Technically, we might be talking about the second half of Series Seven. But what we’re really looking at here is the first helping of fiftieth anniversary year Doctor Who. And if the first half of Series Seven didn’t leave us expecting something special for the remainder – not to mention the Christmas Special that left the mystery hinted at in Asylum of the Daleks no closer to an explanation – then surely the fact that this looks like being the majority of what the BBC have planned for 2013 (Christmas and Anniversary Specials, along with 90-minute docudramas notwithstanding) must leave the appetite well and surely whetted. So let’s look ahead at what we can expect over the next couple of months. (N.B. Before we go on, all bar one of the episode titles – Episode Five – are unannounced at the time of writing, so we’re using here the titles that fandom have collectively led themselves to expect...)
EPISODE ONE: “THE BELLS OF ST JOHNS”
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Colm McCarthy
Steven Moffat described this as a “modern urban thriller,” effectively moving into Russell T Davies territory for the opening instalment of the series, and Matt Smith has revealed that the threat involves some kind of “monster in the wi-fi.” But of course, that’s just the backdrop to the real story here: what the world is waiting to find out is, what is it with this Clara girl? Twice already the Doctor and she have crossed paths, and on each of those occasions, the character has perished. Rather like a River/Pond take on A Christmas Carol (and let’s be honest, Steven Moffat has never been afraid of drinking from the same well twice), we have already met the future version of Clara Oswin Oswald, and the version from the past. Now it’s time to take in the very-much present version. And here’s another couple of questions: how long before the Doctor gets to the bottom of this future-past-present mystery? And more urgently, will Clara Oswald survive beyond the end of these eight episodes? Also featuring Celia Imrie.
EPISODE TWO: “THE RINGS OF AKHATEN”
Written by: Neil Cross
Directed by: Farren Blackburn
TARDIS-eating asteroids, beach scenes and deadly hospitals aside, Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who hasn’t really “done” an alien planet yet – not properly. But the first of two scripts by Luther’s Neil Cross (and actually the second to have been written) is going to change all that. Not only has Moffat described this story as involving a “fantastic alien planet, looking absolutely amazing,” but he’s also said it’s “the best alien planet we’ve ever done.” Which might not mean all that much, seeing as the revived series has by and large avoided setting its stories on extraterrestrial worlds, but we have to trust that this new “movie-of-the-week” version of the series, which hasn’t failed to impress so far, will keep on doing so. As such, this episode might end up being something truly spectacular.
EPISODE THREE: “THE COLD WAR”
Written by: Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Douglas MacKinnon
Ice Warriors on a submarine? That’s what Mark Gatiss has in store for us in the first of his two scripts this year. Yes, the worst-kept secret in Doctor Who was finally confirmed a few weeks ago, when executive producer Caro Skinner spilled the beans on what Episode Three would contain. “A monster of that scale and that size trapped in a really small, contained environment such as a submarine,” Skinner teased, perhaps giving away more than she possibly ought. For those fans of the classic series Ice Warrior design, worried that the updated Martians might lose their identity in a fashion similar to the redesigned Daleks and Silurians, we’re pleased to tell you it looks unlikely. A 2013-period Ice Warrior head recently surfaced at a toy fair and, apart from modern Cybermat-style teeth, it looks reassuringly similar to the classic 1960s design. “The fulfilment of a long-term dream,” is how Gatiss described the submarine setting, and the episode title might also give away something of the story’s time period; apparently the crew of the sub are Russians, and include Liam Cunningham among their number. David Warner also stars, and as no set photos or trailer clips involving him appear to have surfaced, we can only assume there’s a possibility he might be playing the Ice Warrior itself.
EPISODE FOUR: “PHANTOMS OF THE HEX”
Written by: Neil Cross
Directed by: Jamie Payne
One of the first episodes of the second half of Series 7 to go before the cameras, we don’t really know much about this, except perhaps that it’s the episode Steven Moffat described as a “cracking ghost story.” Judging from the on-set photographs, we might suppose that it is set a century ago or maybe even before, but certainly Dougray Scott’s professor puts us in mind of the character he played in the film Enigma. Curiously, this might even give Neil Cross’ first script for the series (Moffat has said, “You won’t be in any doubt why we cranked another story out of him”) something of the feel of the 1989 stories Ghost Light or The Curse of Fenric, possibly a clue as to the overall direction of these eight episodes. For if Episode Three is a Patrick Troughton story by any other name, and Episode Five a William Hartnell... Perhaps the fiftieth anniversary run of episodes has been designed to evoke memories of the seven classic series Doctors; in which case, this is undoubtedly the Sylvester McCoy. This episode will also include in its cast Call the Midwife star Jessica Raine, significant now for having been cast as the show’s original producer Verity Lambert in Mark Gatiss’ docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.
