Note: Much like my review of the season 7b finale, this contains spoilers, but why would you be reading this anyway if you haven’t seen it!
So there we have it folks, another season of Doctor Who has finally reached its resting place in The Fields of Trenzalore, and all we have left is the horrible fact that we have to wait months for the 50th anniversary special. This season has had its ups and downs, but it all came together in the end to pave the way for the biggest celebration for science fiction fans all year. I have decided to count both halves of season seven as one for the purposes of this write up as I generally dislike the whole “7a and 7b” stuff. Not being a fan of split seasons is rough when every show seems to be either doing it these days. I will touch on this sort of thing later, for now let’s get on with my analysis of the season. Was it successful? Was it good? What can we look forward to in the 50th anniversary? All of these questions should be answered.
Before we talk about season seven, let’s peer back into the long off time of 2011 and what happened in season six. When we left The Doctor in season six, he had just foiled the plans of a religious order hell-bent on his own destruction. It seems that “The Silence”, the name given to this group, are some of the most comically inept villains in the history of Doctor Who. I say this because they not only botched their own plan no less than three times, but have unintentionally caused the demise of existence a few times as well; all in the name of saving everything from The Doctor! When we first saw them, they had orchestrated a convoluted plot to destroy the Tardis and kill The Doctor resulting in the fragmentation of time itself and the collapse of the universe.
Plan B seemed to involve the creation of River Song, a being designed to kill The Doctor; shame that The Doctor faked his own death. So why were they after him? It seems that they wanted him to never venture to a time traveler graveyard called the Fields of Trenzalore, as his name could destroy the Universe - the very plot of the finale for series seven. If we have really grasped the intentions of “The Silence”, it seems that they were not the villains at all, but went about saving the universe in utterly horrible ways. That is assuming we won’t have a big change-up next year, something Moffat could easily do to mess with us. My hope is that this will be addressed to show their fear of the “John Hurt Doctor” a mysterious possible incarnation of The Doctor, we briefly saw at the end of The Name of The Doctor. Perhaps, he is why all the aliens tried to trap The Doctor in the Pandorica? Maybe he is the nemesis of the Silence? I hope this isn’t left hanging in the end.
From my thrown together synopsis up there, one can gather that series six was very complex and existed as one long storyline from episode to episode. I liked season six, but was not a fan of the slow burn, almost Lost-like nature of the season. I still think it created far more questions than it answered and left the fans with a truckload of presumed plot holes that have been speculated on for years now. I was excited to see the focus shift to a more “one-shot” styled season, a decision that was really hyped up prior to the transmission of Asylum of the Daleks. In a long interview for BBC America, Karen Gillan laid out the nature of the series pretty well:
“This season has been done in a really interesting way with five standalone epic episodes, like a movie a week, all building to the departure of the Ponds! We actually kick-off the season with Amy and Rory’s relationship in a sticky situation; it is less than marital bliss. Those scenes were really interesting to do, she explains, because they created such a different on-screen atmosphere between Amy and Rory, something that the viewers wouldn’t have seen before. That is the good thing about Doctor Who, it gives you the chance to shift the character, and you never know what is going to happen from episode to episode.”
Granted, that synopsis is for the first half of season seven, but the general tone was kept the entire time. Some of the stories would have benefited from either a longer timeslot or a second part, but I don’t think any of them were truly harmed by not being like that.
I mentioned earlier that I hate the new television fad of splitting seasons in half in order to create a ratings boost in the middle of a show’s run. Fans hate it, but networks have to do it nowadays to cling to their old ratings models and get advertising revenue. I could rant about how times are changing, but that’s a topic for another day. There are many good reasons to split seasons. Not only can companies sell half DVD sets and make a tiny bit more money (ex: two 50 dollar sets as opposed to one 75 dollar one), but they can also save money on production, and I feel this is what hurt Doctor Who this year. With huge BBC budget cuts hacking apart their usual expenditures, big shows like Doctor Who had to find some way to avoid a long hiatus or lackluster special effects due to a low budget, and it seemed a split was the best idea. Granted, everyone involved is highly in demand and wanted to work on other projects, so the split season idea seemed to benefit everyone. I’d rather deal with it than to loose Matt Smith of Steven Moffat to other commitments.
That wasn’t the only problem that occurred during season seven behind the scenes. There for a while it seemed like a revolving door of new executive producers was constantly spinning. There has been no reason to believe that anything bad is going on in the shadows, but having people like Piers Wenger and Beth Willis leave after such a short time had to be hard to deal with. Next Caroline skinner left amidst rumors of some sort of backstage fallout between herself and Moffat. She had this to say upon departure:
“I will miss them all enormously, but I’m leaving Doctor Who in fine form, with the new series starting at Easter and the fantastic plans for the 50th Anniversary already underway. I am delighted to be now returning to BBC Drama Production in London as an executive producer, and the new opportunities and projects that will bring.”
