Updated: Jun 6
This week we move from the mess of Series 6 to the mayhem of Series 7. The third year of the Eleventh Doctor was strange, controversial and inconsistent rather than just confusing, which had been the case the previous year. There are lots of factors working against it, such as the scheduling, the change in characters mid-series and the lack of overall, continuous story arc, and these things all contribute to making the series one of the least fondly remembered. However, there are great performances from Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman, an all-time iconic episode in ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ featuring an emotional finale for Amy and Rory, some wonderful guest stars like Ian McKellen, and some very strong specials along the way. So despite its flaws, there is still plenty to enjoy at times and a lot to break down.
Series 7 did try to fit in some specific story arcs, although in this case they popped in and out fairly inconsistently throughout, such as the farewell of Amy and Rory, who is The Impossible Girl, and the death of the Doctor, again. The Great Intelligence also flitted in and out of episodes across the second half of the series, while some remnants of Series 6 also joined in towards the end.
Regarding any changes and developments from Series 6, we start with the world restored to normality after ‘The Wedding of River Song’ and following the reemergence of the Doctor after some well-deserved down time. He told Amy and Rory he was alive by the end of the first Christmas story, and the team are back travelling together once the series really properly begins. Otherwise this series starts off with the same set up as previously. Amy and Rory are still the main companions, at least for the first five episodes, and Steven Moffat is still the primary writer as well. Of course, Matt Smith is still the Doctor, in what will be his final full series. Jenna- Louise Coleman, as she is credited at this point, plays Clara ‘Oswin’ Oswald, featuring in ‘Asylum of the Dalek’s, and the mid-series Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’, as different versions of the same character, before becoming the modern-day version of Clara and the main companion of the Eleventh Doctor from the second half of Series 7 onwards.
It’s been mentioned already but we should explain further about the peculiar timing and release of the respective episodes in this series. If we count all the surrounding specials, the first Christmas story, ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is aired on Christmas Day 2011. However, the first regular series episode was not broadcast until September 2012. We get five episodes across September up until ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ and that is it until another Christmas episode takes place in December 2012, ‘The Snowmen’. Following that story, ‘The Bells of St. John’ is released at the end of March and the rest of Series 7 is played out weekly from that point. The 50th anniversary special, ‘The Day of the Doctor, is broadcast on October 23rd of the same year which is relatively quickly followed by the 2013 Christmas story and what we are calling the end of Series 7 today for arguments sake, as it is also the end of the Eleventh Doctor, ‘The Time of the Doctor’.
Before we get into the episodes, for those of you reading these reviews for the first time, they are being written in light of our upcoming Doctor Who tour of Cardiff filming locations. The Welsh capital has served as the backdrop to most of the new stories filmed this century, be it in studios in Cardiff Bay or around the city’s streets and buildings, and a tour of those locations will become a reality later this year, once tours are possible again. Series 7 is no exception, especially in, for example, ‘The Power of Three’ (Bute Esplanade), ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ (Glamorgan Building), and ‘Nightmare in Silver’ (Castell Coch). In the meantime, consider these reviews a light introduction into what may or may not feature on those tours in the future, and a fun lookback on the individual series’ as well to get us through lockdown.
With the set up and changes all noted, it’s time to get into the respective stories, so let’s try and make some sense of it all, starting with the 2011 Christmas Special...
The first of three Christmas episodes, ‘The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe’ is perhaps the weakest in the greater context of wider story, but it is a nice standalone in its own right. It’s good to see Alexander Armstrong and Claire Skinner in the Whoniverse but really this story never gets going, and is essentially solved with love. A bit too sentimental in the end really.
‘Asylum of the Daleks’ is a solid regular-season opener, but mainly because of the interactions of the Doctor and Oswin, which is a strong sign of things to come down the line. However, the episode also manages to make the Daleks seem weaker than ever, even if the concept of a planet for rogue, faulty or insane Daleks initially seems like a clever idea. Rory and Amy have divorced also, off-screen, but then got back together to live happily ever after in the space of a couple of minutes, which was a pointless move that served no purpose but to annoy fans who had invested in their relationship. So, ultimately, an opener of ups and downs, but more pros than cons.
We take a step down with ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. Again, not for the first time, a clever and intriguing title, but a story in which not much happens. The highlights are Rory’s dad, the robots voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb, and the presence of Lastrade from Sherlock. Otherwise, instantly forgettable.
