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Published on August 8th, 2010 | by Elton Townend Jones

Operation Platinum Age: The Final Word

Following the seemingly dark tensions of (the then latest episode) The Hungry Earth, I suggested the series had moved back on track, having fallen off after the Weeping Angels story.  I may have been too hasty.  While I would still choose the Silurian story over the preceding two, Cold Blood just didn’t deliver the goods, moving very slowly and sewing things up with little enthusiasm.  The saving grace, of course, was Rory’s shocking and sudden death scene, which was infinitely more moving than its dress rehearsal a fortnight before.

Another suggestion I made was that Chris Chibnall might actually be the ‘second-in command’ writer to Steven Moffat (as Moffat had been to RTD) but this lacklustre episode dissuaded me from that perhaps over-optimistic position.  More controversially, this was the week I lost patience with Amy Pond (see Whatever Happened to Amy Pond?), whose character suddenly seemed to grate with its knowing and implausible smart-ass cockiness.  If you want to see how a companion might really react to the possibility of having her guts opened up, I’d point you in the direction of Moffat’s own Sherlock, the second episode of which sees Watson’s date squirming with abject terror at the knowledge of her certain doom.

Until this point I was on the same side as Amy Pond the character, but when I also cottoned on to the fact that she’d been effectively missing for a month I began to feel cheated of what had promised to be a brilliant companion.  This would eventually change, but it mattered so much at the time because Amy seemed – rightly it turned out – to be the central mystery at the heart of the entire season.  Looking back, it seems the inclusion of Rory was a distraction, a stalling device that allowed the production team to put Amy on pause until she was next required.

‘Time can be written, re-written and unwritten, it seems, so how real is that future?  Perhaps only as real as the past it came from…’

Oh, and do you know what?  I was right about the future Rory and Amy waving at their past selves.  At the time, I wrote ‘Time can be written, re-written and unwritten, it seems, so how real is that future?  Perhaps only as real as the past it came from…’  Of course, I had no idea how this would play out, but it was clear that something was going on, and in a way it was an introduction to the concepts that would overshadow the season finale…

With Rory “gone”, the season reset to everything it had been for the first five weeks and consequently improved.  While I am in no doubt that Vincent and the Doctor will prove to be one of those overrated Doctor Who stories that people feel they should love to death (see Blink, The Shakespeare Code, The Empty Child, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Robots of Death – ‘How dare he!’) while guilty pleasures languish (Midnight, Love & Monsters, Nightmare of Eden, The Power of Kroll – ‘Has he gone mad?!’) there is no arguing that it was a rich and accomplished bit of television.  But even though Smith continued to delight and Tony Curran gave us an acutely sensitive Vincent, it was here that I began to doubt Karen Gillan as well as the character she was playing.  While we witnessed some wonderful character strokes from the pen of Richard Curtis, I know I was not alone in fearing that Gillan’s range of emotional responses was becoming repetitive.

Some fans have found it difficult to see Gillan criticised, but it is important to note that the critic’s role is not simply to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ a character/actor, but to examine a performance and evaluate the implementation of a craft from a professional and informed perspective.  To pre-empt any further discomfort for Amy/Gillan fans, I am happy to say that the final two-parter saw Gillan seriously up her game and prove her worth in the role.  Again, I would suggest that perhaps the problems (and their solutions) stemmed from the writing of the episodes.  Gillan’s performances were probably only ever going to be as good as the material she had to work with, but I think the jury’s still out on this.  It’s worth noting, however, that she was consistently well served by Moffat.

As a caveat (and to avoid further death threats) I should point out that Karen Gillan remains one of the most delightful people to grace the talking heads of Doctor Who Confidential, and even though I’d rather she and Rory had left at the end of the season, I look forward to seeing how she develops as both actor and character in 2011.  I think we’re probably in for a few surprises.


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About the Author


Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.

2 Responses to Operation Platinum Age: The Final Word

  1. “What I do know is that – in spite of some bumps in the road – this has been the most consistent and tonally coherent season of Doctor Who since about 1964. Whether or not it is ‘the best’ is a matter of personal opinion, but the perfect fusion of a wonderful Doctor, some cracking stories and an atmosphere entirely its own have shown us that Doctor Who is in very good hands.”

