NuWho 10th Anniversary: What Is Series 5’s Most Underrated Story?
This year, Doctor Who has been back on our screen ten whole years. It feels like yesterday that the TARDIS materialised once more; suitably, it also feels like forever.
So join us as we celebrate a decade with the Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. Let’s find out which serials are our favourites, and shine a light on the underrated ones too. Watch us run.
And then vote on your favourites. At the end of the year, we’ll find out which serials showcase our beloved show at the height of its game.
A gangly bloke in a tweed jacket has more than filled David Tennant’s considerable sandshoes, and a beautiful redhead in ever-short skirts has joined him in the TARDIS. They bring along a mysteriously compelling woman who might just the Doctor’s wife, and a brilliantly funny but wise man who might just be Amy’s fiancé. Series 5 is here, and it’s brighter than sunflowers.
You know our favourites of Series 5, but what’s the most underrated serial…?
Katie Gribble: The Beast Below
I want to state from the beginning that this episode is absolutely stunning. It was a real toss-up between this and what I chose as my favourite Series 5 story. However, what I really want to talk about for The Beast Below is the setting of the story. Starship UK is introduced as ‘An idea. A whole country, living and laughing and… shopping. Searching the stars for a new home.’ Yet its explorative pursuit is counteracted by the cramped conditions on board with the constant reminders that the residents are on a life raft hoping their prayers will be answered.
Coming to rewatch the episode, I marvelled at how stylised and clever the design of Starship UK actually is. I think the environment mirrors the beginning of this new era of Doctor Who. At the start of Series 5, it was still recognisably Doctor Who with the Doctor and companion righting wrongs, but there was still a lot of uncertainty about whether the show would last beyond its fifth season. In the same way, The Beast Below is set in a version of London, a city which fans had become used to as an identifiable anchor of Britishness and ultimately where a lot of Earth bound stories had been set. It’s the tube and streets signs which sell the setting as London; otherwise there’s something in the corner of your eye which seems out of kilter about a society consumed by fear. It’s the removal from the accepted form of ‘modern day’ London which makes the story seem so familiar and yet so distant; reducing Great Britain to the form of a tug boat in space, bolted together to escape the solar flares roasting Earth in 29th Century.
The story also raises questions about where everyone else is. Obviously the episode itself only focuses on one part of one ship, but apparently the whole Earth packed its bags and moved out. What led to that being the best decision for the Earth? Were there people who stayed behind? There were whole nations migrating to the stars: where are they and what happens on board those ships? There is certainly a great deal of potential for stories on board the other countries. This is what this era does so well; creating a situation which an audience can believe goes on further than the confines of the episode. For the audience though, there is only ever one concern. The presence of the mechanicals in the booths brings to mind images of a carnival-esque funhouse with the sinister laughing policemen always watching but never able to get out. Only in Doctor Who, they can.
Thomas Spychalski: Vincent and the Doctor
I have always enjoyed those moments in Doctor Who lore where the good Doctor name drops some of the famous humans he has bumped into on his travels. Richard the Lionheart, Da Vinci, Houdini, Alexander the Great… the list could go on and on.
I was especially excited when I found out the Doctor and Amy Pond would be mingling with my favourite artist of all time, Vincent Van Gogh. Unlike a majority of the ‘confirmed’ historical celebrities the Doctor has met, the interactions between the two were not left up to the viewers’ imaginations. Instead, we see firsthand how the Doctor’s visit affected the painter’s life and also how Van Gogh himself makes a real impression upon both the Doctor and Amy.
Vincent and the Doctor shows us that no matter how small and foolish your passions and endeavours seem, you can never be sure of their value to others over the course of time. In that mindset is almost stands as a testament to the person sitting in a small hovel of a room somewhere with an empty belly and bottomed out bank account, writing the next great novel in perfect and terrible isolation.
Additionally it addresses the silent horrors of depression and mental illness and how even the greatest men and women in their respective fields might harbour something dark that stalks their psyche. Not many television shows, especially fiction based, focus on these aspects of some of our most beloved artists and it is a shame. When you show the glory instead of the toil people can begin to have a mindset that doing anything creative and becoming successful is easy and indeed more fun that what they are doing day to day. If we do paint artists in any medium in a negative light, we never stop to think if the madness is a by-product of the mind that could convince such beauty. That maybe it is the madness itself that inspired such original and ground breaking art.
Even the Doctor himself is perplexed to a degree by this affliction of the mind and seems also to get a reminder that even with all the knowledge at his disposal there are times when even his influence is not enough to save everyone.
