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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
Series 7: Part 2


Starring: Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman
Distributor: BBC DVD

RRP: £25.52


Certificate: PG

Release Date: 27 May 2013

The Doctor kicks off this run of adventures by crossing paths with his new companion Clara – an impossible girl that he’s already lost! Together they find themselves battling sentient snowmen in the 19th century, tackling sinister Spoonheads in the Shard, facing an old god on a distant alien planet, trapped aboard a Russian submarine with a deadly passenger, chasing terrifying ghosts, delving into the heart of the TARDIS, confronting the Crimson Horror in Victorian Yorkshire, and coming face to face with an army of upgraded Cybermen. The action grows and the Doctor’s oldest secret threatens to be revealed as the world’s longest running science fiction series builds toward its 50th anniversary...


Now, I seriously doubt that there’s anyone out there who is interested enough in Doctor Who to be reading this review and yet hasn’t already seen the episodes in question. Nevertheless, just to be on the safe side, you have been warned – spoilers!

The Doctor, Vastra, Jenny, Strax and new companion Clara face the sinister Dr Simeon and his army of snowmen...

Though we have yet to see the actual anniversary special, set to be broadcast on 23 November 2013, all nine episodes in this collection build towards it. The respective returns of the Ice Warriors in Cold War and the Cybermen in Nightmare in Silver have been well publicised, but the inclusion of the Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen came as something of a surprise. I didn’t cotton on until close to the end of the episode, and I could have kicked myself, because there are plenty of clues: the formless intelligence, its manipulation of abominable snowmen, and the initials GI. Perhaps I was distracted by the involvement of Richard E Grant as Dr Simeon – will they reference Scream of the Shalka, the animated serial that marked the show’s previous anniversary in 2003, I wondered...? (They didn’t.)

Another cunning diversionary tactic can be found in the prequel episode The Great Detective, which is included on the same disc. It packs in so many references to the Third Doctor’s era, Season 7 in particular, that I wondered whether this would be a running motif of the series. (It isn’t.) Quite apart from the presence of Madame Vastra the Silurian (Neve McIntosh) and Strax the Sontaran (Dan Starkey), both species created during the Pertwee era, the lizard woman reports a strange meteor shower (see also Spearhead From Space), Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart) speaks of an insane scientist who plans to penetrate the Earth’s crust (as in Inferno), and a paranoid soldier (Strax) declares war against a nearby heavenly body (for Moonites read The Ambassadors of Death). The Paternoster Gang also appear in the main episode, making the first of three appearances in this series. It’s great to have them back – I particularly enjoyed Strax’s line, “Sir, please do not noogie me during combat prep!”

As well as returning aliens, there are also companion-based kisses to the past. The pub at which Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman) works is called The Rose and Crown, which may or may not be a reference to Rose Tyler, and “pond” is the one-word answer that grabs the attention of the reclusive Doctor (Matt Smith).

But never mind past companions when the current one is so fascinating! The mystery of Clara Oswald is the main recurring theme of this set of episodes. Though some of the intrigue surrounding the character has been irrevocably diminished in light of the season finale The Name of the Doctor, the appeal of Coleman’s portrayal remains. She gives a charming performance, and demonstrates her versatility by playing two different versions of Clara in just this one episode: the Cockney barmaid and the posh governess. Her attitudes may be too modern for the 19th century, but, as we discover later, there’s a reason for that...

Talking of Victorian values, I am amused by the way in which various male characters are less put out by the fact that the Great Detective is a reptile than the fact that she is a woman, and more shocked by the suggestion that Clara might be entertaining a gentleman friend upstairs than by the presence of a Silurian, a Sontaran and sentient snow! This idea is also developed in another prequel episode, Vastra Investigates, on the same disc.

This episode also heralded a new set design for the TARDIS interior, reworked opening titles and a remixed theme. I found the former unnecessary, though the staging of its introduction is superbly done. I’m not sure that the new signature tune is an improvement, though as an old-school fan I love the fact that we can see the Doctor’s face in the opening titles, for the first time in the revived series!

All in all, The Snowmen is a pleasant present from the past.



