OK, it's a little premature to judge something that hasn't been released yet. And I'm sure I'll make a few additions to this review when the set is released. In the meantime, this review is meant to enlighten you about Series 5 of Doctor Who.
I'm sure I wasn't the only fan who was skeptical that this lanky upstart Matt "Who?" Smith (Ha! Did you see what I did there?) could replace the wonderful 10th Doctor, played by David Tennant. But we long-time fans have come to accept that the role of the Doctor is going to change every few years. And in the case of Matt Smith, the role couldn't be in better hands.
But Doctor Who doesn't just have a new face in front of the camera; Steven Moffat, writer of such modern-day DW classics like "Blink" and "The Girl in the Fireplace" took over the showrunner position from Russell T. Davies. And again, the show couldn't be in better hands. Moffat has been very vocal about his reimagining of the series as a sort of dark fairy tale. And this is evident right from the start, as the TARDIS crash-lands in the back year of 8 year old Amy Pond. The figurative monster under Amy's bed is actually a crack in her wall, one that will have cosmic consequences throughout the season.
New companion Karen Gillan (playing the adult version of Amy) brings a spunky kick to the new Doctor's adventures. Yet one can still see hints of that lost little girl from time to time. Gillan and Smith perfectly compliment each other, as both appear wise and experienced far beyond their years. She almost immediately endures herself to the Doctor (and the audience, hopefully) in the 2nd episode, "The Beast Below," by preventing the Doctor from making a terrible mistake.
The series touches on more familiar territory--the Daleks, the Weeping Angels, the mysterious River Song--yet stays firmly entrenched in the fantasy world Moffat has helped to create. As the bowtie-wearing Time Lord, Smith channels Doctors of the past from Patrick Troughton to David Tennant. He is, as Amy Pond notes in the first episode "a mad man with a blue box." And despite his seemingly unhinged nature, Smith gives the Doctor great dramatic weight when needed. . .whether it's righteous indignation at alien (or human) stupidity, or trying to protect his new companion from the inevitable fate that befalls all his fellow travelers.
Doctor Who carries on in fantastic style, and I for one hope that Smith and Gillan stay with their roles for years to come. I congratulate Steven Moffat and his team for honoring the legacy of Doctor Who, but making it all their own at the same time. Highly recommended.
UPDATE: As expected, the set doesn't disappoint. Doctor Who began filming in HD in 2009, and the Blu-ray format is perfect for capturing the gorgeous cinematography and excellent effects work. There are behind-the-scenes features for every episodes, some amusing outtakes, and a few commentary tracks. And this may be a minor point for many people, but the packaging is really impressive. The cover features a 3-D lenticular hologram, and there are 3 bonus art prints featuring the Doctor, TARDIS, and a Dalek. THIS is how you do t.v. on Blu-ray :-)
on July 12, 2011
It's a huge pet peeve of mine when people review Doctor Who based on their tastes rather than the objective standards on the show. Doctor Who as a show has changed so often and so radically that there will ALWAYS be parts of the show that, whether or not they are good, just don't appeal to people. If you want darkness and grit, try Season 7. If you want space exploration, avoid it. And so on, and so on.
For this reason, I'm going to start with OBJECTIVE commentary - standards of writing, storytelling, etc. - and then proceed to the SUBJECTIVE, as in my personal take on the direction of the show, the style, and the acting.
First the objective.
Overall, this is a more tightly written series than the four which preceded it. There's a little more attention to plotting and logic, which is due in no small part to Moffat's talent for writing puzzlebox stories. In past seasons, you always knew you had to suspend a lot of your logical faculties to enjoy the season finales; this time around, it's much more acceptable on that front. There are still exceptions, specifically Victory of the Daleks, but in terms of plot this series is hitting higher peaks and just maintaining a higher average.
THE PRODUCTION VALUES
This is something I'm least inclined to give importance, since Doctor Who was always enjoyable regardless of its production, but the effects have definitely improved from the last season. Part of it comes from less overt reliance on CGI for the most part. You certainly don't get anything on the level of the TARDIS towing a planet. Additionally, the locations are substantially more effective and interesting. The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, Vincent and the Doctor, Vampires of Venice, and the finale all have examples of great, tactile locations that you could almost believe were real locations.
