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Series six of Doctor Who was not exactly our favourite series of New-Who - as a matter of fact, we pretty much despised it, with the episode Let's Kill Hitler being the story we loathed the most. When it was announced that Steven Moffat was taking over from Russell T Davies as Executive Producer on Doctor Who, we were pretty excited, as we had loved the stories he had written during RTD's stewardship. Series five was pretty good, but there was something about it that we couldn't put our finger on, but this was magnified when the following series aired and we were starting to wonder if Moffat had irrevocably steered Doctor Who away from being the show that we have loved for over three decades. When series seven started airing, we fearing the worst, but...

If you guessed correctly what happened to her at the end of Angels Take Manhattan, then you are at least of average intelligence...

Asylum of the Daleks:
The Doctor, Amy and Rory are captured by the Daleks and are forced to go to The Asylum, a planet that houses exiled, insane Daleks and destroy the planet before the crazed inhabitants escape. They are helped in their mission by the mysterious Oswin Oswald, who has been stranded on the planet for a year.

What's good:
The sheer cinematic scale of the story, with some amusing character moments, not least of which comes when Rory confronts a Dalek that is powering itself up.

Trying to sneak the name of the show into the dialogue is something that we have always disliked, but Moffat comes up with a way of doing it at the climax that works perfectly and is both amusing and thrilling at the same time.

The fact that they were able to keep forthcoming companion Gemma Louise Coleman's appearance a secret right up until the broadcast can be considered a fairly remarkable achievement.

What's bad:
The only fault we have with it is the distinct lack of classic Doctor Who Daleks; only the truly eagle-eyed will be able to spot some of them. The pre-publicity for the show promised "every single Dalek ever seen", but the reality is that only some of them are shown, and most of them in the background. The Special Weapons Dalek from the Sylvester McCoy era is briefly seen, but does nothing - you would have thought that firing that bloody-great cannon mounted on it would have made for a cool sequence, but no...


Dinosaurs on a Spaceship:
The Doctor, Amy, Rory and Rory's father, Brian, find themselves on a huge space vessel that has the last of Earth's dinosaurs aboard, but an unscrupulous collector, Solomon, has his eyes on the precious cargo and is prepared to go to any lengths to have them.

What's good:
It's not as nearly bad as the trite (and somewhat belated) title suggests, with some nice CGI dinosaurs and some good guest stars, including Weasley Snr, (and Fast Show reunion hold-out) Mark Williams and Hogwarts caretaker, Filch, David Bradley.

Incorporating the Silurians fairly prominently into the storyline, but without properly featuring them was a pretty cool touch.

We aren't great fans of long-spanning character arcs (over the last couple of decades, American television has effectively forced them into shows all around the world), but the mini-arc that Brian has is rather nice, as he starts out as someone who is not well-travelled and geographically insular and becomes someone who has developed a taste for exploration.

What's bad:
The bloody velociraptors are of the Jurassic Park variety, i.e., completely physiologically inaccurate (real velociraptors were only about 18 inches high and were covered in feathers).

The decision to have David Mitchell and Robert Webb to provide the voices of bickering robots wasn't the greatest one; Mitchell and Webb are fine comedy performers, but the characters they voice in this story are an obvious riff on R2-D2 and C3-P0 and they present moments of comedy that bring the drama and the pacing to a flying stop.

The characters of big game hunter John Ridell (Rupert Graves) and Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) are pretty one-dimensional and add little to the story, save for a rather nice explanation for Nefertiti's historical disappearance.

For those who are interested, Jemma-Louise Coleman HAS gotten her tits out...

A Town Called Mercy:
The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in the American Frontier town of Mercy, where they discover the the locals are being held prisoner in the town by a robotic Gunslinger who is after one particular resident for a very good reason...

What's good:
Using the same Spanish location where A Fistful of Dollars was filmed caught our attention and seeing such a prominent genre name such as Ben Browder ( Farscape, Stargate SG-1) added quite a bit in terms of prestige.

It was also nice to see Garrick Hagon returning to Doctor Who after four decades - he had previously appeared in the 1972 Jon Pertwee story, The Mutants.

What's bad:
Pretty much everything else - it was the only story this season that we truly disliked; many of the American accents were pretty dodgy, to the point where it bizarrely made Ben Browder's genuine accent stick out like a sore opposable digit.

The concept of a former war criminal trying to make up for his past is not a new one, but we suppose that it presents an interesting debate as to how much good a bad person can do before he can be pardoned for his past crimes.


The Power of Three:
Strange black cubes begin arriving everywhere on Earth and The Doctor is instantly suspicious; it is not long before our favourite Time Lord realises that these seemingly benign cubes are about to put every living being on the planet in mortal danger...

What's good:
It was nice to see Mark Williams returning as Rory's father and getting something to do that eventually pays off; Williams is a great actor, with comedy being his speciality and it's great to see him apparently enjoying himself here.