The Doctor’s search for Clara brings the TARDIS to London in 2013, where something deadly is lurking in the Wi-Fi...

Despite some explicit references to Sherlock Holmes in The Snowmen, it is the next episode, The Bells of Saint John, that most closely resembles showrunner Steven Moffat’s other BBC series, Sherlock. Not only is it set in the present day (barring a few early scenes in 1207), there are numerous exhilarating sequences showing impressive Sherlock-style reasoning and cunning, by the heroes and villains alike. There are several cunning sleights of hand, by both the writer and his characters.

This is a very grounded story. The Bells of Saint John is for the present-day Clara Oswald what the episode Rose is for Rose Tyler. The Shard maintains the Doctor Who tradition of a familiar London landmark being exploited by evil-doers, following on from the Post Office Tower in The War Machines, the London Eye in Rose, and One Canada Square (better known as the Canary Wharf Tower) in Army of Ghosts / Doomsday. The technology is a bit far-fetched, but not by much. The unnerving message is that with our ever-growing reliance on information technology, and our eagerness to share personal data and images online, we are making ourselves vulnerable. This is how the villains of the piece manage to snare their victims and track the Doctor and Clara, and it’s how Clara ingeniously turns the tables on them.

It may seem a little soon for the Great Intelligence to be putting in a return appearance, but remember that more than a century has elapsed for him off-screen (during which he has had a couple of run-ins with the Second Doctor), and probably quite some time has passed for the Eleventh Doctor too. Actually, the very fact that the Intelligence had been in the previous episode made me assume that it couldn’t possibly be him in charge of this worldwide web of fear. How wrong I was!

The Bells of Saint John is another strong season opener. If only this standard could be maintained...



The Doctor takes Clara to the Festival of Offerings on Akhaten, but the Old God is waking and demands sacrifice...

From bells to rings. If The Bells of Saint John is Clara’s Rose, then The Rings of Akhaten is surely her End of the World. As with Rose before her, Clara’s first trip through time sees her confronted by a bewildering array of alien life forms.

The episode starts well, with the production looking slick, expensive and really quite beautiful. However, it loses momentum as Neil Cross’s plot unfolds, a not uncommon weakness of this era of the show. The sonic screwdriver is used as a magic wand for perhaps the longest duration of screen time in any Doctor Who episode to date. Also, despite the superb design work by Michael Pickwoad, there is a lack of visual clarity in certain key areas, such as the location of the mummy (Aidan Cook) within the ring system, the fact that the creature is behind glass – neither of which are immediately evident – and the apparent destruction of the system’s star at the end of the story – don’t the inhabitants need their sun?

Of all the episodes in this collection, The Rings of Akhaten is the least nostalgic, though even so we have fleeting references to the Doctor’s granddaughter, the Time War, and the Doctor’s claim that he has “walked in universes where the laws of physics were devised by the mind of a madman” (probably a reference to The Celestial Toymaker and The Three Doctors, among others). There are conceptual similarities to Pyramids of Mars (a mummy imprisoned in a pyramid) and The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit (a fearsome waking god), the latter of which is perhaps an unintentional coincidence. Some childhood memories of grown-up viewers are also likely to be stirred by the use of fashions, music and a comic from the 1980s and 1990s.

Apparently, The Rings of Akhaten is one of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s favourite episodes. It isn’t one of mine, sadly.



On board a stricken Russian submarine, a frozen alien warrior has been woken up, just as the TARDIS arrives...

Following the fleeting flashback scenes in The Rings of Akhaten, we linger for longer in a former decade in Cold War. It is 1983, another anniversary year for Doctor Who. It’s also a time when East and West were threatening each other with nuclear annihilation, allowing for a neat dual layer of meaning in the episode title, as the Russians encounter another kind of cold warrior – of the Martian variety.

