by Sherry Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Doctor Who: Series Seven – Part One on Blogcritics.
The first five episodes of series seven of Doctor Who bring a closure to the tale of his companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). Amy’s story started in series five, when Matt Smith became the 11th Doctor. Unlike the previous companions of the new era, Amy had a connection to The Doctor that began when she was a child. Because of her early encounter, she had been unable to live a normal life. She was always seeking a reunion with her childhood friend, who she called the “Raggedy Man.” The first half of series seven explores the impact The Doctor had on her life when he eventually returned. The five episodes in this set tell Amy’s story, but they don’t really tell The Doctor’s story. The episodes roll by as if filling time toward the inevitable end. In some ways the season has been disappointing up to this point. The creativity and excitement seen the previous series were lacking. The first half of series seven is a mixed bag of episodic adventures that don’t feel like they have a real purpose.
The season gets off to a good start with “Asylum of the Daleks.” The Doctor, Amy, and her husband Rory (Arthur Darvill) find themselves in exactly what the title implies—a nuthouse for emotionally disturbed Daleks. While there, they meet Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a survivor of a shuttle crash on the strange asylum planet. This episode offers some fun new twists to the Daleks. That’s no small feat considering how many times the Daleks have appeared throughout all of Doctor Who history. First of all, what does it mean to be an emotionally disturbed Dalek? I’m not entirely sure, but apparently they can’t cut it with the regular Daleks. And to give too much away might spoil the surprise of the episode. We also get to see zombie Daleks, which is actually pretty cool. Coleman figures in prominently when the show returns after its hiatus, so this was a nice introduction to her character.
After a good start, the second episode “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” turned out to be one of my least favorite episodes of the series. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with this episode, but very little about it worked. The jokes were childish and out of character. It felt like everyone was not quite acting like themselves, though not in a way that contributed to the storyline. The one thing I did like was the addition of Rory’s dad, Brian (Mark Williams). The group is trying to divert a spaceship, which happens to be filled with dinosaurs, from its collision course with 2367 A.D. Earth. If they don’t, the India Space Agency will blow up the ship—killing the rare cargo inside. An evil ship’s captain named Solomon (David Bradley) also aims to stop The Doctor from saving the ship. There are some good scenes between The Doctor and Solomon, but they’re too little too late.
The last three episodes of the set are more enjoyable. “A Town Called Mercy” sets The Doctor, Amy, and Rory in the Wild West fighting a cyborg gunslinger. It’s a fun episode that lets Smith show the conflicted side of The Doctor. “The Power of Three” is probably the most ambitious episode of the set. Its timeline spans over one year and exemplifies the affect of The Doctor’s presence on Amy and Rory’s lives. The Doctor whisks Amy and Rory off to a series of getaways, celebrating their wedding anniversary, though many of them are not quite as romantic as they had hoped. In the meantime, a ton of little cubes have descended upon the Earth. No one knows their meaning and eventually everyone become apathetic to their existence, even The Doctor. Of course, the little cubes are not there without reason. When their purpose kicks in, we get to see some teamwork from The Doctor, Amy, and Rory. This episode nicely demonstrated the ups and downs of their relationship with The Doctor.
The final episode of the set is easily the best. “Angels Take Manhattan” shows the devotion The Doctor, Amy, and Rory have to each other. It also brings back the Weeping Angels, one of the most frightening Doctor Who villains. The episode was an emotional end to the first half the season and brought many surprises. New York is a great setting for a Weeping Angels storyline because the city is filled with statues. Giving them a sinister twist was a cool way to incorporate the city’s existing architecture into the storyline. Not only does this episode showcase the devotion of the three friends, but more importantly it shows Amy and Rory’s devotion to each other as husband and wife. In the past, the companions have had to give up everything to travel with The Doctor. They always seemed to have to make the choice between The Doctor and their real life. Amy marrying Rory added a different aspect to the relation and at times added conflict. This episode nicely wrapped up the first half of the season.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080i high definition. The image is very strong and is a mild, but noticeable, improvement over the HD broadcast of the television show. The colors are deep and often lush. The Southwestern landscape of “A Town Called Mercy” looks especially detailed. The rust and sandy colors of the land are well represented. Details like the dusty town, the cacti that line the desert, and the wood grain of the buildings are well defined. The black levels have suitable depth, whether they are in space or the deep underground of the Dalek Asylum. The sound is presented as a DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix. The audio quality, like the visuals, improves upon the broadcast with a more expansive sound field. Ambient sounds are well represented in the surrounds.
The set offers several special features, including a cast appearance at Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego, the “Pond Life” minisodes, an “Asylum of Daleks” prequel, and a couple of featurettes. The “Pond Life” segments were a fun look at Amy and Rory’s life, also serving as a run-up to the new season. I had expected the featurette titled “The Making of a Gunslinger” to be about the making of the “A Town Called Mercy” episode, but it was actually a very short feature on the literal making of the Gunslinger character from the episode. The lengthiest featurette, “The Science of Doctor Who,” was about how much in the show pertains to actual science. It was kind of interesting but didn’t directly tie into anything specifically about this series.
Overall, this is a decent package. I have a hard time recommending it since a complete series seven set will likely be released after the second half wraps up next year. The first half of this series was somewhat of a disappointment, with more weak-to-average episodes than quality ones. Most of them were still fairly entertaining, but they didn’t have a lot of substance.
Doctor Who returns with the Christmas special scheduled to air on BBC America December 25, 2012. You can read more about Doctor Who at the official website.
Photos: © BBC