With the eighth series of Doctor Who so very close to premiering (it’s this Saturday, you dumb idiots), I decided it was time for a refresher on Series 7. I put on “Asylum of the Daleks” and realized it originally aired September 1st, 2012. That’s such a long time ago! This made me think, maybe in two years my opinion of these episodes has changed and I now really dislike ones I liked or really like ones I disliked. Time, if you’ll forgive a cliche that doesn’t exist, makes people change their mind about things. In general, I really enjoyed this series, so attempting to rank them is a bit of a matter of degrees. But, here, ranked by MY PERSONAL OPINION, from best to worst, are all 14 episodes from Doctor Who Series 7. (NOTE: I’m not counting “The Day of the Doctor” or “The Time of the Doctor”) (NOTE NOTE: Spoilers for Series 7, duh)
1. Asylum of the Daleks
One could argue it’s a condemnation for the series that it never got better than the premiere, but I just think it started with a bang. After nearly a year with only “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” for a new episode since the previous series, Steven Moffat needed to come back strong, and boy did he ever, turning in probably the best Dalek story since “Dalek” in 2005. A nut house for Daleks? Already amazing, but the added twist of the “normal” Daleks asking for the Doctor’s help because they’re too afraid of the crazy ones was an exceptionally good one. Plus, and holy crap it’s still an effective moment, Jenna (then Louise) Coleman pops up at the beginning to make me and I’m sure many others also go “Wait, what? I thought she wasn’t coming on the show until way later!” A mystery worth solving about how and why she’s there housed within an episode with scary-for-once Daleks; it’s still my favorite episode of the series.
2. The Name of the Doctor
Start strong, end strong. A fantastic culmination to the Clara mystery and a really effective and affecting way to set up the 50th Anniversary, with Clara split throughout history helping the various different versions of the Doctor overcome the machinations of the Great Intelligence, personified by Richard E. Grant in Victorian garb. This episode also features a wonderful send-off to River Song. I know it’s conceivable for her to come back whenever, but this was such a great farewell that I worry it would cheapen if it she ever came back. I think I watched this one, what, a dozen times?
I love me some horror, and this series provided two really terrific, throwback pieces of Doctor Who horror. I loved this one best for the simple fact that it was set during and took most of its inspiration from the 1970s. Writer Neil Cross was inspired by the works of Nigel Kneale (Quatermass) and probably P.J. Hammond (Sapphire & Steel) to give us an episode in which science and scares mix and ghosts aren’t metaphysical as much as they’re chronological. And yes, there’s a silly ending where a monster wants its monster lover back, but up until then, this is just plan scary as crap, and incredibly effective.
4. The Crimson Horror
The second of those horror episodes, this one is incredibly atypical and that’s why I dig it. Firstly, you get about halfway into the episode before you even see the Doctor; Vastra, Jenny, and Strax take the lead for the bulk of it, and then when we get a really crazy WTF moment in the middle, we flash back to see what the Doctor and Clara were doing that whole time and how it ended up the way it was. Next, it’s got this thread of dark humor that runs throughout, and isn’t shy about sort of having fun with horrific things. The baddie (played with wicked glee by Dame Diana Rigg) is an actual unrepentant bad person and that’s really fresh and exciting to watch. I think this ep is the tiny-red-alien-parasite’s knees.
5. The Snowmen
Having the Christmas special in the middle of a split season is certainly new and different, but having it at once be standalone and yet completely continuing the season and setting up the next chunk is fairly genius. Another Victorian adventure, which here introduces the second of the Clara permutations, this episode has monstrous snow, murderous ice, Ian McKellen’s voice in a dome, and references to a missing 1960s story that was announced as found 9 months later. It’s just a great episode through and through. It’s heartbreaking that we were robbed of Victorian Clara as a companion, but it made for another great twist.
6. The Angels Take Manhattan
Saying goodbye to any companion is tough, much less two, much less in a way that makes it so they probably can never come back, much less a way that tells us they aren’t alive anymore in the present. The Angels are a good villain to have for that, because they’re scary and yet don’t have to be characters to get in the way. Essentially, this one’s just another four-hander between the Doctor, Ponds, and River (who is technically also a Pond) and that’s what you want from a touching goodbye. The story isn’t perfect, and jeepers creepers the Angel of Liberty is stupid, but it’s a satisfying and sad ending to some really great companions.
