Doctor Who Season 7: Goodbye Ponds

As Whovians rejoice at the release of Doctor Who: The Complete Seventh Series this week, we take a look back at what the first half of that season meant for the Doctor and the show's legacy.

And like a Scottish girl with her sidekick, we are left awestruck watching that blue box vanish. After an all-too short seven-week sidetrack from Gallifrey to Trenzalore (and everything in between), the Doctor has dropped us back off in the messy reality of life with but a faint promise that he will someday return. Because, as with all things in the Moffat Era, we are the audience who waited for the Raggedy Man’s rapturous return….which thanks to the miracle of DVD and Blu-ray box sets is this week! The seventh series, or season for we yanks on this side of the pond, marked a peculiar moment of transition and transcendence for the show. And now, it is available to own and revisit in all its space-and-time bending glory! That makes us want to pull out our favorite bow ties and fezzes as we dance like a Pond wedding! Within the natural narrative of the storytelling, we knew going in that this would be the last season that the Doctor jaunts around the universe with the Ponds. This also meant it was time for a new companion; the first change-up of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor, as well as a supposed relaunch toward the show’s more traditionalist formula (one Doctor and one comely companion, husbands no thank you!). However, all the shifts within the show’s regular narrative meant little in comparison to Season 7’s bigger milestone. It is the season where Doctor Who turns 50! That’s right. If we choose to ignore the decade and a half where the Doctor went on sabbatical (1989 to 2005), it means he and his police box have been bouncing around the ones in our living rooms for longer than the Rolling Stones have been on tour. Let that sink in for a moment.
 Similarly, this season reminded me of another British Invasion band and their little ditty about dreading long goodbyes. Indeed, the series’ now reliably disparate nature (five episodes in September and seven in the spring, plus a Christmas special, this go-round) literally split around that conceit. We got five episodes to say Goodbye to the Ponds and seven episodes to say Hello to Oswin, Oswald, Oswin Owald, Clara. Heaping onto that very literal disconnect was a new mission statement for the show to dial back the crazy. While some viewers, myself included, love Moffat’s use of absurdly complex and convoluted storytelling to create season-long head-scratchers (this is a show about TIME TRAVEL, folks), other viewers missed the simpler, more self-contained narratives from when Russell T. Davies ran things and David Tennant wielded the sonic screwdriver. As a sort of compromise, Season 7 was hailed as the “Blockbuster Season” where all the episodes would be self-contained movie-scale adventures. No season (or half-season) long mysteries here. Nope. Not a chance. Nadda…Some people need to realize that the first rule with Steven Moffat, like the Doctor, is he lies. Season 7 of Doctor Who had a lot of facets to cover and left more than a Time Lord’s lifespan of events to ruminate upon. Thus, before the talk becomes completely about November’s forthcoming 50th Anniversary Special, let’s run back through this concluding chapter before it fades away like so many companions.
