Doctor Who: Series 5 Volume 3 (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros review yet another "one step above vanilla" New-Who disc...
After taking a trip to Venice, where they tackled vampires, the Doctor (Matt Smith), Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her fiancée Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill), find themselves battling an adversary in their dreams and an old foe of the Doctor's who is seeking to reclaim Earth...
Amy and Rory have seemingly stopped travelling with the Doctor and five years have now passed—they are back in their hometown of Upper Leadworth and Amy is heavily pregnant with Rory's child. This is one of two realities that the pair of them are flitting between, with the sound of birdsong being the key to the pair traversing between the two. The other reality has Rory and Amy back on board a powerless TARDIS which is drifting towards a cold star that will spell their certain demise.
The premise of the line blurring between dreams and reality is a well-worn one, providing many science-fiction shows with a wealth of ’what if?’ possibilities— Star Trek used this device quite often, be it dreams, coma-induced hallucinations or holodeck simulations—but Amy's Choice appears to try something a little different by the use of a Faustian character, who tries to show Amy what her future could be with Rory; seemingly idyllic and happy, but ultimately the village of Upper Leadworth is just as dangerous and as fraught with peril as travelling with the Doctor, and certainly as deadly as plunging toward a cold star in an incapacitated TARDIS, as Upper Leadworth has been invaded by a race known as the Eknodine, who are disguising themselves as pensioners who turn out to be as deadly as the average octogenarian behind the wheel of a car. Soon Amy and Rory begin to feel old age creeping up on them, but in this case it's even more deadly than the passage of time.
The Dream Lord, as portrayed by acclaimed actor Toby Jones, is an interesting character in that he is essentially a dark version of the Doctor. This concept was tried in the original series during the Trial of a Time Lord season with the Valeyard, a character who turned out to be an evil version of the Doctor, somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations (it was originally intended to be his final incarnation, but it was watered-down by John Nathan-Turner). Some fans have creatively linked the two characters, as they share certain similarities, but they are most certainly two separate entities.
The Dream Lord also appears to the Doctor himself, taunting him over his own insecurities—this is clearly an attempt to psychoanalyse the character and allow the viewer to understand his motivations and his fears; over the years in Doctor Who, this has been addressed, but mainly through actions than blatant analysis (The Doctor presiding over genocide with his "have I the right?" speech in Genesis of the Daleks being the best example).
It was a smart move to have Rory as a member of the TARDIS crew, as he allows the audience to identify with him more than Amy, who by this time had become at ease with the concept of travelling to different times and places, along with coming face-to-face with extra-terrestrial adversaries. This trick was tried back in series one of New-Who with Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley), but the motivation of that character was greed and ultimately proved to be his downfall; here, Rory seems to be the New-Who equivalent of Tegan, bringing a sense of the fallible into the TARDIS and is protective of his bride-to-be, Amy.
The Hungry Earth
After waking up from the land of dreams, the TARDIS crew materialise in the year 2020 in the Welsh mining town of Cwmtaff, where a subterranean drilling team is making an attempt to drill deeper than anyone else in Earth's history (excluding, of course, Professor Stahlman), but in doing so, the team—led by Dr Nasreen Chaudhry—has awakened an old adversary of the Doctor, a race that has been lying dormant, and one that is not impressed with apes encroaching upon their territory and some factions within that race will stop at nothing to see the human race extinct and the Silurians ruling the Earth once again.
During all of this, people are being sucked into the ground, and eventually it is not just the people associated with the drilling and the surrounding area that are affected by these disappearances—the Doctor sees Amy dragged beneath the surface and suddenly, he is even more determined to get to the bottom of things.
It is interesting to note that this story was written by Chris Chibnnall, who has principally worked as a writer on Torchwood; the more adult-orientated approach to Torchwood appears to have rubbed off on this script, as it seems darker and more interesting in than many other stories in this series. Certainly, the big drive behind this story was to take greater inspiration from the novelisation of Doctor Who and the Silurians (which was rather generically known as Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters), which featured—as was always the case with Mac's novelisations—a more fleshed-out storyline. The novel struck a chord with several people on the production team and when the time came to bring back the Silurians, it was fitting that Mac's work be used as a basis for certain elements.
