I review the first part of Doctor Who Series 7, collecting Asylum of the Daleks, A Town Called Mercy, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Power of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan.
There Are Spoilers For All Episodes, and this review presumes that the reader has previous experience with Doctor Who.
So, as any Doctor Who fan will know, The Bells of St. John sees the return of Doctor Who to our screens and I for one am really excited about having the adventures of everyone’s favourite Time Lord back on TV, even if it is only for half as long as we would normally get. So, to ‘celebrate’ the upcoming return of Doctor Who, I decided to revisit the first five episodes that were aired before Christmas, Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy The Power of Three and The Angels Take Manhattan.
Most Doctor Who fans will note that Series 7 is taking a different approach to the show than what Moffat and Russell T. Davies have done in previous seasons. There are no longer any two-part episodes, and each episode is a blockbuster each week. I can certainly say that this is one of the things that worked in most cases, with the notable exception being The Power of Three, which I’ll touch on later in this review. So first of all, let’s kick things off with Asylum of the Daleks, the series opener.
S1x01 “Asylum of the Daleks“
Written by showrunner Steven Moffat, Asylum of the Daleks sees the return of the Doctor’s greatest villains who took a much-needed break for all of Series 6. I’m probably not the only one in thinking that the Daleks should only be saved for those massive, big, universe changing stories as opposed to the flawed Victory of the Daleks, Mark Gatiss’ contribution in Series 5 which lowered the overall rating of an otherwise really enjoyable season.
The big surprise of this episode was of course the appearance of Jenna Louise-Coleman, and that certainly blew everybody that was watching it away as Moffat has presented us with another companion with an interesting backstory, and the question has been raised multiple times as to what the connection is between Oswin, Clara in The Snowmen and Clara in The Bells of St. John is, and how big it will affect the Doctor. Certainly, Coleman manages to deliver a stunning performance and instantly makes an impact on the audience, overshadowing Amy and Rory’s part of the episode even though they are meant to be the main focus – as Amy as split up with Rory. They are actually both on top form here, and whilst I’ve never been a big fan of Amy to start with, Karen Gillan certainly performed will with her character, and she and Darvill (Rory) take part in a situation that we’ve never seen Doctor Who companions in before. However, the end of the episode – everything is all sorted out and they’re happy again.
The most interesting aspect of this episode however is the plot. The Daleks are now a fully fledged “Parliament” after having only the ones encountered in Victory of the Daleks last time. And they don’t all seem to be the new and improved (and more disappointing) Daleks either, they’re still the old ones. So where the hell did all the old ones come from if only one ship survived the conclusion of Journey’s End? And when the Daleks call upon The Doctor to “Save the Daleks”, a question is also raised, why were Amy and Rory selected? I get Amy may have been the last companion recruited but why did they pick Rory up aside from plot convinced Shouldn’t they have gone then with the ones before that such as Jack, Rose and Donna? (I know Rose is on a parallel universe with the meta-human Doctor, but still). And why did they even need the companions if The Doctor is “The Predator of the Daleks?” Wouldn’t they have just been better off without the Companions?
And why haven’t the Daleks done this in the past, if it were that easy to capture the Last of the Time Lords? Couldn’t they have just killed him earlier?
But you get my point by now, this episode is packed with so many plot holes. However, I still rank it as one of the best Dalek episodes since the finale of the first season. This is a great blockbuster episode, with some great action, great acting, great character development and a very entertaining episode that for me so far is probably the best of Series 7, unless you’re counting The Christmas Special – The Snowmen.
S1x02 “Dinosaurs On A Spaceship”
Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is an episode very well suited to the Blockbuster format, and its title delivers on the action expected from an episode like this. The Pre-Credits scenes see a Hunter Riddell, Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, Amy, Rory and Rory’s dad Brian join up with the Doctor in a very quick recruitment pre-credits title sequence that took The Doctor a lot quicker to gather up all his allies than in A Good Man Goes To War, Series 6’s last episode before the break. Whilst this episode may not have quite the same impact as Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship still manages to be very entertaining fun and does not let up from the blockbuster format.
We first get a glimpse of Rory’s family in this episode and Brian is a welcome addition to the cast. Played by Mark Williams, he and Rory get plenty of screentime together and he easily steals the show this week whilst Riddell and Nefertiti suffer from the case of too many characters, not enough space, and Nefertiti in particular was a bland character that could have had a lot of promise.
