Doctor Who: Series 7 Part 2 DVD Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
“I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts, and I’m going to stop you” – the Eleventh Doctor in The Crimson Horror.
After BBC America had the misfortune to release Blu-Ray copies prematurely, the BBC postponed the release date of the Series Seven: Part Two but now it is finally here, and it is frankly, a return to form for Doctor Who.
We catch up with the Doctor in Victorian London, in an unspecified amount of time after The Angels Take Manhattan (a real turning-point in this incarnation’s life), where he is a morose and woebegone fellow living atop a cloud. Steven Moffat has really developed a melting pot of ideas in the series, pushing forward some of his more fantastical and fairytale conceits, distinctly in The Snowmen. The concept of living snow creatures (and the Christmas special’s title) was drawn from Raymond Briggs’ classic fable, The Snowman whilst some of the other themes, like Clara being a governess was more than a homage to Mary Poppins. Series Seven: Part Two also silenced those who feel Steven Moffat does not pay tribute to the bygone era of the show as he reintroduces us to the Great Intelligence, a venomous incorporeal who uses Richard E. Grant’s Doctor Simeon as a host. Long-term fans will know that the G.I. was last spotted in the Second Doctor story, The Web of Fear. Grant is devilishly camp and spits every bitter word with the grace of Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape. Matt Smith and newcomer Jenna-Louise Coleman also work very well together, jelling to form an ideal Doctor/companion relationship. One of the biggest shocks was the death of Clara at the close of The Snowmen, setting off the Doctor on a quest to discover who “the woman twice dead” really was.
Months later, Doctor Who returned in ebullient fashion with The Bells of Saint John, a rollercoaster of an opener that had the Doctor encounter Clara in a modern-day environment. After realizing that a deadly force is working inside the wi-fi, they embark on a fight to save the lives of hundreds of poor folk trapped by the nasty Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie in cracking good form) and her “servers”, the Spoonheads.
The premiere was followed by an altogether different episode: The Rings of Akhaten. It received its fair share of censure, and to this date, I still don’t know whether I rate it or not. Luther scripter Neil Cross’ ideas were clear, and it is obvious that he wanted to construct an alien world with its own culture (see: the Festival of Offerings) but he failed in giving viewers a meaty threat. The Rings of Akhaten is a unique episode with both its pros and cons, and besides, Clara got some strong, necessary character development.
Mark Gatiss apparently lobbied Steven Moffat to bring the Ice Warriors (an old nemesis from the Jon Pertwee reign) and it certainly paid off; Skaldak is a hissing murderer that picks off the crew of the Firebird, one by one. I felt not many things worked in Cold War but the positives were definitely the tense atmosphere and the fantastic villain.
Doctor Who has touched on ghosts but not actually centred a story on them, and so Neil Cross decided to pen a story on the supernatural, with obvious science-fiction elements included. The upshot was Hide; an intensely spooky tale set on a dark and stormy night in Yorkshire. Hide was atmospheric and some scenes made me jump but it’s hard for Doctor Who to be properly scary. I praise the scientific explanation (the ‘love story’ was, however, extraneous) and the eerie pocket universe, with all its shrouding mist and isolated pines, was well put-together considering it was shot in the outskirts of a Welsh forest.
Following that we are treated to Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, a real fan-fest that featured multifarious rooms of the iconic police box. Whilst I enjoyed the visuals, I felt the episode was somewhat lacking in substance. The Van Baalens were irksome and complete dunderheads who served little purpose. I have no trouble with a little harmless fun but Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS was a bit unnecessary (not counting the book Clara peruses and the scene where he talks about her secret).
Some episodes of Doctor Who can be really pantomime camp and ridiculous, ergo they are loathed by most fans. The Crimson Horror was received a bit more positively but still has many against it. Personally, I adored it. I felt it was rightfully camp and over-the-top and thankfully, it didn’t take itself too seriously. Diana Rigg was absolutely fantastic as the sinful Mrs. Gillyflower; one of my favourite villainesses of the show (she stands with Mrs. Hartigan from The Next Doctor) and her real-life daughter, Rachael Stirling shone as Ada, a blinded and abused child. Mr. Sweet was repulsive; I was genuinely horrified when he was revealed to be on Gillyflower’s bosom. Contrary to many, I find The Crimson Horror to be an underrated gem that I hold in high regard.
Neil Gaiman’s tour de force, The Doctor’s Wife was one of the most successful episodes of Doctor Who ever, and when it was revealed that Gaiman would be returning, fans were ecstatic. Nightmare in Silver disappointed me the first time I viewed it. It was inferior to The Doctor’s Wife and I found myself picking at plot holes that were irrelevant. I returned to it with an open mind and I was much more positive. Gaiman produced an episode that trumped all other Cybermen stories (of the revived era, that is) and set the metal menaces back to their former glory.
