Doctor Who: The Complete Series 7 (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros hastily rehash previous reviews to get this one out on time...
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 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 we were reasonably pleasantly surprised. However, there was something abysmal to endure before then...
THE DOCTOR, THE WIDOW AND THE WARDROBE:
It is 1938 and Madge Arwell (Clare Skinner) has taken her two children, Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) to a relative's expansive house in Dorset after hearing that her husband Reg (Alexander Armstrong) was killed when his Lancaster Bomber was shot down over the English channel. Madge wants to give her children one last great Christmas before breaking the news to them that their father is not going to be coming home. With The Doctor (Matt Smith) masquerading as the caretaker of the house, the Atwells are in for an unforgettable Christmas...
Just what is Steven Moffat's obsession with plundering beloved literally tales and using them as the basic concept for Christmas stories? Last time, he did it with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (cunningly titled "A Christmas Carol") and this time, he's done it with C S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; though this one isn't as direct as last time, it still copies the basic concept of being set in Britain during wartime and focuses upon children who have been evacuated out of London who find their way into an otherworldly snow-covered that proves to be anything but a winter wonderland.
Just like the basic principle of the charity single, a Christmas special of a television programme doesn't actually have to be any good, it just needs to be able to generate a certain amount of interest and hope that enough goodwill is stirred up to carry it along.
The story isn't a bad one, but it is something that seems far removed from Doctor Who; after this, there were no new stories until late the following summer, many fans were a little miffed that the only story to come in the period of nearly a year between series six and series seven was something so lightweight.
Something has been bugging us about New-Who for the last couple of years now, and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe has finally hammered home just what the problem is - Doctor Who seems to have veered too far away from the fundamental concept of the show; it's not about the Doctor wandering into situations and helping out, it's now about fairytale situations where the Doctor is passive rather than active, sitting on the side-lines and delivering expository dialogue whilst his companions and other characters resolve situations themselves.
The kids venture through a magical portal into a snowy forest on an alien world and the youngsters encounter the humanoid tree-like creatures, with The Doctor and Madge in tow; our favourite Time Lord seems to be jogging behind the action in story terms, rather than being at the front. Still, you have to hand it to Moffat in his ability to weave an environmental message about deforestation and acid rain into a Christmas story.
Matt Smith is as good as ever, but the sidelining of his character weakens The Doctor and events seem to happen around him, rather than being the prime-mover. Smith injects his usual amount of professor-like enthusiasm and provides bucket-loads of chemistry between him and the two young guest actors; the scenes between these three are the highlight of this particular episode and this chemistry helps paper over some of the other problems with the story.
The trend that has been around for a while on Doctor Who - casting comedians and/or comedy actors in dramatic roles - seems to have paid off reasonably well this time, as Clare Skinner (usually seen on the BBC's Outnumbered) is very good as the heartbroken mother who shields her children from an awful truth just for them to have one last happy Christmas together before childhood innocence has to be shattered. Bill Bailey ( Black Books) and Arabella Weir ( The Fast Show) also appear, but their appearances are comparatively brief.
The two young actors in this special, Maurice Cole and Holly Earl are pretty good, even though their characters are basically just loosely altered versions of the Pevensie kids from that certain popular series of CS Lewis books.
Steven Moffat's The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances story (which was great, we hasten to add) had The Doctor exclaiming at the end of the story "just for once, everybody lives!" - Moffat appears to have taken this to heart, as nobody seems to snuff it much in Doctor Who since he took over the reigns. There has been times when we have felt like yelling "just for once, will somebody fucking-well die?" at the screen.
People die all the time - people used to die in Doctor Who fairly frequently, including companions; remember when many fans rejoiced at the death of Adric? We certainly do. Remember when Katarina was blown out of the airlock whilst an aghast Peter Purves looked on? We have seen the recon. Remember when Peri met her demise at the hands of Lord Kiv? Uh, scratch that one - but you get what we're driving at. Having a ridiculously fairy-tale ending where the supposedly "dead" dad avoids a watery grave is pretty hard to swallow, especially when the groundwork had been laid for the rest of the family to deal with the situation and move on. The most recent Torchwood series, Miracle Day, had the interesting premise of what would happen if the population of Earth suddenly lost the ability to die - well if Matt Smith's Doctor stays on this planet for long enough, we'll probably get to find out...
