Four weeks after the season wrapped up on BBC in the UK, Space aired the season finale of this season of Doctor Who in Canada. This was the fifth season of the show but it was the first under new showrunner Steven Moffat. Moffat was writer of some of the best episodes of Doctor Who since its 2005 revival so expectations were high heading into this season. The playbook from the last five years of the Russell T. Davies era Doctor Who were thrown out the window. A new actor was drafted in to play a more alien Doctor. The sets were redesigned, the logo changed, and the musical score was revamped. Most importantly for Who fans were the regular mentions of vintage Doctor Who.
So how was this new season of the iconic British sci-fi show? I review the first seven episodes of the season after the jump.
(SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t missed any episodes this season, prepare to have parts spoiled below. If you have watched this season, you won’t be missing any details I omitted.)
The Eleventh Hour
In his first episode as the showrunner, Moffat has a full slate. He’s got to introduce a new Doctor and pair him up with a new companion. He also thought a lot more big picture than Russell T. Davies did with leather jackets and regrowing hands. Within minutes of the episode, Moffat was back to his speciality by scaring the shit out of little kids over things they see everyday.
The show starts with the Doctor crashing down in London after the TARDIS lost control due to his regeneration. There he meets an 8-year-old girl with a talking crack in the wall. Turns out the crack is a crack in the skin of the universe so a prisoner had escaped to Earth through the crack. The problem is that an 8-year-old doesn’t make a good companion so the Doctor is forced to make a five minute jump in time to keep the TARDIS engines in phase (or something like that). He missed a bit… By about 12 years and gets hit in the head with a cricket bat by a policewoman. Turns out that our well placed rozzer is actually a grown-up 8-year-old Amy Pond who now works as a kissogram (remember, it’s a family show so she couldn’t be a stripogram like all of today’s -ograms are).
Anyway, with a wonky TARDIS and no sonic screwdriver, The Doctor has to save the world from being incinerated because that’s the only way the prisoner’s keepers can stop him. Using a cellphone and a man on a laptop, The Doctor pinpoints the prisoner’s location for his keepers and saves the day. Well, not before he gives a speech to the would be world incinerators which included a holographic montage of each of the last 10 Doctors which is much more awesome than I could ever make it in words.
As you can tell, not a lot happened in this episode. It was really a setup for the season. Moffat had to establish what his Doctor was about, bring in a companion and help figure her out a bit and scare little children. He did a good job of it considering the scale of the mountain that he has to climb. After all, there’s 45+ years of history for him to live up to. But he got off to a good start bringing Who into the next decade. He quickly got complaints about the new series being “too sexy.” Is this man a genius or what?
The Beast Below
In the seemingly ever-changing history of Earth after the planet is destroyed, Britain is a spaceship with a monster in the lower decks that the dregs of society are fed to. Britain and evil monsters? That’s a job for the Doctor.
We get to see some of the new Doctor’s personality in this one. Willing to dive head first into adventure. Always up for a laugh. And definitely more “alien” than David Tennant as Russell T. Davies’ Tenth Doctor. Another thing about Matt Smith/Steven Moffat’s Doctor is that he doesn’t have the same compulsion to save everyone and everything and make the universe a better place one time hop at a time. The new Doctor can be cold and ruthless. His priority is the greater good ans won’t let anyone slow him down. In this episode, it turns out the scary monster is a space whale that is the “motor” for the Spaceship UK (though it’s actually just England because the Scots finally broke away). It’s being tortured (with electric shocks to the brain) to keep the ship going but if he frees it, the whale will bugger off and tear the ship apart. So the Doctor plans to give it one big shock to render it brain dead so it will stop feeling pain. That’s a disturbing departure from the last guy but the only logical action to save the whale and hundreds of millions of lives.
