If I had to choose a single word to describe the series so far what would it be? I'm sorry to say that it would probably be bland. There hasn't been a single episode where I've walked away saying 'Wow!' Or even 'Goodness!' That happened quite a bit during Ecclestone's and Tennant's tenancies. Think of The Empty Child or Blink! or Fathers Day or Last of the Time Lords or Midnight. I delighted in the relationships between the Doctor, Rose, Martha and Donna, Mickey and Jackie, Captain Jack and Grandad Wilf. There was a sparkle to the show and Saturday nights without a dollop of Doctor were all the sadder for it. But this series hasn't quite done it for me. I don't know if it's the scripts, the direction or the editing but there hasn't been any one episode that's grabbed me by the nads. It's all been very samey and lacking in pace and excitement. When I finish watching an episode of Who, I want to punch the air and say 'Oh yeah!'. Instead, I've been finding myself saying 'So what?' far too often. The episodes merge into each other in my head.
That said, I've been really enjoying Matt Smith's take on the Doctor and there have been some stand-out episodes; Steven Moffat's pilot, The Eleventh Hour, was wonderfully scripted and I enjoyed the sparkling dialogue of Toby Whithouse's Vampires of Venice. I didn't mind Richard Curtis's Vincent and the Doctor either although, again, it suffered from that blandness that's plagued the series. But the high point so far was the two-parter that reunited the Doctor with River Song and the Angels. Two excellent episodes. I look forward to meeting Ms Song again in a few weeks when the Pandorica opens ...
Episode by episode, here's my humble opinion. I've already covered The Eleventh Hour so we'll skip that and go straight on to The Beast Below. I liked the overall dystopian view of future Britain although I couldn't quite figure out how it slotted into the same timeline as New Earth or Gridlock or even The Long Game. The nasty puppet heads were never really explained nor why there was at least one human hybrid but I enjoyed Queen Liz. Interesting hints that the Doctor has been a bit of a naughty boy in the past, at least with the first Queen Elizabeth. Odd that if knowledge of this has passed from monarch to monarch, Victoria knew nothing about him in Tooth and Claw. And didn't she also form Torchwood to keep the Doctor in check?
Victory of the Daleks was dire. I love Mark Gatiss' writing normally - his Lucifer Box books are hilarious - but this was not great. How in the name of Holy Hannah did the android manage to build and equip Spitfires with space flight capability in that time frame? How did the pilots navigate or even cope with zero gravity? How did propeller-driven aircraft fly in a vacuum? Shoddy, sloppy writing and a seriously disappointing episode. And it had those Daleks. Its only saving grace was the Dalek saying 'Would you care for some tea?' Hilarious.
I enjoyed Vampires of Venice although I was disappointed to see that Toby Whithouse plumped yet again for an 'aliens disguised as humans plot' as he did in School reunion and in his Torchwood episode Greeks bearing gifts. It might also have been nice to see the man behind Being Human moving away from vampires too. That said, beautifully shot, great script and nicely acted. Some dodgy CGI in the finale but I can excuse that. This isn't Hollywood.
Amy's Choice had some nice ideas and Simon Nye's script was corking at times. The overall plot - that the Doctor's darker side becomes personified because of psychic pollen - was neat and the episode was a nice break from mainstream fight the baddie alien stories.
Next came the two-part stinker that was The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. I really, really hated this. I throughly disliked the new Silurians, I thought the plot was cliche-ridden and uninteresting, Nia Roberts' Ambrose was the most hateful character imaginable and what a waste of a two-parter cliffhanger: 'Ooh look it's a city.' Yawn. The resolution was feeble and only Rory's tragic death - or erasure - provided any thrill at all. 3/10. Must try harder.
