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Wednesday, August 18, 2010


The Matt Smith era of DOCTOR WHO has begun in earnest, complete with new logo, so let's get down to it!

When photos of then-upcoming eleventh Doctor Matt Smith began hitting the Internet, there was much speculation as to whether he would be any good. That speculation was based solely upon his look in the part and I have to admit that I was one of those early nay-sayers. The guy sported appalling "hipster" hair, facially resembled the result of a matter transporter mishap involving Daryl Hall and Neil Patrick Harris and, worst of all, looked like he would have been right at home fronting an emo band named "The Dour Huguenots." In other words, he looked like The Doctor as re-interpreted for the Jonas Brothers generation.

Matt Smith: the eleventh Doctor, or some emo puss?

But DOCTOR WHO has often been more than what it looks like and I would have done well to remember that oft-proven fact. It turns out that Smith is indeed a very good fit and it will be interesting to see how he makes the character his own over the next few years, hopefully losing that verbal delivery that sounds like equal parts David Tennant and Patrick Troughton. DOCTOR WHO is only as strong as the actor playing the title character, and I think Smith bears watching.

And so, on to the episodes!

Series Five-Episode 1: The Eleventh Hour

Landing the damaged TARDIS in a Leadworth garden in 1996, the still-regenerating Doctor meets young Amelia Pond (Caitlin Blackwood), a little Scottish girl whose room houses a strange crack in time/space that simply should not be (and is also the connecting thread for this entire series). After giving the phenomenon a quick once-over and hearing an ominous voice state that "Prisoner Zero has escaped," the Doctor heads back to the TARDIS to sort out its issues (it's regenerating as well) and promises Amelia that he will return in five minutes (which, when taking the TARDIS' time-traveling capabilities into account, can be stretched to however long the Doctor needs to affect repairs). Once the TARDIS is sorted, the Doctor does indeed return, but it's twelve years later and cute little ginger Amelia has grown up into very cute ginger nineteen-year-old Amy (Karen Gillan), now a costumed kiss-o-gram girl.

The Doctor and Amy Pond (in a sexy policewoman outfit).

Over the twelve years between her last sighting of the Doctor, Amy was shunted from psychiatrist to psychiatrist, eventually being tarred as somewhat mentally ill for her insistence that "the raggedy Doctor" was not a figment of her imagination, and she is not exactly pleased to see him again. But that gripe is put aside when the Doctor points out a non-existent room in Amy's house that has provided the aforementioned Prisoner Zero with a refuge for the past fourteen years. Needless to say, the shit hits the fan, involving Prisoner Zero, an alien race called the Atraxi, Amy's childhood friends Rory (Arthur Darvill) and Jeff, and the Doctor once more having to bail the Earth out of total destruction at the hands (?) of alien mega-weaponry. When all is said and done the Doctor promises to be right back, intending to take the TARDIS on a short trip to the moon to make sure it's in proper working order, but he once more overshoots his arrival time and ends up in Amy's garden two years after leaving. An overjoyed Amy is glad to see him again and accepts the Doctor's offer to travel with him, yet stipulating that she be back by the next morning. What Amy does not tell the Doctor is that she's due to marry Rory the next day... (Hey, a lot can happen in two years.)

Series Five-Episode 2: The Beast Below

In the 33rd century, after man has left the Earth to avoid the solar flare that will torch the planet — an event mentioned several times in previous DOCTOR WHO stories, I believe going back as far as 1975's classic "The Ark in Space" (which if you ask me was shamelessly ripped-off for ALIEN, which was released over four years later) — the Doctor and Amy find themselves aboard Starship UK, a huge spacecraft incorporating the entirety of the United Kingdom (and Northern Ireland).

Starship UK.

Once there, they find themselves unraveling the mystery of why the moving spaceship seems to produce no engine vibrations and why anyone inquiring into the ship's history has their memory erased. Once revealed, the ship's secret does not paint the human race in the best light and the Doctor is faced with what appears to be a major no-win situation...

A very good installment with several surprises (well, surprises for folks who aren't lifelong geeks, anyway), this story is notable for the introduction of Queen Elizabeth X, played by Sophie Okonedo, whom you may recognize from the movie of AEON FLUX; she was the operative with those disturbing hand-feet. Oh, and she was also nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in HOTEL RWANDA.

"I'm the bloody queen, mate. Basically, I rule." And how!

Known informally as Liz Ten, she's the coolest thing to happen to the Monarchy since who knows when and I would looooove to see a lot more of her. (Doubtful, since she's stuck in deep space ruling the dispossessed United Kingdom, but there you go.)

Series Five-Episode 3: Victory of the Daleks

The Doctor is called to London during the Blitz by none other than old acquaintance Winston Churchill (Ian McNiece) and is horrified to discover Daleks — and their attendant lethal tech — being created for deploy as "ironsides" soldiers in the trenches of WWII. The Doctor tries and fails to convince Churchill of the evil that is literally staring him in the face, and why does Amy not recognize Daleks when she sees them? The Daleks attacked the Earth in "Doomsday" and "The Stolen Earth"during the early 2000's and as a resident of the planet, Amy could not possibly have missed them, so what's up with that?

Everything's better with the inclusion of Winston Churchill!

From this confusion emerges the new Dalek Paradigm, a larger and presumably more ominous re-design of the classic DOCTOR WHO nemesis that, to me, looks far less appealing than what came before and now bears an aspect waaaaay too close to toys (which I'm betting is no coincidence). Nonetheless, this episode's tons of fun and Ian McNiece's Churchill warrants return engagements.

Series Five-Episode 4: The Time of Angels (Part 1 of 2)

In a story that smacks a tad of ALIENS, we are re-introduced to both the mysterious River Song (Alex Kingston) and the horrifying Weeping Angels from the exceptional Series Three episode "Blink." Involving a search through a downed spacecraft for what is believed to be a single Weeping Angel, the characters soon discover there's more going on than they imagined and that they are royally, utterly screwed. This time around, we get a bit more info on the Weeping Angels and their bizarre capabilities, including the fact that anything that captures the image of an Angel becomes an Angel. Therefore, it is a very bad idea to capture one on videotape, which Amy finds out the hard way as she watches a tape supplied by River Song.

The Weeping Angel tape: definitely not a Netflix recommendation.

And exactly why is River helping out a pack of military clerics under the command of Father Octavian, who seems to have encountered the Doctor before?

River Song (Alex Kingston) is back, and I totally welcome her return.

Series Five-Episode 5: Flesh and Stone (Part 2 of 2)

Things go from bad to worse as the retrieval force gets whittled down one by one, and that pesky fissure in time/space drops in. What more need be said about a cosmic phenomenon that puts the frighteners on the Weeping Angels?

I was afraid that bringing back the Weeping Angels would cheapen their impact, but that was definitely not the case here. This two-parter is certainly no "Blink," but equalling or besting that story would have been virtually impossible, so be thankful that this was as good as it is. Also worth mentioning is the ongoing fun and mystery of River Song. Just who the hell is this woman and exactly how does she fit into the Doctor's life? What minute details we glean this time around give us more than enough to ensure continued interest and that's just fine with me.


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