Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series review, Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series Blu-ray review
Starring
Matt Smith, Karen Gillan,
Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston
Director
Various
Doctor Who: The
Complete Fifth Series

Reviewed by Ross Ruediger

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till haven’t gotten around to checking out “Doctor Who,” have you? Don’t let the Season Five label dissuade you: This is a great place to get in on the action without feeling like you’re totally out of the loop. It features a new Doctor (Matt Smith), a new companion (Karen Gillan), a new head writer (Steven Moffat), and, most importantly, a new storyline that’s only barely connected to the four seasons that came before it. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new show. This is actually not a new strategy for “Doctor Who,” which has more often than not successfully reinvented itself every few years since it started in 1963, and now it’s gone and happened once again.

The newly regenerated Doctor (Smith) meets Scottish lass Amy Pond (Gillan) under some creepy and ultimately harrowing circumstances. There’s a crack in her bedroom wall, and a giant eyeball inside of it. There’s also an extra room in her big old empty house – a room that she’s somehow never noticed before in all the years she’s been living there. It turns out the Doctor has only 20 minutes to save Earth, and it’s not a question so much of “Will he do it?” but rather “How will he do it?” Thanks to Steven Moffat’s wonderful script for the season opener, “The Eleventh Hour,” events get off to an excellent start.

It’s a trend that continues throughout the bulk of the 13-episode season, although there are a couple episodes early on (“The Beast Below” and “Victory of the Daleks”) that don’t feel as sharp as the rest. Of course, this is coming from someone who’s been watching the show since he was on the cusp of puberty, so it’d be best to take my nitpicking with a grain of salt. For a newcomer, though, this season should by all means knock your socks off, provided you’re into the whole whimsical sci-fi fantasy thing. Whether the Doctor and Amy travel back to 1890 to help Vincent van Gogh (Tony Curran) combat depression, visit a planet in the far future to do battle with Professor River Song (Alex Kingston) against the terrifying, stonelike Weeping Angels, or take Amy’s fiancé Rory (Arthur Darvill) to Venice of 1580 where the trio encounters a race of aliens posing as vampires, each new story offers up something bold, fresh and different.

Season Five is the most exciting and inventive the series has been since it roared back to life in 2005, when Russell T. Davies redefined it for the first time in 16 years. Now it’s Moffat’s turn to give it a whirl. What’s most remarkable is how he plays with the romance of time travel, and the way it ripples throughout the entire season and comes to a head in the exquisite, surprising two-part finale, leaving you wanting to watch the whole season over again from the start. This is a journey in the truest sense of the term (well, as TV goes, anyway).

Thus far, I’ve been addressing the uninitiated. There are also the faithful who’ve been watching since ‘05, or ‘79, or even since ‘63. You, I don’t need to speak to, as you’ll be picking this up regardless of what’s said here. But there’s another vocal group of “Doctor Who” viewers – the ones who swore off the series when David Tennant stepped down from the central role this past New Year’s. “Doctor Who” isn’t about any one actor or writer or fan, for that matter. It’s survived countless changes in all those areas and more. If, for you, David Tennant is what “Doctor Who” was all about, then don’t let the TARDIS doors hit you on the ass on the way out. This show doesn’t need your Johnny-come-lately poser attitude, and it’ll do just fine without you. For the time being, Matt Smith is an excellent actor, doing intoxicating stuff with this character, and leading us into crazy cool scenarios week in and out. He’s the right Doctor for his time, and a joy to follow. Best to not get too attached to him, though, because someday Smith will leave, and somebody else will come along and show us all how it’s done in a new way. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Technically, this Blu-ray set looks and sounds amazing, better even I think than “The Complete Specials” box set looked earlier this year. The art direction this season was cranked up to 11, and it shows in every nook and cranny of every frame. I viewed these episodes initially in standard def, but watching them on Blu is like a night and day difference. Even some of the effects work which seemed rather shoddy in standard looks wonderful here. (I’m thinking in particular of the Silurian city shots with the Doctor and Co. running in the foreground.) Clearly at this point, “Doctor Who” is all about high definition, so if you’re a fan and you’ve still not upgraded, I’m telling you, you are missing out something fierce.

Special Features: The most high profile extras on this set are the two “Meanwhile in the TARDIS” scenes, which feature the Doctor and Amy bantering in between episodes. Both are really rather priceless, although neither add anything earth-shattering to the overall storyline. The first scene directly links the end of “The Eleventh Hour” to the start of “The Beast Below,” while the second occurs at the tail end of “Flesh and Stone” and sets up the Doctor’s visit to Rory in “The Vampires of Venice.” The latter is particularly rewarding for old school fans, especially those who loved Louise Jameson’s Leela.

Previous season sets have been loaded with episode commentaries, but it seems the DVD producers are scaling back on that a bit. On this set, viewers are exclusively given the option of watching In-Vision Commentaries, which feature a box popping up in the lower left hand corner of the screen so you can see the talent while they speak. The feature is present on six episodes: “The Eleventh Hour,” “Victory of the Daleks,” “The Time of Angels,” “The Vampires of Venice,” “Cold Blood,” and the season finale, “The Big Bang.” A variety of folks chime in from both in front of and behind the camera, including Moffat, Gillan and Darvill, although Matt Smith is noticeably absent.

There are three Video Diaries from on set featuring Smith and Gillan, as well as four Monster Files – which talk about The Daleks, the Weeping Angels, the Silurians, and the Alliance – that appear to have been taken from episodes of “Doctor Who Confidential.” There’s also a short reel of outtakes which is little more than the usual bloopers and horsing around on the set. Finally, Disc Six is dedicated to 13 edited-for-time episodes of “Doctor Who Confidential,” one for each episode of the season, as well as a slew of promotional trailers of all different kinds.

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