This episode also delivers a dark side to The Doctor when it comes to dealing with Solomon, the main villain, and it gives an example of what The Doctor would be like if he was without a companion for too long, and it is also well executed, with some great special effects towards the end and a well crafted story by Chris Chibnall, in his first of the two episodes for Series 7 Part 1, manages to create an episode that was, whilst not quite a classic, still better than his second entry, The Power of Three. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship also gives a nod to the Silurians and although they don’t feature in this episode, they are mentioned to have created the spaceship in question.
In Conclusion then, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was everything you’d expect from a blockbuster. Fast, action-packed, entertaining but with a few flawed characters, this episode still manages to be a strong addition to Doctor Who and the first two episodes have not seen any misfires.
S1x03 “A Town Called Mercy“
Whilst Dinosaurs on a Spaceship was a science fiction adventure, A Town Called Mercy is a western episode and takes the Doctor, Amy and Rory to a town called, well – Mercy. But not all is as it seems, for a cyborg Gunslinger is stalking the outskirts of Mercy, killing anyone who leaves, looking for an alien inhabitant of the town. But what is the alien responsible for, and why does the Gunslinger want him dead? And can the Doctor save the day?
Another blockbuster movie-episode this time around, and A Town Called Mercy is even more so of one than Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, and is another awesome episode that I really enjoyed but was not quite as good as Asylum of the Daleks. One of the classic western tropes of a wounded traveller confronting his demons is explored in this episode as I believe it’s the closest Doctor Who has come to a Western drama in while.
Like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, A Town Called Mercy explores the darker side of the Doctor, to the point where he’s even willing to hand over the alien that the Gunslinger is looking for if it will save the lives of the people of Mercy, especially with the alien’s dark history. Toby Whitehouse delivers a strong episode so far, and I’m really starting to like his work – he is responsible for School Reunion, which brought back Sarah Jane Smith to New Who in Series 2, and wrote a strong The Vampires of Venice in Series 5. The only let down he’s written so far is The God Complex, from Series 6, but on the whole – I’ve enjoyed his work.
This episode gets a lot of things right and delivers in almost every way bar a few key flaws. It looks wonderful, and the Western landscape is really well established and shot making this another strong looking Doctor Who episode, and it’s just amazing how far the special effects have come since Rose. A probably improved budget helps as well.
The episode starts well, opening quite brutally in order to grab the audience’s attention. The Gunslinger Cyborg gets off to a great introduction and he’s the kind of character that I’d love to see more of despite the fact that it might be better off as a one-shot outing, after all – The Weeping Angels have gone steadily downhill since their initial appearance in Season 3. The story might not quite have been the one that I was expecting from the series trailers that aired before this episode and the tropes displayed in this episode commonly found in the Western setting seem a bit overused at times, and I think what could have made this episode a bit more powerful was if it were to benefit from a few nice twists, as was common throughout episodes one and two. However, this is stronger than Dinosaurs in a Spaceship, at least in my opinion, and it only barely falls short of Asylum of the Daleks.
S7x04 “The Power of Three”
The Power of Three is one of my least favourite episodes of the season to date, followed closely by The Angels Take Manhattan. Whilst it brought some nice touches back to Doctor Who, such as the urban thriller that was commonly seen in the Russell T Davies era and the reintroduction of UNIT, The Power of Three suffers from a rushed ending that probably could have benefited a lot more with a two part episode, or even simply ten more extra minutes to smooth out the pacing as I can’t even remember the name of the villain behind the Cubes and the Slow Invasion.
The Power of Three is probably the closest Moffat-era Doctor Who episode we’ll have to a Russell T. Davies-era one, and that is made to added effect here with an amusing cameo from other BBC shows such as Lord Alan Sugar’s Apprentice. We get another appearance from Brian this episode, and Mark Williams once again excels, delivering a strong performance that it’s a pity we probably won’t be able to see again following the conclusion of The Angels Take Manhattan.
I think it’s safe to say that the best companion that the Doctor never had is clearly Brian, and he delivers some wonderful comedy moments to a season that has been spot on in that angle all the way through, unlike earlier seasons, including the very first episode, Rose, where the Burping Bin sequence didn’t really work out well for me and was a bit too cheesy.
This is a character focused episode, and whilst it will always be overshadowed by The Angels Take Manhattan and Amy and Rory’s departure (despite the fact that I think both episodes are equally not very good despite a few moments that save it from disaster) it still manages to stand on its own two feet. For about 90% of the episode. And then, the ending. A rushed resolution, a pointless tag-on to connect the title The Power of Three to the episode proves that I think non-showrunners should be limited to only one episode per season unless they are proven to continuously excel such as Neil Gaiman (oh, how I would love Gaiman to become the showrunner after Moffat), where they can focus their talents on one work rather than having two episodes. That way not only we would be able to see more new writers for Doctor Who and more creative ideas, but also a higher quality of episodes.
