Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two Blu-ray delivers stunning video and audio in this enjoyable Blu-ray release
The Doctor tries to solve the mystery of his new companion Clara, a woman who keeps popping up at different points in time even though the Doctor has watched her die.
For more about Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two and the Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two Blu-ray release, see Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 8, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
After retiring dear companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams in Series Seven, Part One, and introducing an enigma wrapped inside of a feisty young woman named Clara Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) in the 2012 Christmas Special, The Snowmen, Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two takes off and barely looks back, new companion feverishly in tow. And what a companion she is. Breathing fresh life into Matt Smith's run as the Eleventh Doctor, Clara, together with Coleman's breakneck performance, re-energizes Smith and the series, both of which were showing signs of fatigue. The eight episodes that unfold are wildly different from one another too, not to mention as brisk, clever and caffeinated as Smith and Coleman. That's not to suggest Part Two doesn't have its share of issues; it does, among them a handful of weaker than average scripts, a few maddening plot holes, and a mild case of fly-by-night storytelling. There's a case to be made that Series Seven is the weakest since Series One, when Christopher Eccleston was bounding through time as the Ninth Doctor. And that's coming from someone who really enjoys Smith at the helm of the TARDIS and Steven Moffat as showrunner, so you can imagine what Smith and Moffat's harshest critics think of the most recent season. But fear not. Part Two's eight episodes are still well worth watching, and do a nice job of setting the stage for the next incarnation of the Doctor, due later this year as part of the show's 50th Anniversary celebration.
Clara, meet the Universe. Universe, meet the Impossible Girl.
Rather than warp through the entire season, an episode by episode breakdown seems better suited to the task at hand. So, without further dilly dallying, Series Seven, Part Two:
The Bells of Saint John: The Doctor's search for Clara Oswald brings him to modern day London, where wifi is everywhere. Humanity lives in a wifi soup, but something dangerous is lurking in the signals, picking off minds and imprisoning them. As Clara becomes the target of this insidious menace, the Doctor races to save her and the world from an ancient enemy.
Reacquaint yourself with the villain of the 2012 Christmas Special, here promoted to the pseudo-Big Bad of Series Seven, Part Two: the Great Intelligence, a disembodied entity that first appeared in the 1967 serial, "The Abominable Snowmen." Last seen in Victorian London, the Great Intelligence reemerges in the 21st century where it begins collecting human consciousnesses via a diabolical trap involving WiFi and the Cloud. It's all junk science, of course, but it's fun, twisty turny junk science (minus the timey wimey), and the stuff of new-Who goodness, from the morally bankrupt Miss Kizlet to the first official adventure with Clara, the Doctor's anointed Companion... who just so happens to be the same Clara that died battling the Great Intelligence in Victorian England. And the same Clara who was unwittingly converted into a Dalek in "Asylum of the Daleks." It's complicated, and a mystery that consumes the Doctor, but that hardly matters at the outset. Coleman is a fantastic addition to the show and -- I'll just say it -- delivers one of the best Companions of the series. Ever. Score: 4/5
The Rings of Akhaten: Clara wants to see something awesome, so the Doctor whisks her off to the inhabited rings of the planet Akhaten, where the Festival of Offerings is in full swing. Clara meets the young Queen of Years as the pilgrims and natives ready for the ceremony. But something is stirring in the pyramid, and a sacrifice will be demanded.
A sweet, dare I say touching episode that falls just shy of greatness in the closing minutes. (Although those who long for the higher death counts of the Tennant era will once again be sorely disappointed.) Smith is a tightly wound bundle of firecrackers, as usual, but seems to switch on the auto-pilot this time around. No matter. Coleman steals the spotlight -- and the show -- going wit to wit with the Doctor, tending to a young girl, getting her first taste of the vastness of time and space, and holding her own in a marketplace of weird and wonderful aliens. "The Rings of Akhaten" also doesn't offer the strongest of scripts (Steven Moffat engages auto-pilot a few times himself this season), even though it serves up a number of powerful dramatic beats, quick laughs and decent ideas. Score: 3.5/5
Cold War: The Doctor and Clara land on a damaged Russian Submarine in 1983 as it spirals out of control into the ocean depths. An alien creature is loose on board, having escaped from a block of Arctic ice. With tempers flaring and a cargo of nuclear weapons on board, it's not just the crew but the whole of humanity at stake.
