Saturday, 1 October 2011

Series Five

Enter Matt Smith as the mad man in a box taking a little girl on the adventure of a lifetime! The Doctor and Amy face the Atraxi, the Smilers, Daleks in war time, the Weeping Angels, Vampires in Venice, the Dream Lord, Silurians, a Grefaius, a Silence spaceship and a whole menagerie of monsters waiting to bring him down!

The regulars -

The Eleventh Hour written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Adam Smith


The Beast Below written by Stephen Moffatt and directed by Andrew Gunn

Result: So many unanswered questions, undeveloped characters and gaping holes in logic, this doesn’t feel like a Steven Moffat script at all after his superlative efforts in the RTD years. The Beast Below is crying out for more time and a slower pace out and explore its ideas, to fill in some very important details and iron out our understanding of this world. I love the idea of Starship UK but the realisation, both on the page and on screen, leave a lot to be desired. It needs a bigger budget to bring its ideas to life and more of a chance for its (criminally wasted) guest stars to shine. It should have been superb but its frustrating and vague, selling itself on half arsed emotional moments that prove that Moffat simply cannot pull at the heartstrings in the same way that his predecessor did. Script editor Brian Minchin needed to be much tougher on this one and should have requested a rewrite to inject more richness in the plotting and the characterisation. I get the impression that Moffat was hoping that he could present a really cool idea for a story like a magician (and let's face it something akin to New York floating on the back of a Star Whale is pretty damn cool) and hoped nobody prodded to deeply beneath the surface. Matt Smith continues to compel but isn't helped by a script that makes his Doctor look thick and reactionary and for show runner Steven Moffat this is the first sign of fatigue that would set in as he takes on a weight of responsibility with the show. The difference in what he can produce when somebody else has to worry about the everyday running of Doctor Who and he can pour his heart and soul into one script per season is a universe away from his efforts when he is both answerable for the show but also the most prolific writer. It's the same amount of talent that is injected into one classic tale that is spread about in five or six scripts a year and the latter suffer as a result. The Beast Below is the first example but there would be plenty more to come (A Good Man Goes to War, The Doctor, The Widow & The Wardrobe, The Bells of St John, Time and the Doctor). Re-watching this it reminds me strongly of a Sylvester McCoy adventure, outwardly stylish and wanting to impress (a bit like a cute puppy jumping at your knees) but not having the narrative chops or budget to quite pull it off: 5/10

Full Review Here -

Victory of the Daleks written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Andrew Gunn

Result: Another Moffat era that has gone down in my estimation, Victory of the Daleks has not aged well at all. Maybe it has something to do with the waste of a perfectly good premise (Churchill's secret weapon) for a far more ridiculous one (the new Daleks supplanted the old ones) or maybe it is because the design of the new Daleks was so ineffective that the production team immediately tried to backtrack and return to the original, Davies ones, as soon as they possibly could. It's a wartime story being told in the broadest of strokes, lacking any serious detail or education and far more invested in the bank holiday spectacle that these sorts of films have to offer. You've got Ian McNiece and Bill Patterson, two extremely strong actors, being wasted on roles that have no great depth or lasting worth to them. Matt Smith is single handedly trying to hold the story together but he can't quite manage it this time...and he still can't portray anger with any great conviction and Karen Gillan is at her least offensive but that is because Amy is given practically nothing to do. I should point out that the first 15 minutes do show some potential but as soon as the Doctor is transported up to the Dalek ship the story dive bombs into a well of decrepitude. Remembered as the story that rivals Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks as the worst new series Dalek story, personally I would rate it lower because even the direction of Victory is awkward and unsure of itself. With a script like this to realise, I am not at all surprised: 4/10

Full Review Here:

The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Adam Smith

Result: My favourite story of season five, Steven Moffatt has written a near-flawless script which is is skin crawlingly scary and epic in scope and packed it full of memorable characters who all get a moment to shine. It's one of the only times he has managed to pull off a really strong narrative and a substantial character tale during his era. Adam Smith deserves a medal for his avant garde direction, the production is approaching movie standard and there are plenty of delicious visuals and set pieces to devour. The atmosphere is tense and frightening; my friends daughter was traumatised by the first episode, literally petrified. Her mother was left in quite a state too. Few Doctor Who stories are as dynamic was this without jettisoning their integrity and it manages to feel traditional (dark tunnels, ship under siege) and uniquely NuWho at the same time (exquisitely realised, achingly emotional). This is the point where the bubbling arc plots are at their most mouth watering and I don’t think the season is this interesting again until the finale. Moffat promises is stacking up his mysteries and promising an awful lot. That he fails to deliver isn't a problem at all here because (like the early X-Files seasons) it feels like we are riding the wave of a genuinely exciting and mammoth arc. If they don’t rival their initial appearance the Angels are consistently innovated throughout and provide more than enough chills to justify their return. Suitably, this story also showcases the eleventh Doctor at his finest. If only we could jettison Amy and replace her with a human being for a companion we would be in perfect shape. What a shame the bolted on final scene should leave me on such a sour note after so much richness: 9.5/10 

Full Review Here:

