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Doctor Who Series 7A - The Sherlock Related Review * 30 September 2012


Doctor Who has always fallen under our gaze due to the crossover with the creative crew of Sherlock, but we've never actually sat down and reviewed any part of the series. We thought we'd put this right from now on, and simultaneously do something a little different, by focusing on the episodes in each series of Doctor Who that have a direct link to Sherlock. To that end, what follows isn't an all encompassing review of the first five episodes of Series Seven, but a close look at the two Steven Moffat scripted instalments - The Asylum of the Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan - as well as Dinosaurs on a Spaceship featuring Rupert Graves. Please note though we'll be discussing spoilers in detail.



Following the tightly wound narrative arc of the sixth series that led to The Doctor's effective removal from history, Steven Moffat said that series seven would take a slightly different tack, being more focussed on individual block buster episodes that lack that through line. As always though, you shouldn't take what he says too much to heart, as here there's a clear thread being laid down, as well as one of the best and most confounding pieces of television subterfuge in recent years. It's been well know that Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) would be departing in the middle of this series and replaced with a new companion during the upcoming Christmas Special. Weeks after the event, it can't be overstated how gobsmacking it was to see Jenna Louise Coleman make her first appearance in this episode, quite casually and with little initial fanfare, the playful post opening titles scene giving the audience a chance to sit for a few seconds and then no doubt collectively emit a universal "Hang on a minute...!"

And from her role here, seemingly set up in a very similar vein to the first appearance of River Song in Series Four (but with no doubt  far more to it), Oswin Oswald - if that IS her real name - looks to be an able foil for The Doctor, both intellectually and comedically. Cunningly placing her in isolation from the rest of the cast but fully interacting with them, Steven Moffat's writing gives her spark and verve as well as an eventual layer of tragedy whose rectification can't be guessed at. Amazingly, despite his long association with the series, this is of course also the first time Moffat has written an episode fully dedicated to the Daleks, and he fully puts his own stamp upon the classic enemies. The introduction of the human-zombie-Daleks is a slightly odd, left field addition that harks back to similar horrific transformations from the series' history, not least the infamous gas mask transformations in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, but this new wrinkle to Dalek physiology comes off nicely once you get used to it though, the deadly pepper pots made flesh and arguably far more dangerous.

Add to this a noticeable acceleration in the chronology for both Amy and Rory and The Doctor, and you get the sense that this series is even more willing to play with the effects of time travel, and indeed travel with The Doctor, than ever before. The continued erasure of the character from his own fictional history - not least from the memories of his most mortal enemies - is a quietly seismic idea to be executing, and there's clearly some rather dramatic groundwork being laid here for future adventures, though we probably aren't able to notice it quite yet.



The second episode with a Sherlock link in this chunk of episodes is a little different. A rollicking action adventure that springboards off one of the more absurd film titles of the last few years, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is a good old fashioned romp that is one of the funniest episodes Doctor Who has ever fielded. While Samuel L Jackson isn't anywhere to be seen, Rupert Graves makes a great appearance as John Riddell, a big game hunter harking from the early 1900s that The Doctor has clearly had a few adventures with in the intervening years - despite being a man out of time in more ways than one, it's really notable how unfazed he is by the circumstances he finds himself in during this episode.

Affecting an upper class accent and some rather sexist behaviour whilst paired with Amy and Queen Nefertiti (Riann Steele) aboard a spaceship with a very unusual, scaly cargo, Rupert is clearly having great fun here, not least during a moment of pure physical comedy while navigating the prone form a slumbering juvenile Tyrannosaur. Riddell is perhaps rather directly written, but there's a nice unspoken counterpoint to his manners, dinosaur like as they are to our modern sensibilities, and when action is called for its undeniably exciting to see him leap into action to dispense some non-lethal justice. And while he gets to deploy a string of one-liners and chamber taser shotguns like a pro, there's maybe a wry bit of disappointment Chris Chibnell's script doesn't allow Riddell to utter "Clever girl" to either of his female co-stars during the episode in an obvious Jurassic Park reference - it would have been completely in character, but we won't complain too much when the episode is so entertaining. The script arguably runs out of steam in a mad rush in the last ten minutes, and Riddell and Amy's climatic defence against the Raptors feels maybe slightly perfunctory when there is so much going on, not least the casual darkness that The Doctor displays towards the episode's antagonist that sits slightly uneasily amongst all the previous light heartedness.

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship is without doubt a proper romp though, and while Rupert Graves is a piece within the puzzle that forms the episode, he makes an extremely memorable mark. Aside from the core companions, there's definitely been a strong effort to boast the secondary cast of allies for The Doctor throughout Steven Moffat's stewardship on the series. John Riddell is an excellent addition to that list, and he is definitely a character we'd love to see return in the future.



And so we come to the final episode in the half series run, and also the final instalment to feature Amy and Rory. As the first episode written by Steven Moffat that features the departure of cast members, this was to be an interesting experience, and it's certainly extremely different in tack from the Russell T Davis years. Whereas as before any jeopardy was removed by Davis' insistence on 'one more go round' with his characters, here Moffat is determined to invest a genuine sense of permanence to events, the rules he set in series six surrounding fixed time points being the backbone that makes it clear these events cannot be undone.

Returning with The Weeping Angels - his greatest invention on the series - as the antagonists, the episode proceeds almost as any other adventure for much of the duration. Returning to the original time-feeding nature of the Angels after a slight departure in Series Five, they remain a terrifyingly original threat, and not least by the addition here of Weeping Cherubs and other, more dramatic forms - although the use of the Statue of Liberty is a tremendous visual that perhaps lacks a true narrative point. The Angels' plan in this episode is also perhaps the single most horrific from them thus far, insidious and methodical, a distinct evolution of their existing abilities that invest those attributes with a functional point. Narratively the episode is relatively straightforward, though the distinct sense of borrowed time for Amy and Rory gives several moments tremendous power and the entire episode a palpable sense of dread.  

And that end, when it comes, is sudden and cruel - defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory. But critically, while extremely moving and powerful, the ending skirts sentimentality. The great tragedy is Amy and Rory's permanent separation from The Doctor rather than their onscreen deaths, and a reinforcement of the short lives of those that travel with this 'ageless God who chooses to wear the face of a twelve year old'. The final scene between The Doctor and Amy arguably gives us the best work either Matt Smith and Karen Gillan have played as these characters, an inexorable tear between Amy's loyalty to her husband and The Doctor's selfishness that in the heat of the moment goes unspoken between them, with only River Song fully comprehending what is occurring, following a thematic thread she raises in the middle of the episode - The Doctor doesn't like endings, but at the same time he doesn't like seeing his companions age. Though harsh, the solution hit upon here by Moffat, and encouraged onscreen by River, is one that fulfils both obligations, departure by death avoided through the building of a new and full life in the past. As an ending for a pair of beloved characters, it is quietly hard hitting and slow burning, the emotion in the episode being even more powerful on repeat viewings. The final moments allow us to come full circle on Amelia Pond quite beautifully, the implication that the girl who waited will be rewarded, but quite rightly, Steven Moffat's script ensures we are never shown that reunion.

As a run of five episodes then, Doctor Who Series Seven is off to a strong, varied start. The series returns at Christmas with the now traditional special episode written by Steven Moffat, seeing the full introduction of Jenna Louise Coleman, before returning in 2013 with a further eight episodes - two written by Steven Moffat, two by Mark Gatiss, and one by Steve Thompson, meaning the trinity of Sherlock's writers will be well represented.