‘A Town Called Mercy’ tries something a little different. Set in the mid-west of the US during Gold Rush times, but filmed in Spain, the Tardis Team think the bad guy is the innocent one and the good guy is the villain. The Doctor faces a moral dilemma of offering Jex (the supposed goodie) to the Gunslinger (the supposed baddie) to save the townspeople. He feels bad for Jex even though he invented the cyborg gunslinger in the first place, and devises a plan to help Jex escape, but Jex commits suicide to save more people from being harmed. The Doctor saves the Gunslinger from self-destruction and makes him the marshal of Mercy. The tone and themes of the story are far more in keeping with Doctor Who rather than the attempted blockbuster events of the previous two, so a step back in the right direction here.
‘The Power Of Three’ is another interesting story, even if having the Doctor live with Amy and Rory for a year doing nothing completely fudges the timing of the show and their lives. Anyway, little black cubes have fallen from the sky, they come alive a year later and give the third of the earth a heart attack. The Doctor eventually tracks the cubes to the Shakri, who plan to eliminate humanity before they can colonise. The Doctor reverses the electric pulse used to stop people's hearts and destroys the Shakri ship. Likeable episode due to the interactions between Amy and Rory, and the Doctor, and Rory’s dad again.
Series 7A comes to an end with ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, as do Amy and Rory. The Weeping Angels are back for their third story, getting increasingly less scary with each appearance, but the setting, characters and finale of this one make it a memorable episode. It is, of course, all designed to bring about the departures of Amy and Rory after two and a half series and about ten years of their own lives. Where the episode really succeeds is their departure, giving it a strong emotional impact, as we, at first, thought they had survived with a time paradox through the power of love, only to be taken unsuspectingly after all. It was time for them to move on, and they had a fitting finale.
‘The Snowmen’, as mentioned, takes place three months after Rory and Amy leave us, and three months before we meet modern-day Clara. The Doctor is grieving his loss and finds himself in Victorian England hanging out with the Paternoster Gang (who we are meeting for the second time after ‘A Good Man Goes to War’) and where he meets a spunky, tough, rogue-ish version of Clara. The Great Intelligence/Dr. Simeon, who is sort of a Nikola Tesla type character, played by Richard E. Grant, brings about the return of a Classic Who antagonist, who we will meet later in Series 7 again. Between them all, the team foil his plan to take over the world with the Snowmen, this Clara dies and the Doctor sets off to find her in another time.
21st century Clara arrives on the scene in ‘The Bells of Saint John’ as we get in Series 7B. This story is fairly unique one for Doctor Who, in its setting in modern, central London, the use of modern technology, specifically WiFi, and the tone is something of a modern thriller as well. Ultimately Miss Kizlet, a pawn of the Great Intelligence, is foiled by the Doctor and Clara, and those minds of those taken over by their WiFi is restored.
From the relatively low bar of the series up to this point, it is from here that it falls even further for a while. ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ has a couple of nice moments, such as Matt Smith’s iconic speech, Merry’s singing to the Sun God and the array of aliens, and just the fact that the Doctor and Clara just get to hang out and explore a new world as tourists, which just doesn’t happen enough anymore. The plot loses its way in the final third though, but it turns out the sun is a parasite and not a god after all, and Clara saves the day with love essentially.
‘Cold War’ signifies a string of stories that can generally be categorised as dull. They didn't know it at the time but there are two Prince Phillip’s on the submarine, in Matt Smith and Tobias Menzies, and that’s pretty much the highlight of this. The Ice Warriors make a first appearance since Classic Who as well, and there’s something intimidating and claustrophobic about the setting at least. The sailors being Russian rather than British is also a nice twist, but otherwise there’s not much to see here.
The same can be said about ‘Hide’, which is another by-the-books standard ghost-story/ horror/monster episode. What starts out as a ghost story becomes a monster story which is ultimately about a misunderstood alien who just happens to be in love. Love is starting to save the day a bit more often lately...
A great name, ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, does not mean a great episode unfortunately. It’s fun to see the Tardis in more detail and get to experience some rooms and corridors that we don’t usually experience, including areas that look a lot like Cardiff Castle, but that’s about it from this one. The brothers are a bit annoying and don’t add much to the drama, and having the big reveal time-reversed, of the Doctor telling Clara that she died twice before, is just a complete waste.
‘The Crimson Horror’ brings the Paternoster Gang back again. It’s striking how Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint and Strax just pop up for the first time unannounced and now they’re back for their third outing as if we should know them all our lives. Anyway, this story is set in northern England in Victorian times, where an old lady, Mrs. Gillyflower, is working with an alien leech named Mr. Sweet, to preserve the human race as red zombies with leech juice. It’s a weird one, but still enjoyable enough.
Castell Coch and Cardiff’s City Hall are the real stars of ‘Nightmare in Silver’. The north Cardiff castle is the backdrop as Clara takes on the seemingly unbeatable Cybermen, and the throne of Emperor Porridge sits in the unmistakable Marble Hall of City Hall. The Cybermen are a strange breed in this story, as they are no longer human on the inside, they appear stronger than ever before to the point that the Doctor is also converted, but are then defeated quite quickly in the end anyway.
