The latest series of Doctor Who has finished airing on BBC America. While Some of the events yet to come have been teased in the final episode this is more of a time for reflection while fans wait for the next Christmas special and the DVD box set. Series Five brought quite a few changes: a new Doctor, a new Tardis interior, new Companion and a new head writer (Steven Moffat.) With all that was new the show managed to not lose the magic that had given it a successful revival after 16 years off the air. What follows is a general recap and review of the series and each episode in it. While I’ll try to keep it to a minimum be warned that there will be some spoilers contained in this article.
The Eleventh Hour
Things start out extremely well on all fronts. The Doctor has just regenerated when his Tardis crash lands in a little girl’s back yard. That little girl is Amelia Pond, she has a scary crack in her bedroom wall and she’s fascinated by the Doctor. Trying to stabilize his time machine the Doctor says he’ll be back in five minutes… and doesn’t come back for ten years. He then runs into Amelia (now grown up and going by Amy) and also realizes that a monster came through the crack from her childhood is still lurking about. Matt Smith had his take on the Doctor set and working right from the start. He is more quirky and more genuinely alien than either David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston before him (truth told he brings back memories of the second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton.) Karen Gillan as the grown up Amy shows an immediate and strong rapport with Smith and the two worked very well together on screen. The alien threat in this episode isn’t the best around but really the focus is on the regenerated Doctor and that’s exactly as it should be. Near the end when Smith proclaims “Hello… I’m the Doctor” it sells him as the character perfectly.
The Beast Below
The Doctor takes Amy to the future aboard the Starship UK. The massive ship houses all of England but something is not quite right. The people live in fear, frightening robots are on every street corner and in the bowels of the ship lies a secret so terrible that all who know it choose to forget. A solid effort though not particularly stellar. Though to be honest second episodes can be tricky. The introduction of the new companion is done but now the show has to settle on how the relationship between the Doctor and the companion will work, and it can make for rocky stories. There are some strong points however. Sophie Okonedo as Liz 10 has great energy and is a highlight of the episode. It’s also a nice change of pace to see the Doctor angry with human beings as a whole rather than admiring them as he’s been prone to doing lately. It helped differentiate this Doctor further from David Tennant’s who perhaps identified as the most human in his personality of all the Doctors.
Victory of the Daleks
Winston Churchill has called the Doctor for help and the Time Lord is quick to respond. However what he finds in the heart of the London blitz is far more than he was prepared for: Daleks. The Doctor’s mortal enemies are alive and appear to be assisting Britain in the war. The Doctor knows that there is more going on behind this and will stop at nothing to find out what. This one was a bit of a mixed episode. When dealing with the Daleks and the Doctor directly it worked beautifully and it showed that sneaky scheming side to the Daleks that hasn’t been used much in the new version of the show. The redesign on the Daleks is a little retro for my taste but it’s nice to have a change all the same. On the other hand there’s the extremely hammy portrayal of Winston Churchill by Ian McNeice and the extremely cheesy final resolution. Doctor Who can get cheesy sometimes and usually I can go with it but this was inexplicable cheese. It’s never really properly explained why making a robot feel human will disable the bomb in his chest. I’m forced to conclude that somehow getting him in touch with emotion breaks his programming but if that’s the case the idea is poorly expressed.
The Time of Angels & Flesh and Stone
The Doctor is contacted by River Song, a woman who he keeps meeting in the wrong order. She needs his help at a crashed ship that houses one of the deadliest creatures in the universe: a Weeping Angel (first seen in Blink from Series Three.) It isn’t long before the Doctor, his companions and a small deployment of soldiers find themselves surrounded not only by angels but by an encroaching white light which is erasing things from time itself. I was convinced that there was no way the Weeping Angels would work a second time around. I was so very very wrong. Bringing back River Song (played as before by Alex Kingston) also helps boost this two parter as her non-linear relationship with the Doctor is still as interesting as it was when she first showed up in Series Four. There’s still enough mystery left in the character to keep her showing from being gimmicky and while her chemistry isn’t quite as easy going with Smith as it was with Tennant it still works. This will likely be the last we’ll see of the angels but it is a very well executed second appearance. This is obviously not the last we’ll see of River Song and it’s exciting to think what other excitement she’ll bring.
The Vampires of Venice
The Doctor offers Amy and her fiance Rory a nice romantic trip to renaissance era Venice. Naturally when they arrive there things seem to be slightly off. The young and beautiful students at an exclusive school for girls have started to shun the light and are sporting some rather impressive teeth. The Doctor and his companion couple try to figure out a way of saving the girls and discover what dastardly plot is unfolding in the most romantic city on Earth. All said and done this is the weakest entry of the series. The general idea isn’t particularly interesting and it doesn’t do much to push the Doctor/Rory/Amy relationship forward much either. The villains aren’t overly menacing or entertaining, the effects are pretty good but the story they’re in service of is only ok. This is very much a place holder episode. It’s not really bad, it just leaves next to no impression once it’s over.