The Vampires of Venice written by Toby Whithouse and directed by Jonny Campbell

Result: Visually stunning but morally corrupt…have we wandered into an episode of Torchwood? This was one of the most disappointing episodes of the season for so many reasons, chief amongst them being the fact that it promised far more than it delivered. The elements of the title whet the appetite but what transpires is less of a vampire tale and more of a traditional Doctor Who monster of the week and despite the suggestion it doesn’t capture the essence or the magic of Venice in the slightest (I say that as Venice is my home from home). Toby Whithouse rejects the gothic trappings that could have sold this adventure and instead chooses to fill in the cracks with an appallingly handled domestic drama that charts the character assassination of Amy Pond. About the only person who emerges from this episode intact is Matt Smith who waltzes through the forgettable events with glee; playful, silly, powerful and truly embracing the role of a lifetime. There’s nothing wrong with a little brainless escapism every once and a while but this is so undemanding and predictable it leaves no room for surprises or even much entertainment. The odd witty line and sumptuous visual is in evidence but there is so little of substance here and bringing Rory into the fold means that this isn’t even an episode that you can avoid during a rewatch. At least Murray Gold is having a field day: 4/10

Full Review Here -

Amy’s Choice written by Simon Nye and directed by Catherine Morshead

This story in a nutshell: ‘Amy’s men, Amy’s choice…’

The Nutty Professor: Highlighting the differences between the ‘never looking back’ tenth Doctor we open this story with the eleventh Doctor visiting Amy and Rory five years after they left him. When he sees Amy’s life in the dullest village known to man he wonders what they do to stave off the self-harm. He threw the TARDIS manual into a supernova because he was cross and he disagreed with it. Not even the Doctor can withstand the charms of a nice old lady who wants you to try on a woolly jumper for size. The Dream Lord is instantly charismatic and insulting, taking the piss out of the Doctor’s many ridiculous nicknames. The madcap vehicle, the cocamene hair, the clothes designed by a first year fashion student…if he had any more tawdry quirks he could open a tawdry quirk shop. He sniffs out things that aren’t exactly as they seem. Why does everybody expect him to always know everything? Fascinating that the Doctor figures out who the Dream Lord is on the strength of how much he hates him and that opens up a whole universe of possibilities about the Doctor’s level of self hate post the Time War. That might have been worth examining further but it is never touched upon again. The old man that prefers the company of the young? Ouch Amy has really put the Doctor on a pedestal and when he cannot save Rory she questions what the point of him is.  Like he is responsible for everybody in the universe. I would have reciprocated that sentiment and aked what the point of her is. Matt Smith’s quiet ‘okay’ as Amy reveals that she wants to kill herself in this reality because she cannot bear a life without Rory is desperately sweet. You just want to hug him. The darkness in Amy and Rory would have starved the Dream Lord because the Doctor chooses his friends very carefully but in over 900 years to choose from the Doctor was a feast. The last shot is very telling – the Doctor still has his own demons to face and the Dream Lord is waiting…

Scots Tart: This episode was the making of Amy for me, the point where I could actually see some potential in the character beyond being aggression and flirtation. It's at this point where she stops being a generic Scots redhead with an attitude problem and over excited libido and actually becomes a character with some degree of consideration. Why is it that the guest writers are bringing this character to life with so much more effectiveness than the showrunner? Amy screams so loud she scares a crow from a tree. How funny does she look with the bowl of pudding mix perched on top of her pregnant stomach and rampantly stuffing her face with mixture? Equally hilarious is her fake pregnancy moment when she manages to turn the Doctor as white as a sheet with a simple scream. It’s fascinating that when Amy has to make her choice before both men she says Rory but doesn’t even look at him. She’s gone from the day before her wedding to telling her fiancĂ© they will get married ‘some day.’ Amy’s casual ‘whack her!’ makes me wet myself. Sometimes her bossiness is amusing rather than annoying. There is more insane humour as she does her little poncho boys dance. The Dream Lord manages to get to nub of this seasons problem: Amy ran away with a handsome hero and would she really give that up to be with a bumbling country doctor who thinks the only thing you need to remain interesting is a ponytail? Interesting that Amy doesn’t like being asked to make a choice of which life is the real one. Both are enticing to her. The big question is does Amy really deserve Rory when she only realises how much she loves him after he dies…and that it takes two attempts at this to really drive the point home? If real life is the world where Rory is dead Amy doesn’t want it and she makes an unforgettable decision to kill herself and make the other world a reality. I do question the sanity of making the nature of Amy and Rory's relationship her choice because she really doesn't deserve it given her behaviour over the past couple of episodes.

The Loyal Roman: Rory’s ponytail has to be seen to be believed (by Amy also it seems who takes a sly look behind his back the first time they wake up in the TARDIS). Rory, bless him, is so deluded that he thinks the Doctor is the gooseberry in the TARDIS. He wants the village lifestyle so badly and he is convinced that it is reality. All of Rory’s dreams are encapsulated in seeing the nursery for their baby and Arthur Darvil captures your sympathies effortlessly as he sags over the crib. Amy’s reaction to him cutting his ponytail gets me every time, it's such an oddly tender moment.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’ve swallowed a planet!’
‘When worlds collide!’
‘You can’t spot a dream while you’re having it…’
‘Time to sleep…or are you waking up?’
‘It can be the night before our wedding for as long as we want!’
‘Loves a redhead our naughty Doctor. Has he told you about Elizabeth the First? Well she thought she was the first…’
‘You’re probably a vegetarian aren’t you, you big flop haired wuss!’

