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 final six episodes of the season, rate the season as a whole and examine the history of the new Doctor Who on Canadian TV 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.)
If you missed the recaps and reviews of the season’s first seven episode, catch up by clicking here.
The Hungry Earth
It’s the return of the Sirulians and a decent job by the makeup department. In trying to make the sirulians look better than people in lifeless rubber suits, they sent the interweb into a small tizzy about the “femme fatale” sirulians. And that’s about the highlight of the episode.
After featuring Amy in the companion role in the first few episodes, Rory is given the starring role in this episode after Amy is sucked underground. He also asks the obligatory “If you can’t save everyone, what good are you?” question to the Doctor. Even one of the local’s gets in on that act. Poor guy’s been getting it from all sides the last two weeks.
This episode is a slow, plodding piece that feels stretched out about 15 or 20 minutes too long. There’s a lot of standing around and talking and plotting. There’s no real action. Even the revelation by a captured sirulian that one of Rory and two locals will kill her isn’t worth the time it was given. I figured that out who it was within seconds of that being announced. There was nothing in this episode but you’d hope that what they’re building here explodes into something interesting next week.
Or I could be catastrophically wrong. Nothing really happened in this one. One sirulian wants to kill the Doctor because somebody’s drill woke them up. Another wants to preserve peace with humanity. We end up with a peace conference. The episode is dreadfully dull until the military decides to stage a coup and wants to kill all humans.
The redeeming part of the episode was more about the cracks in the wall/universe/time. The Doctor reached into one and pulled out a piece of the TARDIS. While he’s doing his sleuthing, an angry sirulian sneaks up on Doctor et al and tries to blow him away with a laser gun. Just when it looks like the Doctor’s a goner, Rory takes the shot for him and getting sucked into the crack in the wall. For once, Karen Gillan’s acting that takes the focus off her legs as she does an outstanding job going hysterical and grieving over Rory. Here, Moffat introduces hope for Rory in probably his only influence on this episode. Rather than Amy forgetting Rory, as happened with the clerics in “Flesh and Stone,” Amy can remember him if she keeps thinking about him. Well, with the Doctor coaching her, the TARDIS crash lands which distracts her and poof goes Rory. Also, full credit Arthur Darvill as Rory here. Understated death here which is a nice contrast to the melodramatic demise of the pissed off sirulian.
I really thought this episode was worse than the last one. The final ten minutes were all that saved a rather dull episode. There was little action. Character development happened in the dying minutes (pun intended). This was a two-parter that could have easily been scrapped. At least it served some purpose in the grand scheme of things… Even if it took nearly two hours to get there.
Vincent and the Doctor
Every Doctor Who season is 13 episodes and it felt like this one was a historical piece dropped in to pad out the run. The Doctor notices something that looks like a monster in a small window in a Vincent Van Gogh painting and treks through time to investigate.
The long and short of this is that Van Gogh is tormented by visions that he has that no one else can see. Besides what he sees when he paints (as demonstrated when he looks at the night sky), he can see an alien terrorizing his small French village. The problem was that our protagonists seemed out of character. Amy and the Doctor trying to cure Van Gogh mental issues seems out of character from what we’ve seen already in that it’s very Russell T. Davies’ Doctor and companion-esque. The Doctor does some bad slapstick routines when he swats at thin air instead of the invisible monster. The episode could have been redeemed if we never saw the monster (that would have been an excellent artistic device) but we did near the end which took away some of the element of mystery and terror.
Really, this episode did very little in the grand scheme of this season. Apart from an excellent turn by Tony Curran as Van Vogh, there wasn’t much noteworthy in this episode except to establish that Rory died and everyone can sense it except for Amy. Still, it’s better than the Sirulian episodes.
At one time, Steven Moffat was a proper comedy writer. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that we got a sci-fi sitcom episode of DW this season. Granted, there have been plenty of funny moments during this season but not one dedicated comedy episode until this one. The Doctor must try to pass himself off as human sharing an apartment with another man on the floor below an evil presence.
In this episode, we saw the Doctor show off his culinary mastery, footballing acumen, salesmanship and ability to build a scanner out of a bicycle and umbrella. As alien as this new Doctor is in most situations, he was more alien while being a perfect human. He was so good at being human, he seemed alien.