Meanwhile, Amy’s been off on her own adventure being watched by Auton-looking things in arcade fortune-teller boxes. She managed to get herself into trouble by poking around where she shouldn’t and, with help from the Doctor, nearly got eaten by the space whale. She saved the day but not in your standard RTD deus es machina way. Where Rose or Martha would have gotten all weepy, Amy grabbed the Queen’s hand (Yes, they have space Queen) and pushed the whale release button. There’s a longish story behind her reasoning but, long story short, she was right. The torture stopped, the whale didn’t run off and all was well aboard the Starship UK.
Moffat’s second episode as writer and producer doesn’t go as well as the first. He had to establish the new Doctor and Amy’s characters. My problem was that the episode seemed to drag in parts. Anytime the Queen was on-screen, all that fun and adventure that we had with just the Doctor and Amy on-screen seemed to vanish. On the plus side, Amy definitely isn’t a Rose Tyler or Martha Jones. She doesn’t pine over the Doctor or seem helpless without him. She’s as keen an explorer as him and just as willing to tread where she shouldn’t.
Victory of the Daleks
Alright, our super best friends are a well-oiled machine now and we have a proper story arc with the cracks in the universe. Only if we had a villain…
Enter the Daleks who have mysteriously turned up in World War II era London leading Winston Churchill’s war effort. Creation was credited to a Scottish scientist. But they’re Daleks. They know they’re Daleks but they needed the Doctor to say as much to startup the weird Dalek creation device. Makes little to no sense but whatever works. Turns out the scientist was a robot created by the Daleks as a cover story. It also turns out that he was a bomb that could be diffused in a strange deus es machina love conquers all way when Amy got him to think about a crush that passed him by.
Highlights in this episode were few and far between. There were the British air force flying into space to battle a Dalek ship. The Doctor boarded the Dalek ship in the TARDIS and threatened to push the TARDIS’ self-destruct button which was really a jelly-centred Peak Freans cookie. Oh, and they found a good Churchill.
While this is a weak episode, it was entirely necessary. Russell T. Davies had this nasty habit of killing off and reviving the Daleks whenever it suited him, generally at the same time in a season finale. What is Doctor Who without the Daleks being around to threaten the galaxy? By bringing back the Daleks now, Moffat saves himself the headache of creating another implausible scenario for their return later.
The Time of Angels
From the time that we saw the first trailer for this season of DW, this was the episode we were all waiting for. Moffat wrote one of the greatest DW episode ever in the third season’s “Blink” which was more horror than proper Doctor Who adventure. This episode not only brought us the Weeping Angels but the return of River Song from Moffat’s season four adventure Silence In The Library.
While this wasn’t as creepy as the original Weeping Angels episode, “Blink”, it was certainly as thrilling. Amy has a close encounter with a living video of an angel and starts turning to stone. The Doctor leads his ragtag band into a nest of dormant angels and we’re left with the cliffhanger of the Doctor firing a handgun to save the day while surrounded by angels.
While the was easily one of the best episodes of the last five years from top to bottom, the score was my favourite part. Music usually isn’t a high priority of TV series but it looks like the BBC put some extra money into it this time. The music really works well to control the mood and pace of the episode. Composer Murray Gold outdid himself in this episode with the gratuitous use of strings and voice and the new trademark crescendoing climax music (also known as “The Doctor’s Action Theme”) at the end of the episode.
Having watched all 13 episodes, this was easily the high point of the season. Mind you, we all expected the return of the angels to be absolutely epic.
Flesh and Stone
So how do you build upon last week’s adventure? Flip the script on saving yourself from the angels, tease about River Song’s back story and explain the cracks in time. Nothing major except kick the season into high gear earlier than Russell T. Davies ever would.
We last left our adventurers surrounded by angels. We pick up with them upside-down on the hull of a downed ship inside the angels’ temple. Some gravity deus es machina type thing. It doesn’t really matter because they’re being chased by angels which leads to a crazy strobe light sequence as armed clerics fire on the angels. It’s a great sequence as the angels close in while being lit by gun fire.
The really fun scary part is Amy’s impending transformation into a weeping angel. The Doctor figures that the best thing for her to do is to close her eyes to stop the countdown. Moffat’s brilliance is that we know you can save yourself by not blinking but by not looking Amy saves herself.