The Power of Three in short, whilst providing some interesting moments, a welcome return to Russell T Davies-era style of writing and some awesome character moments, is let down a lot by a rushed resolution and as a result, is tied for worst episode of the Season so far with Angels Take Manhattan.
S7x05 “The Angels Take Manhattan”
Now we come to the finale, Amy and Rory’s last episode in Doctor Who, and from my point of view, it was a poor episode, relying on the emotional impact of having the longest-running companion in New Who (Amy has stuck around for Season 5, 6 and 7 whilst Rose stuck around for 1 and 2, and a bit of 4), depart the show in a tragic manner that would leave The Eleventh Doctor searching for a new companion for the first time since, well – Amy.
Pretty much everybody knew this was going to be Gillian and Darvill’s last hurrah in The Angels Take Manhattan and with the promos of the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel, the Weeping Angels themselves returning, among River Song’s appearance, I was hyped up for this episode almost as much as I am for the return of Doctor Who on Saturday featuring Clara as the new companion for The Doctor. Yet this episode is probably my least favourite Doctor Who episode of the whole of the Moffat era alongside The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe, the Christmas Special that bridged the gap between Season Six and Season Seven. There are so many plot holes in this episode that are even more frequent than Asylum of the Daleks, and virtually the only things that I enjoyed in this episode were the strong acting of the lead cast and the creepy, scary Baby Weeping Angels.
So where did it all go wrong? Well, as the title suggests, it’s The Angels Take Manhattan. They at least got the title related to the episode- it’s in Manhattan, for the first time since Helen Raynor’s flawed Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks two parter, and the Angels do present a very severe threat to Manhattan.
Like most people, I loved Blink, which introduced the Weeping Angels to our screens in a terrifying fashion that remains the scariest episode of Doctor Who to date regardless of any new story arcs and new monsters that have been brought into the fold. The two part episode The Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone was where things started to go a bit downhill, and whilst they were entertaining episodes of Doctor Who, they weren’t really up to the high standards of Blink. And then The Angels Take Manhattan. Oh dear. What an awful mess that turned out to be for something that had originally been one of my favourite monsters/aliens of the show.
There is a point in Angels Take Manhattan where two Weeping Angels are facing each other with someone trapped inbetween them. The Angels are clearly facing each other, their faces wide open, yet are not frozen in place as the man goes to his fate. Now, Moffat has been known to re-write Weeping Angels backstory in the past (After all, surely Larry Nightingale looked into the eyes of an Angel for longer than Amy did, right?), but I just found this a bit too big to not pay any notice to. I mean, if we’re following The Angels Take Manhattan as Weeping Angels canon, then the method of defeating the Angels in Blink by trapping them through a vanishing TARDIS effectively becomes null and void.
Another flaw is in the ending itself. Surely The Doctor could just arrange to meet Amy and Rory in the past outside of NYC following their departure? I mean, the fixed point was limited to New York City right? Couldn’t The Doctor just have picked them up elsewhere or got River Song to fetch them with a Vortex Manipulator? I get that Gillian said this would be her final appearance and I personally think we’ve seen enough of Amy and Rory for now, but The Doctor should have put more effort into rescuing his friends, after all – he’s changed fixed points in time before – The Waters of Mars being a notable example even if he regretted it afterwards.
And I know that the Statue of Liberty as a Weeping Angel is cool, and I loved it as much as the next guy – but surely it couldn’t move across Manhattan without somebody seeing it? You know, The City That Never Sleeps – and all that?
As much as I disliked her character, even with a strong chemistry with Rory, Amy failed to impress this episode and as a result shall remain one of my least favourite companions of Doctor Who. It’s a pity that they couldn’t have gone to more effort into giving her and Rory a finale that would not have only won me over to Amy, but also would have given them a good exit story and not destroyed the Weeping Angels as a villain for good?
DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7 EPISODE GUIDE – Part 1: S7x01: Asylum of the Daleks, S7x02: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, S7x03: A Town Called Mercy, S7x04: The Power of Three, S7x05: The Angels Take Manhattan CHRISTMAS SPECIAL: The Snowmen PART 2: S7x06: The Bells of Saint John, S7x07: The Rings of Akhaten, S7x08: Cold War, S7x09: Hide, S7x10: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, S7x11: The Crimson Horror, S7x12: Nightmare In Silver S7x13: TBA (To Be Announced)