The beauty of the BBC’s iPlayer is that I can write this post with the finale freshly viewed two weeks after its original airdate. Now my laziness can be justified!
We’ve come to the end of the fifth reboot series of Doctor Who. In some ways, it feels almost like a reboot of a reboot: we’ve had a new Doctor, new companions and rather few returning characters. I also feel that the tone of the series has changed, in my opinion, for the better.
Matt Smith’s introduction as the eleventh Doctor caused a bit of a stir-up back when it was announced, and I worried that he would try too hard to emulate the inimitable David Tennant. Thankfully, it seems that he developed his own style as a slightly geekier, less self-assured Doctor. Tennant’s incarnation appeared to be rather omnipotent; Smith shows a lot more weakness. There are moments in the series, such as in the “The Beast Below”, when he genuinely seems unsure of his actions. His quirkiness becomes endearing as he eases into the role.
The new companion Amy Pond was also wonderfully refreshing. Pond is far more assertive than her predecessors; the relationship between her and the Doctor seems much more equal than before. She also displays a great deal of usefulness: she actually saves the day on numerous occasions when the Doctor is unable to do so. Her relationship with hapless Rory is sweet. It doesn’t do her any harm that I have a thing for Scottish accents.
In general, the feel of the new season is different. Under the tenth Doctor, the series appeared to move in a darker direction, perhaps following the lead of its seriously dark, if utterly immature, cousin Torchwood. In the words of Charlie Brooker:
[Torchwood] somehow managed to feel like both a multi-coloured children’s show and a heaving sex-and-gore bodice-ripper at the same time. The constant clash of mutually-incongruous tones meant watching it felt like stumbling across a hitherto secret episode of Postman Pat in which Pat runs down 15 villagers while masturbating at the wheel of his van. Interesting, but possibly aimed at madmen.
Fortunately, Doctor Who never quite got that bad (although I still love Torchwood for its frankly ridiculous levels of bisexuality and cheese). Nevertheless, episodes like “Turn Left”, “The Age of Steel” and the season finales felt surprisingly dystopian for what is essentially a children’s show. It’s not that I disliked the previous series; rather, I feel that Doctor Who is at its best with episodes that rely on eeriness (such as “Blink” and “The Empty Child“).
While season five didn’t have anything on par with “Blink”, it managed to be quite odd. ‘Trippy’ is an overused word, but episodes like “Amy’s Choice” and “The Lodger” were genuinely strange. I particularly enjoyed the finale for being more adventorous, instead of the usual formula of ‘standard Who villain imperils universe’. True, there were some rather weak episodes (I didn’t care much for the Silurian arc) but the writers at least attempted something new.
The other defining feature of the season was schmalz. They laid it on shamelessly, and I admit that I lapped it up. Being the sentimental fellow that I am, “Vincent and the Doctor” made me a little weepy. The finale produced a reverse-Tomino ending: not only did everyone live, but people who were supposed to be dead at the start of the series were (quite literally) magicked into existence. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; but honestly, not everything has to be Victory Gundam. I don’t mind a happy end once in a while, especially if the protagonists have been dragged through some miserable shit.
So the same cast are staying on for another series. This one has been a little subpar compared to previous offerings but has shown some promise; let’s hope that it gets fully realised in the inevitable sixth series.