Despite being linked by a regeneration, and Smith wearing Tennant’s costume for most of his first episode, the shift between series 4 (well, the specials) and series 5 feels like one of the strongest breaks in the series’ history, as stark as classic series to TVM. New Doctor, new TARDIS (inside and out), new theme tune arrangement, new titles.
Most of that is fine, though I’m finding the copper kettle TARDIS set hard to get a grip on. I don’t know what it is about it, but it doesn’t feel as familiar and homely as the previous design. It feels kinda disparate and there’s nothing to really focus on as you look at it, as the console gets lost amongst the rest. I like the two level aspect though, affording easy access to the “guts” of the console underneath.
Series 5 is pretty solid over all. I wouldn’t say there’s many truly fantastic episodes - Amy’s Choice is by far my favourite and it’s a shame Nye hasn’t come back for another story - but plenty of perfectly good ones and only three bad ones: The Lodger works only by over-exaggerating the Doctor’s quirks, turning Smith’s already eccentric portrayal into a caricature. Chibnall’s Silurian two-parter goes from being a bit mediocre - a blatant mash-up of Inferno and the original Silurian story - to bloody awful in the second part, with terrible dialogue, horrible characters and a stupid story. Having the same actress play two of the Silurians is thrifty, but reductive, making them feel interchangeable and less like actual people. I’m again left wondering how on earth this guy got the show-running gig.
Part of the reason most of the series only feels ok for the most part, is that hindsight has undermined them. Amy’s hyper-sexual randiness (especially apparent when she tries to shag the Doctor at the end of one episode) feels less like a character choice and more like Moffat’s questionable understanding of female sexuality, given later characters exhibiting the same traits.
The other hindsight problem is River. She’s actually fine in her appearances here, apart from a bit too much ominous “dark days are coming” stuff, the Time Traveller’s Wife rip-off schtick works perfectly well. But it’s blatantly clear that her appearances aren’t written with the intention of her being Amy and Rory’s daughter. There’s just nothing there to support that and for it to make sense requires River to be lying and acting even in scenes when she’s on her own, which is just silly.
The same’s true of the “silence will fall” stuff that goes with the cracks, and the explosion of the TARDIS, which do not line up with the later explanation for it (as I remember it - I’ve not seen Time Of The Doctor since broadcast, but I’m pretty sure it ended up being Silence as in the aliens).
A Christmas Carol is pretty fab - the mix of trite Dickensian Christmas elements with a weird sci-fi setting (the fish in the sky) is a nice reflection of the time travel twist on the Christmas Carol structure; the cast is good too, especially the young kid. Trouble is, it starts Moffatt’s trend of creating disconnections between episodes. The Big Bang ends with the Doctor getting a phone call, a specific call to action for a story… which we get nothing of. A Christmas Carol ignores that completely and ends with mention, but not promise, of another adventure (a honeymoon planet), only to be followed up by The Impossible Astronaut having Rory and Amy back at home, having not been with the Doctor for a while. Not every story has to directly set-up the next, of course, but to end on the suggestion of something else and then not bother with it interrupts the flow of the series and makes it feel choppy.
One other interesting element of this series is that Moffat starts deconstructing the format of the show a bit with the finale. Here, all the Doctor’s enemies come together to trap him in the Pandorica - the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Silurians (oddly) and more. But it’s not a story specifically about any of them. They’re elements in a wider story (one that, tellingly, is centred around the Doctor, which is another growth area going forward), part of the fabric of the show’s universe that can be gathered as needed. It breaks down the segregation that existed before - this is a Dalek story, this is a Sontaran story etc - and introduces the idea of “this is a story and hey, it happens to have a Silurian in it”. Which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but an unusual development for a show so old.