Last week, Craig Ferguson dedicated almost an entire episode to a television show. Now, this isn’t entirely uncommon in television talk shows, but it’s normally someone like Oprah searching for the zeitgeist by introducing the cast of Glee or something. Ferguson, meanwhile, wasn’t chasing the zeitgeist so much as he was chasing the T.A.R.D.I.S., dedicating an entire hour to British sensation Doctor Who, which remains just a cult favorite on this continent (you can see Ferguson’s interview with Matt Smith on YouTube).
It was a nice reminder that Doctor Who’s fifth “Series” was one of this year’s television highlights, regardless of which side of the pond you may be on. As someone who had seen only bits of pieces of the series in the past, the arrival of a new Doctor (played by Smith, Ferguson’s guest of honor) and companion in Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond seemed like as good a time as any to jump into the phenomenon.
BBC America was kind enough to send along a copy of the Blu-Ray – which was released on November 9th and can be purchased at the BBC America Shop – for review purposes, but unfortunately it was sent to my Canadian address. However, that’s sort of ideal, as it means that my brother might be able to experience what I did when I chose to dive into the series at this “late” point.
He was skeptical when I made the suggestion, having never seen the sehow before this point, but the Fifth Series really lends itself to new introductions. While it does connect to previous episodes, whether through the return of the Weeping Angels from “Blink” or the prominence of River Song (introduced by producer Steven Moffat in “Silence in the Library”), at no point does one feel as though they have missed something incredibly important. In fact, the series’ shifting temporality means that we’re supposed to be disarmed, supposed to be struggling to piece together some sort of timeline as it relates to this year’s central mystery.
Smith and Gillan are both immensely likable in the lead roles, although Smith is the standout here. While Gillan is charming and radiant, Smith has a lot to live up to considering the amount of praise heaped on David Tennant’s performance in the same role in the previous seasons, and he delivers a distinctive and consistently great performance. He’s adept at silliness, more willing to break into what could best be termed physical comedy, but in most cases it emerges as sharp eccentricities rather than wackiness. The Doctor becomes his character, the necessary test (I presume) for someone stepping into the role for the first time.
As for the series as a whole, the presence of an ongoing serial narrative which is slowly revealed as the season goes on helps the season overcome a few weak outings (I’m looking at you, “Vampires in Venice” and “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood”) to deliver a really satisfying series. The presence of River Song, who Alex Kingston has turned into a really great character, adds credence to the series’ temporality, while the finale delivers a truly epic story which remains grounded in Amy and her would-be husband Rory. Driven by the chemistry between Smith and Gillan, each hour added to our understanding of these characters and their journey, and created a dynamic that will hopefully be central for many years to come. Reading this back it all sounds a bit cheesy, but this was a very strong and often mature set of episodes: in “Vincent and the Doctor, for example, Richard Curtis (Love Actually) crafts a meaningful story on mental illness.
This is a series (or season, if you prefer) that you can jump into, something that may not be able to be said for subsequent years. You get to see how Amy and the Doctor meet, you get to witness their first adventures together, and you get to see some great television in the process. With the Christmas Special just days away, with Michael Gambon guest starring as a Scrooge figure, I cannot stress enough that now is as good a time as any to give the good Doctor a shot.
- As noted, the Blu-Ray is not in my possession, but the special features include some likely fun interstitials that fill in narrative gaps in between episodes, as well as the Doctor Who Confidential specials which aired on the BBC after each episode and went behind the scenes. I’ve heard great things about Confidential, so I look forward to giving them a look when I revisit the season. I also presume that the outtakes are likely quite strong, considering Smith’s brand of comedy.
- I shall leave you with the trailer for the upcoming Christmas special, which looks pretty wonderful (and airs stateside on Christmas Day this year, as opposed to any sort of delay).