Friday, 24 December 2010

Of Doctor Who Season 5

It's been a while since Doctor Who season 5 ended and since this years Christmas special airs tomorrow I thought I should get around to reviewing the season that preceded it before actually reviewing that tomorrow. So how was Matt Smith's first year as the Doctor and in turn, Steven Moffat's first year as the lead writer.

Well if you don't already know that Steven Moffat is one of the best writers in the world then really you should learn this little fact. Dude wrote 'Blink' which is proof enough. Overall the last year of Doctor Who continued to show how great a writer Moffat was, even if the episodes not penned by himself rarely held up to his normal brilliance.

But more importantly, how was Matt Smith? Well for starters he was different to David Tennant which was something the show definitely needed. They couldn't have found a guy to replace David Tennat because he was such a fine actor and played his incarnation of the Doctor with such relish and bravado that anyone hired to just replace him would have been awful. Matt Smith's Doctor has rarely had to play the moments of pure drama that David Tennant had to play. That probably came from the change in the writing though but Matt Smith was definitely not playing a carbon copy of David Tennant and for that I'm very thankful.

Of course you cannot speak about the Doctor Who without mentioning his companions. For Season 5 we had Amy Pond played by Karen Gillan. Of course she fulfilled the role of attractive female on the show by Gillan was also immensely likeable and of course added that human element that the Doctor lacks. Amy had to act as our gateway into the series and she did that tremendously well. Then there was the fact that she was the key to the biggest plotline of the season, which hadn't been done before on the show and was again handled very well by Moffat (but of course he is a master writer). Then there was Rory Williams played by Arthur Darvill who whilst not present as often as Amy Pond, was a nice addition to the team in the episodes that he featured in.

But of course the most important thing about Doctor Who is the episodes themselves and how they come together. Doctor Who shows probably the biggest flaw in the idea of having a team of freelance writers in that the writers will occasionally fluctuate so wildly in quality. Occasionally you will have a writer of Steven Moffat's calibre or Paul Cornell but then someone weaker will write the next episode and it'll be leagues worse than the episode that preceded it. So I'm going to separate the Steven Moffat episodes from the others and then say which episodes I enjoyed and which I didn't

The episode I enjoyed least this season was easily 'Victory of the Daleks', I mean this episode was pure wank. It went absolutely nowhere, it failed to have the Daleks as a remotely interesting villain (which honestly they haven't been since Season 1). Yes I enjoyed the look at World War Era Britain and the shows portrayal of Winston Churchill was fun but then was pure shite like the robot scientist who was a bomb but could switch himself off because the Daleks had given him real memories therefore meaning that he could be human as well. I mean fucking seriously? That's how they defuse the bomb, by making a robot believe he is a human. Not a noble sacrifice, not going dark but in the most convoluted and non-nonsensical ways possible. Easily one of the worst episodes the show has ever done.

Other episodes this season such as 'Vampires in Venice' and the Silurian two parter were both good but neither had anything special going on about them. Neither were really integral to the overall story of the season, neither were particularly memorable if I'm completely honest. What they did have going for them was that they were perfectly serviceable little episodes that didn't really anger anyone but didn't exactly do much to make them memorable. Really just average episodes for no fault of their own. What was memorable about the Silurian episodes though was the death of Rory, which was genuinely quite shocking as well as then having Amy forget that her fiancée had ever existed was a bold move on Moffat's part (even if it was undone by the finale, but it didn't feel like the slap in the face that RTD's death fake-outs used to be)

Now we move onto the really very good episodes of the season. 'Amy's Choice' was a very interesting foray into the dream world where things got really quite dark. The characters didn't know which was the dream world and which world was the real world and which was the dream world. Whilst I wasn't a big fan of the reveal of what the Dream Lord was (mostly due to lack of set-up) I enjoyed the sense of peril that the show put the characters and that the show was willing to put them in this place. 'Vincent and the Doctor' was a script written by Richard Curtis and he fit in wonderfully into the world of Doctor Who. It was a story that could only be told on this show featuring an historical figure and based around historical truths whilst mixing in the science fiction element of time travel. Of course it all got a bit weepy at the end, but Curtis does that so well and the episode had been fantastic that I can forgive that little pit of pathos. The episode was also held aloft by a fantastic performance by Tony Curan as Vincent van Gogh and awesome cameo by Bill Nighy. Then there was 'The Lodger', whilst normally these light-hearted episodes can be very hit and miss, 'The Lodger' worked in a very good way. It definitely wasn't one of the shows best episodes ever but for a light-hearted episode it worked very well and had a great James Corden performance.

But what I really want to talk about is Moffat. Moffat began this season by telling the story of the cracks in time, how silence would fall and this all tied into Amy. Whilst not every plot-line was wrapped up, Moffat actually used this season as well a way to tell to a longer narrative. Rather than a buzzword that was just dropped throughout the season, Moffat actually had a lot of the events play into a larger narrative, particularly in the opening of episode 12 'The Pandorica Opens'. Hell he's even spread out one plot line over two seasons showing he has bigger plan and really thinks ahead about the plots of the show.

But what about the episodes he wrote? Well 'The Eleventh Hour' acted as our introduction to the new Doctor and companion and was one of the best seasons openers that the new Doctor Who has had. Over the course of this first hour I got a really good picture of who this new Doctor was as well as the character of Amy. Plus it was fast paced and very fun. Sadly the second episode of the season, 'The Beast Below' was nowhere near as strong and is quite definitely the worst episode of Doctor Who that Moffat has ever written. Whilst it wasn't bad it just suffered from maybe being a little too ambitious and not coming together in a wholly satisfying way.

Now we get to the good parts however, with Moffat's two two-parters of the season, 'The Time of Angels'/'Flesh and Stone' and 'The Pandorica Opens'/'The Big Bang'. Holy fuck were these episodes amazing. The first of the two parters focused upon the return of the villains from the single best hour that the new Doctor Who has made, 'Blink'. Yup the Weeping Angels were back and they were just as creepy as ever. Just the idea of constantly having to look at something or it will devour is so creepy, like taking a fear of the dark to a whole other level. Not only that but River Song (Alex Kingston) returned to start paying off one of the most intriguing elements of Season 4. The Angels two-parter was so well done and is the only that the first two-parter of a Doctor Who season was in actually fact the better. So that left the finale and what Moffat would deliver there. Well he delivered and he delivered big. There was his trade mark time-wimey manipulation, shocking deaths, the return of pretty much every villain of the series (if only for a second), amazingly dark turns and hugely witty dialogue ("It's a fez, I wear a fez now"). If I'm honest I'm still finding it difficult to process just how good that finale was. If anything it cemented just how much of a genius Steven Moffat is, especially as he had begun seeding elements of the finale way back 'Flesh and Stone' in a small conversation between Amy and the Doctor.

Season 5 of Doctor Who suffered from many of the same things that Doctor Who had previously suffered from in that it is almost impossible to keep a sustained level of quality throughout an entire season because of the change in writers. Luckily the highs (particularly those written by the now ubiquitous Steven Moffat) looks so much better in hindsight. Yes 'Victor of the Daleks' was still utterly wank, and many of the other episodes were just average, but I look back on Steven Moffat's two-parters and am astounded by the level of creativity those episodes hold. If I were able to judge based on those episodes alone this season of Doctor Who would be my favourite yet but sadly I can't so the fifth season of Doctor Who has to settle for an:


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