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS:
Things aren’t well for Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and her husband, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) - they have separated and the divorce papers are just about to be signed. Matrimonial issues are the least of their problems when they are unexpectedly whisked away to join The Doctor (Matt Smith) in the Parliament of the Daleks. The Daleks are eager to destroy the fabled planetary asylum where all defective Daleks are dumped and want The Doctor, Amy and Rory to do their dirty work. Whilst on The Asylum, they are helped in their mission by the mysterious Oswin Oswald, who has been stranded on the planet for a year…
The sheer cinematic scale of the story is something to be admired - when the grand announcement came that each story in this series was going to be like a self-contained film, few of them lived up to this premise, but Asylum of the Daleks was one of the ones that actually manage to achieve this lofty ambition, as it has a sense of scope that comes pretty close to being like watch a movie. The production values on this episode are extremely high, what with the impressive Parliament and the snowy location filming; it would appear that they were throwing much of the budget into this - the first episode of series seven - to start things off with a bang and keep viewers hooked.
The set-up is very much like Escape From New York, where the protagonists are roped into doing the dirty work for a fascist society, are dropped into a hostile environment and have devices to ensure their compliance. Who knows, maybe we’re just reading too much into it?
Matt Smith is commanding during his scene before the Parliament; when speaking to the Prime Minister (a monotonous megalomaniac who has contempt for anything it views as inferior - Hmm, does sound like another PM you can think of?), there is mention made of why the Daleks have been unable to kill him and that is one of the few times when there seems to be a genuine link between the Classic Series and New-Who, rather than just dropping in an odd reference now and again. Speaking of which, at one point, a line that includes the words “…crawling with Daleks” is spoken, and that just sounds and feels like classic Doctor Who dialogue!
Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill still have a sparky chemistry, even if their characters have separated and there is a lovely line when the break-up of their relationship is questioned by The Doctor - “life is what happens when you aren’t around”, which seems to echo the abandonment themes explored in Toby Whithouse’s School Reunion story.
The big surprise in this one was the appearance of forthcoming companion Jenna Louise Coleman; Steven Moffat had appealed to fans at advance screenings to keep Coleman's appearance in this a secret, and to his - and probably everyone else's - amazement, they did. The fact that it wasn't revealed until the broadcast can be considered a fairly remarkable achievement. The chemistry between Smith and Coleman is already evident in this story. Steven Moffat likes to play the long game and sewing the seeds for Karen Gillan's replacement in this story was quite an ingenious one, but there are those who could look upon this as narcissism on the writer's part.
It’s nice to see Arthur Darvill getting some screen time to himself, as he is usually overshadowed by Smith and Gillan. There are some amusing character moments, not least of which comes when Rory confronts a weakened Dalek that is powering itself up, playing on the syllables that make up the word "exterminate"; with the Daleks being so firmly entrenched in Doctor Who mythology, it's easy to forget that companions haven't encountered them before, so when Rory first sees one, he hasn't got a clue what they are, what they look like and that their primary goal is to eradicate anything that is different from itself.
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 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. References are made at one point to several previous encounters with The Doctor, but most - if not all - of the Daleks on view in that scene are New-Who ones. 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, it was a wasted opportunity. You DO get to see a sixties Dalek mindlessly spinning around in the background, looking like it had come straight out of one of those intermission films from the 1960s, but that’s about it.
For the rest of the stories in this set, we present capsule reviews that give bullet-points as to what we enjoyed and did not enjoy about each episode...
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.
A TOWN CALLED MERCY:
The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in the American Frontier town of Mercy, where they discover 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 extra-terrestrial 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 MANHATTAN:
1930s New York 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.
Depressed after the departure of Amy and Rory, The Doctor (Matt Smith) is hiding out in Victorian London and discovers that his old nemesis, The Great Intelligence, is at large and also finds out that Oswin Oswald (Jenna Louise Coleman) seemingly escaped her fate at the hands of the Daleks and is now calling herself Clara...
WHAT'S GOOD: The new title sequence, which incorporates the image of the actor playing The Doctor for the first time since 1989. Having Ian McKellen voicing the titular characters really adds a touch of class to the whole thing, and his gravely, resonant tones add a level of menace that few other thesps can match. The Beeb always does period drama so well and The Snowmen is no exception, with sumptuous costumes and sets everywhere you look.
WHAT'S BAD: Nothing much to complain about with this one, when we watched it, The Snowmen was great festive fun and a considerable improvement over the previous Christmas special, the truly atrocious The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe.
THE BELLS OF ST JOHN:
After spending time in a monastery, The Doctor is called back into action and finds another incarnation of Clara in the early 21st century. The Great Intelligence has ordered a technological organisation to upload the souls of the human race via wi-fi and only The Doctor and Clara can save the day...
WHAT'S GOOD: The chemistry between Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman is undeniably good, as they rattle off dialogue with the rapidity of machine-gun fire.
WHAT'S BAD: The whole riding on a motorcycle up the outside of The Shard was fucking ridiculous, with a silly premise and pretty poor CGI execution. Still, you could look upon including The Shard as a tip of the hat to sixties Doctor Who, when the Post Office Tower was included as hi-tech base of evil operations in The War Machines.
