BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Who The Complete Seventh Series
Three Companions, Two Christmases, 15 Episodes...
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Just in time for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary next month, starring both Matt Smith and David Tennant, it’s time to catch up on recent events from across the pond. You can do that best with the just released Complete Seventh Series (on Blu-ray and DVD), combining both “Parts” of the most recent divided season along with their respective Christmas specials and plenty of bonus features. This Seventh Series (the current numbering starts with the 2005 season) is the last for actor Matt Smith, who will be replaced in this year’s upcoming Christmas episode.
For the last time, here’s my two bit explanation of Doctor Who if you’re the last person on Earth who still hasn’t gotten into it. 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 Complete Seventh Series on Blu-ray follows the packaging style we’ve seen before with BBC’s full season releases. There’s an outer cardboard box decorated on the front with a brooding Eleventh Doctor flanked by companions from Part 1 and 2 (Amy and Rory on the left, Clara on the right) and with the TARDIS floating behind them; the back of the package has a simple listing of the episodes and bonus features. The interior disc packaging is book-style with the same Doctor image on the cover in front of a collage of still images from the series embedded in the hexagonal TARDIS wall pattern. The wraparound cover continues on one fold out page, and behind that is a complete listing of what’s on all the discs and some neat comic style art. Each disc has a different character/scene on it: Rory and Daleks, Amy and the Weeping Angel, Clara and the Ice Warrior Grand Marshal Skaldak, and finally Dr. Simeon/Great Intelligence and the Doctor. Also included in the package is a pamphlet advertising Doctor Who collectibles and toys.
Combining the two sections of Series 7 shown across 2012 and 2013, this Blu-ray set contains 13 standard episodes along with the Christmas Specials from both (2011’s The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe and 2012’s The Snowmen). The fanciful, Narnia-inspired holiday special was a return to a more light-hearted theme in Doctor Who before the roller-coaster of Series 7 part one. Featuring companions Amy and Rory, it started off big with the long-awaited return of the Daleks, who didn’t appear at all in Series Six! “Asylum of the Daleks” not only featured the perennial Who favorite, but saw them seeking out the Doctor for help in a bizarre turnabout. Needless to say, not everything is as it seems and what the Doctor finds on the planet Skaro sets the stage for what’s sure to be their next encounter. “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” delivers exactly what it promises with a fun romp that includes lots of silliness and even a 2001 reference. This episode also notably introduces Rory’s father Brian who we’ll see again. The Doctor and Ponds return to America in “A Town Called Mercy,” discovering the awful secret behind the cyborg Gunslinger’s attack on a small Wild West town. Small black cubes appear out of nowhere all over the Earth in “The Power of Three,” and of course it’s up to the Doctor to uncover their purpose and halt the plot behind them. Finally, “The Angels Take Manhattan” brings back none other than the Weeping Angels in another story set in the city that never sleeps. This tear-jerker also brings back River Song and presents the Doctor’s farewell to the Ponds before he gets a new companion in the next Christmas special.
Splitting the season then was 2012’s Christmas episode The Snowmen, a rather melancholy tale transitioning the Doctor from sorrow to excitement and the acceptance of a new travel buddy. 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.
As for bonus features, this set has quite a bit spread across its four discs. You’ll find behind the scenes featurettes for every single standard episode plus The Snowmen, BBC America’s The Nerdist interviews with Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman, tons of additional featurettes (INFORARIUM, Clara and the TARDIS, Rain Gods, “making of”s, spotlights on various characters, etc.), specials (Doctor Who at Comic-Con, Doctor Who in the U.S., The Companions, The Science of Doctor Who), eight prequel mini-episodes, four audio commentaries, and more!
With its split into two sub-seasons, different Companions, and two Christmas specials, Series 7 was one of the more momentous in the modern age of Doctor Who, and looking back on it there’s so much in there that builds and builds to the finale which in turn points to the upcoming 50th Anniversary Special. In Series 7 Matt Smith really shines as the Doctor, showing different sides of the character with Amy and Rory at the beginning and then Clara. The final episodes included powerful revelations that will shape the future of Doctor Who forever. The Complete Series 7 Blu-ray brings all of this to you in one package, and is available now wherever DVDs and Blu-rays are sold. Get it now and catch up before the 50th Anniversary special comes to BBC America in November!
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America