Although it's still Murray Gold in charge of the music, the tone of the soundtrack has shifted considerably along with the rest of the show. The music tends to be more upbeat, faster and more overtly heroic, as well as a lot more catchy. It's just a lot easier to hum the music you hear in the show.
(Note: this is in terms of the writing, not the performances.)
There were certain innovations in the cast which I thought were quite interesting, and perhaps necessary. For one thing, we have a male companion who is neither wholly incompetent nor utterly dumped by his girlfriend. Rory does start out in much the same position as Mickey, but unlike him he grows substantially as a character - proving his worth and truly earning his place on the TARDIS by the last episode - and Amy does not abandon him the way Rose abandoned Mickey. As a result, while the two relationships start out on similar pages, this most recent one ends up in a much more palatable place.
In terms of writing, Amy Pond is how Rose's character should have been treated in Series 2. Both start out as fairly selfish, obsessed with the Doctor to the point of being rather bratty. In Series 2, however, Rose never grows out of this condition, and the problem is instead solved by having the plot conveniently get her out of the way. In Series 5, however, Amy becomes substantially aware of her own brattiness and takes steps to change. The implied romantic subtext that made the Ten/Rose relationship so thoroughly creepy (please - a nine-hundred-year-old and a nineteen-year-old? Don't insult my intelligence.) threatens to resume here, but...well, let's say the writers knew what they were doing on that score.
The Doctor here is largely without a character arc, in sharp contrast to his immediate predecessors. I would be quick to explain to viewers who haven't experienced the Eleventh Doctor, however, that this is a consequence of the change in showrunners. It was Moffat's intention to have a "safe" series to which viewers could adjust before ramping up his own style. As a result, we see aspects of the Doctor's future arcs and conflicts foreshadowed, but emotionally speaking the series is not so much about him, but more about his companions.
The supporting cast is fairly strong - nothing particularly better- or worse-written than in previous seasons. Memorable characters include Winston Churchill, Rosanna Calvierri, and Liz Ten. River Song also appears in two stories, and given that it's her creator who's writing her character she's hardly mischaracterized.
The antagonists are all over the map. Standouts are the still-effective Weeping Angels, the Dream Lord, the...shall we say...baddies of the finale. The Earth Reptiles, the Vampires, and the Smilers are middling - decently written, but not necessarily memorable. The Atraxi, the new Daleks, and the Krafayis are less memorable - none of them are given a chance to be truly threatening. Overall, this kind of distribution is basically the standard for the New Series.
Now for my subjective interpretations.
After the extremely shoddy writing behind The End of Time, I was very happy to watch a Series that didn't insult my intelligence every step of the way. Victory of the Daleks, which does suffer from very shoddy logic, is thankfully over with very early in the season. From then on, any thin plotting is made up for by some other aspect: the atmosphere and the Doctor/Dream Lord interaction in Amy's Choice, Tony Curran in Vincent and the Doctor, and so on. I also enjoyed the comedy, though of course it's going to play differently with different people.
The more light-hearted approach this season was also fine with me since a) the Doctor had exorcised a lot of demons in The End of Time and b) after four years of suffering, the guy just needed a holiday. And as a childhood viewer, I was used to light-hearted Doctor Who anyway. But don't worry - they haven't forgotten about his history, and there are some very poignant moments here.
THE PRODUCTION VALUES
As I said above, I place little importance on production values. If the Classic Series was good enough for me and countless others as a kid, it should be good enough for kids today. And frankly, I prefer good stories to good production. But maybe that's just me.
In general, I'm OK with CGI when it's depicting large-scale events - such as the TARDIS in motion or a planet blowing up or something - but less OK with trying to make CGI work in the creation of monsters. There's a fairly even balance in this series, but I feel they could have gone further. The Atraxi could have remained invisible; Prisoner Zero could easily have been made into a threatening puppet; the Krafayis could have been kept invisible; and so on. But as I said, a lot of the sets are very effective.
Call me crazy, but I don't like themes you can hum. The Classic Series soundtrack was all about atmosphere; it was about accentuating the situation while letting the characters do their thing. In the New Series there's a greater focus on characters, so it makes sense that there would be leitmotifs; but Murray Gold's work is going to feel very repetitive after a while. The Classic Series music almost felt improvised, which gave it a varied quality. Don't get me wrong; the music is still very good and enjoyable to listen to - but I prefer it when the music stays in the background, if that makes sense.