THE RINGS OF AKHATEN:
The Doctor takes Clara out on her first visit to an alien world, where Clara fights to save the life of a young girl who is due to be sacrificed in the Festival of Offerings to appease the Old God, who is not all he seems...
WHAT'S GOOD: Can't think of anything - for us, this episode truly was the pits, and as bad as New-Who gets. Think of it as being the New-Who equivalent of Timelash or Time and the Rani - if they wanted it in keeping with those who duff Classic Who stories, they should have called this one The Time of Akhaten.
WHAT'S BAD: How long have you got? The claustrophobic-yet-expansive sets, the tiresome singing sequences by the Welsh Male Voice Choir, the lousy CGI pumpkin bad guy, The Doctor's derivative speech that was clearly "inspired" by Rutger Hauer's "tears in rain" soliloquy from Blade Runner; we could go on, but we've made our point.
Earth, 1983 and the TARDIS materialises inside a Russian nuclear submarine, but an old adversary in the form of Ice Warrior Grand Marshall Skaldak is also aboard and intends to raise the temperature of the Cold War by launching a nuclear missile from the submarine...
WHAT'S GOOD: David Warner's performance is fabulous and fairly atypical of his usual sci-fi turns (a genre he has previously confessed to disliking). The redesign of the Ice Warriors is pretty good, staying faithful to the original look, but not messing with it TOO badly. The premise of the story is great, with the idea of a hulking adversary running around in the cramped confines of a submarine being very cool indeed, but...
WHAT'S BAD: The thing starts to come apart about half way through, when Skaldak suddenly decided to take off his armour and reveals himself to be some silly-looking CGI creation. Since when the hell was the exterior of an Ice Warrior armour? We have always taken their exterior to be organic matter similar to that of an armadillo. Oh and why is that that a late 20th century period Doctor Who story has to have pop music from the period in order to establish that it is set in the past, even if such stuff is not appropriate within the context of the story? David Warner's excellent performance gets off to a shaky start when he is seen listening to Ultravox's Vienna on a Sony Walkman, but this soon passes.
It's also inexcusable that this story is essentially a rehash of Rob Shearman's excellent Jubilee/Dalek, as a new companion - unaware of the dangerous nature of The Doctor's foe - attempts to understand and empathise with it, even physically exposing itself in the process.
The Doctor and Clara arrive in 1974 to seek the help of psychic Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) with Clara's mysterious past, but they find themselves dragged into the investigation of psychic phenomena that have been occuring at the foreboding Caliburn Mansion...
WHAT'S GOOD: It's great to see the man who should have been Wolverine, Dougray Scott, on screen and putting in a impressive performance as Professor Alec Palmer. Though it's set in the seventies, there is still a period feel that holds your attention and the eerie atmosphere that is established early on in the episode makes for compelling viewing.
WHAT'S BAD: There is barely an original idea in the episode, coming across an magpie-like amalgamation of Poltergeist, The Haunting and the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation regarding the love story aspect of the climax.
JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS:
An intergalactic salvage crew picks up the TARDIS and Clara is plunged into the very heart of the machine and The Doctor has just 30 minutes to rescue her before the self-destruct mechanism goes off...
WHAT'S GOOD: The interior of The Doctor's time and space machine is finally seen in great detail and even the fabled swimming pool is seen, if only for one shot.
WHAT'S BAD: The guys who play the salvage crew put in pretty poor performances, which dilute the potency of the drama. The reinforcing of the notion that the Eye of Harmony is in the TARDIS, first established in the Paul McGann film, rubs us up the wrong way - they'll be saying that he's half-human next...
THE CRIMSON HORROR:
Madam Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny (Catrin Stewart) and Strax (Dan Starkey) are investigating strange happenings at Sweetville, where Mrs Gillyflower (Diana Rigg) is working with the enigmatic Mr Sweet in a bid to "preserve" the human race in a manner that few would appreciate...
WHAT'S GOOD: Mark Gatiss makes up for several missteps over Cold War with this love-letter to Victoriana and the bygone days of northern chocolate-based industrial communities, presenting an almost satirical look at the early days of Bournville that is as thinly-disguised as the honeycomb under the chocolate on a Crunchie.
WHAT'S BAD: Nothing much, really - it's a very enjoyable episode.
NIGHTMARE IN SILVER:
The Doctor takes Clara and her charges, Arte and Angie, to Hedgewicks' World of Wonders, where they discover that upgraded versions of the Cyberman are unleashing themselves upon the universe, and only the quartet, along with a small army unit of misfits and a diminutive man named Porridge (Warwick Davis) can stop them...
