If you’re interested in the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who but haven’t watched the show for a couple of years and are thinking of jumping back in before the special airs on November 23rd, this is the guide for you. Here’s a mostly-spoiler-free summary of each episode of series seven, with the story-crucial MUST WATCH episodes clearly marked, and the fun standalone episodes briefly reviewed so you can pick and choose which ones to watch depending on whether they sound good to you.
Part one of the guide is HERE.
THE SNOWMEN – MUST WATCH
The Doctor has become a miserable recluse after the events of ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, staying above the clouds over Victorian London. Vastra, Jenny and Strax keep those who want to meet him at bay, but one girl gets through (by saying something which is supposed to seem clever, but is really massively coincidental). The girl is troubled by something lurking in a frozen pond and asks the Doctor for help. The Doctor recognises her voice, but can’t quite place where it’s from. Together, they fight baddies Sir Ian McKellen and Richard E. Grant in a fun Christmas Special.
THE BELLS OF SAINT JOHN – MUST WATCH
The Doctor is jolted into action when the phone on the TARDIS rings. Clara is on the other end of the line, a girl who looks just like the Clara in Victorian London, and sounds like the soufflé girl in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. But that’s impossible, isn’t it? Who is this Impossible Girl? Meanwhile, something weird is in the Wi-Fi, and the Doctor has to sort it out. Back to being happy and bouncy, rather than glum and Scrooge-y, he indulges his inner action hero to save the day yet again.
THE RINGS OF AKHATEN – MUST WATCH
If you’re in a rush, the pre-titles sequence is really the only ‘Must-Watch’ bit of the episode if you just want to understand the big story arc. But the rest of the episode is worth a look, too, as Clara goes on her first alien adventure with the Doctor, encountering a marketplace full of strange creatures (think Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars) and an ancient musical ceremony. And some bad guys. Obviously.
A claustrophobic Cold War caper aboard a nuclear submarine, with Clara and the crew discovering a monster next to the nukes. The Doctor observes early on that “It never rains, but it pours”, and he’s quickly proven right, as a dangerous situation just gets worse and worse. Also features Davos from Game of Thrones as the submarine captain with a glorious Russian goatee. Look at it! Isn’t it beautiful?
Ah, it’s time for a ghost story, as the Doctor arrives at a house which is apparently haunted. A reluctant, scared Clara gets dragged along for the ride. As you might expect, the Doctor is sceptical of ghosts, but if there aren’t any ghosts in the house, what’s making that noise? And why does he feel like he’s being watched?
JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE TARDIS – MUST WATCH
The TARDIS is taken on board by an intergalactic salvage ship, and is badly damaged. Clara is trapped within, wandering through infinite corridors, discovering long-abandoned rooms as time threatens to collapse in on itself. The Doctor teams up with the salvage crew to rescue her, but there are monsters and secrets lurking within the depths of the ancient time machine. One of the most complicated time-paradox-creating, history-erasing and hugely-ambitious Doctor Who episode ever, it’s a fantastic, intriguing look at what the TARDIS actually looks like beyond the familiar front entrance. There’s also a significant tease towards the series finale, which is why this is a Must-Watch.
THE CRIMSON HORROR
In 19th-century Yorkshire, an old chemist is recruiting followers for her new utopian industrial community. At the same time, corpses are showing up nearby, bright red corpses of people who have succumbed to what has been dubbed ‘the crimson horror’. Vastra, Jenny and Strax investigate when they find that one of the victims has seen a captured Doctor. This is a weird one. It’s simultaneously stylish, goofy, daft, dark and creepy. The villain is a pantomime boo-hiss caricature, but her daughter’s ordeal is pretty damn bleak. The Doctor doesn’t even appear for a sizeable chunk of the episode, luckily Vastra and co are entertaining enough on their own. It’s just quite odd. In a good way.
NIGHTMARE IN SILVER
The Cybermen make a comeback. Though they have been defeated almost as often as the Daleks, Neil Gaiman has given them a significant boost in power, making them a fearsome formidable foe once again. Though this episode isn’t quite as good as ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, it’s still really entertaining, even tense at times, as the Cybermen become a genuine threat to the Doctor. Without trying to spoil anything, Matt Smith gets to play both hero and villain here, and he’s excellent at it. He’s been excellent all season, but in this episode he’s just showing off. His showdown with the Cyber-Planner trying to control him is the best part of a great episode. Also, Warwick Davis!
THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR – MUST WATCH
The Doctor’s friends have been kidnapped and his great secret has been discovered. Now, he has to travel to Trenzalore and is forced to fulfil a prophecy that has been mentioned over and over during Smith’s tenure as the Doctor:
‘On the fields of Trenzalore, at the fall of the eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a Question will be asked, a question that must never, ever be answered. Silence will fall when the Question is asked, the First Question: Doctor Who?’
The Silence tried to stop the Doctor fulfilling this prophecy by killing him before he could get to this point. Well, he faked his death, so they failed miserably. But why did they try to kill him? What is waiting for him at Trenzalore? What catastrophic consequences would occur as a result of the Question being answered? Will we learn the Doctor’s real name (LOL, no. Don’t be daft)? Will we discover what makes the Impossible Girl so impossible (Yes, actually)?
It’s difficult to judge this episode since it’s not at all standalone and the rest of it hasn’t happened yet – it’s more of a prequel to the 50th special than an episode in its own right. There’s some extremely pedantic exact-wording with regards to the prophecy stuff, though there is a lot to like about the episode. The explanation for Clara’s impossible-ness makes sense (well, in the same way that anything in Doctor Who makes sense) and the stakes are insanely high, to the point that showing the final battle would cost impossibly enormous amounts of time and money that the show doesn’t have (so most of it is off-screen. Normally, I’d be annoyed by this, but there is just no way it could have been shown). It also ends on a whopping big cliffhanger, right in the middle of the climax. Jaws will drop.
Then that’s it. You’re all caught up, hopefully just in time for November 23rd, when the Day of the Doctor arrives. Enjoy!