Revisiting Doctor Who: Series 7, Part 1

The division of Series 7 into two parts, their broadcasts separated by months spanning 2012 and 2013 (and bisected by a Christmas Special), was a clever scheduling strategy but had deeply irritating consequences for Revisiting Doctor Who. My original plan was to download Doctor Who Series 7  from iTunes when it became available as one “box set”, instead of in three bits. I mean, buying them as currently available is quite expensive! But I understand that a single box set of Series 7 won’t be available until the end of October, and I want time to watch it with the Lad before the 50th Anniversary Special in November. So I bit the bullet and downloaded series 7 as currently available: Part 1, the 2012 Christmas Special, and Part 2. I’m a sucker.

I’ve actually seen the first part of Series 7, via BBC iPlayer, more or less when it was first broadcast. I’ve blogged about it a little too, such as when Asylum of the Daleks was aired, and some folks dared to suggest that Doctor Who was “a little bit rubbish“. But let’s come at it afresh, as I did when I sat down to watch it with the Lad, who was soooooooo excited, I can’t begin to tell you…

Episode 1: The Asylum of the Daleks 

We are led into Series 7 by two mini-prequels: one, Pond Life, which explores the Williams-Pond’s domestic life as they hang about in suburbia while the Doctor scoots around time and space, and also hints at the disintegration of their marriage (if you’d like a refresher as to where we were at the end of the last series, here is my entry on that topic). In the second prequel, a hooded messenger informs the Doctor that a woman named Darla von Karlsen is seeking his help in freeing her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. The messenger provides space-time coordinates to the rendezvous point: the ruined planet Skaro.

The episode proper opens on Skaro, as the Doctor meets von Karlsen amidst the ruins of the Dalek home world. However as a Dalek eye-stalk emerges gruesomely from the mysterious woman’s forehead, we realise that the Doctor has walked into a trap. Meanwhile on Earth, moments after Rory and Amy have exchanged divorce papers, they are both abducted. Soon our three heroes are reunited on a Dalek spacecraft, where they are presented to the Parliament of the Daleks and their Prime Minister. The Dalek fleet is in orbit about a frozen planet they use as an asylum, imprisoning those Daleks so scarred by battle that they have become insane (the Daleks’ concept of beauty is such that they consider it a blasphemy to simply destroy them).  A spacecraft has crashed on the planet, somehow puncturing the forcefield and risking the insane Daleks’ escape. The Daleks want the Doctor to descend to the prison complex and deactivate the forcefield entirely, thereby enabling the Dalek fleet to destroy the planet.

The adventure that follows is tense and atmospheric, with a fine blend of peril and humour and excellent performances from the whole cast – including Jenna-Louise Coleman as Oswin Oswald, a survivor of the spaceship crash stranded on the planet. Events climax in a twist that I must admit I didn’t see coming – there will be a SPOILER later but I will save it for now. Suffice to say that the Doctor’s very existence is wiped from the Daleks’ collective memory, a development which may have interesting consequences in future. And Amy and Rory patch things up, thankfully, resolving their differences – and revealing their heartbreaking genesis in Amy’s infertility (post-Demon’s Run) – in some rather painful scenes. Excitingly for Geekdom, this episode features fleeting glimpses of many older models of Dalek, some dating back to 1963, as well as continuity-appeasing name checks for some of the Doctor’s greatest battles with them: Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), Kembel (Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks’ Master Plan), Exxilon (Death to the Daleks), Aridius (The Chase), and Vulcan (The Power of the Daleks).

The seed this episode has planted for the Doctor’s future adventures won’t become apparent until the 2012 Christmas Special which broadcast in the mid-season hiatus. Regarding the Daleks however, the New Dalek Paradigm is apparently a more subtle thing than just some garish new colours. Back in Series 5 we see the Daleks teaming up with a huge alliance of alien races to combat the Doctor; such collaboration was previously unheard of. The usual Imperial model of autocratic Dalek government has been jettisoned in favour of a Parliament with a Prime Minister. And, on the downside for them, even the lowliest soldier now has a sense of individuality and free will: apparently Dalek soldiers don’t just take orders any more, as they are all too afraid to send a taskforce of their own to the Asylum planet! It seems the Doctor himself – the Predator of the Daleks – has driven this evolution, this emerging diversity. Now that the very fact of his existence has been erased from their hive mind, the evolutionary pressure has been removed: what effect will this have on their strange new culture?

