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Who Review – Episodes 10-13 (Series 5)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vincent and the Doctor

by Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a very funny writer. So I was prepared for a very funny DW episode. And it was funny, at times hilariously so. But Richard Curtis is also very good at making extremely palatable schmaltz (watch Love Actually if you need proof). But even knowing this, I wasn’t prepared for the sobfest that occurred.

Nu-Who has had a great track record when it comes to meeting historical figures: Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, to name a few. And now we can add Vincent van Gogh to this love-fest of famous artists (van Gogh pronounced with as much phlegm as you can muster – mustering phlegm…sounds disgusting). Apparently van Gogh (twice in a row is hard on your throat) is Scottish according to the TARDIS language translator, but nevermind, he looks the part, and Tony Curran plays him well, with humour and depth. I doubt this is what the real van Gogh (I’m gonna need to get a drink soon) was like, but at least the episode gives us a nice introduction into the mind of a figure who pretty much invented the idea of a tortured artist. There are also some beautiful recreations of the painter’s most famous works, which seems the obvious way to go if you were directing an episode about a visual artist, but it was still nice to see.

The plot is actually rather pedestrian – it’s interesting, but I feel we’ve been down this village pathway before. However, and this is no surprise, where Curtis shines the brightest is in his dialogue. And for a show that prides itself on terrific dialogue, Curtis hits the ground running:

The Doctor: I remember watching Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Wow, what a whiner! I kept saying to him “Look, if you’re scared of heights, you shouldn’t have taken the job then”. And Picasso, what a ghastly old goat! I kept telling him, “Concentrate, Pablo. It’s one eye, either side of the face”.


Amy Pond: You do have a plan, don’t you?
The Doctor: No, I have a thing. It’s like a plan, but with more greatness.

And so. How about that ending? If you haven’t seen the episode then that question won’t mean very much to you. But if you have, then I think, and I hate to use the old cliché, you will have either loved it or hated it…. It’s so unabashedly sentimental; think the kid running through airport security in Love Actually and multiply that by a thousand. Sure I’ve felt the eyes water a few times since the Doctor roared back onto our screens five years ago, but this was something else entirely. Bloody Richard Curtis manipulating me like that…AGAIN. Mind you, since I’ve become a parent even something like the schmaltzy Steve Martin Father of the Bride can reduce me to a blubbering idiot, so my reaction to this episode might not count for very much.

The Lodger

by Gareth Roberts

I’m always impressed when a big expensive show can pull off a really good no budget episode. And Doctor Who has been able to do this with great success over the past 4 series. Midnight, of course, being the greatest example. The Lodger is the ‘let’s save money for the series finale episode’ episode. The plot is simple. The Doctor is stranded in the suburbs investigating a strange house, while Amy is left aboard a shaky-cam TARDIS. To flesh out the story, writer Gareth Roberts provides comedy aplenty, and gives Matt Smith a wonderful script to sink his teeth into. It has taken me no time at all to warm up to Smith’s interpretation of the Doctor, and this episode confirms for me that he is perfect for the part. Eccleston and Tennant were cool Doctors, and I enjoyed both of them immensely. But Smith’s Doc is a bumbler –. And perhaps for the first time since Tom Baker’s #4, we have a Doctor who looks really odd.

Some dialogue pearls amongst The Lodger treasure trove:

Sean: You are so on the team! Next week we’ve got the Crown & Anchor. We’re going to annihilate them!
The Doctor: [suddenly in Sean’s face] Annihilate? No! No violence, do you understand me? Not while I’m around, not today, not ever. I’m the Doctor. The Oncoming Storm. And you basically meant beat them in a football match, didn’t you?
Sean: Yeah.
The Doctor: Lovely. What sort of time?


The Doctor: Dry rot?
Craig: Or damp, or mildew.
The Doctor: Or none of the above.
Craig: I’ll get someone to fix it.
The Doctor: No, I’ll fix it. I’m good at fixing rot. Call me the Rotmeister. No, I’m the Doctor, don’t call me the Rotmeister.

