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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Complete Seventh Series


Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Jenna-Louise Coleman
Distributor: BBC DVD
RRP: £51.05
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 28 October 2013

These latest adventures test the Eleventh Doctor, and prove that even a madman with a box sometimes needs help from his friends. Say farewell to the Ponds all over again. Meet the enigmatic Clara for the first time… and the second… and the third! Face enemies new and old – including Daleks, dinosaurs, sinister cubes, Weeping Angels, Spoonheads, Ice Warriors, Cybermen and Whispermen – follow the Doctor to the one place he should never go, and learn the secret to a really great soufflé. With a cliffhanger ending that will leave fans breathless, this box set arrives just in time for you to catch up before the Doctor Who 50th-anniversary special on 23 November 2013, and the Doctor’s regeneration in this year’s Christmas special...


Now, I seriously doubt that there’s anyone out there who is interested enough in Doctor Who to be reading this review who hasn’t already seen the episodes in question. Nevertheless, just to be on the safe side, you have been warned – there are spoilers, especially towards the end. But to begin, we have the episode that almost didn’t make it into the UK version of this box set, until fans successfully lobbied BBC Worldwide to include it…

The Doctor proves that sometimes wishes can come true when his mysterious gift leads the Arwell family to a wintry wonderland...

In common with the previous year’s A Christmas Carol, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is written by showrunner Steven Moffat, and once again it’s a more Christmassy affair than any of the Russell T Davies Christmas specials starring David Tennant. The plot is not merely set during the festive period, but features a planet of living Christmas trees, which naturally grow baubles on their branches. “Is it Fairyland?” asks teenager Lily (Holly Earl). “Fairyland?” cries the exasperated Doctor (Matt Smith). “Oh grow up, Lily! Fairyland looks completely different.”

Once again, Moffat’s plot takes its cue from a famous work of prose fiction, screen adaptations of which are commonly trotted out at Christmas: CS Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The wardrobe in this instance is the TARDIS, though it is a giant Christmas present that leads to the Narnia-like other world. Anyone who thinks that CS Lewis has no place in the world of Doctor Who should remember that one of the inspirations for the TARDIS when the show was created 50 years ago is the “magic door” of the Narnia series.

The widow is Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner), a resourceful, no-nonsense character, whose mothering instincts are explored more fully than Amy’s were during Series 6. It’s amusing to imagine Skinner’s Outnumbered co-stars playing the other characters… but then the wood creatures would probably have been more frightened of the children than the children are of them! Instead of Hugh Dennis (who might have been good, actually), Reg is played by Alexander Armstrong, who succeeds in making his performance as the wartime pilot completely different from his more familiar RAF character in The Armstrong & Miller Show – respect! Less successful is the casting of star names Bill Bailey and Arabella Weir, who are frankly wasted in their bit parts as harvesters Droxil and Billis.

The episode also raises some awkward questions, such as, is it all the Doctor’s fault – the family’s almost fatal trip to the alien planet and possibly even Madge’s bereavement in the first place? That’s a tough one to answer, but the next two are easier. Naysayers have pointed out that the Doctor should not be able to breathe in the vacuum of space at the beginning of the episode. Well, he can’t (which is why he needs the spacesuit, of course), though he can hold his breath for some minutes (as he has done several times before). Others have wondered why the TARDIS is on Earth when the Doctor is aboard the spaceship. The episode’s prequel (more on that later) suggests that the Time Lord has become separated from his time machine, so maybe he snuck aboard the spaceship via an alien shuttle or something like that (there’s a whole adventure there that we only see the climax to). Alternatively, perhaps the TARDIS starts off aboard the spaceship, but homes in on the nearest planet following the craft’s destruction (as shown in another Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned).

Never mind all that, though, because on the whole The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is undemanding family fun with plenty of excitement, laughs and human interest. The tree people are wonderfully creepy yet also beautiful, in both appearance and voice – and is it possible that their spirits might one day evolve to become the Forest of Cheem (who get a name check)? Humour is present in just about everything the Eleventh Doctor does and says – except when we get to an emotional bit. The most moving moments for me are the lovely surprise at the end (well, it was a surprise at the time of broadcast) and the Doctor’s “What’s the point of them being happy if they’re going to be sad later?” speech to Madge. “The answer, of course, is that they’re going to be sad later.”