The Good Stuff: Straight away we are back in a lovely green environment – this really is the season of the scenic country landscapes and villages and I just happen to find charming. I love the camera shot that comes over the side to slowly reveal Amy’s pregnancy, that’s some clever camera work that expertly reveals a plot point. I also like how the pollen falls through the Leadworth scenes almost imperceptibly (you could almost mistake it for light rain most of the time). You have three distinct personalities in the TARDIS now; Rory thinks of their life in a sweet little village being married to Amy as a dream come to true, to the Doctor it was a nightmare and as far as Amy was concerned she was the size of a house. It's brilliant to spend so much time in the new TARDIS giving the audience a chance to get used to the feel and size of it and it is interesting that when the ship loses its power and is plunged into darkness it is far more atmospheric than the last time they tried to do this (Rise of the Cybermen). Without a doubt Toby Jones gives one of the finest villain performances since the series came back, he’s a delight to watch and sports some very witty dialogue. Jones is such a strong performer anyway but matched with Nye's sharp dialogue they are practically untoppleable. Nice to see that the Doctor is still concocting weird devices out of household objects (this time a corkscrew and a whisk) ala The Time Monster. A cold star is another simple but effective fantasy idea in this fairytale season, the Ship is literally drifting towards a cold sun. There is a magical shot of the TARDIS approaching the star with ice crystals bursting on its shell. The march of the octogenarians is very quirky, I was cheering upon the first broadcast. Ice can burn and sofas can read dont’cha know? How funny is it when the Doctor knocks that old woman off the roof – it’s so wrong but I can’t help but laugh! The cut from Amy driving the van into the cottage to the snow crusted console room is one of the best scenes of the year and the imagery is unforgettable.

The Bad Stuff: People bemoan that the psychic pollen explanation is disappointing but the method for whipping up their dream state isn’t important. It’s the character work that is important. I still find Amy an irritant, despite the good work that is done here. It's probably irrational on my part but I just cannot warm to this character.

Result: Nice to see the old ‘sideways’ adventures leaking back into the series and this is a particularly good example. The premise is so simple; two worlds and one of them is a dream and our heroes have to figure out which one is which. It brings to the surface a whole universe of feelings that exists between the three main characters and finally puts to rest the three in a bed tack that has been plaguing the last few episodes. Murray Gold provides a memorable score and the episode is full of unusual imagery but what really impressed me was the wealth of quality dialogue that Simon Nye conjures. This is only Doctor Who to mention self-harm, feature old ladies being up, ends in suicide (twice over) and explores just how much the Doctor might hate himself. It wont be to everybody’s tastes because there is a distinct lack of traditional elements but I found the character work enchanting and the layered plot one of the most successful of the year. The direction is occasionally stilted and I am naturally irritated by anything that has 'Amy' in the title but those were the only issues I could find with this oddball piece. I would love to see the Dream Lord back again: 8/10

The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood written by Chris Chibnall and directed by Ashley Way

Result: A missed opportunity and the first mid season two parter in the new series to disappoint. Weirdly enough considering I am usually pumping for the opposite, The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood could probably do with being condensed down into one hour long episode and having all of the flab cut away. There is much that works in this two parter (the return of the Silurians is triumphant for instance) but also a great deal that I found wanting (the dullest family unit ever seen in Doctor Who) and as a whole I felt that it was let down by too much running time and a script editor that wasn’t forceful enough in tightening up the script. The Hungry Earth is by far the most superior of the two episodes with some deliciously atmospheric and frightening moments (the Silurians hunting at night) but the plodding pace and relative cheapness of the second half left me clock watching by the end. The characterisation isn’t strong enough to justify and explore the moral implications of Chibnall is juggling and the whole piece eventually devolves into the usual cowboys vs Indians in corridors shtick. I really enjoy the exploits of Madame Vestra and her gang but the one downside to come out of that is that the Silurians (and the Sontarans by default) who were initially introduced as a potential threat are only though of in terms of allies these days. A shame because there is something very sinister about them that I feel like we are missing out on. Like us and yet entirely dissimilar. Perhaps it should be explored again at some point. There was a chance with this two parter to genuine innovate the series, to re-introduce the Silurians permanently and see how humanity copes sharing the planet with another species. It would have made the contemporary Earth stories an absolutely fascinating exercise. Instead Chibnall seems happy to flirt with the ideas (briefly) and then toss them over his shoulder and get back to the running about in caves. There’s nothing more frustrating than potential being wasted (go and watch Star Trek Voyager and you can experience this aggravation for seven seasons) but in the case of The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood it is Doctor Who daring to suggest something bold and then just ignoring it, that’s just maddening. It isn’t even as though there was a dramatic reason for the alliance to discontinue (like an explosion that wipes the species out), Chibnall just sends them back to sleep again and leaves the problem in someone else’s hands. If average Doctor Who is made up of a mixture of great elements and poor ones, then this might stand as the most average Doctor Who of them all but for squandering a potentially riveting scenario I cannot award any more than: 4/10