EPISODE FIVE: “JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS”
Written by: Stephen Thompson
Directed by: Mat King
“This show will do what it says on the tin,” says Steven Moffat, with writer Stephen Thompson (alumni of Moffat and Gatiss’ Sherlock) adding, “That was the brief: what’s in the middle” of the TARDIS? The curious thing about this “bottle episode” is that its cast doesn’t end at Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman; instead, we have (among others) Ashley Walters (of Hustle, and ex-member of So Solid Crew), and even more intriguingly, Jahvel Hall as a character called ‘Tricky’. Could there be something metaphysical going on down there? Given its nature as an entirely in-studio production (probably!), very little in the way of other information has escaped about this story – and that’s almost certainly a good thing. Not-so-fond memories of the TARDIS-set episodes of The Invasion of Time will hopefully be wiped out after the transmission of Episode Five, and finally those fans who’ve been asking for a TARDIS-set bottle episode will have their every prayer answered.
EPISODE SIX: “THE CRIMSON HORROR”
Written by: Mark Gatiss
Directed by: Saul Metzstein
The first of two episodes featuring the return of the eleventh Doctor’s “gang”, Madame Vastra and her partner Jenny, and the gloriously gung-ho Sontaran Strax, this is also the Mark Gatiss story that much of the early publicity for the series centred upon. That’s right, this is the first time that Diana Rigg and her real-life daughter Rachael Stirling have appeared together, in this “joyously camp” (Stirling) episode playing another mother and daughter – albeit perhaps in not quite such a straightforward manner. Although a period piece, the evidence points to Episode Six as being one of the more unusual of the run, which Steven Moffat has described as “absolutely mental” and “a monstrosity of nonsense.” The League of Gentlemen fans might therefore be led to assume that somehow Gatiss has managed to fuse the best of the three projects he is most famous for working on (Madame Vastra perhaps taking on the role of a lesbian lizard Sherlock Holmes once again), and while Doctor Who purists might balk at the prospect, elsewhere hopes will be high that Gatiss can finally pay off on all the promise he has previously shown.
EPISODE SEVEN: “THE LAST CYBERMAN”
Written by: Neil Gaiman
Directed by: Stephen Woolfenden
With The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman made good on all the high expectations that his Doctor Who debut gave rise to. And now it’s difficult second album time, but it looks like the stops have been well and truly pulled out to ensure that this one’s an equal success. Revamped Cybermen on an alien planet, with Tamzin Outhwaite, Warwick Davis and the magnificent Jason Watkins as a “band of misfits”, according to the official website, Gaiman’s new story may well turn out to be the moment the revived series truly engages with the steel men from Mondas; there is, after all, plenty of back-story from which to cherry pick. Illicit set photographs of the Cybermen stomping about Cybus-style notwithstanding, even the title of this episode (The Last Cyberman – apparently genuine) suggests a wholly different approach than the one we’ve recently seen. It’s a shame the redesign is less Mondas than it is middling-to-different, but at least it shows a production team on their toes, and at last listening to their critics when it comes to changing things overmuch and for the sake of it. There’s a very great possibility that this run of eight episodes might well be the most distinct and enjoyable since the series returned.
EPISODE EIGHT: “TITLE UNKNOWN”
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Saul Metzstein
It isn’t only the title that’s still a secret about this one, it’s pretty much everything else as well – although this looks to be the Vastra-Jenny-Strax triumvirates’ second appearance of the year, and we wouldn’t throw out the suggestion that River Song might be involved somewhere along the way either. Other than that, both cast and plot are a mystery, but we’d like to suggest that this might be the eleventh Doctor’s rematch with the Great Intelligence. After all, The Snowmen wouldn’t have finished on that odd note, as the Doctor discovers who his enemy has been and tries to remember having met them before, if Steven Moffat weren’t trying to signal something for the character’s future. And the peculiar sequence with the London Underground map wouldn’t have made any sense either to 99% of the audience. No, we’re convinced that the Great Intelligence will be back and almost certainly in this episode, and what’s more, that they’ll be bringing the Yeti along for the ride. That’s right, producer Marcus Wilson teased us a long time ago with the news that two old enemies were making a comeback this series, and so far (unless the redesigned Cybermen are to count) we’ve only seen the one. Which would make sense of Steven Moffat’s promise of “some serious fanboy-pleasing,” and “more treats than you think you could be allowed.” It is the fiftieth anniversary, after all.
And insofar as we know, that’s about it for now. Although of course, the very biggest question that Series 7B will hopefully answer (if we’re lucky, and Steven Moffat’s record surely doesn’t lead us to expect it, although we can but hope), is the question of who Clara Oswald is, and of how she can have already lived and died twice before (or after, if you wibbly-wobbly see what I mean). Then there’s the question of who and how much we can expect in the autumn, but that’s a question for another time...
DOCTOR WHO returns to BBC1 and BBC America on March 30th 2013.