Review: Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1 / Cert: 12 / Directors: Various / Screenplay: Steven Moffat, Chris Chibnall, Toby Whithouse / Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill / Released: Out Now
As anyone who's been keeping even vague tabs on goings-on in the Whoniverse will know, the first half of Series Seven marked a sad farewell to the Doctor's long-suffering companions, the Ponds. But that wasn't the only change – we also bade goodbye to tangled story arcs and said hello to cinematic, high concept, stand-alone episodes, as well as getting a look at the Doctor's new sidekick, Oswin (Coleman). Whatever you think of these developments, they're signs of a show that's still pulsating with regenerative energy.
Revisiting Part One on this box set, it's clear that this new approach has resulted in at least one enduring gem. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is surely everything you'd want an episode of Doctor Who to be in this day and age. Chris Chibnall's script turns the nutty premise (which you can picture being flung out to roars of laughter in a rowdy writers' meeting) into a frenetic but logical yarn that spawns SFX eye candy such as, only a few years ago, you couldn't imagine on British TV. Plus it boasts a colourful Allan Quatermain-style big game hunter, radiating sang froid. Plus Nefertiti (threatened with slavery!). And, the cherry on top, David Mitchell and Robert Webb lending their voices to a pair of robots with more than their fair share of screws loose.
Steve Moffat's opener is also very impressive in its mix of panoramic spectacle, snappy patter and intriguing Dalek lore – and it makes for a startling introduction to Oswin, whom we last see embroiled in the mother of all does-my-bum-look-big-in-this moments. Meanwhile, The Power of Three, which starts out like an extra-terrestrial version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, is arguably the most original episode of the five, and another fascinating piece of work by Chibnall. (Shame it tails off into a rather banal, reverse-the-neutron-flow-type finale.)
A Town Called Mercy is perhaps Part One's most blatant attempt to deliver a mini-blockbuster. It's a beautiful episode, with its convincing locales and twangy spaghetti Western score. The trouble with it is the way it tries to pack a full feature film's worth of weighty themes into its 45 minute duration. Call me cold-hearted, but there's something faintly irksome about such deeply serious soul searching, when allied to a preposterous and frivolous storyline (and by the way, exactly why does the cyborg wear a cowboy hat? Is he afraid his circuits will melt?).
Yet, occasional heavy-handedness and muddle aside, this is still a very accomplished series, and it's underpinned by an exceptional performance from Matt Smith. Part absent-minded Phileas Fogg, part desiccated Peter Pan, his Doctor could well become the Doctor for a generation.
Extras: Complete Pond Life, Asylum of the Daleks Prequel, The Making of the Gunslinger