If the writers of the 2011 season of Doctor Who could be accused of over-thinking it and making the story arcs too complex (many of us loved it but several viewers were completely lost) then this set of DVDs leading us to the half-way point of Season 7 is the simplified version. Don’t spend too much time analyzing the plots here or you’ll be wondering why nobody in New York has noticed the Statue of Liberty has learned to walk, or worrying at the Doctor’s sudden vengeful streak in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. In their own right the stories stand up well enough but the previous sophistication and build from story to story, until the last two, has gone.
There are five of them – a second half of the series will be broadcast and subsequently released, with this first half included too, as a box set in 2013. We kick off with Asylum of the Daleks; whether this will stand up to repeated viewings now that we all know the new companion, Coleman, is in it, is up for debate. The shock initially was brilliant but can only be captured once. Amy and Rory’s collapsing marriage makes a nice sub plot, Smith is on sparkling form but the Daleks themselves fail to grip except when they’re not being Daleks. Amy’s near-conversion to a metal meanie is well handled and foreshadows what's coming at the end, and what a wonderful teaser that is for the Christmas special and what comes afterwards.
Having gone a bit epic for this one we move to a bit of a romp with Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, mostly notable for introducing Mark Williams as Rory’s dad (and what a brilliant piece of casting that is) and some nice CGI dinosaurs. The Doctor’s willingness to let the baddie die is a little out of character and could have done with some editing. It adds to the "trying to cram too much in" feel that is endemic to this season. Last time DW had dinosaurs (in 1974) the effects were disastrous; this time they work well. The other thing the old series did very badly was a Western, and the next story, A Town Called Mercy, rectifies this with a sci-fi take on High Noon combined with a "base under siege" story. It’s likeable enough and we see some more of the Doctor’s darker side.
Things change with The Power of Three, which cements the three time travellers as a team before they’re wrenched apart in the next story. Many of the fans say they don’t like this story; for me it’s clearly the best. Smith gets to be the relentless fidget his Doctor has become and we see the Ponds having some sort of life beyond their travels – and even ageing a little, which the Doctor finds uncomfortable. Then these cubes start appearing for no reason, then UNIT is involved, then we meet its new scientific advisor – I won’t give it away but any diehard fan of the original series will be delighted by her origins, which are a fine tribute to an old favourite character and indeed actor.
We finish with the downbeat Angels Take Manhattan; River Song is back but Amy and Rory will leave in this story. If you don’t know how they went, do skip over the next paragraph.
It’s brilliant. The press was full of "will they die or won’t they", and yes they do, but because of the way the Angels kill people – steal their remaining years but send them back in time so that they live out what’s left, just in the past – they eventually die of old age. The Doctor stands by their grave knowing he’ll never see them again and then reads a letter from Amy confirming that they lived well and were happy into their old age. It’s kind of perfect. Which is just as well because the story is littered with holes – I’ve already mentioned the walking Statue of Liberty that nobody notices, but there are others, such as, "how does the Angel at the end survive and what happens to it afterwards?"
It’s a variable season, too short due to being spread over two broadcasting blocks and the stories are a little too straightforward and signposted for my liking. The possible complexities with the new companion, who we’ve already seen turned into a Dalek and killed, are intriguing but that’s for the second, as yet unbroadcast, half of Season 7. The low rating I’ve given this little set, is precisely because it’s only half a season and yet it’s apparently worthy of a full-blown release in its own right, which looks a lot like a Christmas cash-in from here. Particularly given the low level of extras, you might want to give this one a few months and then buy the lot.
EXTRAS ★★ A minimal approach; there are seven ‘webisodes’, two of which lead in to individual episodes and five of which lead up to the first. The “Pond life” five-parter is great fun, the others are workmanlike scene-setters and there’s an American documentary on the series. If extras are your thing, wait for the full release.