The other two genre TV series I review for Screen Invasion, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, both feature wildly fantastic elements such as dragons and zombies. However, both TWD and GOT ground these elements in a grimy aesthetics and grim realism. Dr. Who, on the other hand….does not, the show is brightly colored adventurous sci-fi/fantasy that fully embraces it’s sometimes cheesy aesthetics. However, the writing, acting, and overall storytelling have been consistently solid since Russell T. Davies’ 2005 reboot, and what was once a slightly obscure British cult property has become a full blown hit on both sides of the pond.
A lot of credit has to be given to current show-runner Steven Moffat for this as well; his run on the show has converted many non-believers into Whovians. Since taking over the reins from Davies in 2010, Moffat, along with the 11th Doctor, (Matt Smith), and his faithful companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Willaims (Arthur Darvill) made Dr. Who the phenomena it is today, telling thrilling stories full of highly entertaining and intensely emotional content. Seasons five and six are modern day Who at it’s very best. I’m going to do five short reviews of each individual episode, with some final thoughts on the first half of season 7 below.
1. Asylum of the Daleks
A small request: please read this one aloud in your best Dalek voice. Or else, I will be forced to EXTERMINATE!!! EXTERMINATE!!!….ahem, where was I? Asylum of the Daleks, was a fun start to this season a pretty solid entry into the Dalek episodes. It seems many people who are new to Dr. Who either love them, or hate them. I think they’re goofy as hell, but also kind of awesome, in a goofy as hell kind of way. I suspect Steven Moffat might feel the same way, given those creepy human-Dalek hybrids and a Dalek that believes it’s a cute human girl named Oswin, one can’t shake the feeling there’s a strong desire on Moffat’s part to humanize the giant hate-filled salt and pepper shakers. Oswin actually helps our heroes defeat the Daleks, and erases the Doctor from their collective memory banks as well. The actress who plays Oswin, Jenna-Louise Coleman, has been also been cast as the new companion, which is super weird considering the character she plays in this episode, kind of… dies. I’m sure things will be explained in typical wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey fashion in the second half of season 7. P.S. I didn’t buy the Amy and Rory divorce sub-plot for a minute and was happy that nonsense was all resolved by the end of episode. I did love her line to the Doctor when she was explaining what happened between them: “It’s real life Raggedy man, it’s what happens while you’re away.”
**If you liked this episode you would probably enjoy the film Shutter Island. Because that’s exactly what this episode was: Shutter Island with a Doctor Who twist.
2. Dinosaurs on a Space Ship
Needless to say, this episode was amazing. What more is there to say? There were Dinosaurs! They were on a spaceship!!! Okay, I’ll say a few more things. Solomon was a great villain, perfectly embodied by character actor David Bradely (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter). While Rory’s dad, Brain Williams (played by another Potter veteran, Mark Williams) was a great addition to the heroic trio. DOAS is a great example of the ‘fun adventure’ style of some Dr. Who episodes, and I appreciated that the writers managed to work in some genuine darkness and pathos . The Doctor’s cold-blooded dispatching of Solomon was intense, but given all that is revealed about his evil machinations, it was wholly earned.
** Steven Spielberg’s influence is dripping all over Moffat’s run on the show, but why Spielberg and Lucas didn’t team up and make a movie about dinosaurs on space ships years ago is beyond me, it would have made them even more money, and we’d all still be quoting lines from it to this very day.
3. A Town Called Mercy
Did we learn nothing from Cowboys and Aliens? Science fiction and westerns are two genres that don’t mix well for some reason. I do think a Dr. Who episode set in the old west could have worked if the writers would have minimized the science fiction elements and played up the doctor as ‘the man with no name’ bringing justice to a lawless town angle . That would’ve played towards the theme of identity that season 7 has been establishing, with the Doctor erasing all his heroic exploits and any mention of his name from history. Instead, the science fiction elements muddled what could have been an interesting episode. Visually though, it was excellent, featuring may homages to classic westerns like High Noon and directors like Sergio Leone. At the end of day, story is far more important than visuals (as sometimes the visual leave much to be desired) where Dr. Who is concerned and this story never really captivated me.
**See Back to the Future Part 3 as another example of science fiction, time travel, and westerns not working so well when fused together. If there is any Back to the Future Part 3 apologists out there, who want to get at me, I direct you to do so in the comment section below. BRING IT!!
4. The Power of Three
Wow, this could have been one of the all-time great Doctor Who episodes, up there with Blink, Vincent and the Doctor, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Midnight, and Silence in the Library. Unfortunately, due once again to the science fiction elements overpowering the human story, it will have to settle for pretty good. The science fiction elements weren’t that bad and managed to offer some sly commentary on our ‘cool today, pretty junk tomorrow’ smart-technology obsessed culture. However, it was the human story, the ever listless doctor spending prolonged amounts of time with the Ponds on earth during their normal day to day lives that I was interested in, and every scene devoted entirely to this part of the story was a roaring success. The montage of the Doctor trying to pass time was priceless, and his horror at discovering that he hadn’t killed that much time at all was the perfect way to punctuate the montage. The emotional high point in the episode is provided by the Doctor and Amy’s heart felt chat about how short human life is, and how hard it is for the doctor to let go of the ones he loves.
**I love episodes where the Doctor has to try his hand at being human, especially since Matt Smith plays up the alien aspect of the character much more than David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston ever did.
5. The Angels take Manhattan.
Best episode of the season by far, the Weeping Angels are back, and they are better, and bigger than ever. The Statue of Liberty being a weeping angel was a great treat to all of the hardcore fans who had discussed the possibility of this many times over the years. I loved the film noir tone of the episode, unlike A Town Called Mercy, here the science fiction elements and the film noir elements blended together perfectly to create an awesome Weeping Angels episode and a bitter sweet send off for Amy and Rory. Major props to Steven Moffet for figuring out how to kill them off in the least tragic way possible, and even though their ‘deaths’ were handled well, it was very sad to see them go. I do appreciate that Amy and Rory’s story had a definitive end, and it was perfectly encapsulated by Amy in her final letter to the Doctor. Amy assures the Doctor in the letter that she and Rory will always love him, and reminds him to not travel alone for too long. The girl who waited is no longer waiting, she’s gone, and it’s time for the raggedy man to move on.
I was happy when I first heard Amy and Rory were coming back for few more episodes in season 7, to wrap up their storyline. After watching these past five episodes though, I’m not sure they really worked as the first half of a whole season. They did, however, serve as a pretty good epilogue to the Amy Pond/Roy Williams story-line. I would have preferred more equilibrium between the Pond’s farewell run and the set-up for the rest of season 7; another far less critically valid reason that hurt my enjoyment of these five episodes: I knew a Weeping Angel’s episode was coming. And it deeply affected my ability to enjoy the other four Weeping Angel-less episodes. While I’m saddened by the loss of Amy and Rory, as I said before, it kind of bugs me that this half season was really just a prolonged swan song for them. Instead of setting up what the big picture story arc of Season 7 is going to be. We got some hints along the way, but not nearly enough to get viewers invested in what will be coming in the back-half of the episodes. All in all though, this small group of episodes wasn’t too shabby. I’ll tune back in during December for the Christmas special and post a review of it here on Screen Invasion. So be looking for that when the time comes.
***Oh, one more thing: Steven Moffet, please hire Rian Johnson to write and direct an episode of Dr. Who next season. He wants to do. And you should let him. Looper is the best time travel movie, hell, the best movie movie in ages. This. Must. Happen!