With Series 6 being a bit weird with a big gap in the series happening half-way through. The team at the BBC decided they were going to take that one step further with Series 7 and have parts one and two of the series feel wildly different from each other. So much so that you could easily mistake the first half of Series 7 for Series 6.
Still, Series 7 was largely a series of goodbyes. As we first said goodbye to the Ponds and eventually said goodbye to Matt Smith as The Doctor. We got a whopping three Christmas episodes spread across three years and even saw the gigantic 50th Anniversary episode (featuring modern Doctor Who’s first full-length multi-Doctor story).
You’d think that with all this crazy stuff going on, it would easily rank among one of the best series of the show in history, right? Well…not quite. It had its highlights (which we’ll get into), but for me, there was a lot to dislike and a surprising amount of just plain mediocre stuff to endure. So let’s stop generalizing and break it down episode by episode, starting with…
17 – Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
I knew this was going to be last. Before I even started rewatching this series I knew this one was going to hit the bottom and it currently holds the title as my second least favourite episode of Doctor Who ever (we’ll get to my absolute least favourite next time…it’s probably the one you’re thinking of).
So first things first, there is WAY too much going on with the characters. While I enjoyed his later appearance in the series, Rory’s dad, Brain, is absolutely rubbish in this episode. He’s framed as nothing more than a bumbling idiot who’s quite handy with a toolbox and while there are a couple of funny moments, it’s mostly just jokes that don’t land at his expense. This includes the single worst joke in Doctor Who history, where he’s asked if he’s got anything in his pockets and Brain responds “just my balls” and…I just don’t know what to say about that. Doctor Who is no stranger to the odd sexual joke (“Get a girlfriend, Jeff” is still one of my favourite one-liners in the show’s history) but what makes them funny is that they’re subtle little jabs on the uptight BBC One; and somehow, the “I mean these golf balls” fake-out just makes it worse. If you’re gonna go for the joke, at least have the balls (pun very much intended) to stick with it.
Getting back into the actual plot, it has no idea what it wants to be. The whole concepts of there being a spaceship full of dinosaurs should be enough to carry the mystery, but apparently, we needed to add a whole bunch of unnecessary layers to it. So the Indian Space Agency ask The Doctor to investigate it to see if it’s hostile as they’re planning on shooting it down if it is. So The Doctor goes there, investigates the place, discovers that not hostile is it non-hostile, but it’s carrying extremely precious cargo in the form of ACTUAL LIVING DINOSAURS and the ISA…decide to shoot it down anyway? With everything still on board? What? It makes absolutely no sense and the whole idea of needing a time limit to pressure the heroes is entirely unnecessary when you consider the actual scheme of the villain.
This leads me nicely into talking about the villain. Who isn’t exactly a bad villain, but he’s extremely bland. It’s just an old dude who wants to sell stolen stuff on the black market, which is pretty much the most basic of evil plots you can come up with. Originally he wants to sell the dinosaurs, but upon discovering Queen Nefertiti of Egypt is on board (because The Doctor brought her and some random hunter along for absolutely no reason) he decides he’d rather sell her. Which again, makes NO SENSE because who in the entire universe would actually believe she’s the real deal? How would you even begin to prove that to a potential buyer? Dinosaurs are an easy sell because come on, who wouldn’t buy a real dinosaur if they could? But you just pull up some random woman dressed in period-appropriate clothes and claim she’s the real deal? No-one’s going to believe that.
Then we have the most stupidly cliched and telegraphed resolution ever where this ship just so happens to need to people from the same family in order to pilot it. Well, would you fancy our luck?! Rory brought his dad along! What a fantastic bonding experience! It’s so unbelievably dumb and like something directly out of a Cbeebies show that’s trying to teach children about teamwork. Speaking of childish, there’s also these two robots voiced by Mitchell & Webb. I love that duo in their other shows, but here, they’re used for the most basic kid-friendly humour imaginable that wasn’t even remotely funny.
This whole episode is a mess from start to finish. With a whole bunch of threats for the sake of threats, a plot that relies entirely on coincidences and some of the worst jokes and character moments that I’ve ever seen the show perform. What a travesty. At least it’s only up from here…
16 – Nightmare in Silver
…not that far up though.
