The third series in the long running British sci-fi staple to feature Matt Smith as the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor, Doctor Who Series Seven, Part One collects the first five episodes of the season that was originally broadcast in the last half of 2012. Those who don't like Smith in the role won't have their minds changed this go round, but those who do appreciate the manic energy and quirky humor that he's able to bring to the part will definitely appreciate more of the same with this collection.
Since coming back in 2005, the series has gone on to enjoy some newfound popularity thanks in no small part to the guidance of Stephan Moffet. While he only writes the first and fifth episodes in this current collection, they're both highlights of the set. But more on that in a bit, first, a look at the episodes proper.
Asylum Of The Daleks: When this first episode starts off, The Doctor, who brings along Amy and Rory, is kidnapped by his most consistently evil foes, the Daleks. Once they're brought before a Dalek tribunal, they learn that the planet they are to be sent to is used as an asylum for insane Daleks deemed unfit for... regular Dalek duties? Regardless, the Daleks want to destroy this planet for various reasons but in order to do so have to get past the force field that they originally installed there. When The Doctor and the Ponds head down to the planet they figure out that the force field has already been rocked a bit by the arrival of a beautiful young woman named Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) who landed there in her ship a year ago. The Doctor hopes to be able to save Oswin before the asylum planet is obliterated, but of course, nothing is as it seems...
Dinosaurs On A Spaceship: At the behest of some Indians, The Doctor is asked to check out a massive unmanned spaceship with a mysterious cargo that is on a crash course for the planet Earth. In order to do this, he is joined by his new friend Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) and another friend, a hunger named John Riddell (Rupert Graves). Of course the Ponds are along for the ride too, and intentionally or not, The Doctor has also brought along Rory's father, Brian (Mark Williams), who is, at least initially, more interested in golf than anything else. When it turns out that the ship is carrying, as the title implies, dinosaurs previously believed to be extinct, The Doctor tries to save the ship before it gets too close to Earth and is blown up, but the appearance of a mercenary type named Solomon (Hugh Quarshie) and his two massive, though unusually sensitive, robots proves to make that harder than it may have first seemed.
A Town Called Mercy: The Doctor winds up being dumped back in time in a town in the American West called Mercy. When he arrives, he finds out that the townsfolk are harboring an alien named Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough) who has taken on the role of the town's doctor and who has brought electricity and other technological advancements to the people long before the rest of the planet has discovered them. The problem with all of this? Jex has a past that ties in to the presence of a massive, hulking cyborg gunslinger (Andrew Brooke) that is waiting just outside of town to gets his hands on him. With the Ponds in tow, The Doctor learns the truth about Jex, his history and how he ties into the presence of the cyborg, at which point he finds himself in a serious moral predicament.
The Power Of Three: Amy and Rory have, for a while now, been to wondering amongst themselves whether or not they really should continue to go adventuring with The Doctor or part ways with him and get on with their collective life together. Of course, soon enough some strange unidentified black cubes begin appearing across the planet - The Doctor, however, is not amused and sees them as no problem. As such, boredom starts to get the best of him, which causes him to basically wander off somewhere on his own leaving UNIT in charge of the situation. When, a year later, the cubs start changing, The Doctor reappears and traces the origins of the cubes to the Shakri, an alien race that intends to get rid of the Earth's population after determining them to be 'pests' to the rest of the universe's population.
The Angels Take Manhattan: The fifth and final episode of the set begins when The Doctor arrives and takes Amy and Rory to Central Park. The Doctor and Amy spend some time together while Rory heads out for coffee only to be abducted by an ancient alien race known as the 'Weeping Angels' on the way back. From here, some of the past involving the book The Doctor has been reading to Amy is revealed and the Ponds involvement with The Doctor will be forever changed... and we'll leave it at that.
In brief, series seven is excellent. Smith has really managed to make the role his own at this point and he's comfortable in the part, this much seems obvious. The camaraderie he shares with Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and, to a slightly lesser extent, Arthur Darvill as her husband Rory Williams brings a lot of charm and spirit to the show and the three make for a really enjoyable team. The writing is strong throughout, each episode both entertaining and intriguing, and there's some very interesting character development that takes place here that should likely have some long reaching consequences in future episodes. The effects work is as good as anything on TV these days, some obvious CGI sticking out here and there but for the most part pretty decent, but in this season it really is the characters that make it.