Full Review Here -

Vincent and the Doctor written by Richard Curtis and directed by Jonny Campbell

This story in a nutshell: The title says it all…

Nutty Professor: Whilst I was already convinced this was the episode that my mom finally fell in love with Matt Smith as the Doctor and got over her pining for David Tennant. The almost flirtatious way that the Doctor and the museum guide admire each others bow ties always makes me smile. He’s not that kind of Doctor. Matt Smith seems to revel in any chance to be a bit silly and yet he never comes across as being frivolously so (a far cry from his later seasons) and so the energetic way he dashes around the courtyard waving the pole around to attack the invisible creature is quite the delight. He takes absolute delight in tossing old junk out of the way so he can look for his invisible alien detector, which apparently was a gift from his Godmother. His experiences are that surprisingly there is always hope despite all the terrible things that he has seen. Fascinating to see that whilst the Doctor is confident at confronting whole armies (such as he will in a few episodes time) but when it comes to one mentally ill man he is awkward and shy. The Doctor is armed with over confidence, a briefcase and a small screwdriver. His camp little dancing to the soothing music of the TARDIS makes me want to kiss him. When Paul Cornell talks about Sylvester McCoy being all sweet and retired and so easy to fall in love with (something I occasionally saw) I apply exactly the same description to Matt Smith in this episode. I'm not sure there is another moment where he is more comfortable playing the Doctor and it's the most unconventional episode of all.

Scots Tart: The Doctor is being super nice to Amy at the moment and taking her exactly where she wants to go and she smells a rat. Naturally. Amy’s one moment of ‘can't she get swallowed by a Bandril?' (trust me to only have one in an episode is a rare and treasurable thing) was when she told Van Gogh and the bar owner to both shut up and she will buy the drinks. It's that smug, superior tone that grates and the way she thinks she can talk to anybody the way she likes. But as I said, it's just one moment in an otherwise faultless episode for the character. For the most part she is desperately sweet and sensitive. See - it can be done! She knows that Vincent will take his own life but when the Doctor puts it into words she cannot handle it especially when he says it will be in only a few months time. It's one of those times when your foreknowledge of the future is extremely painful. Amy suggests that she is not really the marrying kind, another subtle touch of the arc not getting in anyone’s way. Amy looks genuinely pained that they didn’t manage to save Vincent from committing suicide and the Doctor’s attempts to cheer her up are some of their nicest moments together. I don't think I ever liked Amy more than the moment where she sheds a tear for her lost Rory without even knowing who he is.

Earless Artist: It's one of those freak occurrences that the person who happens to be the spitting image of the historical character just happens to be the best person for the part. The year before his death is described as ‘the most astonishing outpouring of art in history.’ In his lifetime he was a commercial disaster, selling only one portrait to the sister of a friend. The pre-credits sequence gives you everything you need to know about Van Gogh before we meet him and taps into your sympathies for the man effortlessly. He’s come to accept that the one person who is going to truly appreciate his paintings is him. You forget that Van Gogh doesn’t know how revered his artwork will be and the Doctor and Amy’s horrified reaction to him daubing white paint all over a picture to draw the creature really brings it home. Sunflowers are disgusting and a challenge, this man is truly a genius. With the Doctor he has fought monster together and won and on his own he fears that he will not do as well. To use your pain to portray the magnificence of the world is Vincent Van Gogh’s gift to the art world and to the human race. This is an extraordinary study of an extraordinary man, one that refuses to shy away from the horrors that he faced in life and celebrates his achievements despite his condition. Curtis might not seem like a natural fit for Doctor Who but this is one of the finest Matt Smith episodes.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every time I step outside I feel that nature is shouting at me! Come on! Come on! Come on…capture my mystery!’
‘Is this how time normally passes? Really slowly. In the right order.’
‘Will you follow him?’ ‘Of course!’
‘Be good to yourself and be kind to yourself.’
‘That strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the worlds greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.’
‘I still can’t believe one of the haystacks was in the museum. How embarrassing.’
‘The way I see it every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.’
‘The ultimate ginge.’