With this episode, I’m honestly convinced Moffat had some sort of vendetta against the Cybermen and set out to make them look like the most boring and worthless villains possible in the hopes he could rid them from the show forever.
First thing’s first. Angie & Arty. They’re crap characters. They’re little more than bratty, entitled kids who never undergo any process of change and simply exist in the episode to get captured and give The Doctor and Clara some sort of stakes in the fight. The whole opening set-piece with theme park was quite lifeless. It didn’t serve any purpose to the plot and certainly didn’t give us any sense of character in the kids, not to mention, the moment you see the “dead” cyberman, all tension is gone from that section of the episode because it’s obvious what’s going to happen.
The secondary characters throughout the episode are generally awful too. Warwick Davis’ character has a couple nice moments, the one where he’s telling Clara about the war was pretty nice but other than that there’s nothing interesting that any of the other characters have to offer the story. They’re just some tropes with names attached, names I don’t even vaguely remember despite the fact most of them had speaking roles.
As I referenced in the opening paragraph of this entry, what really messed this episode up was that it just totally screwed with the Cybermen. By which I mean, they literally just become The Borg. They went from removing people’s brains and putting it in an emotionless metal suit, to placing implants that alter the brain instead; which is pretty Borg-like. Also, now they can upgrade themselves on the fly in order to adapt to the weaponry they’re being attacked with; another pretty Borg-like feature. One of the biggest problems with the Cybermen is that they’re just a bit bland and making them damn-near identical in nature to a different, vastly superior sci-fi villain does not help in the slightest.
The resolution is dumb as well. With Davis’ character just being like “oh yeah, I can just teleport us all out of here safely and kill all the Cybermen” which makes the entire plot up until that point completely meaningless.
The whole episode is just a series of bad creative decisions that lead to what is quite simply a bad episode. It wasn’t catastrophically bad like Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, but it wasn’t much better.
15 – The Name of The Doctor
This episode felt a bit like it was a victim of circumstance. It was the finale of Series 7 but at the same time, its hands were tied in terms of what outstanding plot threads it could wrap up. So much of the mystery surrounding the events of Series 7 were all in anticipation to the 50th-anniversary and regeneration episodes later that year so very little of major consequence actually happened. We got the reveal of the “Impossible Girl” arc, but that’s about it. As such this felt more like a mid-series finale, akin to A Good Man Goes To War; except not as good.
My biggest problem with this episode is that you could watch the first five minutes, skip over most of the episode and watch the last 10-15 minutes and have pretty much the exact same experience. The middle of the episode is stuffed with so much filler that I’ve almost stopped paying attention by the time it gets to the point where anything even remotely consequential happens. I liked seeing the devastation of the battlefield on Trenzalore (even though the regeneration episode showed it wasn’t actually what happens) but it doesn’t go much further than that. There’s no tension to the scenes where The Whispermen are chasing The Doctor and Clara because what are they going to do? Take them to the place they were already going.
Then there’s the timeline stuff. Which, mechanically, is fine. I’m on board with the concept of a being like The Doctor having that in his tomb instead of a body and I like the concept of someone going through this time stream in order to rewrite The Doctor’s life. Then Clara jumps in it and everything goes to shit. First thing’s first, how does Clara being around stop the Great Intelligence from doing what he wanted to do? The Great Intelligence now has what is essentially omnipotence over The Doctor’s whole life and how in any way does Clara scattering herself across that timeline stop him? Especially when the episode itself states that The Doctor is very rarely even aware of her presence, so it’s not like she’s warning him about what’s going on.
What gets me the most is that this is HUGELY wasted potential. This could’ve played out as one of the most exciting stories ever as Clara has to battle The Great Intelligence literally across The Doctor’s whole life. It would’ve been such an incredible feat for them to insert major scenes throughout past Doctor Who adventures as Clara has to actually work out a way to stop The Great Intelligence, with lots of different versions of The Doctor helping her out along the way. Instead what happens is…basically nothing, it seems simply the act of Clara entering The Doctor’s timestream completely wipes The Great Intelligence from existence, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and IT’S NEVER EXPLAINED.
