Review: Doctor Who – The Complete Seventh Season /Cert: 12 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Steven Moffatt, Chris Chibnall, Neil Cross, Neil Gaiman, Mark Gatiss, Toby Whithouse, Stephen Thompson / Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Jenna-Louise Coleman, Alex Kingston / Release Date: October 28th
Previously released on DVD/Blu-ray in an haphazard a fashion as they were originally screened on TV, the fourteen episodes which purport to be the seventh season of ‘new’ Doctor Who with the stray 2011 Christmas special thrown in for the sake of completion arrive on the best presented DVD/Blu-ray set of the Matt Smith era. The irony, of course, is that the episodes it contains are the scrappiest and most infuriatingly uneven run of episodes since the show returned in 2005. This is Doctor Who at its most schizophrenic and undisciplined, a series of stories which try to sell themselves as big, bold ‘movie poster’ adventures which, in doing so, jettison any pretence at coherent storytelling and pay only lip service to the show’s new-found traditions of character development and emotional heart. Season 7 is all over the place but, as is so often the case, there’s something for everyone here even if it’s not all quite as exciting or successful as we might have hoped or expected.
Kicking off disc one (of five) is the 2011 Christmas special The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, a story so painfully dull, boring and bereft of excitement it’s a mystery how the cast and crew managed to stay awake whilst filming it. Moving swiftly on to season seven itself and we find a string of episodes which are at best patchily enjoyable (apart from Mark Gatiss’s gloriously inventive Crimson Horror from the tail end of the season) and occasionally right up there with the very worst the series has ever produced. No one needs episodes as irritating or ill-advised as Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Rings of Akhaten or, surprisingly, Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver in their lives. Chris Chibnall, now the darling of the chattering classes thanks to Broadchurch, redeems himself after the dire dinosaur escapade with the more enjoyable, if no less manic, Power of Three that reintroduces the Doctor’s UNIT chums but throws away a decent scenario (Earth ’invaded’ by black cubes) with a ludicrous and hurried denouement. Mark Gatiss’ first script for the season, Cold War, successfully brings back classic monsters the Ice Warriors in a story far too rushed to make the most of its base-under-siege scenario (and, drearily, turns the reptilian Ice Warriors into suits of armour for something living inside… Daleks, anyone?).
Frustratingly the whole series is characterised by a lack of real invention. The ‘movie poster’ idea just tricks the writers into writing ‘movie poster’ stories; Toby Whithouse’s Western yarn Town Called Mercy regurgitates all the familiar Wild West clichés but doesn’t do anything interesting with them and Steve Thompson’s Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS has the audacity to actually resolve itself with a big reset button after forty-odd minutes trudging around dreary TARDIS corridors. Showrunner Steven Moffat’s own efforts continue his obsession with rewriting Doctor Who lore and refashioning the Doctor’s character into something it doesn‘t need to be. The disappointing Asylum of the Daleks ends with the Doctor’s oldest enemies forgetting all about him, The Bells of St John does nothing new with the interesting idea of aliens invading Earth’s wi-fi network and a vague story arc concerning old enemy the Great Intelligence (from the recently recovered 1967 Troughton serial Web of Fear) makes little or no sense when it attempts to resolve itself in the bloated, fan boy-pleasing finale Name of the Doctor.
The season does, thankfully, finally rid us of the whining Amy Pond (Gillan) and her sappy husband Rory (Darvill) in The Angels Take Manhattan but their ‘heartbreaking’ finale fails to satisfy as, inevitably, it doesn’t make much sense. New girl Clara (Coleman) is a pleasing new presence aboard the TARDIS but once again Moffat has chosen to give her a convoluted and obscure backstory – she’s ‘The Impossible Girl’ (of course she is, Steven…but can’t she just be a girl??) whose raison d’etre, ludicrously, is to be splintered throughout time and retconned into every previous Doctor Who adventure. No thanks. Coleman’s a chirpy talent but Moffat’s inability to write compelling, likeable characters who don’t speak in a constant gabble of snarky quips and one-liners renders her pretty much a blank page. The biggest tragedy of this underpowered season, now we know it’s Matt Smith’s last, is that the young actor never really got the chance to shine and show what he might be really capable off, shackled by the ‘madman in a box’ persona foisted on him by his showrunner which led him to portray the Doctor as a tiresome hyperactive clown unable to control his own limbs. Smith, a fine actor and a great and enthusiastic ambassador for the show, has been badly served by his time on the series and Season 7 gives him precious little opportunity to shine. But then maybe we’ve been here before… Season 7 is severely uneven and disappointing stuff and it doesn’t bode well for Doctor Who as it hits the big 5-0 and gears up for a new era with a new actor but, sadly, the same showrunner…
Extras: Much of the more substantial bonus material is aimed at – and generated by – the American market but there are interesting features on the show’s dalliances with America, a Comic Con feature, a Companions feature, all the online prequels and a few entirely disposable – and, in the case of ‘Rain Gods’, perfectly detestable – ‘special’ unseen minisodes. Each episode gets a brief ‘behind the scenes’ snippet and there are handful of commentaries.