After over two years, Amy & Rory were gone from the Doctor's life. And the finality of their departure was one of the most heartbreaking exits in Doctor Who. And for that to cap-off a string of really consistent episodes, made the first-half of Doctor Who: Series 7 a true winner, perhaps the best since Series 4.
And how does Steve Moffat decide to follow-up on his major-turning point? Midway through the series? He revamps the show. There's new opening credits, new theme music, brand-new TARDIS interior and a change of attire for Matt Smith; all of which are really snazzy, and the best way to move on from the Pond-era, and into the next chapter of Matt Smith's tenure as the Eleventh Doctor.
Following the tragic departures of Amy & Rory, the Doctor has once again fallen into deep despair. But unlike previous mourning for lost companions, the Doctor has decided to retire from travelling/adventuring altogether! It seems legitimate, until a mysterious young woman called Clara enters the Time Lord's life. She soon perks him back up, but there's something else about this new companion...something hauntingly familiar. Has he met her before?
After the singular-episode format for Part 1 of Series 7, Moffat further changes the creative direction by reverting back to typical story-arc mode (which has become Doctor Who's trademark since the series' 2005 relaunch). It works for this second-part of Series 7, as Moffat's `Impossible Girl' arc merits such treatment. And unlike the overly-convoluted `Death of the Doctor' arc that ruined Series 6 for me...Moffat doesn't go overboard this time, producing & resolving his latest mystery with great coherence, intricacies and satisfaction.
As ever, Matt Smith is on form with his Doctor. This Eleventh version of the Time Lord can only grow from strength-to-strength, and it's certainly benefitted from the major development the character received in "The Angels Take Manhattan", which Matt uses to drive his ace-rendition of the Time Lord even further.
But really, the greatest strength of Series 7: Part 2 is Jenna-Louise Coleman herself (returning from her guest-role in "Asylum of the Daleks"). As Clara, Jenna has instant chemistry with Matt, and is a real breath of fresh-air, infusing such life into the Doctor's newest companion. Speaking of which, Clara is a natural companion who fits all the criteria; beautiful, brilliant, relatable, courageous, compassionate etc, but who also has an independent streak from the Doctor that sets her apart from her predecessors. Clara's personality shines through, and while the character's depth/development takes a while to emerge, Jenna's performance makes her a real winner. This mysterious `reincarnation' aspect about Clara is handled very well, and it isn't dragged out for ages like River Song's identity or the whole-tedious `Silence will Fall' palaver.
However, from a consistency standpoint, this second-half of Series 7 doesn't match the overall excellence of Part 1, or Series 4 for that matter. To start with the 2012 Christmas Special, `The Snowmen' is absolutely rubbish. After SUCH a promising-start to Series 7, this Christmas Special degenerates into an embarrassing shambles full of flat moments, pantomime-silliness and the relief that it finally came to an end! Not even Matt & Jenna could save this one! `The Snowmen' is such a disappointment, and the worst Christmas Special I've ever seen in Doctor Who.
However, Moffat really redeems himself with his writing in the following episode "The Belles of Saint John", a hugely-satisfying romp that's full of heart, and a great story. As the Doctor continues to investigate the mystery behind that Impossible Girl, he now meets a THIRD version of Clara (who becomes his full-time companion), and uncovers a sinister Wi-Fi plot(!) headed by Celia Imrie (excellent as ever!).
Why I love "The Belles of Saint John" so much is because it hearkens back to what made the Russell T. Davies era so special. There's plenty of human-warmth, character & riveting adventure, and it's perfect in (re)introducing Clara, and kicking-off this latest batch of new Doctor/Companion adventures. It sets the standard for the rest of the arc, and it gains more points for further-establishing Old-Who baddie The Great Intelligence (last seen in 1968!) as a worthy main-antagonist for the rest of the series.
Unfortunately, other episodes are hit-and-miss overall. Episodes like "The Rings of Akhaten" are beautifully moving, and "Cold War" is a great reintroduction to more Old-Who baddies (The Ice Warriors). But "Hide" ends up so underwhelming after a really tense, scary start. "The Crimson Horror" is simply dire, and "Nightmare in Silver" - which features an awesome redesign for the Cybermen - fails to live up to the hype, because it focuses too much on irritating kids and the Doctor playing chess with himself!
Another big problem is Stephen Thompson's "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS". For forty-minutes, it's a huge rollercoaster-epic, featuring long-awaited development for Clara and the mystery surrounding her. It shapes up to be the best episode of the series, but then it's squandered in the last five minutes by a clichéd and frustrating ending. It's a blemish this portion of the series really could've done without.
Thankfully, series-finale "The Name of the Doctor" rounds things off with a true bang. Boasting a really-dark atmosphere, a sinister performance from Richard E. Grant (as the Great Intelligence), and the returning River Song (Alex Kingston). It's also Clara's finest hour, resolving the `Impossible Girl' mystery in winning-style, as well as setting the scene for the 50th Anniversary Special with a jaw-dropping cliff-hanger! I can't wait to see what happens next!
It's unfortunate that Part 2 falters in places, especially after Part 1 was so essential. It does bring the overall mark down for Series 7, but Doctor Who is still going strong after what's (essentially) a really strong batch of episodes. Again, not as consistent as Part 1, but this is still a box-set that's worth having.
Roll on the 50th Anniversary Special!