WHAT'S GOOD: Warwick Davis puts in quite possible the finest performance of his career; dwarf actors who can act are rare (the late, great David Rappaport was the finest diminutive Thesp), and Davis' abilities really impress here, playing someone to whom there is more than meets the eye. The redesign of the Cybermen is impressive, making them sleeker and they have also largely scrapped the campy stomping in unison that was introduced during the Russell T Davies era. It's equally refreshing to see that the annoying "delete, delete" catchphrase has been scrapped in favour of the slightly less irksome "upgrade" one.
WHAT'S BAD: Having young children as companions in Doctor Who has never been a good idea - Roberta Tovey was cute but irritatingly precocious in the Peter Cushing films, and the sixties annuals that featured the juvenile John and Gillian reinforced this. Arte and Angie are a couple of annoying little sods, who serve little purpose in this story - they were probably included as part of the numerous alterations that Neil Gaiman's original script underwent.
THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR:
The Doctor is forced to go where he should never venture - to his own burial place on Trenzalore. There, The Great Intelligence (Richard E Grant) plans to open The Doctor's Tomb and corrupt his timeline. The Doctor also faces a past incarnation that he prefers not to think about...
WHAT'S GOOD: There is an epic feeling to this story, as though everything in this series (or at least this half-series) has been building toward; the production values on the planet of Trenzalore are most impressive, which only add to the epic, climactic feeling this episode positively radiates. It's great to see footage of most of the other Doctors included, and the interaction between Clara and the First Doctor (William Hartnell) is wonderful to see.
WHAT'S BAD: The lack of footage of Paul McGann (there was probably some sort of rights issue) and some of the CGI integration of the previous Doctors was a bit ropey. The Whispermen turned out to be a bit of a dud, what with their singsong speak and silly look. They should have just reused The Silence - it would have made more sense. The name Trenzalore is not a bad one for a planet, but it sounds too much like a destination in a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film - Road To Trenzalore, anyone? Never mind.
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, the standard definition image looks pretty good, close to - if not better than - the non-HD broadcast on television. Colours are bold, with the blues used in the period stories helping to set the mood. these look pretty good, with a fair amount of image detail and pleasing black levels.
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.
The soundtracks makes good use of the surround channels to create an enveloping atmosphere in several of the stories included here. There's also a fair amount of heft to the bass at times, which is no bad thing.
Another nice little inclusion is audio description for the visually-impaired, which has a pleasant male voice describing the visual elements of the story when this option is selected.
Prequel: This 90 second teaser to The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is a specially-shot scene that helps to put the events of the opening of the story into context, as The Doctor frantically tries to contact Amy Pond before escaping from a ship that it about to explode. It's a short piece of fluff, but very enjoyable fluff that puts you in the mood to watch the story, so it perfectly achieves its objective.
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.
Life Cycle of a Dalek: This runs for about 3.5 minutes and is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Asylum of the Daleks, which seems to emphasise the sheer amount of different Daleks that were included in the show, but only shows you them making more of the RTD-era bronze Daleks from scratch. There are shots of some of the Classic era Daleks and you get a much better look at them here than you do in the episode itself. Big Finish good-egg Barnaby Edwards is interviewed about his experiences with playing a Daleks, but this is merely a short PR puff-piece to try and convey how much effort was put into the production design of this story.
Raptors, Robots and a Bumpy Ride: Very similar to the above, really; around four minutes of cast and crew gushing about how great the high-concept idea for the story was, along with some explanations as to how the effects were achieved, both CGI (most of the dinosaurs) and practical (the two god-awful comedy robots). The piece about the practical front half of the triceratops created for the riding scene was pretty impressive, though.
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.
Doctor Who at Comic-Con: This is eleven minutes of footage covering Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Steven Moffat dropping by the San Diego mega-event, with clips of them taking questions from an enthusiastic audience and each of them being commendably courteous in response to their questioners, who are so excitable that Matt Smith could quietly flatulate under the desk and the whole room would whoop ebulliently like an audience during the recording of an episode of Married... With Children.
There is an atmosphere hanging over the backstage footage of the cast, as their time together was coming to an end and they all knew it. Gillan remarks that she, Smith and Darvill had all come into Doctor Who together and that it was good that they were all together for this event. They speak of Gillian and Darvill's depature on the panel and it just goes to show how much the show and their co-stars mean to them. Smith seems to plant the first seeds for his departure during the Q&A, but what's interesting is that also on the panel is producer Caroline Skinner; she only chimes in with something toward the end of this featurette. Moffat was supposed to have screamed at her "you are erased from Doctor Who!" during a BBC public function; Her fate was similar to that of the War Chief in The War Games and you would have thought that Moffat would have eradicated all traces of her from this.
