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A Disappointing Season
on 19 November 2013
Occasionally fantastic, often mediocre and frequently awful: those are my memories of Season 7. Episodes like The Angels Take Manhattan, The Snowmen and The Crimson Terror are a sheer delight but much of the rest is, at best, forgettable and too often un-watchable.
Things start off in a depressing vein with the highly disappointing Asylum of the Daleks, a story that promised "Every Dalek Ever" and gave us Daleks acting as set dressing for scene after scene of people talking in rooms and a "threat" that didn't manage to bump of a single solitary person in the entire episode. Threat-free and, as a result, tension free. Watchable yes. Fun? Occasionally. But far from "The Moff"s best work.
Better stuff from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship (good fun) followed by the dull and terribly predictable wild west-a-like A Town called Mercy. Chris Chibnal then returns to (depressing) form with the deeply pedestrian Power of Three - thirty minutes of discussion, repeated meemes and redundant monsters followed by 10 minutes of frantic plot and the waste of, arguably, the greatest character actor of the 20th century.
By this point I was thoroughly fed up. How nice it was to see a diamond in the rough; Angels Take Manhattan is absolutely stonking. Sure, the ending makes no sense (think about it) but it's so nicely written and played that all is (almost) forgiven.
And it gets better: The Snowmen is easily the best Christmas Special of the post 2005 run. Brilliant stuff from beginning to end.
This is followed by season 7.2 opener The Bells of St John which is fun and functional, with a great baddie. But then it all goes downhill. Again. Fast.
Rings, bar it's absolutely lovely realisation of an alien culture, is so dull that I actually changed channel while watching it. Cold War had a great tension to it but was, essentially, an un-inspiring "base under siege" story by-numbers. Hide was a schizophrenic mash up of ideas that didn't know what it wanted to be - so failed at everything it tried (it didn't try hard enough to be scary, there wasn't enough time for a decent love story, the sci-fi element felt out-of-place). Journey to the Centre of the Tardis was a mess of half-written characters that lacked anything more than the gimmick on which it hung.
Crimson Terror, on the other hand, was a very pleasant surprise! Finally, Mark Gatiss got his mojo back and delivered a corking, rollicking and occasionally hilarious story. The easy stand-out story of 7.2.
But then,... Nightmare in Silver. Neil Gaiman is better than this. Much, much better. An absolute stinker - terrible pacing, cheap scares, half-baked ideas and, just to top it off, god-awful directing. The great Warwick Davis is the only watchable thing in it. Dire.
The Name of the Doctor was another jewel from the Moff, if a little tarnished by an over-familiarity with his style and substance. Still, it was fun and contained lovely elements of classic Doctors past.
There were a number of failures in this season but they can all be traced back to 2 things. Number one was a decision to "format" the show in a "movie of the week" way (eliminating 2 parters and introducing gimmicks as the propelling force of the storytelling, over and above character and plot). Second was the writing, most of which felt like it was 2 or 3 drafts from completion. Did they even have a script editor?
I feel that there is some truth to the idea that there were troubles in the production office. There simply didn't seem to be much care lavished on the season: no oversight. It's Doctor Who treading water.
When it was good, it was great. But the rest of the time, it felt like the series had lost its way.