Wednesday 22 May 2013

Reviews in Time & Space: Doctor Who Season Seven Part Two - An Overview

Doctor Who Season 7 Part 2 Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

After the Ponds bowed out at the end of The Angels Take Manhattan back in October, the Doctor has turned his attentions towards a new mystery. Following his second encounter with the "impossible girl" Clara Oswald in The Snowmen, finding out who she really is and how she can exist in more than one place has become the Doctor's newest priority. Luckily, it doesn't take him long to find a new Clara to take on adventures in the second half of Doctor Who's seventh (modern) season!

Doctor Who The Bells of Saint John Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman Great Intelligence

We begin the half-season with The Bells of Saint John (★★★) which, while not a bad episode in itself, doesn't feel like anything the audience hasn't seen before. The Great Intelligence is back again, only this time moving away from snow-related henchmen to a more contemporary scheme. The not-so-subtle commentary on just how vulnerable we would be from a wifi attack is great, but the dodgy looking robot things and motorcycle action sequences just reek of a generic flashy season opener. Jenna Louise Coleman makes an impressive debut as a third Clara, managing to set this modern version apart from her Victorian and *ahem* Dalek counterparts.

Doctor Who The Rings of Akhaten Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

Unfortunately the biggest flop of the entire series comes next with The Rings of Akhaten (★), where the Doctor takes Clara on what seems like the routine "first trip to the future" for a new companion. This episode certainly does its best to present a universe brimming with alien life forms (even if it does feel a little Mos Eisley at times) and has some interesting ideas but ultimately is dashed by horrific padding and poor execution. The story tries to have all the flash and grandeur of a big budget Doctor Who adventure, but not the plot to go with it. Not that Who always needs a lightning fast plot and non-stop action scenes, but a nice little intro exploring Clara's birth and an exceptional monologue from Matt Smith will only get you so far.

Doctor Who Cold War Ice Warriors Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

Meanwhile Mark Gatiss' first penned episode for this season saw the return of a popular classic monster. Cold War (★★★★), or "Dalek on a submarine featuring Alien" as I like to call it, saw the return of the Ice Warriors in the form of a single creature - Grand Marshall Skaldak. This episode is the first to explore what the Ice Warriors are like outside of their armour, keeping the mystery and suspense up really well until a final revelation at the end. Whether this was actually necessary is up for debate (I personally wanted it to remain a mystery), but either way the shoddy CGI doesn't really do such a big moment justice. Cold War is also a great example of how a story can have a happy ending for both sides, even if a few people unfortunately don't get out alive.

Doctor Who Hide Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

After a poor first attempt, Neil Cross brings it back with Hide (★★★★) and proves he shouldn't be written off just yet. What feels like it could be just a standard ghost story actually turns out to be so much more than that. The creepy corridors of a dimly lit mansion are quickly swapped for foggy forests and frantic camera movement, but the two seemingly opposing worlds blend together for an episode that's actually more down to Earth than it may seem. While it DOES include the obligatory monster (which is pretty disturbing even for Who standards), it's not in the role one might expect it to be. The only thing keeping the episode from a perfect score is the rather gaping plot holes relating to the TARDIS use. Hide also features perhaps Clara's strongest moment in the entire series - her confrontation with the Doctor upon the realisation that everyone must seem like a ghost to him.

Doctor Who Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

If there's one thing Doctor Who has lacked since it's relaunch, its a proper dive into the world of the TARDIS itself - to the point where it wouldn't be surprising if they thought it was just the console room and maybe a bedroom or two. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (★★★) aimed to rectify this, and while it did deliver a story set entirely inside the time machine it wasn't perhaps what people were expecting. While we do get a look at some other rooms inside the TARDIS and just what makes her tick, the episode itself is a pretty standard "running around corridors" sci-fi affair complete with reset button ending and side characters that offer pretty much nothing to story. The monsters look great, but the twist behind their identity far too obvious and rather poorly explained. In the end it all feels a little bit like a low budget version of Danny Boyle's Sunshine, but with some Moffat brand timey wimey thrown in for good measure.

Doctor Who The Crimson Horror Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman Strax Madam Vastra Jenny Flint

Mark Gatiss returns to the writer's chair for The Crimson Horror (★★★★), which proves to be every bit as successful as his earlier episode. Gatiss' flair for Victorian England originally seen in The Unquiet Dead returns here in a much more refined fashion, along with our old friends Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax. This is probably the episode most comparable to the "Doctor-light" one's of the RTD era, the Doctor taking a back seat to this popular new threesome and Clara essentially chews the scenery for 50 minutes. Strax remains hilarious as ever, Jenny gets the screen time she so desperately needed and Madamn Vastra is still shrouded in enough mystery to keep her interesting. Once the Doctor shows up the plot becomes a little too faster paced rushing up to a quick resolution, but the episode's flaws are easy to overlook thanks to some brilliant acting from Diana Rigg and real-life daughter Rachael Sterling.