All hail the Onion Knight! Game of Thrones' Liam Cunningham guest stars as the captain of the Russian sub that gives way to yet another classic Who baddie, rejuvenated for the series' 50th Anniversary run: a never-say-die Ice Warrior. The reinvention is a successful one, and "Cold War" is a taut, self-contained thriller, much more so than later seventh series episodes. Unfortunately, it's that briskly paced intensity -- along with the ep's sharply penned dialogue and terrific performances -- that makes the last ten minutes a small scale misfire. Predictable and arguably anticlimactic, it all hinges on a would-be cliffhanger that resolves too quickly and too easily, without any of the mind-blowing plot orchestration the show has become known for. I wanted to love this one so much more. Score: 3.5/5
Hide: Clara and the Doctor arrive at Caliburn House, a haunted mansion sat alone on a desolate moor. Within its walls, a ghost hunting Professor and a gifted psychic are searching for the Witch of the Well. Her apparition appears throughout the history of the building, but is she really a ghost? And what is chasing her?
Despite its relatively isolated nature, "Hide" is one of Series Seven's best episodes. A haunted house chiller reimagined as a layered sci-fi genre hopper, there are far more surprises in store than I ever anticipated. And each surprise was better than last; so much so that I hesitate to even dissect this one at all. Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine are outstanding as the paranormal investigators the Doctor and Clara encounter at Caliburn House, and the ghosts in its halls are as ultimately satisfying as they are initially frightening. Writer Neil Cross' script is even more satisfying, with a thoughtfulness and cleverness infused in both the story and characters that bumps "Hide" head and shoulders above the rest. If it only the rest of Series Seven wasn't a bit of a downhill slide. Score: 4.5/5
Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS: A spaceship salvage team drags the TARDIS on board, sending its systems into meltdown. As the Doctor marshals the motely salvage crew outside, he realizes Clara is still trapped within his malfunctioning ship, pursued by a dangerous group of ossified monsters. And he has just 30 minutes to find Clara and save his TARDIS before it self-destructs.
Warning. Warning. Ridiculous plot twist ahead. In an average episode made even more average by the fact that the "exploration" of the TARDIS isn't much of an exploration (at least not one that leads to any stunning discoveries), we get an irritating trio of salvage crewmen that would have better served the story had they all died in the opening minutes. One is a brutish oaf. One is a scheming manipulator. One is an unwitting pawn. But none of them do anything other than drag "Journey" down farther. Smith and Coleman are a blast to watch and an even bigger blast to listen to, but director Mat King and writer Stephen Thompson fail to make the most of their journey into the TARDIS. As far as I'm concerned, it's hands down the worst episode of Series Seven. Score: 2.5/5
The Crimson Horror: There's something very odd about Mrs. Gillyflower's Sweetville mill, with its perfectly clean streets and beautiful people. There's something even stranger about the bodies washing up in the river, all bright red and waxy. When the Doctor and Clara go missing, it's up to Vastra, Jenny and Strax to rescue them before they too fall victim to the Crimson Horror.
A welcome dose of levity minus a compelling villain or story. The elements are there, particularly in the first act when the Doctor's whereabouts and condition are still a mystery. Once he's found, though, we're treated to an episode that turns out to be too much like those we've seen a dozen times before in past seasons. Madame Vastra, Jenny and the always entertaining Strax are a sight for sore eyes after "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS," but Smith and Coleman aren't often on screen together, and when they are, they're plunging into danger without much in the way of non-expositional conversation. And it's their chemistry and banter that has kept Series Seven hurtling along even when less-than-exacting scripting threatens to slow it down. Ah well. Strax threatens a horse, and it's hilarious. Score: 3/5
Nightmare in Silver: Hedgewick's World of Wonders was once the greatest theme park in the galaxy, but it's now the dilapidated home to a shabby showman, a chess-playing dwarf and a dysfunctional army platoon. When the Doctor, Clara, Artie and Angie arrive, the last thing they expect is the re-emergence of one of the Doctor's oldest foes. The Cybermen are back.
