Give me strength to write short reviews of episodes 5 to 13, which I watched for the first time during the past two nights.
Evolution of the Daleks
This has to be the worst episode of Doctor Who ever, including anything involving Colin Baker. I can only assume that everybody involved KNEW it was awful, but they'd already committed so much time and money -- and it was the only Dalek two-parter they had on hand -- so they had no choice but to follow through. They shouldn't have. They should have just gone into reruns.
Besides the cobwebby, desperate plotline, it's the dialog and the acting that kills this one. By requiring American accents they ran afoul of what I think of as "Xena Syndrome"...they needed to hire either Americans living abroad -- in which case the talent pool is very small -- or they needed to hire local actors who could put on a credible accent, in which case the actors were too busy maintaining the dialect to actually, you know, act.
It can't help when you're a guy with a prosthetic pig-nose being forced to be sad all the time, or when you're a horribly mutated human/Dalek hybrid who has to say "If you seek...death and destruction...then death and destruction...will find you!" Without vocal distortion. In a Brooklyn accent. When you're a crap actor.
It was so bad that if I could physically remove this episode from my DVD, I would. So bad you expect a Slitheen to be in it. So bad that it's worse than "Fear Her."
The Lazarus Experiment
Sometimes you need a good old-fashioned "run from the monster" story. It helps if the monster is as freaky and goopy as this one. The inevitable Jones-family conflict slows things down a bit, and for the life of me I barely remember the details...but at least I remember it was fun.
Non-stop action! This was a real surprise, and I'm amazed they managed to pull it off: forty-two minutes of frantic running, fighting, screaming. I think it worked awfully well and I even liked the characters.
It's been so long since the Doctor got possessed by something.
Human Nature / The Family of Blood
Complex, multi-layered, character-driven. Ingenious idea. Martha's turn to shine, and wow does she shine. The nasty folks (see above picture) were all excellent actors, and scary. Next to the first season's "The Empty Child" I think these were the most frightening of the new series, and it really comes down to the convincing performances (how hard must it be to be so AWFUL?)
Extra points for the fairy-tale quality of the conclusion, wherein we see an uncompromising and quite disturbing Doctor mete out impossible (but somehow appropriate) punishments. Again, wow.
Sadly, as so often happens, the production team doesn't know when to quit. They often try to extend the episodes just a BIT longer, to squeeze out a few more drops of meaning or character development. Noble yes, but almost always anti-climactic.
I really do like these once-a-season "outside the box" episodes, and this is another one with excellent cast and a great concept. It progresses in a suitably eerie, step-by-step fashion, interspersed with surprisingly sweet moments. Like, yes, the creatures do something awful to people, but their victims end up pretty happy with their fates.
The problem is, after such a carefully-woven plot, the last ten minutes are so full of impossible holes that the scary stuff -- which is awfully scary -- is eclipsed by the shoddy bits. And the "spooky-boo" ending was just stupid, though kids probably liked it.
Utopia / Sound of Drums / Last of the Time Lords
I've been praying for a three-parter since the new series began, and I think it worked pretty well. Apparently, in Russell T. Davies' universe, all time lords are manic goofballs, but in The Master's case...well, it sort of worked, because he was so endlessly CRUEL. I mean really, his scheme was TERRIBLY cruel, and irredeemably so. Yet I still understand the Doctor's anguish at the end. It worked.
And Martha's exit was probably the best of all the companion exits. I also liked the Face of Boe zinger, though maybe I'm the only one.
On the downside, however, somebody needs to put a leash on Davies, and perhaps electrify it. Did nobody think to sit him down and say "Russell, tell us again why you want to turn Doctor Who into Gollum?" At the same time they could have asked him about the wisdom of a Toclafane theme song, shortly before firing whoever was in charge of the "get-older spasm" effect, which could only have been the result of a time/money crunch.
All in All...
I'm happy with the season. It suffers the usual excesses but also contains more than the usual number of good (even great) episodes. I liked the relative soberness of Martha Jones as a companion; I enjoyed having Captain Jack back doing what he does best (action-joke-flirting); and I've finally warmed up to Tennant's Doctor (or maybe he's finally warmed up to me?)
What would I like to see next season? Longer stories, a darker tone, and a momentary reprieve from soap opera moralizing, please.