Episode 2: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

In a nutshell: the Doctor gathers together Amy, Rory, Queen Nefertiti and a British big-game hunter for a mission to divert a Silurian spacecraft from its collision course with Earth. A Silurian spacecraft, I hear you ask? Well yes, a Silurian spacecraft. Apparently while most Homo Reptilia went into underground suspension millions of years ago, one faction fled into space. But not empty handed: the vessel is an ark, containing the flora and fauna the Silurians wanted to save. Including – yep, you guessed it – dinosuars!

A Lad-pleasing bit of fun, to be sure, enlivened by some superb guest appearances: Rupert Graves as the game hunter, comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb doing silly voices as a pair of cantankerous robots, and Harry Potter’s David Bradley as Solomon, the sinister villain of the piece. Best of all, there is a wonderful turn by another Harry Potter alumnus, Mark Williams, as Rory’s dad, Brian: you see, its been ten months since Rory and Amy last travelled with the Doctor, and the TARDIS materialised around them while Brian was changing a light fitting, so he gets to come along for the ride. Brilliant! This whole episode is just plain kooky, but it works.

It is not, however, all sweetness and light. An undercurrent of darkness bubbles to the surface as we discover what Solomon is doing on board, and what happened to the missing Silurian passengers and crew. Not a bad thing in itself, but it jars somewhat with the otherwise family-friendly air. A big game hunter seems and odd choice of companion for the Doctor, and his strategy for dealing with Solomon reveals a ruthlessness we have not seen in his character for some time.  And that ten month hiatus between adventures with the Ponds hints at a growing distance between them – the Time Lord is trying to give them up before they come to any further harm, but he is finding it so very hard to do.

Episode 3: A Town Called Mercy

From Daleks to dinosaurs to the Wild West – The Doctor, Amy, and Rory, while en route to the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, accidentally materialise by the small American Frontier town of Mercy. The town has been cut off from the outside world by an alien cyborg known as the Gunslinger, who is hunting another of his race who has been taken in by the townspeople: Kahler Jex. Jex presents himself as a benevolent victim, and indeed he has done much to aid and benefit the townspeople. However it emerges that he is a scientist of the Kahler race, part of a team responsible for the creation of the Gunslinger cyborg and others like it as weapons in a  civil war. The Gunslinger, despising its condition, has already hunted down and executed Jex’s colleagues one by one, and Jex himself is next.

An entertaining and interesting episode redolent with themes of justice, vengeance and redemption, with both the Doctor and Rory struggling to cling to the straight and narrow path at times. The cyborg is a sympathetic character, and so at the end is Jex. Morally complex and thought-provoking, for a 45 minute episode of Doctor Who.

Episode 4: The Power of Three

Millions of small, black cubes materialise all over the world. What are they doing here and where have they come from? Having spent many months readjusting to normal, mundane domestic and professional life, the Ponds have another adjustment to make – the Doctor virtually moves in with them to investigate the so-called “slow invasion” of the black cubes. But the little objects do nothing… for a whole year!

The episode has two main goals: firstly, to wring humour from the juxtaposition of the Doctor with the Ponds’ everyday life (a device last used in Series 5’s The Lodger) and secondly to ensure that our emotional attachment to Amy, Rory and Brian is maximised. It doesn’t do badly either, as it is packed with genuine comedy and endearing performances from all. We also meet Kate Stewart, daughter of the late great Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who is now heading UNIT in her father’s footsteps (nicely played by the lovely Jemma Redgrave).