When Amy finds that showing Van Gogh just how influential his work has become is not enough to save him from taking his own life, the Doctor’s speech gives some advice that should be remembered by everyone who has had times of hardship or loss:
“Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things but vice versa the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
Sadly this episode in my opinion did not get as much credit as it should have done, not only for being a fine historical adventure but also for bringing forward important messages about the delicate balance between genius and madness. Something the Doctor himself embodies and exhibits with pride…
Jeremy Remy: Victory of the Daleks
I’ll admit, Victory of the Daleks is one of the weakest episodes of the 2010 season. Yet, Series 5 was arguably the strongest overall season of NuWho, and certainly Moffat’s most consistent season – Victory retains this quality of storytelling. Understandably, there is something disappointing about a re-emergence of the Daleks after yet another, final, certain and complete annihilation. The Dalek(s) who somehow survived the Time War became a tired trope in the Davies’ Years, which ensured they felt like less and less of a threat through their many appearances in the Tennant Era. By the time they reappear in Victory of the Daleks, it’s easy to see how fans could feel a bit oversaturated with the production team’s apparent Dalekmania.
However, Victory of the Daleks succeeds on several fronts. It eliminates the need to revisit the Time War survivor device by creating the New Dalek Paradigm, which also returns the Daleks to their xenophobically pure roots. It revitalizes the Daleks as an organized threat, providing a specific chain of command. Of course, there were early complaints—obviously forgetting Classic Who episodes like Planet of the Daleks or their Dr. Who and the Daleks cinematic inspirations—regarding the brightly coloured and larger Daleks. Yet, once they are seen in episodes like Asylum of the Daleks, the splashes of color reflecting higher ranking Daleks works really well alongside the sea of bronze drones. Not to mention the fact that, as the eyestalk was built to line up with 5’11” Karen Gillan’s gaze, rather than 5’5” Billy Piper’s, the New Paradigm Daleks are a much more foreboding sight than their colour-scheme may initially indicate. Further, Victory re-introduced the claustrophobic feel of Dalek architecture. In early years, the doors seen in The Daleks were clearly made to fit an alien species, not humanoid. Likewise, the Paradigm Ship feels unnatural for the Doctor to walk around, but eerily perfect for a Dalek.
Finally, Victory of the Daleks introduces a version of Churchill that remains loyal to novelized appearances, as in Players, while allowing for future encounters (as will soon arrive through Big Finish’s The Churchill Years). It also provides significant inspiration to fans—bringing about one of the best Dalek fan films to hit the internet (and a personal headcannon), Dalek Tales: The Dalek That Time Forgot. Created by Lee Adams, a.k.a. Timelash, TDTTF fills in some of the gaps Victory leaves to the imagination of the viewer, and ties together 50 years of Dalek history. Ultimately, while Victory of the Daleks isn’t my favorite 2010 episode, it should be recognized for serving to improve the Daleks and the Whoniverse, overall.
Richard Forbes: The Eleventh Hour
It’s always difficult to say what it means to be underrated; does it mean it was under-appreciated or wrongfully panned? The Eleventh Hour may not be a widely disliked episode but it’s not always the first episode that one thinks of when they talk of Series 5 or even the Matt Smith era – but perhaps it ought to be? Opening with a crash landing, The Eleventh Hour is a television event full of magic and fantasy – it introduces to the Doctor as a fairytale might.
With The Eleventh Hour, Doctor Who doesn’t simply just reintroduce the Doctor for new audiences; it’s totally reinvented itself: its look, its tone, feel and scope as well as its characters and in doing so it lays down the groundwork for the entire Moffat era here. An imminently brandable series, The Eleventh Hour launches the first of the series’ ‘memes’ like ‘Fish fingers and Custard’ – a cruel joke to play on unsuspecting American fans, unfamiliar with custard. I still remember gagging down said dish before The Day of the Doctor aired (amusingly my late grandpa gulped it down as if the Great Depression had returned, asking ‘is there any more?’).
The Eleventh Hour really isn’t a story first and foremost. The Prisoner Zero plot is a side story – the episode serves principally as a touchstone, an introduction to the world of Doctor Who and what viewers could expect from the new series under Steven Moffat as showrunner. It’s compelling, it’s dream-like – filled with a child’s enthusiasm and imagination, determined to make Whovians of every viewer with its wholesome humour and brazen cleverness.
Tony Jones: The Vampires of Venice
On the whole, I felt this series tried too hard and this story marked a change in pace that felt more comfortable. Instead of the continual focus on Amy and the Doctor, Rory was allowed to develop and take more of the action. The setting helps; for me there is something about Venice and the Doctor. Much as he is at home in London (or the English countryside, or the battlegrounds of World Wars I and II), Venice is a setting with a charisma of its own. With rare exceptions the Doctor has avoided Europe and stories like this help redress the balance. There are a lot of elements – tunnels, explosions, thunderstorms – and it might benefit from some turning down a notch, but it entertains. It also gives some insights into what the mystery crack might be about, even if they are at odds with later explanations.