Russell T. Davies and his crew of executive producers seemed in there for the long haul, so one has to wonder what the problem is backstage. On a good note, season seven saw some great change-ups and new blood on the writing and directorial front. On the writer’s side, Luther’s Neil Cross was brought in to pen two episodes. I actually enjoyed both immensely,but some fans disliked Rings of Akhaten for it’s different tone. The most notable new director is probably Saul Metzstein,who seemingly directed more than half the new episodes. The new guys aren’t getting all the fun, as I honestly see this season as a real return to form for some long-time contributors. Chris Chibnall has been really hit or miss for me, but he was the star of the first half of the season for me. It seems that he is perfect in doing these short self-contained episodes. Both Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and The Power of Three reveled in the new format and excelled more than anything else he has done for other seasons. Mark Gatiss was another person that really brought out his big guns, somewhat redeeming himself for the Victory of The Daleks. I didn’t hate that episode by any means,but felt Cold War and The Crimson Horror were leagues better and easily his best since season one!
The first half of the season concentrated on the impending departure of Amy Pond and Rory Williams, and consisted of five episodes as well as the 2011 Christmas special. The following is a list of these episodes as well as links to reviews I did during the run. Note: I did not get around to doing three of the episodes at their time of broadcast due to personal time issues, so those will be added later on.
The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (2011)
It’s Christmas Eve, 1938, when Madge Arwell comes to the aid of an injured Spaceman Angel as she cycles home.
Asylum of the Daleks (2012)
Kidnapped by his oldest foe, the Doctor is forced on an impossible mission – to a place even the Daleks are too terrified to enter… the Asylum.
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (2012)
An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction – unless the Doctor can save it, and its impossible cargo… of dinosaurs!
A Town Called Mercy (2012)
The Doctor gets a Stetson (and a gun!), and finds himself the reluctant Sheriff of a Western town under siege by a relentless cyborg.
The Power of Three (2012)
The Doctor and the Ponds puzzle an unlikely invasion of Earth, as millions of sinister black cubes arrive overnight, almost like presents falling from the sky.
The Angels Take Manhattan (2012)
The Doctor’s heartbreaking farewell to Amy and Rory – a race against time through the streets of Manhattan, as New York’s statues come to life around them.
Next up we have season “7B” concentrating on the adventures of “the impossible girl” Clara Oswin Oswald. This half consists of a further eight episodes as well as the 2012 Christmas special
The Snowmen (2012)
London, 1892. Snow is trying to evolve, feeding off of the nightmares of a little girl. But the Doctor has given up on saving the world. It is up to a young governess named Clara to convince him, with just one word, to save the day.
The Bells of Saint John (2013)
The search for Clara brings the Doctor to London, 2013, where something deadly is waiting in the wifi.
The Rings of Akhaten (2013)
The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice!
Cold War (2013)
On a Russian submarine in 1983, a frozen alien warrior is waking up, just as the TARDIS materialises.
Something terrifying is hiding in Caliburn House, and the Doctor finds himself part of the ghost hunt.
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS (2013)
The TARDIS has crashed, Clara is lost inside, and the Doctor has 30 minutes before his ship explodes!
The Crimson Horror (2013)
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire, as bodies are found with their skin a waxy, glowing red…
Nightmare in Silver (2013)
Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: The perfect theme park day out. And ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection…
The Name of the Doctor (2013)
The Doctor has a secret he will take to his grave. And it is discovered…
After the mystery of Amy Pond got wrapped up at the end of season six, it was simply a matter of time before she and her husband Rory were on their ways out of the show. Fans were teased that they were most likely going to die in the episode, however that was usual Steven Moffat teasing. Everyone knows that he speaks in riddles and lies to make the fans believe the total opposite of what is really happening. By the end of The Angels Take Manhattan, we saw the bittersweet ending of the pair. Yes they did die, but they lived a long happy life before that, only without The Doctor. I’m glad the episode was bittersweet as I do not want an honest to God death to occur (like Adric), but an ending that permanently separates the companion from The Doctor is usually the best idea. Returning companions could get old pretty fast if they still make cameos constantly (I’m looking at you Rose Tyler) so having an ending like this complicates things for the better.
The actual characters of Amy and Rory were moved pretty decently as characters. At the beginning of Asylum of the Daleks, we see their relationship has crumbled over the years. Seeing that they have been together for something close to a decade by the time this episode airs, I’d say they had a good run, but were on the verge of divorce. It seems that Amy felt bad due to her experimentation by the Silence to create River Song. Having been made sterile and never able to care for their child, Amy wanted Rory to move on and have a “real family” with someone else.
Fans noticed early on that Amy seemed to love Rory less than he loved her at times, most noticeably when she was throwing herself at The Doctor in season five. This led to a lot of fans disliking her character from the very get-go. I never liked the criticisms that some gave the character as being very selfish, but I have to agree here that she was in season seven. Their reconciliation (and her redemption) comes at their very last episode as Rory is captured by a Weeping Angel and flung into the past. If you recall, the way the Angels feed is to ruin the potential lives of someone by taking them into the past and feeding on what could have been. Amy could have stayed there with The Doctor, but ultimately chose to stay with Rory by sacrificing herself to the Angels.
