The final eight episodes of BBC’s Doctor Who Series Seven, airing months after the beginning of the run, feel quite a bit different than the first five, so it makes sense to package them separately. Gone are Amy and Rory, and the Doctor (Matt Smith) now has a new companion named Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who has died twice, but doesn’t remember those past lives. Who is Clara, and will we finally get an answer to the prevalent question, doctor who?
The first episode in this two-disc release, “The Bells of Saint John,” finds the Doctor secluded in the 13th century, living among monks, having given up his search for the mysterious Clara, a journey begun in the Christmas special that aired just prior to this. Then, he gets a phone call from Clara in the modern day, who thinks the Doctor is tech support, and he flies to her side.
Disappointingly, this installment fails to get into who Clara is, instead delivering a third introduction story for the character, while also rushing into another battle with the Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant), albeit this time without the Doctor figuring out who his foe is. It’s a fun episode, with some wonderful moments between Clara and the Doctor, but does almost nothing for the serial tale, answering none of the questions fans have been anxiously awaiting.
This trend continues for the next six weeks. The Doctor and Clara see the remarkable “Rings of Akhaten,” go into a Russian submarine during the “Cold War” and find an Ice Warrior, “Hide”
from ghosts stuck in time, “Journey to the Centre or the TARDIS,” which does not care for Clara, help Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) investigate “The Crimson Horror,” and find a “Nightmare in Silver,” a.k.a. the Cyberman, in an abandoned amusement park.
All of these are whimsical stories, and it’s gratifying to see returning characters and villains, plus some terrific guest stars, such as Warwick Davis (Life’s Too Short). They all serve to strengthen the bond between the Doctor and Clara, and present some amusing stand-alone tales. But with the massive setup for more that viewers are looking for, it comes across a slightly disappointing run over all, even if they are pretty enjoyable episodes taken on their own.
But then we get “The Name of the Doctor,” the amazing season finale. The Great Intelligence is back, as are Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Beloved River Song (Alex Kingston) plays a vital role, and the secret of Clara is explored. The characters gather at the Doctor’s tomb, and thanks to some incredible editing, the previous ten doctors are involved. There is a startling surprise ending, introducing John Hurt as a brand new incarnation of a familiar face, beautifully setting up this fall’s big 50th anniversary special. It is everything we’ve been waiting for.
Some have complained that “The Name of the Doctor” contradicts previously established events. Doctor Who teaches us that time can be fluid, and there may very well be good explanation for why things unfold the way they do. I recommend reserving judgment until we see where else Steven Moffat and company are going with the story next.
Doctor Who has always balanced the serial with the procedural, so I’m not sure why I am let down by the same type of mix here. I think it may be because Clara doesn’t immediately make herself accessible, as some past companions have done. Part of it could be because we’re so close to a huge reveal that’s been building for years. Whatever the reason, repeat viewings are more satisfying, and “The Rings of Akhaten” and “Nightmare in Silver,” in particular, are very, very good, so I do recommend getting this set and watching it numerous times.
As usual, the high definition presentation on the Blu-ray is everything you could ask for. Doctor Who has a number of different settings, so that are lots of opportunity to explore fantastical, special effects-heavy worlds, as well as varying color schemes. All of this comes across as rich and detailed. An at-times-stellar score mixes perfectly with the crisp dialogue, and there are never any complaints of static or graininess. Considering some of the spectacular visuals, Blu-ray is the recommended format to view it in.
For extras, there are two measly inclusions. There is a delightful, but short, prequel to “The Bells of Saint John,” which is definitely worth watching, and a second prequel to “The Name of the Doctor,” is also present. That’s it. There is nothing to give insight into the making of these episodes. I assume we’ll have to wait for The Complete Seventh Series for more, though I’ll also be disappointed if there is more on that, just because it forces another purchase of episodes we already have. In an ideal world, the extras would all be on the two smaller sets, and The Complete Seventh Series would just be a value method to buy for those who waited. Oh, well.
Doctor Who Series Seven, Part Two is available now.