A quick recap of the past many decades: Doctor Who has been around forever but the Doctor is not immortal. For argument’s sake, his soul regenerates into new bodies, and that’s not only how they get around the James Bond effect of having new actors every now and again, it’s also how they tell remarkable stories. Even though this review is for Series 6, starring Matt Smith, it behooves us to speak briefly about Series 5, when the Doctor first donned the bow-tie. And as you will soon find out, bow ties are cool. So, this is how it’s going to work, I’m going to write this review with some fan service for us in the now and you in the future, but other than that I’m going to write this for you right as you are now -- a watcher of television who saw the sheer amount of Doctor Who content available and decided that it’s too much of a commitment, even though on some level you know it’s what you want to be knee deep in even though you also don’t quite get the appeal of trashcan super villains. Don’t worry, that’s to come.
Series 5 introduces a new executive producer and writer in Steven Moffat, and a charming if not disarming Doctor in actor Matt Smith. Episode 1 might take you a few attempts to get through, but go with it. The end sets you up for the kind of adventure that you will soon enjoy in 13 wonderfully diverse episodes. In them, you will meet the following who’s who of Doctor Who: The Doctor, his human companion Amelia (Amy) Pond, and her tag-a-log boyfriend Rory Williams. He’s also a nurse. See what they did there? They’re so clever. Yes, fans, I know, soon his “tag-a-log” adjective will be defunct and he’ll be known as “the last Centurion” -- but we’re not there yet. Spoilers. Speaking of River Song, she’s introduced here too and will play an important role in Series 6.
Series 6 begins with a bang, or rather 5 ends with one, but 6 starts big with the team’s first exploration into America. The production value has increased dramatically and the story is there to match. After the introductory episodes that set up the rails of the season’s overarching story, we begin the standard Doctor Who pattern. We get several mostly standalone episodes that always challenge something remarkable while the world or the galaxy or bubble galaxy is in danger, interspersed with bits and pieces that will make you both laugh and cry. Sounds pretty great, but then you’ll get an episode that leaves a little to be desired...until you realize that it’s going to be a two-parter and it gets better! Without delving into each episode individually, this is what I can tell you: Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, who play Amy Pond and Rory Williams, take their characters to new depths, the sets and scope of the show exceed in making every episode a vastly unique experience, there is a turn-of-the-century lesbian lizard samurai that you’ll love, and a terrible “silver rat” you’ll hate. There’s even an episode written by Neil Gaiman where the soul of the Doctor’s ship, the TARDIS, is transferred into the body of a disheveled but beautiful woman in a ball gown. And not only does it work, it’s brilliant. And I’m not British, so the fact that I’m willing to say anything is “brilliant” is really me going out on a limb for this show. As much as it is a treat to get an episode of Gaiman doing Who, the episodes written by Moffat and his core team are where the series truly thrives. The show will not only take you to the ends of various Earths but to the edges of the silly and the desperate that border that dangerous place that’s heartfelt but never sappy.
Another thing to address is the use of the “sonic screwdriver.” This is the Doctor’s equivalent to a Swiss Army knife. It’s a little stick with a light bulb that’s a tricorder and phaser and any other tool you’ve ever seen in science fiction all at once and with no explanation. This speaks to the simplicity of the show and the mutual respect between the people making it and the fans watching it -- a relationship that is very much acknowledged in an honest way that is never obnoxiously fourth-wall bashing. In regards to the screwdriver, we, the audience, want a fun and compelling story; it doesn’t really matter what fake technology gets us there. This device can tell us if the air is breathable or fix an elevator or disarm a Cyberman. It does everything because it doesn’t really matter if the Doctor has a utility belt with specialized gizmos. He’s not Batman, he’s the Doctor. He’s simple in his complexity and with that quality comes a degree of magic that urges you to “just go with it.” If you can suspend your disbelief long enough to accept a light-bulb stick saving the day, then, and perhaps only then, you can fully immerse yourself into 13 of the best science-fiction adventures all together in one season.
Much like the TARDIS, this set is bigger on the inside. Across six discs you get: a Christmas special starring Michael Gambon in an inspiring reinterpretation of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. There is also an hour-long making-of that covers every aspect you’d want, including all the behind-the-scenes footage that some features shy away from, such as getting to watch the director direct. I’ve seen a lot of special features and that is rare.
As for the regular episodes, some get a prequel that is about a minute or two in length. There is also a 15-minute making-of called Doctor Who Confidential for all 13 regular season episodes. Not only is this fantastic, the content varies for each, so you’re not always just filling in the form with new information. It’s an all-encompassing experience that gives you a strong insight into the teams that work to create Doctor Who. These are all extremely well produced, with a graphics package and everything . TV on DVD sets have a thing to learn from this outing by the BBC.
That’s not all! There’s also a set of four mini-eps, each of which receives the Doctor Who Confidential treatment. These are short stories that help color in the blank spots of the characters -- namely by answering the question, “What happens at night for these people?” Lastly, there are a few featurettes that explore Doctor Who creatures and provide an in-depth look at everything from how they’re fabricated to their back story.
This series introduced me to a show I never thought I’d get into, but I’m glad I did. So yeah, hunker down, get through episode 1 of series 5, then fly through the rest and you’ll watch season 6 in the course of a few days. Then you can go back in time and see where it all started, only now armed with the knowledge of the future. It’s fun.
Length: 585 min.
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Release Date: 11/22/11
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Directed by: Toby Haynes, Jeremy Webb, Richard Clark, Julian Simpson, Peter Hoar, Richard Senior, Nick Hurran, Steve Hughes
Produced by: Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, Beth Willis
Written by: Steven Moffat, Steve Thompson, Neil Gaiman, Matthew Graham, Mark Gatiss, Tom MacRae, Toby Whithouse, Gareth Roberts