Matt Nida looks back at Series 5…

It all started so well.

Matt Smith as the Doctor in Victory of the DaleksExpectations – fan and public alike – were high for Doctor Who’s return in 2010. With The Eleventh Hour, the new team confidently delivered the best season opener since the show was revived in 2005. Better still, the opening twenty minutes – where the newly regenerated Doctor meets the child Amelia – ranks among the most magical Doctor Who sequences of all time.

But by early June, something was bothering me. I was finding the series a mixed bag at best, and distinctly underwhelming at worst. Where did it all go wrong?

Let’s deal with the successes first – of which there are several. First and foremost is Matt Smith’s triumphant performance as the Doctor. Following David Tennant’s superstar portrayal was never going to be an easy task, especially for an actor as young and early on in his career as Smith, but he not only obliterated any doubts as to his suitability for the role but has delivered probably the most surprising and nuanced interpretation of the character since Tom Baker.

An Alien Heart

Whereas the Ninth and Tenth Doctors wore their hearts on their sleeves, the Eleventh is a genuinely alien proposition; Smith makes it very difficult to know precisely what’s going on in the Doctor’s head, yet dominates every scene with an understated magnetism that not only belies his years but also the relatively short length of time he’s been playing the role.

The direction, too, is some of the most sublime that’s ever graced the show. For my money, Adam Smith is giving Joe Ahearne some serious competition for the greatest director ever to work on Doctor Who; his tight, absolutely pitch-perfect work on The Eleventh Hour and the Weeping Angels two-parter rightly makes these episodes the series highlights. But apart from some occasionally flat moments early on in the series, the direction across the board has been exemplary, and the decision to employ directors new to the series has resulted in a striking, confident visual style to the series that had perhaps waned slightly in recent years.

So what went wrong? The main, nagging concern I had throughout the run is that although individual episodes were enjoyable enough (with only one serious misfire – the lamentable Victory of the Daleks) the series as a whole felt somewhat less than the sum of its parts. And for a series that’s given far greater prominence to its ongoing arc than previous runs, this is a serious problem.

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. ChrisL says:

    Excellent review Mr Nida, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments you express.
    Matt Smith was superb as The Doctor, bringing a refreshing alienness to the role that had been somewhat diluted under Tennant’s stewardship. Don’t get me wrong David Tennant was magnificent but he made The Doctor too human with all the associated human emotions etc.
    The big letdown for me had to Amy Pond! Yes, Karen Gillan is a very attractive young lady and I’m sure a huge percentage of teenage boys fell head over heels with her… if only because of her ridiculously short skirts. Now, I don’t mind short skirts, in fact I am greatly in favour of them, but surely a character needs more substance than a good pair of legs and a scowl?

    In a series such as this which relied upon clever, witty, and sometimes highly important dialogue it seems strange that one of the main characters was allowed to garble her lines so badly. Karen tended to rush her lines, or uttered them in such a totally incomprehensible manner, that I had to rewind her dialogue a number of times before I was able to make out what she’d said. This is a great pity because some of those lines were fabulous, how unfortunate that they weren’t delivered more competently.
    This isn’t due to her accent either, I’m British, Scottish accents aren’t exactly alien to me! I just found her delivery completely incomprehensible for a large percentage of the time.

    Another thing that stood out was the number of continuity errors that occurred during the series. I shan’t list them all now but there were so many. I had hoped that these would eventually turn out to be part of a clever plot and would be resolved by the end of the run. Some did and were very clever, however many proved to be nothing more than a poor attention to detail by the continuity department and made the whole thing less professional and quite disappointing.

    All in all I enjoyed the series but I kept thinking there was something missing, something had been lost compared to previous series’. Matt Nida summed it up perfectly – the heart and soul of the show has gone!

    RTD may have had many faults but his ability to write characters and to impart some soul into the show is missing and as much as Mr Moffatt writes clever scripts the show also needs the characters to be believable and to have depth, both of these qualities are in short supply in Series 5.
    Perhaps it’s time for RTD and The Grand Moff to collaborate on future scripts, then we could have the best of both worlds.

  2. themissingone says:

    Couldn’t disagree more, I thought this was the best season since about the 14th!! Long may Moff reign, I say.

  3. Rick714 says:

    While I agree with the majority of Matts’ opinion, I would probably take exception to the impression given that this season was a failed experiment. As a whole, it was as good as any other. It had it’s bad and good as he says.

    I’d agree with the sentiments about Amy though. I don’t think she’s a well-rounded enough of an actress to help flesh out the character. Each script tends to give us a different Amy and that may change next year as everyone might have a better take on her and the Moff may be able to explore a bit more.