What we had here was a love story between the Doctor’s roommate, Craig, and his friend, Sophie. I can’t remember off-hand when the last time his Time Lordiness played matchmaker. I think it was with a couple of companions as opposed to people he happened across. Anyway, we got a deus es machina finish as the evil upstairs tenant was a spaceship looking for someone to pilot it home but ended up shocking the would-be pilots to death. Gavin didn’t want to leave so he was able to shut down the machine when he touched it. It was a confusing and rushed finish which hurt the score of an otherwise enjoyable episode. Mind you, bonus points for a touch of Moffat as the Doctor had rent money thanks to a bit of timey-wimey trickery.
The Pandorica Opens
Now if you let Moffat run a two-parter, all seems to go well. The fourth season’s “Silence in the Library” and this year’s “The Time of Angels” sets were epic and all involved original Moffat creations. So now Moffat’s Pandorica opens and he’s brought everyone along for the ride.
The show opened with a piece of Van Gogh artwork being moved by various players throughout the season (Churchill, River Song, and the Queen). Long story short, the Doctor and Amy travel back to the 2nd century to meet with River who got her hands on the painting of the TARDIS exploding. Thinking this has something to do with the Pandorica opening and the most evil creature in the universe escaping, the trio set off in search of the Pandorica. Turns out it’s a box underneath Stonehenge. And it’s unlocking. And hundreds of thousands of ships belonging to all the evil the Doctor has defeated in the past have turned up looking to get their hands on what’s inside the box.
The big twist in this episode is when the Romans (who had invaded Britain at this point of history) turned up to save Amy & The Doctor from a Cyberman. Rory is among the Roman contingent but Amy can’t remember him and the Doctor can’t figure out how he got there. Meanwhile, River tried to pilot the TARDIS to Stonehenge but gets diverted to Amy’s home on her wedding day. The Pandorica and Romans are all look like pictures from books that Amy read as a child. River quickly figures out that it’s a trap.
Turns out the Romans, including Rory, are Autons. The Pandorica was a trap set by all of the Doctor’s enemies. They needed to capture the Doctor to prevent him from flying the TARDIS so it doesn’t explode and end the universe. They lock up the only person they think can fly the TARDIS. Only problem is that they sprung the trap a little late because River has it and has lost control of it. As this episode ends, Auton Rory shoots Amy, the TARDIS explodes, the Doctor is locked in the Pandorica and silence falls.
Remember when I said Moffat was doing things in shades of grey? No better proof than here. The league of supervillans determined that the exploding TARDIS will end time so they lock up its pilot. Makes perfect sense, really. Prevent total destruction by locking up the bringer of that total destruction. Okay, it turns out they’re wrong but given the information they had, they were doing what they believed was right for the greater good. The villains were trying to play the role of hero. They just couldn’t quite get it right. So are they still the worst evil of the galaxy or misguided heroes? Shades of grey. And the Doctor ending up being the worst creature in the universe who needs to be locked up to save it? Looking back on what everyone has said during the season, I’m surprised we didn’t see it coming. (Sidebar: If this was a Russell T. Davies finale, it would have been Davros, creator of the Daleks, inside.)
The Big Bang
So the whole of the universe ended thanks to an exploding TARDIS despite the best efforts of the league of super villans. So what’s left? An 8-year-old girl praying to Santa and hearing the TARDIS outside her bedroom window. Yes, we’re brought full circle as the season finale starts the same as the season premiere. Only this time, there is no TARDIS for young Amy Pond, just a brochure for a museum. At that museum was a petrified Dalek, some other evil villan and the Pandorica. Then there’s a flash and a note is given to young Amy telling her to stick around after closing. After hours, she touches the Pandorica and it opens revealing 21-year-old Amy Pond. And cue the theme.
And onward and offward we go on a classic Stephen Moffat adventure as he bounces us through time. Back to the second century where Auton Rory is still with a dead Amy when the Doctor pops in from the future (wearing a fez). He’s bouncing back and forth in time, hatching a plan to rescue himself and save Amy. To fully explain all the timey-wimey elements to this show would take the next week. Suffice to say, the Doctor bounced through time to save Amy, bring young Amy to the museum, save River from the exploding TARDIS, and distract everyone while he rigged the Pandorica to stop the universe from ceasing to exist. You see, the Pandorica had some sort of restoration field to keep its prisoner alive so it could be the perfect prison. That same restoration field, flown into the exploding TARDIS, could be spread across time and the universe to make everything better again and seal the cracks in time.
