So the new guy arrives and he’s very, very young. This doesn’t matter much at first – the new Doctor’s head popping out of the Tardis and asking the young Amy Pond for an apple is enchanting as is his re-enactment of Tigger’s intro scene from Winnie the Pooh immediately afterwards. It’s later in the adult world that Matt Smith starts to look a little out of his depth but more on that later.
The real story behind this box set is that there’s a new head writer in the shape of Steven Moffat for this series, and the tone changes as much because of him as because of the new leading man. Initially it’s refreshing, and intellectually it’s a treat to see various pieces fall into place as the season progresses (watch out for the Doctor’s jacket making an unexpected appearance in the Weeping Angels story, for example).
What’s missing is the emotion. There was, to be fair, an element of gushing in the Russell T Davies years, culminating in the last David Tennant story in which the final 20 minutes were devoted to long farewells of interest to no-one except the cast and production team, plus a few of us diehards. This self-indulgence is cut ruthlessly and we find less emotional literacy in the whole proceeds right until the end. The result is that I don’t feel as involved in this team as I did its predecessors.
This is compounded a little with the reintroduction of River Song, played by Alex Kingston. She’s a generation above David Tennant but probably old enough to be Smith’s Granny, so it’s odd to see them paired as a potential couple (I know the character is much older than Smith but it still felt odd). And right towards the end of the series, Smith’s reflection on hundreds of years of ageing feels weird – he doesn’t have the weight yet. Where he really shines is in the unexpected moments like The Lodger – a throwback to a comic written by the same author, in which the Doctor has to become human for a while. His comic timing is superb. Mismatch with River Song aside he’s also rather good in Time of the Angels/Flesh and Stone, a two-part classic, and in the surreal, disturbing Amy’s Choice, in which we’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t. Best of all is Vincent and the Doctor, in which we’re spared none of Van Gough’s anguish and shown all of the Doctor’s compassion.
There are a few duds. The Beast Below, the second story, is a bit routine. Victory of the Daleks doesn’t live up to its initial promise, serving more as a vehicle to introduce the multicoloured Daleks than a story in its own right. And The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood should have been great but instead shows just what a low budget can do to a returning monster. Even the Vincent story suffers from poor budget and a CGI parrot instead of a monster which could have been left unseen, and Vampires of Venice is pretty routine. It’s patchy, and the lack of emotional engagement means that when the stories don’t sparkle you really feel cut adrift. That said it’s a promising start from an actor who should hopefully mature into a fine Doctor. Onward!
EXTRAS ★★★★ Various the high spot of which for the fans is the extra scenes in the Tardis telling us what happened between stories. Meanwhile in the TARDIS - Newly filmed scenes written by Steven Moffat, exclusive to DVD and Blu-ray, telling what happens between the episodes; Doctor Who Confidential - An inside look at each episode; Monster Files · In-Vision Commentaries; Outtakes; Video Diaries.