In future years this is going to be remembered as the season of Doctor Who that divided the fans. There are those like me who think it’s one of the best ever and the others, who are factually wrong in thinking it was the worst. It was certainly the most interlinked and complex. We start with the Doctor – Matt Smith now finding writers are working around his strengths and being pretty damned sublime for the whole box set – enjoying a good old Christmas romp with Kathryn Jenkins and Michael Gambon.
Then we find him in the season proper, gathering his friends around him, being increasingly ridiculous and comedic – oh, and then shot dead. This confused a lot of the hard of thinking but it’s time travel, and this – it turns out – was a Doctor from the future. The “current” Doctor arrives unaware of his impending demise, and faces new monster the Silence, which makes you forget everything; River Song is back, there are some fake humans, the Tardis comes to life – and Amy turns out to be one of the fakes, actually taken prisoner some time ago. And pregnant.
This confused a number of people as well, but it’s really quite straightforward when you watch it. The real Amy duly returned by a series of alliances, we enter the second, even darker part of the series. We now know River Song’s identity and she joins us earlier in her timeline for a romp with Hitler (which subtly introduces the season’s overall resolution) and is then absent for a wonderful, chilly nightmare set in a doll’s house, an equally chilling hotel, an out-of-time embittered Amy straight out of the psychedelic sixties and then she’s back in the wonderful, wonderful wrap-up, just pausing to tip the hat to James Corden and the Cybermen. The opening sequence of the last episode is probably the most audacious ever, with dinosaurs, Churchill, Dickens…and a completely misplaced Doctor. Then in the last couple of scenes, quite wonderfully, the whole thing changes all over again and we’re left with scope for a back to basics approach for next year’s specials and then the anniversary stories when the programme turns 50 in 2013. I’m not telling you what happens but it rewards intensive watching and paying attention.
It’s not quite perfect. The stories were filmed out of sequence and you do wonder whether some of the writers knew what had happened in previous episodes. Karen Gillan is wonderful in her dual role in “The Girl Who Waited” but the character should have been more aware of what had gone previously between her and River Song – same with all the characters in “Night Terrors”. There’s a balance between having individual stories and an ongoing arc and these are false notes in what is otherwise a well-orchestrated ensemble of stories. Oh, and there’s a token dud – the one with the pirates, “The Curse of the Black Spot”, is a bit rubbish which is a pity, because Hugh Bonneville could have risen to a much better script. And in the Cybermen story it’s great to see the return of James Corden’s Craig and now his son – the Doctor speaking baby is hysterical – but the underlying story is just a bit, meh.
That’s picking holes, though. This season is less for the casual viewer and more for someone who wants to get fully engaged; there’s a load of time travel concepts to take in and digest in a very short time, and the programme won’t hang about for you. It’s not always clear immediately who’s real, who’s a replica, who's telling the truth. Most of the people I know who were confused, though, were adults; our eleven year old understood perfectly and was entranced by it.
So yes, this one divided the fans. Personally I thought it was brilliant and a magnificent segue into Matt Smith’s next episodes. He and the other regulars are superb all the way through – this DVD set would be an excellent Christmas present for anyone who likes good entertainment.
EXTRAS ★★★★★ The extras are superb as always, too many to list. For the last time, as it’s been cancelled, there is a cut down Doctor Who confidential to go with every episode, plus prequels which went out online for four of them, Comic Relief sketches and extra scenes which were cut, plus commentaries. What they’ll do when there’s no Confidential to fall back on I don’t know.