The episode’s conclusion is somewhat of a let down however. Not the resolution itself (the bizarre behaviour of the cubes and the countdown element are quite entertaining), but the introduction of a new bad guy: the Shakri, who, according to Gallifreyan legend, were the self-appointed “pest controllers” of the universe in the service of “the Tally”. Their true form is unknown as the Shakri is not even actually present, merely represented by a sinister holographic interface played by Steven Berkoff. I just felt that this Time Lord bogeyman was a little too vague and mysterious, especially for an enemy I’ll bet my hat will never appear again. I simply found the Shakri somehow unsatisfying. But the Lad enjoyed this one too – as he has every episode of the season so far, which has dumped complex story arcs in favour of straight-forward stand-alone stories. Much more kiddy friendly.

Episode 5: The Angels Take Manhattan

Oh dear. This episode was much anticipated: the one where we say good bye to Amy and Rory for good. No spoilers here; everyone knew it was coming.

A film noir opening set in 1930’s Manhattan forces us to bear witness to the doom of a private detective at the hands of Weeping Angels. Switching to modern day New York, the Doctor is enjoying a pulpy crime novel while Amy and Rory enjoy the sunshine in Central Park. However, disquiet grows as the Doctor realises the novel is predicting every word they speak; meanwhile, whilst on a coffee-fetching errand, Rory inexplicably finds himself in 1930’s Manhattan staring into the face of none other than River Song.

What follows is a nail-bitingly tense chase through time and dark, twisting, Angel-haunted corridors. Our heroes learn that the Weeping Angels have established a sort of “battery farm” in 1930’s New York, the trapped residents of an abandoned apartment block being sent back in time by the Angels again and again until they die of old age, providing a rich supply of nourishing temporal energy. The result of so much time distortion is that the coordinates have become almost unreachable by the TARDIS (emphasis on “almost”). Only invoking a terrible paradox can rescue Rory from the fate the Angels have condemned him to, and yet for a few moments it seems that the ploy succeeds.

But it is not meant to be. Rory is trapped in 1930’s New York (though free from the “battery farm” hotel and able to lead a full life). The Doctor having explained that the time distortions caused by the Weeping Angels’ feeding prevents him going back in time to save him, Amy realises she can’t be without her beloved Rory – in a truly heart-wrenching climax, she offers herself to the same Angel which had taken Rory only moments before, hoping she will be reunited with her husband in the past.

Genuinely scary (the Angels at their menacing best) and also heartbreaking, this episode is excellent in its own right as well as being a fitting farewell for the Ponds. We see a few interesting additions to Doctor Who lore which get geeks like me pondering: the Doctor healing River’s fractured wrist with regeneration energy (not something ever seen before to my knowledge, except when River sacrificed her entire store of regeneration energy to save the Doctor’s life of course), the scene-stealing appearance of a Weeping Angel in the form of the Statue of Liberty (along with many other landmark statues, suggesting that the Angels  are not the statues per se, but rather are less corporeal entities which inhabit statues), and the cherubs, or baby Angels, with their sinister tittering in the shadows.

But it is not a perfect episode. There is so much timey-wimey stuff going on that I had to struggle to explain it all to the Lad, and its internal logic is extremely shaky. The 10th Doctor and Martha travelled to 1930’s New York without difficulty, so when and how did the Angels take up residence and cause such difficulties for other time travellers? Even if Manhattan at the time was the centre of temporal disturbances, could Amy and Rory not have caught a plane somewhere else so the Doctor could pick them up? Also, by sacrificing himself to invoke a paradox, Rory was offered a moment of heroism, but the surprise attack which trapped him in the past for good robbed him of that noble ending. I’ve always felt Rory was under-appreciated.

Also, spare a thought for poor Brian Williams, Rory’s Dad, who is still at home watering the plants. But there is some comfort to be had for him in a scripted but unfilmed final scene.

But what’s done is done, and the Doctor has been cruelly robbed of his treasured companions. Indeed not since Rose was sucked into Pete’s World has a departure been so tragic. But though there is light in the darkness (we learn that Amy and Rory, though displaced in time, do indeed go on to lead a very happy life), the darkness cannot be denied: what will the consequences be for the Doctor?

About Mark Winter

Dark Fantasy novelist (INFERNAL PREY). Blogging on politics and current affairs (GibberLog), science and history (BlatherLog), sci-fi, fantasy & horror (WittlerLog), business, product development & start-ups (MutterLog). View all posts by Mark Winter

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