    The guest writers were the biggest mixed bag for me. The Silurian two parter and the Vampires episode were average at best and the Daleks episode was the season at it’s worst and in this household, we’d gotten very tired of the Daleks already. But then you had Amy’s choice, Vincent and the Lodger which were all spectacular. Better than some of Moffat’s efforts even.

    I think on the whole, we’re going to see an even better season next year as Moff settles in. Also, I know he’s smart enough to recognize where things may have fallen short and will work to tweak the end product where necessary.

  4. Carn says:

    ‘but it lacks the heart and soul of previous years.’

    Actually to me it definitely had that and felt a lot more genuine with that this year. I got tired of Davies writing his characters like they’re out of some soap opera and I felt much more emotionally attached to characters from this season. To me it felt like I was finally watching the Doctor Who I’ve been waiting for since it came back. I really like Amy too. I don’t really get why people have such a problem with her. She’s far more interesting and appealing than the whiney badly acted excuse for a ‘character’ that Martha Jones was who I wanted to shoot in every single episode.

    The only two episodes I didn’t really like as such were Amy’s Choice and The Lodger though even those the regulars in them did great stuff and make those episodes very much watchable.

    Actually when it comes down to it, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. The recent season has been for me by far and away the most enjoyable, inspiring and satisfying thing I’ve watched on TV for years now when can I give money and get me the Blu Ray box set.

  5. depechefan says:

    Have to agree with Matt! Throughout the season something kept nagging at the back of my mind that somehow this series did not feel righ and Matt has clearly laid it out. He even summarised my overall feeling about series 5 “Meh!”.

    Near the end of the series even started having a hankering to watch some Tennant just to remind me what I liked about the new series.

    There was some good stuff in S5 but equally there was a lot that just didn’t work. The “off-swich” in Vampires, the beginning of Big Bang “I’ll just perform a timey wimey trick to get out of the Pandorica and by the way Rory Amy’s not really there even though you just shot her” that just made we want to say “NOOO!!!” at the TV.

    Maybe thats what happens when you consult your kids when writing DW….

  6. bluebox444 says:

    I have to disagree with the main thrust of this article. At the risk of sounding like an RTD-hater, it’s been extremely refreshing to have a year free of farting green monsters, amorous paving slabs, living fat, and endless references to a Doctor-companion romance which should have been laid to rest upon the companion’s departure. Instead, we’ve been treated to a series of truly engaging enemies (except for the chicken-lizard in Vincent and the Doctor), witty storylines, and an excellent series finale. Plus, Davies didn’t really give us that much in the way of enduring characters aside from the Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble. Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Mickey Smith, and Jack Harkness were all fairly one-dimensional (and all played by actors with far less charm and charisma than Karen Gillan).

    The character of Amy Pond has been something of an enigma for most of the series, but technically, it was supposed to be. The fact that her timeline kept getting rewritten practically every other episode didn’t really help matters. It will be interesting to see how Amy matures in upcoming episodes, now that the paradoxes involving her life have been resolved. Despite this, I think Gillan and Moffat both did an excellent job in distinguishing Amy from companions who have gone before. She quickly defused moments which, in the hands of Davies, would have deteriorated into typical scenes of soupy Ten/Rose dialogue (“Do I look that clingy?”). Her “What is the point of you?” line in Amy’s Choice was the best moment of Series 5. In particular, Moffat can be commended for giving us both a companion with no romantic feelings for the Doctor and a Doctor with no romantic baggage. Series 4 could have been like this, had it not been for the return of a simpering, jealous Rose. Karen Gillan is one of the best actresses to play a companion on Doctor Who in years. Rory was a similarly successful character, expunging the stigma left on the role of companion’s boyfriend by the decidedly annoying Mickey Smith.

    The Series 5 finale was the best yet in NuWho. The fact that not all the story arcs were resolved in it actually made it better. It wrapped up the things that were really important, and it developed the characters of both Amy and River beautifully. Was Series 5 perfect? No. But Moffat’s debut series has simultaneously brought back the spirit of the classic episodes (moreso than any of Davies’ output) and given the show a burst of new energy. I don’t think I’m alone in my opinion that Doctor Who will achieve greater success than ever before under Moffat’s supervision.

  7. bobbygaga says:

    Personally, by the time we got to The End Of Time I was ready to give up on this show. I’m not really sure I could’ve tolerated yet another season of half-baked plots, nails-down-blackboard direlogue and a clawing psuedo-sentimentality that sacrificed proper drama for guady pantomime. As a long time fan of several decades I let it slide because it was Doctor Who and it was back were it belonged, on a Saturday night – being watched by millions. I think we need to be honest with ourselves here, since the comeback in 2005 and up until January of this year around 90% of the stories served up to us have been dross.

