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Monday, May 20, 2013

DAMN Good Television -- DOCTOR WHO Series Seven


Doctor Who Series Seven has ended some seventeen months since it began, leaving us with another interminable wait until the 50th Anniversary Special on November 23, 2013.  With all the various breaks and hiatuses we've had to endure, I thought I'd save up my thoughts, rankings and assorted nonsense on each of the Series Seven episodes until the end. It's been a somewhat rough ride in the TARDIS this year, but thankfully with a few gems to be treasured for years to come.  So here are my thoughts on this season, and shhhh, spoilers...
  1. The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe (2.5 out of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers) -- After the stellar 2010 Christmas Special, "A Christmas Carol," this story came off as a considerable letdown.  There was a nice story idea here by writer Steven Moffat, with the Doctor as "Caretaker" of a widow and her children during Christmas of the London Blitz, but it stumbles as the Doctor Who version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Unfortunately, we don't really care much about the widow or her children and the period has been way overdone of late.
  2. Asylum of the Daleks (4.5 out of 5) -- After a loooonnnnnng hiatus of almost nine months, Doctor Who finally begins Series Seven with the best Dalek story since...well..."Dalek."  With the season split into five and eight episode chunks, Moffat opens with a solid attempt to make the Daleks scary for the first time since 2005.  And then, as only he can, he surprises us with the Doctor's new companion (Or is she...?) five episodes early.  Oswin's tale ends in total heartbreak and makes us wish Jenna-Louise Coleman would hurry up and get here already.
  3. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (3 out of 5) -- Another in the series of "Hey, I came up this great episode title, now I just need the actual story," writer Chris Chibnall returns with a lighthearted romp with surprise, dinosaurs on a spaceship.  The real highlight here isn't Harry Potter's David Bradley as special guest villain Solomon, but Harry Potter's Mark Williams as Rory's dad Brian.  He's the best companion family member since Wilf and develops Rory as more of an individual instead of "Mr. Pond."
  4. A Town Called Mercy (2.5 out of 5) -- The first western story since "The Gunfighters" all the way back in 1966 was eagerly anticipated, especially with the casting of Farscape's Ben Browder as Isaac.  Unfortunately, Being Human creator Toby Whithouse turns in another misfire that wastes Browder and the beautiful Spaghetti Western filming location of Almeria, Spain.  Firefly has totally spoiled us, it seems.
  5. The Power of Three (3.5 out of 5) -- Chibnall's second script for Series Seven is an odd one, focusing on a slow invasion of small black cubes and the growing realization that Amy and Rory are ready to leave the TARDIS and settle down.  Rory's dad Brian is back thankfully, and we get a long overdue update on UNIT with the official TV introduction of the Brigadier's daughter, Kate Stewart.  Jemma Redgrave is just lovely as Kate and I'm glad to know that Kate will be returning for the 50th Anniversary Special.
  6. The Angels Take Manhattan (3.5 out of 5) -- Amy and Rory's exit episode brings us to the end of Series 7A with mixed results from Moffat.  He brings back the Weeping Angels with some nasty little Weeping Cherubs this time, and also his favorite Mary Sue creation, River Song.  There's some lovely location filming in New York's Central Park and the mandatory emotional heartbreak, but the major plot hole of the Doctor being unable to rescue Amy and Rory from being stuck in the 1930s New York seems absolutely ridiculous if you realize they could just drive to Pennsylvania or wherever and meet the Doctor there.  And no, I don't buy Moffat's explanation one bit.
  7. The Snowmen (4 out of 5) -- Moffat's 2012 Christmas Special is a wonderful return to form.  The opening titles get a solid upgrade with a colorful, somewhat psychedlic look and a classic diddlydum, diddlydum, diddlydum theme arrangement by composer Murray Gold.  Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax from "A Good Man Goes to War" are back and surprisingly, so is the Great Intelligence, who was last seen in 1968's "The Web of Fear."  We also get our first look at the new TARDIS console room desktop theme, a stylish set with a retro feel to lead into the 50th anniversary year.  Of course, the real highlight is the official debut of Jenna-Louise Coleman, who ends up dying once again and leaves both the Doctor and the audience with more questions than answers.
  8. The Bells of Saint John (3.5 out of 5) -- Another hiatus brings us to the end of March, when Series Eight should have began instead of Series 7B.  Finally, Moffat introduces us to the proper Clara Oswald and gives us a fun tour of modern London in the process.  We see some classic filming locations like Westminster Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral and the Great Intelligence pops up at the end to hint that he's Series 7B's Big Bad.  We're also introduced to Angie and Artie Maitland, the children Clara oversees as nanny, who factor in later on in the series.
