Steven Moffatt's third series at the helm of Doctor Who has divided fans right down the middle. Having been the fan favourite to take over the show many are now unhappy with the direction he's taken things citing story lines that are too complex and hole-ridden; and the criticism is true. Moffatt has embraced the timey-wimey nature of the show and has been playing with the concepts and implications of time travel on a week by week basis - introducing new ideas and pushing the format as far as he can. Some would argue that this is just another facet of a TV series that can change itself so much yet remain true to itself, others feel that it's drained some of the enjoyment.
Let's look at the good points - firstly Matt Smith; he embodies everything that The Doctor should be and you can see elements of each of the previous incarnations of the titular character permeating his performance. He's just 'odd' enough, he's very funny, and he has a real energy that powers through even the most leaden of scenes. Is he the best 'Doctor'? He could be. The companions - Amy and, especially, Rory are also good - Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill continually impress and both offer great fodder for the Doctor's energy to bounce off. We do miss the Amy of old though - the one wide-eyed with wonder at the sudden revelations before her. The more confident Amy here reflects Gillan's own growth within the role and isn't out of character be she's less lovable as a result. Darvill on the other hand has turned an occasional comedic 'irritant' into a truly rounded character; at first the omens for Rory as the comic relief were bad, but he's now a firm favourite for many. The lead performances are superlative - better than we could have ever expected at the end of the classic series run 20+ years ago.
Unfortunately, the fresh air that Moffatt brought in his first year has become somewhat stale as we reach the mid-point of this series. Looking back to Matt Smiths debut in 'The Eleventh Hour' demonstrates just how much things have changed - that was a groundbreaking relaunch of a show that had suffered a decline during the latter Davies/Tennant years. Since then Moffatt seems to have crammed as much in as he possibly can - both embracing and rejecting canon as it suits; even sometimes forgetting or ignoring his own ideas in the process. Whereas 'Blink' was a simple and effective story that gave the 'Weeping Angels' a series of rigid rules that they had to follow, suddenly in 'The Angels Take Manhattan' they become something far more sinister and complex and lose a lot of what made them work. Concepts introduced and instrumental in one story are dropped completely in another and this seeming disregard for internal logic can at times become irritating.
You can't have escaped the fact that the mid-season finale sees the departure of Amy and Rory and by rights it is an intensly emotional ending for two characters that have become part of the fabric of the show. However when the nature of their leaving is examined, there are just too many holes that make little sense of their supposed 'permanent' exit from the series.
In terms of the episodes themselves, 'Asylum of the Daleks' is up there with the best of Moffatt's reign and is the best story to feature them since series one's 'Dalek'. 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' is better than usual for Chris Chibnall but it's ultimately just a bit of silly fun. 'A Town Called Mercy' showed a side to the Doctor we rarely see and has divided fans - this reviewer liked the more adult story, but can understand the reasons why others dislike it. 'The Power of Three' had a great idea tempered by leaden dialogue, poor plotting and was generally a disappointment. Finally, 'The Angels Take Manhattan' was logically flawed but saw series-best performances from the cast and was a fitting farewell to two of the most unforgettable companions we've had to date.
Spread over two discs (and a third for the 'Weeping Angel' special edition) the picture quality is soft in this age of HD, but generally free of digital issues. There are quite a few dark scenes that could have benefited from a bit more vibrancy of palette but the 16:9 anamophic transfer is generally fine.
The audio, is fine too with a decent punchy track that doesn't get drowned in the music (a common problem in earlier more bombastic seasons).
The standard edition includes three major extras:
Pond Life - all five 'webisodes' of the series prequel that follows the lives of the 'Ponds' and sees the cracks start to form in their marriage. Interesting diversion that adds some context to their relationship issues in Asylum of the Daleks.
Asylum of the Daleks Prequel - an orignally US-only prologue that sets up the events of the season opener. Worth a watch again as it provides a nice lead-in.
The Making of the Gunslinger - a small prequel to Toby Whithouse episode voiced by Adrian Scarborough which introduces the conversion process used to create the Gunslinger.
There is an additional disc in special editions of this release that features a great 45 minute extra, The Science of Doctor Who, that attempts to tie the show's otherworldly tech and concepts to real-world science. It's an interesting watch, previously only broadcast on BBC America.