    That’s where I have to respectfully disagree. I agree that it’s up to the individual as to whether it was “the best”, and indeed I would never suggest the programme was “wrong” to do as it did given the audience reception was very strong. But to me, I found it decidedly the opposite of being “consistent and tonally coherent”.

    I agree Smith is a brilliant casting, nicely different to Tennant as Davison was to Baker, but the season itself felt very messy and uncertain.

    With RTD, while one can question their preference to his style, his strong editorial involvement meant it felt consistent. With this series, I didn’t feel Moffat barely at all aside from in his own stories – and even then I found little coherency.

    And then down to the characters.. the Doctor shrugs off the TARDIS in the attic.. surely a momumental discovery.. he seems to forget about the cracked TARDIS until its narratively relevant. His attack on the Daleks didn’t feel like a man who’d previously feared one so much he was banging at the doors to escape.. It didn’t feel that there was much consistency at all. And coherency? The rushed monster Alliance seemed to carry no real narrative relevance – a big jump for the audience to swallow with no justification and in the end, no bearing on the overall plot. Amy seemed to be swings and roundabouts in terms of character, losing her good start in the first two episodes.. it didn’t seem coherent at all. The Doctor jumping out the cake? Does that really work with his character? Does that have any rational motivation behind it aside being “quirky”? If he is as Moffat says, the same character in a different body, does that rather cruel scene jar?

    Smith is brilliant, and The Beast Below and Vincent and the Doctor are some of the most stunning Who episodes.. but while Smith and Rory made this season, and I commend Moffat for the three in the TARDIS.. overall, I think this was a wishy washy series 5.. I hope it finds the coherency and consistency I personally feel it was lacking for series 6.

  2. avatar 23skidoo says:

    Well, I’m on the reviewer’s side. I think Series 5 worked fine, and was coherent both in tone and in storytelling. And what made it brilliant was the fact a lot of stuff didn’t make sense until the end of the season AND it was made plain as day that there’s more stuff that won’t make sense till the end of NEXT season. People who have been conditioned into having self-contained storylines, or even seasons as was the case under RTD, might not care for it. I think it’s brilliant. Put another way, depending what happens in Season 6 I might well begin considering Season 5 and 6 as one 26-episode (or 27 including the Christmas special) season/arc. That’s the equivalent of 52-53 episodes of the original half-hour series. We’ve never seen that attempted before and there is potential here that we could be in the midst of the first Doctor Who telenovel. I just came off watching the 90-chapter telenovel called Farscape and lots of people just finished the telenovel called Lost. Yes, there’s plenty of risk in such a long-form format (Galactica and Lost both lost the plot at some point) but I think it’s an experiment worth attempting in Doctor Who.

    I don’t agree with the criticism levelled at Karen Gillan and Amy Pond. I think she’s been remarkable all the way through. The only time I felt otherwise was the “love a squaddie” line in Victory of the Daleks which sounded like a leftover from a Donna Noble episode. I also like the idea of having a second companion, simply because the show may work best with one, but it needs to change up the formula occasionally. Lots of fans consider the Doctor-Ian-Barbara-Susan team the best the show ever had. I side with Doctor-Sarah Jane-Harry, myself. And once again Moffat is doing something never attempted before by having a married couple as the companions. Not only will that shut up for a while the (frankly immature) fans who think the Doctor should be a monk, but it opens all new doors of storytelling possibilities. A little voice in my head is telling me, though, that it’s not going to end well.

    One additional note made by the reviewer is worth commenting on. I also find it sad that there seems to be disappointment that Matt Smith is BETTER than Tennant in many ways. A lot of that I think come from people who “only came to the party for the beer”, so to speak. Those of us who have been around for 20-30 years as fans accept that the Doctor changes and if the new Doctor is better than the one that came before, then that’s something to be appreciated with a sigh of relief. I wouldn’t have wanted to see Matt Smith declared a dud, or “worst Doctor ever”. The show must always improve. Same with Moffatt. I loved RTD’s era to bits (lots of people hated it, I know). I want Moffat to blow RTD out of the water, because if a show doesn’t improve, it dies. We saw that in the 80s. Whoever takes over from Moffat in 3-4 years I hope blows him out of the water. I hope whoever gets cast as the Twelfth Doctor leaves us all saying “Matt Who?” It’s all good.

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