The Making of The Gunslinger: Running 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.
Wild, Wild... Spain?: This is another short (four minutes) and superficial behind-the-scenes, examining the historic location used for A Town Called Mercy. It's nice to see some shots of the place used for Sergio Leone's Dollars trilogy (amongst many others), and the cast and crew are all excited about travelling out to Spain to shoot where so many others have filmed. Matt Smith's riding double gets some time in the spotlight as the leading man reveals that he is incapable of making a horse gallop and outgoing producer Caroline Skinner speaks on-camera.
A Writer's Tale: Another short (three minutes this time) promo sees Chris Chibnall on-set for the shooting of his story, The Power of Three. The inclusion of The Brig's daughter is discussed, along with Karen Gillan doing an admittedly terrible impersonation of Jemma Redgrave. Chibnall and Darvill also praise Mark Williams.
A Fall With Grace: This is a four-minute look at the problems with location filming in New York, with Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat all frothing about how wonderful filming in the Big Apple is, whilst Alex Kingston seems miffed about how her stuff was filmed in Cardiff. The big rooftop fall performed by Gillan and Darvill is also covered.
The Last Days of the Ponds: The final shooting day with Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill is covered in this 11 minute featurette. The pair of them reminisce about their time on Doctor Who - they came in together and they left together. The two of them seem to share an genuine bond (which also extends to Matt Smith) and they all discuss the various moments that resonated with them as Gillan and Darvill's time on the show wound down. Smith and Gillan recount a pivotal scene shot on location in Central Park that required him to be genuinely emotional whilst having several hundred gawkers watching his every move. This is a nice little featurette, with the three leads all rather emotional (to varying degrees) when interviewed on-camera.
Clara's White Christmas: This is a three-and-a-half minute puff-piece, with Jenna Louise Coleman and members of the crew recounting the challenge of shooting on location whilst surrounded by fake snow and hoards of enthusiastic Doctor Who fans. What is most interesting about this is that it has an interview with recently-departed producer Caroline Skinner who fell afoul of Steven Moffat.
Vastra Investigates: The Sapphic interspecial Victorian pair and their Sontaran butler wrap up another investigation; this serves as another prelude to The Snowmen and this little vignette serves to reinforce the nature of Madam Vastra and Jenny.
The Great Detective: This Children in Need special is a prequel to The Snowmen and sees The Doctor trying to be lured out of retirement by Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax; this is predominantly played for laughs, but manages to get serious at the end in order to demonstrate the resolute nature of The Doctor at this particular point in his life.
Audio Commentary - The Snowmen: Art Director Paul Spriggs joins Production Designer Michael Pickwoad to bring you a commentary on this festive episode of Doctor Who. They unsurprisingly talk about fake snow and the challenge of replicating a Winter Wonderland scene in the middle of summer. Fuck me, this is boring stuff. To say that this track is a little on the dry side is an understatement on the scale of saying that Nick Griffin is a slightly objectionable chap. If you listen hard enough to this commentary track you can probably hear the faint cracking sound of paint solidifying on walls. This is principally of interest to those who can appreciate the huge amount of effort that goes into making a period drama, including how sets are constructed, along with the functions of rostrums and flats. There are passages of silence during this commentary (and the sound of non-drip gloss hardening is even more prevalent) but if you are able to stick with it, Spriggs and Pickwoad will help you to understand and achieve a greater appreciation of the enormity of Doctor Who production.
The Bells of Saint John - A Prequel: This prelude to the first episode of the second part of series seven of Doctor Who sees The Doctor speaking to a young girl in a playground about Clara, unaware of the identity of the girl to whom he is speaking. This is great stuff, and the reveal at the end is perfectly written and executed - it's almost certainly the best of the all of the promotional ephemera.
Behind the Scenes of The Bells of Saint John: This is five minutes of hyper-kinetically edited footage, interspersed with interviews with the cast and crew as they go on location in London and film in the studio. The shooting of the ridiculously stupid motorbike sequence is also covered. This is narrated by someone who sounds remarkably like former Blue Peter presenter and (presumably equally former) coke-fiend Richard Bacon and seems to be part of some kids' television show that has been appropriated for the extras on this Series Seven set.
Behind the Scenes of The Rings of Akhatan: This is much the same as the previous making-of (and still seemingly narrated by Richard Bacon) as they spend five minutes taking us through the filming of this particular televisual shit-sandwich. The amount of exotic aliens is praised to the rafters by cast and crew (though the story itself is not really praised - and who could blame them?) Cute young actress Emilia Jones is also interviewed and she seems to light up the screen and her enthusiasm is infectious. The filming of the speeder-bike (or whatever the hell it was) is also discussed, with plenty of green-screen filming to amuse and bemuse.
