Posted by Bob Greenberger on August 8, 2010
This morning I completed watching the fifth season of the current Doctor Who series and wanted to sum up my thoughts as we all eagerly await the Christmas special. By now I will presume those who want to see the show has and therefore won’t be tiptoeing around plot points.
Steven Moffat and Matthew Smith came to the series together, marking a major creative turning point for the eternal franchise but as with any fresh beginning there are new things to be learned and time required for things to fall into place. Moffat is no stranger to The Doctor but stepping into Russell T Davies shoes had to be somewhat daunting. He needed to rebuild the show with a fresh status quo by introducing the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor, find him a companion and tell some mind-bending stories without losing his sizable international audience. He first wanted a more middle-aged actor to play the Time Lord but once he auditioned 27-year old Matthew Smith, he was besotted and hired on the youngest man to ever play the role.
Right there that changed the tone and what could be done. We were told all along that the new companion, Amy Pond, would actually spark something between them and we could see the Doctor in love, something he’s resisted across all the incarnations. And it would certainly set this Doctor apart from his predecessor who managed to love Rove Tyler from afar and was left saddened by what might have been.
Karen Gillan has captured out hearts as Amy, the girl who waited. She was cute as a button; ready for adventures beyond Scotland, and thought the Doctor was potentially more interesting than her love, Rory (Arthur Darvill). Early on she even threw herself at the Doctor, who reacted more with an innocent’s surprise than anything else. That played poorly and was actually a sign of the growing pains any new endeavor will experience.
Smith has a likable personality and the physicality required of the Time Lord these days but all too often he flitted about, gibbering asides that recalled David Tenant. He needed to define himself differently and every now and then there was a flash of the darkness within, the danger inherent in crossing the Doctor.
Moffat had a set of beloved toys to play with and he did so with abandon, but also, with a little too much enthusiasm. As a result, across thirteen episodes comprising actually ten stories, we have the return of the Daleks, now in five collectible colors. I suppose it was irresistible to pit the new Doctor against his ages-old foes but they felt overdone, which meant they felt really tired when one menaced the gang in the thirteenth episode.
One of the strongest episodes of the recent past was the stand-alone with the Weeping Angels. Moffat brought them back, too, to much lesser effect. Having them back so soon diminishes the chilling residual feeling their debut left the audience. It was also just an okay and far from suspenseful two-parter. Better used is the return of Dr. River Song (Alex Kingston) and she breathed some life into relatively dull moments.
Much like the Bad Wolf thread, Moffat seemed obligated to have something to tie the season together and gave us the crack in the wall. Around midway, we saw the Doctor reach through the gap and retrieve a piece of the TARDIS, upping the importance of solving this problem. And just like that, Moffat built things up in a hurry so the two-part finale was the strongest story of the season. It showed he had mastered his characters and his milieu, giving us a fresh End of the Universe epic that never lost sight of the emotional impact the events would have.
Amy endured a lot, without cracking. She welcomed her fiancé Rory into her personal adventure and then had to watch him vanish from reality. Her memories of him flooded back after a delightful episode spotlighting her and Vincent Van Gogh.
And in the end, the thread for season five was all about memory and its amazing power. It meant Amy, the girl whose memories of her parents were robbed by the crack in her wall, received some cosmic justice when the restored reality returned them to her life along with Rory. And then, with a series of visual cues, she finally remembered The Doctor back into existence –- aided by Rory, whose memories of the man seemed quite strong, too. His arrival, in black tie no less, during their wedding was a perfect way to bring a close to the first season.
Overall, it began unevenly, and ended quite strongly. Now, Moffat has to make his mark by adding some new threats of his own. The alien vampires were a good start but he needs a real memorable opponent for the new Doctor, a way for this one to stand head and shoulders beside his previous incarnations.
I can’t wait to see what happens next.