Another great season for the new Doctor Who! I have heard that there are some fans that dislike Matt Smith and his slightly goofy interpretation of the centuries-old Time Lord, but I've always enjoyed his maniacal energy paired with head-writer Steven Moffat's creative ideas and snappy dialog. This season features more of that along with some great supporting characters, the return of a classic foe, more appearances of a couple of The Doctor's most feared enemies, and more than a few surprised. It's another fun, exciting season that should leave fans counting the days until the 50th Anniversary Special on November 23rd, 2013.
(Warning: There is a fairly major plot development at the end of the first half-season and in the 2012 Christmas episode. It was discussed quite a bit at the time, so readers may know at least some of what's going to happen but it's impossible to discuss the entire season without revealing twists in the middle of the season. If you'd rather not have the surprise spoiled, skip down to the technical part.)
At the end of season six, the show took a bit of a turn. The whole of the universe believed that The Doctor was dead, and that gave the Time Lord more anonymity and threw his many enemies off of his track. He drops Amy and her husband Rory off to live in wedded bliss while he starts on his project to erase any mention of himself for every database and computer network that he can find. The next time he see's his two companions however, things aren't going too well for them. Amy and Rory have split and are heading towards divorce, and what's worse is that they've all been kidnapped by the Daleks who, surprisingly, need The Doctor's assistance. There's a planet where they keep the Daleks that have gone insane after being wounded in battle. These creatures, which even scare the Daleks themselves, are about to break out after a spaceship crashed and damaged the force field that was keeping the mad machine-creatures imprisoned. The Daleks want The Doctor and his companions to go down to the planet and totally deactivate the force field so they can destroy the planet. Once the Time Lord discovers that there's a survivor from the wrecked ship, a girl named Oswin Oswald who has spent a year on the planet without being captured, he's game. It's an impossible situation, but that's never stopped him before. As he mention at one point, "In no particular order, we need to neutralize all the Daleks in this Asylum, rescue Oswin from the wreckage, escape from this planet, and fix Amy and Rory's marriage."
It's also revealed that The Doctor has been having adventures on his own while Rory and Amy are living normal lives in the UK, in between saving the world. He's made friends with some interesting people too. In Dinosaurs on a Spaceship for example, he starts off in ancient Egypt with Queen Nefertiti before he gets a call from the future informing him that a giant spaceship is on a collision course with Earth. He takes Nefertiti with him and picks up a previously unseen acquaintance and big game hunter, John Riddell, in early 1900's Africa before stopping off and snagging Amy and Rory (and Rory's unsuspecting father) to check it out. As one would expect from the title, the ship is filled with dinosaurs, having left Earth just before the great disaster that would have wiped them out. The ship was created as a seed ship by the Silurians, but something went drastically wrong and the Doctor has to find out before it gets blasted out of space by the Indian Space Agency.
All good things have to come to an end, and that goes for Amy and Rory traveling with The Doctor. At the end of The Angels Take Manhattan, where The Doctor and the Ponds fight the Weeping Angels who have taken over 1940's New York City. It's a bitter-sweet story and while the end works nicely their departure does affect The Doctor significantly and he's not really the same afterwards. He swears off getting another companion and (eventually) ends up in Victorian London where he parks the TARDIS invisibly above a park and basically withdraws.
He does have some friends in this time, the female Silurian Madame Vastra, her wife, Jenny Flint, and their butler the Sontarian Strax. All three were introduced in A Good Man Goes to War and they protect his privacy while trying to get him interested in various mysteries that cross their paths... always unsuccessfully. That is until The Doctor bumps into a very plucky girl, Clara Oswald, (in the 2012 Christmas Special) who follows the enigmatic man and discovers his invisible TARDIS. That's not quite enough to get him out of his funk, but when Clara discovers that the snow that's been falling in London is intelligent, and planning on taking over the world, he become intrigued by both the mystery and this girl Clara. Clara is intelligent, funny, and very outgoing, and she worms her way into the TARDIS, which makes her death at the end of the episode all more tragic.
Instead of renewing his vow not to get involved however, The Doctor notices something about Clara: she's the same girl that he was talking to in Asylum of the Daleks. Not a descendant, but the same girl, who died hundreds and hundreds of year in the future and in Victorian England. How is that possible?? The short answer is that it's not possible at all. So The Doctor goes looking and finds Clara again, this time in 21st Century London, and tries to figure out just how she can be alive in different time lines and different parts of the universe and not knowing about her other selves at all. He offer to let her travel with him while he tries to solve the riddle of the Impossible Girl.
