Unlike some trendy remakes of classic television, Judge Eric Profancik thinks this one delivers the goods.
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 Specials (published February 4th, 2010), Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (Blu-Ray) (published February 2nd, 2010), Doctor Who: The Infinite Quest (published December 8th, 2008), and Doctor Who: The Movie (published July 31st, 2011) are also available.
Christopher Eccleston's (The Others) trademark saying perfectly summarizes this resurrection of the Doctor Who television series. In 1989, when Sylvester McCoy's "Survival" aired, who knew it would be the last Doctor Who story seen for over fifteen years? True, we still had our books, audio stories, and a silly Americanization of the good Doctor with Paul McGann, but the honestly British, quirky, niche-loving Doctor was nowhere in sight.
Finally, after years of whispers and buzz, the Doctor came back to the BBC. Once again the time-traveling Gallifreyen won over the hearts of Whovians across England. Sadly, fans across the pond had to wait (theoretically) until the SciFi Channel picked up the broadcast rights in early 2006. When that happened, Whovians across America found themselves caught up in the delights of a show reborn.
Doctor Who was back. It was the Doctor, but it was a Doctor updated to current sensibilities. The long downtrodden, flimsy budget was eradicated, and the show was reinvigorated. Let's see what this DVD set has in store for us.
Facts of the Case
The Ninth Doctor finds himself immersed in a temporal conspiracy to manipulate the events of his life. Over the course of thirteen episodes, the Doctor and his latest companion, Rose Tyler (pop singer Billie Piper), travel to Earth's past, present, and future to unravel the mysteries of the Bad Wolf:
This is not your father's Doctor Who. Actually, this is not your Doctor Who. Well, it is but it isn't. How it's all changed is beautifully epitomized in the opening minutes of "Rose." I love this opening sequence, for it boldly shows you that the rules have changed. The quick cut sequence with the pounding synth-pop beat is a jarring wake-up call. You haven't seen this on the show before. This gambit contains more energy than entire stories of classic Who.
But it's more than just interesting camera angles and catchy music. It's the stories, the acting, Rose, and the Doctor. Each has grandly improved in the new series, and they all complement one another to create brilliant television.
Its audience has vastly changed in the last ten years. The new Who recognizes that fact, embraces it, and rewards loyal viewers with outstanding stories. Though cut down to 45 minutes segments (or probably because of it), the stories are taut, gripping, swift, intelligent, witty, and just all around good. The stories show an amazing level of depth, putting the Doctor and Rose into a variety of situations and giving them opportunities to evolve as characters and as people. More important is that these people feel real. They are real people in fantastic situations, acting logically and realistically—for time travelers with sonic screwdrivers, that is.
What I really like about the new Who is the quality of acting. Outside of Eccleston, I didn't recognize any of the actors in the series. I didn't do any research to find out how popular or well known they are across the pond, but I really found myself enjoying the level of commitment to the characters and the series. Again, that feeling of reality seeps in because the actors are giving it their all. It's not a cheesy, little series anymore; it's the rebirth of a legacy, and everyone is being very serious about it. In every episode, you will find superb acting not just from Eccleston and Piper but also from the entire cast. Even if you didn't care for his or her character, the actor inside the role did it well. Maybe that's why some of them just keep coming back throughout the first series.
But perhaps the most striking evolution in the new series is the change in the core of the show, the companion, and the Doctor. Rose is no ordinary companion, and she is instrumental to the ebb and flow of the series. From the mold of the strong Leela, Rose is one of the Doctor's greatest companions. She's loyal and intelligent (not to mention pretty) but also willing to challenge the Doctor. Most companions are usually there to get into trouble, and while Rose does that, she more often that not helps the Doctor save the day. Rose, unlike any other companion, touches the Doctor. This causes something worthy of great debate and discussion: the nature of the relationship. What do they feel for each other? It's joked throughout the series that "he's not my boyfriend," but maybe he is. There is something going on between the two. Are they falling in love? What deeper feelings are going on? We've never seen such a relationship before in Doctor Who, and we see how much stronger the show can be when this type of strong relationship is handled well. It strengthens the show, giving it new avenues to explore.
