Or the one where the gangly, floppy-haired Matt Smith debuts. (Matt? I suppose it’s no worse than Tom.) Almost everyone is new, actually, with Steven Moffat taking over from Russell T. Davies as head writer and executive producer. I can’t blame them for wanting a change — four successful seasons plus a whole bunch of specials has got to be a lot of work. However, I’m still coming to terms with it all. Smith doesn’t create the same kind of fan passion for me that David Tennant did. Instead of being an “I can’t wait to watch the next episode” series, now it’s just one I merely enjoy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Good consistent entertainment should be appreciated.)
The feel of this series is rather different as a result of these changes, with domestic humor — the new Doctor isn’t sure what he likes to eat and so spits up various things in the first episode, “The Eleventh Hour” — and a bit more slap-dash ramshackle goofy professor feel. Also, if you think too hard about some of the episodes, they don’t really hang together as tightly in plot or logic as one might like. Instead, the high points are emotional. On the other hand, this series as a jumping-on place got my husband watching the show for the first time in three decades, so there is that. Plus, maybe the Doctor should be a bit more mad and alien in feel.
My favorite parts are the strongest female roles in the series yet, with both the feisty Scot Amy Pond (Karen Gillan — although she’s got a bit of wacky dream girl in the character makeup) and more significantly, River Song (Alex Kingston), a woman (not a girl) who knows more than this Doctor does, a futuristic female Bond with a stunning sense of humor and adventure first introduced in the last series. (In supporting characters, there’s future monarch Liz 10 in “The Beast Below”.) Song returns in “The Time of Angels”, as do the much-loved (because they’re so wonderfully creepy) Weeping Angels, which were created by Moffat in the third series episode “Blink”. Sadly, they aren’t nearly as cool as they were in their previous appearance, as their abilities and weaknesses have been revised.
Karen Gillan (Amy) and Matt Smith (The Doctor)
The Blu-ray set, physically, is impressive, a compact brick that opens to reveal six discs, each in their own plastic page, plus a fold-out episode listing. Five discs hold 2-3 episodes each, a total of 13, with an extra disc for Doctor Who Confidential. That has an additional 13 15-minute behind-the-scenes episodes, plus a whole set of trailers. Special features include
- Video commentaries for “The Eleventh Hour”, “Victory of the Daleks”, “The Time of Angels”, “The Vampires of Venice”, “Cold Blood”, and “The Big Bang”. That’s many of the best episodes this season covered — although I would have liked to have heard one on “Vincent and the Doctor” as well. The historical figure appearances are some of my favorite episodes of the modern series, and that one, with Vincent Van Gogh, was heart-breaking. (Plus, it guest-starred my fave Bill Nighy.) These “In-Vision Commentaries” feature various writers or staffers or the occasional actor talking picture-in-picture over the episodes.
- An additional scene for The Eleventh Hour called “Meanwhile in the TARDIS”, mostly banter and the characters getting to know each other, plus one for “Flesh and Stone” that’s very self-aware about having pretty girls as companions (with a brief historical survey).
- Video diaries on three of the discs. Nine minutes each show hand-held set footage interspersed with Smith or Gillan or Arthur Darvill (Rory) talking to the camera.
- A Monster File for the Daleks. That’s 10 minutes explaining the changes made (colour!) and their iconic status.
- A Monster File for the Weeping Angels, which does much the same thing for these new classics, showing how they create the statue costumes and effects. (This was my favorite extra.)
- Plus one each for the Silurians, the reptilian humanoids that attack the mining operations in “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”, and the Alliance (a conglomeration of all the Doctor’s enemies, from the final two Pandorica episodes).
- Out-takes, which are the usual blooper-y things and silliness for seven and a half minutes.
All the special features are also listed as present on the standard DVD set. Either way, this is the kind of set that has lots of bonus but not too much, no overkill, and it was nice navigating the simple menu organization without getting lost in too many options. It would be wonderful to dive into over a long weekend or days off during the holidays, rewatching all the episodes, especially appreciating the work and effects that went into them. (The studio provided a review copy.)