Sunday, 19 May 2013

Verdict: Doctor Who Series 7 Part 2

Clara and The Doctor in action

Matt Smith and newbie Jenna-Louise Coleman swung into action aboard the TARDIS as The Doctor and Clara Oswald in the eight episodes concluding Series 7. With the series split into two unequal halves, this is my write-up on each episode from Part 2 of Series 7. 

Check out my write-up of Part 1 here: Verdict: Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1.
Also, for a preview of Series 7 Part 2, click here: TV Preview #3: Doctor Who Series 7 Part 2

The Bells of St John - 8/10

The Fez is back
If Doctor Who met Eagle Eye and iRobot, the end result would be something along the lines of The Bells of St. John; a Doctor Who spin on a modern-day issue such as surveillance and control which was well-thought out and written. Penned by show front-runner Steven Moffat, the eighth episode from Series 7 introduced Clara Oswald (for the third time) and this time for good. 

Quirky, cheeky and likeable, Clara is a nice character who probably isn't as divisive as Donna or Amy were. On the whole, a solid character introduction that set the tone nicely; her and Doctor look to be a nice team that don't lack wit.The continuity from The Snowmen is exciting stuff, the inclination being that the Greater Intelligence is a running baddie from here on in.

The Rings of Akhaten - 4/10

Don't look back into the sun
Huge in scale, The Rings of Akhaten reminded me a lot of Asylum of the Daleks from earlier in the series; the producers of the show really went to town on creating the alien planet that the Doctor and Clara visit for their first real adventure. 

Whilst the look and feel was decidedly George Lucasey, the plot here felt oddly paced. A touching prologue that charts Clara's parents meeting and her mother's untimely death was followed by the duo's arrival on one of the most authentic looking alien worlds we have seen in the show.

After a brief jaunt through a bustling market, the plot loses any sense of coherence. Some genuinely terrifying villains called the Mummy and the Vigils feel grossly underused. Also, whatever happened to aliens haveing alien names? After such build-up, the whole episode just felt like a bit of a cop-out. The story was sloppy, there was little sense of tension or suspense. Defiantly a low-point for this series and one of the poorest Who episodes I can remember.

The episode did manage to however to further integrate Clara into the Whoniverse; she already feels as much a part of the show as Rose or Amy did which is a plus - the leaf and her book were a nice touch.

Cold War - 8/10

"Stay here and don't argue"
"I'm not"
Cold War saw the Doctor and Clara get caught up in well, the Cold War; stuck on a Soviet nuclear submarine in the Arctic circle, the time-travelling duo run into an old foe; the Ice Warriors.

I thought that Cold War was a great episode that did a great job of reintroducing an old enemy to a new generation. As their first appearance in New Who, the Ice Warriors were made to seem really scary and formidable, and not a pantomime villain.

The terror scale started to ramp up when the lone Warrior (named Grand Marshall Skaldak) slipped out of his armour and went all xenomorph on our asses; the claustrophobic setting only made the episode a real nail-biter. After the damp squib that was The Ring of Akhaten, Cold War achieved pretty much everything you could have asked of it. Fingers crossed the Ice Warriors aren't a one off.

Hide - 7/10

She's behind you!
Hide was another fantastic episode in the seventh season of Doctor Who. The setting (1970's Britain, a haunted manor house) was brilliantly inter-spliced with some futuristic elements and a 'pocket universe' colliding with our own. It was a fantastically novel way of exploring the haunted house premise whilst keeping to the look and feel distinctly Doctor Who. 

Again, this episode did a great job of developing to the relationship between The Doctor and Clara. The two have a great on screen rapport and her fiery and feisty nature really genres energy between the characters. Clara is fast becoming one of my favourite companions to the Doctor. Here's hoping that she sticks around after this season.

The episode's only downsides for me were the supporting characters (Jessica Raine and Dougray Scott as Emma Grayling and Alec Palmer respectively) a little flat and uninteresting. Also, the creature that was stalking Hila Tukurian (Kemi-Bo Jacobs) in the pocket universe was just plain ugly and could have been something the audience can sympathise with more rather than despise. 

Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS - 8/10

The Doctor gazes into the Eye of Harmony.
Yes, finally, an extended and decent look at the inner-workings of the TARDIS. I really liked this episode, probably up there with others from this series like Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan

However, much like both of these episodes, Journey would have been a much better story had it not been crammed into one 45 minute episode. The creepy projections that stalked Clara were genuinely terrifying but imagine if those scenes had been allowed to drag on. Just imagine how brilliantly scary they would have been if those scenes had been allowed to slow right down and take a breath.

