on 29 June 2010
A confession: I was never a Dr Who fan as a kid. Too many wobbly sets, too many campy actors and too many silly costumes. As much as I loved fantasy fiction, Dr Who never really appealed. So when it was brought back a few years ago, I wasn't too bothered. During David Tennant's time as the Doctor, I caught a handful of episodes, thought they were OK and watched the final two parter. Matt Smith's brief time at the end interested me enough to ensure I'd watch the new series. And I'm glad I did.
I can't make any comparisons to Smith's portrayal with Tennant's, and I can't tell you how the writing compares to previous series. What I can tell you is this is an extremely entertaining show with great characters. Karen Gillan as the Doctor's companion Amy Pond (along with the reliable boyfriend Rory) comes close to outshining Matt Smith on a few occasions as does Alex Kingston as the mysterious Dr River Song, but Smith manages to hold his own. This guy can switch from anger to amusement to compassion in just a few glances even if he is convinced bow ties are cool.
Some of the episodes are obviously better than others. The two with the angels are outstanding (the Doctor's speech near the end of the first still gives me goosebumps) while the two underground are a little off in terms of pacing and atmosphere. On the other hand, the Daleks with Churchill is what the word romp was invented for, and James Corden as the Everyman in love with his friend and unable to do anything about it gives us an episode in which the Doctor is as close to human as he can get. A definite contender for best episode although Amy's Choice is also up there with a great performance from Karen Gillan.
If SF isn't your thing and you always thought Dr Who was for kids, give this a go. Just don't wear a fez. Even if they are cool.
on 18 April 2010
Despite loving both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, I was welcoming of Matt Smith because The Doctor is the type of character that is meant to be played by numerous actors, like a long running theatre show. I was also happy to hear when Steven Moffat was planning to take over the franchise due to his fantastic work on Jekyll and the Doctor Who episodes he wrote (see `Blink', `The Empty Child', `Silence in the Library' and more). However, even though it seemed to be a winning formula, the first 3 episodes of the latest series have failed to win me over.
Season 5 starts literally seconds after Tennant's last episode `The End of Time'; The Doctor crashes onto Earth outside the house of Amelia Pond, a 7 year old girl who fears a strange crack on her wall that seems to lead to another world. After discovering that an escaped alien prisoner is on the loose, it's up to the Doctor to save Planet Earth once again.
The series starts off strongly; `The Eleventh Hour' has the right combination of quick wit, alien encounters, mystery, 100 mph action and the Doctor we all know and love with a new face. However the following 2 episodes do not carry on the clever storytelling and instead come across as rejected episodes from The Sarah Jane Adventures. `The Beast Below' barely gives us a glimpse into the new world or allow us to sympathise with it before we're thrust into their problems, which turn out to be a rehash of an early Star Trek Next Generation episode. `Victory of the Daleks' (yes, they're back again) gives us a watered-down look at the world during World War II and Winston Churchill. Let's compare it to `The Girl in the Fireplace'; in that episode we learn of Madame de pompadour's grace, intelligence, her history and life during her times - we literally got a history lesson as well as had fun with the Doctor. In `Victory of the Daleks' all we get is that Winston smokes a cigar...and that's it, none of his leadership, bravery or intellect qualities come across here. Oh, and apparently Spitfires can fly in space (I wish I was kidding). There's no doubt that the sense of humour is in the script but storytelling seems to be more aimed at the children rather than the previous episodes which were catered for all ages.
So what about Matt Smith? Does he carry Tennant's torch well? There's no doubt that the guy can act, but to play The Doctor, like the character, the actor has to suffer slightly from bipolar disorder. You have to be able to play the light hearted hero with playful side one minute, then switch to the military general that everyone looks up to yet fears what he'll do next a second later. Eccleston and Tennant had no problems with this. Smith gets the joker side of the character down to a 'T' but when it comes to being serious he fails to come across as convincing, he's still squashy round the edges. He'll probably improve as time flies but right now he's still got work to do. Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillian) is his new companion but, again, hasn't quite won me over. I did very much like her introduction (it's a bit more original than `Oh look a young looking London girl, let's drag her along hoping she'll want to travel the galaxy with me later') but the show hasn't quite got the right balance between the 2 characters yet. The Doctor is meant to be the all knowing Time Lord who comes on his white horse to save the day, and his companion is meant to gasp in wonder at the new world, get into trouble and at times lend a hand in saving the world too as their connection develops. But for the first 3 episodes Amy plays a large part in saving the day, taking the Doctor's glory moment, as a result Amy suffers slightly from `Mary-Sue' syndrome.
The Doctor, in the past, has been played by older actors to draw in long term fans, older sci-fi nuts and to bring that wisdom aura to the character, whilst the companion is younger to give the audience someone to project onto, the newer fans to connect with and to draw the younger `hip' crowd. However due to the fact that both actors are of similar age (mid 20s) they completely cut off connection with the older audience. In previous series the clever writing would've keep them engaged but that's not up to scratch in this series! Fans over the age of 30 will most likely feel unwelcomed to the new series. Saying that, there are still 10 episodes to go, so I'm holding out for these actors and characters to grow on me.
New actors and Head Writer aren't the only new things to series 5 of the franchise; we've also got a new logo (doesn't do much for me), new opening sequence (pretty cool) and new arrangement of the opening theme (nowhere near as catchy as previous versions) but despite a new lick of paint, Murray Gold returns to provide the soundtrack. Although I have no love for the new theme the rest of the music is still as enchanting as ever. Special effects are still as effective and colourful as ever, the complete CGI alien in the first episode moved smoothly and looked very intimidating.
On the whole the new series doesn't hold everything together; due to a lot of changes long term fans maybe feel a bit `alien' to this programme. Although most of the cosmetic changes are fine, the back bone of the programme fails to maintain itself for the first few episodes. But we're still at the start of the race here, we've still got the return of the Weeping Angels, more mysteries of Amy Pond to reveal and the debut of vampires apparently. So there's plenty of time for the cast and crew to get back on its feet before the final curtain call.