Normally I'm a sucker for a Cybermen episode. Sadly, "Nightmare" doesn't ascend to the heights of past clashes with the metal conquerers, or come anywhere close. The human resistance leading the charge against the Cybermen fails, mainly in terms of performances from the supporting cast, but mostly in terms of motivation, which is dutifully defined but too simplistic to enrich the conflict. Again, it's Coleman that proves to be the series' saving grace, and Coleman that keeps things popping when things grow dull. The kids are annoying -- their realization that Clara is time-traveling with an alien, an intriguing wrench in the TARDIS, goes nowhere -- and the missing emperor's subjects are even more so. Smith looks tired. It's quite possible episodes in decline like "Nightmare" and "Journey" are what prompted the three-season Doctor to finally hang up his bow tie. Score: 2.5/5
The Name of the Doctor: Clara is summoned to an impossible conference call, alerting her that the deadly Whisper Men are closing in on Vastra, Jenny and Strax. Someone is kidnapping the Doctor's friends, leading him toward the one place in all of time and space that he should never go. It's a deadly trap that threatens to unravel his past, present and future...
Is it just me or does the resolution of how Clara came to be the Doctor's Impossible Girl come too soon? Series Seven, Part Two presents a supposedly grand mystery and solves it in eight episodes... well, nearly seven, since "The Name of the Doctor" gives away part of the secret to Clara's Impossible existence at the outset. The reason comes much later, thankfully, and what a fascinating reason it is, loaded with possibilities. But the big reveal would have been far more effective without the opening scene (the wonky visual effects adding insult to injury), which may as well come with a spoiler warning across the bottom of the screen. It doesn't help that the finale is more about setting up the 50th Anniversary Special and Series Eight than wrapping up Series Seven. That said, the Doctor's travels to the one place a Time Lord must never go, the interconnecting plot threads, Clara's climactic decision, and the introduction of a new character (whose identity I won't reveal here) are tantalizing enough to almost, almost make up for the moments "The Name of the Doctor" fails to take full advantage of its potential. Good? Absolutely. Great? Not quite. Score: 3.5/5
Both The Snowmen and Series Seven, Part Two offer a strong, stable 1080i/AVC-encoded video presentation that, minor flaws aside, are comparable to those featured on previous high definition releases of the show. Detractors will continue to complain that the image is too noisy, with a hyper-sharp, faux-filmic harshness that undermines the integrity of the episodes. Rather than quibble over the show's aesthetic, though, let's focus on the precision and proficiency of the encodes. Color, contrast and clarity adhere to the showrunners' intentions, black levels are suitably deep when called upon, and detail is terrific, with crisp edge definition and exceedingly revealing textures. Delineation suffers a bit and crush rears its head, but each one traces back to the source, not BBC Home Entertainment's efforts or the quality of the presentations. Likewise, slight, almost negligible aliasing and ringing pops up from time to time, but barely registers, much less distracts. On the whole, Doctor Who looks every bit as fantastic as it should. It isn't always an attractive series -- the visual effects leave something to be desired, the unevenness of the grain-like noise is undeniable, and that patented BBC "video" feel is in full swing -- and yet no Who fan should be surprised at this point. This is Doctor Who as it was shot and prepped for broadcast, and its Blu-ray releases couldn't fare much better than they already do.
Ditching DTS-HD High Resolution audio for the first time, Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two boasts a full-fledged DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. And while the differences between DTS-HD HR and DTS-HD MA may be minute, the show's most recent eight episodes leave a mark. LFE output is bold and booming. Rear speaker activity is dense and convincing, with smooth pans and accurate directionality (particularly in more frightening episodes like "Hide," where the ghostly happenings are made that much more intense by the enveloping soundfield). Better still, overall dynamics are excellent and dialogue is clean, clear and perfectly prioritized at all times.
Those hoping for a bounty of special features will have to wait for the inevitable release of The Complete Seventh Series. Series Seven, Part Two only includes a pair of prequel shorts: "The Bells of Saint John" (HD, 3 minutes), in which a little girl talks with the Doctor at a playground, and "Clarence and the Whisper Men" (HD, 2 minutes), a lead-in to "The Name of the Doctor" involving an imprisoned murderer who's visited by the Whisper Men.
Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part Two is a touch too wibbly wobbly compared to previous seasons of the show, but it's tough to come down too hard on those involved. While Moffat doesn't quite seem as up to the task as he has before, Smith, Coleman and their castmates bring their A-game, and the most recent eight episodes of Who are still a delight. BBC Home Entertainment's Blu-ray edition is a solid one as well, with a striking video presentation and, in a first for the show's Blu-rays, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Extras are lacking, as is the usual when it comes to a pre-Complete Series release, but those who already picked up Part One will want to nab Part Two and The Snowmen to round out their set.
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