  9. The Rings of Akhaten (3.5 out of 5) -- I know a number of people loathe this episode, but I consider it Clara's version of "The End of the World" that served as Rose Tyler's first encounter with outer space.  Neil Cross' first script seems to be a bit all over the place, but the opening with Clara's parents is just lovely as is Clara looking after Merry, the Queen of Years.  There's also another great "Pandorica Speech" moment by The Doctor and even a reference to his granddaughter Susan.
  10. Cold War (3 out of 5) -- At long last, the Ice Warriors return for the first time since 1974's "The Monster of Peladon."  (Can't tell they're building up to the 50th anniversary, can you?)  This is one of Mark Gatiss' better efforts, with a great 1980s Cold War (Get it?) setting and David Warner's Professor Grisenko, an older Russian scientist obsessed with Ultravox and Duran Duran.  Unfortunately, Liam Cunningham (Davos from Game of Thrones) is totally wasted and it seems odd to hear Soviets speaking TARDIS-translated English without any hint of a Russian accent.
  11. Hide (4.5 out of 5) -- My personal favorite story of the season is this Neil Cross tale set in 1974.  It looks and feels like something pulled straight out of the early Tom Baker era, albeit with considerably better effects.  There's also a Metebelis III crystal, a shout out to the final third Doctor story "Planet of the Spiders" that aired (surprise!) in 1974, although Matt Smith sends old-school Whovians ranting on Twitter by pronouncing it "Meh-teb-bell-is" instead of "Meta-bee-lis."  A slight stumble at the end with a rushed ending keeps this episode from being perfection, but it still should be a well-regarded classic.
  12. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (2.5 out of 5) -- And of course, my least favorite episode of the season follows immediately after.  Stephen Thompson is given the wonderful, glorious premise of exploring the unrevealed interior of the TARDIS for the first time since the 1978 story "The Invasion of Time" and it's mostly wasted.  We see a few extra rooms -- the library, the architectural reconfiguration system, the Eye of Harmony -- and even glimpse the swimming pool through a doorway at long last.  There's also another series first, an all-black guest supporting cast, but sadly they turn out to be a bunch of complete jerks who think it's hilarious to convince their memory-wiped brother that he's an android.
  13. The Crimson Horror (3 out of 5) -- Gatiss returns to script the "Doctor-lite" episode, mercifully filled with another appearance by Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax.  Jenny gets a surprising action sequence in a leather catsuit (a deliberate nod to guest star Dame Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in the British Avengers series) and the Doctor references Fifth Doctor companion Tegan Jovanka saying that he "spent ages trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow Airport" with a "Brave heart, Clara" nod for good measure.
  14. Nightmare in Silver (3.5 out of 5) -- Noted comics and fantasy author Neil Gaiman provides his second Doctor Who script which isn't as good as "The Doctor's Wife" but still entertains.  The Cybermen get their first signficant upgrade since coming back in 2006, with a sleeker, less stompy design along with some new cybertricks.  They aren't quite as scary as we'd hoped, but definitely more of a threat for future stories.  Angie and Artie return, having blackmailed Clara into arranging a TARDIS trip the previous episode, but are thankfully rendered silent for most of this story.  Clara steps up a bit, proving to be a decent military leader, and Matt Smith gets to flex his acting skills in a battle of wits against...himself.  Oh, and there's Warwick Davis as well, which makes everything better.
  15. The Name of the Doctor (4.5 out of 5) -- And finally, Moffat closes out Series Seven by wrapping up the mystery of Clara Oswald and setting up the 50th Anniversary Special.  Old-school Whovians go "Oh, my giddy aunt..." during the opening teaser, seeing Forrest Gump style interactions of past Doctors with Clara, including a quick scene of The First Doctor and Susan stealing the TARDIS from Gallifrey.  There's a nifty "conference call" with Madame Vastra, Jenny, Strax, Clara and yes, River Song, because it's been nine whole episodes since we've seen her. Also, there's the expected arrival of the Great Intelligence, with some new henchmen/spare bodies called the Whispermen that somewhat resemble the Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Moffat then detonates the Cliffhanger Bomb for the Anniversary Special by introducing actor John Hurt "as The Doctor," sending everyone racing to Twitter and various message boards in a predictable panic.
So now we have the 50th Anniversary Special to look forward to along with the 2013 Christmas Special, and then only the Doctor knows how long for Series Eight.  But at least we know for certain, all officially official, that there will be a Series Eight.  It's going to be another long six months, but if the appearances of past Doctors in "The Name of the Doctor" are any indiciation, not to mention the return of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, and the Zygons, it should end up being worth the wait.

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