Also, despite being told several times over that Clara entering The Doctor’s time stream would mean she’d die, she’s actually fine. This is also never explained. I know The Doctor goes in to save her (which just raises further questions) but I thought the whole point was that entering the time stream scattered her very being across The Doctor’s whole life, how can she just be in a slightly smokey room waiting to be saved?
The only saving grace this episode has, in my opinion, is the reveal of John Hurt at the end. The back and forth Hurt & Smith have just before the cliffhanger sends chills down my spine and while I would’ve preferred to see Ecclestone, this was still excellent.
Unfortunately, that is it in terms of the things I liked about this episode. It’s an absolute mess that only answers one of the many questions this series posed to the audience and even that answer wasn’t satisfactory. It’s full of ridiculous inconsistencies (inconsistencies which only go greater thanks to various reveals in future series) and leaves me in know what satisfied with the time I invested in watching the series. While I do like the setup for the 50th-anniversary episode at the end, it’s not saving this thing.
14 – The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe
After absolutely knocking it out of the park with his first Christmas special, Moffat decided that one was enough and promptly shat the bad with this one. Another parody was never going to be a brilliant idea (especially as in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the whole point is that it’s NEVER Christmas) and I definitely don’t think this one landed anywhere near as well as A Christmas Carol did the previous year.
In my Series 6 rankings, I touched a bit on The Eleventh Doctor slowly becoming more and more goofy and childish as his tenure went on and I think this episode might be the very peak of that. The scene where The Doctor is showing the family around the house and going through all of the crazy fun modifications he’s made to the place starts off as a nice bit of fun but quickly goes off the rails crossing over into “a bit much” territory, the peak of which was inarguably The Doctor launching himself at the hammocks and missing, before popping up to comedically proclaim “this hammock seems to have developed a fault”. As I’ve said many times, I’m a fan of comedy in Doctor Who, I think it’s what elevates some of the best episodes of the show to legendary status but this whole scene may as well been written for a sitcom. I could edit in a laugh track to happen at the end of the hammock scene and it wouldn’t seem out of place in the slightest; it was just a step to far in terms of departing from the tone of the show and really threw me off.
Once we get into the actual drama of the plot, it feels a bit…meh? It takes the most basic elements of the source material and throws them at the wall in a manner that doesn’t really work. The kid goes off into the forest alone, so the others attempt to find him, only to realise that, they’re all in danger. Once again, the threat of the episode doesn’t exactly feel like a huge deal and I’m not sure how melting something with acid turns it into fuel, but fine, whatever. Also, you’re seriously telling me that at no point during the process of getting them into the ship and tying them up, there was no opportunity for any of these three, well-built miners to overpower Madge and take away her relatively primitive weapon? Oh and then she’s just suddenly able to pilot the giant mech…until it’s comedically useful for her to mess it up and fall over; cue laugh track once again.
The ending is sweet, but it doesn’t feel earned. They played on the idea of Madge hiding her husband’s death from their children a little, but it doesn’t exactly feel like she went through any kind of character progression because of it. Even when the kids do find out about his death, it doesn’t have any consequences because about a minute later, it turns out that he’s actually still alive, so it doesn’t even matter that she lied about it.
I can only be so harsh on this episode since it is a Christmas episode and those tend to be a bit more simplistic plot-wise. That said, I still think it’s among the worst of the bunch.
13 – The Crimson Horror
Honestly, that’s such a brilliant title and I wish it was used on a better episode.
This episode has a couple of concepts that I like, but I don’t think any of them are really used to their full potential. For example, I like the idea of the first half of the story being told from a different set of characters – in this case, The Paternoster Gang – who are slowly discovering the mystery before running into The Doctor’s adventure half-way through. It’s a much more interesting way of revealing a mystery, allowing you to have a way to not quite tell the audience everything right at the beginning because The Doctor can show up at the mid-point and fill in the gaps.
As it stands, I also quite like The Paternoster Gang. Strax can sometimes stray too far into silly, but there were still a decent amount of jokes he mad here that gave me a good giggle. Vastra & Jenny are quite good and Vastra, in particular, is a competent breath of fresh air, as most of Moffat’s secondary characters end up being quite dumb; that said, I think they do stretch the whole lesbian things between the two of them a bit thin. There’s only so many suggestive jokes you can make before it gets grating.
