Despite the lack of Who-related content lately, we haven’t all given up on the show quite yet! I, for one, watch the show regularly, but my day job prevents me from having time to review it for the site. Now that I’ve had a month to reflect and re-watch, though, here are some of my thoughts and observations on the recently concluded second half of Doctor Who Series 7. (Spoilers ahead, of course…consider yourself warned!)
“The Bells of Saint John”
This was the long-awaited first episode with the new companion, Clara, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. This Clara Oswald is not the same girl making souffles inside a Dalek in the first episode of this series, nor is she the Victorian barmaid/governess we met in the Christmas special (they both died at the end anyway). She’s still a nanny, though. When the Doctor meets her, and she’s obviously not the same person, the story arc for this half of the series is put into motion: Who is this girl?
Besides all that, it was an enjoyable episode to watch, if not very deep. The idea of getting in trouble by connecting to the wrong wi-fi network is all the more creepy because it’s so very plausible in today’s world, although I would hope that even the more clueless computer users would be wary of a network whose name was written in alien characters. The “spoonheads” are pretty cool, too, as are motorcycles (especially when taking the Doctor up the side of the Shard in London).
“The Rings of Akhaten”
I listen to a number of DW-related podcasts, and the majority opinion among the commentators seems to be that this is the “Curse of the Black Spot” of season 7B. I was happy to hear that I was not the only one who immediately thought of the Mos Eisley cantina scene from Star Wars when I saw all the different aliens walking through the marketplace, though. I loved the scene where Clara is talking to the girl behind the TARDIS, showing how good she is with kids. As a musician and music educator, I thought the singing, especially that of the little girl, was very good, although the “let’s hold up our lighters and sway while we sing along” part towards the end was super-cheesy. I agree that this wasn’t the season’s best effort, and the plot holes were numerous, but at least it’s not the worst episode I’ve ever seen. And it’s got the best array of title pronunciations, too, from “The Rings of Akhenaten” (according to The Doctor Who Podcast) to “The Rings of Frank Sinatra” (à la Real Keith from the Staggering Stories podcast).
The Ice Warriors are back! Yippee! Or… something. I guess I was supposed to be excited about that? And the fact that it was a so-called “base under siege” story that was so prevalent during the third Doctor’s era? I’m not very knowledgeable about classic series Who, so many of the call-backs to previous Doctors that people have been finding are mostly completely lost on me. Other than that, we got the requisite explanation of the translation circuit, yet another attempted trip to Vegas gone awry, lots of things that reminded me of The Hunt for Red October (although, sadly, no awesomly intimidating Russian captain with a Scottish accent), lots of water, and a creepy alien. Not too bad, overall.
This is a popular episode, but I just didn’t get into it. I had to watch it more than once to really get the story — I kept losing the thread because it just wasn’t holding my interest. I guess it was interesting to watch the Doctor try to debunk the “ghosts” in the story… or whatever. Clara’s reaction to seeing the whole story of the Earth from birth to death — her perception of the Doctor’s view of humanity — was thought-provoking, but that’s about it. For me, this one was basically… yawn.
“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”
Yet another episode that started out with millions of fanboys and fangirls going “Squee! We’re going to see more of the inside of the TARDIS! We’re going to see the Swimming Pool! Yay!” and ended with those same fanboys and fangirls (or at least this fangirl) saying “Really? That was it?” This was another one that just didn’t keep my interest. Yes, we (sort of) saw the swimming pool, but I missed it the first time around because evidently I was looking the other way when she walked by that one particular doorway. Add to that the salvagers who have convinced their brother that he’s an android purely for their own entertainment (despite the fact that he still needs to eat and wear a respirator/protective gear), gratuitous wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, running through corridors, and the “Big Friendly Button” deus ex machina that resets everything, and you get an episode that’s thoroughly meh. The library was kind of cool, though.
“The Crimson Horror”
Compared to many episodes in this half-series, this one was enjoyable to me, although that’s not saying too much. It was written in the style of a Victorian “Penny Dreadful” with all the tropes and stereotypes that genre implies, and as such it succeeded. Not a great story, but fun if you don’t take it too seriously. We get to see the fan-favorite Paternoster Irregulars, including a great scene involving Jenny, a tear-away dress, a Victorian leather catsuit, and major butt-kicking. We also have Diana Rigg as the mustache-twirling villain, Mrs. Gillyflower, and as such she gets to deliver the best, mustache twirling-est line of the whole episode: when the Doctor mentions the danger the poison could pose to the whole Earth if it were to wind up “in the wrong hands,” she holds up her hands and says, “Do you know what these are? The wrong hands!” Cracked. Me. Up. I even went right away and posted that as my Facebook status, if I recall. This episode is appropriately over-the-top and best watched casually.
“Nightmare in Silver”
Of all the episodes in this half-season, this was the one I was most looking forward to, and the one I was most disappointed by. I like Neil Gaiman’s writing, especially when he writes for television — I loved Neverwhere, and “The Doctor’s Wife” is probably my most favorite DW episode of all time. This, unfortunately, was definitely not up to those standards. We kept hearing about how he was going to make the Cybermen scary again, and I suppose on that level he succeeded — they’re superfast now and can upgrade themselves at will to overcome whatever their current obstacle is. Other than that, there are too many little plot holes and things that are just annoying to me. Like, why didn’t they put the kids to bed in the TARDIS where they would be safe? And why have the annoying kids and the “you’re not my mother” angst and conflict between the girl and Clara — it just didn’t serve the story as far as I could tell. And while the back-and-forth conversation the Doctor has with his Cyber Planner alter-ego is nicely acted, it goes on for far too long and eventually just gets on my nerves. To top it all off, the deus ex machina ending was just too convenient. Sigh. Warwick Davis did a nice job as the emperor, though — it’s a shame he didn’t have better material to work with.
“The Name of the Doctor”
…is Fred! Seriously, did you really think we were actually going to find out the Doctor’s actual name? Prior to this episode’s release, when all we knew was the title, someone on The Doctor Who Podcast speculated that probably what would happen was that someone on the episode would learn the Doctor’s name, but not necessarily the audience. That turned out to be not far off the truth, actually, in that the name gets said off-screen, and by River Song, no less. Finally, for the first time in a long while, we get a River that’s not completely annoying — she’s the more serious, mature River of “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” without all the “spoilers” and “sweeties” ad nauseum. And she plays a part in the best line of the episode (although that’s not saying much) when the Doctor remarks after he kisses her that since she’s a whatever kind of projection, none of the Paternoster Irregulars looking on can see her (“God knows what that looked like…” or something like that. It was again Facebook status-worthy, at any rate). As for the big reveal of the mystery of Clara, I had that one figured out while the Great Intelligence was twirling his mustaches and explaining exactly what he was going to do before jumping into the Doctor’s time-stream.
Overall, I found this half-season to be really pretty… well, meh. I was so looking forward to a fresh start after we finally got rid of the Ponds, and the new companion had such potential that the series just didn’t live up to. We ended the series with a “Big Reveal” though, and since then we’ve also heard Matt Smith’s “Big News.” Both have the potential to bode well for future stories — here’s hoping Moffat can pull off the spectacular Fiftieth Anniversary Special and Christmas Episode that we deserve, especially after having endured the incredible mediocrity of the last eight episodes.