(Spoilers for Doctor Who Season 5 are ahead – don’t say I didn’t warn you)
Doctor Who’s fifth season saw its biggest changes since it returned to our screens in 2005. Not only did we have a new Doctor (Matt Smith) and a new assistant in Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), but also a new show runner in Steven Moffat.
The latter change was certainly evident in the season premiere where we got a much deeper and lengthy introduction to our new assistant Amy Pond than we had been used to with Russell T. Davies. We saw how The Doctor had influenced her when she was just a child. This put an interesting spin on their relationship as the season progressed: the “Raggedy Doctor” being Amy’s imaginary friend come real.
As well as a new kind of introduction to the assistant, we also saw a much more prevalent season arc. “The Cracks in Time” appeared again and again as the season progressed, giving extra weight to each of the individual stories being told from episode to episode. You really got the sense that Moffat was much more interested in the wider universe of Doctor Who – and in adding more layers to the mythology of the show.
Matt Smith as the new Doctor was given the almost unenviable task of taking over from one of the most popular and well loved Doctors the show’s ever had. There were obvious attempts to separate him from Tennant with a more eccentric interpretation of the character, complete with his tweed jacked and bow tie. This allowed him to successfully build up his own unique identity as the Eleventh Doctor, which I’m sure in time will become just as well-loved as Tennant’s.
The introduction of Amy Pond was likewise a resounding success – she’s easily the best assistant since Billie Piper’s Rose. Her mixture of excitement, empathy, and just a hint of sauce allowing her to earn her way as an essential part of the Doctor’s adventures.
If I had one complaint, it would be Rory: a character much too like the equally flat Mickey from seasons one and two. Both characters were not without their funny moments or lines (normally in relation to how inadequate they are) but both we have to try far too hard to like. Having someone so wet/loyal makes it difficult to see why Amy would ever choose this ‘safe’ option over the excitement and drama her character so craves.
Aside from the sublime season premiere, the other highlight was the return of the statues from my favourite episode of Doctor Who ever (and possibly favourite episode of television ever) Blink. This two-parter taking the horror of season three’s story and ramping it up to eleven with some amazingly exciting action sequences. The return of River Song, the voice of the dead, the cracks in time, Amy going blind – everything about the story was perfectly pitched and executed.
Aside from these highlights, this season was an amazingly consistent one, with every episode having at least one or two ideas that made you stand up and pay attention: Whether it was Liz 3; coloured Daleks; Van Gogh’s star-gazing; or the dream lord – every episode had a pleasingly different tone or emotional arc to it. With all that in mind it’s a pity the season finale didn’t live up to expectations.
Certainly all the ingredients were there to make it a success: River Song; the return of Rory; the amazing opening sequence at the start – with all the major characters from the season making a return; seeing all of The Doctor’s enemies in one place at one time. However, there’s a big difference between creating a huge threat and feeling hugely threatened by it.
The universe and all of history ending: it doesn’t get much more threatening than that. However, unlike previous season finales we had no individual behind the threat: no personification of it. The Doctor is who he is because of his intelligence and morality: he’s at his best when arguing against the enemy, proving his case for humanity, winning a war of words. In having an astronomical threat, as oppose to a humanoid one, he was left with nothing to fight, just something to prevent.
In addition, there was also no human angle, no apparent cost to what was happening. None of us seriously expected The Doctor to be wiped from all of time, and as such it meant that there was nothing to feel threatened by. Compare that to Rose being separated from The Doctor at the end of season two, or Donna losing her memory at the end of season four and you can see why I consider this the worst of the five season finales we’ve had since Who’s return.
Despite a stuttering finish, I still think this was one of Doctor Who’s finest seasons. It’s the only one that’s attempted to weave a cohesive story throughout its thirteen episodes. It should also get serious kudos for developing River Song, the only character we’ve really seen who can match the Doctor blow for intellectual blow. Not only did it give us a new doctor, a new assistant, and some new mysteries yet to be solved, it also kept the imagination and creativity that still keeps Doctor Who fresh almost fifty years since the TARDIS first landed on our screens.