And so, with this release, The Eleventh Doctor’s first season comes to an end, with four episodes that showcase the underlying flexibility and strength of the show and prove that there really is life after David Tennant.
First up is Richard Curtis’ Vincent And The Doctor. Taking his cue from his filmmaking hero, Robert Altman, Vincent And The Doctor (even the title is a nod to Altman’s 1988 Van Gogh movie, Vincent & Theo) finds Curtis penning a blues-y, heartfelt and character-led tribute to the tragic Dutch painter that acts as a perfect antidote to the old-school, sci-fi melodrama of the preceding Silurian two-parter.
Beautifully directed by Johnny Campbell (who also shot the equally sumptuous Vampires Of Venice) and making use of some fantastic Croatian locations that ably stand in for 19th century Provence, Vincent And The Doctor is both a visual and dramatic triumph that’s anchored by subtle work from series regulars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and topped off with a fine performance from Tony Curran, who delivers one of the revived series’ most memorable characters in the form of the haunted and mercurial Van Gogh.
Following on from Vincent And The Doctor, and employing a tonal shift that only Doctor Who could possibly get away with, we have Gareth Roberts’ The Lodger. Loosely based on his 2006 comic strip of the same name, The Lodger is essentially ‘Doctor Who-does flat-share comedy’ with an added ‘alien murderer at the top of the stairs’ plot thrown in for good measure.
Now plunging the Doctor into a world of Sunday league football, unrequited love and lazy nights in front of the telly could have been awful, but it’s testament to Gareth Roberts’ skill as a writer that he manages to make this (clearly budget saving) episode a really strong piece of work that manages to be both touching, funny and downright creepy.
However, the real success of the episode lies in the casting of James Corden as Craig. Having Corden play the straight man to Matt Smith’s far more alien interpretation of the Doctor turns out to be incredibly effective, as it allows Smith to ramp up the Time Lord’s eccentricities to a level unseen since the latter days of Tom Baker’s reign, while still giving the audience a very clear and familiar anchor.
Minor nitpicks aside (yes, the ending of the episode is a little rushed and the alien plot dispatched a little too neatly), The Lodger stands as both Gareth Roberts’ strongest contribution to the show so far and (alongside Amy’s Choice) the best lower budgeted episode since the show’s return.
In comparison, the two-part season finale, The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang, is Doctor Who at its most expansive, imaginative and downright entertaining. From a River Song-centric pre-credits sequence that spans roughly 5000 years to the explosive denouement of Big Bang 2 it’s a story that isn’t frightened to think big and, thanks to episodes like The Lodger, spend the budget.
But as the ever-inflating spectacle of some of the previous finales has shown, bigger doesn’t always equal better, especially if the scripting on offer isn’t razor sharp. Luckily, Steven Moffat delivers two of his most entertaining and perfectly balanced scripts to date and, aided by some stylish direction from Toby Haynes, superb effects from both The Mill and Millenium FX and a batch of well-judged performances from Smith, Gillan and the returning Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston, manages to conjure up the most coherent, consistent and satisfying finale since Series One back in 2005.
Deftly weaving together all the narrative strands of the previous 11 episodes, Moffat manages to resolve the season-long ‘cracks in time’ story arc, set up a whole new raft of mysteries for the 2011 series and still find time to give us a fairytale happy ending that takes the TARDIS crew off into new adventures just in time for Christmas.
Sadly, as with all New Who DVD releases outside of the series boxsets, the extras on offer are pretty threadbare and on this occasion all we get is a 10 minute ‘Monster Files’ mini-documentary that takes a look at the alliance of classic Who foes that band together to threaten the Doctor in The Pandorica Opens.
As a short puff piece aimed at casual viewers, the documentary is perfectly entertaining. However, if you’re a fan, most of the material here has generally already been covered in more detail on the relevant editions of Doctor Who Confidential.
Episodes:Discs: Doctor Who Series 5 Volume 4 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.