Judge Eric Profancik wishes for some temporal hijinks to bring Eccleston back.
Our reviews of 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 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.
"The stuff of legends."
"I'm slim and a little bit foxy."
BBC America is finally showing episodes of the new Doctor Who. Even though I've seen all those episodes, I stop every time and watch the story for a few minutes. I do love my Doctor, especially Eccleston.
But Eccleston tore my heart apart when he opted to leave the reborn franchise. I loved his interpretation of this character, and I wanted him to stay for years; but he didn't want to be typecast and moved on to other pastures. (I wonder how long he'll stay on Heroes?) So now we are into the Second Series and our second Doctor, now played by David Tennant (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). If we're not careful, we'll run out of regenerations too soon, and a whole new convoluted plot about Gallifrey will have to be created to keep the series going—though it would be interesting to see what they'd do with the Valeyard. But that's a long way off and Tennant is definitely sticking around for at least a second season. How does the young, bright, chipper, and determined lad embody the Doctor? Is he a worthy successor to the likes of the eight men (I know I'm skipping one—he doesn't count in my book) before him?
Note: This review does contain some spoilers, though not big ones—unless you read between the lines.
Facts of the Case
"This is the story of how I died."
The Tenth Doctor, off a fresh regeneration, continues his fantastic travels across the universes with his companion Rose. Along the way they will meet friends both old and new, culminating in an epic battle for the survival of Earth.
The fourteen episodes from this season are:
"The Christmas Invasion"
"Same old life, last of the Time Lords."
David Tennant is a very good Doctor. His youthful energy and optimism is another interesting link in the evolution of the vaunted Time Lord. Combine that with the fire that ignites within him when pushed, and you have an instantly likable and compelling character. I like David's Doctor. He's growing on me quickly, but there's something a touch more appealing in Eccleston's dark and brooding portrayal than Tennant's highly energetic one. I mention this for the comparison is inevitable, and the Whovian always wants to know where a person stands on this most important of issues. For the newbie, you're probably wondering what the devil is a "regeneration." Going back to the beginning, the first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, got a bit old and sick to play the role any longer. However, the series was quite popular and the BBC wanted it to go on. To do that, they created a mythology where the Doctor, a Time Lord, can regenerate (or refresh) his body when it's about to die. That has allowed the role of the Doctor to be played by "10" men since 1963, with Tennant taking over the role from Eccleston.
Unlike last year, there isn't as clear a story arc this time around. It does turn out there is an interesting connection between several of the stories, but mostly the Doctor's travels don't involve a master conspiracy. What's intriguing is how the alternate universe visited by Tennant ties back to Eccleston. If you recall, Eccleston consistently called Mickey "Ricky" instead. Time after time he would do this, played off as nothing more than the Doctor "winding Mickey up." However, in catching the reruns on BBC America, I realized I had forgotten how adamant Eccleston was when he did it. Mickey would say, "My name is Mickey," but the Doctor would steadfastly say "Ricky!" Keeping Series 2 in mind, is it reverse continuity or the tickle of some master plan where the Doctor knew the future (no pun intended)?
The new series likes to play around on Earth. Over the course of twenty-seven episodes, twenty-five of them have taken place on or in orbit of our humble home. That's quite different from the classic series, which loved to roam about the universe—except during the Pertwee era when he was banished to our planet. Being Earth-centric was for the new fan, to bring them to the series and not confuse them or alienate them (pun intended this time) with wild traipsings across the universe. Give the newbies some time to acclimate to the characters by giving them a consistent and easy frame of reference. Two years later, I'm getting tired of Earth. I think both fans new and old are up to speed and ready to explore the universe. As we finally did see in "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit," the show has great potential to give us a fantastic new universe.
For the past forty years we have been playing in the same universe. Unlike the classic series, the new one revels in backtracking across itself, revisiting characters and places. It was inevitable that the Doctor's past would come directly into play, and it did in "School Reunion." Though primarily used as a vehicle for a spin-off, this story is easily my favorite from the new series. I never would have thought I would get such a rush from seeing Sarah Jane and K-9 interact with the Doctor again. (Sarah Jane Smith was a companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors while K-9, in his various "models" (Mark I, Mark II, Mark III) traveled with the Fourth Doctor. Eventually, Sarah Jane received K-9 Mark III as a gift, leading to the two having their own spin-off television adventures.) Seeing these classic companions interact with the new Doctor was amazingly fun, mixing the old sensibilities with the new, and quite touching.