This is yet another scenario in which the villains’ main motivations are a little bit misty and unclear to me. I understand it on the level of her being someone who only wants what she deems as “perfect” people in this new society, but very little attention was paid to how she classifies that, outside of obvious faults like her blind daughter. I also wasn’t the biggest fan of the actual plan either. A society that people sign up for but then are never seen again is an extremely overplayed trope in all of fiction, sci-fi especially and there was nothing all that special about the one in this episode to justify using the trope. It might not seem like a big deal, but for me, as soon as I got the concept of it being a society where people go missing, I knew a rough outline of what was going to happen throughout the rest of the episode.
The climax is fine, but nothing particularly special. It’s your classic “villain has a last-ditch attempt that almost succeeds until it turns out the good guys had already stopped it.” sequence and, once again, there was nothing noteworthy about this incarnation of it. We even got the guilt-free killing of the villain as she falls to her death after trying to attack someone.
The whole thing just feels like a “nothing special” episode. The only thing that actually makes the episode feel like Doctor Who is the characters, but even they aren’t all that strong. Clara has very little role to play outside of being a damsel in distress for the first half. She’s instead undercut by the Paternoster gang, who dominate pretty much all of the screentime the good guys have. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think things could’ve been balanced a bit better to give every character a bit more of a feature role, especially considering what a large role they’d all play in the series finale.
12 – The Snowmen
This episode feels like it was written with the wrong mentality. Instead of coming up with a plot and then working the plot-threads for the coming series into it, it felt like this episode was written with the sole purpose of introducing both Clara & The Great Intelligence and then they tried to build a plot around it. It didn’t work.
One of the biggest problems with this episode is The Doctor. While Moffat would later create an absolute masterpiece centred around The Doctor’s grief over losing Clara, in this episode, where The Doctor grieves losing The Ponds, it misses the mark. Instead of having The Doctor contemplate everything about himself, he just sits up in the TARDIS and sulks about it. I understand that side of grief that can potentially make someone just want to shut out the world, but the manner in which it’s done here doesn’t seem authentic, especially when The Doctor snaps in and out of it whenever the plot demands.
While we’re on the topic, can we just talk about how unbelievably contrived it is that Clara just so happens to have a problem with a pond, so she can say “Pond” to The Doctor and snap him out of his sulking? I genuinely laughed when I heard it, there wasn’t even a hint of subtly or finesse to it. Why would Clara even chose “pond” as the word? I get that it’s happening in a pond, but I feel like the ghost made of ice would be a more pressing part of the problem and you’d rather choose one of those as your single word.
When it comes to the villains…it’s fine. It’s a Christmas episode, so there’s got to be something Christmassy in the plot and if that has to be evil snowmen then whatever. The Great Intelligence is kind of interesting until The Doctor just obliterates it with very little trouble. The way The Doctor tricks Simeon into erasing his own memory is clever, but I didn’t feel nearly invested enough to care.
Ultimately, this episode did what it had intended to do and set up both mysteries about Clara & The Great Intelligence, but it wasn’t done in the most interesting of ways and, as I’ve already explained, it wasn’t resolved in all that great of a way either.
11 – Hide
This is a solid 30-minute episode that unfortunately had to be stretched to 45.
Clara continues her role here of being more of a plot device than a person and as a result has little-to-no impact on the plot, a theme that would carry through most of her episodes in this series. The Doctor, on the other hand, does a really good job of owning the stage throughout this enitre thing. I wouldn’t put his attitude in this episode anywhere up with any of the best Eleventh Doctor stories, but thanks to Clara’s lack of personality, the weight of this episode falls on his shoulders and he does an admirable job carrying things. The secondary characters are ok, but they’ve got pretty basic personalities, so they struggle to hold my attention when it’s just them on screen.
As for the ghost story/horror aspect of the episode, it’s ok, but nothing special. I enjoyed the twist of the “ghost” being a time traveller that’s stuck somewhere and I especially enjoyed seeing The Doctor going through the entire history of Earth just to confirm his theory. It was a creative use of time travel, which is something Doctor Who doesn’t do as often as you’d think it would.
