Operation Platinum Age: The Final Word

Recently, I wrote a two-part observation of Matt Smith and Steven Moffat’s first eight episodes of Doctor Who (entitled Operation Platinum Age Part 1 and Operation Platinum Age Part 2).  The purpose of the article was to evaluate the season so far, compare it to previous seasons and speculate upon its story arc.

Doctor Who - The Pandorica OpensI concluded that, while the Russell T Davies era had been rightly regarded as Doctor Who’s ‘golden age’, it was becoming apparent that Smith and Moffat were ushering us into something greater.  Now this season has come to a spectacular end, it seems only proper that I should similarly evaluate the final five episodes and question whether that conclusion still holds.

Five stories ago, I was still raving about the new Doctor (and would rave yet more in a subsequent article entitled The Triumph of Doctor Smith).  Frankly, my rave looks as if it may never end.  From the outset, I have believed – and still believe – that Matt Smith is playing the best Doctor we’ve ever had – and what a lovely position for those who love him to be in: to know that the current guy is the best.  Now I know how those David Tennant fans felt!

Of course, many fans continue to adore Tennant, but some take every comparison in Smith’s favour as an attack on something they deem unassailable, but when I suggest that Smith is the best, this is not meant as a dig at ten other quite brilliant incarnations.  However, this non-prescriptive opinion is offered by one who has seen/heard every episode of TV Doctor Who several times over (and heard/read perhaps 75% of the available audios, annuals, comic strips, novels, etc, etc of the last 47 years).  I’ve loved all the Doctors at some time or other, but Smith seems to offer the most precise and realistic portrayal of the character as set down on paper and pared to its basics.

Last time I wrote, my favourite new Doctor moments saw him facing down the new (still gorgeous, sorry) Daleks, jumping out of Rory’s cake (again), and telling the Atraxi fleet to run.  Now I find myself loving his sermon at Stonehenge, where he seemed to channel both John Lydon and Billy Graham in order to tell an even bigger fleet of ships to run.  Add to this his Fez moment and he’s beginning to look unassailable himself – and a lot like the Doctor that River Song described in Silence in the Library.  He looks great and sounds great, and any doubts about his suitability to the role have now, surely, been set to rest.

When I last signed off, my biggest concern about this season was that its middle had been a bit saggy.  I suggested that once any given season gets past the premise of the Doctor showing the wonders of the universe to a single, wide-eyed companion, the concept tends to dilute with the addition of multiple companions.  Don’t get me wrong, Rory is one of the best things about Amy’s Choice and Vampires of Venice, but it seems significant that these are perhaps the weakest stories of the season.  This has nothing to do with Arthur Darvill (who is sublime), but the show seems to work best – unless there’s an epic storyline to be had – with just two leads.

There’s an exuberant joie de vivre to a Doctor/Rose, Doctor/Donna, Doctor/Martha pairing; but that intimacy and togetherness tends to dissipate when someone crashes the party – particularly if that someone is Jealousy.  Maybe the Amy’s Choice and Vampires of Venice were just weak stories, but we’ve seen things fall apart at this stage in previous seasons (The Doctor’s Daughter and The Long Game spring to mind).

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  1. “What I do know is that – in spite of some bumps in the road – this has been the most consistent and tonally coherent season of Doctor Who since about 1964. Whether or not it is ‘the best’ is a matter of personal opinion, but the perfect fusion of a wonderful Doctor, some cracking stories and an atmosphere entirely its own have shown us that Doctor Who is in very good hands.”

    That’s where I have to respectfully disagree. I agree that it’s up to the individual as to whether it was “the best”, and indeed I would never suggest the programme was “wrong” to do as it did given the audience reception was very strong. But to me, I found it decidedly the opposite of being “consistent and tonally coherent”.

    I agree Smith is a brilliant casting, nicely different to Tennant as Davison was to Baker, but the season itself felt very messy and uncertain.