So how were Amy and Rory as companions? I felt that they were too tied into the plotlines to really breathe as companions at times. In season seven we really got to see them at their best, especially Amy in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Perhaps the multiple season mystery of the couple was a great idea on a drama standpoint, but it was dragged out far too long to have a real spark of chemistry ignite between themselves and The Doctor. They were more successful than Martha, perhaps one of the most tragic companions ever, but pale in comparison to Donna Noble.
Things are looking up with the newest companion Clara. It seems that The Doctor and she already have a spark, and she can stand toe-to-toe with him when it comes to witticisms and one-liners. For reasons of plot, she is a stronger character in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen, but seems to regain what we saw before in The Name of the Doctor. This can be directly attributed to the interactions between The Doctor and Clara being hampered due to her status as “The Impossible Girl”. When one has witnessed someone dying and yet coming back, it’s really hard to trust them; and with The Doctor’s ability to attract trouble, I can understand his reluctance to trusting her. Once that barrier is lifted later on in the season it was smooth sailing, and season eight should be amazing if they can keep it up.
Aside from Amy, Rory, and Clara there were a handful of secondary companions that hung around this season. First off, we had Rory’s dad Brian Williams as played by Arthur Weasley himself-Mark Williams. I loved Brian because he was initially the most cynical, lazy person ever. He was content just staying around inside and paying attention to things that don’t matter. Thinking in terms of season four, he was the anti-Wilf! Due to his exposure to the Doctor and traveling around he does change his ways a bit, as Brian began traveling around the world and sending homemade postcards back to Amy and Rory. Most notably, he went to the planet Siluria with the Doctor and the dinosaurs aboard the Silurian Ark. Part of me wishes that Brian stayed around for more than the couple of episodes he was in, but I enjoy older companions for some reason. Season seven also contained a few appearances by The Paternoster Gang, the Victorian sleuth team that I love. I’d never go as far to say that they need a spinoff, but Jenny, Vastra and Strax always entertain me when they grace my TV with their hijinks. I’m especially a big fan of Strax for reasons that I brought up in reviews above.
The theme of the second-half of season seven seemed to be kicking off the run-up to the 50th anniversary. First and foremost, we saw the return of a lot of old foes. The Great Intelligence from the Troughton era was brought back in a very big way; he was the main villain essentially. Granted, he was in a different form than the old classic fans might be used to, but casting both Ian Mckellen and Richard E. Grant for different aspects of the role was a great feat. Grant, as longtime fans will remember, was originally going to be the ninth incarnation of The Doctor via a series of animated “webisodes”. Other retuning foes included The Ice Warriors, last seen in the Pertwee era. This nostalgia and homage was set to a fever pace in the finale, and episode that essentially featured small cameos by ALL of the previous Doctors, something that made me very excited. then we have the reveal of John Hurt as some sort of unseen Doctor, in the most WTF-worthy moment the show has ever seen.
I kid, I kid, I loved the reveal of a possible “missing Doctor” and who can go wrong with such an amazing actor as John Hurt. Ever since I was able to see him in George Orwell’s 1984, I’ve known that he was a great actor. Even in smaller roles like the president in V for Vendetta, he was amazing and chewed the scenery like a master.
I was immensely satisfied with season seven, but I know a lot of fans were not. While long-time fans were mostly thrilled with the majority of the episodes,I noticed a lot of casual fans complaining about various things. These fans should be satisfied with the brief return of Rose Tyler and the Tenth Doctor this autumn- a pairing that I know most of them enjoyed. If anything, this season was very atypical for Doctor Who, episodes like Akhaten took big chances with the writing and direction, and that put off some people. I know that some UK based newspapers were all “doom and gloom” about ratings, but they seem to not realize that time-shifted ratings, those including non-live viewing via DVR boxes and BBC iPlayer, have been as good as previous seasons. Fans using this as fodder for obnoxious “flame wars” need to get with the times, people don’t watch TV in the same way that they did even a decade ago. In the US rating were up from series six and usually got somewhere around two million viewers – an amazing number considering the small number of folks that have BBC America!
I hope the rotating producers, odd timeslots, and other issues lead to an end to split seasons, or we at least get a FULL 13-14 episode season next year followed by another one after. for a drama to hold it’s audience, ratings, and get new viewers every year is no small feat, it’s time for the BBC to notice this. If that means the end to the Moffat Era, and an exit by Matt Smith in season nine so be it, change is always fresh in a show such as this. We all know that Jenna-Louise Coleman is returning for a newly commissioned eighth season, and that Matt Smith will probably be in it, but that’s just about all we know. I think we have the potential for a real amazing season next year, especially if those Peter Jackson & Doctor Who rumors are true, so here’s to the future,and more importantly the two specials yet to air this year!