In 2010, Doctor Who was in a unique position. Its last series in 2008 had received record-high viewing figures, the merchandise was in every retail store in the UK and there was a huge amount of anticipation for the biggest changeover that the modern series had experienced to date. Not only did we have a new showrunner in ‘The Empty Child‘ and ‘Blink‘ scribe Steven Moffat, but also a new companion with Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), a new TARDIS, new sonic screwdriver, new title sequence and theme music, and most importantly, a new Doctor in Matt Smith.
It’s a miracle that Series 5 opener ‘The Eleventh Hour‘ is as good as it is, bursting with energy and vibrant new take on the Doctor Who mythos. Despite being stuck in the raggedy remains of David Tennant‘s costume, Matt Smith cements himself as the Eleventh (ish) Doctor in a performance so varied and off-beat that it became instantly iconic in its own right. Upon finally confronting the Atraxi, with his bow-tie and tweed jacket combo assembled, Matt Smith finally becomes the Doctor and we never really stop throughout the entire series, with ten exciting adventures in time and space.
Smith’s performance in his debut season is something very raw and interesting, that we don’t see as much of in his following two series. He seems to be taking more risks as an actor, making the character his own, adding his own little nuances and gags. There’s just something unique about Smith in series 5, with his messier hair, more subdued mannerisms and that lovely tweed jacket of his, which after ‘The Big Bang‘ disappears forevermore, replaced by a slightly less lovely version. His whole look changes in ‘A Christmas Carol‘, and while his performance feels perhaps more self-assured, to me, it doesn’t feel as varied as it does to begin with but, oh, bow-ties are still cool.
We also have the introduction of Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, long before going bald and blue for Guardians of the Galaxy. Gillan adds a fresh energy to the Doctor/companion dynamic, and it’s very noticeable how well she and Smith got along behind the scenes. Yes, there’s some issues I have with Amy Pond as a character (her flirtations with the Doctor occasionally feel a bit too much for a family show, especially with her fiancé back home), but ignoring these it’s easy to see why she became such a popular character. I’ve always found Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams to be an underrated Doctor Who companion, and I think that he’s one of the few companions to have a really drastic character arc over the course of the series. The Rory we see in ‘The Big Bang‘ is a far cry from the Rory we first met in ‘The Eleventh Hour‘, but regardless he still feels quintessentially like the Rory we know.
And, of course, we have River Song (played by Alex Kingston), who made her triumphant return in this series after her introduction/death in ‘Silence in the Library‘/’Forest of the Dead‘ last series. Personally, I think River’s a difficult character to really become invested in, partly as her “proper” introduction in next season’s ‘Let’s Kill Hitler‘ feels a bit too rushed for my liking (why didn’t she become the Eleventh Doctor’s new companion?). Kingston is always great though, and River in this series balances both a strong personality and the mystery box element very well. Her personal timeline is complicated but not convoluted yet, and Kingston’s on-screen chemistry with Matt Smith is so bewilderingly impressive that I’m almost convinced they auditioned together before she appeared in Series 4.
This series is also one of the best-looking in the show’s history (ED: It was the first in HD!), with a more naturalistic colour palette and some wonderful cinematography sprinkled throughout. Sure, it’s not shot with nice anamorphic lenses like the most recent seasons, but considering it’s ten years old, it looks staggering. Murray Gold‘s music is always a plus, introducing the iconic ‘I am the Doctor‘ motif that stayed with the show for years. It was the first Who soundtrack I ever pre-ordered but wasn’t my last.
What I think makes this series stand out is the quality of the writing. The scripts are funny and whimsical but never lose sight of the scares and human drama at the centre of the show. ‘Flesh and Stone‘ is genuinely creepy at points, whilst the emotions of ‘Vincent and the Doctor‘ hit harder this time watching than it did back in 2010. We also have the fun romp of ‘The Vampires of Venice‘ followed immediately by the ingenious ‘Amy’s Choice‘, which not only works as a lovely character drama but also as a brilliant sci-fi concept. Episodes like ‘The Beast Below‘ and ‘Victory of the Daleks‘ aren’t remembered too fondly but well worth a revisit, even if ‘Victory”s cliffhanger ending is never actually resolved in the series. What’s most brilliant of all though is how Steven Moffat managed to stick the landing with arguably the second-best series finale in the show’s history. Sure, ‘The Big Bang‘ is mostly just characters wandering around a museum trying to work out the plot, but Moffat never loses the sight of the characters and their journeys, and resolved the ongoing “cracks in time” story-arc in a really satisfying way. It’s just such a shame that the unresolved plot-threads never received such a satisfying conclusion.
I do think there’s a lot to be said about what happened over Moffat’s time on Doctor Who, the ups and downs, the good and bad, but Series 5 feels like the perfect combination of elements that just pull together in such a brilliant and entertaining way. There’s not a single episode I dislike in this series, and stories like ‘The Eleventh Hour‘, ‘Amy’s Choice‘, and ‘The Pandorica Opens‘/’The Big Bang‘ are some of my favourite Who episodes ever…’Vincent and the Doctor‘ is probably makes the list too.
Perhaps this is all just nostalgia though. 10 years ago, the world was a different place and I was ecstatic about being able to buy The Eleventh Doctor’s “Crash” action figure set (complete with “Raggedy” Doctor and Blue-bowtie Doctor figures) and the new sonic screwdriver with my Easter pocket money at Toys ‘R’ Us. How times have changed. I remember the excitement of seeing my favourite show rejuvenated (or rather, regenerated) for a new decade, of buying all these new toys, all the books and the DVDs. I remember watching the Eleventh Doctor team-up with Sarah Jane and Jo Grant (Jones) in The Sarah Jane Adventures, downloading and playing The Adventure Games from the official Doctor Who website, and the anticipation for ‘A Christmas Carol‘ later in the year.
2010 was a great time to be a young Doctor Who fan, and I can’t help but look back on Series 5 as a highlight in the show’s long history. I have so many fond memories associated with it, but I also can’t help but see why the show’s still captured my imagination back then. Revisiting Series 5 a decade on, I still think it’s a great selection of episodes, with some of the show’s finest writing. I don’t think Doctor Who ever quite captured me in the same way after this, but I hope that recent series have caught the attention of new Doctor Who fans. I hope that in another 10 years, a younger fan who adores Series 11 will be writing about how brilliant ‘Demons of the Punjab‘ is, and possibly even managing to finally persuade everyone that ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum‘ is really just a bit of fun.
Doctor Who has the power to appeal to all ages, and multiple generations of audiences, and I hope it continues to capture children’s imaginations for decades to come.