Doctor Who’s fifth series: Better or worse than the Tennant era?

There’s a thing that exists when buying big value items. It’s called buyer’s remorse. When you sink a lot of money into a high-value item like a car or a house, but end up wondering if you made the best decision.

How does buyer’s remorse tie in to Doctor Who? Well, opinionated bloggers like myself are desperately trying to pin down Matt Smith’s Doctor, to make a proclaimation whether he’s better or worse than Tennant’s. And while we’re at it, the much-heralded leadership of Steven Moffat is under the microscope as well. How is he shaping up compared to Russell T Davies?

Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, declared on Saturday that Doctor Who’s new era isn’t quite new enough. She feels that Moffat is trying too hard to give us the same style of episode that Davies did, but that it’s not working out well:

“The Beast Below” leaves you feeling as though Moffat’s not quite playing to his strengths here — he’s convinced he can’t do an entire season of stories like “The Empty Child,” “Blink” or “Silence In The Library,” so instead he’s trying to do some lighter, Davies-style episodes.

My biggest gripe with Moffat is that he’s leaning too much on past glories. Perhaps a wee bit too aware of his own part in making the revived series great. Yes, we know some of the triumphs of Series 1-4 were written by the Moff, but The Doctor rhyming off some of Moff’s favourite dialogue from his own writing detracted from the episode, and the frequent callbacks to his own creations – overt and otherwise – even the neural relay concept from [[Silence In The Library (Doctor Who episode)|Silence In The Library]] got re-factored in the Angels using a dead man’s voice to communicate.

With great hype comes greater disappointment

Expectations for this “new era” have been impossibly high. The greatest writer of the revived series steps into the showrunner’s shoes. A new Doctor, a controversial boy of a Doctor, but a bold choice that I personally opted to support because hey, Moffat knows where he’s going with this, right?

Thing is, after a fantastic introduction to our new companion, we’ve had no more of that wonderful initial discovery. Somewhere in a bedroom in Leadworth, there’s an obsessive secret of her own that Amy Pond is hiding. Whatever happened to that? Moffat himself harped on about how “the story of Doctor Who is really the story of the companion”. But we still don’t know a whole lot about that companion.

Four episodes in and I like Amy Pond, but I feel curiously detached about her.

Of course, it was utterly unrealistic to expect every episode of the Moffat era to be a Blink or The Empty Child. But shit, throw us a bone or something. [[The Eleventh Hour (Doctor Who episode)|The Eleventh Hour]] was such a promising start. The following two episodes left me lukewarm, and [[The Time Of Angels (Doctor Who episode)|The Time Of Angels]] was about 7/10 for me.

Being premature

I want to point out that other reviewers are tripping over themselves to declare everything MoffWho a success. Famously, the Telegraph journalist Michael Deacon was one of the first to crown Matt Smith with the “better than Tennant” crown. Rounding on Tennant’s acting, he made some valid criticisms:

His Doctor Who, though, I often found unbearable. All that mugging and gasping and gaping. All that sub-Frankie-Howerd squawking and groaning. All that try-hard eccentricity. He was 34 when he started as the Doctor, and 38 when he finished – yet he played it as though the Time Lord were a 12-year-old boy. But Tennant doesn’t look anything like a 12-year-old boy. He looks like Harry Potter’s camp uncle.

But to write off David Tennant’s four-year contribution to Doctor Who after four episodes from Matt Smith? No, it all seems a bit premature. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Smith, but it’s too early to tell where all this is going.

Remaining on the fence until episode 13

Overall feeling at the moment? Lukewarm. Series 5 of Doctor Who is neither a raging success or a total disaster. Yet.

I’m still surviving on hope. Hope that Steven Moffat is laying out a very subtle narrative with us. Hope that there are treasures ahead that will redeem the few weaker episodes. Noticing that Gallifrey-boy is a little pussy-whipped at the moment? Amy solving mysteries for him and River Song leaving calls for him across time and space like an overly demanding wife? Hoping that he regains some modicum of authority again.

I think when you regenerate the series as radically as Steven Moffat has, you need to give the viewer an opportunity to reconnect with the newness of it all. There’s been a crucial missed opportunity in episodes 2 and 3 particularly to give us more of a look around the TARDIS, or to give us more of an insight into Amy’s past.

As reviewers and fans of this particular show, we’ll forever be passing judgement. But at my most rational, I say we have to judge each episode on its own merits until the entire picture presents itself. That’s not going to happen until the end of the thirteenth episode.

So, from this point forward, I’m going to be holding off making grandiose proclamations about the series until about half-an-hour after episode 13 ends. Each episode on its own merit from here until 13. OK?

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23 Comments

  1. Rosie-Lee

    As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one, because it is just too early to say whether it is going to be better or worse.

    Matt Smith has steel in those rectangular features, I’ll be bound.  So when he does come down on the next enemy like a ton of bricks, he will probably curl his lip and snarl.    Whereas David Tennant had that doe-eyed look which became rather sinister when the Doc was being serious and cold.

    I like Matt Smith so far, and I hope he continues to make the part his own.  It takes a while to get into these things and wear a new pair of shoes until you find comfort.

