Friday, December 3, 2010

Film Yap: Doctor Who Series Five

“Amy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me cause it’s important and one day your life may depend on it: I am definitely a mad man with a box.”

For all the newbies, Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi show in the history of television. It has been a staple of British television since the 1960s. For a brief period it was off the air and it was brought back in 2005 with a reboot that was still faithful to the previous continuity.

It is the story of The Doctor, an alien who is the last of his species. Even with the TARDIS, a time machine, at his disposal, the rest of the Time Lords are gone. So he has spent the past 900+ years traveling through space and time saving worlds by using intellect over violence.

In Series Five, everything feels new. Russell T. Davies, the man who rejuvenated the show, retired and passed the reins to Steven Moffat. Moffat is already a legend fo his sitcom Coupling (Highly recommended for fans of How I Met Your Mother) and the miniseries Jekyll (I’ll go ahead and say this is the only fresh take on the material.) Moffat had written a few Doctor Who episodes during the Davies era that handled the material in a new way. His storylines were fresher, wittier, and instantly iconic. His episode “Blink,” starring a young Carey Mulligan, serves as a stunning hour of television and The Doctor is barely in it! (It’s on Netflix Instant. Watch it immediately. The Weeping Angels are a magnificent horror creation.)

Now Series Five has begun with a new showrunner, new TARDIS, new sonic screwdriver and most importantly, a new Doctor. Time Lords have a nifty part of their biology where when they die they regenerate into a new body (i.e. actor). They retain all memories and core values. They just have new elements to their personalities, just like when a new actor plays James Bond. David Tennant was brilliant as the Tenth Doctor but Matt Smith powerfully made the character his own. Tennant was more of a gallant knight, while Smith is a crazy Sherlock Holmes.

All of the wonder and possibility of the show is exemplified in the premiere episode, “The Eleventh Hour.” Despite just being regenerated, The Doctor has twenty minutes to save the planet from being incinerated. It’s mixed with hilarious moments, innovated structure, and scenes that put the biggest smile on your face.

It also introduces Amy Pond (Karen Gillian), the companion for The Doctor. She is feisty and sweet and easily the best companion the show has ever created. She’s a well-rounded female character, who is not just constantly kidnapped or used as a romantic interested. She is along for the ride due to her love for adventure and she is running from something that will happen the day she ever returns.

While each episode is a stand-alone story (or two-parter), Moffat also ingeniously structured the season around the mysterious cracks placed throughout the universe. Also there is the threat that “The Pandorica will open and the silence will fall.” Instead of just teasing all season saving it for the finale, everything is more involved throughout the run with great success. There is one twist that is so clever that it reminds you there are still ways to surprise audiences with time travel stories. (Only clue: Pay very close attention to his jacket throughout the season.)

There is a joy in storytelling in these thirteen hours that isn’t seen in many other TV shows. It’s not just love towards the mythology or its history, but stories in general. They can make you laugh, make you afraid, excited, inspired, elated, and curious. They tackle some weighty issues like loneliness and death with respect towards all ages who watch Who. Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually) penned an episode called “Vincent and the Doctor” where they met Van Gogh. They have to fight an alien only the suffering artist can see. (What a wonderful metaphor for depression.) Amy tries desperately to bring light into his life so he won’t follow through on his suicide years later. It culminates in a beautiful fashion, equipped with a monologue by Bill Nighy that is so profound and is not seen in other family shows. It just shows this is something special.

The extras on the DVD share more of that joy as the actors giddily record video diaries around the sets. There are commentaries that show the excitement in their work. Bonus scenes, outtakes, and mini-documentaries fill the rest of the discs. It is also worth noting that the show looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-Ray.

This series excels on every caliber. At the end, after the most complicated time travel story told this side of Primer, it sets up the next season with more exciting possibilities. This is why I love television right now.

Season: 5 Yaps

Extras: 4.5 Yaps

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