 Blockbuster of the Week“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” If you say that title of the season’s second episode slowly enough, you can understand the tone the series primarily went for this season. Marketed as a cinematic event each week with easily digestible premises, there was nary a two-parter in sight. Each episode brought a new threat, a larger-than-life adventure and a quick wrap-up in 50 minutes or less. Some on the Internet have denigrated this style, but they were also the ones whining about how the cliffhanger that divided Season 6 revealed River was Amy and Rory’s daughter all grown-up thanks to the Silence, who may or may not have killed the Doctor 200 years in the future during the premiere and…their heads hurt. In response to this criticism, Season 7 presented itself as something more akin to the Davies Era. Should be just what the Doctor ordered, right? As many of the Internet’s tiny-whiney bloggers (is there any other kind?) will attest, the stand-alone approach to Season 7 led to some winners and some losers. In the front five, “The Power of Three” and “The Angels Take Manhattan” consisted of great characterizations for the Doctor and his wayward companions with wholly satisfying, if bittersweet conclusions. Conversely, “A Town Called Mercy,” where the Doctor becomes an Old West gunslinger in a steam-punk retro-future setting, including a cyborg in the proverbial black hat, made for one of the most boring episodes of the show. Ever. Personally, I prefer a less episodic approach. One of the great strengths of Eleven’s run over Nine or Ten’s is that most of the episodes in each season feel like they are building to something. At least, they did in Seasons 5 and 6. There were clunkers in those recent seasons too, particularly Season 6’s painfully drawn out two-parter about mud people, “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People.” Yet, there was more of an exciting energy where anything could happen, such as the Doctor causing a reboot of the universe with his own Big Bang simply because there was a crack in Amelia Pond’s bedroom. The Davies seasons had great episodes, but their isolated nature leant to the Doctor becoming almost a procedural hero. There is a problem for each week’s “patients” and he would come in to fix it; one and done. The tedium of this may be why some disdain Season 7’s equally streamlined approach. However, there is an extra inch added to this style that was only sprinkled sparingly throughout the Davies era: a sense of fantasy. Doctor Who is entirely science fiction. Sci-fi that some high-minded adults, not unlike “intellectuals” from a Woody Allen movie, insist must be taken very seriously. Ergo, it is a serious sci-fi meditation that is about a man…whose face conveniently changes every couple of years (our time) as he travels progressively through a “modern” London in a police box that is bigger on the inside with an endless array of leggy sidekicks while spouting new catchphrases….Yeah.
 There is something wonderfully FANTASTIC about Britain’s most kid-friendly icon (besides a certain wizard, anyway). In truth, the Doctor is as much a free-loving Santa Claus as an alien from the planet Gallifrey traversing black hole rotations in his Time and Relative Dimension in Space machine. Even until the recent series, meaning the “NuWho” of 2005 and onwards, the Doctor has been primarily played by parental and elder figures, including the literal grandfatherly William Hartnell. As the original Doctor, Hartnell is not introduced as a great explorer. No, he is the curious grandfather of airhead schoolgirl protagonist Susan Foreman. Thankfully, later seasons have reimagined the Doctor as an excitingly energetic hero. Still, the magical element remains. Moffat has embraced this side of the Doctor full-heartedly with the youngest actor to ever play the Doctor. Equal parts brilliant scientist and zany magician, the last three seasons of Doctor Who have an effervescent fairy tale quality about them. There is just something mischievously wondrous about his world. And the way Eleven blows in and out of stories throughout Season 7’s blockbuster format adds to that allure. In “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” the Doctor is able to offer a universal appeal to every viewer’s inner-child. Dinosaurs. On. A. Spaceship. The episode exists for little more reason than to see the Doctor, Rory and Brian (Rory’s Dad) riding around a Triceratops. It is goofy, it is weird and it is out of this world. It is not about some boring new character whose problems involve a dinosaur destroying her London flat. The only non-companions in danger are people the Doctor brought along for the fun: 19th century Game Hunter John Riddell and Queen Nefertiti of Egypt! Why are they here? Do we really NEED a reason for Queen Nefertiti to join the Doctor in fighting off Raptors other than they can? That sense of free-wielding fun can also be used to create a sense of melancholy. In “The Power of Three,” the Doctor drops in and out of Amy and Rory’s lives while they get older and settle down. At one point, Amy reveals that it’s been ten years since she first saw him as an adult in “The Eleventh Hour.” For the Doctor, and the viewers, she is still the little girl who waited. But on the show, Amy has given up modeling, is a writer and, most of all, a devoted wife. She and Rory have reached the point where their lives are no longer the Doctor’s. Rather, he is their ageless Peter Pan who keeps taking them off to Never Never Land. And one day soon it has to end.
