Greatest TV Seasons: Doctor Who Season Five / Thirty-One (2010)
What is the greatest season of your favourite TV series? And what makes it stand out from those seasons around it? Every fan will have their own opinion of what is great and what isn't and here at The Digital Fix, our team of writers are going to complete the possibly impossible task of selecting what season of their favourite shows makes the cut above all others.
We kick off with British cultural phenomenon Doctor Who, and 'Nu Who' in particular, given its enduring popularity following it's revival under Russell T Davies in 2005. But fear not, will venture back to the show once again and decide upon the best season of the classic era too.
The fifth series of Doctor Who saw a great deal of change - and trepidation with it - as fan favourite David Tennant has just departed as the Tenth Doctor; with him went Davies and virtually everyone involved in the show. The fifth series, which saw fan favourite writer Steven Moffat take over the helm, had the impossible task of taking over the juggernaut the show had become, complete with two virtual unknowns in Matt Smith and Karen Gillan.
There were many elements that make series five the best of the eleven-series run (plus specials) so far. Most notably was Matt Smith's 'old man in a young man's body persona.' While Doctor Who has always endured a change in leading man (and again with 'Nu Who'), David Tennant was a tough act to follow. Fortunately by the time we had witnessed the fish custard scene and he was proclaiming that 'bow ties are cool', all thoughts of Doctor Who number Ten were banished. Wit a slightly more alien, madman in a box vibe, Smith brought a fresh and exciting energy to the show. Karen Gillan's Amy Pond was a fierce companion to join him in the TARDIS, while Arthur Darvill brought an understated, endearing quality to the mix as recurring (and later series regular) Rory Williams. And finally, after a sensational debut in the Moffat-penned Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead' two-parter in Tennant's final series, Alex Kingston brought a world of energy of her own as River Song. This was a magical combination of characters that carried the show all the way through to series seven.
The other big success of Moffat's first run of Doctor Who is his ability to combine the series-long story arc employed by the Russell T Davies era and fuse it with the more complex, timey-wimey stylings of the new head writer. While there were many elements here not resolved by the time The Big Bang ended, the story arc - the cracks in time - are largely wrapped up in this thirteen-episode ru., culminating in a bold, rambuxious two-part finale that was never bettered in the show's history. The storytelling is much tighter than Moffat's later series and can be enjoyed in much the same way as the 'Bad Wolf' or 'Stolen planet' arcs of the earlier four series.
Tonally, there's also a stronger sense of 'Classic Who' in series five than the very modern, flashy episodes under Davies. The Silurians make their return in a slower, more measured story that has echoes of their original debut and Inferno from the Jon Pertwee era. The Beast Below calls back to The Ark in Space mixed with the wonder of Sylvester McCoy's run. It's still very much in the 21st century mode, but there's also a sense that Moffat is very drawn to the older classic stylings in his approach to storytelling, while dipping his toe into broader, less self-contained arcs that would dominate the rest of his tenure as show runner.
There is the argument that the magic of the Tenth Doctor and Donna's electric fourth series or the multi-episode storylines of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara are equally as strong, but what series five achieves is its ability to be the best of all worlds and deliver that sense of wonder that Doctor Who does best.
Here are the five best episodes of that run that perfectly capture the joy of series five...
5.01 The Eleventh Hour
Doctor debut stories are always something of a mixed back; more focused on the post-regeneration trauma and only really giving audiences their first glimpse of who the Doctor is by the time the story ends. The Eleventh Hour is something a little different and rather special. While that trauma is still there, Matt Smith shines from the very first scene, bonding with young Amelia "your Scottish, fry something!" and then racing through the very English village, solving a mystery, team up with the adult Amy Pond and saving the world in just twenty minutes. Moffat packs mystery, suspense, comedy and action into one fifty-minute episode, proving why he was absolutely the right man for the job and Smith erases all memories of Tennant. It's biggest crime, wasting the talented Olivia Coleman in a thankless guest role, something Moffat himself has cited as his biggest regret of Doctor Who.
5.04 The Time of Angels
How do you beat an episode like Blink? By going all Aliens on the Weeping Angels. While their debut story is still their best, Time of Angels is a superb follow-up that continues to apply plenty of scares and tension - how disturbing is The Ring-influenced sequence where it comes out of the screen? It also reintroduces River Song to the show and she sparks immediately with Smith's Doctor. It doesn't have quite as strong a follow-up, Flesh and Stone becoming consumed by the cracks in time and space mystery, but this opener is a thrilling, action-packed affair with a cracking cliff-hanger.
5.10 Vincent and the Doctor
Richard Curtis makes his one and only writing endeavour for Doctor Who, delivering a gourgeous, heart felt episode that sees the Doctor and Amy encounter Vincent Van Gogh (played superbly by Tony Curran). Vincent and the Doctor explores the subject of the artists' mental health, haunted not just by the very physical alien in a beautifully-realised nineteenth century France, but the his own demons. There is a melancholy tone to the episode - Amy coming to terms that Vincent will soon die unloved and penniless - making that final scene in the art gallery as the Doctor and Amy give Vincent a glimpse of just how loved his work will be, one of Doctor Who's most emotional scenes ever.
