Only five more episodes and we will complete our second watch-through of the Eleventh Doctor’s run. We’re a bit relieved mostly because we have so many other things to watch – tons of classic episodes, a bit of The Sarah Jane Adventures from our Netflix queue that has been sitting and waiting for over a month now, as well as (gasp!) other shows, such as Sherlock season 3. There’s just not enough time in the day!
I had been hoping that rewatching the Series 7 episodes would help me like them more, and I guess in general it has worked. I remember really hating “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” the first time, and this time it wasn’t so bad. “Hide” was a lot better this time, actually, though I liked it enough the last time. We didn’t bother watching “The Rings of Akhaten,” though – interestingly, that one had about the same impression on me as “Love and Monsters,” and if I were forced to watch one of them again, I think I’d actually choose L&M, mostly because the first half of L&M was spectacular, while there was nothing redeeming about TRoA at all.
There seem to be a lot of things about Series 7 that really bring it down. First, the stories seem a bit half-baked. I’ve already talked about the ending of “The Power of Three,” that the dialogue between the Doctor and the Shakri had no point and the Doctor fixed everything with a wave of the sonic screwdriver (and everyone lived through their fifteen-minute heart attacks). Similarly, at the end of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” time is rewritten, yet somehow the salvage guy starts treating his cyborg brother better. I think I also mentioned this earlier, that it seemed really odd to me that in “A Town Called Mercy,” Sharaz Jek let the townsfolk distract the Gunslinger so he could escape, putting them into grave danger, and then suicides.
Second, the morals are very heavy-handed. So many of these episodes include either a “you’re special because X” moral or a speech from the Doctor to convince someone to think differently. The speech in “Cold War” is about the Ice Warrior not taking out his loneliness on the humans. In “Hide,” it isn’t the Doctor, but the scientist telling the psychic that she needs to try again out of love. JttCotT is all about the evils of greed. In “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”, the solution to the trees’ problem is a mother, because only she’s strong enough to carry the spark of life. And then “The Snowmen” had the line, “The only force on Earth that could drown the snow. A whole family crying on Christmas Eve.” It’s not like Doctor Who hasn’t dealt with moral issues before, but it just seems to be every other episode now, and the point is thrown into your face. These episodes would have worked far better if they let the audience draw their own conclusions and learn their own lessons.
Third, some of these recent episodes have introduced contradictory concepts, either against established universe rules or against themselves. The big example of this is “The Angels Take Manhattan,” and I’m not even talking about the problems I generally have taking the Weeping Angels seriously. TATM is a great episode, sending the Ponds off with wonderful style. However, its big point is that you can’t go and change events that you already know happened, because that creates a paradox. The Doctor spends quite a bit of time explaining and repeating that because he’s read parts of the book, he can’t change those things he already knows. This concept has never been stated before – the closest thing he’s said is that he can’t change established events in his own timeline. First, there’s the question of why he’s considering the events in a storybook to be absolute truth, but beyond that, he violates this rule directly at the end of the episode. In her afterword, Amy asks him to go to little Amelia waiting in the garden and tell her about the adventures she’ll be going on. Now, remember the first episode of Series 5, “The Eleventh Hour”. In it, when the Doctor meets kissogram/policewoman Amy, she tells him that she waited in that garden and he never reappeared. So, when he goes to the garden in TATM, he’s violating the rule because he knows he never visited her there.
There’s an alternative to that, that Amy lied to him the whole time, making him believe that he never visited her there. First, he still went believing that he knew what had happened, so he’s still violating the rule. And second, the idea that Amy lied to him and actually knew from when she was a little girl about all the things that were going to happen to her completely changes their whole relationship – destroys the wonderful story as far as I’m concerned. It’s horrible. That scene was supposed to be uplifting and beautiful, and in my eyes, it fell flat on its face.
And then… in “Hide”, the scientist states to the Doctor that time travel is impossible because it creates paradoxes, and the Doctor tells him that the paradoxes resolve themselves. So, an episode establishes a rule that hasn’t existed before, and then four episodes later, the Doctor says it’s ok, it isn’t that bad. Which is it?
You’re probably saying, “Who cares? They’re stories, and in the case of TATM at the very least, it’s a good story.” But to me, part of what makes a story in an established universe good is adhering to the rules. Adding to the rules is fine, but contradicting them… It’s part of what makes the Doctor Who universe so compelling, that there are these rules, either universal or personal, that the Doctor has follow while he’s trying to do whatever it is he’s doing. I spent much of TATM wondering why the Doctor was so adamant about believing the veracity of the book and insisting he couldn’t change anything, and then the ending was spoiled by him changing something he knew had already happened.
So, sadly, Series 7 hasn’t improved that much on second viewing, and while I expect I’ll return to it sometime in the future just to refresh my memory of it, I don’t think I’ll choose to watch any of these episodes for random entertainment.