Doctor Who in the U.S.: "With all of time and space to explore, what keeps bringing The Doctor back to America?" - well, it could be the part-funding with BBC America or just pandering to the American fan-base. Produced in 2012, this 45 minute documentary examines just why more and more stories have been set in America recently, with Moffat coming out with some guff along the lines of “The Doctor being such an iconic character… that he cuts such a different figure against that backdrop” - so making the show more desirable to American television is not a motivating factor at all, then?
The creation of Captain Jack Harkness is discussed, as it was the first recurring American(ish) character to appear in New-Who, with John Barrowman and David Tennant making appearances, and the Tennant interview seems to be a genuinely new one and not just something they had dug out of the archives to use.
What starts up as essentially a puff-piece the show the degree of popularity of Doctor Who in America eventually looks at the incidents of being in America during the Classic Series, starting with the toe-curling encounter with Daleks (and Morton Dill) on top of the Empire State Building and even Peter Purves briefly pops up to lament his own Deep South accent. The Gunfighters is briefly spoken of, with Purves defending the story (singing and everything), and Tennant emphasising that it has been reassessed in recent years, which is his way of saying that people have thought that it was crap for a long time.
Aside from the genuine location filming in America, there is also some coverage of the Tennant-era American excursions, including the trip to New (times fourteen or so) York, along with he duff Dalek two-parter, Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks is also spoken of, where everyone admires the production design and Art Deco look of the RTD Daleks and ignores the sheer naffness of the story.
It’s great to see actress Lachele Carl (who also narrates this documentary) being interviewed - she was the go-to person when it came to highlighting the global nature of extraterrestrial invasions during the Russell T Davies era, playing newsreader Trinity Wells. She’s an amusing interviewee, but defecates in her own nest a somewhat by saying how cool she thought it was to be in Torchwood because “it’s the grown-up one”. Quite.
Location filming of New-Who takes centre-stage for the last third, with filming of Matt Smith’s stories being covered, with plenty of clips, interviews and behind-the-scenes location footage being employed to show the scale of the stories being filmed. The San Deigo Comic-Con closes this interesting look at Doctor Who in America, it’s interesting that the footage from a few years back with David Tennant shows a more sedate audience that what would follow during the Matt Smith era (which would see the sort of young, excitable teenage girls who would later be disgusted at the casting of Peter Capaldi); this fairly entertaining PR piece is wrapped up with footage of Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat making their first trip to America to publicise series five of Doctor Who.
Audio Commentary - Cold War: Writer Mark Gatiss, Visual Effect Supervisor Murray Barber and Visual Effects Producer Jenna Powell are all on-hand to talk us through the writing and the effects on the Ice Warrior story. Gatiss is - as expected - a great commentator, as he reminisces about the origin of the story and complains that a line about preferring Ultravox’ earlier work was cut in the final edit. The two effects people are pretty entertaining (trust us, we have endured our fair share of audio commentaries featuring FX people that have made us agonisingly wish for a swift and sudden death), but Gatiss holds court on this track and his fellow commentators lap up his every word - as will you when you listen to it. Gatiss even mentions that he elaborated on the reason for the defeat of the Ice Warriors back at the end of The Seeds of Death, as it had niggled him that they had been defeated so easily by effectively adjusting the thermostat. Gatiss also addresses the controversial issue of having the Ice Warrior effectively abandoning his armour and becoming a silly gecko-like creature - he apparently pitched that idea of Moffat as a way of being allowed to do an Ice Warrior story, so you can’t blame him with coming up with some bollocks in order to get the characters back on screen. David Warner’s severed Omen head, eighties music and the death of Margaret Thatcher are all on Gatiss’ radar for this commentary and we’re sure that you’ll find it a pleasure to sit through.
Audio Commentary - Hide: The Doctor himself, Matt Smith joins director Jaime Payne for a rather laid-back, yet engrossing look at this 1970s-set episode. Both Smith and Payne are intelligent people and the refreshing lack of hyperbole means that their words are deliberate and informative. Payne informs the listening audience just how much in love with the script he was, even from the first draft and Smith is more than happy to agree with him. Though there is a LOT of “shop” talk, it’s accessible to the layperson, and fascinating to those who are interesting in direction and/or acting. Payne even spins a story about how simple sound effects can make or break a scene (citing a moment during the post-production of Michael Caine’s Aflie as an example), as foley and sound design are important factors in this particular story. Smith mentions that actress Jessica Raine (along with David Bradley), is in the Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time and Doctor Who in the same year - ish. This is interesting stuff, but younger viewers who might want to listen to it because it’s got The Doctor talking on it may be a little disappointed…
Behind the Scenes - Cold War: Richard Bacon narrates this slightly-under-four-minute featurette that briefly examines the making of Mark Gatiss’ Ice Warrior story. Cast and crew gush about the redesign of the Ice Warriors, with the genial Gatiss stressing how important it was that it looked like a classic Ice Warrior, before he fucked things up by having that ridiculous “coming out of it’s armour” rubbish. Mike Tucker’s models are also highlighted - it’s always good to praise practical effects.