    With RTD, while one can question their preference to his style, his strong editorial involvement meant it felt consistent. With this series, I didn’t feel Moffat barely at all aside from in his own stories – and even then I found little coherency.

    And then down to the characters.. the Doctor shrugs off the TARDIS in the attic.. surely a momumental discovery.. he seems to forget about the cracked TARDIS until its narratively relevant. His attack on the Daleks didn’t feel like a man who’d previously feared one so much he was banging at the doors to escape.. It didn’t feel that there was much consistency at all. And coherency? The rushed monster Alliance seemed to carry no real narrative relevance – a big jump for the audience to swallow with no justification and in the end, no bearing on the overall plot. Amy seemed to be swings and roundabouts in terms of character, losing her good start in the first two episodes.. it didn’t seem coherent at all. The Doctor jumping out the cake? Does that really work with his character? Does that have any rational motivation behind it aside being “quirky”? If he is as Moffat says, the same character in a different body, does that rather cruel scene jar?

    Smith is brilliant, and The Beast Below and Vincent and the Doctor are some of the most stunning Who episodes.. but while Smith and Rory made this season, and I commend Moffat for the three in the TARDIS.. overall, I think this was a wishy washy series 5.. I hope it finds the coherency and consistency I personally feel it was lacking for series 6.

  2. 23skidoo says:

    Well, I’m on the reviewer’s side. I think Series 5 worked fine, and was coherent both in tone and in storytelling. And what made it brilliant was the fact a lot of stuff didn’t make sense until the end of the season AND it was made plain as day that there’s more stuff that won’t make sense till the end of NEXT season. People who have been conditioned into having self-contained storylines, or even seasons as was the case under RTD, might not care for it. I think it’s brilliant. Put another way, depending what happens in Season 6 I might well begin considering Season 5 and 6 as one 26-episode (or 27 including the Christmas special) season/arc. That’s the equivalent of 52-53 episodes of the original half-hour series. We’ve never seen that attempted before and there is potential here that we could be in the midst of the first Doctor Who telenovel. I just came off watching the 90-chapter telenovel called Farscape and lots of people just finished the telenovel called Lost. Yes, there’s plenty of risk in such a long-form format (Galactica and Lost both lost the plot at some point) but I think it’s an experiment worth attempting in Doctor Who.

    I don’t agree with the criticism levelled at Karen Gillan and Amy Pond. I think she’s been remarkable all the way through. The only time I felt otherwise was the “love a squaddie” line in Victory of the Daleks which sounded like a leftover from a Donna Noble episode. I also like the idea of having a second companion, simply because the show may work best with one, but it needs to change up the formula occasionally. Lots of fans consider the Doctor-Ian-Barbara-Susan team the best the show ever had. I side with Doctor-Sarah Jane-Harry, myself. And once again Moffat is doing something never attempted before by having a married couple as the companions. Not only will that shut up for a while the (frankly immature) fans who think the Doctor should be a monk, but it opens all new doors of storytelling possibilities. A little voice in my head is telling me, though, that it’s not going to end well.

    One additional note made by the reviewer is worth commenting on. I also find it sad that there seems to be disappointment that Matt Smith is BETTER than Tennant in many ways. A lot of that I think come from people who “only came to the party for the beer”, so to speak. Those of us who have been around for 20-30 years as fans accept that the Doctor changes and if the new Doctor is better than the one that came before, then that’s something to be appreciated with a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have wanted to see Matt Smith declared a dud, or “worst Doctor ever”. The show must always improve. Same with Moffatt. I loved RTD’s era to bits (lots of people hated it, I know). I want Moffat to blow RTD out of the water, because if a show doesn’t improve, it dies. We saw that in the 80s. Whoever takes over from Moffat in 3-4 years I hope blows him out of the water. I hope whoever gets cast as the Twelfth Doctor leaves us all saying “Matt Who?” It’s all good.

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