Matt Smith is going to play differently for a lot of people, and the title role is often the biggest point of contention in criticizing the show.
What follows is purely my opinion - so take it for what it is - but I never quite bought the Tenth Doctor. This wasn't due to Tennant, who is a very skilled and versatile actor. But the Tenth Doctor never quite convinced me that he was a) an alien or b) 900 years old. Actors such as Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy, perhaps because of their middling age, were able to portray the Doctor as an ageless character who were always focused on the big picture. The Doctor's age and his alienness are his two most important traits, and for me somehow that mix just didn't come through. By no means was he a bad Doctor - he just wasn't my thing.
You might have guessed this, but I found Matt Smith to be an improvement. Smith is of course a younger actor than Tennant, and as with many fans I was hesitant about accepting him when I first looked him up. But Smith has three things going for him. The first is that Smith is EXTREMELY good at playing quirky characters. Watching him, it's difficult not to think that he actually IS an alien in real life. His brand of quirk may rub some people the wrong way, but for me he's so natural in the way he does this that I can't help but buy it.
The second is that whether it's because of his looks or his technique, he does in fact come across as a more mature character than Tennant's Doctor. There's a moment in the finale when the Doctor is...let's say sitting next to someone...where he closes his eyes, and it felt like a slap in the face: this guy IS ancient. It always puzzled me why they chose to make the Tenth Doctor so youthfully, given that even the Fifth Doctor played the role like an old man, and so for me this was a breath of fresh air.
The third trait is warmth. Simply speaking, you can't help but think the Eleventh Doctor is a really, really nice guy. In fact, this might even work against his character if he tries to be extremely angry or threatening - but that's more a question for Series 6. Taking these traits together, I found Smith convincing as a) an alien, b) a kindly father, and c) a superhero. Smith works for me.
The companions are a bit more mixed. I very much enjoy the work of the actor who plays Rory - he's modest and down-trodden, but with deep reserves of strength, courage, and above all else love. I really wanted Rory to become the hero he deserved to be. As for how this pans out...let's say the writers knew what they were doing.
I wasn't so impressed by Karen Gillan as Amy Pond. I think it was due in part to Amy's character being deliberately written as initially selfish, but at the same time playing a character like that requires great versatility in an actress - a comic background often helps - and I'm not sure Gillan has quite the range to keep her character likable in ambiguous moments. I was personally more invested in Rory - but, luckily enough, the season's treatment of Rory also enabled Amy to grow in a much more palatable direction.
I confess that I never cared all that much for River Song. She's become such an icon to Doctor Who fans that they just can't stop quoting her, which has led her into the habit of having "catchphrases" - a writing contrivance I personally despise. But conceptually speaking, there's nothing wrong with her here, and if you liked her in Series 4 you'll like her here too.
Not much to add on this score, except to say that...yes, I also disliked the new Dalek design. The best possible explanation for the color scheme is that it's supposed to be impressive, but my problem with this is that the Daleks were never interested in impressing anyone. Their armor is functional, not pretty. And yes, my favorite scheme is indeed the gunmetal grey from the Fourth Doctor's era. So shoot me.
This is a fairly solid season - across the board, I would say the second best after Series 1 (I can't compare to the Classic Series). The main issues people are going to have are taste-related ones. If you don't like Matt Smith; if you didn't want a bit of a lighter approach to Doctor Who (even if only for one year - it gets a lot darker in Series 6); if you miss too many characters from the earlier seasons; if you prefer the "comic-book" approach to the "fairy-tale" approach, then you'll have trouble appreciating the series.
My advice? Don't take it too hard. Don't narrow your expectations too much, and try and get through the Series anyway. Let it digest a little. It's always difficult for fans to make this sort of transition, but it's often healthy to do so. Just don't force it - and you might end up enjoying it a lot more than you thought you would.
on June 30, 2010
I was very unsure of whether I would warm up to the new cast even as far as midseason. I had absolutely loved David Tennant and Chris Eccleston, and these were some very large shoes to fill. Fortunately, Matt Smith gave me a delightful surprise and ended up owning the character in his own lighter way. He isnt as grave as the 9th doctor, nor as intense as Tennant's take. Considering the things that were happening in the doctor's life at the time those actors were portraying him (lost love, recovering from a lost people) it is not surprising that Smith's version is less damaged and more carefree. Don't get me wrong, I ADORE the previous incarnations, I'm just saying the evolution in personality at this time makes sense. It's reminiscent of when Tom Baker took over the reins in the early seventies with his big grin and goofy scarf - just replace it with big hair and a goofy (but cool) bow tie.