It's not like the scope of the episode would have felt stretched  The TARDIS is vast and had so much potential to be drawn out much like the brilliant Silence in the Library episodes. As it is, Journey is a great premise done well given the short run-time. It did a fantastic job of developing the Doctor and Clara's relationship (that scene where the Doctor confronted a confused Clara about her secret was exhilarating)  and hinting at a cracking finale before that great twist ending.

The Crimson Horror - 6/10

The Doctor takes a closer look at The Crimson Horror
Back in Victorian England, The Doctor and Clara team up with Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax to solve the mystery of the Crimson 'orror that plagues a Yorkshire town. 

Whilst I can see why The Crimson Horror will be popular with some people, I personally didn't like it that much. Maybe I'm biased (Victorian England is wayyy over done) but I just felt that this episode really lacked that spark the previous three had. Diana Rigg was great as Mrs. Gillyflower, the scenery-gnawing baddie, whilst the reveal of Mr. Sweet was genuinely surprising. Rigg's character was very over-the-top, making her a good pantomime villain. 

Another plus side was some great giggle-worthy jokes (Attack of the Supermodels!) and the great direction by Saul Meltzein. On the downside however, I felt that the plot was too rushed or ill-explained at some key points in the narrative. Likewise, the Doctor and Clara weren't featured all that much for an episdoe so close to the finale.

Nightmare in Silver - 8/10

"Knight to E6"
The second episode to have been written by Neil Gaiman after 2011's The Doctor's Wife, Nightmare in Silver was certainly set an ambitious task; to make the Cybermen scary again.

Did it work? Yes, the Cybermen were the best they've been since 2006 in my opinion. Faster, cleverer and adaptable, the Doctor's second most fearsome enemy were definitely not as cuddly this time around.

A great aspect of this episode was Matt Smith's schizophrenic personality; it really showed off his acting prowess. Also, Warwick Davis gave an understated (and great) performance as Porridge. Elsewhere however, the addition of  Artie and Angie to the time-travelling cast fell a little flat and I felt they didn't add much. Other than that, Nightmare in Silver was a great episode that felt delightfully retro-Who.

The Name of the Doctor - 10/10

The Doctor visits Trenzalore
Easily the best finale we've had in years, The Name of the Doctor was a fantastic premise that had you gripped from the very start.

In recent years, Doctor Who finales have tended to be grand in scale but disappointing in delivery; think Last of the Time Lords and Journey's End. This time around however, the stakes were still high (the Doctor was faced with years of helping and saving people being re-written) but the story was personal and touching. 

First of all, Matt Smith's acting was fantastic; the longer he goes on, the better he gets. His tender moments with Clara and River show Smith is adding some really deep emotion to his incarnation of the Timelord. Meanwhile, Alex Kingston was also great as the returning River Song. Whether this turns out to be her final appearance we don't know, but if it was, it would be a rather fitting send-off. Jenna Louise Coleman as Clara was, as always it seems, brilliant and Richard Grant was again menacing as the Great Intelligence. The Whispermen were also genuinely terrifying, although a little redundant at the end of the day. 

With both the riddle surrounding Clara brilliantly exposed (kudos for including her in the narrative of the original series) and the Doctor's name nudged aside (did y'all really think we'd find it out?), the ending to this episode brilliantly sets up the 50th Anniversary Special in November - the trifecta of Smith, Tennant and now John Hurt promises to be a real treat. Bring it on.

Final Thoughts - 7.5/10

On the whole, this run of eight episodes has been something of a roller coaster ride. Reaching great heights (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Name of the Doctor) and plumbing some disappointing lows (The Rings of Akhaten), the quality has been varied at times to say the least. An average score of 7.5 is fairly accurate; the brilliant introduction of Clara Oswald, the ongoing conundrum of the Doctor's name and the reinvention of the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen was offset by some slightly disappointing villains and premises. Also, the lack of double-parters meant some of the stories felt rushed. 

The sheer excitement and buzz generated by that finale (what a cliffhanger! Moffat really is a good one for effective rug-pulls) will no doubt whip fans into a frenzy in the months in between now and the 50th Anniversary Special. Let's just hope it can deliver; let the crazy predictions and speculating begin!

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