The Good Stuff: Whilst much of the imagery in this episode is striking, I can think of few openings that top the crows flying from the glowing corn as something invisible approaches the camera for gripping you instantly with visual beauty. Bill Nighy is one of those actors that you always hope will wind his way into Doctor Who one day but never think he will. He’s a joy in this episode simply because he makes such an impact with very few scenes, that’s the skill of a good performer. The cat on the cobblestones as the TARDIS materialises in the alley is one of my favourite TARDIS landings ever. The set designers should be extremely proud of recreating the cafĂ© exterior with such an eye to detail. Is the accordion music in the bar the Doctor’s theme for the season? Curtis cutely dresses up the first Krafayis as a psychotic episode of Van Gogh’s before the Doctor realises there is a genuine threat present. That's a genius way of adding a monster to the story and show the audience the sort of episodes that Van Gogh is experiencing. Watching these two great men being led a merry dance by this invisible creature is a joy to watch, the show pulling off farce (my least favourite form of comedy) with real style. It's lovely that with all the technology at its disposal Doctor Who of this day and age will still plump for invisible aliens (it's not a budgetary thing because they still have to go to the lengths of creating the beast in CGI and the physical effects probably cost more anyway) and watching it pursue the Doctor through the streets is surprisingly tense (Blair Witch aside, I always love dramatic handheld camera work). Plus Amy turning up around the corner makes the audience laugh and jump which is always a great feeling. I’m not sure what is more striking; the sunlight streaming into Van Gogh’s bedroom or the truly stunning image of Amy surrounded by sunflowers. Both are beautiful images. We are reminded of the tragic events at the end of the last episode in a very delicate moment showing how subtle this seasons arc can be handled if necessary. The Doctor and Amy in the confession box is another exquisitely lit scene. Doctor Who is not the sort of show that discusses the effects of depression and there is a very telling moment where the Doctor tries to and Vincent tells him to shut up – the episode has already shown us in some very powerful scenes that Vincent is unstable and it doesn’t need to push it further (like most shows would) in dissecting his apparent madness. The double twist of discovering that the Krafayis is blind and then its accidental murder completely turns the simple plot of its head and guts the viewer. But it is all done in a very subtle manner that doesn't bash the sentiment over the viewers head as some episodes can. Seeing the world through Vincent’s eyes is sheer visual poetry and it will be a long time before the series offers anything that potent again. Even the touch of the TARDIS covered in posters that have burnt off in the vortex is perfect. It feels like everybody is working really hard to make this episode as visually and emotionally memorable as possible. The ending made me choke with tears when I first watched this. Simon and I were sitting on the sofa with tears streaming down our faces hugging each other with the sheer magic of it. Can you think of a more amazing gift the Doctor could have given Vincent than to realise that his work would eventually be hailed as the work of a genius? It's hugely uplifting and beautiful and Curran’s dizzying reaction is captured to perfection.

Result: Vincent and the Doctor is a truly sophisticated episode of Doctor Who and one of the few moments of television that actually brought tears to me eyes. It's awesome than an episode with such gorgeous character drama and one that studies schizophrenia with such sensitivity still has time for a giant invisible chicken roaming the streets of Paris. Visually it is one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories, every frame has been exquisitely lit and designed to provide a feast for the eyes and some of the imagery is appropriately as dazzling as a Van Gogh painting itself. Matt Smith and Karen Gillan give their best performances of the fifth series and Richard Curtis treats the pair of them to some wonderful dialogue and interplay.If this is how likeable this pair can be together...why hasn't it quite clicked like this until now? But the star of the show is Tony Curran who takes a potentially unsympathetic role and creates a Vincent Van Gogh who is entirely credible and great fun to be around and before the episode he will have broken your heart. The intimacy and chemistry between these three characters is extraordinary. Some people might not like this slower, more character based drama but I found it intoxicating and with the Angel two parter it is my favourite episode of series five: 10/10

The Lodger written by Gareth Roberts and directed by Catherine Morshead

Whacky Wanderer: Possibly Matt Smith's finest hour in his impressive first season as the Doctor, and certainly his cutest. My own dear mother was extremely resistant to Smith because she was so desperately in love with David Tennant (and who can blame her for that?) but come The Lodger she had finally been worn down by just how adorable this new incarnation of the Doctor is. One part Troughton, one part Tennant (his ruthlessness) and two parts Matt Smith's brilliantly quirky and intelligent self, the eleventh Doctor has well and truly flourished come the end of his first year (although for me personally I thought that was when he muched on fish finger custard).

He is an ancient amateur and an absolute dream! I love how he doesn't have a clue about currency and turns up on Craig's doorstep with three grand in a paper bag telling him not to spend it all on sweeties! His gentle air kissing, continental style, is so sweet you just want to hug him. Don't call him the Rotneister. The quiet way he reacts to Mark coming into money suggests 7th Doctor style setting up events after he is done. He learnt to cook in Paris. He looks a little hurt when he admits people never stop telling him he's wierd. Craig looks the Doctor up and down and assumes that he is gay! His singing in the shower is very reminicent of the 3rd Doctor in Spearhead from Space. Seeing the Doctor in the buff is a real eye opener...he's even more of a skinny rake than I imagined! I love how he walks around totally unselfconsciously in the nude. The gentle bromance between the Doctor and Craig is lovely and there is a lot of subtle touching that makes it feel very convincing. The Doctor is the only person in the unvierse (aside from possibly Graham Norton) who would walk up to a bunch of solid looking footballers and start air kissing them! It is wonderful to see the Doctor enjoying himself so much in something as frivolous as football, Matt Smith was clearly having a ball (haha) and it is quite infectious. Like me he cannot bear wine and spits it back into his glass! I love the delicious visual of forcing Craig to drink from a teapot spout. Having worked in a call centre on the phones for over a year I was cheering when he blew raspberries at Craig's nastiest customer! This Doctor really is like me, he sits and has a conversation with the cat (man sometimes they are the only ones who understand).

Surrogate Companions: Since Amy Pond contributes absolutely nothing to the story until the final scene lets instead focus on Craig and Sophie, the Doctor's one time companions for this story. I loved it when Sophie said 'It's just Craig', that feels so real because I think we all have friends who say that when they are comfortable with us. I also think we have all had a friend who has phoned up and ruined plans with their latest drama! Who has ever had feelings so strong that the thought of telling the person that you love them makes you feel physically sick? The Doctor is the unwanted third person in this romance and I've been that person too! Craig's jealousy of the Doctor feels so real, I think we would all feel that way if somebody crashed into our lives who was funnier, more confident and talented than ourselves. Somebody who impresses all of your mates is never wanted. I am not the hugest fan of Amy Pond solo and frankly I think i would have preferred to have had Craig and Sophie throughout this season, they are far more likable.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Six billion people. Watching you two at work I'm starting to wonder where they came from.'
'Is that a lie?' 'Of course its a lie!'
'For Godsake kiss the girl!'
'That's a number to beat.'

