It was the series that promised us no controversial story arc, not to mention the series that was to herald the permanent departure of the Ponds, and all the heartache that this was likely to entail. Given the criticism of the sixth series of Doctor Who, either justly or not, not to mention the incredible amount of scrutiny that he generally seems to incur simply for being the successor to Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat certainly seemed to have much to deliver over the course of just five episodes. Would he be able to do it?
The answer was, thankfully, a resounding yes. Moffat proved that he could deliver his promise of bold, 'epic' standalone episodes; from the stunning opening of 'Asylum of the Daleks' with its veritable feast of all Daleks past and present, through to the gloriously camp escapade that was 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship', or the heartbreaking poignancy of 'The Angels Take Manhattan', what was served up to us was a series that embraced all the elements of the revised series which we have come to love. The least satisfying moment is still the more mundane 'The Power of Three', but this is more due to the high quality of the accompanying episodes.
A new element of Moffat's instigation has been the 'split series', and this was used to great dramatic effect in the sixth series cliffhanger 'A Good Man Goes To War', leaving us on the edge of our seats until 'Let's Kill Hitler'. In that instance, however, the bridging period of time was within the same year, not over Christmas, and to some it may seem something of a shrewd marketing strategy to reschedule the series to the autumn season, leaving a part 1 box set of the current season as the only option for the Christmas market. This will be enticing to those who might have waited for a box set of the whole season, particularly as it is not yet clear when the second half of the seventh series will be scheduled.
Anyhow, leaving aside such cynicism, it has to be said that the release itself does 'look' particularly nice if one is lucky enough to procure the special 'Angel' limited edition (pictured above). Yes, the box is somewhat large and bulky for what is, in either version, only a two-disc release, but this is likely to be more irksome to the casual purchaser as opposed to the diehard fan, who probably already cleared a space next to the box set of the sixth series on their DVD shelf some time ago.
A revisit of the episodes in question very quickly reminded us at So So Gay of what so initially impressed us about the seventh series. Certainly, returning to a more conventional style of standalone episodes without the story arc allowed for stronger, self-contained storytelling. This was particularly evident in stories such as 'A Town Called Mercy', which, despite teasing us with a 'Wild West' theme, actually turned out to be a mature exploration of the ethics and morality of warfare merely set against the background of the American West. This was also supported by a fantastic choice of guest star, namely Adrian Scarborough, and this was a constant theme throughout the run; other examples included Mark Williams, of Harry Potter fame, not to mention a tantalising glimpse of future companion Jenna-Louise Coleman in the role of the tragically doomed Oswin.
It had already been our firm belief that, shed of the story arc plot device, the regular cast had been allowed to shine. Indeed, these five episodes contain some of the best moments of the regular cast; Matt Smith's Doctor was able to display more intensity and honed emotion than before, and the relationship between Amy and Rory was allowed to mature and develop in a pleasing manner. It was also refreshing for River Song to return in her original guise as an action character, rather than a swirling enigma of unanswered questions, and, as always, played to perfection by Alex Kingston. Indeed, in 'The Angels Take Manhattan', River Song is very much secondary to the main event, namely the departure of Amy and Rory, which loses none of its emotional potency on revisitation. The episode plays out in a way which cannot help but draw the viewer in; events accelerate and tumble out of the control of the main protagonists, with River's future novelisation of the tragic events that unfold on screen, and the shocking glimpse of the headstone of Rory's grave leaving the viewer with that sinking helpless feeling that all will not be well. From Amy and Rory's desperate attempt at self-sacrifice, through to the eventual, and final, tragic twist of fate, the departure of Amy and Rory reaches an emotional intensity which easily matches the departure of such past companions as Rose Tyler and Donna Noble. Good job, Moffat.
So, the DVD release confirmed us in our favourable judgements of the episodes themselves, but one of the expectations with such releases is always the extra content, especially with a special edition. The DVD features 'Pond Life', the series of five short episodes dealing with the Ponds in the run up to 'Asylum of the Daleks'. It is useful to be able to watch these back to back, but this is nothing which the firm fan will not have already seen. In addition, there are prequels for both 'Asylum' and 'A Town Called Mercy', out of which the latter is the most interesting because it deals with the origin of the gunslinger on the alien homeworld, providing a stunning contrast to the setting of the episode itself. Again, however, these are nothing which could not already have been found on the internet.
More interesting, however, in terms of 'extra' content is a documentary of the 'Science of Doctor Who'. This is a BBC America production clearly aimed at an American audience, which is not meant as a criticism, but an explanation as to why most of the people interviewed may seem unfamiliar to many viewers this side of the Atlantic. The documentary covers many of the aspects of the science involved in the programme in an accessible, and genuinely quite fascinating manner, from obvious areas such as time-travel, the sonic screwdriver, or invisibility through to less predictable areas such as cyborgs, or human cloning, for which the scientific probability is not simply interesting, but quite frighteningly close. This is certainly a welcome addition, but only appears on the limited edition 'Angel' version of the release, meaning that the standard version is conspicuously light on 'extras', which is strange bearing in mind the high profile nature of the regular cast departures; surely some interview material would have been possible?
In short, great for being able to revisit a strong collection of episodes. If we're honest, a touch light on extras, but when all is said and done, there's still drama, suspense, heartbreak, and Matt Smith riding a triceratops; what more could a person want?
You can buy Doctor Who: Series 7 - Part 1 in its limited edition form from Amazon.