Of course there’s a lot of fun stories throughout, many of which in this series have an element of the character’s past. Its peak were with the Steven Moffat stories Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan, The Snowmen and The Name of the Doctor, which were all tales interested in the history of characters and how that defines them, winding time paradoxes that trap the villains and protagonists, and lost love. (Moffat’s wi-fi story The Belles of Saint John was a bit of a miss despite good moments, being a shallow comedy bit that lacked an interesting final act). All of these stories had atmosphere, a fast pace, good character beats (marriage of and then farewell to Ponds, introduction of Clara and series villain, a companion focusing on the many faces of the doctor) and managed to be uncluttered and confident. The weakest episodes in the series attempted to replicate this mix but suffered from a lack of clever plotting and dialogue. The stronger episodes outside Moffat tended to be their own thing.
Other highlights included the Mark Gatiss stories Cold War and The Crimson Horror, which were throwbacks to old Who, specifically to the Troughton and Tom Baker eras, the first story bringing back the terrific monster The Ice Warriors while Crimson Horror was a nod to the mid-70’s Robert Holmes stories, specifically The Talons of Weng Chiang. Also impressive were the under-rated fantasy orientated Neil Cross duo The Rings of Akhaten, which was a fairy story in sci-fi setting, and his ghost story Hide, which was Quatermass inspired but worked well as a story of a woman trapped in time, which echoed the series themes. Cross didn’t over-pack his tales and made them short-story-like in plot structure, avoiding silly over-plotting.
A Town Called Mercy, Journey to the Centre of the Tardis and Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver, had good ideas and some terrific moments (Doctor versus an intellectual killer who mirrors his own character, Clara wondering through odd rooms and avoiding zombie flash-forwards to a grisly possible fate, the cybermen and their upgrades and the doctor going mad scientist evil dead 2 fight against himself) but could have done with stronger, atmospheric direction, more defined support in the acting of certain parts, and final act rewrites (the final acts were a major flaw for series 7). These three tales never quite landed on consistent atmosphere but the ideas got them through. They were messy and minor but likable.
The clunkers were the Chibnall duo Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and Power of Three, which despite promising elements (Dinosaurs, Doctor in real life trying to work out a seemingly mundane puzzle) threw away the charm for mechanical and fairly dull plotting. The plots felt exhausted and wheezing yet dominated the stories at the expense of the wonder the tales had potential for. They were terribly paced and Dinosaurs had the worst villain of the year (a grumpy old man with dumb robots) while Power Of Three had a final act where the writer essentially gave up and created a gibberish monster with no menace nor tie to the central threat.