Revisiting Doctor Who Series 5: Episodes 8-13 & The 2010 Christmas Special

The second half of Matt Smith’s first series…


Episodes 8 & 9: The Hungry Earth, Cold Blood

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in Wales in 2020, where Dr. Nasreen Chaudhry (Meera Syal) and Tony Mack (Robert Pugh) are drilling into the Earth for a mining experiment. However the drilling is not welcome by the colony of reptilian humanoids – the Silurians, woken from hibernation deep underground by the powerful drilling equipment…

An enjoyable two-parter, enlivened by a wonderful revival and reimagining of old favorites from the classic series: not completely retconned, rather a third racial group or subspecies distinct from the Third and Fifth Doctor’s Silurians and Sea Devils. This facilitates some superb prosthetics and also eliminates the need to reproduce the rather weird, psychadelic puffer-fish-mouthed, three-eyed originals. The new makeup enables the cast (including Neve McIntosh) to give engaging performance by exposing more human facial features.

The story itself is a classic clash of cultures, with those who wish to broker peace in conflict with those who believe the other species to be a threat. There isn’t much point in summarising the story in more detail, because it isn’t really all that interesting or original. It’s purpose seems to have been to reintroduce a classic monster – and I am more than willing to forgive it for that – but also to further the overall story arc of this series by exterminating poor Rory. Even worse, he is consumed by a crack in time, and having been erased from history, Amy’s memories of him rapidly fade (try explaining that to a six-year-old).

The Lad enjoyed it but was rather taken aback by the unexpected, tragic death of Rory at the story’s conclusion. The Lad was fond of him, a considerable achievement in so short a time which I credit to Arthur Darvill’s endearing performance.

Episode 10: Vincent and the Doctor

Amy has forgotten Rory entirely, thanks to his erasure from history, and all that is left is a kind of inexplicable sorrow. The Doctor has taken Amy to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, where they admire the work of the impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. The Doctor discovers a seemingly alien figure in a window of the painting The Church at Auvers, and decides they must travel back in time to speak to Vincent around when he painted the painting. In 1890, they find Vincent at a cafe in Arles, a lonely man with a bad reputation. Vincent opens up when he notices Amy, sensing a loss she herself is not aware of. Outside the cafe a young girl is murdered, and the trio embark on a search for the  savage entity prowling cobbled streets of Arles, the being which is also lurking in a nearby church…

This is an outstanding episode in many respects. Penned by Richard Curtis, with a sensitive uncreditded cameo by Bill Nighy as the art curator and an outstanding performance by Tony Curran as van Gough, the episode soars on the back of fine acting and excellent dialogue, often reaching heights of poignancy. There are also some pretty good special effects. It was nominated for the Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation in the 2010 Nebula Awards and the 2011 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), though it lost out.

It is fair to say that some of it was lost on the Lad, but the presence of a big monster saw him though it.

Episode 11: The Lodger

This episode is best described as a bit of fun. The TARDIS dematerialises with Amy still inside, leaving the Doctor stranded in present-day Colchester. He tracks the disturbance that caused the TARDIS to misbehave to the second floor of a flat, where passers-by have been persuaded to go up to but have never come down again. The Doctor rents part of the downstairs apartment occupied by Craig Owens (James Corden), who wishes to confess his love for his close friend Sophie (Daisy Haggard). While trying to solve the mystery which has stranded him, the Doctor tries to fit into everyday, normal human life as well as playing match-maker… and football.

What can I say? Sweet performances all round and some fine comic turns. Inconsequential but entertaining. The Lad loved watching the Doctor play footie.

Episodes 12 & 13: The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang

And so the Series 5 finale arrives. In the grip of despair and anxiety, van Gogh paints an ominous vision of the TARDIS exploding amongst the stars, a painting named The Pandorica Opens. The work is later rediscovered by Churchill and Bracewell, enters the art collection of the UK’s royal family, and is taken from the Starship UK in the 52nd Century by River Song with the blessing of Liz X. It is a warning to the Doctor, a warning which leads River to summon the Doctor and Amy to Roman Britain in 102 AD, where they find her posing as Cleopatra. River shows the Doctor the van Gogh and he realises the “Pandorica”, a fabled prison for the universe’s deadliest being, must be stored somewhere near the coordinates: Stonehenge.