‘The Name of The Doctor’ brings about the second finale of the series following ‘The Angels take Manhattan’. It revolves around the plot thread of Trenzalore, the Great intelligence and who is the Impossible Girl. It starts off excellently with Clara getting CGI’d into scenes with a bunch of previous Doctors. However, it is messy, requires a lot of exposition and is trying to do too much at once. To sum it all up though, Trenzalore is where The Doctor is buried and the Doctor's name needs to be said to open the door to his timeline (which is what the Great Intelligence wants), which Clara then jumps into in order to explain why she keeps showing up. Much like the end of Series 6, it is also trying to set up the next questions rather than just focusing on its own plot, so the finale in this case brings John Hurt into the show as the War Doctor ahead of the 50th anniversary special.
At times, the entire seventh series felt like it was a bit rushed in order to get us to this point. ‘The Day of The Doctor’ brings three Doctors together on screen at the same time in David Tennant, John Hurt and Matt Smith, while Tom Baker makes a comeback also as the museum curator at the end. There’s a lot of references to Nu and Classic Who, a lot of banter between them all and a lot of goofing around and in-jokes, but thankfully it all comes together quite nicely and is not as convoluted as one might have expected. Billie Piper even shows up as well as the War Doctor’s subconscious.
The story revolves around the Time War and the fate of Gallifrey, and whether to destroy it or not to end the war. We have a classic moral dilemma and the three Doctors come together and figure out a way to hide Gallifrey, which ultimately lets the Daleks kill themselves in the crossfire, so everyone will be satisfied. It also means Gallifrey and other Time Lords are alive somewhere, which might just come in handy as a plot device in the future...
Finally we have the third Christmas story, and the finale for the Eleventh Doctor, ‘The Time of The Doctor’. It’s a bit rushed considering it is trying to wrap up so many things, including the death of the Doctor, again, Trenzalore, the name of the Doctor, still, even The Silence and the crack in the universe.
So, thousands of aliens orbit Trenzalore, from which a message is continually being broadcast across time and space, and it turns out it’s coming from a town called Christmas, from a crack in reality in a clock tower and is being sent by the Time Lords. The Doctor deduces the Time Lords are trying to escape the pocket universe they are in and want the Doctor to announce his name as a sign that it is safe to emerge. Therefore, the other aliens cannot attack at the risk of the Doctor letting the Time Lords out, while the Doctor cannot risk abandoning Trenzalore as the Time Lords' will be destroyed by their waiting enemies on their return.
Clara speaks to the Time Lords through the crack, begging them to help the Doctor. The crack in the tower closes and reappears in the night sky. Regeneration energy flows from the crack and into the Doctor, granting him new regenerations. The Doctor uses the excess energy to destroy the Daleks, and the crack closes. The Doctor sets off in the Tardis to complete his regeneration into Peter Capaldi, and Clara is confused as to what is going on.
Well that was epically long, in terms of its time scale, in and out of the actual show, and the number of stories. It’s not quite the long lasting goodbye of David Tennant but it is close. By the end of ‘The Time of the Doctor’, viewers were suffering a bit of Matt Smith fatigue, not necessarily because of him but because of the overly contrived plots, never ending story arcs and the occasional boring episodes. He is supposed to be fun, but the stories were getting heavier and darker through most of the second half of the series and In the end it just felt like the time to move on. Apparently Smith was tempted to go on for one more year as a chance to work with Jenna Coleman for a bit longer, but it’s probably for the best that it ended at this point. The show has, at this stage, gone through three long, confusing, marathon series’ across four years and with each story dug itself into a newer hole of complexity. There were so many story threads going on that carried over from one series to another that it was becoming a struggle to keep on top of it all, so sensibly a clean slate was needed from this point. Or at least, as close to a clean slate as was possible, by bringing in the Twelfth Doctor, who made a brief cameo appearance in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. Smith has been great, and played the Doctor at a time when the show reached its zenith internationally, so he remains incredibly popular across the world. He was also involved in some fantastic stories and gave some great performances and Series 5 and 6 were no doubt very ambitious, unique and tried some new things, but when it came to Series 7, apart from ‘The Day of the Doctor’, which everything seemed to be building towards, it seemed like everyone involved was just trying to get through it rather than actually enjoying it.