Behind the Scenes - Hide: Bacon sandwiches this narration gig between other engagements as he introduces a quick (three-and-a-half minutes) look at the making of this supernatural story. The cast and crew speak of the supernatural elements of the locations used to shoot in, along with the shooting in the woods (where you can see that they were filming in broad daylight, but the footage was digitally (de)graded to look have a horrible “movie” teal hue.
Behind the Scenes - Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: Yup, Bacon’s back (or should that be back Bacon?) to provide the narration to a look at this particular story that promised a lot but delivered disappointment. There are brief glimpses at Classic Series incarnations of the TARDIS, along with stills of various Doctors and companions, but this featurette concentrates on the most recent design of the TARDIS interior by Michael Pickwoad (who sports a bow-tie that looks suspiciously like Matt Smith’s one); Matt Smith also shows us some of the detail in the new Console Room.
The Science of Doctor Who: This was obviously produced for US television (by BBC America), 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 dispel 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.
Good As Gold: This is a short Doctor Who skit that was written by the kids of Ashdene School and originally broadcast in May 2012 to nicely tie-in with Olympic Games. Matt Smith and Karen Gillen reprise their roles as The Doctor and Amy Pond, materialising in the middle of the Olympic Stadium - surely if it’s during the opening ceremony there would have been a chance that he would have crossed his own time-stream? If we were to poke hole in the story, why would a Weeping Angel be able to move in the middle of a stadium filled with thousands of people - why, that’s nearly as ridiculous as having the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel. It’s fairly entertaining stuff, but even though the writing was credited to school kids, the unmistakable fingerprints of Moffat are all over it.
Clarence and the Whispermen: This is a two-minute pre-cursor to The Name of the Doctor and features the silly adversaries menacing Clarence into providing Madam Vastra with vital information. This Moffat-penned minisode is short but reasonably entertaining, even if it does come across as a piece of unnecessary exposition that was nixed from the episode itself.
The Companions: This is another three-quarters-of-an-hour-ish programme that seems geared toward the American market, with the same American voiceover that featured on the Doctor Who in the US documentary. After getting the RTD assistants out of the way, this mainly centres upon the companions who have appeared in the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who. Featuring new interviews with Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, erstwhile producer Caroline Skinner, Steven Moffat and all the others who were in Doctor Who in the US. In fact, it’s New-Who all the way, almost as though the original series never existed, save for a brief piece on Sarah Jane Smith. The gulf between the requirements for a companion on the original series and New-Who is pretty much crystallised by Caroline Skinner, who says that a companion needs to have a willing sense of adventure (on New-Who), but we personally preferred the “reluctant traveller” motif that was used fairly often on the original show, which originated with Ian and Barbara.
There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of Let’s Kill Hitler, but you can’t pull out a winner every time, now can you? What would have actually happened if the TARDIS had crashed into the Fuehrer’s office, would have involved the SS storming the office and putting enough bullets through The Doctor and his companions to prevent them from coming back, no matter how many regenerations any of them had left in them. Oh and when it comes to River Song, it plays that bloody clips that contains the cheap, throwaway quip about the sound the TARDIS makes (de)materialising happening because the brakes are on. FUCK. OFF.
This is fairly predictable stuff, diverting but not exactly groundbreaking, and features some interesting and articulate observations from most of the contributors. There seem to be repeated moments in the interview footage that has been filmed and used for various documentaries on Doctor Who that celebrate the anniversary year -we seem to recall seeing some of this footage on the Watch documentaries that have been playing recently.) Hardened fans of New-Who will enjoy this.
Creating Clara: This is a nine-minute look at how Jenna-Louise Coleman shaped the character based on Steven Moffat’s imaginings. From the huge amount of secrecy when she appeared in Asylum of the Daleks, to her full-time debut on the show, even the contrasting sartorial styles between the various incarnations of Clara are explored. Moffat and Matt Smith also put in their two-penneth worth regarding the character and the all-important question (to some) about whether or not The Doctor is attracted to her in a trouser-twitching manner. It’s refreshing to hear Coleman’s northern tones coming through when she is interviewed here.
Behind-the-Scenes - The Crimson Horror: Yet another Richard Bacon narrated breakneck look at the production of the other Mark Gatiss-penned story in this series. Gatiss is on-hand to give the basis of the story and also the deep-seated reason as to exactly why he wanted to tell this particular story. Some of the stunts are also seen being filmed, with a couple of the participants interviewed, too. It’s only four-and-a-half minutes, so don’t expect anything TOO in-depth.
