This episode, Amy’s first trip in the TARDIS, had all the elements of a Moffat classic, but fell unfortunately flat. It started promisingly enough, the hair-raising pre-titles sequence, involving a child being ejected from an elevator after a revolving head in a funfair booth pronounced his schoolwork unsatisfactory, seemingly setting up what looked to be another frightening Moffat effort. Indeed, the unsettling air of intrigue that seized the first ten minutes or so of the episode contributed to the foundations of a gripping story, but I think the episode just failed to follow through on what it had set up. Perhaps my perspective is tainted because I’ve seen it before and knew what was coming, but, while carrying the mystery well enough while it lasted, the episode failed to engage me emotionally with the moral dilemma when it was finally revealed, and the plight of the Star Whale. No doubt it was a serious and terrible dilemma for the Doctor to face, but I just felt that wasn’t as compellingly conveyed as it could have been. The unsatisfying revelation, I’m afraid—given that this was what the whole episode was leading up to—somewhat dented my enjoyment of what up until then had been a fairly interesting story.
That said, there was also plenty to like in this episode. In particular, Amy’s part. Amy proved herself a more than capable companion in her first adventure in the TARDIS. I loved watching her follow her nose almost recklessly when the Doctor sent her to find Mandy, the little girl, promptly landing herself in deep trouble as she found herself surrounded by what looked like Opus Dei cultists. At the uplifting resolution of the episode, Amy’s bold decision to save the whale showed ultimately how valuable the Doctor’s companions are to him: it wasn’t only the whale she saved, and the Doctor realised that only too well. This is the Doctor being reminded again of how much he needs a companion, after travelling for such a long time alone after he was forced to leave Donna behind. I also really liked how Karen Gillan played Amy. I’m reminded again of why Amy’s my favourite companion: she’s feisty and childlike and adventurous and adorably fails to conceal how much she’s trying to act cool about finding herself in totally alien surrounds. I also love how unfazed and amused she is about everything, such as the voting booth announcing that she’s 1,300 years old.
Matt Smith was also superb in his second outing in the role. It certainly feels like he’s totally in control of the role at this stage; in fact it felt that way in The Eleventh Hour. I remember, for me, it took until The Idiot’s Lantern for me to get the same impression about David Tennant. This episode added compelling layers to the Eleventh Doctor’s character as we saw a side of him we didn’t see in The Eleventh Hour. I’m talking about the Doctor’s frightening outburst when he realised what the government of Starship UK had been doing to the Star Whale, and his subsequent decision to “dump” Amy over her decision to forget about the whale. It showed that Matt’s Doctor is mercurial and moody, and evidently conceals what a very serious and sober person he is under that jovial and quirky exterior. It’s one of the reasons why Matt’s Doctor is my favourite: he’s such a complex and interesting character, far more than one realises at first.
Some final thoughts. I liked the style of this episode; I agree with those who say it’s very reminiscent of the McCoy era style. Paradise Towers was one of my first thoughts when I saw the pre-titles sequence (which is meant as a compliment, I actually enjoyed Paradise Towers). Those Smilers were actually quite freaky, and I imagine I’d be not inconsiderably creeped out by them if I were under the age of 10. Finally, I didn’t think much of Liz 10’s character, *ahem* Queen Elizabeth X. Sophie Okonedo was fine, but I just don’t see a gun-toting action-woman with a cockney accent as Queen of the United Kingdom. Sorry, just didn’t work for me. Other than the faults I’ve mentioned, though, this episode was redeemed enough by its successes to scrape its way from “meh” into “good” territory.