The Good Stuff: The threat up the stairs is very Psycho-esque in that it is extremely simple but very menacing. The spreading mould and electric flashes through the window causes your mind to reel at what on Earth is going on up there. I love the scrambler that makes you talk total gibberish. The footie scenes are so unrepresentitive of Doctor Who they should be cherished for that fact alone but they are also gloriously uplifting. The wierd contraption the Doctor builds out of bits and bobs is the modern day Time Flow Analogue from The Time Monster! Ouch - the headbutting 'contact' scene is certainly memorable - imagine th Five Doctors if this had been the method of their pooling of would have been bloody! The twist that the building is only one storey comes from no where and the TARDIS set (designed by a Blue Peter winner?) is fabullusly eerie. The simplicity of the two dovetailing plots through a kiss a little tacky but you still go 'awww' all the same. I really like the idea that we don't know who was trying to build a TARDIS but if I know Moffatt we will find out before his time is up. Amy discovering the ring was a great moment and I couldn't wait to watch the next episode (especially when I saw that awesome next time trailer!).

The Bad Stuff: The Lodger is extremely poorly placed in the season - I would have put this much earlier where we needed to get to know the Doctor better. With the Silurian two part, Van Gogh and The Lodger there are too many small scale character tales in a row and the season lacks the dramatic impetus of a Davies' season at its best (compare to season four at this stage - the Library two parter, Midnight, Turn Left...). Who on Earth is that drunken old soak who shuffled past Craig's place? Would anybody in their right mind actually go up the creepiest set of stairs in the history of first floors? Even if a little girl in pigtails was asking for help from the shadows I would pass! Did Amy have to be so badly sidelined in this story? There is some really gooey squelchy kissing in Craig and Sophie's last scene.

Result: Who ever thought Doctor Who could work as a blokey sitcom? The Lodger is basically a three way character drama between the Dcotor, Craig and Sophie but its far cuter and aimiable than you could ever imagine. Its Matt Smith's sweetest performance in his first season and there is a lot of comic potential in the Doctor trying to fit in in suburban Britain. You wouldn't want to see this sort of thing too often but as an amusing one off it is a perfectly charming production, filmed with a delicate touch and featuring two warming performances from James Corden and Daisy Haggard. Is this the only Doctor Who episode to be inspired by a DWM comic strip? If so lets let Gareth Roberts plunder his own work more often, this is as feelgood as a night night of pizza/booze/telly with good friends: 8/10

The Pandorica Opens written by Steven Moffat and directed by Toby Haynes

This story in a nutshell: All the world's a story... 

Nutty Professor: Still adorable at this point, Matt Smith is riding high on the success of his debut year. The awkward, geeky, desperately cute eleventh Doctor of season five is still my favourite version of his character (at Smith's too) before the rot began to set in (season six is responsible for a lot of problems in this era). Whilst the gentle pace of Vincent and the Doctor and The Lodger afforded the eleventh Doctor the chance to enjoy some of his warmest character moments it is nice to ramp up the pace a little and see him trapped in an impossibly dramatic situation. Much of season five is quite quiet in terms of huge threats for the Doctor to face (the run from Vampires of Venice to The Lodger sees the Doctor squaring up to fish people, himself, Silurians, an alien chicken and a spaceship interface) and this is the chance to see how he copes under the pressure of the sort of danger that his predecessor dealt with week in, week out. Pretty damn well, as it happens. The much celebrated speech he makes atop Stonehenge to the collective menagerie of monsters that have shown up is a scene that celebrates how confident this character can be in the face of impossible odds. He does it all with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He doesn't have any weapons, just a great deal of front. His 'look at me I'm a target!' and two thumbs up to Amy when they dash into danger are just gorgeous, the sort of simple character humour that the show forgot how to pull off in Smith's final year. There will be moments in subsequent seasons where Matt Smith will wow me despite the some of the material he is given but there is no moment where I was quite as thrilled by his performance as the final scene where he is locked in the Pandorica. The Doctor is completely at the mercy of his enemies, begging for them to listen to him as the universe falls apart. Matt Smith really goes for it, vulnerable and desperate, and I was quite literally on the edge of my seat.

Scots Tart: 'She's Amy and she's surrounded by Romans, I'm not sure history can take it...' Amy walks from the TARDIS drunk on her own confidence, tipping  wink to the Roman Army and impossibly smug in her certainty. My teeth grind at how appallingly self satisfied she is at this point. The mistreatment of the character in season six couldn't come quick enough. The Doctor points out that Amy's life doesn't make sense and the whole story is built around the mystery of how vacuous her back story is. Beyond Rory, we still don't know a great deal about the character (beyond the fact that she is stroppy and horny a lot of the time) but Moffat is acknowledging that that has been done for a reason. I still don't think it is the best approach to introduce part of a character with so many gaps - it makes it very hard to warm to them when you can't see what their motivation is or why they behave the way they do - but at least the repair work has begun. Come her final half season Moffat will have assembled a full character, it's just a shame that for much of her run she should be so lacking. Just before she is shot to death, Amy starts to behave like a human being. Go figure.