But he rigged the Pandorica in such a way that he had to fly it into the explosion to save the universe which meant flying into a giant crack in time and being erased from history. We get a melodramatic rewind through time as the Doctor sees his recent adventures as time is repaired. When that sequence ends, we wake up on Amy’s wedding day. Her parents are there, having not (I suppose) been sucked through the crack in Amy’s wall. Long story short, Amy remembers the Doctor, despite him being erased from time, thanks to River secretly giving Amy her TARDIS shaped notebook, again, despite the Doctor being erased from time. This causes the Doctor to be saved from never existing. Anyway, the show ends with everyone happy and The Doctor, Amy and Rory (who I assume isn’t an auton anymore) venture off for their next adventure.
I initially rated this episode lower because of the giant plot hole of how Auton Rory was still around when all the other autons and villains had turned to stone. There was also the whole River still remembering the Doctor and having the notebook despite him never having existed. The action moves quickly enough that you don’t really notice or care but looking back on it, you realize that it doesn’t make any sense. But sometimes I wonder if there’s a completely logical assumption that I should have jumped to and Moffat is running on an intellectual plane higher than most viewers, myself included.
The season as a whole was really hit and miss. Some episodes were classics (the two Weeping Angels episodes and The Pandorica Opens) while others were scarcely worth the time to watch (the Sirulian episodes, for example). No episodes were so bad that they should be sucked through a crack in time and purged from the archives for all of eternity. That’s why no episodes were flunked on their ratings.
There was a definite dichotomy between the Moffat episodes and the non-Moffat episodes, though Amy’s Choice and The Lodger are noted exceptions. Moffat seems to understand his characters the best and his input made his episodes (and those two that fall outside the realm of your standard DW episode) better than the rest. Part of this may be writers getting used to changes in the Doctor’s character in the switch from Tennant to Smith. There is the likely possibility, however, that Moffat is still getting used to having the run of the longest running science fiction show in television history. There’s a lot more he has to do here than when he was running…
Fortunately, he did leave some stories open for next season. Even bouncing between running the series and writing episodes, he’s still a step ahead of us. Next season, we get to find out what the sinister force was that control of the TARDIS and caused it to explode. We will also learn more about Dr. River Song.
All in all, this was a great way to bring Doctor Who back from what was essentially a two-year hiatus. Hopefully we get to hold onto this lot for more than four years.
Season Rating: 8/10
And let’s cap this off with a brief word about the show’s broadcaster. Space (formerly referred to as Space: The Imagination Station) took over from CBC after Doctor Who’s fourth season. On CBC, the show was shuffled around and never really had a set timeslot that you could find it in, let alone a time of year it would broadcast. The only thing we knew for certain was that Doctor Who would never air during the NHL Playoffs. Sometimes it would air in the summer or the fall or the spring. Generally, the episodes aired on Friday nights but sometimes they would randomly be dropped in after Sunday Report. And if you wanted to see the Christmas episodes, you’d better download them.
After the fourth season, CBC dropped the Canadian broadcast rights and Space picked them up. They started broadcasting the Christmas specials within a couple of weeks of the BBC airings. The final two David Tennant episodes were run the day after they were aired on BBC. Doctor Who fans lost out on having the shows in HD (which started with the final four Tennant episodes) but they got episodes quickly.
The new season started out reasonably well, too. The season premiere aired only two weeks after the BBC showed it. Then, for a Victoria Day bad movie marathon (or some such), the Vampires in Venice episode was delayed by a week so Canada was three weeks behind Britain. And then, a Canada Day movie marathon put us behind another week. Four weeks behind is still better than the some four months behind the CBC would have us. Granted, the CBC didn’t have a pointless after show following the season finale. Points off from Space for that one. I know their parent company’s other networks have after shows for The Hills and Jersey Shore but Doctor Who fans tend to not have the intelligence of a common fruit fly. Maybe airing a classic Who episode would have been a better way to follow up some of the episodes.