Doctor Who Nightmare in Silver Cybermen Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman

Possibly the most hotly-tipped episode of this half-season was Neil Gaiman's Nightmare in Silver (★★★), which teased that the Cybermen would receive the Victory of the Daleks-esque update they've been in dire need of for years. Story-wise there's isn't too much to complain about outside of the quickly wrapped up ending and annoying children (who in fact are mostly superfluous to the plot), but Gaiman's Cybermen leave a lot to be desired. The streamlined vacant look is effective, but many of the powers they display take away for me what makes the Cybermen so scary. The Cybermen are reduced to mere puppets, can move at lightning speeds and are able to remove body parts and limbs at will. Had a newcomer been watching the episode, they could easily mistake these Cybermen for being purely robots. Smith plays excellently off himself as the new Cyber Planner (a term not heard since 1968's The Invasion), but it isn't enough to disguise how much of a pale imitation of Star Trek's Borg the Cybermen have become. Which is ironic since they were among the inspiration for the Borg in the first place.

Doctor Who The Name of the Doctor Great Intelligence Clara Oswald Matt Smith Jenna Louise Coleman John Hurt River Song Strax Jenny Flint Madam Vastra

A title like The Name of the Doctor (★★★★★) is enough to strike dread and reservation into any Doctor Who fan, but much like last season's The Wedding of River Song Moffat  takes a dodgy concept and turns it into one of the best episodes of the season. Vastra & co return for yet another outing (if you don't like them I'd get used to them, they look like they'll be around a while), as well as a post-Library River Song. The Great Intelligence shows up again in a role that could have perhaps been filled by any villain, but here the effects of the actions are what's important rather than the cause of them. The mystery of Clara is wrapped up neatly, and the name of the Doctor still remains a tightly guarded secret. The real highlight of the episode however is the use of Clara spliced into footage with former Doctors which, while pretty shoddy at times, will have fans of the Classic series grinning in a way they probably haven't since the relaunch began back in 2005. John Hurt's debut at the end of the episode is also bound to turn some heads, but whatever you think of that no one can deny that it puts the hype for the 50th anniversary special up to 11.

Much like the previous season, Doctor Who's seventh season has been a rather mixed bag. There's been a stark fluctuation between excellent episodes and downright awful episodes, but with the majority straddling in the "average" territory. Despite there being excellent chemistry between the Doctor and Clara, the new companion has felt sidelined to a point where she often feels completely unnecessary to the plot. By no means do I think we need another Rose, River or Amy gracing screens any time soon, but Clara has little impression on the show outside of the "impossible girl" angle (which doesn't actually come up all that much, and is pretty much resolved come the finale) and a few little quips with the Doctor. Maybe Moffat's writing style is just waning on me, but this half-season in particular failed to deliver any real punch until the very last episode, and even that was more due to its tie-in with what will be coming next. With 50 years of Doctor Who just around the corner, this is where it'll become clear what the show needs next. Be it change or otherwise.


liminalD said...

I think people have been really harsh on 'A Town Called Mercy' and 'The Rings of Akhaten' - while they're by no means the best offerings in Series 7, I'm happy to see the writers and production team trying something different. Since Christmas, of course, we've had to try getting used to not having Amy and Rory around, and the contrast with Clara seems pretty stark - she seems more 'plot device' than person at times, but as I recall, so did Amy for quite a while - I only started to warm to Amy in 'Amy's Choice' and wasn't sure that I actually *liked* her until 'The Doctor's Wife' - episodes written by someone other than Steven Moffat. Rory, on the other hand, I liked almost immediately - funny, isn't it?

I agree with you about most of what you've said here and your ratings of the episodes - I can see myself quite happily returning to both of Mark Gatiss' stories, and to 'Hide', and that finale was infinitely better than 'The Wedding of River Song' - Moffat can be a bit hit and miss but I really do think he hit that one out of the park, and just as well too ;) Can't wait for November!!

Alex said...

Akhaten is perhaps the most divisive episode of Who there's been in a while. The internet seems to have most slated it but I know quite a few people who really enjoyed it. Funnily enough I haven't seen much middle ground criticism for it though!

I didn't realise people had been harsh on A Town Called Mercy. I didn't think that one was a particularly bad episode, I just didn't feel it made proper use of its setting or attempt to do anything particularly new.

Thanks for reading by the way!

liminalD said...

Yeah, it's weird what people like and don't like... I think 'The Wedding of River Song' is a mess and a really weak contribution to the River Song story, to say nothing of its disappointing answers to the intriguing questions in 'The Impossible Astronaut', but I know plenty of people who loved it. Conversely, I really enjoyed 'The God Complex', but several people I know absolutely hated it. People have ragged on 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' and raved about 'The Angels Take Manhattan', while I find that I really enjoyed the former and liked but can't muster too much enthusiasm for the latter. And now people are hating on 'The Rings of Akhaten' far more than it deserves, I think... sure, it wasn't brilliant and at times is too cheesy for words, but I think both the leads did a great job - it's the most human Clara's seemed in all her episodes, I think, and all the weird crazy aliens were fun. The Vigil and the spooky mummy were underused, sadly, and having a skull-face on a planet/sun/thing was ridiculous, but as I said, I was pleased they tried something different - DW should be able to be just about anything, that's one of the joys of the show, and bitching when the producers/writers and crew try new things means we end up with samey-sameness (Daleks showing up in every season finale, for instance) :)