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 Two collects the last eight episodes of the season that was originally broadcast in the first few months of 2013. 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 Moffat and a talented team of writers, one of whom this time around is none other than Neil Gaiman. We also get stories from Neil Cross and Mark Gatiss, among a few others.
The focus on this second batch of series seven episodes is as much on The Doctor's new companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) as it is on The Doctor (Matt Smith) himself. As the eight episodes spread across the two discs in this set play out, we learn bits and pieces of Clara's past and start putting together the truth behind her identity and her actual relationship to The Doctor, and we learn some important truths about The Doctor himself. Of course, it all leads up to a massive cliff hanger which will inevitably set up the upcoming Christmas Special and 50th Anniversary Special, but as those don't exist yet, let's get right down to the business of Series Seven, Part Two. Picking up where the 2012 Christmas Special (The Snowmen) let offâ€¦
The Bells Of St. John: When this episode kicks off, The Doctor gets a strange phone call at the phone on the outside of the TARDIS. It's another version of Clara calling for technical support, she can't get the wi-fi to work and wants to connect to the internet. It turns out that a woman named Miss Kizlet (Celia Imrie) and her cronies are uploading â€˜people' to a cloud in an attempt to preserve humanity for whoever is paying her to do this. They do this by sending â€˜spoonheads' who, from the front at least, look like normal, familiar people but who turn around to reveal a sort of radar dish on the back of their skull that saps the victim into the cloud where they inevitably cry out that they don't know where they are. Though it takes The Doctor some time to convince Clara that his TARDIS is not a â€˜snog box' eventually they two of them work together to return the surviving people previously uploaded back to Earth where they belong. As the episode ends, the identity of Kizlet's client is revealed and The Doctor asks Clara to travel with him. She tells him to come back tomorrow, she wants to think about it.
The Rings Of Akhaten: When the episode begins we learn how Clara's parents met when a leaf blew into the face of the man who would become her father. From there, with Clara now in place as the new companion, The Doctor takes her off to see something amazing. The TARDIS materializes and we get a view of the Rings of Akhaten before heading into a massive outdoor bazaar where the pair split up for a bit. While alone, Clara meets a young girl named Merry (Emilia Jones) who tells her she's the Queen of Years. As it turns out, she's going to be expected to â€˜sing to Grandfather' and is afraid she's going to mess it up. Once reunited with the Doctor, he explains to Clara what's going on and they sit alongside scores of aliens and watch a ritual take place. Of course, something goes wrong and The Doctor, Clara and Merry first wind up face to face with a space vampire before having to deal with a planet sized space parasite that feeds off of memories.
Cold War: This episode is set in 1983 at the height of the Cold War. A Soviet submarine crew lead by Captain Zhukov (Liam Cunningham) has, in its cargo hold, a massive block of ice that Professor Grisenko (David Warner) believes holds the body of a wooly mammoth. They thaw the ice and find that it's not a mammoth at all. The creature attacks and the submarine starts to sink. The TARDIS appears and The Doctor and Clara emerge, much to the suspicion of the crew. Eventually The Doctor figures out that what was in the ice is actually a Martian Ice Warrior named Skaldak. Tensions rise as the Soviets misunderstand and attack him, which leads Skaldak to start toying with the idea of mutually assured destructionâ€¦ launching one of the submarine's nuclear warheads at the United States to put the Cold War into overdrive.
Hide: This episode sees The Doctor and Clara travel in the TARDIS to the England of 1974 where they meet Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and his psychic assistant, Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine). These two are trying to figure out the truth behind a ghost that haunts the massive old home that Palmer has bought, Caliburn Mansion. With help from The Doctor and Clara, they ascertain that the ghost isn't a ghost at all but a space traveler trapped in a pocket universe inside their universe. There is, however, a second creature in the mansion, something that has to do with black circle that opens up in the air in the house and which seems to lead to an alternate plane. But is this other creature a thread, or is it just lonely? And why doesn't the TARDIS like Clara?
Journey To The Center Of The TARDIS: With Clara's â€˜relationship' with the TARDIS on somewhat rocky ground, it's definitely not a good thing when The Doctor's ship is snagged by a interplanetary salvage team called Van Baalen brothers. They figure they can sell this thing off for a pretty penny and are in no hurry whatsoever to return it to its rightful owner. In the ensuing chaos, Clara gets banged about and tossed into the center of the TARDIS (which really is much bigger on the inside). The Doctor forces the Van Baalens into helping him by setting the self-destruct mechanism while Clara makes some unexpected discoveries on her journey through the inner parts of the strange blue box.
The Crimson Horror: Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and their butler Strax (Dan Starkey) return to the series when something goes on a killing spree leaving a trail of completely red corpses in its wake. Vestra recognizes a strange substance on the corpses as the venom of a leech. This ties into an image (optogram, technically) they find of The Doctor screaming, which sends Jenny to an area called Sweetville where she finds The Doctor and Clara the captives of Mrs. Gillyflower (the eternally awesome Diana Rigg). After the events of The Snowmen, Vastra and Jenny are understandably confused to see Clara. But of course, there's the not insignificant matter of Mrs. Gillyflower and the strange Mr. Sweet to contend with before trying to figure out how Clara is alive.
