As you know, I’m a big, BIG fan of long-running BBC Science-Fiction masterpiece Doctor Who. One of my earliest memories, in fact, is actress Nicola Bryant in a bald-wig having undergone a brain transplant to become the evil Lord Kiv in 1986. That sort of thing stays with a child. My love for the show continued through the dark days after it’s cancellation in 1989 and the brief glimmer of hope when the Doctor briefly resurfaced as Paul McGann in 1996.
Despite what any hardened Doctor Who fan will tell you, Doctor Who was never as good as it’s 2005 revival helmed by Queer as Folk creator Russell T Davies. This week sees the release of the fifth series on glorious lenticular DVD boxset, along with it’s spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures Series 3.
The genius of Doctor Who is it’s ability to evolve like no other show. Running since 1963, with more cast and crew changes than most soap operas, and yet it feels as fresh now as it did then. The fifth series saw (arguably) the biggest shake-up since the TARDIS reappeared. New show-runner, Steven Moffat, and new leads Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.
Matt Smith is the clear success of the season, with even the most poisonous online forums full of love for the new Doctor. Yes, he’s very young, but as I said, Doctor Who is all about evolution a geriatric lead like William Hartnell simply wouldn’t work for the Saturday night audiences of 2010 (although, we’ll discuss this later in regards to Sarah Jane). For me, Matt Smith settles into the role far more quickly than his predecessor, the much-loved David Tennant. Tennant’s early Doctor was trying too hard for me; Laid back Smith, establishes his own effortless, believable quirkiness from his first seconds on screen. Bonkers, unpredictable, sexless, just like every good Doctor should be.
The series gets off to a strong start with The Eleventh Hour, a showcase for Smith with an eerie villain to chase around a very Avengers setting of leafy middle England. I didn’t hate it’s follow up The Beast Below as much as everyone else either; dark mystery in space with a most unusual monster. More importantly, it gave viewers a chance to get to know new companion Amy Pond (Gillan). Ignore the overwrought final scenes and this could be Amy’s best episode.
Let’s ignore the hideous new Daleks (even writer Mark Gatiss admitted the hunchback look is woeful) and skip straight to what is, for me, easily the highlight of the year The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone, the anticipated return of the Weeping Angels from 2008’s Blink. Not unlike Aliens with elements of Ringu, Moffat didn’t disappoint, adding new layers to the genuinely scary stone assassins. These are the monsters school children want to be. Alex Kingston’s River Song is also on hand to add humour and glamour.
Sadly at this point, I lost my way with the series. With the exception of the giddy run-around Vampires of Venice, the rest of the series fell into a somewhat cerebral lull; lots of clever ideas, not a lot of action. While Amy’s Choice and Vincent and the Doctor were certainly very nice…it wasn’t the Doctor Who I signed up for. While I wholeheartedly approve of Doctor Who trying new things (Blink, for example, should be hung in the Tate Modern), I can’t imagine the school children of our great country jumping out from behind a climbing frame pretending to be James Corden’s entry phone.
Perhaps more controversially, I’ve struggled to like Amy Pond. There, I said it. To me, both the writers and Gillan didn’t quite get a handle on who Amy is meant to be. Occasionally callous, sometimes vulgar, frequently child-like it was an odd mixture and I was left unsympathetic to her fate. Throw in a morose, whining boyfriend and I was even more turned off. Since the show returned in 2005, the companion has been more vital the programme’s success than ever before. Rose and Donna (Billie Piper/Catherine Tate) worked, and their series flourished. Martha (Freema Agyeman) and no companion didn’t feel so right and consequently neither did the episodes featuring them. I feel bad admitting this for some curious reason, but I really hope Amy and Rory don’t stay in the TARDIS much longer.
While Doctor Who was trying thoughtful, dark mystery and Memento time travel mind-benders in The Big Bang/The Pandorica Opens, The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC was more Doctor Who than actual Doctor Who. Grumpy old time-traveller with a super computer and a team of teenage helpers. Sound familiar? I adore SJA, children’s television shouldn’t be this good. Well-scripted, acted and pitched perfectly at it’s audience with plenty of corridors to run up and down. It feels like Doctor Who used to be when I was ten.
The third series contains an eclectic bunch of yarns featuring body stealing aliens, haunted houses and Nigel Havers. No, really. I suspect for fans, this DVD will be worth the cover price purely for the final performance of David Tennant as the Doctor when he gate-crashes Sarah Jane’s wedding. Sadly, the final episode does feature my least favourite monster the Slitheen, but I’m willing to forgive this as the children in my last Year 5 class genuinely loved the fart gags.
Being in the position to be able to review not one, but two Doctor Who universe series is a treat that I still don’t take for granted (after all, I remember the dark days of reviewing The Missing Adventures BBC novels in the 90s). You can keep you Sherlocks and Downton Abbeys there is no finer drama on British television.
Doctor Who: The Complete Series 5 and The Sarah Jane Adventures Complete Series 3 are available now from 2Entertain.
Ps. Dear Steven Moffat, even though I dislike Amy am I still allowed to one day write for Doctor Who? Love from James Dawson aged 29 and a ½. XXX