Loyal Roman: It's the first instance of the resurrection of Rory so the idea is still innovative at this point. You can't help but cheer at the re-appearance of the character and how Moffat plays it up to comedic effect, the Doctor completely failing to notice the impossibility of him being here. I'm glad they didn't go with the Doctor's 'it just happened, let's just except it' explanation (I think Moffat is preparing us for the magic tricks that he will pull off without explanation in the second episode) and there is a solid reason for him showing up by the end of the episode. The scenes that plays out between Amy and Rory at the climax are the first time I felt the tragedy of their relationship really clicked into place.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Everything that ever hated you is coming here tonight.'
'Remember every black day I ever stopped you and then do the smart thing, let somebody else try first.'
'No, we will save the universe from you!'

The Good:
* The pre-titles sequence is startlingly ambitious insofar as it walks through a myriad of the stories earlier in the season and re-acquaintens us with many of the characters that we met along the way. It's a culmination of Matt Smith's debut year, bringing together all the elements in such a way that makes them all feel connected. Either these vignettes were filmed during their episodes or plenty of the actors agreed to come back for small cameos but it was a delight catch up with Van Gogh, Churchill and Bracewell, the 'bloodah Queen' and River Song and see how they are linked to the Pandorica. At this point Steven Moffat is riding high on the success of his first year and revelling in all the elements that made it work. It feels as though a whole seasons budget might have been swallowed up in five minutes too, such is the expense that makes it on screen as we cut from one setting and one time to another. Bravo, it's the most grand and confident set piece in his entire run to date, all leading up to that potent image of the TARDIS exploding in the vortex as painted by Van Gogh.
* It's worth remembering that at his height Steven Moffat is capable of writing some very funny material and The Pandorica Opens is packed full of some of his funniest jokes; the stick person drawing left on the wall of River's cell, the insinuation that Jack's wrist has been cut off for his vortex manipulator (which would tie into the idea that he is the Face of Boe), the Doctor poking at Rory who cannot exist.
* The Pandorica is certainly given appropriate build up, billed as the ultimate prison for the most feared creature in the universe. I love how the story tries to trick us into thinking that there is something inside that wants to get out when in reality it is an empty casket waiting to be filled. I don't think anybody could have predicted quite where this story was going. It always feels like the story is building to something impressive with the clicking of the Pandorica's gears as it gets itself ready to open and unleash...what?
* Cinematic influences abound with stirring footage on horseback that reminded me of fantasy films such as Lord of the Rings and a secret entrance beneath Stonehenge that apes Indiana Jones. The soundtrack certainly thinks it is accompanying something more majestic than a small screen production and the astonishingly vast sets below ground concur. When we catch a glimpse of the Pandorica in the half light, draped in cobwebs and adorned with symbols it is a masterpiece of design.
* It's almost a shame that Moffat pulls every trick out of the hat for his first finale because he has nowhere to go in subsequent end of season spectaculars. Russell T. Davies got to a point where he pulled together all of the Doctor's friends across three series (Doctor Who, Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures) to take on the might of the Dalek Empire. The Pandorica Opens brings together all of the Doctor's enemies to joining forces against him. How can you possibly top that for sheer excitement? Subsequent season finales would go to the lengths of marrying the Doctor off, introducing a new Doctor and turning the Master into a woman for their kicks but nothing touches the sheer dramatic strength of a union between the most evil races in the universe. Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Tereleptils, Slitheen, Chelonians, Nestenes, Drahvins, Sycorax, Zygons, Draconians, etc. What could possibly be in the Pandorica that all these races want? How spectacular is the light show in the sky that represents all of these races screaming in and out of the atmosphere of the Earth, all waiting for the right moment to pick off the Doctor. Smartly the story makes us think that the Doctor has managed to convince the collection of nasties to bugger off when they are just waiting for the moment to spring their trap. The cracks in the skin of the universe are given some consideration. All of reality being threatened is enough for the Doctor's enemies to pool their resources and work together to defeat him because they recognise that it is his Ship that causes the calamity.
* To my mind this is still the best use of the Cybermen in NuWho. It works because the Cybermen are not the central threat of the story so not a great deal is expected of them and thus Moffat is able to surprise with some gloriously inventive and macarcbre moments as parts of a Cyberman come to life and attack the Doctor and Amy. The standout moment of horror comes when Amy is lashed at by the tendrils of a Cyber-head and when she grapples with the mask it pops open and a screaming human skull is revealed inside. I have always asked for the body horror of these creatures to be exploited and Moffat fulfils some of that desire in these visually delicious scenes. On first transmission I was screaming with delight. The head scuttling away to find its body and being plonked on top to make a complete soldier might be my favourite moment of the entire year.

The Bad:
* Whilst there are many, many things to praise in The Pandorica Opens, it is also the point where Moffat realises that he can do anything with the show and get away with it, almost to the point of smugness. The first recorded words in the universe being HELLO SWEETIE scrawled on a cliff face is the sort of self-satisfied nonsense that would pollute the next two seasons. 'I hate good wizards in fairytales, they always turn out to be him.'