Writer Mark Gatiss strives to do for the Ice Warriors what Dalek did for Skaro’s most famous inhabitants. In both cases we have a lone surviving member of its species, which demonstrates awesome never-before-seen survival techniques… and strips off in the process! In common with the return of the Cybermen later in this series, Skaldak the Ice Warrior (played in body by Spencer Wilding and voiced by Nicholas Briggs) shows a much quicker turn of speed than his race’s previous lumbering pace, and a capability for disassembly. The design of the creature is remarkably close to the classic version, though I don’t think there was any need to “improve” (i.e. get rid of) the clamp-like hands. Skaldak’s gauntlet is seen to have extendable probes, so manual dexterity is hardly an issue for him. While I’m splitting hairs, since he’s a Grand Marshal, shouldn’t he look more like the bejewelled chap in The Seeds of Death?

In common with his previous returning monster story, Victory of the Daleks, Gatiss presents us with a Patrick Troughton plot in miniature. Here the frozen warrior has been thawed out by the end of the cold open (pun intended), an event that took 25 minutes to unfold in The Ice Warriors. As crewman Piotr (Josh O’Connor) comments, “life’s too short to wait” in new Who. Still, to paraphrase Animaniacs, everyone else is rushin’ around here, so why not?

The rebranding of the Ice Warriors is largely a successful one, though the soppy ending doesn’t work as well as that of Dalek. I also expected David Warner to play a more substantial role than he does here. However, the whole affair did not leave me cold.



Something terrifying is hiding in Caliburn House, and the Doctor and Clara find themselves joining the ghost hunt...

We travel back a bit further in Hide, almost a decade in fact.

Professor Alec Palmer (Dougray Scott) and Emma Grayling (Jessica Raine) make an intriguing pair. Thanks to Neil Cross’s writing, the star quality of the performers (both are well known for leading roles, in the likes of Mission: Impossible II and Call the Midwife respectively), and the Doctor speaking so highly of them, it is easy to imagine these characters having a show of their own, which the TARDIS has somehow managed to cross over into:

DOCTOR: You are Major Alec Palmer. Member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Specialised in espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance behind enemy lines. You’re a talented watercolourist, professor of psychology and ghost hunter. Total pleasure. Massive.

EMMA: Actually, you’re wrong. Professor Palmer spent most of the war as a POW. 

DOCTOR: Actually, that’s a lie told by a very brave man involved in very secret operations. (TO PALMER) The type of man who keeps a Victoria Cross in a box in the attic, eh? (TO EMMA) But you know that, because you’re Emma Grayling, the Professor’s companion –

EMMA: Assistant.

DOCTOR: It’s 1974. You’re the assistant and non-objective equipment. (TO CLARA) Meaning psychic.

The period, which for Doctor Who coincided with Jon Pertwee’s final season, is conjured up by Emma’s clothes, which are similar to a couple of Sarah Jane Smith’s outfits during Season 11, and Emma’s insistence that she is the Professor’s assistant rather than his companion. There are also references to Metebelis III (though Matt Smith pronounces it differently) and some mind-harnessing equipment not dissimilar to that seen in Planet of the Spiders.

Both this and the next episode, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, contain sneaky scenes in which we see a projection of Clara, giving the momentary impression that there is about to be some revelation about her temporally splintered nature… but this proves to be a cunning red herring. Also in common with the next episode, the “monsters” are, for the most part, fleetingly glimpsed shapes – and all the more creepy for it.

The ending is a bit abrupt, though. At least one viewer I know assumed that it must be the first of two-part story. Nope, none of them to be found here.



The TARDIS has crashed, Clara is lost inside, and the Doctor has only minutes left before his ship explodes...

Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS is a mixed bag. Even before I saw it, I was thrilled by the story idea, but also somewhat concerned. It did sound rather similar to The Doctor’s Wife – and indeed its exploration of the ship’s vast interior, including multiple console rooms, does bear comparison.

However, there’s no denying the fanboy thrill of catching glimpses of areas of the TARDIS that we have heard about but never seen in the new series, such as the swimming pool and the Eye of Harmony, not to mention a library containing a book about the Time War… Perhaps the most exciting part for me is the scene in which, while Bram Van Baalen (Mark Oliver) attempts to dismantle the TARDIS console, we hear audio clips of various Doctors from the past 50 years, including William Hartnell in An Unearthly Child, Tom Baker in The Robots of Death and Christopher Eccleston in Rose.