While the Eleventh Doctor moved on just in time, Amy and Rory stayed too long. When the Doctor dropped them off at their new home at the end of ‘The God Complex’ it felt like a fairly natural end for them, but they were back for the Series 6 finale in some form, and then for five more stories in Series 7. By the time they left they just felt like an unnecessary nuisance, as there were episodes with them in which they offered little or weren’t really needed. Even Rory’s dad had to be added to make them more fun to be around. For example, ‘A Town Called Mercy’ and ‘Dinosaurs in Space’ could have lived without them, and they felt forced into the storyline. They weren’t bad companions or characters, (although Rory was completely wasted in Series 5), but they had run their course and had nothing to offer anymore by the time they left unfortunately. It was enjoyable watching their relationship evolve, Rory did eventually become a useful character in Series 6, it was good to see Amy choose him over the Doctor if that was ever really an option, and they had some great episodes together like ‘The Girl Who Waited’ and ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, or even ‘The Pandorica Opens’.
Regarding Clara, she made an instant impact. One of the most enjoyable episodes of the series was ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, in which she makes a big impression, all the more so because while the hardcore-viewers knew she was going to be the next companion by this point, nobody expected her to appear in this episode. Maybe, just maybe, it could have been more interesting if Oswin or Nineteenth Century Clara had become the full-time companion, but by the end of Series 7 there is still some intrigue about her and mystery over what is to come with the Twelfth Doctor. Maybe this is with the benefit of hindsight, but of course we all know that the best of Clara is still to come in Series 8 anyway, but she’s been a strong addition and a welcome change from Amy and Rory up to this stage anyway, even if The Impossible Girl’ trope didn’t quite pay off as well as we’d hoped.
Overall, it was more confusing and disappointing a series than Series 6, which was a tall order. No two-parters at all for the first time, lots of darker, monster, horror, ghost episodes, and a huge personality shift from the Doctor by the end of series 7 compared to previously, which all led to mass confusion. A string of dull, boring, inconsequential episodes did not help either. Much like the Series 6 finale, albeit without the constant build up and teasing, the payoff of the story threads weren’t very strong. The explanation of Clara, Trenzalore, the Doctor’s death, The Great Intelligence, The Silence, the Crack and so on and so forth all come together across the finales of the series but none pack that big of a punch as their importance had dwindled throughout the series. Thankfully we had ‘The Day of the Doctor’ to fall back on, which was the real triumph of this period of Doctor Who.
Finishing on that 50th anniversary special before getting into the Awards, it was a real highlight and fantastic to see Tennant and Smith bounce off each other on screen. Hurt was also a great addition, being perfectly gruff and unimpressed by the antics of his two future, younger selves. For once, this story didn’t try to do too much. Perhaps it could have left the Zygons aside but other than that it focused on the three Doctors and one moral dilemma, and it took a bit of bantering, fun and in-jokes to get there but ultimately we were given a satisfying conclusion. As mentioned, it seemed as though Moffat was a bit distracted from Series 7 by creating this anniversary special, as well as by writing ‘Sherlock’ of course, but at least it paid off with this story.
As for Series 8, that will have to wait until next Friday, but it will be interesting to see how Clara and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor get along together...
*Much like in Series 4, the specials do not get considered for for the best and worst episode awards, but will do in all of the other categories.
Best episode - ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’
This has been chosen almost reluctantly, as it may be the best of an average bunch. It packs the biggest emotional impact of any regular-series story in this series, and gave a strong send-off to Amy and Rory after a long journey for them.
Worst episode - ‘Hide’
Again, this could have been any episode really, but ‘Hide’ is chosen because it just didn’t resonate as much as others. It wasn’t sure what it wanted to be, and there was a lack of emotional pull from the characters involved, even if it was exciting to see Dougray Scott involved here.
Favourite Character - Oswin
Let’s go with Oswin here, from ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, as she was fun, sassy, a good match for the Doctor compared to Amy and Rory (who were pretty useless here), and she was the best thing about this story.
Best Moment - Amy and Rory’s farewell
Best Villain - The Gunslinger, 'A Town Called Mercy'
The Gunslinger initially seemed like a generic alien/cyborg bad guy outside his own world/time, but he actually turned into a complex and likeable character, and he looked cool too.
Welsh Ref - For a series featuring so much Wales visually, there were no references to Wales or any noticeably Welsh accents this time around.
Best Guest Star - Richard E. Grant
Was there any other option? Richard E. Grant is perfectly cast as a smartly dressed, Victorian baddie, and thankfully he gets to contribute to more than one episode as Dr. Simeon/The Great Intelligence.
Location very obviously Cardiff/Wales - The Exchange
It’s not the first appearance for the Exchange in Cardiff Bay in NuWho but it may be the most obvious so far, featuring this year in ‘The Snowmen’ as the headquarters/office/grand hall of the Great Intelligence.
Location Not so Obviously Cardiff - Brigantine Place Canal, Crimson Horror
When a body is found in a canal by the team, it is a Cardiff canal off Tyndall St in among a series of modern apartments.
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