  8. I agree whole heartedly. For me, Moffat lack’s character writing has really made this a far less engaging affair. Matt has been brilliant, and some of Moffat’s work has proven his mantle – but on the whole I’ve not felt this series has looked to push itself which to me has been a weakness. There was nothing that made me feel ‘wow, that’s crazy’, or even ‘wow, that’s a really good human observation’, often falling back on television character clichés.

    I like the point about not being in an ‘anti-camp’. I think Moffat’s done astounding writing (particularly Blink and Girl in the Fireplace), I’m just not sure I think he’s as engaged in the show as a series producer as RTD. Whether you liked RTD’s vibe or not, he implanted his style in every episode – even those he didn’t write. He was a serious script editor and it created a consistency. Most of Series 5 I don’t feel Moffat’s presence in at all, and that to me made it feel a weaker entity as a whole, which is a shame as Smith’s Doctor is a brilliant character who I feel deserves a little more to work with.

  9. Eleanor says:

    I agree as well. About the current series missing something. Thanks Matt for being brave enough to say it too ! Having only recently discovered DW and being a non-UK resident, I feel I can say my piece objectively without having all the biases and emotional baggage that comes from being in the community. I only started going thru the DW forums after my kids insisted they just had to have the DW Adventure Game and needed me to find a workaround. I’ve stuck around since then, especially after that mother of all cliffhangers, Episode 12. Well, one just had to find out, if others knew what was coming.

    Anyway, in the short space of time that I have been here (and in other forums), I have noted such a strong undercurrent of anti-RTD and everyone/everything associated with him, that it makes the pro Moffat/Smith camp rather difficult to take seriously. To an outsider, the biasness is so obvious that, in my eyes, they have lost a lot of their credibility. One can praise someone without dragging another in the mud. Honestly, if it wasn’t for RTD and DT, I don’t think my kids would have watched DW…and got me hooked as well. After all, it is supposed to have a broad appeal and I love the idea of a show where kids, parents and maybe grandparents can sit together to watch. Which brings me to the current series.

    Because we discovered DW so late: out of sheer boredom, my son chanced upon an episode of Who when they were showing reruns in the run-up to The End of Time episode. I ended up having to get all the DVDs from the new series (and most of the books), so we could watch those that we missed. Kids being kids, my sons ( and I ) were rather indifferent to the news of Matt Smith replacing DT and Moffat with RTD. We were just looking forward to more adventures with the Doctor. Well, my kids still watch and like the current series although, they find it a bit difficult to follow the plots in some episodes. Or rather, it just goes over their heads. Doesn’t seem to bother them, just take it at face value and enjoy. But, like Matt, I had this nagging feeling that somehow, after the first episode, it just wasn’t the same anymore. Some episodes were just not exciting. Some were just too convoluted. Don’t get me wrong. I like stuff from the Moff. But if you want to make a story cerebral, you really have to think thru the logic and not have so many inconsistencies. PLUS you have to ensure there’s excitement too and that you bring along your audience with you. It’s like Shrek, layers my dear, one level for the kids and another for the adults. Get the balance right and it makes a very exciting story with the ‘wow’ factor thrown in. My impression : this series has been tipped too much to the adult side. And as Laredo pointed out, the consistency in style was missing.

    Ok, now to Matt Smith’s doctor.After reading all the praises heaped on him, it seems like he’s suddenly become the ‘perfect Doctor’. Dare I say anything different ? ( Ducking here, to avoid those arrows :-)) I’m sorry but I really have to take issue here. Ok, I haven’t seen the other doctors in the classic series, tho I did watch a couple of Tom Baker ones as a kid and found it boring. So the Whovians will prolly say I’m not an expert enough to judge. But if you compare the 9th-11th Docs, I still find DT to be the most believable. I’m sorry but Smith can’t do ‘menacing’. Just like Eccelston can’t do ‘funny’ (his critics are still right about that one). It has to do with facial expression. Smith can’t do it convincingly enough. When I look at the man who is supposed to strike fear in his enemies, so much fear that they would create something like the Pandorica, I can see that in DT. That dark, menacing and ruthless look. Smith, bless his soul, has a face that looks like the boy next door. I have yet to see him put on that ‘look’ in a believable way. And really, Smith seemed pretty lost initially. Trying to find his footing.Perhaps, not knowing about the other docs is a plus here. Looking from the point of view of a neutral observer. I just couldn’t pinpoint a character that stood out. Maybe he was constrained by the scripts but his underplayed version of the Doctor just made the focus on Amy more prominent. What happened to the charismatic, wise, very clever, very knowledgeble and confident 900+ year old Time Lord ? It just didn’t come through in a convincing way to me. Too many times, he seemed lost, was slow or couldn’t figure things out. The bursts of high energy and frantic action just reminded me of a kid who never outgrew his ADHD. Ok, maybe I’m being mean here. But wanting to be ‘cool’ is a very teenage thing, not something you would associate with a 900 year old. And since when does ‘not emotional’ equals ‘alien’ ? I bet Mr Spock had something to do with that. Not saying Smith isn’t a good actor. His Doctor is still pretty much a work-in-progress. To me, it’s only in the last 2 episodes that he has finally started to shine. He may reach greater heights and surpass DT. But not yet. Not after only one series. I’d wait and see.