Previously in New-Who, attempts at creating drama and tugging at heartstrings have come across as either heavy-handed or crassly manipulative, but the sequence that sees Amy dragged underground in a manner that almost seems as though she is drowning is astonishingly well-executed; the look of desperation in Amy's eyes and the horror in the Doctor's is quite possibly one of the best moments in New-Who's entire run. The sequence is superbly acted, not to mention well-shot and edited and should serve as a textbook example of how to create drama without seeming like a soap opera.
Following straight on, the Doctor and Nasreen find themselves in the heart of the Silurian civilisation, where they soon captured and discover that all of the missing people—including Amy—are being experimented upon by Silurian doctor Malokeh. It emerges that things are not exactly harmonious within the Silurian community, with factions each having their own idea over what to do with the humans, both captured and all the others living on the surface of the planet.
One of the best aspects of this story was that two characters opt to remain below the surface—one of them for health reasons and the other because of love. It might sound mawkish, but it works because it seems to reach into Star Trek territory of wanting to understand and create a sense of harmony between the human race and another species.
The whole subplot about the killing of Alaya, the female Silurian warrior, was pretty much the only serious misstep in this two-part story; this aspect just seemed like a contrived way of generating a bit of conflict in order to not make the truce between the humans and the Silurians go as smoothly as it would otherwise have done. Having Alaya killed in the heat of the moment by a mother who is worried about her child (taken by the Silurians) is fairly trite, but one has to ask oneself if such a situation happened in real-life, would the mother want to kill possibly the only connection to getting her son back? We didn't think so, either.
We also don't really like the new Silurians—okay, so something needed to be done to update them for the 21st century, but almost completely chucking out the original designs and starting from scratch is almost an insult to the original series. The mentality that seemed to dominate the design was ’let's make it so the warrior can be a hot chick!’, or some such crap. The Silurians aren't supposed to be quite so human-looking, because the human race evolved from apes (or if you're religious, they were made by magic) and the Silurians were reptilian in origin. The masks they briefly wear are a transparent attempt to placate original Who fans by making them look a little more like they're supposed to - it didn't work with us.
This Silurian two-parter has deeply divided fans (but then again, with such a rabid fan-base as Doctor Who, opinion on pretty much every story is polarised)—there are some who happen to love this story, with its grand scope and wonderful production design, but there are also others who loathe the redesigned Silurians and hate the fact that a major character dies at the end of the story. We happen to fall into the former, but with one or two reservations...
On the plus side, it was nice to see Stephen Moore return to science-fiction as one of the elder Silurians. Moore's distinctive tones helped make former Doctor Who script editor Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy the smash it became and having Moore in this story is a cool nod to both Douglas Adams and British sci-fi in general.
Another one of the numerous thing in this story’s favour is the production values are lovely, as it has a feature-film look and feel to it; the design of the Silurian world is almost breath-taking, possibly the most staggeringly beautiful environment that New-Who has produced to date—it manages to convince the audience that this is a totally alien environment, but also a relatively functional one, too.
As with the previous releases in this series, the image quality is pretty impressive, with some surprising levels of detail and professional polish to the look. Colours are pretty vivid at times and the black levels are reasonably good. All-in-all, there is little to complain about with the image on this SD copy.
The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio sounds fine, with the odd spot effect and music spread out now and again, plus a few interesting thumps from the low frequencies to add a bit of spice. It's about all you can really expect from a 2.0 mix.
2Entertain continue their trend for series five discs by including one of the Monster Files as an extra. This one centres on the Silurians and looks at their original incarnations through to the Matt Smith two-part story. Though these ‘Monster Files’ are just short featurettes all too obviously culled from footage from Doctor Who Confidential, they’re not that bad, just the visual equivalent of a meringue—created by hot air and not having much substance to them.
The three episodes here are generally of a higher calibre than previous ones in this series. The Silurian story is great fun and has production values that would almost pass for a feature film if the two episodes were edited together. Amy's Choice was a welcome change-of-pace to a series that was becoming overly reliant upon monsters as the primary means of generating tension.
Smith and Gillan are great as usual—with Darvill proving to be a great ‘everyman’ for the audience to identify with—but the icing on the cake is provided by one or two surprising guest stars that add welcome gravitas to the stories. Doctor Who: Series 5 Volume Three is far and away the most satisfying volume in this series so far.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 2nd August 2010
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: The Monster Files
Easter Egg: No
Director: Catherine Morshead, Ashley Way
Cast: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Meera Syal, Stephen Moore, Toby Jones
Length: 0 minutes
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