 Perhaps, the most effective use of this season’s style of storytelling is “The Snowmen.” The Christmas special that separated the two halves, “The Snowmen” marks the Doctor’s first (knowing) encounter with Clara Oswin Oswald. After losing the Ponds and…others, the Doctor has become a recluse who literally lives on a cloud above Victorian London. He has removed himself from humanity through the sort of storybook logic in his Yuletide humbuggery that one could associate with a story from Byron. That is until Clara, a nanny of the Julie Andrews School who also moonlights as a barmaid, stalks him to his TARDIS on a cloud. Their meetings above the fray of a frosted, Dickensian London has the wintry air of the enchanted. The show makes meeting a new companion far more intriguing than the literal approaches of old, such as her boss keeling over at the hospital she happens to work at or space-spiders inadvertently ruined her wedding by transporting her to the TARDIS. Like Eleven meeting the precocious Amelia Pond, there is something otherworldly about this encounter, in a way that is closer to C.S. Lewis than H.P. Lovecraft. The standalone format truly led to some real terrible episodes. In the back seven’s case, that includes the sleep-inducing “Cold War.” Who knew The Ice Warrior, a Classic Who villain from Mars, hunting Soviets down on a submarine Ridley Scott-style could be so awful? But the good thing about it is that the show never lost its sense of wonderment or awe. Plus, if they were terrible, at least this style ensured it would only ruin one week’s programming. Yet, this intentionally restrictive approach created other limitations when it came to actually progressing the narrative along in a satisfying way…
 Goodbye, PondsThe Ponds received the longest farewell in Doctor Who history. Besides even introducing the replacement in the Season Premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” and then going back to four more episodes with The Girl Who Waited and The Last Centurion, the entire front five were built around their departure. How perfectly fitting. On paper. Of all the Doctor’s companions, Amy and Rory are the most unique.  Famously, it was not until NuWho that the companions were given real depth and personalities. Yet, while characterization was added, it has usually been one that leaves only the most ardent shippers satisfied: unrequited love. Rose loves the Doctor, but he will not admit it. The Doctor admits he loves Rose, but she is trapped in an alternate dimension. Martha loves the Doctor, but he only has eyes for Rose who will soon all but wed his humanized clone. It could be “Days of our TARDIS.” Fortunately, that all changed with Amy. Arguably fashioned after Season 2’s brilliant episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace” (also written by Moffat), Amelia Pond is a young girl whose entire life orbits around an imaginary friend that happened to be real: Mr. Raggedy Man. When the Doctor regenerated into Matt Smith during the Season 5 Premiere, he was little more than a child himself in a new world. While he maintained the memories of 900 years of experiences and ten past lives, Eleven is essentially a new character. Thus when he latches onto the equally adolescent Scottish ginger in an English town, they become life long friends over a bounty of fishsticks and custard. In their earliest and most tumultuous adventures, they seemed like a pair of Dickensian orphans cutting corners (and cracks) into the space-time continuum. The hole in young Amelia’s home cost her the memory of her parents while her belief in the Raggedy Man she met one night made her a town pariah. Yet, with the Doctor, she found her best friend who was simultaneously a father figure. It was of a bond stronger than initial attraction.