Oh, and there was the Doctor noticing our old friend, the crack in the wall. It’s apparently a crack in the whole of time. Fall in and you’re wiped from time entirely. Moffat does a good job of making the danger tangible by making running from the crack the angels’ top priority as well as having the clerics wiped from their comrades memories as they’re absorbed by the crack.
Remember, when I said that Amy wasn’t pining over the Doctor? Well, the end of the episode might contradict that. At the very end, Amy tries to jump the Doctor for an intergalactic quickie. Not exactly the lovey-dovey romance that we’ve seen during the RTD era and more than a welcome change in the recent Doctor/Companion relationships.
A lot happened in this episode and I’m not trying to recap episodes here. The recaps are just enough to give you context for the review. But this episode really is the start of the charge to the finish because the Doctor knows what he’s up against. When the weeping angels are less concerned with him than the crack in the wall, we know the Doctor is up against it now.
The Vampires of Venice
Sometimes comedy makes you laugh. Other times, it makes you cringe and facepalm. That’s what the starting sequence of this episode did to me. The Doctor telling Rory that his fiance wanted to rattle his alien bones at his bachelor party made me cringe. They had to say it but still…
That really set the tone for the episode. It’s a love triangle now. Amy wants to impress the Doctor, Rory wants to keep Amy and the Doctor wants to remove himself from any complicated situations. Oh, we also have aliens running around Venice posing as vampires. Well, nobody else is capitalizing on the Twilight craze so why not the BBC.
This episode starts to dissect the Doctor. Rory tells the Doctor that he’s dangerous because people do dangerous things to impress him, such as Amy going undercover to infiltrate the alien headquarters. The alien queen gives the Doctor her two cents on him being willing to wipe out an entire species to save Venice. And that’s the redeeming part of this episode. We’re always told that the Doctor is the hero of the piece but there’s another side to every story. We identify with the Doctor because he’s saving humanity but is he a moral paragon for wiping out an entire species to save Venice? How can he justify letting his friends risk their lives in outlandishly dangerous situations? Seeing as this becomes a continuing theme, it’s good to Moffat let Doctor Who slide into shades of grey instead of being RTD’s black and white look at the universe.
What happens when some of the budget has to be saved for the season finale? You put together a character piece wrapped in a mystery wrapped in some old people wielding garden equipment. You also get the most surprising episode of the season.
The episode sees our three time travelers bounced between two scenarios by the Dream Lord. The first is five years in the future with a pregnant Amy, Doctor Rory Williams sporting a ponytail and the Doctor still gallivanting through space and time in a blue box. The other scenario picks us up from where we left the super best friends last week in the TARDIS. One of these worlds is a dream and the other is reality. To end the dream and end up in reality, all they need to do is die in the dream. But if they pick wrong and die in reality, then they’re dead.
The great part about this episode, besides the acting of Toby Jones as The Dream Lord, is that the episode allows viewers to guess along with the characters as to which is the dream and which is real. Are they dreaming about the little village in the future where aliens are living in the skin of pensioners and turning things to dust or are they dreaming about being in a powerless TARDIS that’s drifting into a cold star? The character piece is also well done because it builds off last week. There’s the testosterone battle between Rory and The Doctor. Amy’s choice between her imaginary friend and her fiance. And there’s the continuing examination of The Doctor’s relationship with his companions and what they’re willing to do for him to impress him. More shades of grey.
Looking back on it, this was my favourite episode of the season. Sure, I wasn’t as giddy with excitement over this episode when I watched as I was after Time of Angels and The Pandorica Opens but the season had been building to those episodes. But when you look back on the first five series of the new Who in 20 years, this will be one of the classic episodes.
That’s the end of the first half of the review but what’s the fun of stopping here? Click through to Part 2, where I review episodes eight through to the season finale. I also rate the season as a whole and discuss the current state of Doctor Who on Canadian television.