The so-called vampires are also distinctive, oozing a dark seductive sexuality and help distract the viewer as the true plot unfolds. There is a lot going on with perception filters, weather control and even the shenanigans with the wedding of Amy and Rory don’t dominate too far and the TARDIS crew end in a good place. There are clunky moments (the creepy silence moment at the end, which doesn’t actually link The Silence when we learn about them) but I for one would be quite happy to have more stores set amongst the city’s canals. This episode has its flaws, but I believe it is better for them, concentrating on story-telling and entertainment.
Joe Siegler: Victory of the Daleks
I know this story takes an awful lot of grief (mostly over the new Daleks), but I didn’t have a problem with that. I never really figured the old Daleks would be gone forever, and I was looking forward to seeing what the different colours meant. They were all designed to be something else, and I thought it could have been a plot point that worked going forwards. However, too many fans grabbed their pitchforks, and while we have seen the new Daleks since then, it mostly has been in the background, and they didn’t factor into anything.
However, in THIS story, I got a big kick out of the Dalek pretending to be nice. “Would you like some tea?” was a line I never thought I’d hear a Dalek say, and I had to laugh when I first heard it. However, of course, the Daleks are merely pretending, and biding their time.
I particularly enjoyed the Doctor being friends with Winston Churchill, and the performance by Ian MacNiece I liked. I’ve seen him in a few other things (a favourite was the Lenny Henry sitcom Chef!), but I thought he worked well here. The robot scientist part I didn’t care much for, especially the way they defused the bomb in him. But that’s a nitpick; I’ve liked far worse plot points in other stories over the years.
And of course, this American was introduced to Jammy Dodgers in this story!
James Lomond: The Lodger
This was partly a process of exclusion as there’s too much plaguing other stories that makes me feel they deserve any quibbles that target them (Amy’s Choice, for example – conceptual panto villain and MORE trouble in Pond Paradise: bored).
But The Lodger won me over because it managed to break new ground (the Doctor playing football?!), and didn’t overdo the alien-in-a-domestic-setting but did have the most lyrical and intimate story tied in with a very sci-fi plot. Just like The Doctor Dances (nanogene recognition of hereditary position and family dynamics). I approve!
James Cordon ably ticked the everyman box and hit his mark with the bewilderment then jealousy of the Doctor. Matt Smith went to town but, to my mind, didn’t overdo the wackiness which was always the biggest risk in a story like this. Then we have the very DW mystery upstairs with a ship (an alien TARDIS, no less) doing its best to trick passers-by into being its pilot. Turning the usual virtue of a companion hankering after the universe on its head, Craig saves the day by wanting to STAY and loving both his home and his flatmate. I thought that was fantastic – giving the less adventurous among the audience a bit of glory for once!
Then we have the non-technological technology of Lammasteen which immediately improved EVERY piece of modern art in the WORLD by making it simultaneously a super-cool alien device. Bravo.
In fact, the only thing wrong with The Lodger is that we never really find out much more about the mischievous TARDIS upstairs other than that it belongs to the Silence. Here’s hoping if they ever return we get to find out where/ when it came from.
…Oh no the other thing wrong with The Lodger is that it paved the way for Closing Time. But that’s not really this ep’s fault.
Alasdair Shaw: Amy’s Choice
Yes, I know I covered Amy’s Choice last time, but there’s a whole plot thread that tends to slip under the radar that needs covered.
This could be the Valeyard’s origin.
Think about it. When we first met the Valeyard we were told he fell between the Doctor’s twelfth and final incarnations, then the Dream Lord pops up during the Eleventh’s run. Except once you factor in the War Doctor and the Tenth’s double tenure, the Dream Lord actually turns up during the thirteenth incarnation, which is technically between his twelfth and last.
That and the antagonistic nature of the Doctor and Dream Lord’s relationship is pretty reminiscent of the Sixth and the Valeyard’s.
But what really sells it for me is the way the Dream Lord teleportation round the artifical landscapes. Seriously, watch the Valeyard jump around the artificial backdrop of the Matrix. It’s so similar that I refuse to believe it’s accidental.
The Valeyard’s name check in The Name of the Doctor also confirmed his place as still canon within NuWho. Suddenly, Amy’s Choice seems like foreshadowing on a grand scale.
The Dream Lord is the Valeyard, whether you like it or not.
Josh Maxton: Victory of the Daleks
In episodes where a big villain is involved, it’s often very hard for everyone to cheer as the credits roll – such is the case with Victory of the Daleks. To some, this episode was a poorly written mess that had good ideas but was executed terribly. Many give this episode a low ranking because of the introduction of the multi-colour Paradigm Daleks. Others think that Matt Smith acts too much like his predecessor in the serial. This episode really has some gold though (outside of the gold colours on some of the Daleks) that some people miss.
