Judge Eric Profancik may not be complete, but he's certainly special.
Our reviews of Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series (published February 7th, 2007), Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series (published November 28th, 2007), Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series (published January 7th, 2009), Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (published November 26th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (Blu-Ray) (published December 17th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (Blu-ray) (published December 9th, 2011), Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (Blu-ray) (published July 27th, 2011), Doctor Who: Dreamland (published October 5th, 2010), Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One (Blu-ray) (published July 28th, 2011), Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (published July 26th, 2006), Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (published February 4th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest (published December 8th, 2008), and Doctor Who: The Movie (published July 31st, 2011) are also available.
"I don't want to go."
It doesn't properly reflect the tone of the "season," but the quote above feels like the best choice to introduce this review. These are the last words spoken by David Tennant before he enters his regeneration. As a regeneration is a momentous occasion in the land of Doctor Who, it is why I picked it. But the sadness and melancholy of a Time Lord only hints at the full drama of a year of "specials."
Facts of the Case
Coming after Series 4, The Complete Specials are not characterized as a series (season) by the British powers-that-be. Series 5 will be the first of the eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith. This year of specials is thus outside the standard nomenclature for the reboot of this venerable franchise. The first special aired on December 25, 2008, and the last aired on January 1, 2010; this was in Britain. Those of us in America had to wait until summer 2009 to catch the first special, but the rest quickly flooded us in December 2009 and on January 2, 2010. Doctor Who: The Complete Specials consists of four stories, highlighting the end of a successful run of David Tennant (Cassanova) as the Doctor.
Doctor Who: The Next Doctor
Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead
But it's not a desert on Earth. The bus, the Doctor, Christina, and the other passengers find themselves on another planet apparently devoid of life. It's now up to the Doctor to figure out the mystery of the dead planet, find a way to get everyone back to Earth, and close the expanding wormhole before it threatens to destroy Earth.
Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars
Doctor Who: The End of Time
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials represents a grand disappointment in the annals of this great show. Filled with such potential, these stories do not live up to the title of "special" and form the weakest year for the rebooted franchise. I know that my expectations for this season were unabashedly high. With only a sliver of the usual numbers of stories available and an imminent regeneration, this year was something that I couldn't wait to view. I believed that the fewer stories would yield a burst of extra creativity and thus produce some of the best material yet. Sadly, that did not come close to happening. Let's review each story and reveal why each doesn't quite work.
The Next Doctor
Planet of the Dead
Waters of Mars
"The laws of time are mine, and they will obey me."
We find a Doctor consumed by events that he isn't supposed to change, yet he now feels compelled to break the laws of time. For someone who has fought against such actions for decades (millennia), it's a truly interesting character shift. But it's simply not right, and we know this in our heart. We don't want to see the Doctor act like this. He is supposed to be the last, truest keeper of all that is right in the universe. We need our hero.
The End of Time
Par for the course, only one thing saves this episode: Bernard Cribbins. His portrayal of ex-companion Donna Noble's grandfather, Wilfred, pulls at your heart more than the regeneration of the Doctor. He brings warmth and depth to his character, one who unexpectedly grew so much during Tennant's time. Fortunately his impeccable performance brings Tennant's back down to Earth and their scenes together are magic. Just the simplicity of the two, sitting in a diner discussing life and death is better than anything else in the story.
In a year lost, filled with monumental disappointment, it's the small moments that give the Whovian hope. Even in the most dire episodes we can find moments that make us smile, make us cry, and allow us forgive the shoddiness of everything around it. Yes, even though I find this the worst "season" of the new Who, it must still find a home in my collection; for without it would be woefully incomplete. We find those special moments to rationalize why we must own it all.
Outside of the Blu-ray release for Planet of the Dead, this is the first large-scale release of any Doctor Who in high def, and it's an excellent set. Each story gets its own disc (with each part of End of Time allocated a separate disc for each), so there's plenty of room for whatever the BBC may or may not do. Transfers are the same for all stories—1.85:1, 1080i video with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio—and are consistently good as well. Many of you are probably most curious about "The Next Doctor," which was the last story filmed in standard definition. How does it look here, upconverted to Blu? It looks marvelous. I never saw the DVD, but watching this story first on BBC America then BBC America HD, I can see a tremendous difference. There's nothing to worry about on this story, and there's nothing to worry about on any of the stories. All of them have rich, bold, and accurate colors, deep, luxurious blacks, and an abundance of detail. Doctor Who has never looked so good. It hasn't sounded so good either. The DTS-HD track is an aural bonanza with crisp, clear dialogue from the center, tons of immersion from the surrounds, and a nice serving of bass from the LFE. All in all, the transfers are great and I noticed nary a problem. My only quibble is that on a few occasions the dialogue was a touch overshadowed by all the music and sound effects. For those who may have read and remembered my somewhat negative stance on the Planet of the Dead Blu, I went back and compared that disc to the one in this set. They are identical, and I have to admit that I was way too harsh in that review. Once again my high expectations tainted my perceptions, and my scores should be higher. (But the gunfire at the end of the episode is still weak.)
Bonus materials are spread throughout the discs, with each story's features included on the same disc. The special features on Next Doctor and Planet of the Dead are identical to their previous releases.
Planet of the Dead
Planet of the Dead
• HD Set-Up Guide
Waters of Mars
End of Time, Part I
End of Time, Part II
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Here are a few odds and ends:
• Much to my infinite dismay, The Next Doctor canonizes Paul McGann's tenure as the Eighth Doctor. I've always hated that Fox movie and considered it my right to ignore it. Alas, I cannot do that any longer…but I still don't like it.
• I mentioned my affection for Dervla's and her character of Miss Hartigan in "The Next Doctor." Not only does she give a great performance but I adore her voice. It's sensual, menacing, and something I could listen to for hours on end. I also really liked the "look" of the old gentlemen in the story. They had such a Victorian look to them, regal and proper; it helped me believe the episode all the more.
• The menu for End of Time episodes have a poorly designed color scheme. It's gray on black, and I constantly had to move the cursor around to figure out which option I was highlighting.
• The packaging has a disc stacking layout I haven't seen before. At first it looks like the typical, one disc on top of another; but there's a larger gap between the two. The bottom disc now has a little portion of plastic sleeve to tuck into. I'm not sure I actually like that or not.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials is an obvious disappointment. Four stories stretched over a year, all failing to engage the audience with the pomp and circumstance to which we've grown accustomed. Nonetheless, it's wholly irrelevant. I didn't enjoy the season but I still must own it, and I know many Whovians who will follow the same illogic. Fortunately the discs are worthy of purchase, with excellent transfers and a solid assortment of bonus materials. You may not have enjoyed the "season," but you will enjoy the set. Go out and proudly add it to your collection.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials is hereby found guilty of disappointing its fans.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
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