Unfortunately, the episode ran into what I’m going to call the “Iron Man 3” problem. Which is where half the episode is spent building up a big monster that’s set to be the villain of the piece, only for that to turn out to be a fake-out. At this point, we’re introduced to the real villain, but they’re nowhere near as compelling or interesting because the first half of the episode was dedicated to establishing something else. The monsters in Hide are pretty throwaway if you ask me and I didn’t think they worked as a threat to The Doctor.
The episode tries to use a lot of horror movie techniques when it comes to the creatures, but often uses them in the wrong ways, or later squanders the whole thing. For example, when we’re first introduced to the concept of them, we get the perfect “less is more” build-up and if they’d stuck to their guns with that, the whole thing could’ve been quite exciting. What was done instead, was that the episode revealed them clear as day and chase The Doctor. The thing is, The Doctor actually gets away and deals with the creatures quite easily, so instead of spending the rest of the episode on the edge of my seat waiting to see The Doctor have to face them again, I don’t feel any tension because the aura of mystery and fear that was surrounding them is gone.
Looking back to the plot, I think the episode should’ve ideally wrapped up right about when The Doctor saves the trapped time traveller and manages to escape the creatures himself. It felt like a natural stopping point for the episode, all of the main character beats were wrapped up and when The Doctor realised that he had to go back to help the creatures, it seemed entire like the episode was trying to fill for time. It’s a neat twist, but not one that was built-up enough to feel earned. The only real hints we got about this twist were things that you wouldn’t be able to know were hints until you knew the solution, which isn’t how clever foreshadowing is done.
Although the episode did lose steam very quickly in its latter half, I thought the first half was quite the entertaining episode and just enough was done in this one to drag it up a few places in my estimations.
10 – The Bells of Saint John
This is an odd episode because it leans quite heavily on its characters (specifically Clara), but it doesn’t quite land the right feel for them just yet.
Going into this episode we were fresh off of meeting a version of Clara from Victorian London and watching her die. In theory, this is a cool idea and I like the fact that The Doctor is able to run into another version of her, the problem comes in when the show starts to act like they’re the same person and all the characterisation we got from Victorian Clara still stands (minus the period-relevant dialect). I understand that, mechanically, they are the exact same person but they’ve led different lives with a different set of memories, so when we’re introduced to modern-day Clara she feels like a very different person and it makes it jarring when the show pretends they’re the same.
While we’re talking about The Impossible Girl thread, the whole mystery surrounding Clara’s origin is one of the biggest factors as to why I’m not a fan of Clara in this series. My opinion of her shifts during her time with Capaldi, but her time with Smith is a horrible introduction for her. As a direct consequence of everything to do with her centring around The Impossible Girl thread, she gets absolutely no room to develop any kind of personality and, as I’ve touched on in previous entries, she doesn’t really do anything in this series unless it’s directly related to that mystery. While she would later develop some form of a personality, the entirety of her time in Series 7, she more closely resembles a plot device than a person.
Speaking of plot, when the episode isn’t leaning into the character stuff, I think there’s a pretty fun plot here with a lot of exciting moments. It’s nothing spectacular, but I thought there was a lot of excitement to be had in the scenes where The Doctor is trying to prevent Clara from being uploaded, or when he’s racing up The Shard to confront the villain (as goofy as it was). If the episode wasn’t also tasked with introducing modern-day Clara, then I think a bit more could’ve been done with the concept though. “Evil Wi-fi” is an idea that you can do a hell of a lot with (as many other sci-fi stories have proved over the years) and this one doesn’t do anything particularly special to make it stand out from the rest.
I’ve got my problems with this one, for sure, but a lot of them are more to do with what they set up for later in the series, rather than what actually happened here. In addition to that, I still have a good time with the action scenes, even if they aren’t anything particularly noteworthy in the long run, so I’m happy to stick this one in the middle and give it a pass.
And that’s all for Part 1! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this list, make sure you follow me here and on Twitter @10ryawoo so you’re updated when Part 2 drops in a few weeks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these episodes and make sure you come back this time next week, where I’ll be covering WWE’s Money in the Bank!