BBC Video // 2011 // 645 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // December 9th, 2011
Trust your Doctor.
The continuing adventures of the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, and his companions Amy Pond, Rory and River Song. Destinies are faced. Secrets are revealed. Bow ties are worn.
* "A Christmas Carol"
While Amy Pond (Karen Gillan, Outcast) and Rory (Arthur Darvill, BBC's Robin Hood) celebrate their honeymoon, The Doctor (Matt Smith, In Bruges) lands in a city ruled by the bitter Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Using the tropes of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, The Doctor tries to get Sardick to soften his stranglehold on the city, which is covered in a thick blanket of fog containing sharks.
* "The Impossible Astronaut"
Amy Pond, Rory, River Song (Alex Kingston, Alpha Dog) and a stranger are summoned by an envelope, presumably from the future, to the Utah desert, where they bear witness to a horrible event they must keep secret from The Doctor. They are then enlisted by President Richard Nixon to help save a little girl from an astronaut.
* "Day of the Moon"
The Doctor and his companions continue to try and defeat The Silence, a race of aliens that are forgotten the moment they are not being looked at.
* "The Curse of the Black Spot"
When a sea siren begins taking the crew of a pirate ship, the Doctor steps in to see if he can help.
* "The Doctor's Wife"
The Doctor receives a distress call and responds expecting to find another Time Lord; instead, he finds the soul of the TARDIS physically embodied by a woman called Idris (Suranne Jones).
* "The Rebel Flesh"
The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive at an island on which workers create doppelgangers out of synthetic flesh in order to handle a deadly corrosive acid, but the doppelgangers have become sentient and start their own revolution against their human counterparts.
* "The Almost People"
In a continuation of "The Rebel Flesh," the Docter and his companions team with the island workers to combat The Flesh; The Doctor confirms his suspicions of a stunning secret.
* "A Good Man Goes to War"
The Doctor calls in favors from across the galaxy to mount a rescue effort; River reveals a secret.
* "Let's Kill Hitler"
The second half of Series Six kicks off with The Doctor being joined by Amy, Rory and their longtime friend Mels, who insists they take the TARDIS back to 1938 Berlin and assassinate Hitler; the group encounters a new race of miniaturized people known as The Teselecta.
* "Night Terrors"
The Doctor helps out an eight-year-old boy who has become so terrified by nightmares that he can no longer sleep.
* "The Girl Who Waited"
Amy Pond becomes trapped between time streams, cut off from The Doctor and Rory, who eventually encounter a future -- and altogether different -- version of their friend.
* "The God Complex"
The Doctor and his companions are trapped in an alien hotel in which they're confronted with their greatest fears so that they can be eaten by a monster.
* "Closing Time"
The Doctor reunites with Craig (James Corden, Gavin and Stacey) and confronts the Cybermen.
* "The Wedding of River Song"
Series Six concludes with the Doctor facing his fate in the Utah desert and River making a decision that causes all of time to be happening at once.
Like any other suburban kid growing up in the '80s, I saw my fair share of the Tom Baker incarnation of Doctor Who back when it used to rerun on PBS. I don't remember much about those older shows beyond the incredibly spare sets, Baker's hair and scarf and the fact that they used to be kind of scary to a boy of less than 10. That's been pretty much it for my experience with the longest-running sci-fi show of all time; even when it was rebooted by Russell T. Davies in the mid-2000s, it continued to remain off my radar and was one of the bigger holes in my genre TV viewing. After much prodding from one of my closest friends, who insisted that I not try and catch up on four seasons but instead jump in with Series Five (basically a relaunch, with Matt Smith entering as the eleventh doctor and Steven Moffat coming aboard as the new showrunner), I finally gave Doctor Who a real chance.
I'm so glad I did.
Series Five and now (even more so) Six quickly became two of my favorite seasons of any show ever and, much like my well-documented love affair with Star Trek, made me want to go back and watch the show all the way back from its beginnings in the 1960s. I haven't gotten there yet (I want to rewatch the Matt Smith season first), so for right now, I'll just bask in trippy fun and genuine heartfelt emotion that is The Complete Sixth Series. Though it tells its own complete, nearly closed story -- beginning and ending in that Utah desert -- the series overall is very much an extension of Series Five. That series had the job of solidifying the characters and their relationships, which allows the 13 episodes in Series Six to explore and reevaluate many of those bonds. Like so much good, mind-bending science fiction, Doctor Who is great at teasing you with the possibilities of what's to come, but never in that frustrating Lost way, where you eventually give up because a) you can't keep track of just how many ideas have been introduced and b) begin to realize that very few of your questions will actually be answered. This show plays fair, and that's part of what makes it both so accessible and rewatchable. Like all the best time travel stories, the overall arc of the series is a puzzle that's as much fun to solve as it is to watch be constructed before you. Of course, at the center is the goofy, sweet and infectiously fun performance by Matt Smith as the eleventh Doctor; he's eccentric without being annoying and silly without being campy.
He's also a badass when it's called for, and Series Six would be worth recommending just on the basis of its two "finales" (the final episodes of Parts One and Two), "A Good Man Goes to War" and "The Wedding of River Song." The way that those season builds a head of steam to such a climax -- twice -- is something to marvel at, and both episodes feel epic in scope and scale, building on everything that has come before them in a way that's organic. What I especially love about episodes like these -- and about this incarnation of Doctor Who in general -- is that their foundation exists in the characters' relationships. "A Good Man Goes to War" is massive and awesome, but it's not the fate of the world that's at stake. The Doctor calls together his forces and goes to war because he loves his best friend. The connections between the characters is what drives so much of the action on the show, and it's exciting to see such a long-running and famous science fiction property as deeply rooted in human relationships as this one is. Doctor Who is a show with so much heart that it has to have two.
