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Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // November 9, 2010
List Price: $89.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted November 27, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Young boy: Have you met monsters before?
The Doctor: Yeah.
Young boy: Are you scared of them?
The Doctor: No. They're scared of me.
A new Doctor, a new companion, a new head writer, and even a new TARDIS interior... it's time for fans of the Doctor to get their geek on with Doctor Who:  The Complete Fifth Season from BBC America.  This is a great set of shows that takes all of the best aspects of the Russell T. Davies years but leaves out all of the silly parts (there are no aliens with chronic flatulence in this season!).  This year's worth of programs also tells one larger story, while also taking time to focus on more intimate tales.  In a nut shell, this is the best so far.
Young Amelia Pond has a crack in the wall of her bedroom.  Though her aunt tells her it's an ordinary crack, she knows it isn't because she can hear voices coming from it at night.  One evening while she's home all alone she prays to Santa Clause to "send someone to fix it or a policeman..." when she interrupted by a crash in her back yard.  Looking out she sees a blue object on its side with the words "Police Box" stenciled around the top.  She runs out just as the newly regenerated Doctor (Matt Smith) climbs out, soaking wet.  (He was thrown into the library, but so was the pool.)  She tells him about the crack, correctly assuming that he's someone who could help, and he eventually takes a look.  He discovers that it's a place where two pieces of time and space that were never supposed to meet are touching, and it's not just in her wall; it's running through all of creation.   
It's easy enough to seal up, which he does.  He offers to take Amelia along with him, but first he needs to check out the TARDIS and makes a quick test drive, promising to be back in 5 minutes.  Amelia packs her suitcase and goes out to await The Doctor's return.
When the TARDIS reappears The Doctor runs into Amelia's house only to discover that Amelia, now Amy, is all grown up.  While the TARDIS was away on its 5-minute shakedown cruise 12 years had passed on Earth.  What's worse is that before he could seal up the crack all those years ago "Prisoner Zero" had used it to escape into Amelia's house where it has been hiding ever since.  Prisoner Zero's keepers have arrived however, and will burn the entire planet to a cinder unless the villain gives himself up in 20 minutes, something that he has no intention of doing.
Afterwards the Doctor take the newly reconstructed TARDIS on a quick trip to the moon, and pops back to pick up Amy once again, only to discover that another two years have passed.  Amy reluctantly agrees to go with the last Time Lord, as long as he can get her back by tomorrow morning because there's something she has to do... get married.
It usually takes me an adventure or two, a few episodes at a minimum, with a new Doctor before I start to line him.  With Matt Smith I was won over in about 15 minutes.  He has the humor of Tom Baker (before he got silly at the latter part of his run), the seriousness of Christopher Eccleston, and a manner that's all his own.  He reminds me of John Constantine from the Allan Moore run on Swamp Thing (high praise from the unreformed comic nerd).  He never seems really worried, no matter how dire the situation, and realizes that every problem has a solution.  A good example is in The Time of the Angels when he has this conversation slightly abbreviated) when cornered by a monster intent on killing him and all the people with him: 
Evil creature: You're trapped, sir... and about to die.
The Doctor: Yeah, trapped. And you know what, speaking of traps, this trap has got a great big mistake in it. A great big whopping mistake!
Evil creature: What mistake, sir?
The Doctor: Oh, big, big mistake. Really huge. Didn't anyone ever tell you? There's one thing you never put in a trap. If you're smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap.
Evil creature: And what would that be, sir?
The Doctor: Me.
The new head writer, Steven Moffat (the guy who was responsible for the best episodes from earlier season including The Doctor Dances and the modern classic Blink) had the season plotted out from the beginning and did a great job of keeping the larger story going in the midst of a string of stand alone episodes.  There are some really interesting clues about the origin of the crack sprinkled through the season that keeps viewer interest up. 
There are several stand-out stories in this season.  The two-part return of the Silurians was well done and successfully adapted the classic villains to the 21st Century, and The Lodger was a fun look at The Doctor in a more domestic setting.  The best single episode would have to be Vincent and The Doctor however where the duo meets Vincent Van Gogh and finds the talented but tortured artist battling failure and depression but still having a wonderful connection to the universe. 
From start to finish this was a fun season that passed way too quickly. 
The DVD:

This is the first full season of Doctor Who to be filmed and released in HD, and I was a bit disappointed that it was only average in appearance for a Blu-ray disc.  While the VC-1 encoded 1080i image (like the earlier release of the previous year's specials... I'm not sure why they're not in 1080p) did look good overall, there are some flaws that take it out of the top-tier as far as PQ goes.  The level of detail is nice, and the colors are strong and vibrant (which really enhances some episodes, especially Vincent and the Doctor where they time travelers meet Van Gogh,) but the image was marred by some hard to miss aliasing every now and again, especially when someone was wearing a tightly stripped shirt or chain mail.  There was also a little banding, but nothing too significant.  The CGI monsters didn't really meld with the background in a convincing way, but that's not really a fault of the transfer.  Still, it's not a bad Blu-ray image, just not a stellar one.
The show comes with a DTS HD audio track that suited the show well.  There is a lot of aural action in the show; the TARDIS taking off, various battles with monsters, etc., and those sequences were engulfing and forceful.  There's a good amount of subwoofer action in some of the more dynamic scenes too.  The dialog was crisp and clear and well placed in the soundstage.   Overall I was very happy with the why this set sounded.
There's a good compliment of bonus features included with this season set, but there are also a few problems.  First off is a pair of Meanwhile in the TARDIS additional scenes.  These are cute little bits with The Doctor and Amy just chatting between adventures.  I really enjoyed these and wish they'd made more.  They're presented after the credits roll, but you can access them from the extras menu on the disc where they appear too. 
Next up are four Monster Files, a quick look at some of the monsters that appear on the show (the Daleks, the Weeping Angels, the Silurians, and the Alliance).  There are six In-Vision Commentaries, a P-in-P commentary track with various members of the cast and crew (but not Matt Smith, unfortunately) give their thoughts on the episode.  I enjoyed the comments quite a bit, but the P-in-P aspect was just annoying.  Also, why are there only six?  Other season had commentaries on every episode and that's what I was really expecting.  That knocks the rating down a notch. 
Since I'm complaining, I should cover the video diaries.  This is a three-part look behind the scenes with Matt Smith and Karen Gillan shooting stuff with a camera.  *yawn*.  I'll be happy when the whole video diary trend fades away.
The bonuses that I always have mixed feelings about are the installments of Doctor Who Confidential, and this season is no different.  I really enjoy these documentaries on the making of each episode, but they are cut down significantly.  Originally half an hour each, when they appear on DVD they're condensed to about half of that.  I had always heard that it was because of music rights, but after 5 years you'd think they'd stop using music that they couldn't get the video rights for.  What is there is great, but I wish I could see the whole, uncut, episodes.
The set is wrapped up with a series of trailers for the show (a lot of them), out takes, and  a couple of minor deleted scenes.   
Final Thoughts:
This is my favorite season of Doctor Who, new or old.  Matt Smith takes the role and runs with it and is a great Doctor.  Steven Moffat does an amazing job as head writer (and pens many of the shows in this season himself) and instills a sense of wonder throughout this season that makes it just a heck of a lot of fun.  My only complaint is that the extras aren't quite as hefty as they could be, but there's still enough bonus material there to give this season a DVDTalk Collectors Series rating. 

Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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