So we wind up with a fast paced batch of five episodes - a pretty small collection, really, and there are going to be those who will hold off in hopes that the BBC will release a complete series collection alongside the 'part two' release - it seems inevitable that this will happen, so you can't really blame them. There's something to be said for having complete collection as opposed to sliced up bits and pieces releases. So if you fall into that camp, by all means wait it out. However, if you're not that patient and want your fix as fast as you can get it, there's no harm in partaking here. The content holds up and the presentation is a nice one. Speaking of which, let's talk about it now...
All five episodes in this collection were shot in HD and are presented here in AVC encoded 1080i 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. Black levels are generally pretty strong and detail is generally good. Some of the CGI work looks a little goofy in spots and there are occasional bursts of aliasing that are hard not to notice from time to time but if these aren't reference quality they're at least very good looking transfers even if the 'i' in place of a 'p' might instantly put some people off - but really, that would be a case of not seeing the forest through the trees. Colors are reproduced very nicely throughout each episode and detail and texture go far beyond what standard definition is able to provide. All in all, the material here looks very nice indeed.
English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are provided for each of the five episodes in the set and what's here is pretty impressive. Overall, these tracks have some good bass response and a fairly hefty low end going for them. The high end borders on shrill from time to time but these instances are pretty rare and generally it sounds stable. Surround activity is pretty constant with the action scenes not surprisingly having the most going on in that department - dinosaurs have plenty of strength behind their growls! Dialogue stays crisp and clear and is never hard to follow while the really wide spectrum of sound effects used throughout the movies adds some fun to the proceedings. The electronic scores that have been employed also sound quite good, punctuating the action rather than burying it, and generally, minor complaints aside, the BBC have done a very solid job in the audio department.
There are no extras on the first disc outside of (some rather clumsy) menus and chapter selection for the three episodes it contains a few featurettes, the most substantial of which is the forty-four minutes The Science Of Doctor Who. Made up of cast and crew interviews as well as interviews with various scientists and behind the scenes footage, the focus here is on the scientific themes that occur throughout the series like regeneration, time travel and more. There's discussion as to what actually makes sense versus that which does not, but also discussion of what could eventually, should the right technological advances occur, wind up making sense in the not too distant future. Interviewed here are screenwriter Dallas Campbell, actress Chloe Dykstra, space scientist Maggie Aderin Pocock, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Steven Moffat, actor Scott Adsit, another theoretical physicist named Jim Al Khalili, actress and G4 correspondent Alison Haislip and quite a few others. Moffat talks about the series' tendency to scare children while others discuss flying saucers, the gadgets that The Doctor uses, the reality of time travel and of course, the importance of Cybermen!
The short featurettes include Doctor Who At Comic Con, which is an eleven minute piece showing Matt Smith (in a Guns 'n Roses shirt!) wandering the San Diego Comic Con with 'the Ponds' before engaging in a panel discussion in front of a pretty enthusiastic audience where they're joined by Caroline Skinner and Moffat. The Asylum Of The Daleks Prequel is a quick two and a half minute bit, written by Moffat, that beings with The Doctor in a pastry shop where something dressed like The Grim Reaper tells him of a woman who wants to meet him before making the rest of the patrons disappear - it turns out to all be a 'dream message' and leads into the opening episode of this season rather nicely. The Making Of The Gunslinger is a quick piece running just under two minutes which ties in to the Mercy episode and provides some interesting back history for the character we meet there.
Also here are all five parts of the Pond Life series of shorts that were written by Chris Chibnall and which originally appeared on the Doctor Who website in August of 2012. These are fun shorts that follow the Doctor (and his surf board!) as he and Rory and Amy have to rush out and save the planet and deal with some Lovecraftian looking aliens along the way. All five parts total just a few seconds over six minutes in combined running time, but this is an amusing little diversion that ties into the Dinosaurs episode. A few previews for other BBC properties play before the main menus load on the first disc.
Doctor Who Series Seven, Part One continues in the ridiculously fun vein of the episodes that came before it but also puts forth events that will have ramifications on future episodes, making it one that fans will want to take note of. While some may understandably want to wait for a complete series release, the folks at the BBC have done fine job on the presentation here, offering up the five adventures in very nice quality and with some interesting and entertaining extras as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.