While not every episode in Series Six is a home run, hardly any of them are wasted. One of the things I like best about the show is that even the episodes that seem like one-offs are given weight and usually afforded the chance to pay off, even in small ways. While a show like "The Curse of the Black Spot" may seem like nothing more than a diversion from the larger story being told, I still get excited when I see a few of the pirate characters show up (albeit briefly) when the Doctor is amassing his army in "A Good Man Goes to War." It's a testament to just how well-realized and complete the universe of the show is -- even the little things matter. The only real misfire in all of Series Six is "Night Terrors," partly because it fails to fit into the bigger picture of the season and partly because, coming where it does, in interrupts the incredible momentum that's been built up coming off the first half of the season. It's not a total waste or anything, because watching Matt Smith problem-solve will never be without considerable charm, but it's the only episode I feel I might skip over when I rewatch the show. I would say the same thing about "Closing Time," but that episode actually does include some key plot points. Plus, I really like watching Matt Smith and James Corden play off one another. Also, Cybermen are cool.
In fact, I actually can't wait to watch Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series again, because I suspect it's going to be even better the second time around. The show is so densely plotted and the writing so sophisticated that themes are seeded and woven throughout in such a way that you may not even realize it upon one viewing. It's like the sci-fi equivalent of The Wire, which I mean as the highest possible compliment. Of course, don't let that scare you off (I suspect there are a lot of people who have avoided watching The Wire because everything they've heard -- praise and all -- makes it sound too much like work). Doctor Who can still be enjoyed as a fun, tremendously entertaining, sweet, moving series about love, friendship and what it means to be human. It doesn't need to be viewed twice in order to "get it," but I think a second watch would prove to be rewarding in ways I can't even yet predict.
If you've already invested in Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1 and Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 2, as well as the individual release of Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, you probably won't need to upgrade to the newly released Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series. Don't get me wrong: you'll be missing out on some pretty sweet bonus features (including the terrific two and a half hours of documentaries), but the price points on these series sets are so high that it's much more affordable to piece them together through the individual releases. Besides, you're still getting the episodes themselves, and that's what matters. If you've waited and can spring for The Complete Sixth Series, you by all means should. I just don't think it's worth the upgrade investment just for the bonus features, good as they may be.
The thirteen episodes, plus one Christmas special, all look excellent in high def, receiving a 1080i transfer that's bright and clear and mostly pristine. Doctor Who hasn't always had the best production values and therefore hasn't always been the most visually impressive series, but Series Six breaks with that trend. The scope is more ambitious and the visuals match, served well by the HD presentation found on the Blu-ray set. There is some digital noise throughout, but, if nothing else, I found that it adds to the overall aesthetic of the series. If you've seen the previous Blu-ray releases of the show, you know what to expect; if you haven't, I can't imagine you won't be please with the job that's been done here. All of the episodes also feature 5.1 DTS-HD lossless audio tracks, which are quite good, too, especially for series television. The dialogue is always clear and audible (though there are optional subtitles if you find yourself struggling with the accents), and both the excellent music and effects are incredibly lively and fun. The audio, like the show itself, has tremendous energy and ingenuity. It's all just so much fun.
Then there are the bonus features, which, again, if you've picked up the previous Series Six releases, you're missing out on. Five audio commentaries are included with a rotating lineup of both cast members and creative staff: "The Impossible Astronaut," "The Doctor's Wife" (featuring Neil Gaiman, who wrote the episode), "The Rebel Flesh," "A Good Man Goes to War" and "The Wedding of River Song." Sadly, stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are nowhere to be found in the commentaries, and even showrunner Stephen Moffat only shows up on the very last one ("The Wedding of River Song"), but each of the commentaries manages to be amusing and informative regardless of who is participating. You wouldn't think you would want to hear from people like the line producer of an actor who only appears in one episode, but everyone provides a unique and interesting perspective that adds up to an overall picture both of what it's like to try and put an episode of Doctor Who together and what makes it such a special show.
Even better than the commentaries -- and the best bonus feature on this set -- is the collection of thirteen "Doctor Who Confidential" documentaries which run over two and a half hours in total. Like the audio commentaries, the docs (which are comprised of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and more) give a clear picture of how the episodes come together, with each "Confidential" focusing on a different aspect of the production. For as comprehensive as they are when taken together, there is surprisingly little overlap in the information, too. These are some of the most entertaining and engrossing production documentaries and featurettes I've had the fortune of watching. A "Confidential" installment is also included for "A Christmas Carol," which runs nearly an hour.
A bunch of short films and sketches have also been included: "Comic Relief Sketches," "Series Six Episode Prequels," "Night and the Doctor Shorts" and an "Up All Night Short" give little bits of character business and show the cast getting to have a good time, but don't necessarily add important details to the overall story. Still, if you're enjoying the episodes, they act as more of a good thing. Trailers for both Series Six, Part One and Series Six, Part Two are included, as is a look at the various alien and creature designs ("Monster Files") and a "Confidential" episode that goes behind the scenes of the "Night" shorts ("The Nights' Tale").
I know I'm still a newbie to the Doctor Who universe, but I hope it's still credible when I say that The Complete Sixth Series is an incredible thirteen hours of television (fourteen if you include the Christmas special) and I can't recommend enough. To my friend Mike, I owe a debt of gratitude. Without his persistence, I might not have given the show a chance. Doctor Who would have missed out on a fan, and I would have missed out on one of my new favorite shows.
Bow ties are cool.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080i)
* DTS HD 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 645 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Doctor Who Confidential
* Short Films
* Official Site