    Just one quibble from last Saturday:  why would a futuristic platoon of clerical marines be wearing desert warfare gear from the noughties?  Didn’t anyone see Aliens? 

     

  2. Rob Irwin

    Not to be rude, but it’s borderline laughable to try and draw ANY comparisons at this point in time. Tennant lasted 5 years. Had tons of stories, involving tons of writers, directors and producers. We have a seen a very well rounded Doctor there. And it was easy to get into Tennant after a season or two because Eccleston had only lasted a season and, for a lot of new fans (I’m not one of them but I can still make this observation), there wasn’t much for Tennant to compete with. Even at the end of Matt Smith’s first season, I don’t think comparisons will be very fair, but they can start to me made. After only four episodes, however, no. Making comparisons now is like seeing a car drive by and trying to compare it in every way to the car you’ve just driven for the last five years, namely: impossible.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I don’t think you’re being rude at all, Rob. Thanks for joining and sharing your opinion, by the way.

      I do believe it’s too soon to be making grandiose statements about whose Who is the best, but mind if I ask – what’s your opinion of the series so far?

  3. Rob Irwin

    I’ve written a lot on my blog thus far, but I don’t believe in promoting myself on other people’s blogs so I wont post the link. Suffice to say, I thought 1 was good (but as a debute story VERY good), 2 and 3 were ropey and 4 was VERY good.

  4. kristacanton

    I agree with Rob Irwin.  Personally, when i first decided David Tennant’s doctor was my favourite was two seasons in.

    So far, I think Matt Smith is very good and could easily catch up to David Tennant in my mind (a momentous task!)

  5. pirho

    Is there some sort of bad blood between Moffat and Davies?  Was there something behind the change in head writer and why Moffat seems to be go out of his way to get away from Davies story lines?

  6. kaz

    i started watching doctor who when i was ten (first time we bought a tv). i’m 44 now, and i’ve seen all of the doctors. jon pertwee had me hooked with the shower seen, tom baker had me hooked when he was skipping with harry sullivan, sadly peter davidson had me in his last episode, when he was trying to save peri. colin baker; NO, no, never, i stopped watching during his time as the doctor. it wasn’t just him, it was the stories i didn’t like. sylverster;no, don’t count the so call 8th doctor. christopher;no. david had me at this is my fighting hand. and no matt smith, hasn’t got me yet either; it’s just i don’t like his character much, he seems weaker, he makes mistakes, dumber than davids character. you always had the feeling, he would find a way out. matts character, i don’t trust so much. but it’s more than that, the stories are weak, they have no depth to them. they seem to be catering for 8 year olds rather than adults. but still i will keep watching until the end of the series, just to see if matt will click with me. 

  7. Jeffrey Scott

    When is the best time to really appreciate the Doctor? Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have till it’s gone. Currently I’m still debating about Matt Smith, but that’s a good thing. Gives me something to look forward to each episode. What will I like? What will I hate?  Time will tell I guess.

    But that’s not the first time I’ve had this feeling. Just after Eccleston regenerated into Tennent I remember thinking, “He looks goofy, I’m not going to like him.” Turns out he’s one of my favourite Doctors.

    Another example might be Colin Baker. Arguably the worst Doctor ever. But watching his episodes now, and hearing interviews with him I realize he was hardly at fault. Colin Baker had such a love for the Doctor he wanted to play him longer than Tom Baker did. Unfortunately he arrived at a time when Dr.Who was on the decline, and the writing was awful. Many people hated how he began his tenure, but that was all part of a plan. His Doctor was to mellow out during his tenure. As chaotic as he began, he was (or wanted to) end with a much loved Doctor. But he did get the raw end of the deal. When he was asked to come back for a regeneration scene when Sylvester McCoy became the Doctor and he declined I was so upset with him. Only alter did I realize why he refused to come back and I applauded his decision to do so. Thank goodness for Big Finish.

    Sorry, my line of reasoning got away with me there didn’t it? I guess my point is, it’s so hard during the first series of a new Doctor to pinpoint whether he’s good or not. Probably best to decide after he’s gone, in reflection.

  8. pirho

    I have to disagree with you on that, I thought Colin Bakers story lines were far superior to Peter Davidsons.  From the first Episode after the regeneration we were presented with what appeared to be a psychotic Doctor. One who went after his own companion no less.  And what of the Trial of a Time Lord episodes?  They were fantastic!  But lets materialize in the present day now, I agree Matt needs more time, if they let him.  You can not compare him to the like of Tennant.  A closer parallel would be comparing him to Paul McGann.

    1. Gerard McGarry

      I can’t comment on the pre-2005 Doctors, that’s Jeffrey’s domain.

      On the modern Doctors, I have to say that since series five has begun, I’ve only seen a handful of David Tennant episodes and was shocked at the amount of yelling and running compared with this series’ more thoughtful, quirky, fallible Doctor. There’s less of the striding forth purposefully and more spinning on his heel to take a second look at something. There are moments of that, like where Matt stood on the rock at Stonehenge and yelled an ultimatum at the aliens. It was unconvincing – and impossible to understand – but it evoked the Tenth Doctor. Seems out of place with Matt.

