Reviews

'Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series': More Than Just a Fairy Tale

From the moment he peers out at little Amelia Pond from the overturned TARDIS in series opener "The Eleventh Hour", Matt Smith's Doctor is The Doctor.


Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston
Network: BBC1
Release date: 2010-11-09
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Right from the start, let me tell you, I like Eleven. Matt Smith is very good. Matt Smith is more than very good. He's cool. Like bow-ties. That said, he's no David Tennant. He's no Christopher Eccleston, Tom Baker or William Hartnell ... and yet, he is. It's really kind of cool if you think about it, because that's sort of the whole idea of the Doctor. From the moment he peers out at little Amelia Pond from the overturned TARDIS in series opener "The Eleventh Hour", Smith's Doctor is The Doctor.

It was a smart move by the incoming production team, headed by Steven Moffat, to have so much action occur within the first hour—the show's and the Doctor's. It was also smart of Moffat and Smith to put so many recognizable remnants of Tennant's incarnation in the Doctor's residual post-regeneration personality quirks. A new Doctor is one thing, but a new Doctor, new companions, new crew and a new TARDIS all at once could have been too much if not for the deft callbacks to the most recent Doctor. At the end of "The Eleventh Hour", the eleventh doctor has settled into his new self and circumstances as easily as he dons his new costume. By the end of the episode, most viewers have accepted his new face and are ready to follow the Doctor on his new adventures.

Where previous series spent considerable time exploring the Timelord's relationships, the fifth series focuses on the adventure. The Doctor takes Amy (Karen Gillan) to England's future on Starship UK in "The Beast Below", and its past—the London Blitz—in "Victory of the Daleks". The choice to swash-buckle through the first few episodes sees the new series go from strength to strength, while simultaneously setting up, and misdirecting from, the series arc centering on Amy Pond.

Though the show is not always perfect, it has more peaks than valleys. The peaks consisting mostly of the Moffatt-penned stories. Thanks to these, River Song (Alex Kingston) returns, and she brings the Weeping Angels with her! "The Time of Angels" and "Flesh and Stone" have all of the scariness you could want from a Doctor Who monster, all of the cleverness you expect from the Doctor and a great deal of classic, witty banter between the main characters.

The same is true of another two-parter, also written by Moffat, which ends series five. "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang" are packed with adventure and excitement, intellect and humor, magic and charm, as well as the sort of emotional pull and pure entertainment value that can only come from the finest storytellers.

As spectacular as those are, however, they are not even the best of the tales this collection has to offer. That distinction, arguably, belongs to "Vincent and the Doctor", by Richard Curtis. An encounter with Van Gogh, superbly played by Tony Curran, as he battles a monster only he can see, is at once thrilling and heart-breaking. It reminds us that life, the universe, and, indeed, the Doctor, can be breathtakingly beautiful and devastatingly destructive at the same time. It's a stunning story on its own, but it also serves to emphasize the personal moments amongst the grand schemes in Doctor Who.

If "Vincent and the Doctor" is the pinnacle of this series, "Amy's Choice" would have to be the low point. It's not that it's a bad story. It's that it's too many possible stories, and none of them are satisfying because of it. Several of the ideas in the episode are probably not worth exploring too deeply, but the bulk of them could have made for fine adventures in their own right: The elderly as aliens feeding on youth, the cold star anomaly, a dream reality, a sinister being controlling perceptions, etc. It would have been perfectly plausible to have any of those pivot on Amy's decision, or to have her choice—and its influence on the series arc—stand alone as well. Having all these pieces tossed into one episode, and often in the form of not-so-pithy one-liners, was as confusing as it was annoying. Honestly, there were times, even during second and third viewings, that I fully expected to see a sight gag involving the TARDIS's kitchen sink!

Still, speaking of sight gags, "Amy's Choice" is not all bad. It is, after all, the episode that gives us the visual humor of a pregnant Amy, The Doctor driving a VW van and Rory's (Arthur Darvill) pony-tail.

The Special Features in Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series include additional scenes from several episodes; outtakes; Video Diary entries from Smith, Gillan and Darvill; Monster Files (seeing how the Angels are created doesn't make them any less eerie, by the way!) and In-Vision Commentary for six of the episodes. This last feature is a bit of a miss, actually. It's distracting in its picture-in-picture format, which is apparently the only option for accessing it, and some of the commentators just are not suited for the job.

Although Moffat's and Gillian's appearances are entertaining, Matt Smith is not in any of the commentaries, which is disappointing. Just as disappointing is the fact that there's no commentary for "Vincent and the Doctor". As with previous DVD sets, the final disc contains the remaining extras: BBC idents, trailers and episodes of the behind-the-scenes show, Doctor Who Confidential.

This six-disc set comes in a "limited edition" collectible package that includes three stunning, exclusive, postcard-sized art prints and features a brilliant 3D cover on the outer case. A gate-fold-style inner case with graphics based on the Pandorica design opens to reveal panels highlighting another gorgeous bit of art along with individual disc details and Steven Moffat's "Foreward", which is like a fan letter to the fans and emphasizes once again just how much he has invested in Doctor Who.

It's a beautiful package (regardless of how you may still feel about the current show logo). Its only flaw is that the plastic sleeves holding the discs are not connected to the gate-fold like pages to the spine of a book (as it seems they should be). When the "pages" are flipped, detached from the packaging, it leaves you scrambling to catch various parts. Whether this is manufacturing defect caused by lack of glue (better than having glue on the actual discs, though), and whether it will apply to any future non-collectible packaging for the fifth series is unknown, but it does rather spoil the physical aesthetic of the set a bit.

Of course, all but the most persnickety of fans won't care too much about the physical package, like the Doctor with the Pandorica, they're obsessed by what's inside. And what's inside Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, besides a madman with a box, is a storytelling vision of stellar proportions.

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