Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Whatever other numerical value the BBC may be labelling this season with, the last thirteen episodes seem to consider themselves to be number 31, with references to the first 30 years legion.

Matt Smith declares himself to be the 'eleventh' Doctor. William Hartnell's face made it in four times! And as for the alliance of the Doctor's enemies in The Pandorica Opens

River: "Terrileptil, Slitheen, Chelonian, Nestene, Drahvin, Sycorax, Haemogovlin, Zygon, Atraxi, Draconian - they're all here.. for the Pandorica!"

I tell you, that fancy-dress crowd looked like either a Halloween party, or a Batman reunion.

The unfolding story-arc about the crack in the universe has enabled the show to feel much more like a serial for a change, although the nature of that threat does seem to have mutated throughout.

Initially I wondered whether this was simply a reluctance on the part of Head Writer Steven Moffat to rewrite the other authors' work, given that he doesn't seem to have done that before. However he himself penned both the opening and closing tales this season, which don't seem to agree with each other.

The Doctor's initial declaration in The Eleventh Hour that there were two universes that were never supposed to meet doesn't seem consistent with the TARDIS' blowing up in The Big Bang. Neither does the presence of the Atraxi prison. When Rory is wiped from history in Cold Blood, the light-rays from the crack appear to actually be organic, slowly entwining themselves around him.

But hey, it's science fiction. Explosions of organic light are allowed.

Speaking of the new head writer, I guess the success or failure of Doctor Who's latest relaunch will ultimately fall upon his shoulders, and I've found it curious to perceive both a clearing-out of the last five years, and also a repeat of them.

Initially everything was new - we had a new Doctor, a new companion, new TARDIS interior, new TARDIS exterior, new credits, new directors and even new Daleks.

I see that even the production codes have returned to '1' again. Given the change in staff, it's a surprise that the BBC didn't make this season over two years simultaneously with the 2009 specials, and come out with a full-length 26-part series like the Americans do, or at least a 22-part one.

Yet despite all this refreshment, the season's structure has been identical to the last four. Nearly all Earth-related stories, opening with one in present-day England, then one in Earth's future, then one in Earth's past, then a visit home for the companion, then an extra companion for a few weeks in the middle, and the return of a revamped villain from the old days. Oh, and of course the unexpected return of the Daleks in episode twelve.

Other planets? Maybe they should have destroyed the rest of the universe in the first episode instead, and then set the whole series on the Earth that has no stars...

Overall though, I've found the general standard of the scripts this year to be better. Every series since the show's revival has contained several stinkers, but this one only has two, specifically The Eleventh Hour, which had plenty of good ideas in a weak plot, and The Vampires Of Venice which, sorry to say, I thought failed on every front.

My favourite story? Well, apart from its title, I found Richard Curtis' Vincent And The Doctor to be just perfect. This was a simple tale that held together, and really had heart. It was fun, exciting and funny, and each of the four cast-members really shone.

Hard to believe it was directed by the same guy as The Vampires Of Venice!

Sad to say though, that the direction is the one area which I feel this series has been most disabled by. Doctor Who has suffered for years with mediocre direction - Graeme Harper and James Strong being exceptions - but this series I'm afraid I feel that there has been no-one who stood out.

Throughout the series, the dialogue has been recorded off-mic, which has really robbed the actors of conveying much presence. Graeme Harper used to ADR the actors' speech as a matter of course, I'm surprised that he hasn't been kept on.

Many directors seem to have simply shot the actors' performance and trusted that the camera would get it, which is all well and good, but jokes are getting mis-delivered, the characters sound some distance away, and less has been done to pause and accentuate what is going on their minds.

Eg. In The Big Bang, when River challenges the stone Dalek to check her record in its database, it almost immediately cries "MER-CY!" I think there should have been more of a beat before this line, to give the Dalek a moment to realise who she was. That's just one example.

Adam Smith has provided some awesome visuals.

