The first episode he remembers watching was Tom Baker’s “The Creature From the Pit.” At one point he obsessively watched all the Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee episodes that were available to him, and sometime around the age of 14 he dragged his mother to a “Doctor Who” convention. All he truly has ever wanted for Christmas is Perpugilliam Brown, but he would be almost as content with K-9.

He would never eat fish sticks.

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