Behind-the-Scenes - Nightmare in Silver: The Cyberman story that disappointed many is very briefly looked at here; clocking in at just shy of three minutes, writer Neil Gaiman explains the impact that the Cybermen had on him as a child; it’s nice that there are images of many of the older Cybermen here, with Moffat extolling the joys of the redesigned ones here and the way that the ***suppresses yawn*** bullet-time effect was achieved. As old-school Rocky Horror fans, we couldn’t help but love the brief behind-the-scenes clip of a couple of Cybermen doing the Time-Warp.
Behind-the-Scenes - The Name of the Doctor: The series seven finale is covered here at breakneck speed, with a nice interview with Dan Starkey, explaining how a dramatic stunt involving the Sontaran and a strapping stuntman came to be filmed. The bitch-slapping between River Song and Vastra is also explored from the points of view from both actresses and the big explosion in the TARDIS is covered, with contributions from Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman. The last part of this four minute featurette appropriately covers the last day of filming, with a slight air of melancholy from Steven Moffat.
The Inforarium: This mini-skit from Steven Moffat runs for less than two minutes and features Matt Smith as The Doctor deleting all references of him from the titular intergalactic database. It’s an interesting piece and certainly exists to set up an important plot-point in series seven.
Clara and the TARDIS: This is another two-minute piece written by Moffat and has Jenna Louise Coleman speaking to the TARDIS and the subject of previous female companions is brought up, pleasingly illustrating them with pictures of several previous Classic and New cast members. It ends on an amusing note about the concept of appearing multiple times in one place and would have many hormonal Doctor Who fans drooling at the possibility of numerous Jenna Louise Colemans appearing together.
Rain Gods: Just over a minute-and-a-half is given over to this Moffat-penned skit that involves The Doctor and River Song on their way to be sacrificed to the titular deities. It’s snappy, fairly amusing and - appropriately for Doctor Who - looks like it was shot in a quarry somewhere.
He Said/She Said: This is a three-odd minute skit - once again written by Moffat - featuring contrasting points-of-view between Clara and The Doctor. This was used to promote the series seven finale, The Name of the Doctor and also functions as a way of bringing the more casual fans up to speed on what has been happening in the show and also to drop tantalising hints about what will happen in the finale episode. It’s well acted and shot in an interesting fashion and certainly achieves it’s primary objective.
Audio Commentary - The Crimson Horror: The trio who make up the so-called “Paternostra Gang”, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey and Neve McIntish are on-hand to give their views on the production of Mark Gatiss’ story. McIntosh’s original Edinburgh accent is present and is a joy to listen to (one of us is engaged to a woman originally from the Edinburgh era, so we’re bias) and the three of them have a fair amount of chemistry and a certain camaraderie between the trio. Predictably, it’s all fairly “actorly” and they all seem to be entranced by the magnitude of the production design, with McIntosh in particular being quite taken with the locations used for the story and even remarks that parts of it reminds her of Carry On Screaming.
Christmas episode The Doctor, the Witch and the Wardrobe just wasn't our cup of tea; the predictable storyline (with a predictable climax that even Mr Magoo could have seen coming) along with the hefty dollops of syrupy sentimentality really counted against it.
This aside, 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 was leaving the show, as her performances have made her very much an actor in demand.
Doctor Who Series Seven has very much been a mixed-bag, with a hit-to-miss ratio that is tipped in favour of the latter. The first half of series seven was more satisfying overall, but The Name of the Doctor went quite some way toward papering over some of the less successful episodes. Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman have the sort of chemistry that most television shows would kill to have in their lead performers, and each episode in this series is handsomely mounted. The final story gives Classic Doctor Who fans a glimmer of hope that Steven Moffat is going to pull something out of the bag in November that will have them ecstatic with pleasure. It probably won't happen now, but we live in hope.
The transfers here are pretty satisfying, accompanied by nice 5.1 soundtracks and there are some interesting extras thrown in for good measure, even if many of them are little more than B-Roll/EPK stuff with Richard “It’s the Real Thing” Bacon narrating.
Generally, things have been looking up, and we are cautiously looking forward to the impending 50th anniversary special, Day of the Doctor. Whilst you wait for it, we suppose could do much worse than going out and picking up this set.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 28th October 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentaries, Too many featurettes to list, various Moffat-penned skits, prequels, behind-the-scenes documentaries narrated by an ex-coke-fiend, and many, many more!
Easter Egg: No
Cast: Matt Smith, Jenna Louise Coleman, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darville
Length: 692 minutes
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