12 August 2013

Doctor Who, complete fifth series (starring Matt Smith and Karen Gillan)

Having watched our way through the first four seasons of ‘new’ Doctor Who, followed by the 2009 ‘specials’, we had become huge fans of the brilliant David Tennant. We had rather more mixed feelings about his various assistants, but he was, we felt, the ‘true’ Doctor of the 21st century. How could he possibly be replaced by Matt Smith, someone we had barely heard of before his role as the Doctor, and who was apparently only in his 20s. Could a 900-year-old Time Lord really be portrayed by someone barely older than our sons...?

Our sons assured us that we would soon find ourselves accepting the 11th incarnation of the Doctor, even comparing him favourably with Tennant. So I put the fifth series on my wishlist and was given it for my birthday, and we started watching it a couple of months ago.

The first episode is quite dramatic, and introduces nine-year-old Amelia Pond. A delightful actress (Caitlin Blackwood) portrays a confident child who seems to look after herself - but who is becoming quite disturbed by a strange crack in her bedroom wall, and the voices she can hear behind it. She prays for help, and is not surprised when the tardis lands in her garden and the Doctor steps out. He takes her very seriously, then has to leave... promising to return in a few minutes.

Unfortunately the tardis’ time-keeping isn’t great, and he returns twelve years later, when he finds Amelia grown up (played by Karen Gillan), now known as Amy, and her boyfriend Rory (Arthur Darvill). An exciting adventure ensues...

Rather than each episode being totally complete in itself, the storyline featuring the cracks in the universe is a theme across this whole series, culminating in an exciting two-part finale where the young Amelia Pond re-appears, and the universe is threatened with total extinction.

This series marks more changes than just that of the main cast. The production team also changes, being led now by Stephen Moffatt, one of the writers. About half of the episodes on this DVD set are written by him, and reflect a rather more complicated underlying story than some of the earlier ones did: after we had finished watching the finale, my head was spinning. The following day I tried to make sense of it all - why was the universe imploding? How could someone be erased from memory? Why was the tardis so significant?

The ‘wibbly wobbly timey-wimey stuff’ is quite complicated throughout this series, with various cracks appearing in apparently random places, and scenes from past and future impinging on the present with mind-boggling results. I very much enjoyed the two episodes which featured, respectively, Winston Churchill (brilliantly portrayed by Ian McNeice) and Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran). Some of the Doctor’s old enemies appear - in particular the daleks - and there’s a two-parter where the ultra-creepy ‘Weeping Angels’ introduced in an earlier series make their reappearance. But on the whole these episodes are more about people, with the aliens or other enemies taking far less significant roles.

There’s certainly plenty of tension - although we know that, one way or another, the Doctor and his companion will come through - and there’s some humour too. I particularly enjoyed the light-hearted episode ‘The Lodger’ in which the Doctor attempts to be an ordinary person for a while, something which he finds remarkably hard to do...

Fans of the series will probably have seen these episodes already when they were broadcast in 2010, but they’re well worth re-visiting in this excellent box set. I’m not one to re-watch films regularly, nor TV shows but by the end - when things were becoming clearer in some respects, if more confused in others - I felt that I would quite like to see this season again from the start, so as to make more sense of the overall story arc about the cracks in the universe. Series 4 seemed to have rather too many aliens for my tastes, and was rather dark in places. Long drawn out battles and heavy scenes of violence (albeit non-explicit) do nothing for me, so I liked the more thought-provoking approach of this series.

As for Matt Smith... he’s not David Tennant, and doesn’t attempt to be like him, which was probably wise. He leaps into action in the first episode and shows his ability to think fast and move at speed, with plenty of rapid conversation (something which Stephen Moffat seems to excel in) and a light-hearted touch which I appreciated.

 It’s fairly typical, I gather, for people to be suspicious about each new incarnation of the Doctor, to compare him unfavourably with the previous one at the start of the series, and then to consider him the ‘best ever’ by around the time he announces his retirement. I’m not sure I shall do that; we loved David Tennant in the role by the time he was half way through the first episode, and I’m not sure he will ever be equalled. But still, Matt Smith makes an engaging Doctor, even if I didn’t quite manage to believe in him as aged time lord.

Definitely recommended.

Review copyright Sue's DVD Reviews

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