How far will the last of the Time Lords go for Rose? Christopher Eccleston brings so much to the role of the Doctor. He certainly has characteristics of many of his predecessors, yet he is unlike any of them (well, maybe Colin Baker is close). This Doctor is friendly, firm, and blunt. He is willing and able to be cross and condescending, but all the while he still loves humanity. "You stupid apes" is a phrase he'll pull out when he's angry, but it's only because he knows his favorite planet is capable of so much more. Gone are the silly costumes and question marks, and so gone is a character you thought you knew. The writers have added darkness to the Doctor's past, and this shadow will blossom over the series showing us a depth and maturity of character never before witnessed in Doctor Who. I have to say that Eccleston took the Doctor to new heights; making him perhaps the finest incarnation of the character. For me, the Ninth Doctor is now my favorite. If only it weren't the end, but the moment was prepared for.
Something else quite interesting happened in this new series, something that by my radar hasn't created much of a blip. Maybe in jolly old England there was buzz, but here, I detected no hubbub. In "The Empty Child" we are introduced to Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman, The Producers, Torchwood). Jack is an ex time agent who now does cons. His path crosses with the Doctor and he soon joins the TARDIS crew for the remainder of the season. I really liked his brash, confident, even cocky, charismatic character. He makes an excellent foil for the Doctor. What really makes Jack stick out is his very progressive, "51st century" attitude towards sexuality: he's bisexual. It's clearly stated, is part of the plot, adds interesting dynamics to the Doctor, Rose, Jack relationship, and it's not a big deal. It's just there. And that's how it was in America. I was surprised nobody raised a fuss. I guess Doctor Who is just too niche for conservatives to have taken notice.
Jack's character is a clear example of Doctor Who's evolution during its fifteen-year rest. Modern times require a more sophisticated program, which stems from better stories, better acting, and embracing current trends. Of course, the money for real sets and special effects certainly don't hurt either.
This set from the BBC called The First Series—though how that logically works in a show that premiered forty years ago is a bit fuzzy—has a lot to cheer about. Presented in glorious 1.85:1 anamorphic, the video is very well done with accurate, bright, and realistic colors, rich blacks, and excellent detail and sharpness. I was quite pleased with the increase in quality from TV to DVD. I did notice some odd distortion lines in "The End of the World" and some color bleed in "World War Three," but that's not too bad on the whole. The audio is also a nice improvement from the SciFi channel but I did find this a bit wanting. First, the dialogue wasn't properly balanced. I had to turn up my center channel to clearly hear the dialogue over the sound effects and music. What I did hear was clean and free of distortion. Also, I felt the surrounds should have been used more, for when they do pop up its nicely immersive.
Now to the semi-exhausting part of the story: the bonus features. This is a good thing to be exhausted, as the DVD set comes with a large assortment of bonus features. While the special features are scattered across five discs, I'm just going to list them in disc order:
• Audio Commentary on Every Episode: You will find an eclectic assortment of commentaries across the thirteen episodes. All are informative and amusing in some fashion, and all are worth listening to learn more about each story. My quibble is the lack of commentary from Eccleston, Piper, and Barrowman—our three primary stars of the season. Eccleston does no commentary (massive shame), Piper is on only one, and Barrowman does only two. By this measure, the big winner is "Bad Wolf," which has both Piper and Barrowman. I would have loved something from Eccleston.
• Trailers: Though not one of the best bonus items, I list this near the top as there are trailers located on the four episode discs.
• Interview with Christopher Eccleston: From BBC Breakfast, this is the only segment with any significant focus on the actor, and is thus one of my favorite features. We get an enjoyable, open, informative, yet too short interview with a great actor.
Note that the following featurettes tie in to an episode on the disc.
• "Destroying the Lair": Details the special effects involved in destroying the lair of the Nestene consciousness.
• "Making Doctor Who with Russell T Davies": An overview from the executive producer and chief writer of the new series, and some insight to what he did to help craft and mold the direction of the show.
• "Waking the Dead—Mark Gatiss Video Diary": Lots of interesting behind-the-scenes snippets from the filming of "The Unquiet Dead."
