Sunday, 27 June 2010

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who Season 5 - An overview.


After 4 years of David Tennant and 5 years of Russel T Davies as head writer, 2010 saw Doctor Who rebranded and reborn with Matt Smith taking up the role of 11th Doctor and Steven Moffat moving up to head writer for the series. While fan opinions seems generally positive and optimistic for the change on the writing side of things opinions remained divided on whether Smith could deliver in the lead role and fill the shoes left by his predecessor. And he did it. Remarkably.

Bursting in with The Eleventh Hour (★★★★★) Matt Smith made his presence known as the Doctor while simultaneously sticking somewhat to Tennant's Doctor template in order to smooth the transition. Karen Gillan's debut as companion Amy Pond proved just as successful in creating a dynamic that would be crucial in helping carry the series - the relationship between Doctor and companion. Throw in some clip footage of previous Doctors, the first of what would be many references/homages to the classic series (something I felt the RTD era was lacking) and foreshadowing of future events and we were given a story that didn't grate like usual new Doctor/ companion stories do, even if it had some of the BBC's standard dodgy CGI.

Next came The Beast Below (★★★★★), a seemingly more low key story that really gave Matt Smith a chance to flesh out his Doctor's character. And that he did. Smith's Doctor is the perfect blend of Troughton and Tom Baker, with a little hint of McCoy's dark side - all wrapped up with some brilliant acting. Smith's Doctor is the first in a while that has really felt alien, and his outburst at the episodes conclusion really demonstrated some of the range he's capable of.

Victory of the Daleks (★★★) promised big things, but ultimately was the first decidedly average episode of the season. Despite some great acting from the cast (especially Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill) this story felt incredibly rushed and really could have benefitted from the multiple part format of old. The WW2/Ironside scenario lasted all of 5 minutes (feeling more like a brief homage to Power of the Daleks than an actual story set up), and all the story served to do was introduce the newly designed Daleks (in a variety of different flavours). Fan reception is certainly mixed on the redesign, but there was nothing really action-wise to judge them on. The highlight of this episode was certainly Smith holding the Daleks back with a single Jammy Dodger.

The Time of the Angels (★★★★) saw the return of both Moffat's Weeping Angels and the character of River Song. While I love the concept of this character, I find the execution very poor and she comes off as little more than smug and annoying. Despite this, as promised the episode felt very much like the Aliens to Blink's Alien - complete with Marines! As the first 2-parter of the season it left with a very good cliffhanger and Flesh and Stone (★★★★★) continued the story feeling even better than its predecessor. We gain some valuable information about the cracks present throughout the series, Gillan and Smith keep going from strength to strength and those with a keen eye will notice an 'incorrect' scene that perhaps isn't all that it seemed.

After a thrilling 2-parter, Vampires of Venice (★★) feels like a huge let down. The story really felt like it was written for Tennant's Doctor rather than Smith's, and featured a resolution that wouldn't have felt out of place in the RTD era, along with some terrible looking CGI fish aliens. The episode's only saving graces were its opening sequence and a proper introduction to the character of Rory Williams - present in The Eleventh Hour but here we get a proper look at him.

Amy's Choice (★★★★★) seemed like it was going to be the first proper dud of the series from the previews, but it proved to be anything but. Rory began to feel more and more at home in the Smith/Gillan dynamic and the episode contained some fantastic insight into both the minds of Rory and the Doctor. It's only let down was the explaination of the chain of events at the very end - which felt very much like an after thought, especially with such a great character like the Dream Lord.

The Hungry Earth (★★★) boasted the return of the Silurians, but it came at the cost of them being reinvented into something almost indistinguishable from the Silurians of old. This was explained in-show as them being a different sub-division to the originals and out-show as an attempt to make them more emotive, but giving them human features made them more ape-like, which in turn felt contradictory to the whole premise of Silurians in the first place. Hungry Earth was boring and slow paced, feeling like a very drawn out set up to the far better second part Cold Blood (★★★★★). Character-wise the Silurians felt right and the emotion was high as we said goodbye to Rory, who by now had more than earned his place in the TARDIS despite having early reservations about his lastabiliy. Despite Rory fading out of time, having never existed and his finacee Amy forgetting he ever existed, I was sure this wouldn't be the last we saw of him. At this stage, what interested me more was the 'shrapnel' the Doctor found in the crack in time....

I may take criticism for saying this, as fan consensus on this particular episode was rather high, but Vincent and the Doctor (★) was by far the worst episode of the season and a real low point. Episodes where the Doctor has met famous figures (Tooth and Claw, The Shakespeare Code) have never been the best of the bunch, but this one is best described as Richard Curtis gushing (to put it a polite way) over art. Tackling an issue as tough as mental illness was a bold move, but the inclusion of an extremely poor monster plot line (Walking with Dinosaurs had better CGI than some of these episodes) created an experience that was extremely disjointed. The episode's conclusion felt more like a desperate attempt to tug at viewers heartstrings not too much like Tennant's departure than an attempt to provide a fitting tribute to a troubled man. Plenty of potential, but the end result was a trainwreck that even Tony Curran's acting as Van Gogh couldn't save.

Featuring James Corden in an episode was never going to amount to much, but a chance for Matt Smith to be his Doctor and live among humans gave The Lodger (★★★★) worthwhile status. Sure the plot amounts to two people saving the planet by the power of love, and James Corden is as annoying as ever, but seeing the Doctor play football, run around in just a towel and generally be awkward around people rocketed Matt Smith to the position of my second favourite Doctor (just after Jon Pertwee).

The came the finale. The Pandorica Opens (★★★★★) set the stakes pretty darn high. A story with a lot of great twists and turns and a cliffhanger to rival even the best among the huge history of Doctor Who. River Song returned but felt far less annoying among a bigger cast, and Rory's 'miraculous' return created some great exchanges between Darvill and Smith. The Big Bang (★★★★★) on the other hand didn't feel quite so epic in terms of scale, but after endless 'big' finales from RTD that had fallen flat on their face in the last 5 minutes this really was a case of less is more. Jumping back and forth in time in order to create a consistent chain of events felt like something Who should have covered long ago, and the main plot of the story was so Red Dwarf I find it hard to believe it wasn't deliberate ("Jumpstart the second Big Bang?"). After a teary goodbye to the Doctor a happy ending with Amy and Rory finally getting married was well deserved. The episode served to answer many of the questions raised both in and out of the plot throughout the series (including the infamous sequence in Flesh and Stone) but also managed to leave a few hanging to add some more anticipation to season six. The mystery of River Song won't be staying a mystery for much longer. Speaking of River Song, Daleks don't beg for mercy. Ever. That's all I have to say on the matter.

So there we have, Matt Smith proved himself to be undoubtedly the best Doctor since the show's relaunch, the Smith/Gillan/Darvill team is a perfect formula which will continue into the Christmas special and the next season and TV has just said goodbye to the best season of Doctor Who in a long time. Long live Moffat's reign, long live the Eleventh Doctor.

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