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Retrospective: Series 7 (2013) Journey to Finale

Guest contributor David Selby concludes his overview on the second half of Series 7.

“My name, my real name – that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, is like… it’s like a promise you make. He’s the one who broke the promise.” – The Doctor

series-7-final-posters

Doctor Who, thus far, has focused on developing the mystery of the Doctor. Who is he? Why did he leave Gallifrey? What was his exact role in the Time War? And finally, what is his name?

Steven’s Moffat has certainly made a good effort to integrate his own ideas into the show’s mythos; his interpretation of the Doctor’s more shadowy alter-ego, the dark depiction of his past, and the even darker presaging of his future. But did his most ambitious decision yet pay off?

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

journey-posterThere was always a risk that Stephen Thompson would get ‘carried away’ writing this one; going overboard with sightseeing the TARDIS and therefore constructing a plot with practically no soul. Then there was the Time War book – he could have gone on about what Clara had discovered about the Doctor in there. But he didn’t. He simply whetted the audience’s appetite and let them imagine the rest.

The plot was excellent: mostly simple, but compelling nonetheless. I liked the use of time within the narrative – to avoid a deus-ex-machina (ouch… ‘God out of a machine’ would have been embarrassing giving the episode’s nature) ending, clues were scattered throughout the opening and climax so as to give the resolution something to work with. Then there were the ossified monsters: the reveal that they were future versions of Clara was a very heart-breaking moment and a fabulous twist to the story. The definition of ‘alive’ was touched on perfectly by Thompson: remember, the TARDIS isn’t our definition of alive, and that’s what’s important.

I have some issues though. I was unimpressed by the amount of TARDIS we saw – it seemed that twenty minutes in, there was hardly anything else left to see. Thompson could have been more imaginative. Then there are the obvious plot-holes: for example, why are the dead crew still alive, as zombies, and why would they want to eat their past selves? It makes no sense. The Van Baalen brothers had a fairly mediocre subplot, which I couldn’t really care for, but it was quite a nice touch to give them some depth.

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is a bit enjoyable, but I have to watch it with my brain switched off, and even then, I can find things I don’t like.

Overall Score: 7/10

The Crimson Horror

crimson-poster-(2)I find it most intriguing that whilst everyone else went into this episode cynical and uninterested, I went into it open-minded and fascinated – yet when everyone else came back to rate and discuss it, they found it compelling and entertaining, whilst I found it… an absolute horror (that has got to be my worst pun yet).

Maybe not a horror exactly – but I felt that, as per previously, the weaker, over-complicated and silly aspects seemed to undermine what was actually not a bad story.

Rachael Stirling was the star of the show for me as the eloquently-written and sympathetic Ada – a lonely woman who doesn’t fit into her own mother’s idealistic visions of a perfect world. Her perception of the Doctor as ‘her monster’ was thought-provoking, because we’ve followed the Doctor all the years, through stories like An Unearthly Child, The Trial of a Timelord, Amy’s Choice, The Waters of Mars and A Town Called Mercy, and he’s become our ‘monster’ now.

The plot was good but felt badly-paced, and like almost every other episode this series, could have done with being a two-parter. Nonetheless, the flashback scene was enjoyable and well-made, the Paternoster Gang had one of their stronger outings; Strax being very amusing (though, I’ve noticed, not to everyone’s tastes) and Jenny for once taking centre stage and actually displaying proper companion material.

However, the ending was very pantomime and melodramatic, Mr Sweet didn’t have any depth or reasoning that was easily perceived by the viewer, and it would have made absolutely no sense to someone who hadn’t seen The Snowmen. Furthermore, Clara was surplus to requirements, and hardly necessary. The children in the ending scene were ridiculous. Why would you assume from a couple of pictures that your nanny is a time-traveller? And why would Clara think their Dad would listen? I’d tell him they’re nuts and have them sectioned, before they got dangerous…

It wasn’t a bad story, but unfortunately Gatiss got so carried away with clichés and unnecessary plot additions that there was little time to see his enriching interpretation of Victorian values and ideologies, which, for me, were the most interesting parts of the episode.

Overall Score: 6/10

Nightmare in Silver

nightmare-poster-(1)Reading reviews of the episode is interesting, because it was very love/hate. Some people thought it was as splendid and refined as polished metal (groan), yet others would probably describe it quite literally as a Nightmare – in Silver (don’t worry – there aren’t that many more of these to sit through now).

On first watch, I found myself disappointed. I felt that I’d got over-hyped for an episode by a writer who’d previously penned one of the most inventive scripts ever, to discover that his revival of the Cybermen was below average. Angie and Artie were possibly even more ridiculous than before, not even being wowed by the TARDIS or the supposed moon landing, Furthermore, I’d have liked to have seen more from the Cybermen, and a stronger conclusion than a teleport which could have beamed them up half an hour earlier if it was convenient for the script.

But this is one that’s grown on me after re-watch. I’ve learnt to accept that, whilst nothing truly matches the ingenious simplicity to The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman had still constructed a fine narrative and indeed an excellent revival for the Cybermen. It just wasn’t quite the masterpiece that the former story was.