Series Seven climaxed with a finale to end all finales: The Name of the Doctor. With a title that intriguing, it had to be good and did Steven Moffat deliver? The short answer is yes, but at a cost. The pre-credits sequence has to be one of the best; using modern technology to incorporate Clara into stories such as Dragonfire, Arc of Infinity and The Invasion of Time was genius and something I’d love to see the show do again. The rest of the episode was adrenaline-pumped and I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat. As the episode neared its natural end, I knew there was going to be a cliffhanger, but what would it be? When John Hurt turned around, I was both disappointed and excited. Dissatisfied that Moffat had lied and that we didn’t learn the Doctor’s name, and thrilled that John Hurt was in the show, playing ‘the Doctor’. We were left asking questions like, how will Clara and the Doctor leave his timestream? Who is John Hurt? And are the events of The Name of the Doctor really what Dorium prophesized?
Apart from a few slightly faulty episodes, Series Seven was brilliant and I can’t wait for the 50th Anniversary in November!
Clara’s White Christmas
I feel slightly more distant from Jenna-Louise Coleman because of the lack of Doctor Who Confidential. I know a lot more about her predecessor, Karen Gillan because we could see the behind-the-scenes banter she had with Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill. Jenna seems lovely but the only ‘real her’ I get is through interviews, and they aren’t the same as Doctor Who Confidential.
Clara’s White Christmas is a flavor of the Doctor Who Confidential we would have gotten with The Snowmen. It’s an insightful watch, showing us how they created the visually stunning cloud that the TARDIS is parked on, how they painted Bristol’s streets white and how they shot the new console room. Clara’s White Christmas is woefully short, and it’s a prime example of why we need Doctor Who Confidential back. I hope the BBC realizes that DWC is sorely missed and re-commission it.
Children in Need Special: The Great Detective.
The Great Detective was a fun little precursor to the Christmas special, and it gave us a brief look at the Doctor’s then current state-of-mind. He’s retired, grumpy and plain sad, a personality that he didn’t retain throughout The Snowmen, thus making it inconsistent, in my view. We also caught up with the Paternoster Gang who we hadn’t seen since A Good Man Goes To War.
In December, BBC Books published an engrossing e-book entitled Devil in the Smoke. It was written by long-time contributor, Justin Richards and chronicled an adventure starring Madam Vastra, her wife, Jenny and their henchman Strax. It’s the ideal script to a spin-off featuring the three, a divisive topic amongst fans. Vastra Investigates is a bitesized look at a live action episode of a would be Paternoster Gang spin-off, and proves that if we give them their own show, they’ll make it work.
The Bells of Saint John – A Prequel.
Matt Smith’s acting has been superlative of late, and Series Seven has confirmed, for me, how good a Doctor he is. His performance in The Bells of Saint John – A Prequel is sublime as he projects all sorts of emotions without raising his voice, on a swingset of all places(!). The Bells of Saint John – A Prequel is delightful; good-humored, poignant and Sophie Downham is fantastic as a young Clara.
Clarence and the Whispermen.
One of the flaws I (and Adam James Cuthbert) found, in The Name of the Doctor was how did Clarence DeMarco know of the Whispermen? This short scene explains that the shadowy undertaker-like beings visited him in his cell to force space-time coordinates into his mind. It’s sufficiently scary and the jerky and abrupt camerawork makes it sufficiently atmospheric. The Whispermen also seem spookier here than they do in The Name of the Doctor.
Since Doctor Who returned in 2005, we have had plenty of companions onboard the Doctor’s magnificent time machine and each have had their pros and cons. This fascinating documentary looks at the reasons why the Doctor picks his companions and what impact they have on him. The likes of Arthur Darvill, Matt Smith, Freema Agyeman, Noel Clarke, Caroline Skinner and more give their views on the matter. John Barrowman gives a tearful speech about what he would say to the excited fanboy he was in 2005 when he was picked to star in the series. The Companions is thoroughly enjoyable with some riveting interviews from the past and present cast members. My only criticism is the whiny American voiceover that’s presence destroys any subtly the program has.
Doctor Who: Series 7 Part 2 was a mesmerizing rollercoaster of a ride that introduced us to a glamorous new companion, a revamped TARDIS and a revamped Doctor, in some respects. An astonishing line-up of guest stars and some fabulous scriptwriters meant that it was one of the best series yet.