It’s a huge mercy that the previously intrusive incidental music has been much quieter this series, and that there has been less of it. Composer Murray Gold has at last come up with the goods for this season, with less being more, and some terrific themes. He still needs to leave the comedy alone though - music just distracts from the joke.

That said, there have been three cliffhangers this season, all of which really needed to be boosted by some louder music. Really, those cliffhangers were just wimpy, and quiet.

Tragically, this has also been the series of the missing scene, the worst case of which came in the last story, when we didn't even see the Police Box TARDIS blow-up, let alone the stars go out. Come on - that's the TARDIS blowing-up and destroying the universe there!

Despite these shortcomings, this year's concentration on the regular characters have kept my interest. Amy Pond is great, except for whenever she encounters a man, when she suddenly turns predatory.

Poor Rory on the other hand has no identity of his own, being present only to be in love with Amy, despite her only having friendship for him. That relationship gets a bit fuzzier in the last episode when they marry, but not much, with Rory's "Goodbye" clearly aimed at the Doctor, and indeed the camera ignoring him as they take off.

The acting throughout has been excellent. Karen Gillan established an almost immediate double-act with Matt Smith, and this has lifted the sense of fun in almost every episode.

Which brings me, at last, to Matt Smith!

After his debut, I got asked by several people what I thought of him, and despite sharing the odd observation, I pretty well always said that I needed to see the rest of the series before answering. I also didn't want to say anything negative because the challenge of having to take-over from the universally-loved David Tennant was something that he needed every support in.

So here it is, here's what I think of Matt Smith as the Doctor:

He's okay.

I'm not certain quite what it is that he's doing with the character, but whatever it is, he's batting a good average. He's definitely an introvert, and that's a very brave thing to play a lead character as, because you're paradoxically hiding it all the while.

He also seems to bring something different to the role every story. For example in The Lodger he was a weirdo. Towards the end of The Big Bang, he became a very old man.

His finest hour seemed to be in The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone when I think he had his best material to work with.

Which brings me back to that story's author Steven Moffat.

Five years ago in Doctor Who Magazine #350 he was quoted as saying this:

"I kind of think you should crack a script in your first draft - there's only a draft and a polish on every episode of Coupling. So I'm always late, but at least you could take the submitted script down to the studio and make it. Other writers prefer to hand in something more approximate and get feedback, but I like to get it cracked on the first draft and polish. Sometimes, of course, people disagree with me that I have cracked it on the first draft…"

I find it extremely hard to believe that his last four scripts this season were merely a 'draft and polish'! Flesh And Stone particularly appeared to have been brainstormed and combed repeatedly, with Amy encountering so many escalating permutations of threat from the Angels.

All the same, that feedback thing could avert a multitude of plot-holes…

Overall, despite its faults, I tentatively think that the show is in safe hands again. The brilliant stuff outweighs the bad, and it's wonderful to see Doctor Who being clever again, if not always that clever.

Steven Moffat still has a bundle of great ideas and good dialogue up his sleeve, and obviously finds time-travel to be a mine of inspiration. He's left some things hanging, but for the first time I believe that the series actually will "explain later".

Moffat remains the author who I'd most like to see writing season 32, and Matt Smith obviously the actor who I'd like to see playing the lead!

Good luck guys, and thanks for a fun series!

Individual reviews:

The Eleventh Hour
Meanwhile In The TARDIS part #1 of 2
The Beast Below
Victory Of The Daleks
The Time Of Angels / Flesh And Stone
Meanwhile In The TARDIS part #2 of 2
The Vampires Of Venice
Amy's Choice
The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood
Vincent And The Doctor
The Lodger
City Of The Daleks
Blood Of The Cybermen
Shadows Of The Vashta Nerada
Return To Earth
Evacuation Earth
2010 Trailer
The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang
Monster Files: Weeping Angels
Monster Files: Vampires
Monster Files: Homo Reptilia

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