TV: Doctor Who – Series Seven, Part One

The cast/crew bit: written by Steven Moffat, Chris Chibnal & Toby Whithouse, starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan & Arthur Darvill

The ten-word synopsis: The Doctors’ final few adventures with the moving-on Ponds.

Amy Pond is the longest-serving Doctor Who companion ever. Her 33 stories trumps the 22 of both Jamie McCrimmon and Rose Tyler, with her husband, Rory Williams, actually being her next-closest competition on 27. As such, it was always going to take a brave man to write them out, and a great man to do them justice. Thankfully, Steven Moffat is that man, and delivers a satisfying 5-episode ‘Goodbye’ to the Ponds with some aplomb.

After the inter-linking, ultra-smart fan-pleasing series six, the most recent series has instead done away with two-parters and running themes, instead opting for five, big, bold ‘movie style’ stories. While, personally, as a fan, I enjoy the concept of a clever story arc, I understand the off-putting factor it becomes to the casual viewer. As such, the variation is a nice touch, even if a number of this years’ stories have felt as though they could have done with being a two-parter to have some room to breathe, none more than the grand finale, The Angels Take Manhattan, although the opener, Asylum of the Daleks, probably would have worked better as a 90-minute epic over two weeks.

The Dalek series opener gives up on the concept of explaining how they’ve survive this time, and also bypasses the fact that the Daleks have been unable to capture the Doctor for millennia, instead having our hero abducted by the children of Skaro within a minute of the episode starting, just because it suits the plot. Thankfully, it picks up from there, with a development in Amy & Rorys’ relationship freshening their act up a bit. While that only ever lingers as subplot, there are a number of other interesting ideas being shoved in our Who-starved faces throughout the opener. The zombie-Daleks, the Dalek hivemind, the conversion concept… It is, however, all topped by the arrival of Oswin Oswald, played by Jenna Louise Coleman. The intrigue of having the next companion pop up four months before we were expecting to see her was soon, in turn, subset by Colemans’ performance. You’d be within your rights to say she was a bit annoying, but as something different to the typical dud Earthgirl, having someone who is, by their own admission, “Brilliant and a little bit sexy” is an undeniable thrill, and one I look forward to continuing to excite come Christmas time.

The series continued with Dinosaurs on a Spaceship- an odd romp through space with a Silliaran subplot ticking away. Seeing writer Chris Chibnall (Who also wrote Series Fives’ Cold Blood, which reintroduced the Homo Reptilia to the series) find a second story with which to use the enemies is interesting, as they are really a one-story monster. (Oh, they want their world back, do they? What a surprise) However, they’re not really the main problem, with Solomon, played by Filch from Harry Potter, offering something of a threat to the Dinosaurs on board the titular spaceship. Oh yeah, dinosaurs. It was one of those stories in which the title came first. Matt Smith was especially brilliant in this one, really capturing the childish joy that the Doctor possesses. Mitchell & Webb also play a pair of robots, which are funny if you’re willing to buy into the ridiculousness of the whole story, but less so if you begin comparing them to Hitchikers’ Guide To The Galaxy’s Marvin the Paranoid Android. Overall, it’s a romp that I was quite happy to play along with, if only because you’d never catch any other program of Doctor Who’s calibre making such an audaciously silly serial.

The big-budget movie feel then really hit home with A Town Called Mercy, AKA Doctor Who does westerns. While William Hartnell tried his hand at the genre back in 1966 in The Gunfighters, it’s surprising that the series hasn’t turned its hand to the wild west more often, what with the Doctor essentially being the man with no name, wandering from place to place, solving their problems and banishing their monsters. Personally, this was my least favourite of the five-episode run, but then that’s more down to personal taste. The episode felt appropriately Westerny, and had some great moments, (“I want a drink of the strong stuff… Tea, leave the bag in”) so you can’t really bash it, and fans of the genre seemed to enjoy it, and I’m not going to suggest for a minute that I didn’t think it was a top-quality 45 minutes. It’s been a terrific half-series, and there’s no shame in even being bottom of the pile.

The Power of Three followed, another Chris Chibnall script. This time told through the eyes of Amy & Rory themselves, and it features some fantastic moments, as the Doctor struggles to adapt to normal, dull, human life. Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley from Harry Potter) is also brilliant as Brian, Rory’s dad, having made his first appearance in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. While the plotting of the story itself is slightly muddled, as the individual scenes flow into one another fairly effortlessly, credit must be given. The addition of Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart, daughter of the legendary Brigadier Sir Alaister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart is a lovely touch, and one that brought an affectionate, nostalgic smile to presumably not just mine but the faces of Whovians up and down the country. Possibly the highlight of the series, never mind the episode, which skimped on the story in expense of character, which isn’t necessary a bad thing, but you couldn’t help but wish a bit more thought’d gone into resolving what was an interesting set-up.

Another interesting set-up could be found in the series finale, The Angels Take Manhatten, for which I’m going to issue a spoiler warning for the duration of this paragraph. The concept of the Statue of Liberty being a Weeping Angel was obvious beyond belief, yet Moffatt somehow seemed incapable of being able to use it during the story. The noir-style opening was also a nicely executed touch, never to be seen again. Really, this was the biggest case of ‘Could’ve done with a second part’ syndrome, with so many ideas not getting the time they deserved. And just imagine what a great cliffhanger Rory & Amy’s suicide would’ve made. As it is, it was one of the most powerful scenes you’re likely to find trawling back through Doctor Who history. Arthur Darvill is absolutely perfect as Rory- he nails both the comic and tragic side of things, and has quickly become a fan favourite, and ranks amongst the most endearing companions to ever set foot within the TARDIS console room in my eyes. Amy’s a bit more up and down, but, ironically, as she plunged, she was at an all-time high. Seeing the signs of the pair ageing, with Amy now needing reading glasses, is pretty much unseen in Doctor Who. There was constantly little patches of new ground on the grand island of companion clichés being uncovered by the pair, and that’s part of the reason it’s such a shame to see them leave. And while it took him three bites of the cherry to do it, power to Moffat for having the balls to actually kill them off, even if he did it nicely. He also managed to find the only other Angel story remaining, focusing on what happens to those zapped into the past, forced to live out their life in the wrong time. By using Rory as this device, a character the entire audience have invested in over two-and-a-half years, it really hit home the horrors of the Angels, something that the otherwise-brilliant Blink skimmed over.

Five episodes of aplomb-tastic Doctor Who covers enough ground to fill entire seasons of other programs. Best of all, despite having had one finale, we’re only half way through this series of Doctor Who. While we may have moved on from one record-breaking companion, it just means we’re moving onto another, new one, who will, with them, bring a whole new set of adventures. That’s what Doctor Who is about. Amy & Rory were a rare chance to look back, to reflect, but that mustn’t mean that we dread moving on.

7 Christmas Lists out of 10

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