I stated in my review of the previous season of Doctor Who that I had some concerns about the direction in which the series was headed; that the show, rather than attempting to put out good regular episodes was trying to make everything special and different. I think that, to some extent, the seventh season eschews that tendency. It certainly didn’t seem to when it was airing and there were the super special posters put out for every episode, but I would absolutely rather things merely be advertised as continually new and different rather than actually try to keep reinventing the wheel.
In fact, on the whole, I think the seventh season of the show is quite good. There is a companion change midway through the season and while there is a lot I don’t like about the last episode with the Ponds, I think the actual departure moment is handled exceptionally well.
Let me take a step back, however, for the uninitiated. Doctor Who stars Matt Smith as the 10th incarnation of a Gallifreyan Time Lord, the Doctor. That means that he can travel in time and space in his blue box called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). His trips, however, never go particularly well and, he gets lonely. To fix this latter issue, he meets people and takes them on extended trips with him. These people are referred to as his “companions.”
Now, moving rapidly along (because I don’t really believe that if you’re reading this review you don’t already know of the Doctor and his companions), starting with the fifth season of the updated series we have been treated to Matt Smith as the Doctor. Smith, I have come to decide, has been a brilliant Doctor, one who is unfairly maligned (when he is maligned). I have decided that this negative opinion, when it exists, stems from the fact that he followed David Tennant in the role and many would argue that Tennant has been the show’s best Doctor ever(new series or old).
From Smith’s first full episode through the mid-point in this season, his companion has been Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and, more often than not Rory (Arthur Darvill) as well. People love the Ponds, and with good reason. Their love story and their friendship with the Doctor has made them accessible in a way that I’m not sure other companions have done quite as well. Their relatability also took a lot of the pressure off Smith and his succeeding Tennant.
So, poor Jenna Coleman having to step in and follow the Ponds as new companion Clara Oswin Oswald. Brilliantly, her first appearance is actually in the season premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” with is still a Ponds episode. Watching that episode, one would only know that she was the future companion if they paid attention to the news of her being hired (I’m not ruining it here either, she’s on the cover of the Blu-ray release). Her reappearance then in the Christmas special that aired between the two halves of the seventh series, “The Snowmen,” functions as a fascinating reintroduction. And, finally, her true introduction in “The Bells of Saint John,” a great re-reintroduction.
Now, if that’s all confusing, it’s on purpose. Clara plays a huge part in the season finale, “The Name of the Doctor,” and both of those previous appearances are explained in the finale. What is impressive about this, is that it works. One doesn’t feel rooked by what came before, and one doesn’t feel as though the build-up to the finale oversold the episode (something of which I think the new series has repeatedly been). Even so, I would have preferred a longer closing episode, but what we are offered is enjoyable and leads towards the 50th anniversary episode (“Day of the Doctor,” premiering Nov. 23rd) in fine fashion. Actually, there are moments from the original series used in the season finale and I think they work beautifully.
It would be deficient to not note in this review that the seventh series of Doctor Who marks Matt Smith’s last full season. He will be appearing in the aforementioned 50th anniversary special and then will have this year’s Christmas Special as his final episode. He is going to be replaced by Peter Capaldi whom, presumably, we will get a momentary glimpse of at the conclusion of the Christmas special.
It should further be noted that I haven’t always been the biggest fan of Smith’s, believing that he hasn’t always had the ability to carry the weight of the Doctor’s history on his shoulders as much as such an ancient person would. However, during the break between the end of the airings of the first half of season seven and the start of the second half, I took the time to rewatch all of the new show’s episodes, starting with Eccleston and going straight through to Smith. Doing that gave me a greater appreciation for Smith’s work.
The moment of Smith’s entrance to the series also marked a switch from Russell T Davies to Steven Moffat as showrunner and, naturally, it was something of an abrupt transition. I think that both men have grown into their roles and I wish we would have gotten more Matt Smith before his departure. I think he has grown with the role and changed it in interesting ways. There are certainly moments where he is overly goofy and where the plots haven’t always played to his strengths, but as he’s gone on, he’s found more confidence in his portrayal and the seventh season, undeniably, marks his best work to date as the Time Lord.
On this boxed set, including two Christmas specials, there are 15 episodes and plenty of bonus features. Sadly, the episodic behind the scenes featurettes tend to be overly short—something on the order of four minutes—and really fail to go into as much depth as one might like. There are absolutely other featurettes and longer pieces, but some of these are of the talking head variety reminiscing about a whole bunch of things rather than delving into any particular moment quite enough. There are also a few feature commentary tracks and some great prequels to episodes.
The episodes themselves look and sound great in high definition. Some of the computer generated graphics (see the opening of “The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe”) are a little disappointing, but that isn’t due to a lack in quality on the technical sides of the release. It is definitely a step-up watching these episodes here on Blu-ray than on cable.
Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series is a good get for fans of the series who like having all the episodes at their fingertips. It shows just how far Smith and Moffat have come and does a good job moving from an exceptionally popular set of companions to someone new. The stories are good, particularly Neil Gaiman’s return with “Nightmare in Silver,” and the overarching season-long mystery isn’t one that appears often enough to be distracting.
Now we just have to see if they can do a brilliant job with the 50th anniversary special and the conclusion of the season-ending cliffhanger.