Result: A huge round of applause for the final ten minutes of The Pandorica Opens, which builds to an incredible climax that has never been topped by Moffat since. The eerie mystery of River exploring Amy's house when she was a little girl, the goosebumps down the spine moment you realise that the entire story has been constructed out of a storybook in Amy's bedroom, the aching tragedy of Rory being revealed as an Auton and shooting the woman he loves, the drama of River trapped in the exploding TARDIS and the potent appearance of all those monsters who conspire to shove the most dangerous creature in the universe in the Pandorica: the Doctor. It's an astonishing vivid series of events and it never fails to thrill me. Moffat takes the epic climax of the penultimate episode to it's furthest extreme by destroying the entire universe, stars exploding as we pull away from the Earth. Never mind how the series deals with taking the story to such a compelling climax, just bask in the glory of a series that has so much gall. What impressed me the most was how gently so much of this is played; the scenes between Rory and Amy re-discovering themselves are underplayed and all the more affecting for it, the Doctor being imprisoned is filmed in slow motion with quietly sad music and the pull away to the imploding universe is a disquietingly undramatic and poetic image. This could have been overblown and pompous but instead it makes an impact by being subtle, despite how everything has gone to shit. Everything that leads up to that climax is pretty gorgeous too; the dynamic and frightening use of the Cybermen, the budget busting and ambitious pre-credits sequence, the enormity of the sets and the musical score. The only problem I have with The Pandorica Opens comes in the form of Amy, who irritates the hell out of me in season five but even she is shot dead come the climax so a massive thumbs up there too. Moffat might never be able to build up to this kind of a climax again but we can rest assured that for one year he pulled all the threads of the season together in a way that, if not besting Davies' bizarre ability to take the show to a breathtaking precipice, matched his predecessor. The antithesis of The Stolen Earth; subtle and haunting rather than bombastic and high octane and bringing together all of the Doctor's enemies rather than his friends, The Pandorica Opens is a quietly masterful and powerful episode: 10/10

The Big Bang written by Steven Moffatt and directed by Toby Haynes



Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Interesting that you don't like "The Beast Below" (one of my favorite Smith episodes to be honest), seeing as it's very much a throwback to the McCoy era in terms of style: you have the density of plot and lack of clear explanations for a lot of elements mixed in with a very message-oriented story. Perhaps it's hard for viewers like you to like Amy unless they like this episode, as this is the one that's meant to cement her as a good companion (and for me at least, it did its job).

For me, this season was magic, and the series that got me into NuWho (along with "Blink".) Even if Series 6 has a greater number high-quality non-Moffatt episodes stronger individual episodes, this season is still my favorite of NuWho because the story arc comes together perfectly in the end, while I was disappointed by "The Wedding of River Song". Overall, "Victory of the Daleks" is the only episode I seriously dislike from this season.

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Though "Victory" does have its moments of course

Doc Oho said...

I never thought of The Beast below as being like a McCoy story but upon consideration I think you might be right - it is badly structured, lacks decent explanations and puts a loose moral ahead of convincing characterisation. It also looks pretty cheap as well. Although I disagree with your assessment that if you don't like this episode then you wont like Amy - this episode is an anathema as far as Amy is concerned, an episode where she is likable, sympathetic and selfless. It's not characteristics that she would display in great abundance again. My problem with the character came around the end of Flesh and Stone where she tried to bed the Doctor whilst her fiance was waiting at home for her. That didn't make her a 'flawed' character and more a selfish one with loose morals that I simply couldn't buy into as the Doctor's companion.

I do agree that the arc story is well structured in season five... its the only season where the late season two parter is completely fudged spoiling the momentum of the run. Season six is far, far worse in terms of structure (the River arc is apallingly handled for the most part, relying on the fact that it is serialised drama rather than flowing naturally through the season and over complicating itself to the nth degree) and there are so more fair to middling episodes than any other season. Personally I have found season 7a which has abandoned the arc structured an just allowed Amy and Rory to breathe as characters to be much more satisfying than either season.

I liked Victory of the Daleks and The Wedding of River Song fine - neither are classics but they're both above average and have some lovely ideas and moments.

I wouldn't say season five comes together perfectly either, as there are still a multitude of unanswered questions at the climax.

But then that's just my take on things :-)

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Hmm. I personally like the look of "The Beast Below", for me it conjures up a dream-like atmosphere, with Amy drifting through the stars followed by the materialization in the middle of the market, and...I don't know how to describe it actually. Maybe it (and the McCoy era) are like 2001: A Space Odyssey, an entirely subjective experience that relies on symbolism rather than character development.

I think the Star Whale's pain was a metaphor for the Doctor's continued disappointment with the human race; the Doctor hasn't given up on us despite how horrible we can be, and neither will the Star Whale.

Granted, I can see where you (and others) are coming from with the complaints about Amy. I simply find she has good chemistry with Matt Smith. Also, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, it might help (maybe) that I'm straight and am thus, uh, more easily influenced to sympathize with Amy? :D

I'll leave my thoughts for the McCoy seasons and Matt Smith's other ones on their pages :)

Christopher "Peaky" Brown said...

Oh and Series 6 was *meant* to answer the questions, but they kind of messed that up...>:(

AndrewBuckley said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your review of Vincent; the story that made me face up to my own demons and saved me in so many ways (once I'd stopped crying). Thank you, Doctor