After leaving the life on the Tardis behind Amy and Rory have settled down into a quiet village life and are eagerly expecting their first child. The Doctor stops by to visit and catch up with the couple and everybody seems quite content. Or are they? The trio flash between that seemingly idyllic scene and the Tardis as it loses power and drifts. A mysterious and taunting figure calling himself the Dream Lord tells them either the Tardis or the village is a dream and in order to wake up they have to die in the dream… but if they make the wrong choice and die in the real world then it’s all over. Toby Jones completely steals this episode as the Dream Master (I hope I’m not the only fan praying that they find a way to bring him back at some point down the line.) His mischievous energy is just delightful. He comes off almost impish but with just the right amount of maliciousness undercutting that. The scenario is also rather fun and the “what is real” notion is played off well as each of the two worlds becomes deadly and dangerous. One of the highlights of Series Five.
The Hungry Earth & Cold Blood
The Doctor was supposed to take Rory and Amy to Brazil. He missed by a few thousand miles and the trio end up in Wales where an experimental drill has burrowed miles beneath the surface of the Earth. And the Earth is reacting in a way that is very unearthly. People are disappearing an a slumbering race of reptiles that’s been sleeping underground is ready to come back and reclaim the planet from humans. The Doctor sets out not to stop them but to try to broker a peace between homo-reptilia and homo-sapiens. The poor Silurians, they were always getting the short end of the stick on old Doctor Who, usually only minutes away from peace with humans when everything would go to heck and they would all be killed. This is a nice reintroduction into the new series for this old race, though the first episode in this two parter feels a little drawn out. The eventual and rather emotional climax at the end is done well but it doesn’t feel like a totally organic part of this particular story. Rather it just feels tacked onto the end because this was the point in the season when it should happen. Still a solid two parter.
Vincent and the Doctor
While checking out an exhibition of the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh (Amy’s favorite painter) the Doctor spots something rather unearthly in the window of a church the famed Dutchman painted. The Doctor and Amy travel back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh and discover what it was that he saw in the church window. In many ways this is a somewhat mundane story. The sci-fi alien aspect of the story is actually extremely minor, and could almost be tossed out altogether. In a way I almost wish it had been as it’s somewhat distracting from the real heart of the story, which is the bond between the Doctor, Amy and Vincent. Scottish actor Tony Curran as Vincent is excellent and gels very well with Amy and the Doctor. Even though he plays a minor part Bill Nighy is also quite delightful to have on screen. It takes a little time to realize that the alien is just window dressing but once the viewer figures that out this is actually quite an enjoyable and even heartfelt little episode.
The Doctor is stranded and separated from his Tardis. The source of his troubles seems to be on the second floor of an average looking building. But without his tools the Doctor can’t just barge in, so instead he rents a room on the ground floor flat from a very average local. The Doctor tries to appear normal while investigating the upstairs flat which seems to be luring people up the stairs who never come down again. Doctor Who doesn’t always have to be big and epic, sometimes it can be small and intimate. This is small and intimate done very well. James Corden is perfectly as the average lay-about Craig. His rapport with the Doctor is so unlike anything that’s typical of the show and as a result it’s quite refreshing. Even with all the fairly mundane goings on the mystery of the second floor remains enticing and slightly creepy to a degree that it keeps things from feeling slow or listless. A quiet and unassuming little gem of an episode.
The Pandorica Opens & The Big Bang
The Doctor rejoins River Song as he and Amy try to uncover the mystery of the Pandorica. A mysterious box which is said to be the prison of the single most dangerous being in all of creation. But the Doctor is not the only one after it. Enemies from all times and all corners of the universe are converging on the Pandorica and the Doctor must ward them off while discovering what lies inside the box. Once the secret is revealed the universe itself is brought to a premature end, with the Doctor seemingly powerless to stop it. A strong hit from The Pandorica Opens puts the audience back on their heels but the follow up punch from The Big Bang won’t quite knock the viewers out. The problem with The Big Bang is that all it really is doing is tying up a ton of loose ends. It’s all done very cleverly of course but there’s a lack of tension, even with the universe on the line. There’s a Dalek shoe-horned in for some added danger but it’s really just the Doctor running around putting the pieces back together, and it doesn’t feel very immediate. Some have complained about the Doctor breaking the rule of not crossing his own time-line but that’s a nitpick given the scenario. With the universe essentially gone and what little is left deteriorating rapidly it’s probably a safe bet that the rules of the universe are a bit more susceptible to being bent or broken. It’s a strong season closer but not as emotionally resonant as some of the earlier ones, it’s a more of a logistical triumph than any kind of emotional one.
Series Five had it ups and downs (like any series really) but overall it came together very well. Matt Smith is working brilliantly in as the Doctor and his take is different enough from Tennant’s while still feeling like the Doctor. Steven Moffat so far is balancing his story ideas with enough character work to keep the show from becoming too hung up on clever gimmicks. The show could use a bit more of an emotional punch to it, but some of that comes from how Smith is playing the Doctor as generally somewhat more detached. Perhaps with a year under their belt the new team can wring more emotion out of the next series. It’s a change from the Tennant years but it’s a shift that keeps the show alive and vibrant, just as it has to be. A very good series for fans and great starting point for newcomers.