Judge Adam Arseneau is all out of regeneration cycles.
Our reviews of Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series (published February 7th, 2007), Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series (published November 28th, 2007), Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series (published January 7th, 2009), Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (published November 26th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (Blu-ray) (published December 9th, 2011), Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (Blu-ray) (published July 27th, 2011), Doctor Who: Dreamland (published October 5th, 2010), Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One (Blu-ray) (published July 28th, 2011), Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (published July 26th, 2006), Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (published February 4th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (Blu-Ray) (published February 2nd, 2010), Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest (published December 8th, 2008), and Doctor Who: The Movie (published July 31st, 2011) are also available.
"I'm the Doctor. Do everything I tell you, don't ask stupid questions,
and don't wander off."
After four fantastic and delightful seasons of a rebooted and modernized Doctor Who, the show reinvents itself yet again for the umpteenth time with a new showrunner and a new Doctor; the eleventh incarnation, if you're counting. And hey, we also get a Blu-ray option for the first time! Who says change is a bad thing?
Facts of the Case
After yet another explosive and violent regeneration, the Doctor (Matt Smith) awakes for the first time to find his TARDIS crash landing on Earth, in the backyard of a young redheaded girl who takes him in to her home. He promises to take her to the stars, but vanishes unexpectedly.
Now grown into a young woman, Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) still waits for the raggedy Doctor from the stars to come and rescue her from a life of mediocrity and normality. Her fiancé, Rory (Arthur Darvill), thinks the Doctor is all in her head—until he suddenly re-appears on Earth, caught up in an alien invasion that threatens to destroy the world!
Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (Blu-ray) contains all thirteen episodes presented on six discs:
• "The Eleventh Hour"
Doctor Who is the most venerable blah blah blah science fiction show in the history of the universe, et cetera, et cetera. Like I need to preach to the choir here! You wouldn't be reading this review if you didn't love Doctor Who, so no sense trying to sell you. On the off chance you are genuinely new to the franchise, Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series presents some unique challenges to entry. In many ways, this is a brand new Doctor Who; a total reboot, a blank slate. But in other ways, knowledge of the last four seasons, and at least a passing knowledge of the previous four decades of Doctor Who is absolutely mandatory.
Steven Moffat wrote six of the best episodes of the previous four seasons ("Blink," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "The Empty Child" & "The Doctor Dances," "Silence in the Library" & "Forest Of The Dead"). They were standout episodes in part because of how diametrically different they were from their contemporaries. Now promoted to lead showrunner, Moffat systematically dismantles the crushingly emotional gravitas of the previous four seasons and the endless cycling of one-upmanship of devastating personal tragedy and apocalyptic destruction that defined the run of Russell T Davies. In its place, we find vibrancy and exuberance, style and zaniness; an emotional sincerity and youthful enthusiasm befitting the youngest Doctor in the franchise history. The new Doctor Who is everything the old series was not; sexy, svelte, sly and sardonic. Love it or hate it, the new direction is strikingly dynamic, and a perfect casting off point to leave the old universe behind and forge ahead anew.
Like many others, I thought Matt Smith, our young Eleventh Doctor, was horribly miscast in the role—until I saw him at work. His take on the iconic character is a hodge-podge of misanthropic tropes and personalities from Doctors past, like an arrogant and smug old man trapped in the energetic body of a youth. He's no David Tennant, but that's exactly the point. This new Doctor is self-righteous and sardonic, quick to anger and cantankerous, but unapologetically loyal and protective of his people. This Doctor makes mistakes. He is brash and impulsive, almost madcap. He rushes in without having a plan. His willingness to use a firearm (albeit in a decidedly non-lethal manner) and his quickness to throw down with a punch make him a decidedly different take on the character than we've ever seen before, and yet, still very Doctor-ish, for lack of a real word. Gone is the old brooding and pensive Doctor, the weight of a trillion deaths on his shoulders, his cheerful good-nature a smoke shield to his own emotional wreckage. The Eleventh Doctor's got no time for that nonsense; there's too much to see, too much to do. He's more unpredictable, more dangerous. And his companion is even better.
Ah, Amelia Pond! It's a good thing she's a fictional character, or else I'd probably divorce my wife on the spot and move to Scotland to look for her. Her character is the heart of this season of Doctor Who, both emotionally and from a narrative perspective. She is at the heart of the franchise, in a way that few companions in years past have ever been, Rose notwithstanding. Fiery, explosive, stubborn, she is as uncontainable and reckless as the Doctor, if not more so. The companions usually temper the damaging elements of their respective Doctors, but Amy amplifies the Eleventh Doctor. Full of sass and ferocity, she is the most pleasant surprise of this new season; a genuine female protagonist full of angst and insecurity and personality. Her hapless fiancée-turned-companion Rory is the perfect straight man to the Doctor's madcap antics, a rock of sobriety tied around Amy's neck. Their relationship is an exploration as violent and tumultuous as the TARDIS's adventure this year—and one not to be spoiled here. No matter how you slice it, the casting this year is absolutely fantastic.