• "Laying Ghosts—The Origin of "The Unquiet Dead"": The dramatic evolution of the script for this story.
• "Deconstructing Big Ben": How did the special effects crew destroy Big Ben in "Aliens of London"?
• "On Set with Billie Piper": Billie shoots behind-the-scenes footage during the filming of "Dalek."
• "Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons": Some analysis on the barrage balloon special effects sequence in "The Empty Child."
• "Designing Doctor Who": A look at the various models used in the new series.
• "The Adventures of Captain Jack": An interview with Jack Barrowman, the evolution of his character, and his hopes for a spin-off show.
The following feature is self-contained on disc five:
• "Doctor Who Confidential": The meat and potatoes of the bonus features, running nearly two hours and forty-five minutes, this feature is broken down into 14 chapters. The first thirteen follow each of the thirteen episodes, doing a quick overview of the story, people, and other related details. These featurettes aren't especially deep, but you do get to learn more about each story. The final chapter is a "sneak preview" for the "next" episode, "The Christmas Invasion." It gives but only the smallest tease.
Now this all seems like quite a bit; it is, but I feel a lot was missing. First, if you visit the official website, you'll see additional featurettes on the site that should have been included on the DVDs. On the flip side of that, the entirety of the"Doctor Who Confidential" was previously available on the website, so it is not new material available for this set. What's lacking is original material for the DVDs. If you're an avid fan, you've already seen all this at the BBC, so you're left wanting. Where are deleted scenes, bloopers, and other fresh material? Where's more from Eccleston? The assortment is good, but there is room for improvement.
When the SciFi Channel bought the rights and broadcast the series earlier this year, many of the episodes were trimmed down a bit to make sure there was plenty of room for commercials. (We won't even go into detail how awful and drastic the cuts were for these commercials.) With this DVD we have one last question to address: Are these episodes the full episodes as seen in England, or are they the chopped version seen in America? I must admit it was a bit difficult to make a determination on this one, as very little footage was lost in the trimming. My research leads me to believe that the episodes contained on this set are the full versions, not missing any footage whatsoever. (And, honestly, even though blasphemous and wrong, the set would still be worthy of purchase.)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I love and adore the new series, I do have a few quibbles yet to share…
• The TARDIS Interior: This organic, coral-based, funky arched, über-high room just doesn't work for me. I like my interior to be a bit smaller and intimate, with a more high-tech feel to it. If I want expansive and funky, I'll go visit the cloisters.
• The TARDIS Console: The most advanced ship in the universe uses knobs, bells, whistles, and an air pump to travel through time and space? Again, give me something that feels technologically advanced. Yes, the new flatscreen is an improvement, but this console feels light years behind any other console from the classic series.
• Farting Aliens: Children's show, yes. Stupid children's show, no. One fart gets the point across well enough, as obviously learned by "Boom Town."
• Whimpering Dalek: Many have applauded the evolution and change in the Dalek in the episode "Dalek," but I found it a troubling change. After watching it several times, I was able to appreciate the attempt, but anytime you try to soften your most evil adversary, it doesn't work. Daleks are emotionless, malicious creatures, hell-bent on ruling the universe. Anything other than that is a mistake.
• The DVD Packaging: I like the overall design of the package, but the tight, plastic sleeve that goes around the cardboard case is already doing damage to the corners of the set. It's so snug that you rub the corners, causing them undue wear and tear.
As a Whovian, my love for Doctor Who has always run a bit hot and cold. There are some stories that I love, some that I like, and others that have put me to sleep. With this new series, I am happy to say that I either love and very much like every one of its thirteen episodes. This rebirth and reinvigoration of the series is a complete and utter success. It holds true to its roots yet it updates many ingredients to more strongly appeal to our current tastes. By every possible measure, the new Doctor Who is a winner. With that said, do you have any questions as to what your choice is for this set? Nope. This is a fantastic set of an fantastic series. Aside from just the slightest of quibbles, you will find hours of enjoyment here. It is my only hope that the show will run for another twenty-five years.
Doctor Who: The Complete First Series is hereby found not of meddling with time and genocide. All charges are dropped.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Audio Commentary on Every Episode
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