Richard Curtis' Vincent and the Doctor was, by all accounts, charming and enjoyable. It was the first episode where Amy seemed to come alive as a real character rather than a long-legged staring machine. Curtis knows how to write for female characters and he did it well. The pathos injected by the blind alien was handled well. I'll have to watch it again but I didn't quite get why Vincent could see the beast but the Doctor couldn't. I gather it was because of van Gogh's hinted-at synaesthesia. As I say, I'll watch it again. It was okay.
Overall, the series has been ... okay. And I'm judging it within the context of the entire canon. I've been a Doctor Who fan ever since Hartnell had his first cantakerous spat with Ian and Barbera. I can honestly say that I have seen every episode, even those that no longer exist because (a) I saw them at first broadcast or (b) I've read the books or watched the clever reconstructions. I love the show with a passion. I've been there through its highs and its lows. I even got within a gnat's todger of writing an episode back in the 1980s when John Nathan-Turner accepted one of my scripts. I was thrilled beyond measure when the series returned and it just seemed to get better and better. But this series should have been so much better. Tennant was always going to be a hard act to follow and Matt Smith needed big stories, great aliens and wonderful cliffhangers. Instead we've had stories that seem to peter out in the end, an assistant who tries to get him into bed after a couple of episodes, rubbish aliens and a lot of pointless celebrity cameos. Did the appearances of Meera Syal or Bill Nighy really add that much to their stories? Would we have had better Silurians if they'd spent the money on their costumes instead? There's been a general sense of cautious, nervous insecurity about the series. The fact that William Hartnell's photo has turned up in three episodes says to me that there's a quiet worry among the producers, as if they feel the need to remind us that we're watching Doctor Who. Come on Steven ... we'll know it's Doctor Who when it starts acting like it.
And then there's the design. I have some very real issues here. The new TARDIS interior simply doesn't do it for me. Yes I realise that, in part, it's based on an 11 year old Blue Peter competition winner's drawing but the whole thing looks like it was built for a school fete out of car boot purchases. The TARDIS interior from McGann onwards (actually, I guess from McCoy's last appearance onwards) had a grandeur to it. The new interior looks childish and glam and much more appropriate for a children's TV audience such as that for The Sarah Jane Adventures or the appalling new Disney K9 adventures. It's just too eclectic and some of the props are massively wanky including what looks like a pinball machine and a brake fluid bottle. But my real problem is with the aliens which have, almost without exception, been dreadful. The giant eyeballs and viper eel in episode one, the spacewhale in episode two, those awful humanoid Silurians ... there's a lack of originality and inspiration in all of them. I was particularly disappointed by the Silurians. Yes, the originals may have been men in bad rubber suits that could barely see where they were going and bumped into the scenery ... but they looked alien and they exuded emotionless menace. They didn't have the same morality or values as humans and that came across. But these new ones? All too human just like the Graske, Father Dougal the cat, the cactus people in The End of Time and that dwarfy bloke on the Titanic. At least Vincent van Gogh's alien was a little more adventurous. But my biggest scoop of ire is saved for those new Daleks. What the Hell were they thinking? I assume it's all about selling toys because I can't see why the redesign was needed otherwise. The Daleks have subtly changed over the years and the most recent incarnations have looked wonderful. But these new full-bodied (okay fat-arsed), multi-coloured death machines are just laughably awful. Someone on Twitter summed it up beautifully by saying that they were like VW Beetles; colourful, chunky, plastic-looking and nowhere near as classy as the old ones. I really truly fucking hate them. There, I've said it.
There are three episodes to go so perhaps I'm being unfair although the fact that James Corden is the main focus of the next one worries me greatly (I have nightmares about Peter Kay all over again). And next year promises much with Neil Gaiman, among others, putting in an episode. But Doctor Who is so much more than celebrity guest stars and superstar writers. It's about Saturday nights being glued to the telly, it's about what Douglas Adams called 'excitement and adventure and really wild things'. I know that the BBC is cutting budgets all over the shop but big budget doesn't equate to great story. Blink! was made on a shoestring compared to McGann's TV movie or Kylie's Titanic adventure.