This is a worthwhile addition to your wardrobe – or whichever cabinet or shelf you happen to store your DVDs.



Kidnapped by his oldest foe, the Doctor is forced on an impossible mission, to a place even the Daleks are too terrified to enter...

Moffat’s opener to the first run of weekly episodes in Series 7 is an exceedingly rich confection. Even at fifty minutes long, Asylum of the Daleks struggles to cram in all its story elements, which clamour for the viewer’s attention.

The opening few minutes are especially high on blockbusting spectacle, from the desolate vistas of Skaro, including a neat visual nod to the very first Dalek serial, to the massed ranks of menacing Daleks, including a transparent leader that is a neat visual nod to the novelisation of that first Dalek serial. Several exciting moments that would in themselves have made excellent teasers –  including the kidnapping of the Doctor and his companions (Karen Gillan as Amy and Arthur Darvill as Rory), their arrival aboard a vast spacecraft, and the Doctor’s irresistible line, “On a scale of one to ten… eleven” – come and go before the opening credits actually kick in.

Following the title sequence, we get a surprise appearance by Jenna-Louise Coleman – easily Series 7’s best-kept secret prior to its transmission. I usually get nervous when a new regular cast member joins the show. Will they be any good? Will I like them? By springing her upon me like this, the production team ensured that I never really had a chance to worry. Not that I needed to worry, of course, because Coleman’s performance is splendid, whether she’s swapping witty and flirtatious banter with the Doctor and Rory, or delivering more emotional moments. Her presence lends some much-needed cohesion to what otherwise feels very much like two series (the end of the Pond era and the beginning of the Clara era) rather than one.

The poignant revelation at the end is a masterstroke of scriptwriting, which becomes obvious only in hindsight. The writer cunningly foreshadows the question of Oswin’s nature while simultaneously distracting attention away from it by presenting it as a funny line: the Doctor’s repeated question about where she gets the ingredients for her soufflés. Moffat pulls off a similar trick a few episodes later, in The Angels Take Manhattan, in which the Doctor’s removal of the final page of his book (because the Time Lord doesn’t like endings) seems like nothing more than dramatic irony about the departure that we all know is to come.

With all this – and some Dalek-style body horror – going on, perhaps it’s not surprising that a couple of plot elements remain underdeveloped. Firstly, the Ponds’ marriage problems are introduced so swiftly that they barely get a chance to register. I initially thought this development was going to last for a few episodes, but it is resolved by the end of this one. Thank goodness for the five mini-episodes of Pond Life (more on those later too), which at least help to establish the separation.

Secondly, the publicised inclusion of every kind of Dalek ever seen in the show proved to be somewhat over-hyped, as all the classic series versions remained firmly in the background. Even the inmates of the intensive care unit had Time War casings, despite being veterans of various classic-era encounters with the Doctor, from Aridius to Exxilon. Maybe they needed repairs and got overhauled. The 2005 model Daleks make an unremarked-upon reappearance alongside their New Paradigm cousins, having seemingly reconciled their differences.

It is also rather strange that the Daleks do not attempt to exterminate the Doctor at the end of the episode. Even though he is now a stranger to them, he is still an intruder aboard their ship and he presents an easy target. What happened to their instinctive hostility towards other species? Perhaps the Doctor extends the TARDIS’s force field and the Daleks detect this.

Those quibbles aside, you’d be mad not to love Asylum of the Daleks.



An unmanned spaceship hurtles towards certain destruction, unless the Doctor can save it and its impossible cargo – of dinosaurs...

Like Asylum of the Daleks, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship really packs in its ingredients. Here the Doctor has a gang (something he tried before in A Good Man Goes to War), a barmy army comprising Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele), big-game hunter Riddell (Rupert Graves), Amy, Rory, and Rory’s dad Brian (the marvellous Mark Williams). They all arrive aboard a space vessel, the occupants of which include pair of prissy robots (voiced by David Mitchell and Robert Webb) and a whole load of – yes, you guessed it from the title – dinosaurs! Actually, I could have done with a few more dinosaurs, but we also get a nice mention of the Silurians.