Nightmare In Silver: Clara's job as a nanny finds her watching over the Maitland kids, Artie (Kassius Carey Johnson) and Angie (Eve de Leon Allen). The Doctor decides it would be fun to take Clara and the kids to an outer space amusement park called Hedgewick's World of Wonders but when they arrive it's under military lockdown at the orders of Captain Alice Ferring (Tamzin Outhwaite). The Doctor talks her into letting them stay and as they explore they find a man named Webley (Jason Watkins) who takes them to his ship. Here they find a deactivated Cybermen, one of which has been turned into a chess machine. The Doctor figures something strange is afoot and so he starts poking around where he finds some strange little bugs made out of metal. Before he can figure out what's going on, the bugs get the Cybermen moving again who promptly kidnap Webley, Angie, and Artie. The Doctor heads off to rescue Webley and the kids leaving Clara in charge of Ferring's troops.
The Name Of The Doctor: We'll leave the plot synopsis for this one intentionally vague but it starts off years ago when Vastra and her team are given some information about The Doctor by Clarence DeMarco (Michael Jenn), a man soon to be put to death for murder. From here, Vastra, Jenny and Strax bring River Song (Alex Kingston) and Clara Oswald to them to discuss the prophecy that was revealed about the Doctor's name on the planet Trenzalore (from The Wedding Of River Song episode from Series Six). Clara wakes up in London and meets with The Doctor who, out of concern for his friends, heads to Trenzalore to try and set things right.
So understandably fans were wondering where the series would go without Amy and Rory in it. They've been on the series as long as Smith has been The Doctor and they brought a certain something to the show that would be hard to replace. In short, yes, the Ponds are missed and it takes a little while to get used to the fact that they're not in the series anymore. By bringing Clara into the spotlight, however, the writers are able to breathe some fresh air into the show and take The Doctor and his new companion into some interesting and different directions. Jenna-Louise Coleman suits Smith's take on everyone's favorite time traveler rather well. They have a good chemistry together and she balances out his fairly manic style rather well. She suits the material, and the material suits here. She brings her own personality and character quirks to the part and manages to make the role her own, not ever trying to ape what Karen Gillen did with Amy Pond but instead able to do her own thing as the new companion. Most of the time, it works really well and she'll absolutely grow on you as these eight episodes play out. Smith is, as we all know by this point in time, excellent in his role and as this particular storyline grows in intensity so too does his work in front of the camera.
As it was with the last few seasons, once again the writing is a strong point here. We get some interesting characters introduced in each and every episode here, some better written than others of course but all worth paying attention to. Some of the stand outs include David Warner as the Duran Duran loving Russian scientist and Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine as the ghost hunters, both of these are excellent episodes. The last few episodes, including Neil Gaiman's take on The Cybermen, are also excellent but we shouldn't go into too much detail as to why for fear or revealing too much. The less you know going in, the better as this is really a series best experienced without spoilers. Let it suffice to say that the writing team has once again found the right mix of adventure and humor, of course mixing in the elements of science fiction and horror that makes the series work. There are, again, a few too many instances where the Sonic Screwdriver is used as an easy fix to a complicated situation, but outside of that the series, even at this point in the run, remains wildly creative and thoroughly enjoyable.
Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two was shot in HD and is presented here in AVC encoded 1080i 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and the quality is just what you'd expect based on the release of Series Seven, Part One and The Snowmen. Black levels are generally pretty strong and detail is generally good. Some of the CGI work looks a little goofy in spots, as is typical with the series, 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. The 'i' in place of a 'p' might instantly put some people off - but interlacing is never an issue during playback. Colors are reproduced beautifully throughout the episode and detail and texture go far beyond what standard definition is able to provide, you'll really notice this in close up shots where facial detail is excellent. All in all, the material here looks very nice indeed and we wind up with a sharp, clean colorful transfer that consistently offers impressive depth, detail and texture.
An English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is provided for each episode and they too are pretty impressive. Overall, this track has some good bass response and a fairly hefty low end going for it, you'll definitely notice this when the TARDIS â€˜whooshes' in. The high end never gets shrill and surround activity is pretty constant with the action scenes not surprisingly having the most going on in that department. Dialogue stays crisp and clear and is never hard to follow while the really wide spectrum of sound effects used throughout the show adds some fun to the proceedings. The electronic score that has been employed also sound quite good, punctuating the action rather than burying it, and generally the BBC have done a very solid job in the audio department. Closed captioning is provided in English, there are no alternate language audio tracks or subtitles offered.
Aside from menus and chapter selection, there are only two minor supplements here, one on each disc. On Disc One we get a three minute Prequel To The Bells Of St. John in which The Doctor, looking glum, is approached by a girl as he sits on a swing at a park. She offers him some advice to cheer him up, and this leads nicely into that first episode in the set. On Disc Two we get a prequel to The Name Of The Doctor entitled Clarence And The Whispermen in which a man imprisoned for murder is promised a long life by The Whispermen in return for figuring out some time/space coordinates. It's dark, a little eerie, and an interesting setup to the final episode in the set.
Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two is skimp on extras but most fans knew that before the press release was even made, assuming correctly that this would follow the trend set by previous releases which put out early releases in two parts and then follow those with an extras laden complete season collection. While we wait for that announcement and with baited breath to see how the Smith storyline will come to a close, this set is a good one. The quality of the presentation is top notch and the content is as well. Highly recommended, with the caveat that a better version is likely coming before the end of the year.
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.