 This connection was further underlined as one of friendship with the induction of Rory Williams. Rory, somewhat of a dullard for his first few appearances, seemed to be a nice guy who Amy was killing time with until the Doctor revisited. However, over the course of his two and a half seasons on the show, Arthur Darvill’s earnest creation became an iconic concoction of unwavering loyalty and puppy dog love. When Amy first loses Rory, the Doctor little more than shrugs like an audience used to seeing characters abruptly depart. But by the time he has returned as a devoted Roman centurion who waits for two thousand years on Amy, the strength of their emotion and his role as the third point of a triumvirate on the series became one of the show’s greatest triumphs. Unfortunately for Rory, even if he won over the audience and heroically married the woman of his dreams, he always seemed to be the third wheel in his own marriage. The Doctor and Amy go back to childhood while Rory always seemed to be the interloper. Season 7 sought to explore that to the fullest with mixed results. Due to the “Blockbuster” format, Series 7 felt like it rushed through a lot of story beats in this triangle that never quite worked. In “Asylum of the Daleks,” Amy and Rory are introduced as being a couple on the verge of divorce. He thinks she’s choosing her modeling career over him while she is “giving him up” because he wants children that she can never have. It is hackneyed and trite. It is also abruptly resolved when the Doctor’s meddling in their marriage causes them to reconnect in a way audiences never doubted. This is a couple who has overcome their daughter being raised by the Silence, a half-dozen retconned deaths between the two of them, two thousand years of separation and THE BIG BANG. But a little bit of miscommunication after a few months and they’re on the edge of the abyss? If it was something developed over a whole season, it could be fascinating. But while the fantasy elements were still highlighted this season, character development was truncated to the point of being occasionally hollow. Trying to convey Amy and Rory’s lives from near divorce to “happily ever after” in five disparate episodes felt as contrived as any of the previous angsty love companion plottings of the Davies Era.
 Still, the strangely rushed five-hour goodbye featured amazing moments. Firstly, Mark Williams’ performance as Brian, Rory’s Dad, is bloody brilliant. Why couldn’t they have brought this character on sooner? Forget Power of Three, after watching him eating his sandwich from a lunchbox while overlooking the Earth, I wish it were the Power of Four! His instant affability is exemplified by the “Power of Three.” In Season 7(A)’s penultimate episode, the writers delve into an interesting concept about the Doctor. Sometimes, he companions just outgrow him like a young adult putting away childish things. If the Doctor began as a surrogate father/big brother to Amy, he became her son to dote on in their final episodes. Supposedly over 30 and in the need of glasses, Amy spends her episodes in Season 7, as well as Season 6’s Christmas episode, worrying over whether the Doctor is eating enough and preparing a place for him at her table. If it were not for Brian reluctantly insisting that she and Rory continue to travel with the Doctor at the end of this episode, one could suppose they would quit, relegating Raggedy Man to the role of the sometime-friendly neighbor. Imagine the gumption of ending it by the Doctor just visiting the Ponds every few months until they peacefully died of old age?! Instead, the show opted for something a little more cinematic. In “The Angels Take Manhattan,” the trio is finally forced to dissolve the triangle. The episode begins with the Doctor fiddling over Amy needing glasses to read, a mark that she is biologically older than he is now (something he HATES). But as he goes Pan on his fading Wendy, he does not even realize it is their last day together. By the end of that adventure, Rory has been sent by the wickedly scary Weeping Angels to die alone in a fixed point of history: mid-20th century New York. The Doctor cannot bring him back. And as with every other time The Last Centurion has died, the Doctor is saddened but not heartbroken. Not as long as he has Amy. In a moment of pure selfishness, he urges Amy to let Rory go and come with him back into his TARDIS to travel space and time. CHOOSE ME! Without hesitation, she turns around and says, “Raggedy Man, Goodbye.” And she’s gone. Forever.
 Part of me wishes that they did go the full “Girl in the Fireplace,” by having Amy and Rory quit traveling with the Doctor. An episode about him popping in, less and less, with each passing year and decade until they are gone could have been bittersweet. Yet, if all the drama between Amy and Rory felt like a cheap way to add conflict in the premiere, this ending seems inevitable in retrospect. Amy always was a girl torn between the two men in her life: The father who became a son and the friend who became a husband. The subtle shift from Doctor’s companion to Rory’s wife is what makes her and Rory such incredible additions to the World of Who. It could never be resolved until she chose to let the Raggedy Man go. Yet, despite the Doctor’s soul crushing loneliness, he ends the half-a-season with a letter from a content and middle-aged Amy in the past: Don’t travel alone. Even forever separated, she worries about the wayward soul that she long nurtured. And now, like a strangely paced season of Doctor Who, we are going to take a break between the sharply different mini-series. Don’t worry, you can welcome Clara and the rest of the season review HERE!