Judge Gordon Sullivan has been out practicing his screaming.
"I only come to this planet for the wine and the total eclipses"—The Doctor (Richard E. Grant)
I started teaching college right around the time that Doctor Who was revived by the BBC. I would have been amazed back in 2005-2006 if my students had even heard of Doctor Who, let alone would claim it as their favorite show. Fast-forward to the fall of 2013, and 10 percent of my students say it's their favorite thing on TV. That kind of ascendance takes smarts and vision, something that hasn't been lacking in the franchise since its reboot. The world is ready for more of the Doctor's adventures, however, and since new shows can only be produced so fast, fans new and old have been turning to the prodigious BBC vaults to sate their Doctor-related hunger. One of the odder bits to hit home video is Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka, an animated web series of the Ninth-Doctor-to-be. It's an interesting oddity, and a great way to get new fans into the show.
Most people know Doctor Who as either David Tennant or Matt Smith—if pressed, fans will remember Christopher Eccelston's brief run, but Doctor Who didn't become a worldwide pop-culture phenomenon again until Tennant's Tenth Doctor. However, Eccelston's run wasn't the first attempt to revive the show. The BBC engaged Richard E. Grant to voice the Doctor for a series of webisodes in the hopes of generating enough interest to produce a new stories with this "Ninth" Doctor. To produce this story, the Doctor (Richard E. Grant, Withnail and I) arrives in Lanchesire and is soon stranded outside the TARDIS. Things are eerily quiet, and when he hooks up with a local bartender (Sophie Okonedo, Hotel Rwanda), he learns that aliens have been seen along with other strange phenomena. Being the Doctor, he must investigate.
I love the actors who've played the revived versions of the Doctor, and each has his own strengths. With the possible exception of Eccelston, though, they're pretty happy-go-lucky chaps. Yes, they can turn dark and moody sometimes, and their moments of righteous anger at injustice are some of the best moments in the show. However, being the last of the Time Lords seems to make them a bit melancholy and tragic rather than old and cranky.
The beauty of Richard E. Grant's Doctor, especially now that we've seen Tennant and Smith, is that he plays a kind of cranky Doctor. It's absolutely the wrong way to revive the franchise—for the first few years new fans needed someone like Tennant to root for—but in contrast to those performances, Grant offers a somewhat curmudgeonly Doctor more in keeping with the older style of acting associated with previous incarnations. Of course Grant returned to the Whoniverse as the Great Intelligence, but it's a Grant fan's dream to have him play the Doctor here (and as a Withnail and I fan, it means that both stars have played the Doctor in non-television performances).
The story is pretty run-of-the-mill Doctor stuff. A cranky TARDIS dumps the Doctor in a fairly remote location, he investigates, finds alien interference, and must find a way to get the TARDIS back and rescue both his human companions and the entire world. A steadily scaled-down budget keeps the story from growing too much, but the Shalkas are a fine enough foe for this Doctor.
For Flash animation the show looks alright as well. It's obvious there's not much money to go around, but considering the 2003 production date and the comparatively tiny budget being thrown at it, Scream of the Shalka looks great for those who keep their expectations in check.
This DVD release continues the BBC's commitment to giving Doctor Who solid DVD releases. Allowances must be made for the source with this 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Detail is constrained by the source, but colors pop and contrast keeps the line work looking fine. Banding is occasionally visible, but for something intended for 2003 web distribution, this looks fine. The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track keeps dialogue clean and clear, and there's good balance between the score, effects, and dialogue.
Extras start with a commentary featuring director Wilson Milam, producer James Goss, and writer Paul Cornell. Their chat is moderated by Martin Trickey so they move through information pretty quickly with no dead spots. They spend a lot of time talking about the background and how they intended things to go (which they obviously didn't). We also get a half-hour making-of featurette that gives a really good history of how the series disappeared into a strange black hole outside the series' official continuity. Another featurette looks at the voice work that went into the series, while a final one looks at the way that Doctor Who has helped shape (and been shaped by) the BBCi website. Finally, things round out with a text trivia track, a standalone soundtrack option, a stills gallery, and a trailer for an upcoming Doctor Who release.
Doctor Who fanatics are, of course, going to want to own this strange little bit of non-continuity. However, those not already predisposed to like the Doctor might have trouble with the comparatively crude animation.
Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka is an interesting addition to the Whoniverse; a great "What might have been" tale for longtime fans. For those less familiar with the Doctor, it offers an interesting entry point, provided you can forgive the animation. This strong DVD release with its copious extras make for an easy purchase recommendation.
A curiosity, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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