      And I’ve been saying this for a year, but I need to dig out that old 1995 Doctor Who movie…

      You ready for tonight’s finale, Pirho?

    2. Jeffrey Scott

      Personally, I wasn’t saying he WAS the worst Doctor. I’m just saying so many other people have said he was. As I mentioned, going back over his stories, I have loved every one. That being said, I’m still more partial to Peter Davison’s episodes. But that’s what’s neat about Dr.Who, so many people can have so many different favourites for different reasons. I have a brother-in-law who just now became a fan, and went back and watched everything from Eccleston. He says he likes Matt Smith more than any of them.

  9. pirho

    After coming off of a cliffhanger like last week, to hand us something as god awful as the Big Bang, Moffat should be fired. By the way, if anyone is interested, River is the Rani.

    1. jefft

      Godawful?

      Totally disagree with you there. RTD would probably not approve of the paradoxical way in which the Doctor kept hopping back and forth over his own timeline, (but it never stopped him allowing the same in ‘Fathers Day’ in series 1)

      Matt Smith’s doctor has worked out after all. It was a bit shaky in the early part of the series be we both got used to it.

      I personally can’t get away with Amy : she’s got this weird habit of fidgeting while she has nothing to say then overacting her bit when she gets a line. But I’m really glad we get to keep Rory.

       

      Part of comparing MS with DT surely must come down to comparing the stories they were given. (Its actually nice to have a series where we didn’t have to have a sexual agenda added to every episode. Of any kind, thank you. In fact the most jarring moments have always been Amy’s out-of-the-blue advances on the Doctor.)

      RTD started small and then just kept ramping things up, until he ran out of bigger threats.

      Rose is in trouble. Her family is in trouble. The city is in trouble. Britain is in trouble. The world. The galaxy. The whole of Time and Space itself!!! All realities EVER , ANYWHERE!!!!!

      And breathe…

      All that said, RTD is an extremely talented writer. I totally enjoyed his work and respect his editorial accumen.

      But I’m glad SM has managed to pull back from that brink for the new series. It remains to be seen whether he did a reset on the whole universe: do we know whether people NOW remember the Cyberking over London, or being attacked by Daleks? It seems likely that he’ll want to have a universe in which most people on Earth don’t know what a Dalek is, so that they’ll have a chance to have it explained by the Doctor while they run down a tunnel somewhere.

      Where was I ?

      River is the Rani? It seems the word Rani has materialised about once a month since 2006. That would be daft in dozens of ways. I might (just) buy Romana, but the River character clearly loves the Doctor, and I dont see how that ties in with Rani-ness.

      I did wonder how the River at the end of the episode knew that ‘everything changes’, but I assume she’s from further in the future again, but obviously before the DT episode.

       

       

       

       

  10. Rob Irwin

    River is so NOT the Rani. Get a grip, dude. The Rani was created by Pip and Jane baker in the 80s. Moffat’s River Song character is an all-new creation and I sorely doubt he’s going to tie one of his own beloved creations to a very poorly received 80s enemy from the worst period in the show’s history. I mean, jeez, just THINK about it for five seconds before deciding that’s who she is.

    1. Jeffrey Scott

      Personally I think the idea would be cool, and would provide a solid reason for why the Doctor would be horrified to find out who “or what” River is.

  11. Rob Irwin

    … the Doctor knows the Rani well from their days on Gallifrey, in addition to

    On top of that, Time Lords have some interesting and unique ways of ‘sensing’ each other, as has been shown in various ways over the years.

    I just find it hard to believe River Song could be so heavily “cloaked” from the Doctor.

     

  12. pirho

    What gets me is the way Moffat seems to carelessly have him cross his own time line.  If you remember the Peter Davison episode Mawdryn Undead, the brigadier met an earlier incarnation of himself and when he touch him, there was a huge release of energy.  When in the Big Bang, the Doctor touches himself and nothing happens.  Although it could be argued that the amount of energy is directionally proportional to the difference in the time line.  (since the brigadier was from a much earlier time line than Matt smiths version was).  Thoughts?

  13. Jeffrey Scott

    Don’t forget that Rose Tyler was warned about touching her “baby” self, and yet Amy touched her much younger self. A plot hole I’m fine to overlook if I just chalk it up to the universe already in jeopardy, so what worse could go wrong? LOL

  14. pirho

    When Colin Baker was playing the Doctor, he mentioned that he is a 900 year old Time Lord, bye the time Sylvester McCoy came around he was over a 1000, now Matt Smith is back to being only 900?  Is he getting younger as he gets older?

  15. pirho

    In Revelation of the Daleks the Sixth Doctor said that he was “a 900-year-old Time Lord”, and in Time and the Rani, the Seventh Doctor’s age was 953, the same as villainous Time Lady the Rani (in both serials, the Doctor’s age is stated in dialogue). In Remembrance of the Daleks the Seventh Doctor said that he had “900 years’ experience” rewiring alien equipment. At the beginning of the 1996 television movie, the Seventh Doctor was shown to have a 900-year diary in his TARDIS.

     

    Thanks to Wikipedia for info

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