Review: Doctor Who – Season 7, Part 2 / Cert: PG / Director: Various / Screenplay: Steve Moffat, Neil Cross, Mark Gatiss, Steve Thompson / Starring: Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman / Release Date: Out Now
There’s a troubling air of tiredness and a marked lack of invention about these nine episodes from Doctor Who’s seventh ‘new’ season – 2012’s Christmas special and the eight episodes just transmitted on BBC1 in the traditional Saturday evening timeslot. The obsession with creating movie poster-style blockbuster episodes has given the show an unwelcome sense of schizophrenia and each of these episodes trips over itself to impress you with its One Big Idea – aliens in the wi-fi! Ice Warrior in a sub! Haunted house! Inside the TARDIS! – without thinking about the need to create proper, well-developed stories full of wit (not of the Steven Moffat sneery one-liner variety), character, emotion and breathless imagination. This is very much Doctor Who by numbers and sadly these numbers just don’t add up.
This batch of episodes is probably the least rewatchable of all the modern Doctor Who seasons and the show now seems a long, long way from its last true classic. The variation in quality is deeply concerning, suggesting a show which has become rudderless and with no real concern other than to confound its audience with deeply uninteresting story arcs such as this year’s ‘who is Clara?’ mystery and the ongoing mythologising of the Doctor who now revels in being called ‘Doctor Who’ in anticipation of a mystery in the final episode, the portentous Name of the Doctor which, inevitably, is never resolved. There are a couple of enjoyable stories such as Mark Gatiss’ contributions, an Ice Warrior story which is a very traditional Doctor Who base-under-siege story and his delightful, witty and cleverly structured Victorian romp The Crimson Horror, which is very nearly stolen by the remarkable Dame Diana Rigg who is clearly having the time of her life. Much of the rest underwhelms or appals. Neil Cross’ Rings of Akhaten is dreadful, where his later story Hide is moody, creepy and atmospheric but ruined by a nonsensical ending. Steve Thompson’s Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS promised the audience its greatest exploration of the Doctor’s remarkable travelling machine yet but ended up being as disappointingly flat as we feared it might be and Neil Gaiman’s Cyberman reinvention Nightmare in Silver was so inept it must surely have knocked Gaiman off the pedestal of awe fans have positioned him on since the alright-but-really-unexceptional Doctor’s Wife from Season 6. Moffat’s own efforts, as usual, are largely plotless affairs, relying on the two or three ideas he continues to recycle for the series (Christmas special The Snowmen is the best of his bunch) and the show’s over-reliance on the tedious antics of Victorian Silurian detective Vastra, her assistant/lover Jenny and comedy sidekick Strax and their unbelievable positioning as the Doctor’s bestest friends in the Universe is as baffling as it’s boring.
In amidst all this mediocrity Matt Smith is again rarely given much opportunity to show what he might really be able to do as a toned-down, less wacky Doctor, and lively new assistant Clara (Coleman) is a blank page due to poor writing and is in danger of becoming one of the show’s most shameful wasted opportunities. All in all it’s a shoddy and lacklustre set of episodes which can’t help but raise concerns for the upcoming fiftieth anniversary special and the forthcoming eighth season which, it seems, will have most of the same team on board. Terribly disappointing stuff.
Extras: A thin selection includes a very brief ‘making of’ for the Christmas special, a handful of utterly unnecessary lightweight ‘prequels’ to the transmitted episodes and an enjoyable American TV special examining the role of the ‘companions’ in the series. Extras flung together with about as much care as the episodes themselves.