It took me quite a while to mourn David Tennant and move on to Series 5. But I did it! So how does the Matt Smith era shape up?
This is Steven Moffat’s first season as executive producer, and it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Firstly, any connection with the Russell T Davies era has been well and truly severed. Rose is in a parallel Earth with her Doctor clone, Donna doesn’t remember her spell as companion, Martha and Mickey are with UNIT (who do not feature in this season) and we’ve a brand new Doctor. The only link is the mysterious River Song, who we first met in the Library, and plays a big role in Series 5.
Matt Smith’s tenure starts off with the rollicking season opener ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Newly regenerated, he crashlands into a garden of a big old house- where he is found by a little girl. Amelia Pond is an orphan, who has a strange crack on her bedroom wall. This crack creeps her out, and her Christmas wish is that Santa will make it go away.
Naturally, she’s fascinated by the Doctor, whose regeneration has left him with cravings odder than any pregnant woman’s. After a meal of fish fingers and custard, he spots a creepy door on Amy’s landing, and tells her he’ll be back in five minutes- the TARDIS is exploding.
A decade or so later, he’s back. Amy, now a grown woman, has had plenty of childhood therapy to get over her imaginary friend, works as kissogram (a PG stripper, for those of you who are curious) and is engaged to Rory, a nurse at the local hospital. Rory has problems of his own- all the comatose patients on his ward are talking in their sleep.
It’s a great introduction to the Eleventh Doctor. He doesn’t have the depth of the Tenth, but he’s quirky and weird, and Smith delivers an excellent performance. Any Whovian would thrill at the moment he reminds the Atraxi, the alien police force who are about to exterminate the Earth for harbouring a prisoner, that the earth is defended. ‘The Eleventh Hour’ is a really great Steven Moffat episode, filled with his trademark creepy elements and seemingly disconnected threads which come together in a satisfying finale.
The pace keeps up with the second episode, ‘The Beast Below’. Another Moffat episode, this time set aboard the futuristic Starship UK. Life on earth has become unsustainable, and so every country has taken to the skies in search of a new home. The vast Starship UK is home to all British citizens (except Scotland, which elected to float off on its own. We shall see in September what happens- and what becomes of Northern Ireland in space is unknown) and it’s soon clear it’s a police state. Liz X, The Queen, (a wonderful performance by Sophie Okonedo), is kept in ignorance by a sinister army of clockwork clowns. The reason is heartbreaking, and it’s up there with The Girl in The Fireplace as one of Moffat’s best episodes, especially if you have a soft spot for animals, which I do.
Next up a good old fashioned Dalek episode- set during the Blitz no less! The Doctor receives a call from his BFF, Winston Churchill, who has a secret weapon against Jerry. They’re big, shaped like pepper pots, and have plungers for faces. Sound familiar? Of course, it could only be our friends the Daleks, who are second only to termites in their ability to survive. The early part of the episode is great fun, with Daleks- or Ironsides, as Churchill calls them- in their fatigues sweetly offering to make tea for all and sundry. They are shocked at the implication that they could be anything other than a boon to the Allied cause. Of course, it’s not long before their true exterminating selves shine through. But can we give a big shout out to the good people at the BBC who operate the Daleks? Making something with no face act so convincingly is quite the feat. Hell, there are human actors who can’t manage what the Daleks do.
Like a lot of people, I thought ‘Blink’ was one of the best episodes of the David Tennant era. Unfortunately, the return of the Weeping Angels in two-parter ‘The Time of Angels’/’Flesh and Stone’, left me cold, which is a huge pity. Although Alex Kingston gives another great turn as River Song, and the CCTV loop of the Angels is wonderfully creepy, it ultimately felt like we have seen all this before- most notably in the Library double-header in the previous series. The reinvention of the Angels and the adding of another layer to their mythos was kind of disappointing. What I loved about the Angels was the purely arbitrary nature of their actions. They were not the stereotypical villains that killed you without a second thought. Instead they sent you back to a random point in time- something that worked out pretty well for Sally Sparrow’s friend, who found her husband in 1920. But stranding a person in a time not their own was a interesting punishment- killing people makes them no different to the Daleks.
‘Vampires in Venice’ was a fairly average episode set in Renaissance Italy, with vampires. It’s probably the first time that Amy started to really bother me. I have mentioned before that Rose and Martha‘s mooning over the Doctor irked me- well they look like models of constraint compared to Amy. Not to sound prudish or judgemental, but she’s about to marry poor old Rory and there she is snogging a 900-year-old alien. Something I’m also not a fan of on a personal level is people who ridicule their partner in public, or talk dismissively to them, and Amy does this to Rory in spades.
But moving on, because I’m sure there are people who find Amy feisty and spunky and all the rest. I’m just not her biggest fan. Certainly, her faking labour every five minutes in the next episode, ‘Amy’s Choice’ didn’t help. Apart from that, it’s a great episode, a good standalone, which does show a more humane side to Pond (as the Doctor likes to call her). The Doctor, Amy and Rory meet a mysterious little man called the Dream Lord. For the hell of it, he plunges them into a dream- back in England, Amy is married and pregnant, but the old people of the village are acting very strangely. Meanwhile, in the powercut TARDIS, the temperature is plunging dangerously low. And eventually, Amy must decide which world is real. It’s a great, emotive episode with a wonderful twist.
So it turns out David Icke was right! But instead of inhabiting our world leaders, the Lizard People are dormant under the earth. Until a Welsh mining team drills down too far. The double header, ‘The Hungry Earth’/’In Cold Blood’ is highly entertaining. It’s something I could easily imagine watching on Saturday morning as a nine-year-old- and that’s highly complimentary.
The next episode is much more grown up and is curiously affecting. ‘Vincent and The Doctor’ was written by Richard Curtis, and features the Doctor and Amy going back to 19th century Provence and meeting Vincent Van Gogh. Poor Vincent is tormented, as we all know, by his lack of success, his inner demons- oh, and the alien monster only he can see. The alien summarily taken care of, the real story is about poor Van Gogh and his pain. When he takes a trip in the TARDIS to the present day and sees how posthumously appreciated his work becomes, I dare you not to shed a tear.
The next episode is a nice trip back down to earth and the present day- with the Doctor becoming a lodger in an Essex flat. His flatmate, Craig, works in a call-centre and is in love with his best friend, Sophie. Saving the planet from the monstrous alien upstairs, who has been eating passersby, entails Craig taking a chance and kissing the girl. A rather sweet episode, where we see just how bizarre the Doctor is compared to normal human beings.
And we’re up to the season finale. The crack in the universe has widened and the Doctor must take action or else, there will be silence. Forever. It’s a good action-packed finale, bringing back little Amelia Pond, and earning Rory serious brownie points. How many guys do you know who would wait 2000 years for you?
All in all, Series 5 is pretty uneven. There are some great episodes, but there is something lacking. Is it a David Tennant hangover? Who knows? I just know I found it far harder to care about Amy Pond than Donna Noble. Let’s reserve judgement on Eleven’s era until next season.