Chief Justice Michael Stailey is not a big fan of endings either.
The Doctor: "Don't be scared."
Their departure was inevitable, as is true with each of The Doctor's traveling companions. The Ponds. Mr and Mrs Williams. The boy and girl who waited. Rory and Amy. Whatever you call them, this unlikely couple helped define Matt Smith's 11th Doctor in ways no one expected, and yet their time had come. Their story had been told. The only remaining question is how would they be dispatched? The answer: They blinked.
Facts of the Case
Life outside the TARDIS wasn't all it was cracked up to be for the Ponds. Between Series 6 and 7, writer Chris Chibnall gave us a glimpse into this wedded un-bliss with the web series "Pond Life." In the end, Amy kicked Rory out and filed for divorce, which is how "Asylum of the Daleks" begins. Not only do we witness the beginning of the end for the current companions, but Steven Moffat's season premiere also introduces us to the young lady who will replace them…or does she? Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) will remain a mystery for quite some time, as our heroic trio take one last spin through space and time, rescuing dinosaurs from outer space with Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele), facing down a cyborg bounty hunter (Andrew Brooke) in the old west, unraveling the mystery behind an alien invasion of earth with help from Rory's dad (Mark Williams, better know to Harry Potter fans as Mr. Weasley) and Karen Stewart (Jemma Redgrave, niece of Vanessa Redgrave) the new head of UNIT, and squaring off with The Weeping Angels one final time in New York City thanks to 1930s crime novelist Melody Malone (Alex Kingston).
My first impression of Series 7, having watched each episode during their original broadcast run, was similar to the way I felt about the final four David Tennant "Specials"—filler used to prolong the arrival of a final narrative gut punch. "Asylum of the Daleks" serves a specific purpose in teeing up the enigma of The Impossible Girl we will soon come to know and love. The introduction of Brian Williams is the most wonderful surprise of these five episodes. I only wish we would have met him sooner. But Amy and Rory's story, as that of River too, is seemingly drawn out unnecessarily.
This speaks to the fact that writing effective character arcs over multiple seasons is an art form very few writers have the skill to achieve and the producing support to pull off. We know that companions come and go, and such plotting should be framed from the very start. Granted, if a character takes off and becomes a fan favorite, or fails miserably and needs to be excised, adjustments must be made accordingly. But force fitting critical storytelling into a short amount of time or stretched out to meet contractual obligations never works. With 50 years of mythology and a rabid fan base, Doctor Who does not have the luxury of letting anything slide.
Remember, these were my initial impressions. Having watched all five episodes again multiple times before writing this review, my crankiness has been tempered. I'm still not sold on the intrinsic value of "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" or "A Town Called Mercy," but I no longer detest them as I once did. Had Moffat and company found a way to stretch "Asylum of the Daleks," "The Power of Three," and "The Angels Take Manhattan" into 90 minute adventures a la Sherlock, they could have more effectively communicated the same concepts, letting the emotional intensity breathe a bit deeper. At the very least it would have given us the scripted epilogue to the mid-season finale that was never filmed but hastily animated for the official website.
I apologize for being implicitly obtuse with this review, but it's done so as not to spoil anything for those who prefer to consume their Doctor Who in full season feasts. Instead, we'll use this time to honor the passing two very important people in the life of The Doctor.
In the annals of beloved and influential companions, Karen Gillan's run as Amelia Pond may only be eclipsed by Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Their presence has irrevocably altered the series for the better and raised our collective expectations for future companions. Karen's wide-eyed innocence, limitless positive energy, and adorable Scottish brogue was the sun around which Matt Smith established his Doctor's orbit. Building off the tone set by her enigmatic young cousin (Caitlin Blackwood), Amy's voice and character were rock solid from the word go. I challenge you to go back through her 33 episodes and identify any major missteps, which is why it's so hard to say goodbye to this character. Yet for The Doctor to grow, he must confront and accept change, even when he tries like hell to outrun or avoid it. And we will see the tremendous impact of this loss on him in the second half of the series, and in series to come.
Not to dwell on the negative, Arthur Darvill is possibly the biggest surprise of this particular run. What first seemed like semi-regular comic relief, Rory evolved from the man who continually died, to the boy who waited, to a critical leg in this space/time triumvirate. Far from one-dimensional, Arthur gave us even more of an audience connection to this bizarre world than many of The Doctor's early companions combined. His relationship to Matt's Doctor was more of a younger brother who stood up for what he believed in, making significant contributions to their adventures rather than simply playing someone who needed to be protected or saved. Credit Moffat's team for embracing Arthur's unique presence and making it work to their advantage. You could easily pull an It's a Wonderful Life to see that Amy and The Doctor would be wildly different people without the presence of Rory, making him one of the most important third wheels in television history. In fact, I'll argue that The Doctor becomes the third wheel in these final episodes, as there's little doubt to how Amy and Rory feel about each other. This kind of love is something The Doctor has never experienced before, which makes his feelings for their daughter truly authentic and incredibly powerful.
So where does this leave us? Amy and Rory are gone and The Doctor is forced to grieve, something he has mastered the art of refusing to do. Why waste time trying to mend two broken hearts when you can escape to the most exciting spots in all space and time? But this time it's different. He knows it, we know it, and River knows it, which is why she can't stay to comfort him. To be honest, we never really pin down which version of River this is, so The Doctor is once again alone. Never a good thing. Only time will tell how he pulls himself out of it, but I can guarantee it has something to do with one Clara Oswin Oswald.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 Surround audio and English SDH subtitles (for the non-anglophiles), this is BBC Video's standard def version of the series. Those craving the full 1080i AVC-encoded experience can purchase the Blu-ray set which offers the same content in its original HD broadcast presentation. The details and edges are expectedly a bit softer, there are the occasional hitches in the source material (difficult to avoid when you're essentially making a feature film every 17 days), and the surround immersion is only slightly less bombastic.
Bonus features are notoriously slim on these partial season releases, which never ceases to irritate me. If you want the entire complement of Doctor Who Confidentials for each episode—and who wouldn't, given the wealth of behind-the-scenes information they impart—you'll have to pick up the Complete Series 7 release which has yet to receive a street date. What we do get are the aforementioned Pond Life web series, a prequel to "Asylum of the Daleks," a brief making-of featurette for "A Town Called Mercy," the BBC special The Science of Doctor Who, and a quick recap of the creative team's trip to San Diego Comic Con. Not a bad mix, but knowing all the inside stories that await us at some future date only diminishes this release's value.
For as much as The Doctor hates endings, Doctor Who: Series 7, Part 1 closes the book on Matt Smith's first and favorite companions in a manner befitting their existence. Thank you Steven Moffat for the experience. We can only hope Clara's time in the TARDIS will come close to affecting us the same way. BTW, Clara happens to be the middle name of the late Elisabeth Sladen. Coincidence or loving tribute? You make the call.
Not perfect, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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