Writer Chris Chibnall was hitherto best known for writing predominantly grim and gritty storylines, such as 42, The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood and several episodes of Torchwood. In his Series 7 episodes Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three (and also Pond Life), one can almost hear him saying, “Hey, I can do lighter stuff, too! I can do wacky and whimsical! Get a load of this!”

There are darker moments, though, especially the fate of the villain, Solomon (David Bradley – who went on to play William Hartnell himself in An Adventure in Space and Time), which raises eyebrows but neatly sets things up for the Doctor’s behaviour in the next episode.

Talking of the Doctor’s arc (as opposed to the Silurians’ ark), the apparent recognition of him by Solomon is a neat twist. I was initially disappointed that Chibnall had seemingly disregarded the ongoing plotline of the Time Lord becoming a man of mystery, but this is just a cunning ruse...

All in all, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship does what it says on the tin, and a bit more besides.



The Doctor gets a Stetson, and finds himself the reluctant sheriff of a Western town under siege by a relentless cyborg...

If Series 7 is a season of two halves, then A Town Called Mercy is very much an episode of two halves.

However, whereas some reviewers prefer the second half, in which the Doctor becomes the marshal of Mercy, I find that the first half has more going for it. It has the excellent Ben Browder as Isaac, who is sadly absent during the latter half. It has the mystery of Kahler-Jex (Adrian Scarborough), which is later replaced by the question of what to do with this character. It has the threat posed by the Gunslinger (Andrew Brooke), which becomes slightly undone by his continued inefficacy during the second half of the show. In common with Solomon in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, at first we think that the Gunslinger already knows about the Doctor, but in fact he is after someone else.

The Time Lord gets some great comedic lines, too, before he turns all angry and anguished, including, “I see ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions more than actual orders – like ‘Dry Clean Only’”, “Anachronistic electricity, ‘Keep Out’ signs, aggressive stares. Has someone been peeking at my Christmas list?” and “I speak horse. His name is Susan, and he wants you to respect his life choices.”

What remains consistent throughout, though, is the way in which writer Toby Whithouse and the rest of the production team successfully incorporate classic tropes of the Western genre, including a pious priest, a busy undertaker, a vengeful gunslinger, a man who’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, and a showdown at high noon. The location work, which took place in the desert region of Almeria in Spain, where many famous Spaghetti Westerns were filmed, adds the same kind of high-value gloss that the wilderness of Utah brought to The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon.

I have to say that I’m not a particular fan of Westerns, but even so I feel merciful towards A Town Called Mercy.



The Doctor and the Ponds puzzle an unlikely invasion of Earth, as millions of sinister black cubes fall from the sky overnight...

Like the Craig Owens episodes (The Lodger and Closing Time), The Power of Three has a cosy, domestic feel to it, which makes for a nice change of pace following the previous three action-driven adventures. Of course, there is still a problem to be solved by our heroes, but the “slow invasion” by the enigmatic cubes provides a more sedate mystery than usual. The Doctor gets amusingly frustrated about having to wait around (“I hate being patient! Patience is for wimps!”), though Brian (a welcome return appearance by Mark Williams) seems to relish the prospect (“Doesn’t time fly when you’re alone with your thoughts?”). There are a few quick trips in the TARDIS for the Doctor and the Ponds, but the companions keep coming back to the question of which life they should choose, “Doctor life” or real life?

The imminent and permanent departure of Amy and Rory is alluded to – a recurring theme in the first half of this season. In a poignant scene, Brian asks the Doctor about the fates of his previous companions, a few of whom, the Time Lord admits, died. Nevertheless, Brian decides that it is worth the risk if it makes his son and daughter-in-law happy, and he gives his blessing for their travels to continue.

