Wow, that season went by fast. There were only 13 episodes of this new shiny doctor to start with, and with three two-parters the season really only had 10 stories in it. The problem though wasn’t that the season was short, but that it felt rushed. There just didn’t seem time to introduce the new doctor, new companion(s), new TARDIS, new Big Bad (to coin a Buffy-ism) and all of the relationships between them.
Warnings – this review will likely be a little more spoilery than usual, I really recommend not reading on until you’ve watched the final episode. Also, I’ve no idea how to number the season, so I’m going with 2010.
The good news though is that I quickly came to love the new Doctor. I thought the David Tennant Doctor (Ten) was wonderful and really wasn’t sure that this obnoxiously young Eleven could be anything other than a step down. But by the end of the second episode, Ten was a part of history. I criticised Eleven in the first episode for being ‘David Tennant Lite’, but it was actually a very clever plan to gradually ease him in, smoothing the transition between the two contrasting doctors. Ten was all sadness and anger – sadness at losing his people, sadness at losing Rose, sadness at losing Donna’s memories, sadness at losing the Master and anger at the universe that let that happen. Eleven seems like a puppy in comparison – all curiosity bouncing from one thing to the next, trying to keep out of trouble and have some fun. His speeches aren’t about threatening his enemies, they’re about scaring them away – “remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then… do the smart thing, let someone else try first”. Over and over through the season the stories aren’t about destroying the evil badguy, but about trying to make peace and bring people together – the silurians and the humans, the hopeless couple in the Lodger, even Van Gogh and his sanity. It feels youthful and energetic and maybe a little naive but not sad, angry or dangerous. While Ten needed a companion to keep him ‘human’, Eleven just wants a playmate, and he conveniently found one that came with a puzzle attached.
While I quickly came to love the new Doctor, I struggled a lot more with Amy. I adored her backstory, that she was the girl who waited, the idea of the Doctor was her imaginary friend who everyone told her didn’t exist. The way that idea was brought round full circle in the final episode was very cleverly played. I liked her shouty bluntness, her spirit, her fearlessness. I could have done without the directors’ overuse of wide eyed close ups and the costume department’s overuse of shameless short skirts, but even that just made me roll my eyes a bit. I also loved Rory, not quite sure what to make of the Doctor , but so hopelessly in love with Amy that he’d follow her everywhere.
The problem came in the weird triangle set up between the the Doctor, Amy and Rory. She starts off being about to marry Rory, throws herself at another man, realises she really loves Rory when he dies and commits to him when he comes back. Then Rory dies a second time and she forgets him, then he comes back yet again, she remembers him and then she dies, before 2000 years later they finally work it all out. All in 13 episodes, and Rory barely appears in the first 5.
Maybe if there’d just been a couple more episodes between each twist and turn it wouldn’t have felt so rushed, but as it was Amy just came across a bit fickle. I honestly thought that she was possessed the first time she threw herself at the Doctor, it seemed to come so out of nowhere. There’s a really beautiful love story in the idea of “the girl who waited” and “the boy who waited” except for the massive flaw in that she was waiting for another man. There are some heartbreaking moments in the relationship, wonderfully scripted and acted – Amy’s realisation that she doesn’t want to live in a reality without Rory, Rory casually committing to wait 2000 years for her, Amy crying happily but not knowing why. With a little more time to breath between each twist, time to fully appreciate the relationship at each stage, each of the twists and turns would have had a much greater impact.
The rest of the stories ranged a bit in quality, often a superb episode was let down by one small element. The Van Gogh episode was beautiful… except for the invisible chicken, the Lodger episode was a lot of fun except for the ridiculous ‘TARDIS in the attic’ mechanism. I was pretty bored by the Silurian episodes, but maybe that was because I don’t remember the Silurians from the first time round. The Weeping Angles were very cool although I was mentally troubled by “if someone never existed, surely the people they killed shouldn’t be dead?” paradoxes. The development of the River Sun character was really interesting, tying this Doctor into a wider storyline and completely befuddling him in the process.
I’m looking forward to next season. Given that my biggest problem with this season was the flip-flopping relationship between Amy and Rory and that is resolved at the end of the season, I think they can move forwards. I’d commented at the start of the season that I wanted to see a different style of companion and a married couple would certainly fit the bill. I think now the characters and the production team are ‘settled’ and have worked out the initial kinks, they’re going to do something spectacular together.