I’m pretty fed up with the reputation of Doctor Who Series 7b. The entire run of episodes is actually my second favourite series of Doctor Who, just behind Series 5.
And yet the internet is full of people complaining about it. I’m hoping many will re-evaluate it, but for now, I’m taking this opportunity to revel in the very special moments that make up The Bells of Saint John, The Rings of Akhaten, Cold War, Hide, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, The Crimson Horror, Nightmare in Silver, and The Name of the Doctor.
Yesterday, we ran through five great scenes – including the Doctor reacting to the mention of Trenzalore, and the return of the Ice Warriors – but what makes our Top Five…?
5. The Doctor’s Recap, The Crimson Horror.
Mark Gatiss’ second adventure for the 2013 series was an unusual Victorian horror-slash-comedy affair, and that’s typified by the Doctor recalling the events that led to him being covered in ‘orrible red paint.
Spirited along by Murray Gold’s jaunty score, grainy film is relayed to us in a fashion never seen before or since in Doctor Who (dare I say, on TV altogether?): the Doctor and Clara are immediately drawn into a Ripper Street-esque mystery that stems from Sweetville; the pair try to ingratiate themselves with Mrs Gillyflower, Clara by being charming and clever, and the Doctor by doing a wonderfully-terrible Northern accent; Clara’s then preserved in a giant bell-jar while the Doctor’s dunked; and finally, he’s saved, a great bit of subversion going on as Ada thinks he’s Her Monster – just as she thinks herself a monster.
In addition to that, we even have a brief bit of fan-pleasing with an allusion to the Fifth Doctor’s companion, Tegan. We should recall that she left the TARDIS because it stopped being fun, but that’s exactly what The Crimson Horror is: unadulterated, macabre fun.
Yes, there are contemplative scenes, and sickening scenarios, but a tale that relies so heavily on humour – especially in a world of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Peaky Blinders – is something to be celebrated.
4. “We’re All Ghosts To You,” Hide.
I always admire Neil Cross’ dialogue: it mixes real speech mannerisms with a poetic nature. Hide is full of really beautiful language, a particular favourite of mine being in the dark room, as the Doctor questions Alec Palmer about how he came to be at Caliburn House. “Because I killed, and I caused to have killed,” he explains. “I sent young men and women to their deaths, but here I am, still alive and it does tend to haunt you – living, after so much of the other thing.”
This segues nicely into what’s undeniably the most breath-taking sequence in the episode, when the TARDIS goes “always,” dropping the Doctor off for a few photographs at divergent moments in time. It gives Clara the chance to fully appreciate this other life she’s now living. This is a companion piece to the wonder of The Rings of Akhaten; the TARDIS’ capabilities are amazing but there’s something sinister about it too, and by extension, something sinister about the man she’s travelling with.
After realising that her body is buried somewhere out there, Clara goes on, “But here we are, talking. So I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.”
The Doctor rather dodges this with an ambiguous reply. Of course, Clara especially is a ghost to him – her having died in the Dalek Asylum and in Victorian London – but so is everyone he’s ever met. That puts this madman in a box into perspective.
Incredible dialogue and incredible sentiments.
3. Airplane Ride, The Bells of Saint John.
A victory roll might be too showy-offy, but The Bells of Saint John nonetheless holds nothing back.
This series opener very much reminds me of The Eleventh Hour: it’s exciting, smart, and stunningly realised. But The Bells of Saint John does something we very rarely see: a short hop. Not just that – this feels like a variation of a chase scene; it’s definitely got that momentum and acts as a great tent-pole between the calm scenes that surround it.
The plot is incredibly smart, but what writer, Steven Moffat really delivers in this episode are visuals. In the expert hands of director, Colm McCarthy, the sequences feel very fresh and thrilling. The Doctor and Clara’s impromptu airplane trip is an ideal example of this.
Its break-neck speed shows critics that a great tale can be told in 40-odd minutes; it doesn’t have to linger across four, six, ten, or twelve episodes. There’s that cliché about entering a scene as late as possible and leaving as soon as you can. The Bells of Saint John relishes in that, but McCarthy deftly manages the action so it flows beautifully. From Clara’s house – to outside as all the lights turn off – into the TARDIS – and up into the aircraft.
Yes, the Time Lord’s travelled on an airplane before (Time-Flight) but it was nothing like this. It’s a gloriously unique idea, one only really achievable in Doctor Who, and the start of Clara’s literal journey with the Doctor.
And she does it in the most British way possible: with a cup of tea in hand.
2. John Hurt IS the Doctor, The Name of the Doctor.
“Wait, what?! What’s hap—WHAT?!”
It was tempting to place this in the top spot, but we’d all heard the rumours: John Hurt was going to pop up at the end of Series 7 as a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor. The internet was rife with such speculation, but few actually believed it. That’s the thing that stops this being the most special moment in Series 7: it’s one of the most important revelations in the show’s recent history, but anything that shocking prompts an immediate dread. I can only imagine the number of viewers thinking, “They’ve messed everything up.”
Fortunately, Hurt was wonderful and The Day of the Doctor knocked it out of the park. Yet many are still coming to terms with having to relearn how to count: “… 6, 7, 8, War, 9, 10, Meta-Crisis, 11…”
When Clara threw herself into the Doctor’s timeline, it was unchartered territory – well, okay, we’d already seen nearly 50 years of his adventures on TV, but you get my point; however, seeing this acting legend turn around and announce himself as the very same Time Lord was the real rug-from-underneath-you moment. Wow. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do a cliffhanger.
What he did, he did in the name of peace and sanity, but not in the name of the Doctor. “Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor” announced the caption. Oh. Uhm. Let’s move on.
1. The Doctor’s Speech, The Rings of Akhaten.
This might be a controversial choice, but this truly is a special moment.
The Eleventh Doctor is no stranger to brilliant speeches, and Matt Smith always gives it his all. And I never fail to be astonished. Matt’s a real tour-de-force here, displaying an emotional range I don’t think many could match. I’ll be completely honest: this is one of only a few scenes in Doctor Who history that always makes my hair stand up on my arms.
I’d include the epilogue to this speech too: that’s Clara bloating the Old God with her mum’s potential. I realise that, too, is controversial, but if you consider it an extension of the notion of psychometry, it works beautifully. Still, for now, I’ll settle with fandom appreciating the Doctor’s extraordinary admissions.
It’s a great bit of dialogue by Neil Cross, fuelled by Murray Gold’s touching score, and the CGI team displays this immense scene perfectly. The thing that really sells it, though, is Matt’s passion and ferocity. That, and his lone tear, carefully trickling down his cheek, which just goes to show what a talent fronted Doctor Who in its anniversary year.
This is the Doctor. Standing up. Making a difference. Armed only with his stories. And, after half a century, I think we all know how powerful they are.
I love Series 7. I think that much is obvious. But I hope more fans gain a proper appreciation of it. However much I enjoy an era, I always gain more from it upon further rewatches. Give it a go. You’ll find something special in whichever tale you’re revisiting.