This episode doesn’t really need its monsters, the shapeless things that stalk the ship. The temporal and architectural paradoxes that the TARDIS throws up would have provided sufficient peril on their own. In fact, it would have been interesting if writer Stephen Thompson had also dispensed with his underdeveloped salvage team characters, and made the story just about the TARDIS and its crew, a modern take on The Edge of Destruction. As it is, the Van Baalen brothers are instantly forgotten by the Doctor and Clara as soon as they are written out.

The plot is ultimately resolved via the use of a literal reset button, but this is so audaciously done that I find it forgivable. However, why doesn’t the Doctor feel any heat when he touches it, like Clara does?

This journey is a mixture of the good, the bad, and the ugly monsters, but I find that the good outweighs the bad.



Something ghastly is afoot for Vastra, Jenny and Strax in Victorian Yorkshire as bodies are found with red skin...

I have to admit that my enthusiasm for new Who has been waning of late. Someone is becoming jaded, and I wonder whether it’s me, the production team, or both. However, The Crimson Horror managed the rare feat of actually making me jump, even on the second viewing – the moment in which the red arm of the “monster” makes a grab for Jenny. This episode also made me laugh out loud – at the scene in which Strax informs his horse that it has failed in its mission. Humour is of course commonplace when the Paternoster Gang are in town – in another winning scene, Vastra sends the Sontaran to the naughty step when he experiences a sugar rush.

In addition to the return of Vastra, Jenny and Strax, another blast from the past is a reference by the Doctor to a “gobby Australian” with whom he used to travel. There is also what could be a reference to Doctor Who’s infamous lost episodes. The Doctor and Clara are largely absent during the first 15 minutes of the show, giving us some idea of how the Paternoster Gang might work in a spin-off series of their own. When the Time Lord is finally discovered, his story so far is “reconstructed” for us by means of narration, short clips and still images, just like many missing episodes have been.

Some memories may also be stirred in the minds of Avengers fans, for this episode features not only Diana Rigg but also her daughter, Rachael Stirling, acting together for the first time. Rigg’s wizened, Northern-accented villain is a million miles away from Emma Peel, but both that character and Stirling’s Nan Astley from Tipping the Velvet are echoed in the leather-clad acrobatics of Jenny Flint.

Some of the sexiness and scares might get writer Mark Gatiss sent to the naughty step in the minds of some parents (I cringed at the gruesome moment in which Mr Sweet meets his end), while the silliness and overuse of the sonic might make some fans see crimson, but The Crimson Horror has a lot of goodness to offer.



Hedgewick’s World of Wonders: the perfect theme park day out… and ground zero for a deadly silver resurrection...

The anniversary atmosphere approaches critical mass in Nightmare in Silver, in which it is quite possible to lose count of the vintage Cybermen stories that writer Neil Gaiman references in this relaunch of the creatures. The action opens on a replica of the moon’s surface, which was of course the setting of The Moonbase. The Cybermen are said to be extinct, having been wiped out in a devastating war, like in Revenge of the Cybermen. However, they have merely been waiting for the right time to reactivate and emerge from a hibernation facility resembling that of The Tomb of the Cybermen. The creatures require a Cyber-Planner, as they did in The Wheel in Space, and some of their earliest software is still vulnerable to solvents (The Moonbase) and gold (Revenge, Earthshock and Silver Nemesis).

A couple of possibly coincidental reflections of Cyber-stories in other media include the concept of keeping deactivated Cybermen as amusing antiques (as in the comic strip Junkyard Demon) and a chess-playing Cyberman (recently done in the audio drama The Silver Turk).

The look of the Cyber-Planner-possessed Doctor is a dead rip-off of Star Trek’s Borg in visual terms, though he is very different in personality. Far from being subsumed into the emotionless Cyber-gestalt, “Mr Clever”, as he calls himself, is every bit as eccentric as the Time Lord, a not entirely convincing development, but perhaps indicative of the fact that the Cybermen are more used to converting ordinary human beings. The Doctor’s mental battle also allows an excuse to show stills of all his TV incarnations to date, impersonations by Matt Smith of his two most immediate predecessors, and another possible reference to the missing episodes, when the Cyber-Planner informs him that, “you could be reconstructed from the hole you’ve left.”