This season had a lot of great, fun episodes with some really creative ideas. The Power of Three featured a threat that didn't' seem to be a threat at all. Millions and millions of little black boxes just appear all over the face of the Earth, instantly. They don't do anything at all... they just exist and can't be opened. What's inside of them and why are they here? Another favorite was Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS which features a rare look deep into the center of The Doctor's time machine. This season also show The Doctor battling the Daleks, the Cybermen, and an Ice Warrior. They even have some quick nods to fans of the classic show hidden through the season. At one point The Doctor tells Clara that he "once spent a hell of a long time trying to get a gobby Australian to Heathrow airport."
There are a lot of different genres that pop up this time around too. A Town Called Mercy is a western where a powerful villain threatens to destroy a town in the old west unless they let him kill their physician, The Crimson Horror is an enjoyable steampunk adventure, and Cold War takes place inside a Russian submarine. It was nice the way they switched things around a lot.
This season also sees new supporting characters that just show up every once in a while, the way River Song does. Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax appear in several stories in the second half and they are great characters! Strax manages to lighten the mood by viewing everything from a Sontaran point of view (and the fact that he can't tell males and females apart just adds to the fun.) A typical exchange with Madame Vastra:
Strax: I strongly advise the issuing of scissor grenades, limbo vapor and triple-blast brain spitters.
Madame Vastra: What for?
Strax: Just generally.
The trip is incredibly delightful and really deserves a spin-off series. (Steven Moffat has said that he doesn't have the time to work on another show, but I've still got my fingers crossed.)
While I thoroughly enjoyed this season, it wasn't perfect. The show tries new things and while they largely work, some of them come across as being rather... well silly. In one installment The Doctor rides a motorcycle to the villain's lair in a sky scraper. When he's informed that the building is in lock-down and entry isn't possible, he mentions that it's an anti-grav cycle, presses a button, and drives up the side of the building. The scene is cringe-inducing more than cool. There's also some minor plot holes (why do the Daleks even look for him it's known that he's dead?) but that's nothing new to Who. Like with the classic show and the horrible special effects, the program is so much fun and so enjoyable that it's easy to overlook the missteps.
This season set contains fifteen episodes (including 2011's and last year's Christmas Specials) on four Blu-ray discs. Like the previous seasons, it comes in a book-like package with each disc getting its own page.
Like the previous Doctor Who HD releases, this set comes with a VC-1 encoded but image (this time it is in 1080p! The half-season collections were in 1080i)) which did look good overall. The level of detail is nice, and the colors are strong and vibrant. There is a little banding, but nothing too significant. Overall a nice looking set.
The show comes with a DTS HD audio track that suited the show well. There is a lot of aural action in the show; the TARDIS taking off, various battles with monsters, etc., and those sequences were engulfing and forceful. There's a good amount of subwoofer action in some of the more dynamic scenes too. The dialog was crisp and clear and well placed in the soundstage. Overall I was very happy with the why this set sounded.
The BBC has been releasing the new Doctor Who series in half season sets with few extras and then putting out a full season that's crammed with goodies. Season Seven is no different and those who waited to spring for the full set get some very entertaining and informative extras. First off there are four commentary tracks for The Snowmen, Cold War, Hide, and The Crimson Horror. Two of these are involve people who were involved with the technical details of the show, the production designer and art director discuss The Snowmen and the visual effects supervisor and visual effects producer join writer Mark Gatiss for Cold War, and those are a bit dry. The other two tracks are more interesting. Director Jamie Payne and Matt Smith talk about and Hide while the actors who play my favorite group of supporting characters in the show, Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra) and Dan Starkey (Strax), have a good time watching The Crimson Horror.
The set really shines with the video bonus features. There are fourteen short behind-the-scenes featurettes that look at the filming of each episode in the season (along with 2012's Christmas Special) which run just short of an hour altogether. These were fun and informative and though I would have liked a few of them to run a little longer, they were of an appropriate length. There are interviews with both Matt Smith and actress Jenna-Louise Coleman when they appeared on The Nerdist (two from the TV version and one (videotaped) from the podcast), as well as a Doctor Who panel from the San Diego Comic Con that includes Matt Smith, Karen Gillan (Amy Pond), and Arthur Darvill (Rory). The previously released 45-minute featurette The Science of Doctor Who is included too, and while it's sort of hokey for the most part there are some good bits that make it worth watching. Doctor Who in the US is a look at who the Time Lord's popularity has really sky-rocketed as the new series has progressed The Companions looks at the role The Doctors friends play in the show. Both of these run around 45-mintues and aren't just fluff pieces. The Last Days of the Ponds is a bitter-sweet look at the last days of filming at the end of the first half of this season.
My favorite extras were the BBC webisodes. There are several of them included, most written by Steven Moffat, and these flesh out some of the stories nicely. We get to discover what happened to Strax after he was wounded (and apparently killed) in A Good Man Goes to War from the previous season as well as seeing The Doctor and River Song out together. They were all fun and a great addition to the set.
This is another great season. If you've enjoyed the last two, you'll get more of the same. Well worth seeking out. This season set comes Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.