Over the years I’ve realized I’m out on a limb calling the seventh season my favourite. It never occurred to me as I was watching that this was anything other than everyone’s ideal version of Doctor Who in terms of the tone, how it looked, and how it was structured. Later I found out that even Steven Moffat, the guy writing the series, felt this was the year where he’d dropped the ball. That’s a lot to argue against, and it does probably put the onus on me to stick up for the seventh season, so I’ll try.
And now for some waffle about episodic TV vs. serialized TV in genre shows.
I don’t have a strong preference, but I do think some shows lend themselves to one or the other. When I watch something like Supernatural or Fringe, their monster-of-the-week cases often come down to someone stalking something else through a drippy warehouse or sewer for the millionth time. In those cases, I’d much rather an episode focused on the big mythology of the series that I have an ongoing investment in.
Something like Doctor Who, which is a huge open sandbox of a show that can go everywhere in space and time, I’d much rather a mini movie every week. And that’s what Series 7 gives you. The show hops between more genres and crazy worlds than ever. And I don’t know who gave them a budget, but the production values are terrific. The first episode gave us amazing new settings every few minutes, the second had fully realized CGI dinosaurs (decent looking ones, too), the third uprooted the crew to a western town in Spain, etc. I kept waiting for a corner cutting episode, but it never came. This is a rare TV show that is best served in 1080p, and my Blu Ray is already getting a bit dog eared.
There weren’t any two parters this season, but that wasn’t a problem. Every episode pretty much was off at full speed before the title sequence, and every one of them was jam packed with creative ideas, fun guest stars, and speedy banter. Matt Smith was more assured than ever in what turned out to be his final run of episodes, and in what other season are you going to have an overlap between the Ponds and Clara (or whoever)? Amy and Rory were such fixtures that their departure had a huge impact, but Jenna Coleman brought such energy to the series that it doesn’t matter that as written there isn’t much to her character just yet (she’d be fleshed out more in the Capaldi era).
If you were to compile all the best Doctor Who episodes together they’d span the range of the entire series. But in Series 7 especially, I knew I was going to get a cinematic, colourful, highly entertaining adventure every week. That’s hard to beat.
If I Had to Nitpick…: I didn’t much like “Cold War.” In a big expansive season, I wasn’t a fan of the confined submarine setting, the Doctor’s and Clara seemed not to matter as much, and the monster was badly realized. Some episodes were definitely better than others, but that was the only one that was below par.
Notable Episodes: “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” it feels like someone stuffed three Doctor Who episodes into one. “The Rings of Akhaten.” It could be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, but it kind of hit me emotionally for reasons I don’t totally understand. And the seismic “…of the Doctor” trilogy of episodes, “Name,” “Day,” and “Time” (I know those last two are specials made after Season 7, but I don’t know where to count them.)
Honorable Mentions: Season 4. David Tennant was a great Doctor for the entirety of his run, and this was the season where the stories they wrote for him generally lived up to his performance. In one of the only times where you get to say this and mean it; Catherine Tate was a surprisingly great addition too.