The thirteen episode story arc whizzes by at light speed. Out of all the introductions to the Doctors past, "The Eleventh Hour" is arguably the greatest; a frenetic, near-crazed lunatic in an out-of-control TARDIS eating through the pantry of a little Scottish girl's house. "The Vampires of Venice" is a non-stop quip fest between the Doctor and his companions, setting new records for jokes per second in the franchise. "Amy's Choice," a bizarre bounce between two alternate futures keeps audiences guessing until the last frame. "Vincent and the Doctor" is the most shamefully sentimental episode of the bunch, involving a not-quite-mad-yet Vincent Van Gogh battling space aliens with a paintbrush and a cameo by venerable actor Bill Nighy. This one is a tear jerker. A pleasant surprise is "The Lodger," a weird romantic sitcom with a special Gallifreyian guest star that serves no narrative purpose other than to put the Doctor in tiny shorts and play football. It is charmingly irreverent. As for the big finale, "The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang" make for a satisfying sendoff, albeit a markedly different one than we enjoyed in the RTD years. Instead of angst and an endlessly escalating series of chaos and confusion, the ending is introspective, almost nostalgic. Oh sure, the fate of the universe hangs in the balance (when does it ever not?) but this time through, love saves the day.
Not every episode is a home run, of course. Steven Moffat seems hell bent to make River Song a focus point of his tenure, but I'm not sure why. The much ballyhooed return of the Weeping Angels is much ado about nothing, if you ask me. We also spend a lot of time close to Earth this time around, with the vast majority of episodes set on Earth (real and imagined) instead of alien worlds. I admit to missing some of the extraterrestrial spacefaring adventures of the previous Doctors. I like the United Kingdom as much as the next man, but the Doctor has a spaceship, for heaven's sake—let's go see some places now and again, yeah?
From out of the ashes emerges a new Doctor every few years like clockwork. There have been eleven incarnations thus far, and odds are good that there will be many more to come. It just goes with the territory. Every fan will go through an adjustment period when a new Doctor shows up on the scene. It is doubly worse when the creative vision behind the show itself packs up and leaves. Season Five represents as dramatic a shift as the franchise has ever seen; a new tone and attitude and world outlook, and embracing the change is the key to fully enjoying Season Five of Doctor Who. On first watch, you will miss the endlessly dramatic and emotionally wrenching narrative arcs of yesteryears. You may burn a stick of incense beside a small ramshackle idol erected to the Tenth Doctor, praying beyond hope that he will return one day, and that this has all just been a bad dream—like my wife does. Trust me. It'll be ok. Embrace the change.
(In terms of technical specifications, a disclaimer: BBC sent us over screener copies of Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (Blu-ray) to review, so our copy may not be indicative of the retail product.)
Doctor Who on Blu-ray? Yes please! The technical presentation is as energentic and dazzling as the series itself; a barely controlled cacophony of orchestral scores, explosions, howling choirs, lasers and beeps and whines and flashes of color and light. A visceral delight, this is a killer presentation. Honestly, you'd have no idea the show was this sweet looking on cable television. The 1080i transfer is razor-sharp, with every pore, hair follicle and dust microbe perfectly visible. Colors are blindingly vibrant and saturated, black levels are deep and white levels are as bright. If there's a flaw to be found, I can't find it. The worst you can say is that the stupendous fidelity makes the excessive green screen and CGI effects look a bit blasé, but that's reaching. The audio is a bombastic DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 mix that molests your speakers with deep pounding LFE, cringingly crisp highs, and explosions in all directions. Rear channels get a cross-country marathon workout as sounds fly in every direction. Dialogue is clear, but often lost in the aggressive mix.
Fans will be delighted by the extras included here. We get six picture-in-picture video commentaries with cast and crew on select episodes, which is a nice way to handle a commentary track. Corresponding Doctor Who Confidential episodes are included for each episode, as well as thirty minutes of video diaries, forty minutes of "Monster Files," two deleted scenes, outtakes and BBC trailers. All told, you're looking at over four hours of supplements, not counting the commentary tracks, which is not too shabby.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The total commitment to completely reinventing this new Doctor and his surroundings borders on the fanatical, as if producers hope to scrub away every iota of the previous iteration from our memory. We get a new TARDIS, a new sonic screwdriver, a new theme song, even a new logo. Season Five even backtracks on the Daleks, the eponymous "behind the sofa" villains by redesigning them in bawdry colors that have generously been described as "Skittles-esque." While it is refreshing to see the tin cans go back into the closet for a while (they were getting kind of played out) it's hard to see why new paintjobs were worth the hubbub.
Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series is a fresh reinvention of a fresh reinvention; an invigorating blast of adrenaline into an already action-packed franchise. You may miss David Tennant, but Matt Smith will start to grow on you, trust me. Give it time. After all, Time Lords make fools of us all.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Video Commentary
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