Friday, 5 April 2013

DOCTOR WHO Series 7 - The Story So Far...

Scanners indicate a high level of spoilers

So then, at long last Doctor Who has returned to our screen and the 50th anniversary is well under way. However before we have a look at the opening episode of the second half of Series 7, let's take a spoilery look back at what has come before...

First up, while some fans have up in arms about the new split season format, I'd have to say that personally I've liked the scheduling of Series 7. To begin with we got Who back on the screen in the darker autumn nights - Doctor Who is best enjoyed I think when it's not blazing sunshine outside - and then it was a fairly short wait for our next fix with the feature length Christmas special. Of course, then it was only a short hop in the calendar until The Bells of St John. All in all, a rather more preferable arrangement to getting a thirteen week dollop of the show and then the best part of a year before the TARDIS opens its doors for business again. 

But of course all of this does mean that the rest of this year is going to be somewhat Who lite, albeit with the big anniversary special slated  for the autumn. However I'll be happy enough if Series 8 repeats the split season pattern of two halves in spring and autumn, giving regular fixes through out the year. 

And what did the opening half of Series 7 actually deliver? Well, it promised a blockbuster every week and indeed it largely made good on that promise, serving up a fun set of pretty much stand-alone adventures. Admittedly there was some connective tissue between the stories focusing on Amy and Rory's relationship and setting up their departure, but it was more a running theme than a true story arc. Some said it was all too light weight and bitty, but then again folks had said that Series 6 was too dark and too much of an integrated story arc, so you pays yer money and takes yer choice. 

The show's great strength is its flexible format and obviously not everything they do is going to please everyone. But the important thing is, while the internet foams at its collective mouth and endless bickers over the fine details, it's a good thing the show is evolving and changing. And despite the often bitter arguments boiling away in fandom, viewing figures and audience appreciation scores remain solid, which sharply high-lights the difference in the way fans and ordinary viewers watch the show I feel... And I plan to examine this in more detail with a State Of The Show Address at some point nearer the anniversary. 

So then, let's have a quick run through the episodes, throwing in some spoilery remarks absent from my original reviews and a reassessment with the benefit of hindsight. First mentions of the title will have links to said original reviews. All set? Good, let's go then...

The series opened with a bang with Asylum of the Daleks. Now generally you can't do wrong with the Daleks... yes, even when they are in Manhattan! Basically even if the story is bobbins, there's just a rock solid level of fun from seeing the genocidal pepperpots misbehaving! Now this particular offering wasn't the great outing for Skaro's finest but it did give us an interesting look into their organisation and the concept of there being Daleks who are too far gone even for the Daleks is a fascinating one. 

However like many old time fans, I was a little disappointed with the episode - chiefly because it was trumpeted that it would feature every model of Dalek ever seen. And indeed, it did alongside some nice references to their past appearances. However the trouble was, it was a case of blink and you'll miss them. Now I appreciate that this would be largely because the old models wheeled out of storage, museums and private collections would look horribly tatty in HD and hence their screen time was kept to a bare minimum  But it still felt like a bit of swizz!

But that disappointment was more than balanced out by the coup pulled off by the Doctor Who team - namely managing to keep quiet the fact that this episode gave us our first appearance of new companion to be Jenna-Louise Coleman. I don't know how they stopped the news leaking in this day and age of internet  chatter, but it was a delightful miracle! And what's more, it left us with many questions as to how Oswin who had been converted into a Dalek was going to join the Doctor on future travels. Intriguing stuff indeed! 

There was also another revelation at the end of the episode too - that now thanks to Oswin's hacking of their collective databases, the hordes of Skaro had now completely forgotten who the Doctor was. Obviously this  is a huge change to the mythos, and one some fans may well feel is vandalism. And in truth, I had mixed feelings about it - the Daleks not knowing their arch enemy any more? Surely a terrible idea! 

But one reflection, two things occurred to me. Firstly, as we have observed, Doctor Who is always a-changing and I seriously doubt that the Daleks won't very quickly identify the Doctor as a major threat once more. More importantly though, it winds down the Doctor again from the Lonely God Everyone-knows-me-and-I-can-anything figure the Davies years had built him up too. And that in my book is a good thing, scaling our favorite Time Lord back down to the anonymous eccentric who turned up at various points in space and time and quietly sorted things out. 

And it's a good thing for the Daleks too. The new series stories featuring the deadly dustbins have revolved around the Time War and Getting The Doctor very heavily. While the Time War served well to re-establish the history of the Doctor and the Daleks, it is now time to move on and I for one welcome the opportunity to go back to more old school stories where the Doctor turns up and throws spanners in the works of their latest campaign for dominating the universe. 