Something I really admire about Nightmare in Silver was how Gaiman had assimilated his own ideas with what’s already stated. What’s key about the Cybermen is that, since Kit Pedler handed over the reign, they are entirely open to adaptation. Eric Saward’s Earthshock, for instance, focused on the malevolent scientist within the Cybermen, as they vindictively experimented on the Doctor’s emotions. Tom MacRae’s Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, on the other hand, was more about the horrific uniformity of the Cybermen, and what a curse such technology is to society. Arguably, Nightmare in Silver was about the evolution of the Cybermen, and how they become more and more dangerous over time. Setting up with the ominous line, “Don’t worry, my young friends – we all know there are no more living Cybermen” (debatably even worse than, “This is going to be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had”), and introducing the idea that people would go as far as blowing up a planet to destroy one Cyberman mounted tension for their appearance when it came.

I love some of Gaiman’s creative twists with the Cybermen – for example; the detachable body parts, the turning head, the Cyberiad, the Cyber Planner, the ability to upgrade on the spot – they all toss aside any comforts we had that the metal menaces could be beaten. However, there’s something here that still feels as if they don’t reach their full potential. It really is just an introduction, and I’m sure if he had the chance again, Gaiman could do better.

One of the things I’ve come to learn on re-watch is quite how well Gaiman managed to succeed even with other aspects of the narrative – such as, the characters. They’re quite simple (an indoctrinated solider willing to die for her cause, along with her dysfunctional and ineffective platoon, a small, quiet and thoughtful man who is really hiding from a great secret, and a whimsical madman of a curator who fits the typical Gaiman criteria – I wish we’d seen more of him), but are used well, and don’t get in the way of the story as a whole. Even the idea of the planet, Hedgewick’s world, is a stroke of brilliance, and adds to the terrific atmosphere. Nightmare in Silver wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought.

Overall Score: 7/10

The Name of the Doctor

series-7-finale-poster-portraitI have a lot of theories from watching The Name of the Doctor. One is that John Hurt’s Doctor is the obvious; simply a lost incarnation in between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors whose memory has been buried away and presence denied because of what he did in the Time War (the Moment… and perhaps even more?). Another theory is that when the Doctor used the aforementioned De-mat gun, the implications were so great that his soul was split into two. One side was the regretful, detached Ninth Doctor we know, and the other was the more vengeful, pitiless man who was capable of using the terrible device. The former could have killed the latter as he because overpowering and began to destroy the legend of the Doctor. Alternatively, as this is the Doctor’s whole timeline, he could be a future incarnation: the Twelfth, the Valeyard, the Beast.

Also, I’m of a mind to be lenient towards the supposed plot-holes: the coincidence that the TARDIS model is the Eleventh Doctor’s, for example, may be more than simply a coincidence. It’s been said that the Doctor died in a battle; therefore, this could be part of the storyline for the 50th Anniversary, which may say the actual fall of the Eleventh, and the Question being answered explicitly. Similarly, the Great Intelligence may not actually be dead.

I’ve got to respect Moffat for his sheer imagination here, too. Not only does he come up with some terrific concepts (the conference call, Trenzalore, the tear and the tomb, etc.), he also manages to execute certain notions with a memorable eloquence (“I’m so sorry… I think I’ve been murdered”/ But not in the name of the Doctor”). River’s final scene keeps to continuity; acknowledging the Library, but also recalling the Doctor’s fear of endings. Saying a farewell that implies meeting again is a beautiful way for the couple to say goodbye, though some may argue that no goodbye was needed – that’s the nature of their relationship.

Sadly, the episode is littered with elementary errors. How exactly did the Great Intelligence destroy the Doctor (surely, if one of the places they were scatted was Victorian London, the version seen in The Snowmen should be mere echoes of the Intelligence from The Name of the Doctor, thus causing Doctor Simeon to be inconsistent)? How is it that Clara, a human, was even allowed on Gallifrey, let alone knew to direct the Doctor to the faulty TARDIS, when the Victorian Clara didn’t even know who the Doctor was – and how did she save him those other times? How did Clarence DeMarco know space-time coordinates (he heard whispers… no, sorry, that isn’t adequate)? How did the Great Intelligence even get to Trenzalore? And where the hell are the Silence?

Of all this, what infuriates me the most is Moffat’s frankly childish grasp of death. Jenny dies, in a hauntingly chilling scene, and then she’s brought back to life – that’s an end to any potential character development for Vastra or Strax. Even Clara sacrifices herself for the Doctor, which turns out to be expressively pointless and moments later she’s saved.

I’ve got such a split opinion on this episode. It’s a cluttered mess of mistakes, but, at the same time, I loved it. I also can’t fault the acting (kudos especially to Neve Mcintosh), the music (Murray Gold is much better suited to quieter, more poignant tracks), or indeed the directing, and the shots of all the various Doctors are very pleasing to watch. I don’t think I’ll be able to secure a full opinion on this one until I’ve seen the 50th Anniversary.

Overall Score: 7/10

Conclusion

I finish the series with two minds: the first feeling mildly satisfied that Moffat is beginning to get his act together, but the second feeling disillusioned that this wasn’t the golden era I’d hoped for at the end of The Snowmen. It’s been one of Doctor Who’s most significant years; building on its mythology, developing its characters, but, fundamentally, I’m still of the opinion that 45 minutes won’t suffice for the blockbuster format the show has been aiming for. It’s time everything got a little more organized. Less poetic license, a more maturely characterized Doctor, and a companion whose key feature isn’t being a guessing-game. Because there is a bit of me that thinks that maybe, just maybe, we are starting to get somewhere.

Step back in time...

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