5.12 The Pandorica Opens
While some later Moffat stories could feel a little too clever or convoluted on occasion, his work on series five (and indeed the season six opening two-parter) represent dome of his best work on the show. The Pandorica Opens has all the flair of a Russell T Davies series ender with the added Moffat magic that made him such a beloved writer from the beginning of the show's revival in 2005. The mystery of the cracks in space and time build here, with Roman Britain wonderfully realised, River Song making a delightful entrance as Cleopatra, Rory makes a shocking return and the journey beneath Stonehenge offers plenty of gothic horror as the mystery unravels and the Doctor's greatest enemies close in. The cliff-hanger is amazing; Rory revealed as an Auton shooting Amy, the Doctor locked inside the Pandorica, River trapped in the exploding TARDIS and the Universe being wiped out - fortunately The Big Bang would more than deliver on the promise of this episode.
5.13 The Big Bang
Which brings us to the series five finale and one of the most accomplished finales in the show's history. It is immediately clear that Moffat takes the story in a completely different direction - modern day Earth existing in the light of the exploding TARDIS and a young Amy visiting a museum where the Pandorica is opened to reveal - Amy Pond! The race to change history and the flight from the Stone Dalek in the museum offers some thrilling stakes, not to mention the debut of the Doctor's love of Fezzes once again (McCoy did technically get their first). The Doctor travelling back through series five as he is wiped from history and his joyous return at the Pond's wedding ends series five on an absolute high, offering a satisfying conclusion to its thirteen-episode run.
Series Five's Greatest Moments
The Doctor tries fish fingers and custard and a new food craze is born (The Eleventh Hour)
The Doctor: You're not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard! And look at you... just sitting there.
The Doctor Introduces himself to the Atraxi, stepping through the montage of the previous ten Doctors (The Eleventh Hour)
The Doctor: Hello. I'm the Doctor. Basically. Run.
The 'good' Dalek confronts the Doctor with a cup and saucer (Victory of the Daleks)
Would you care for some tea?
River Song makes her timey-wimey entrance, throwing herself out of the airlock, leaving a message for the Doctor on an ancient stone tablet and arriving in the TARDIS in the kick of time. (The Time of Angels)
The Doctor: The writing - the graffiti - Old High Gallifreyan... the lost language of The Timelords. There were days, there were many days, these words could burn stars, and raise up empires, and topple gods.
Amy Pond: What does this say?
The Doctor: "Hello sweetie."
The Weeping Angel comes out of the TV screen - The Ring style (The Time of Angels)
The Doctor: That which holds the image of an Angel becomes itself an Angel.
Rory saves the Doctor's life, getting shot by Restac and absorbed by the crack in space and time. And thus the 'Rory keeps on dying' motif is born that will run through the rest of Arthur Darvill's tenure on the show (Cold Blood)
The curator (Bill Nighy) discusses the joy of Vincent Van Gogh's work as the artist looks upon his work in the gallery and weeps - as did the audience in this wonderful, bittersweet closing scene (Vincent and the Doctor)
The Doctor: Between you and me, in a hundred words, where do you think Van Gogh rates in the history of art?
Curator: Well... um... big question, but, to me Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular, great painter of all time. The most beloved, his command of colour most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world, no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange, wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world's greatest artist, but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.
The dissembled Cyberman attacks Amy under Stone Henge, making the enemy scary once more (The Pandorica Opens)
The Doctor is trapped in the Pandorica, Amy is killed by Auton-Rory, River is trapped inside the exploding TARDIS and the Universe is destroyed. Quite simply one of the best cliff-hangers in the history of Nu Who (The Pandorica Opens)
The Doctor: [desperately, almost in tears] Total event collapse - every sun will supernova at every moment in history! The whole Universe will never have existed. *Please* listen to me!
Cyber Leader: Seal the Pandorica.
The Doctor: [pleadingly] No! Please listen to me! The TARDIS is exploding right now and I'm the only one who can stop it!
In present day Earth, a young Amelia Pond visits a museum, hides until closing, opens the Pandorica and finds an older Amy Pond inside, throwing every audience expectation out of the window!
Okay kid, this is where it gets complicated.
Series five was the perfect fusion of the Russell T Davies' era that made Doctor Who a massive success for modern audiences, mixed with Steven Moffat's ability to write great drama and deliver imaginative sci-fi elements that showed - at least at this stage - how to write great time travel stories. And with the magic of Matt Smith, Karen Gillian, Arthur Darvill (and on occasion Alex Kingston), the best modern TARDIS team was born...
What are your thoughts on Doctor Who series five? Is it the best of the modern era? What are your choices? Let us know in the comments below...