This is the sitcom version of Doctor Who, and Matt Smith et al milk it for everything it is worth. To tell you the truth, I can barely remember what happened at the end of it all. I know there was something about another TARDIS existing on the top floor of the apartment, but this was never satisfactorily explained. Perhaps it will lead into a storyline in the next series. If it does, cool. If not, meh, this was a fantastically funny piece of DW. If Blink is the scariest bottle episode, and Midnight is the most intense, then The Lodger is certainly the most like an episode of Perfect Strangers we’re ever likely to get.

The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang

by Steven Moffat

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for spectacle when it comes to Doctor Who. This is where Russell T Davies excelled. The series finales that he penned were huge, extravagant affairs, with each successive finale trying to outdo the other – true, some were more successful than others, but despite some flaws, they all made for extremely gripping television. So I was eagerly awaiting a Moffat-penned finale and, praise be to the Gods, he did not disappoint.

So much happens over the two episodes that to give a plot description would be an exercise in futility, suffice to say, River Song is back, of course, and as is becoming the trend, the Doctor knows a bit more about her future, and she carries around great spoilers about his. Moffat obviously delights in creating the most outlandish scenarios for River to contact the Doctor – this time she graffitis the oldest written words in the universe, knowing that the Doctor will one day visit them, follow her instructions, and find her across the great expanse of space and time. Their relationship status on Facebook goes way beyond ‘it’s complicated.’ Then we have some Romans milling about  Stonehenge, a cyberman who’s seen better days, and a giant box called the Pandorica.

There are some great moments in The Pandorica Opens, especially this scene. But the cliffhanger must rank as one of the greatest in DW history. It is both a cheeky nod to the typical RTD cliffhangers, while at the same it is a truly moving experience. It’s such an impossible scenario (even by DW standards!), but it works. Watching all of the Doctor’s enemies sneering and congratulating themselves on a job well done was a terrific moment. Implausible? Certainly. A completely bonkers idea? Most definitely. One of the best moments of Who ever? Yup.

(And just as an aside, the music, which is generally always top notch, sounded a lot like the melancholic/happy-to-be-friends-again theme from Lost. A coincidence I’m sure, but it lent the episode a further tragic flavour.)

Even though The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang are part 1 and part 2 of the same episode, they are so different tonally, that they may as well be two separate stories. Moffat pushes his timey-wimey stuff to the limits here; Back to the Future part II comes off as a stroll in the park compared to the time/space continuum hopping about going on in this episode. Now, I’m not really sure how the Doctor escaped the Pandorica, but then again, I’m not an expert in quantum mechanics (or whatever the kids are calling it these days), so who am I to say he couldn’t have escaped it the way he did?

The museum stuff is great; petrified daleks, and the instant mythology of the centuries old Roman who saved the Pandorica during the London blitz. Terrific stuff. The joke about Richard Dawkins and his ‘star cult’ was also quite funny. And I don’t know, I kind of agree with the Doctor…fez hats are pretty cool

I could go on and on about why I enjoyed this episode so much, but that would be too much like gushing. Instead I think I’ll just take a minute to talk about Series 5 as a whole.

So if you haven’t already noticed, the majority of my scribblings about Moffat/Smith Who have been very positive. And to be honest, my expectations for this season were ridiculously high. But were they met? Well, first of all, it doesn’t really matter if they were, and second, they were.

Moffat has taken what RTD et al created, and expanded on the format, and made it his own unique brand of Who. I’ve trawled through umpteen sites that have been repeating a similar line: that we’re now entering a new glory age of DW, something to rival the Holmes/Hinchcliffe/Baker era of the mid-seventies. But to say that means relegating the previous four and a half seasons to the non-glory age, and I don’t think that is fair. Because while I have loved Series 5, especially the overall tone and feeling of it, and the series-spanning story-arc, and of course, Matt Smith, I can’t say that it has been significantly better than the RTD/Tennant/Eccleston years. Certainly if the entire series consisted only of The Eleventh Hour, The Scary Angels two-parter, Vincent and the Doctor, The Lodger, and the two-part finale, then yes, it would have been the greatest, grandest season in DW history. But the rest of the episodes were not great ones. Good certainly, and always enjoyable, but not great. And that’s okay!

And now, for my closing remarks, I certainly won’t say that Moffat has proven himself, or that Matt Smith has proven himself, or that Karen Gillian has proven herself. Even though they have proven themselves, it’s such a silly thing to say that I feel ridiculous for even thinking it. But just between you and me, I never had any doubts.


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