  10. Patooty says:

    Agree with this review completely!

    Watching this season, I get the feeling that Steven Moffat doesn’t much like people in general, and really hates women in particular. Amy is the most egregiously annoying companion ever (and I can remember Peri, Tegan and Mel, among others), and it doesn’t help that there is no chance of redeeming her character by having her portrayed by an actress who apparently learned her craft by correspondence course. While there have been other marginally-talented actresses playing less-than-likeable companions, there has never been anybody I wanted to smack the crap out of as hard as KG/AP.

    There’s no question that RTD had some eye-rollingly awful plots in his scripts, and his 2009 specials plainly proved that it was time for him to pass the baton, but it’s equally true that he had a genius for making us care for a character with just a couple of lines of dialogue and a few moments onscreen. SM has had ± 13 hours to make us like the crucially important character of the Doctor’s companion, and for way too many people, he couldn’t manage it – even when other people were writing the scripts. And yes, the blame must rest with him, as the buck stops with the executive producer and head writer – surely he knew the job was dangerous when he took it.

    This is the first time I find myself on the side of complaining about the show, and it’s weird and unpleasant. It’s nice to find that there are others out there who aren’t jumping on the Season 5 bandwagon. Actually, some of the most articulate and thoughtful reviewers, to whom I always turn after each episode for a reasoned recap of the latest offering, are of the same opinion as Mr. Nida. Unfortunately, Mr. Moffet has said that he makes it a policy to no longer read the DW forums, as he was once wont to do, presumably because he doesn’t want to be influenced (or depressed) by whatever he reads there. So the grumblings of discontent may never reach him or have any influence on what he chooses to do next year.

  11. amber says:

    Thank you for this review which has helped me put my finger on why I found this season so patchy and unsatisfying. Because I had liked Reinette, Sally and River I had assumed that Steven Moffat would be able to write a feisty yet likeable companion with ease, but I hadn’t thought about how much the previous actresses had brought to their characters to fill in the blanks. Imagine Karen Gillan playing Sally Sparrow, with no changes to the script, and you soon realise how good Carey Mulligan is. On the page, Sally and Amy are pretty similar, but the two perfornaces are worlds apart in terms of depth and quality.

    It’s a bit easier for Matt Smith as we already know the Doctor, and overall I think he has done a fine job. It does feel though as if the producers just haven’t put in the same amount of work as the previous team. I’m hoping that they will learn from experience, put a bit more into it and find a way of getting a better level of performance from Karen.

  12. DaveB says:

    I couldn’t agree less.

    The idea that someone could become a highly respected television and film writer without being able to write character is nonsense.

    Steven Moffat has provided the series with some of the best new characters of recent times; Captain Jack (in his best adventure!), Nancy, Doctor Constantine, Sally Sparrow, River Song, Father Octavian and Amy Pond. He has also created some of the best new monsters; the Empty Child, the Weeping Angels, and the Vashta Nerada.

    It is also a bit ridiculous to suggest that it’s simply the performers who make this work. A finished character is always a collaboration between writer, director, and actor. Producers and casting directors have their input too.

    All of the new female companions had run to the end of their character arcs by the end of one series – they just kept getting brought back in more or less interesting ways. But Amy Pond has travelled with the Doctor, and she still has a long way to go.

    Karen Gillan has shown that she is a capable actress. The production team are excellent. The possibilities are very exciting.

    The heart and soul of the new series is still there. It is there, most evidently, in stories like The Beast Below, Vincent and the Doctor and Cold Blood. It is there to a lesser degree in The Eleventh Hour, Victory of the Daleks, The Lodger and The Big Bang. It just doesn’t happen every episode anymore.

    After all, not every story has to bring a tear to the eye. Some can just make you smile and think ‘I’d have never thought of that!’

    The new cast and production team have done exactly what I hoped they would to do. They’ve made some welcome changes. They’ve built on previous successes. They’ve pointed the show in a fresh direction.

    Great stuff!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *