Modern TV can be like a bell curve where series climb, get grounded, lose ratings, get experimental and then falter. While I think the current run of Doctor Who has some way to go Season 3 is amongst the best that the series has ever produced for my money.
This is a complex statement because while the series is more uneven now I also think that Matt Smith is up there with Troughton, Pertwee, Baker and McGann as having best captured the spirit of the lead character. Something about Tennants portrayal to me felt workmanlike. Matt Smith seems filled with the bonkers joy of the character in a way that no actor has been since Tom Baker in his first season.
Yet against all this Season three simply shines for the quality of its writing, production and values. It makes the best use of Tennants Doctor through a narrative freed from the complicated and by then somewhat tired tale of the Tyler family.
While I loved Rose, Martha is a very different companion and the show seems freer to explore good stories through her eyes. Stories like these:
Gridlock is a marvellous jewel of a story about faith, honesty and hope. The scene at the end where the Doctor if forced by Martha to tell the truth about his life is touching and gripping.
Human Nature is probably the single best hour of drama given us since the series returned. It’s a riveting storyline, the Doctor turned human – really human – in an English school. The backdrop of Martha’s crush on him makes this all the more powerful.
The three episodes which begin with Utopia represent the high water mark of the Russel T Davies formula of story arcs working across a series. This one is relatively uncomplicated – YANA – yet it is pitch perfect and Utopia – a stories that starts off being about nothing in particular – rises to a crescendo of suspense.
Derek Jacobi may only fill the shoes of Delgado and Ainley for a few minutes but he shines in the role, switching from light to shade in the moment it takes to cut a cable. Is this not the best return of a villain in Doctor Who? Or indeed in any program ever? Was there ever a better cliffhanger than the moment he regenerates in the Tardis and takes off leaving the Doctor stranded in Utopia? John Simms master is properly psycho and his plan fittingly bonkers and the story which unravels across the next two episodes is epic, taught and adventurous. An example of this scale and adventure is allowing Martha to journey on her own for a year.
So yes – there is some way to go on our Who journey yet but Season 3 is the best all round experience of the series since its returned. It’s the one I would pull out to convert a non fan to the series if asked – always a litmus test!