Review: Science Fiction

TV Show Review: Doctor Who New Series (Series 5)

Having written about the first 4 series of the new show, I’d hate for anyone to get the impression that I’m not a fan of Matt Smith and the Eleventh Doctor that he portrays. Because I am a huge fan. In fact, that’s why I started with the first 4 series: I knew when I got to Matt Smith I’d go on and on and on….

And yes, I realize that my posts are generally quite long. (Shush, little sister, I know you’re reading this.) So by on and on and on I mean more than usual.

So, I didn’t grow up watching Doctor Who. My introduction to the show was during undergraduate at Uni, when a friend of mine learned I’d never heard of it and decided that the situation had to be rectified at once, having conveniently just purchased the complete box set of the latest series. As I stated in my review of the series, series 4 was that series and David Tennant was my first doctor. And while I quite liked David Tennant, it was unfortunately the Tenth Doctor at his most depressing. Plus—again, I’ve mentioned this before—series 4 is just a terrible place to start, because it requires so much understanding of who so many people are.

The result was that it was only last year that I picked it up again. I debated between starting at series 1 or starting with the new Doctor. I opted for the latter, and oh, am I glad I did. Even though technically David Tennant is my first Doctor, I have latched on to Matt Smith as the paragon of what the Doctor ought to be. Compared to the Eleventh Doctor, the Tenth Doctor is practically an angst-ridden teenager who can’t decide whether or not life is worth living.

This was, to me, the deciding factor:

Tenth Doctor: [to Donna] You’re not special. You’re not powerful. You’re not connected. You’re not clever. You’re not important.

Eleventh Doctor: [to Kazran] Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.

The Doctor is always somewhat arrogant, and with good reason. But ultimately, the Doctor is a character who can live through a thousand years and still care about humanity. Eleven’s attitudes toward people feels far more Doctor-y to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not meaning to insult David Tennant or Ten in anyway. Ten had a lot to deal with, and I entirely blame the writers for setting him up to be some sort of martyr. I mean, in several episodes the Doctor is ready to give up his life for some reason or another—and then his last words are “I don’t want to go” even though he’s regenerating? Frankly, the way he treated Wilfred Mott at the end made me tear up: a sad little, “It would be my honour,” does not make up for making an old man feel guilty for getting to live at the expense of one regeneration for the Doctor! And this isn’t Ten’s fault (I claim temporary insanity due to grief on Ten’s part) nor Tennant’s fault (I blame the writer).

Anyway, Eleven, Amy and Rory make, to me, the most compelling Doctor/companion combination yet in this new series. I also loved that they didn’t just blindly abandon that reluctance to take anyone along as we saw Ten have in the end. The Beast Below (allegedly hugely ripped off from Star Trek, though I’ve never seen a Star Trek episode so I have no clue) served, to me, to illustrate that Eleven really was taking a chance with Amy—not just blindly going, “Hey, let’s travel together!” like all the pain that Ten went through meant nothing.

Matt Smith gives an incredibly compelling, powerful portrayal of the Doctor. Smith’s Doctor is funny first and foremost, energetic, menacing when necessary, and still manages to convey that sense of a madman who’s lived for a millennium and seen nearly everything. It’s truly a credit to Smith’s acting that he can convey such a wide range of emotions within the same one character.

But it’s not all Smith. I would argue that Tennant had a lot of the same potential, but was hindered by writing more suited to a show like Buffy, where relationship drama and depressing character drama comprise a bigger part of the story. So it’s a huge credit to Steven Moffat that the Eleventh Doctor’s storylines thus far have been so delightful.

I would never claim that every episode since Moffat took over has been amazing. There are still things that don’t make sense, and episodes that are not that compelling. But that’s only to be expected. No writer is perfect—and in any case, different people like different things. So I would not at all be surprised if there were people out there who are deeply in love with every episode.

Anyhow, on to my thoughts on each episode, briefly (small spoilers ahead!):

Eleventh Hour: Wonderful. The Doctor being so very loopy for most of the episode culminating in his “I am the Doctor” speech made for a perfect introduction to Eleven. I was over Tennant before the episode had even ended.

The Beast Below: A bit meh in and of itself, but as I stated above, it showed that Ten’s emotions haven’t just vanished with the regeneration. It also was a wonderful opportunity for Smith to showcase his version of who the the Doctor would be (“A tongue! A great big tongue!”). Seriously, Nine and Ten were fascinated by a lot of odd things, but neither of them were ever given the opportunity to be so very excited about being trapped inside a giant mouth and covered in digestive fluids.

Victory of the Daleks: Interesting, but not the most compelling of episodes. Eleven’s ferocity is noteworthy, but otherwise I wasn’t terribly engaged.