The various aspects of how the general public react to the seemingly inoffensive cubes very much remind you of the Russell T Davies era, when he used to show the mundanities of everyday existence interfered with by extraterrestrial intervention.

What's bad:
Not much, apart from the rushed conclusion, the somewhat convenient fact that one of the seven focal places on Earth for the invasion just happened to be in the hospital where Rory works and, of course, the cameo from Alan Sugar.


The Angels Take Manhatten:
1930s America sees the Weeping Angels dropping by, with The Doctor, Amy, Rory and Professor River Song trying to stop them.

What's good:
The send-off for Amy and Rory wasn't nearly as sickly emo-like as we thought it was going to be. There are some pretty suspenseful sequences with the Weeping Angels, something of a return to form after showing them moving the last time they were featured.

As fans of Whose Line is it Anyway?, it was a treat to see a more svelte Mike McShane putting in an appearance as Grayle.

The production values were pretty good; apart from filming in modern-day New York, the look of the 1930's was pretty faithfully reproduced in Wales, with period cars and all manner of accurate set decoration employed to successfully sell the effect.

The final shot brings the Amy Pond time in Doctor Who full circle in a pleasing manner - we won't reveal what it is for those of you who haven't had the chance to see it yet, but it's very nice.

What's bad:
Whilst it might have not been as overly-emotional, it was still threatening to tip over into excessive sentimentality; we were also able to correctly predict what fate was going to bestow upon Amy and Rory from the outset.

Oh, and don't get us started on that whole 'the Statue of Liberty is a Weeping Angel' rubbish - it's made of metal and it's SO big that do you honestly think that there would be one split-second when NOBODY in New York would be looking at it for it to move? By having that happen twice in the story is pretty lazy.

Yes, that IS a Special Weapons Dalek - that's about the only classic Dalek you get a half-decent shot of...

Video


Seeing as this series was filmed in high-definition, there a discernable upswing in the image even in these SD transfers. Presented in 1.78:1, these look pretty good, with strong colours, a fair amount of image detail and pleasing black levels.

Audio


The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are pleasing to the ear, as they bombard the viewer with all manner of sonic attacks during the more action-heavy moments in Asylum of the Daleks and Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, as well has handling some of the more subtle discrete effects on the character-based stories in this half-series.

Extras


Pond Life Clocking in at around a minute each, this six-part series of shorts played during the week that led up to the screening of Asylum of the Daleks and features Amy and Rory getting involved in all manner of scrapes with The Doctors that help to give background information concerning important parts of series seven, most notably that the pair are on the brink of divorce. The Doctor has a brush with the Sontarons and gets briefly involved with historical events and people, but this is mainly about how the continual reappearance of The Doctor impacts upon the Williams' domestic lives. They don't amount to much (although the final one adds some welcome pathos), but they will help ease those who are heartbroken with the departure of Amy and Rory from the series.

Asylum of the Daleks Prequel: This two-and-a-half minute short has The Doctor confronted by a mysterious hooded figure and the it plays out as a dream-within-a-dream-or-is-it? scenario and sets up the first episode of the series. It's all fairly inconsequential, but it adds a little extra to the story for those who want more from the epic Dalek tale.

The Making of The Gunslinger: Running at less than two minutes, this plays like a public information film as to how the cyborg character from A Town Called Mercy was created. If you remember the teaser trailer for Terminator 2: Judgment Day, then you'll know what you'll getting from this.

The Science of Doctor Who: This looks like it was produced for US television, as it runs for 45 minutes and opens with an excitable American blathering on, but it features contributions from Stephen Moffat and other British persons. This is a fairly standard mixture of clips from New-Who, enthusiastic frothing from professional fans and some observations from people in the scientific arena, who disspel or confirm the hypothetical possibilities seen in Doctor Who. The concept of paradoxes are discussed and Moffat even defends his awful series six story, Let's Kill Hitler, but doesn't justify the storyline he chose particularly convincingly. The sonic screwdriver is touched upon, with a scientific test as to the possibility of one being created being show but the fact that it's a lazy way out of a situation is curious not discussed. Each subject is rated on a scale of one to five, and in keeping with that, we have rated this glorified educational clip-show a solid three.

The relationship between The Doctor and River Song IS pretty sick if you examine it closely...

Overall


We were quite surprised by how much we enjoyed this first half of series seven, with there only being one duffer in the batch ( A Town Called Mercy), and the Ponds are given an fitting send-off. Matt Smith is as good as ever and Karen Gillan demonstrates why she is leaving the show, as her performances have made her very much an actor in demand.

The transfers here are pretty satisfying, accompanied by nice 5.1 soundtracks and there are some interesting (if generally brief) extras thrown in for good measure.

Doctor Who is looking up, and we are looking forward to the impending Christmas special for the first time in a while, and whilst you wait for it, you could do much worse than going out and picking up this set.


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