Sunday, 19 May 2013

Dr Who Series 7

It’s a shame that series 7 was split in two, as it created an artificial diversion in the through-story, which is about a man jumping between people and adventures nervously, not quite able to connect as much as he’d like, while the world has moved on around him. He is a character in these stories not wanting to have people with him for too long, nor get into scrapes with him, to be put into danger long-term by him, meaning that they’re not quite as interested in him as he’d like. It’s a fun metaphor for the character as a whole, done with a cheeky wink. This constant flux at the centre leads to a great gag in the finale where the universe unwinds and falls to darkness due to his fidgety travelling nature and the contradictions of him existing and not existing, winding back for centuries, of worlds failing and stars collapsing because of his emerging death over hundreds of occasions causing paradoxes and rips in time.

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.
The series was as unique and as interesting as 5 or 6, yet was probably over-all the weakest of Moffat’s run in its no two-parter policy and playing down of its over-all arc left the series a little fragmented. Asylum of the Daleks, Cold War and Nightmare in Silver would have benefitted from longer running times. The idea of the Doctor dropping into lives, rarely staying with them between stories, played with the convention of the stories, was a funny and inventive idea, yet left the series feeling bitty at times.
On the other hand series 7 had some of the character’s finest moments. Moffat gave the solution to the Clara mystery in the Dalek episode that introduced Clara (that she’s a voice and presence helping him escape difficult times), repeated it in the Snowmen and giving her a face to him, and then let the Doctor catch up to what was going on, as it’s a character felt but not seen throughout his life. The Great Intelligence, while not as overt as some series-long villains, was threatening enough to keep the story moving without dominating artificially, and worked as a mirror to the Doctor (as a character who dominates the lives of his companions/friends, but to a more fascist direction, while the Doctor is careful to let his friend’s escape from his influence and move on). The two Moffat-written Pond stories were terrific and atmospheric, with great moments such as the Daleks forgetting all knowledge of their greatest enemy and the Ponds trapped happily in America, with a time paradox separating them from the Doctor (the first hint of the final story in the series would be around time paradoxes). The return of the Ice Warriors was terrific and pared down, and was an old school triumph. Finally there were the images of the old Doctor’s in the Name of the Doctor, the sight of Hartnell stealing the Tardis and interacting with Clara (who points him on his way to the right Tardis to use) and finally the mysterious John Hurt incarnation of the character, which is a great cliff-hanger for the series.
So despite flaws, this was a very worthwhile series of stories.

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