DVD REVIEW: Doctor Who The Snowmen & Series Seven Part Two
Christmas Special And Latest Season Tells The Story Of Clara...
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Doctor Who. The Doctor. The TARDIS. While once these were unfamiliar terms here in the U.S., these days they’re household names as Doctor Who reaches unparalleled worldwide popularity. It’s a tumultuous time in Who fandom as this year marks the show’s momentous 50th anniversary while at the same time current (11th) Doctor Matt Smith has just announced his impending retirement later this year. In the meantime, Series Seven (the current numbering starts with the 2005 season) just recently finished airing and is now available everywhere on DVD and Blu-ray. Today we’ll be taking a look at the new Series Seven Part Two release on DVD, as well as the accompanying 2012 Christmas Special “The Snowmen.”
Here’s the quick rundown in case you’ve somehow still avoided it (and yet are reading this review). The show debuted on British television way back in 1963. The show follows the adventures of the last of the Time Lords, an effectively immortal humanoid called simply “the Doctor.” His people, the Gallifreyans, were extinguished in the great Time War against a race of alien cyborgs called Daleks. Ever “since,” the Doctor has traveled the universe and time stream in his iconic vessel the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which due to a broken chameleon circuit resembles an old-fashioned British police box. Decidedly lonely at heart, the Doctor periodically swings by present day Earth to pick up a “companion” or two, someone to travel with him and share in his wild adventures. One last thing; in a stroke of absolutely brilliant writing, the Doctor regenerates when killed, coming back to full health in a new body and with a somewhat new personality. This has allowed the series to continue far beyond the lifespan of its actors (especially important for British TV in which seasons and show lifetimes are generally much shorter). The show has also made a tradition of including a Christmas Special every year. The current Doctor is the eleventh, portrayed by actor Matt Smith.
The Series Seven Part Two and Snowmen DVDs share the same packaging style, combining exciting imagery and a straightforward theme. Both come in standard sized cases and feature a splashy action scene on the cover (the Doctor and Clara climbing to the TARDIS about snowbound 1892 London and the duo riding a motorcycle down a modern London building respectively) in addition to the DVD’s title and show logo. The back side of each has three screencaps in a column of hexagonal blocks along with a brief synopsis and list of bonus features (7.2 also lists out the included episodes). As for the discs themselves, the Snowmen has the same image as the box cover, while in 7.2 you’ll find the Doctor and Clara in the Soviet submarine on Disc 1 and a new Cyberman on Disc 2!
While Doctor Who generally has had complete seasons air in order and then see video release, there have been exceptions to that rule, and that’s where Series Seven falls. In 2012 there were just five episodes, but they were immediate fan favorites with some really cool stories and of course the final appearances of companions Amy and Rory. Splitting the season then was the Snowmen, a rather melancholy tale transitioning the Doctor from sorrow to excitement and the acceptance of a new travel buddy. The Doctor shuts himself away and refuses to assist in the affairs of mankind until a snow-related threat piques his interest... but only when presented by the governess Clara (Jenna-Louise Coleman). The Doctor is assisted by familiar faces Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), Jenny Flint (Catrin Stewart), and Strax (Dan Starkey) in his fight against the evil snowmen and their leader Dr. Simeon. The shocking finale sets the stage for the overarching mystery of Series Seven (Part Two), as well as the events of its finale. The episode is about 60 minutes long and features some great guest stars (Richard E. Grant, the voice of Ian McKellen). The DVD also includes some special features: a behind the scenes look at the episode called “Clara’s White Christmas” and two short prequel episodes featuring Madame Vastra and the gang investigating mysteries leading up to the main events.
Series Seven Part Two picks up with the Doctor on a quest to find his “impossible girl,” leading straight out of Snowmen. The DVD includes all eight episodes, a tremendous variety of stories ranging from the humorous to the horrific, sci-fi to fantastical. “The Bells of Saint John” unite the Doctor and Clara when they face evil Wi-Fi in a pretty neat twist on modern technology. Ready to see the universe, the duo head to the titular “Rings of Akhaten” to witness the Festival of Offering. This episode is so packed with alien lifeforms it has a Farscape feel. “Cold War” brings Clara and the Doctor to the bottom of the sea in a Soviet submarine... and face to face with Skaldak, Grand Marshal of the Ice Warriors (aliens first seen in 1967 and absent from TV since the 70s)! A paranormal mystery draws the Doctor to a 1974 manor in “Hide” where things are, of course, not what they seem.
A terrible coincidence damages the Doctor’s conveyance and forces him to take a “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” One of the most intriguing episodes in recent history, this one gives us plenty of new facts about the craft, the Doctor, and Clara. Up next is “The Crimson Horror,” a fun gothic adventure that sees the return of Vastra and the gang as they investigate a utopian city and its connection to red-tinged corpses. “Nightmare in Silver,” written by Neil Gaiman, is an instant classic that sees the return of the Cybermen (including a new version) and a great guest role for genre legend Warwick Davis. Finally, “The Name of the Doctor” brings back characters and themes from throughout the second part of the season and forces the Doctor to face his own mortality, love, and even identity. The last seconds of the episode add a whole new wrinkle to the show and lead directly into the upcoming late 2013 specials.
While the episodes look and sound great, the DVDs are a little light on extras. Included are two bonus features in the form of short prequels to the first and last episodes. These are always fun, giving a little extra dimension to the stories without being 100% necessary to their viewing. (Note that when the inevitable complete Series Seven collection comes out it may include more extras not seen here.)
With the incredible foreshadowing in the latter stories and the knowledge that these are some of Matt Smith’s final episodes, the Snowmen and Season Seven Part Two are even more impactful for Who fans over and beyond the very enjoyable stories contained therein. You can pick up both of them (separately) on DVD or Blu-ray now. Catch up on your Doctor Who now and get ready for the 50th Anniversary special coming in November!
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America