7. The Bells of Saint John
This is an episode that I don’t think has a particularly great plot or gimmick or anything, but it just ranks in the upper half of the series for me because of the interplay between the Doctor and Clara, the first time we’ve spent any time with the original one. She’s bright and warm and excited, but not gullible or too keen. The Doctor has to work to get her to want to travel with him, the way he almost didn’t have to at all with “Snowmen” Clara. It also features a really great simulated single-take shot of the Doctor and Clara running out of the TARDIS and into the cabin of a crashing airplane. Oh, and the Doctor riding a motorcycle across Westminster Bridge. Cool stuff, that.
8. Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
I think this one ranks where it does simply because I expected it to be egregiously awful and it ended up being pretty good. With a title like that and a script by Chris “Cyberwoman” Chibnall, the odds were not in its favor. But, once the episode began and we met Rory’s dad and the hastily-assembled TARDIS Team, I was really into it. The Silurian connection was great, and I thought David Bradley was terrific as the nasty, horrible, reprehensible Solomon. The Doctor should have given him the choice not to get killed, but I’m certainly not upset that he went boom at the end. He killed a triceratops for no reason!
9. Cold War
I like a LOT about this episode, from the return of the Ice Warriors to the brilliant direction by Douglas Mackinnon, but a lot of it also fell really flat for me, not least of which being the rapid acceleration through the plot and characters being dispatched without anything resembling dramatic effect. A lot of “welp, he’s dead” going on here. Not really much else to say about this one. It’s one I won’t skip when I watch, but it’s definitely just okay.
10. The Power of Three
Here’s another one, sadly also directed by Mackinnon, that I don’t really have anything against, nor do I really have much for; it’s just kind of there. I loved meeting the new UNIT, Kate Stewart, and the fact that they’re based in the Tower of London, but that’s about it. The plot still doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t get the cubes, and the bad guy is pretty forgettable. Still, there’s some great impatient humor from the Doctor and some more fun stuff with Rory’s dad. That’s about all I got.
11. Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS
We get to go inside the TARDIS and see parts of it we haven’t ever seen before. More stories should take place entirely within the TARDIS; perhaps in the future, though, they’ll not have a dumb plot involving a-hole brothers pretending their youngest brother is a robot when he isn’t. Stupid. Good Clara-Doctor stuff toward the end, though.
12. The Rings of Akhaten
I feel a weird need to defend this one, even though I clearly don’t like it very much either. I think there’s a lot of good ideas in this and the visuals are really striking and the makeup effects used for the various aliens are really impressive. It’s not AWFUL. It’s just not particularly great is all.
Up to this point, even the ones I have problems with are ones I would watch again and have done gladly. These last two, though, are ones I think are legitimately bad and I won’t probably choose to watch again if I can avoid it.
13. A Town Called Mercy
I legitimately adore westerns, and spaghetti westerns specifically, which is why it’s so hard for me to say that I pretty much loathe “A Town Called Mercy.” Nothing to do with the direction, mind you, and I love that they actually went to the Spanish sets where Sergio Leone and others shot their famous Italian shoot-em-ups; I just think this story lacks anything of worth from a narrative function. They set it up like it’s going to be the Doctor defending a guy from a monster, then you find out the guy is actually a worse monster and it becomes a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly situation, but Toby Whithouse makes it more like The Good, the Justifiably Angry, and the Eventually Repentant. Then it devolves into a rip-off of Three Amigos and a guy commits suicide when his option to run away proves impossible. It’s just so, so crappy.
14. Nightmare in Silver
The Cybermen are back and look awesome, the sets and direction are all pretty, and Matt Smith acts his chin and hair off playing both the Doctor and a Cyber-controller version of himself… and yet, this episode is just bad. BAD bad. Why is it so bad? Unfortunately, it’s a script thing. Neil Gaiman, who wrote many people’s top episode from Series 6, returned to pen this one, but it’s kind of the polar opposite to “The Doctor’s Wife.” It’s messy, it’s cluttered, it’s a little too whimsical for its own good, it loses all tension because of the inclusion of children, and the resolution is really convenient and comes out of nowhere. Despite Warwick Davis’ excellent performance, this is easily my least favorite episode of an otherwise excellent series.
Now, I’m sure I’ve upset many (and maybe even most) of you with my choices, but everybody has opinions and these are mine. Tell me your top and bottom picks in the comments below and we’ll have a nice, respectful discussion about it. Cool beans?