First off, the episode concept really is a great idea for a second adventure for Amy Pond. What better thing to do after you’ve ran away with a madman and saved Starship UK in your nightdress than to meet Winston Churchill? Although no one can ever portray a historical character one-hundred percent accurately, Ian McNeice didn’t do half of a bad job getting the Prime Minister unto the small screens.
Once the Doctor and Amy arrive during the London Blitz, Winston takes them up to the roof to show the Doctor their new secret weapon to use against the Nazis. After greeting Bracewell, the Doctor and Amy look over war-torn London. A bomb drops nearby, and the Doctor and Amy watch, slightly shocked. This whole scene is truly golden because as they continue staring out on the city, you can see their sadness, and their utter respect for Churchill and the others who fought and died – who saved the world in a way the Doctor never could. The dialogue here is magnificent.
And then we have the big reveal: the Ironsides. Smith’s acting here is also excellent.
As the episode progresses, we get some great dialogue between the Doctor and Churchill. The Prime Minister weeps for his empire, and feels desperate. The Doctor reminds him that he doesn’t need the Ironsides because he is a “beacon of hope” (as he says).
Later on, the Doctor makes his way to the Dalek ship and is told that a new race of Daleks is about to be born. Back on Earth, Churchill and Amy Pond come up with a scheme, but it’s one they need Professor Bracewell for. And here, Winston crops up: “What you are, sir, is either on our side or theirs. Now, I don’t give a damn if you’re a machine, Bracewell. Are you a man?”
Phew. Good words by Churchill.
Back on board the Dalek ship, the evolution of the Daleks has reached a new level. The Paradigm Daleks have arrived. Plenty of people don’t like these Daleks because they’re colourful. The fans’ reaction was so strong that Steven Moffat and co. decided to make these Daleks solely the highest-ranking (generals, lead scientists, or the Supreme). I think they would’ve worked if they had stayed in their originally intended place in Who canon (a replacement of the bronze/gold model Daleks). We’re talking about writers that make the simplest things into scary monsters. Plus, the classic series Daleks were typically colorful too. So, why can’t we have some colours in our Daleks today? The new Daleks were bigger and had deeper voices – scarier than the bronze Daleks.
Asylum of the Daleks is easily Matt’s best Dalek story, but Victory is by no means as bad as some say it is. There are plenty of brief moments, as well as longer ones, that make it shine.
Philip Bates: The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone
The problem with Series 5 is that it’s almost too good. The Eleventh Hour, Vincent and the Doctor, The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang: these are the episodes that stand as obvious highlights in a run that is actually full of highlights. They somewhat overshadow the best series of NuWho.
So yes, an underrated series. I could’ve very easily gone for The Beast Below, an episode that was an immediate breath of fresh air, full of incredible imagery, and even better (often heart-breaking) ideas. It alludes to The Ark and The Ark in Space, but feels like a lost Seventh Doctor story too. Or what about The Vampires of Venice, a stunning tale with uniquely haunting music, gorgeous design, direction, and lighting, and always captivating performances? And let’s not forget Amy’s Choice, with Toby Jones adding to the already-strong wealth of actors to run around that TARDIS. I stand by the fact that the episode has some of the best dialogue to ever grace Doctor Who.
But instead, I’ve gone for the first two-parter of the Eleventh Doctor era, unfairly overlooked because it’s a sort-of sequel to Blink. You know what? The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone is better than Blink.
Steven Moffat adds extra nuances to the Weeping Angels: this bunch aren’t the race that kills you nicely. They’re vicious and cut-throat – literally – and seemingly unstoppable. It raises questions about whether the Angels have sects or a similar division in their species, perhaps agendas separated by time: this lot are desperate; Blink‘s were almost merciful; and The Angels Take Manhattan clan were systematic killers.
I love the Angels. Their potential is limitless. The exploration of their images, and that reveal – that the Maze of the Dead is actually full of them – is glorious.
And we have Iain Glenn too, providing one of the best guest performances in Doctor Who. Father Octavian’s death is wonderfully sad, as he tells the Doctor he is, in fact, at peace.
But what really makes this serial stand out, as ever, are Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Alex Kingston.
Wow. This was the first story Matt and Karen filmed, and already they’re the Doctor and Amy Pond. 100%. I don’t think any other team have completely grasped the dynamic and Who They Are from the off quite like these two. Having Alex reprise her role as the enigmatic and compelling River Song just adds to this. Honestly, they cannot be underestimated – neither can Arthur Darvill, who really joins the TARDIS in the following episode.
Oh, the glory days. The truth is, I love Series 5, completely. The Eleventh Doctor, Amy Pond, and Rory Williams in the TARDIS, with River Song in tow. Just as it should be.
That’s what we think. Now it’s your turn! Vote below for the most underrated serial of Series 5, and we’ll find out the overall winner later this year…