I wasn't at all sure about Amy until I realised later in the series that we weren't talking about 'just' Amy but her interraction and role in a larger cast of characters including River Song. When placed in the Doctor's 'party' of travellers, she is an effective companion. She certainly isnt pulling off all the notes and expressions of Donna Noble or filling the doctor's heart and soul like Rose Tyler, but at this stage of the doctor's life I think that with the rest of the ensemble she does an admirable job. It's important not to consider her as a replacement for companions of the past because if you do, she doesnt feel (to me at least) like she is completing the picture, especially in the beginning episodes when you really focus on her.
It's definitely not the same as previous seasons. The darkness often appears and a few episodes have very sad moments, but theres a resilience in Matt Smith's doctor and an impeccable sense of comedic timing. If Tennant's doctor towards the end was a 'glass is half empty' kind of guy, Smith's is almost certainly 'half full'. Despite his youthful appearance he comes off as far far older. An excellent change of tone for the series and I am looking forward to next season!
on December 1, 2010
One of the early reviews of this season said that "this is not my Doctor."
Before I reply to this I want to establish my credentials as a Doctor WHo fan. I am 61 years old. I saw the original broadcast on 11/23/63
in the Uk.
I own every episode available on the public market and have seem most of the others, missing only a few early ones that are no longer in existence. SO I am not one of those people who say David Tennet is the greatest Doctor ever guys because, well, he is the main one they have ever seen. Actually he is a splendid chap, all of them as the Brig used to say.
So my reply to the statedment quoted at the beginning of this little review is that if this is not your DOctor then you never really had a the doctor at all.
The writing in this last season has been the best ever in a single season. And Matt Smith starts out a little off but by the end he is one of the best DOctors ever. Ever.
WHen AMy callled the Doctor back from before he was cut off behind the big bang by quoting, at her wedding the old wedding saying "something old, something new, something bottowed, something blue" the way she said blue and the way the Tardis appeared and she ran over the table to knock on the door made me and my wife cry because we were so moved.
Frankly I can not imagine how anyone could have watched this season and not like it. The standout lines and characters were just perfect. When River Song blew the hatch open behind her without even looking to see if the doctor was there to pick her up because she knew he would be was genius level detail. Or how about him saying to her later"honey, I'm home" and her rejoinder "but look at the time' and later her saying "rule number one, the Doctor lies." He does you know but nobody ever actually said it before.Stunning
I feel sorry for anyone who did not get this season. They missed more than they will ever know and their lives are poorer for it.
Simply a masterpiece.
on July 31, 2012
Each doctor brings something different to the table so it's not easy to compare them.
9th doctor: Christopher Eccleston was strong in showing the darkness of the last of the time lords, but when it came to showing light heartedness he would sometimes be caught forcing his facial expressions.
10th doctor: David Tennant was strong in showing vulnerability and his sadness and lonliness was palpable to the audience. but again there was sometimes forcing of his facial expressions during scenes where he was showing intense shock or anger.
11th doctor: Matt Smith does not force his acting at all. There's no pushing and it comes across as natural at all times. He is especially strong in showing the doctor's lighthearted madness. For many this might make him the best performer out of the three and therefore the best doctor; however, he lacks vulnerability in his approach. With the two previous actors you could often see the despair, lonliness and fear that the doctor holds inside- for them the madness the doctor portrayed was often an attempt to hide these vulnerabilities. Where as Matt Smith's doctor seems to just be somewhat mad...simply because he is mad. And to his credit Smith portrays this very well actually, but it's not as interesting because it was the doctor's vulnerability that made him so easy to relate to even though he is an alien time lord from outer space that travels in a 1960's police box. There are so many scenes where Smith chooses not to show any fear in the face of danger, while Tennant and Eccleston often did. If the doctor isn't scared about what's about to happen then why should the audience care what's going to happen? I found myself drifting in my attention sometimes. The main problem is that the writing in seasons 5 & 6 is significantly less interesting than it was during Tennant's reign as the doctor, which means Matt Smith has less rich material to work with. (Not always- "Vincent & the Doctor" in season 5 and "The God Complex" in season 6 for instance are well written episodes).