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone: So much amazingness! River and the angels return, coupled with new and creepier twists to the Weeping Angels! Plus, it adds to the mystery of the cracks in the universe. But while amazingly entertaining, delightful and creepy, here were some problems I had with it (big spoiler alert!):

  1. In Blink, people were almost definitely looking at the angels’ eyes. But let’s assume that this is a different race of angels with different quirks, and let that go.
  2. I get that the angel was ripping out its victims’ larynges so that he could talk to the others, since teensy tiny human lives meant nothing next to the Doctor (and River), and the energy from the ship. I suppose the angel felt that communication was necessary in order to get to them. But even assuming he needed to get rid of all the three standing guard outside, why rip all their larynges out? Couldn’t he just use one and displace the others in time to eat them? As a matter of fact, since the army’s been stuck here for ages, couldn’t the continuous displacement of these two through history a bit at a time supply a whole lot of angels with food? Okay, maybe it’s a little snack compared with what else is waiting, but really, if you were that hungry, would you pass up a snack? But let’s assume that the feast waiting for them is far too compelling to make those tiny human lives tempting.
  3. The biggest issue of all is that the entire premise of Blink was that they are “weeping” because they can’t afford to look at each other, due to the quantum lock that turns them into stone if they look at each other. There were a million and a half angels in those caves. None of them were covering their eyes. In fact, at several points I could swear that they were looking at each other, and yet continued to move when no one else was looking. This was a huge, gaping hole that I can find no reasonable excuse for.

The Vampires of Venice: Worth it just because of the sheer delight that Eleven and Amy experience in response to the presence of “vampires.” Also provides a nice introduction to the unfortunate dynamic between Amy and Rory as things stand, with Amy not being entirely sure whether she wants to get married.

Amy’s Choice: At last, compulsion for Amy to realize what she really wants!

Though frankly, that’s a bit extreme as compulsion goes. Of course, it would be a tiring episode if that were all it were. It’s also worth watching because Eleven has several hilarious moments.

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood: This duo did make my blood go cold, because it shows that the humans the Doctor deals with aren’t always as morally upright as we usually see. It’s nice that people are generally so nice in Doctor Who, and I’m glad they don’t do this more often, but the occasional episode like these where humanity fails the Doctor is realistic, if saddening.

Vincent and the Doctor: Vincent is Vincent van Gogh. The adventure itself was a bit flat. But Vincent, and his relationship dynamic with Amy and the Doctor, made it a wonderful episode to watch. It’s a perfect episode to watch for the artist feeling down and hopeless. It brings tears to my eyes.

The Lodger: Once again, the plot itself isn’t terribly interesting—though admittedly it is creepy now and then. But the premise is that the Doctor, left behind when the TARDIS has trouble landing, has to pretend to be a normal human in order to investigate the interference that is stopping the TARDIS from landing. As you may imagine, hilarity ensues.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang: Timey-wimey happens and the universe ends. River returns and the Doctor holds millions of enemies at bay with a mere speech. (Not really, but it’s an awesome moment anyway.) This proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Steven Moffat understands what he’s working with, and can really make a time-travelling, age-old madman with a box the character he was meant to be, complete with serious, sad and funny.

A Christmas Carol: A truly wonderful Christmas episode. It’s filled with Christmas spirit: serious, happy and funny and ultimately bittersweet. It also contains most of my favourite Eleven quotes. This is one of my favourite episodes, if not truly my favourite from this series. Though it’s hard to make that call definitively, as so many episodes were well-done from this series.

A couple of my favourite quotes:

(Having just appeared in the fireplace) “Ah, yes. Blimey. Sorry, Christmas Eve on a rooftop! Saw a chimney, my whole brain just went, “What the hell!””

“Oh, now what’s this, then? I love this. A big, flashy-lighty thing. That’s what brought me here. Big, flashy-lighty things have got me written all over them. Not actually, but give me time… and a crayon.”

Doctor: “…And I bet I get some very interesting readings from my sonic screwdriver when I get it back from the shark in your bedroom.”
Kazran: “There’s a shark in my bedroom?”
Doctor: “Oh, fine! Focus on that part!”

Doctor: [his screwdriver’s in a shark’s mouth, and the shark is stuck in the doorway] You know, there’s a real chance the way it’s wedged in the doorway is keeping its mouth open.
Kazran: There is?
Doctor: Just agree with me, ’cause I’ve only got two goes and then it’s your turn.
Kazran: Two goes?
Doctor: Two arms!

This series gets a 9/10 from me!

Buy series 5 here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Doctor-Who-The-Complete-Series/dp/B003XIIW2O
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