You know when you?re eating a bag of Maltesers, and there?s always that dodgy one where you bite into it expecting the satisfying crunch of biscuit, but all you get is a disappointing chewy mess that you inevitably spit out? That?s what this season of Doctor Who has been like for me. There?s still the sweet chocolaty taste of both new and classic Who, but it?s lacking the delicious, biscuity core of intelligence and depth that I?d expect from one of the BBC?s greatest institutions.
When Matt Smith was announced as the Eleventh Doctor, I, like many people, was dubious. After four years David Tennant was the Doctor, and I think a lot of people had forgotten that anyone else had ever been the Doctor. How then could this baby-faced, floppy-haired young unknown possibly play the role of a 900-year-old time travelling genius with a penchant for finding trouble and saving the world with nothing but a screwdriver?
For once I was glad to be proved wrong, because Matt Smith has probably been the best thing about this series. From the moment he appeared on screen in ?The Eleventh Hour?, I immediately thought ?He?s the Doctor?. He?s quirky, eccentric, and really comes across as an old head on young shoulders. On a few occasions he veers a little too closely to Tennant?s brash cockiness, and he?s about as graceful in the physical scenes as a Cyberman in a nightclub, but as the series has progressed he?s really developed his own style of bumbling eccentricity. Watch some of the snappy dialogue in ?Vampires in Venice? or social awkwardness in ?The Lodger? to see Matt Smith?s Eleventh Doctor at his babbling best.
Then there?s the new assistant Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan. She begins the series as a kind of feisty, independent heroine in the vein of Rose or Donna, but gradually falls into the same damsel-in-distress role as Martha; she?s more than happy to get herself into trouble, but when she does, all she can do is pout and huff and wait for the Doctor to rescue her. Despite her implied importance, she?s so far not seemed as vital as Rose or Donna did, and it?s not a good sign when she can sit an episode out without the feeling that she?s really missed. See ?The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone? and ?Vincent and the Doctor? to see Amy at her bravest and most genuinely vulnerable.
So, what about the writing and production? I didn?t expect to be saying this, but as we reach the end of Moffat?s first run as executive producer, I?m actually missing some of Russell T. Davies? flair. I?ve not really felt blown away by anything I?ve seen so far; perhaps it?s an executive decision to drop the grandeur for something a little lower-key, but I can?t help feeling that it?s lost a little bit of spark for it.
The worst part for me, however, is the handling of the series story arc. One thing that Russell T. Davies did well was foreshadowing; he was good at dropping smaller hints into the series that would suddenly become relevant when we hit the season finale. With series 5, the ?crack in time? has been so heavily signposted that it may as well have come with captions ? ?DON?T FORGET THIS, IT?S IMPORTANT?. With all the cleverness of Steven Moffat at the helm, so far all the writers have managed to do is spoon-feed the plot to us. The Pandorica will open. The TARDIS will blow up. Time will be rewritten. I?m hoping that they throw a big surprise in right at the end, but I?m not really holding my breath.
Overall, I?d rather watch these episodes than anything with Martha Jones in it, but I?m sad that the production team have so obviously aimed the show exclusively at a younger audience. The new TARDIS and sonic screwdriver redesigns look like they were specifically made to sell toys, and I may never stop complaining about the Dalek Power Rangers. Having said that, my personal lows, ?Victory of the Daleks? and ?The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood? were offset by the very good ?Vampires in Venice?, ?The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone? and ?The Lodger?, and Matt Smith has been a genuinely pleasant surprise as the Doctor.
I?m really not sure what to expect from the season finale this weekend, but whatever happens, I?d say the Smith/Moffat combination will be firmly set for at least another series, if not more. I just hope that season 6 will have some stronger characters, a little more grandeur and a lot more depth. And possibly a nice nougaty centre.
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