All in all I don't find seasons 5 & 6 to be nearly as good as previous seasons, but most of that has to do with the writing rather than the new doctor. Upon investigation I found out that indeed the writers did change at the start of series 5. That explains a lot. But don't get me wrong- it's still Dr. Who so it's still fun to watch, but I find that previous seasons were much more memorable.
on February 4, 2011
Tom Baker was "my Doctor" growing up, I "tolerated" Peter Davison when he took over, and then when Colin Baker became The Doctor I completely lost interest and stayed away from anything Doctor Who.
Then in 2010, I was told that BBC had brought back Doctor Who and that Christopher Eccleston was "fantastic.' Though I resisted at first, my girlfriend convinced me to checked them out (she had the first 4 seasons on DVD.) My faith in quality Doctor Who stories (and a quality Doctor) was renewed.
When Christopher left I was anticipating a crappy replacement but David Tennant blew me away with his performance! In fact, David Tennant rivaled my feelings about Tom Baker as being "my Doctor." So when I heard that David Tennant would be leaving the role after "End of Time" I was again worried that a crappy replacement would follow.
I watch the first episode of this current season, and through most of it I was not all that impressed by Matt Smith. He seemed too goofy, like he was trying to hard.
Then came the scene atop the Hospital, where The Doctor faces down the Atraxi. He asks, "Is this planet protected?" and the sequence that follows, leading up to Matt Smith stepping through the projected images of past Doctors and saying, "Hello, I'm The Doctor." and then with unblinking eyes he says, "Basically...run!"
****END OF SPOILER****
That scene won me over and I felt that he might make a good Doctor after all.
My review of the CHARACTERS:
In the past, he always managed to stay calm and even arrogant enough to believe that even though he had no clue how he would resolve the latest crisis, a solution would come to him. The Doctor multi-tasks, so sometimes he seems lost in his own world...however Matt Smith seems to come off more like the Doctor has ADHD. While most of the time I enjoyed Matt's performance, it had lots of moments when I just did not feel that engaged. Overall, I like his performance, I just hope he's able to make me LOVE his performance in the sixth season.
This companion took me a couple of episodes to accept, as she had spotty moments where her attempt at humor felt forced and her behavior/emotions seemed switch without a logical transition. While she is NO Rose Tyler (then again, no one in my opinion was a better companion than she) or Martha, I liked her far better than Donna.
Amy's boyfriend was at first annoying to me, he seemed too wimpy, then I grew to really like him with each episode.
My review of the WRITING:
Since Moffet was the writer of "Blink" which was one of my top favorite Tennant episodes, I expected the series to be on par. sadly, it was some of the weakest writing since the series relaunched. Granted, Actress Carey Mulligan was a large part of why "Blink" was so good in my opinion; the writing/story was actually smart and creative. NONE of the episodes in this season were equal in enjoyment for me.
For one thing, the Dalex episode had a weak "logic" as to why they were in WWII (I won't spoil it by saying why they're there). I did like the new Daleks though, they add a new level to the intimidating factor!
The episode marking the return of the Weeping Angels felt like Moffet wrote the episode as they shot scenes; very disjointed and not captivating at all!
The finale episode storyline was probably the biggest letdown. It was built up all through the season then fell flat and had me scratching my head and wondering if they had just made this up right before filming or did they really have this worked out all along?
I was left feeling as if Moffet let his ego get the better of him, as if he thought he could only write gold. I say this because unlike the past four seasons, none of these episodes make me eager to watch them a second time unless I need reminding of something later. Simply put, I can name scenes that are my favorite but not one single episode that I would consider a favorite.
My main gripe about the episodes is that they focused less on the science and more on trying to seem cool and hip.
My review of The Product:
The packaging is well done. Mine has a lenticular face, which was cool.
The interior, like the previous four seasons, has a nice "busy but organized" look.
You get three illustrated cards and the artwork is impressive.
I love that they kept with the format of having various characters from the show colorfully displayed on each disk.