What unfolds is a trap set by an Alliance of the Doctor’s deadliest enemies: Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, Terileptils (The Visitation), Slitheen (Aliens of London), Chelonians (1993 novel The Highest Science), Nestene (Spearhead from Space, Rose) and a legion of Roman Autons, Drahvin (Galaxy Four), Sycorax (The Christmas Invasion), Zygons (Terror of the Zygons), Atraxi (The Eleventh Hour), Draconians (Frontier in Space), and Haemo-Goths (which haven’t actually appeared in the series yet, although they make a cameo appearance in the novel The Forgotten Army). Also seen surrounding the Pandorica at the end are Judoon (Smith and Jones, The Stolen Earth), Hoix (Love & Monsters), Silurians (The Hungry Earth), Robo-forms (The Christmas Invasion), Uvodni (The Sarah Jane Adventures: Warriors of Kudlak), and Blowfish (Torchwood: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang). They have determined that the cracks in time are the consequence of an unknown act of the Doctor’s, and have resolved to prevent it by imprisoning him (see here for a useful summary of the Alliance’s scheme and it’s unfolding).

The problem is, it does not seem to be the Doctor’s act which triggers the disaster after all. Locked inside the Pandorica, the Doctor is unable to prevent the TARDIS from mysteriously exploding with River onboard, triggering the cataclysm. Caught in the eye of the storm, Earth is the last world remaining, its history rapidly collapsing all around it as all of time and space evaporates. As history fades away, the Doctor must work out how to undo the destruction before reality itself winks out of existence.

This two parter is not only exciting, but fiendishly clever, perhaps too clever, with a resolution that leaves a few holes (or at least loose ends which have yet to be tied up). The concept of races from diverse areas of time and space forming an Alliance to save the universe is an interesting one, and provides an opportunity to name-drop a few old favourites and obscure Classic-series monsters. Interestingly, the Daleks are so threatened by the approaching doom that they act somewhat against type in leading the Alliance, and some of the species involved are not strictly speaking enemies (such as the Draconians, and the “new” third branch of the Silurians), suggesting that foes and friends have been convinced to act in unison, even if some of them might have regretted it. The same question that I always ask when the Cybermen appear lately – are they parallel-Earth Cybermen or Mondasian Cybermen? – raises it’s head again, though I think they are Mondasian as the Pete’s World incursion into the Doctor’s universe has been eliminated (The Next Doctor).

The resolution itself relies on a clever use of way-out speculative physics – the concept of the universe as a hologram – combined with the fantastically advanced technology of the Pandorica itself. In essence, the Doctor uses it to “reboot” the universe. The TARDIS never exploded, the Alliance was never formed, Rory never died. Presumably the Dalek Invasion of Series 4 is restored and Amy now remembers it? I hope so. Unanswered questions remain – we still don’t know what made the TARDIS explode, for example, leading this story arc to extend over not just Series 5, but the next series as well. [Edit: Another question – why would an exploding TARDIS be so devastating in the first place? I get that there might be a rather large explosion, but TARDISes have been destroyed before, no doubt in their thousands during the Time War. Oh well…]

Despite its fiendish complexity, the two-parter is incredibly entertaining and well-written. Rory’s return in the form of a Roman Auton and his subsequent two-thousand years of duty as The Last Centurion is particularly welcome and reveals new dimensions of the character. And we get a wedding! The Lad loved it, though a lot of it went way over his head.

The two-parter was awarded the 2011 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), the fifth time Doctor Who has won the award, and the fourth time a Steven Moffat episode has won.

2010 Christmas Special: A Christmas Carol

This is the most unabashedly Christmassy of Christmas Specials, as Doctor Who finally succumbs to the temptation to do a riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Newly wedded companions Amy and Rory are trapped on a crashing space liner which has been caught in a strange cloud belt. They call the Doctor, who lands on the planet below and meets the miserly Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), a man who can control the cloud layer but refuses to help. The Doctor attempts to use time travel to alter Kazran’s past and make him a better man – the ghosts of past, present and future rolled into one Time Lord.

This episode was was nominated for the same Hugo Award as The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang. It is sweet and uplifting, and very sentimental – perfect Christmas fayre.


About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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