Adding to the familial feel is the fan-friendly return of UNIT, now headed up by scientist Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Redgrave is perfectly cast as the sometimes confident, sometimes uncertain leader with big shoes to fill. The character previously appeared in a couple of direct-to-video productions, Downtime and Dæmos Rising, then played by Beverley Cressman. Whether by accident or design, the production team have cast a well-known actress who convincingly resembles an older version of Cressman. Kate provides a touching reminder of the much-missed Nicholas Courtney, and a worthy successor to his character, the Brigadier. Kate’s references to her father in the past tense (“he guided me, even to the end”) will be taken by many as an allusion to his death, but novel fans can interpret this as a reference to the Brigadier’s relocation to the planet Avalon in The Shadows of Avalon, which is set in 2012 (in the books, the Brig is rejuvenated in 2010 and doesn’t pass away until the early 2050s).

Of course, even the most sedate story requires some sort of resolution, and this one involves a trip to a spaceship and an encounter with the Shakri (a splendidly sinister Steven Berkoff). The climax is unfortunately the weakest part of the plot, with the Doctor magically solving everything in seconds – including, most incredibly of all, restoring several heart-attack victims who had been reported dead a few minutes earlier – with a wave of his sonic.

Even so, there is plenty of energy in The Power of Three.



The Doctor’s heart-breaking farewell to Amy and Rory is a race against time as New York’s statues come to life around them...

Rather like he does with the Daleks in the season opener, Moffat restores the old adversaries in The Angels Take Manhattan to their former selves. In contrast to the wanton killings they carried out in The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone, here the Weeping Angels use the time-displacing methods they previously exploited in their debut episode, Blink. Partly thanks to the setting, they also take on a number of interesting new guises, from creepy little cherubs to the Statue of Liberty!

As well as doing justice to the Weeping Angels and the New York location, the writer also had to do justice to Amy and Rory, by giving them a fitting send-off. The trouble is, as Moffat himself has acknowledged, the Ponds have already been through all the various ways in which companions have been written out in the past (by being left behind by the Doctor, by getting married, by losing their memories, by getting killed) and yet have managed to stick around. Unfortunately, I can see a number of ways around Moffat’s “final solution”, the Ponds’ supposedly irrevocable separation from the Doctor.

It is established that the Time Lord cannot return to New York City in 1938 because of the temporal disruption there, but what’s to stop him from visiting the Ponds a few years after that? Even if the disruption extends beyond the date of their death, he could still see Amy and Rory again if they were to travel geographically outside of the disruption’s influence. Alternatively, the Doctor could arrive in another country or state and then travel by more conventional means. The TARDIS can still access other areas of Earth in the past – indeed, it does so in the very next episode. The only aspect of the Ponds’ fate that is set in stone (literally) is that they will die in New York at some point prior to 2012.

Moffat’s use of his monsters is also fraught with logical difficulties. Characters are often seen to take their eyes off the Weeping Angels, which is never a good idea. The Angels sometimes appear to be facing each other, which in Blink froze them permanently into stone. Should the baby that blows out Rory’s match really be able to exhale while being observed? It must be difficult for the Statue of Liberty Angel to move about when it can be seen from miles around. It should only be able to move when absolutely no one is looking in its direction – not easy in a “city that never sleeps”!

Despite all these flaws, the episode’s ending still managed to work its magic on me. One feels such sorrow for and anger from the Doctor (I thought for a moment he was going to sonic that Angel to pieces), and yet contentment for Amy and Rory, who get to live out their lives together. They are “killed nicely”, to paraphrase the Tenth Doctor in Blink.

It won’t just be the Angels who are weeping by the end of this storyline.



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, the rest of the episodes in this collection all build towards it to varying degrees. The respective returns of the Ice Warriors in Cold War and the Cybermen in Nightmare in Silver were well publicised, but the inclusion of the Great Intelligence in the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen certainly took me by 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, 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 reclusive Doctor’s attention.

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 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, we are amused by the way in which various male characters are less put out by the fact that the Great Detective is a reptile than by 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.

This episode also heralds 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 lurks 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 Moffat’s other BBC series, Sherlock. Not only is it set in the present day (barring a few early scenes in 1207), but 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 half-series 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 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 – like, don’t the inhabitants need their sun?

Of all the episodes in this collection, The Rings of Akhaten is the least nostalgic, though even 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 even 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 it 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 transpire in The Ice Warriors. As crewman Piotr (Josh O’Connor) comments, “life’s too short to wait” in new Who. And to paraphrase Animaniacs, everyone else is rushin’ around here.