Moving on to Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, well, it does what is says on the tin! Still great fun to watch - star studded cast, right amount and right type of humour (reminiscent of Douglas Adams), just solidly entertaining.  It might be fluff but who cares, it's great fluff! Plus bonus points awarded for a nice touch of making the titular spaceship and dinos part of a Silurian ark in space - another nice nod to both old Who and Adams there. Furthermore, and racking up more bonus points, this episode introduced us to the amazing Brian Pond, Rory's dotty dad, played with aplomb by comedy veteran Mark Williams. All highly entertaining and for my money the best rendition of the blockbuster every week concept this half series delivers. 

I don't have too much more to add to my initial thoughts on A Town Called Mercy except that it remains a solid little episode with a good moral dilemma at its heart. Although I will say it'd be nice to see the Doctor and co. visit Earth's past a little more often. So then, moving swiftly on to The Power of Three... 

...Well, actually again, not masses to add to the original review. But what I can mention now with the spoiler embargo lifted is that  it was lovely meet another new character Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) who turned out to be the daughter of the Doctor's old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who has followed in her father's footsteps and become the head of U.N.I.T. It was also pleasing to hear the Zygons name-checked, and more so now we know that this wasn't just a reference of the old fans but foreshadowing their return later this year. 

However The Power of Three, although filled with some nice little moments and more Brian Pond magic, is still the slightest of the five episodes. But also it's the episode that now feels weaker on rewatching, mainly because of what transpires in The Angels Take Manhattan, and it's this final episode I have the most problems with. 

Now the half-series finale isn't a bad episode per se - it's nicely creepy, with some fun time twisting and a dramatic finale which sees the Ponds stranded in the past. And while it was a good resolution of their sometime strained relationship, with Amy (rightly) chooses to be with Rory in the New York of yesteryear, after some reflection it has started to trouble me. 

Now I'm not talking about nit-picking the mechanics of why the Doctor can't just pop back to a slightly later or earlier year and pick them up (although I would say that that was a logical loop hole that a single line could have fixed - namely that the Doctor can't cross Amy and Rory's time lines again with unraveling history). Nor am I carping about the feasibility of the Statue of Liberty going walkabout - , it was a visual gag, nothing more, let it go! 

No, my problem is that although it played out nicely, the end of the Ponds' story just wasn't the right one in my humble opinion. After The Power of Three, I think it would have been more satisfying for the Ponds to decide to give up travelling with the Doctor rather than being forcibly separated. The episode could have played out the same right until the very end where I feel it would have better a more fitting conclusion that Amy and Rory after a very close shave decide the risks of carrying on travelling in the TARDIS were too great and as we saw in The Power of Three, they would be happier with a quiet life. 

And what's the Doctor going to say to poor Brian eh? 

The more I think about it, the more I feel the trapped in time twist at the end was an unnecessary bit of tragedy. Now I know there was a foreshadowing of something bad happening to the Ponds through these five episodes but it would have been more satisfying if that had turned out to be them deciding to leave the Doctor. And he could have still gone off to mope in Victorian London... 

Which brings us neatly to the Christmas special, The Snowmen which I didn't get around to writing a review of. Now partly that was due to having something of a bumpy festive season, the details of which I shall spare you, but also it was because I felt in danger of turning out a very similar review to the previous ones I have done for preceding Christmas specials. 

You see the thing about the annual Christmas Day episodes of Doctor Who is that they are designed to be seen through a haze of sugar, booze and seasonal cheer. And being so, they tend only to make sense when watched in that festive fugue on Christmas Day night - an enjoyable romp full of daftness, sentiment and Yuletide tropes. Generally I'd say they provide good Christmas night viewing but aren't usually very good Doctor Who in the strictest sense. And The Snowmen fits this pattern to a tee - it's a lot of fun but will come across as loosely plotted and too full of silliness if you are watching at any time other than Christmas night. 

But that said, this year's Christmas special did seem to be closer to 'proper' Doctor Who than previous Yuletide outings, as apart from the general Dickensian atmosphere, it wasn't playing around with Christmas themed stories has previous years had. And there were other factors in play too - firstly it turned out the intelligent snow was actually an old enemy from the Second Doctor's time, The Great Intelligence, making this story effectively a prequel to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web Of Fear. Secondly, we had some more recent familiar faces appear with Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax filling out the supporting cast. 

Finally and most importantly, we had the return of Jenna-Louise Coleman, this time as a seemingly different character, the governess Clara. Or rather she's the same character but in a different point of space and time... most mysterious! And that mystery is undoubted going to form the story spine for the rest of the series. Hence rather than being just an interlude between seasons - as the Christmas special usually is - The Snowmen was effectively the beginning of what I'm thinking of as Series 7B.

For I think it's fair to say that this series is really probably going to pan out as two mini series, with Series 7A being the last of the Ponds, and from The Snowmen until the thirteenth episode, or even possibly even up to the 50th anniversary special, forming Series 7B. Of course, I am  now playing that most dangerous game of second guessing Moffat - and coming episodes may well draw on or call back the first five episodes and unite the halves... But we'll worry about that later!

However having seen The Bells of St. John, the Christmas special looks now even more less stand alone... But more about that very very soon!

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