As for the bonus features, I loved Matt Smith better in his "Video Diary" sections than him as The Doctor, so I have faith his performance can improve.
The extras as a whole were very fulfilling. My only gripe is all the interview sections with Moffet, he comes off as very full of himself and I got tired of him pretty fast.
While I can not say that this is a MUST HAVE for all Doctor Who fans, it is worth checking out. I liked it well enough to look forward to watching the new season.
If you don't really care about bonus features or collectible cards and just want to watch the show, my suggestion is to take advantage of Amazon's Video On Demand to watch them.
on August 5, 2010
As an American, I find it refreshing that the show is a little bit different spin on things than regular US tv shows. I like David Tenate a little better as the doctor, but several episodes of this season 5 have been fantastic. My gf Jill has even been able to get on board with the wild stores and imaginative enemies and plots.
If you love scifi, watch a few episodes of this and you will be hooked.
on November 6, 2013
I am not a Doctor Who fan, in general. I have been aware of the series for years, and have a great deal of respect for it as the longest running series ever. That is also why I tend not to like it, overall. When you develop a mechanic that allows you to replace the cast every few years or so, yes the series lives on, but you have new people. What if the new people don't click? What if the newest doctor doesn't grab your attention? New companions' dynamic are not believable?
That has been my trouble for the longest time. I knew of the series, had a grasp of the various races and plots, but... I never clicked with actors. So, I couldn't get into it. And then, they stumbled upon Matt Smith and I finally found a doctor I could grasp, one that actually grabbed my attention. More than that, his companions didn't bother me. The Ponds worked, River Song made sense, even the cameo companions (like Roy's Dad) played out well.
When they change up the cast, I catch a few episodes (recently through means like Netflix), to give it a chance. If they cannot grab me in 3 episodes, they never will. Matt Smith and his gang hit the mark and, after the 3rd episode, I instantly ordered all the series that portrayed him as the Doctor (as well as ordered the "day of the doctor" special out in Dec). They did THAT well. Never owned any Doctor Who before, but it landed so well, I went all out.
That is what I recommend to people that do not know, or are curious about, Doctor Who. Find a few episodes, on Youtube, Netflix, or whatever. Each new Doctor is a different taste. See if any of the land with you. There are 11 (soon to be 12) different doctors and all are a hit or miss, if you ask me.
You might find one you enjoy, or love them all. But, give it a shot. The show has been around since the 60's. It must be doing something right, maybe even something you can get into... if even just for as long as the span of one Doctor.
on April 21, 2011
I started out very skepticle of Matt Smith and his portrayal of The Doctor. But by the end of the season I was sold! I think for those of us Tennant fans, it may take a while to accept Smith's Doctor. He's quite different. But I think just as brilliant in his own way. The stories of this season are just as good as the previous seasons. Give it a chance!
on February 20, 2011
As always, I intend to review the product that is purchased rather than the media content. I don't intend to write a review for the series' episodes. I've purchased the DVD sets for each series since Eccleston's in 2005. Each has its own slight variations, and each has their own benefits and drawbacks. This one for Matt Smith's first (hopefully, of many) series is slightly more clumsy in terms of the packaging than others. Mainly, each disc is cradled in a clear plastic tray which fit together like pages of a book, however, unless this "book" is closed in the right fashion, the whole enclosure will fail to close, and it is awkward at best, breakable at worst.
The cover is the old-fashioned 3D simulation where it reflects a different image when rotated to the left or right, and the plastic is ridged. This cover is glued onto the box with adhesive that you hope will stand the test of time (no pun intended). The inner "book" comes out of the box just like for the Third and Fourth Series DVD sets. The cover of the "book" shows the face of the Pandorica with the circular ridges glowing a faint green glow, as was seen in Episode 12, "The Pandorica Opens". The back cover has this same circular face but without the glow, and at the top, part of The Doctor's poetic monologue as he sat beside Amelia Pond's bed in "Big Bang": "We're all stories in the end..." (it continues)
Consistent with all series DVD sets, this one has special glossy cards and the bonus DVD containing cut-down versions of Doctor Who Confidential. I truly wish one day we can get all of the COMPLETE episodes of DWC!
An important note: this DVD set does not contain any of the Christmas specials or others transitioning from David Tennant to Matt Smith.