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 inhabiting 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 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” of the piece 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, with Clara lost inside it, 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 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… But 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 some 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 might 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 over the years.

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 by parents (I cringed at the gruesome moment in which Mr Sweet meets his end), while the silliness and overuse of the sonic could 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 for 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 from 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, 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 into 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 Moffat, The Name of the Doctor is certainly exciting stuff, but it doesn’t bear too close scrutiny. Clips of previous Doctors cause an 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, 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 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...



There are commentaries on four of the episodes in this box set: The Snowmen, Cold War, Hide and The Crimson Horror. Personally, I would have preferred to have commentaries on Asylum of the Daleks, The Bells of Saint John and The Name of the Doctor than any of these, but there you go.

In addition to the main episodes, there are numerous mini-episodes, which for me are the most enjoyable special features. Many of these are prequels, which originally debuted online or on iTunes. The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe Prequel adds to the already ample sense of “how the heck is he going to get out of that?” in that episode’s pre-credits sequence. In addition to the aforementioned Pond Life (which is on Disc 2 – a more suitable location for this would have been Disc 1) is another, less essential, prequel to Asylum of the Daleks, entitled, um, Asylum of the Daleks Prequel! The Making of the Gunslinger is not strictly a prelude, since if viewed before A Town Called Mercy it does rather give away the nature of Kahler-Jex. I would place it during the scene in which the Doctor plays back the recordings in the space capsule. The Snowmen has no fewer than three prequels: Vastra Investigates, The Great Detective and The Battle of Demons Run: Two Days Later, the latter of which explains how Strax survived. Personally, I would have presented these in the opposite order. Moving firmly into the Clara era, The Bells of Saint John: A Prequel is quite lovely, while Clarence and the Whispermen adds a substantial level of purpose to the top-hat-wearing terrors. She Said, He Said is another, rather stranger and less effective prequel to The Name of the Doctor. The 2012 Script to Screen competition-winning mini-sode Good as Gold is also included, though for some reason it is on Disc 3 – Disc 1 would have been a more sensible home. But why I am going on about sense, when Good as Gold is every bit as silly as the previous junior-school-scripted entry, Death is the Only Answer! The final disc presents three brand-new little stories. The Inforarium has the Doctor erasing information about himself, probably some time between The Wedding of River Song and Asylum of the Daleks. Clara and the TARDIS, my favourite of the new mini-sodes, explores the ship’s hostility towards the companion, most likely between Hide and Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. Written by Neil Gaiman (but erroneously credited to Steven Moffat), Rain Gods is adapted from an unused opening sequence from The Doctor’s Wife. Featuring the Doctor and River, this is possibly set between The Snowmen and The Bells of Saint John.

There are also behind-the-scenes featurettes on every episode in this collection except for The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, each about four minutes long, as well as longer documentaries on other or more general subjects: Doctor Who at Comic Con (11 minutes 9 seconds), The Last Days of the Ponds (11 minutes 48 seconds), Creating Clara (9 minutes 40 seconds) and three 43-minute documentaries that were originally produced and broadcast by BBC America. The first of these is Doctor Who in the US, which deals with the TARDIS’s increasingly frequent visits to the States (in the fictional universe as well as in terms of real location shooting). This is mainly focused on the new series, though it does not overlook the First Doctor’s trips to America in The Chase and The Gunfighters. This documentary should win an award for its overuse of the word “iconic”! In The Science of Doctor Who, various scientists and minor celebrities (well, maybe they are better known in the States) discuss the plausibility of time travel, alien life, regeneration, robots and cyborgs. This is actually fairly light on science, but there are some exciting clips from the show. Finally, The Companions discusses the Doctor’s fellow travellers during the new series, and interviews many of the actors who played them.

However, you might not want to discard your standalone The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe DVD just yet, as there is some content on that disc that is not present here: three 43-minute BBC America Best of Doctor Who clip shows – Best of the Doctor, Best of the Companions and Best of the Monsters.

This release may not represent the best of the Doctor, but it should tide you over until 23 November...

Richard McGinlay

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