As well as feeding voraciously on existing Cyber-history, Gaiman adds to the mythology by giving the Cybermen super-speed (perhaps they learned a few tricks from their confrontation with the Raston Warrior Robot in The Five Doctors) and miniaturises the Cybermats to become the insect-like Cybermites.

Add to this heady mixture an excellent guest performance by Warwick Davis, and the inclusion of Jason Watkins, who is always worth watching, and there’s plenty of fun to be had in this world of wonders.



The Doctor has a secret that he will take to his grave, and – to the horror of his closest friends – it is discovered...

As with previous season finales written by Steven Moffat, The Name of the Doctor is certainly exciting stuff, but it doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. Clips of previous Doctors cause immediate excitement that resonates throughout the episode, especially the care with which the William Hartnell footage has been colourised, regraded and worked in. I think the Second Doctor might get a bit warm in that fur coat, though...

As I sat down to watch this episode on the evening of its transmission, I did not actually know whether Jenna-Louise Coleman’s involvement was confirmed for any subsequent episodes, so when Clara bravely stepped into the column of light to save the Doctor’s life, there was a real sense of danger that she might not survive. Once again, the showrunner has provided the Eleventh Doctor with a companion who, like River Song and Amy Pond before her, has a peculiar relationship with the Doctor’s timeline.

On the other hand, the Whispermen are pretty pointless, serving little purpose other than to look creepy in a story that doesn’t really need a monster. Their white, eyeless faces make them look distinctly like the Trickster from The Sarah Jane Adventures, so why not just reuse the Trickster, or make them explicitly part of his brigade? A prequel to this episode, entitled Clarence and the Whispermen, presented on the same disc, adds a substantial amount of menace to these beings and confirms their Trickster-like methods.

The Great Intelligence’s plan is somewhat underwhelming, not to say incomprehensible. We don’t actually see him doing any harm, just looking on as Bessie drives away, so it’s hard to get a handle on how he is turning the Time Lord’s past victories into defeats. I suppose that being a spiritual entity he might influence the minds of others to the Doctor’s disadvantage, but this is far from clear. Given that the Intelligence currently resembles Richard E Grant, it is tempting to speculate that the altered timeline might be how Grant’s Scream of the Shalka Doctor came into being – in which case Moffat has referenced that anniversary story after all!

Certain questions remain, such as who gave Clara the TARDIS’s telephone number in The Bells of Saint John (was it River, or a time-travelling splinter of Clara herself?), how soon will it be before the TARDIS becomes the Doctor’s tomb (the giant version has the same crack in its window, remember), how can the Doctor escape becoming the Valeyard (who gets a name check by the Great Intelligence), and who exactly is John Hurt playing? I think I know the answer to the latter, thanks to an indiscreet report in The Sun, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it might prove to be a bit more complicated than that. The Eleventh Doctor’s recognition of Hurt’s character has already invalidated one of the newspaper’s claims.

Watching it again, The Name of the Doctor makes more sense to me than it did the first time around, and it leaves me eagerly awaiting the 50th-anniversary special – which is, of course, exactly the effect that Moffat set out to achieve...



Special features in this collection include the aforementioned prequel episodes Vastra Investigates and The Great Detective (personally, I would have presented them in the opposite order). A couple of further preludes are the lovely The Bells of Saint John – A Prequel and Clarence and the Whispermen, neither of which I had seen before. Also present are two behind-the-scenes documentaries: the 45-minute The Companions, which discusses the Doctor’s fellow travellers during the revived series and interviews many of the actors who played them; and the much shorter featurette Clara’s White Christmas, which covers the making of The Snowmen. However, The Battle of Demon’s Run – Two Days Later (another prequel to The Snowmen, which explains how Strax survived), and She Said, He Said (another, rather stranger and less effective prequel to The Name of the Doctor), are not included.

If only 23 November was just two days later... but this release should tide you over for a while!

Richard McGinlay

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