This idea of a more intimate and emotional Doctor is still a fascinating concept to ponder. On Doctor Who, the classic series never really delved deeply into emotions and feelings while the new Who is rife with it. The classic Doctor obviously cared for his companions, but the new Doctor clearly expresses his feelings, even shedding a tear or two. The classic Doctor, even under the most drastic circumstances—like the death of Adric (the first companion to die) for the Fifth Doctor—just moved on. We know this hurt the Doctor, for his final word before his regeneration was "Adric." But that's it; that's as deep and emotional as it used to be. Now we have this new expression of feelings, which are done well, adding a wonderful, rich layer to the ever-evolving tapestry. "My Sarah Jane!" Seeing the Doctor bursting with pride over one his companions was a wonderful, heart-warming moment.
I easily could go on with a lengthy discussion about the minutiae of this season, but let finish this up with two quick notes about two of my favorite episodes.
Anthony Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is the lead supporting actor in "School Reunion." I'm not a Buffy fan and am thoroughly unfamiliar with anything he's done. Rumors floated about at one point that Head was in contention to become the Doctor, and that's all I know about him. His role as the principal in this episode, with his slick, oily voice, adds a delicious level of menace to the episode. It's the finest guest star role of the season, and his return would be highly welcomed. (He actually will be doing a voice in the forthcoming Doctor Who animated adventure.)
Then there's "The Girl in the Fireplace," a definite fan favorite. Back-to-back with "School Reunion," these two episodes pack a great one-two punch, sealing the deal for most that Tennant makes a great new Doctor. These are the highlights of the season.
On to the discs.
Let's first discuss the problem that you may or may not have heard regarding disc one of the Series: Many have reported that while watching "New Earth," halfway through the story you are taken to a gory scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. This appears to be a pressing error limited to copies that went out to rental chains, like Netflix. I watched this episode on both of my players and can say that it did not switch over to the movie; however, there was an obvious "hard" layer shift such that it seemed I lost a second or so of the story. Something appears to be awry, but it's not so bad that it ruins the disc.
Outside of that one hiccup, the set itself is solid and clean. The 1.85:1 anamorphic print is akin to Series 1 with bright, crisp, realistic colors and rich blacks (very necessary for the likes of "The Satan Pit"). Showing improvement this time around is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. I noted in the Series 1 review that, "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." In this set the audio has slightly better balance, with a little less drop off from the center channel, but there's plenty of room left for improvement. This is one of only a handful of discs that have ever made me turn up the center channel. In spite of this, once adjusted, the dialogue is clean and understandable. The biggest improvement comes from the bass and surround channels. You will notice a far stronger bass that will vibrate walls, and the surrounds make their presence known with great immersive moments (e.g. the howling wind in "The Idiot's Lantern").
And now the bonus features. Every episode has a commentary track. The participants include anyone from actors, to writers, to the director of the episode, or to another member of the crew. Further, the commentary track can be either the typical audio or a special "In-Vision" video commentary. Unlike Series 1 where Eccleston didn't do any tracks, Tennant does. The commentary specifics for each episode are:
• "The Christmas Invasion": In-Vision Commentary with Russell T. Davies, Julie Gardner, and Phil Collinson.
• "New Earth": Audio Commentary with James Hawes, Julie Gardner, and Will Cohen.
• "Tooth and Claw": Audio Commentary with Russell T. Davies, Dave Haughton, and Edward Thomas.
• "School Reunion": Audio Commentary with David Tennant, Toby Whithouse, and Julie Gardner.
• "The Girl in the Fireplace": In-Vision Commentary with David Tennant, Sophia Myles, and Phil Collinson.
• "Rise of the Cybermen": Audio Commentary with Noel Clarke, Camille Coduri, and Andrew Hayden-Smith.
• "The Age of Steel": In-Vision Commentary with Graeme Harper, Nick Briggs, and Paul Kasey.
• "The Idiot's Lantern": Audio Commentary with David Tennant, Edward Thomas, and Charlie Bluett.
• "The Impossible Planet": In-Vision Commentary with David Tennant, Will Cohen, and Shaun Parkes.
• "The Satan Pit": Audio Commentary with James Strong, Mike Jones, and Ronny Jhutti.
• "Love & Monsters": Audio Commentary with Dan Zeff, Camille Coduri, and Julie Gardner.
• "Fear Her": Audio Commentary with Julie Gardner, Nina Sosanya, and Matthew Graham.
• "Army of Ghosts": Audio Commentary with Noel Clarke, Tracy Ann Oberman, and Raji James.
• "Doomsday": In-Vision Commentary with David Tennant and Billie Piper.
I'll admit that I did not listen to or watch every commentary for this Series. After going through the ones the immediately struck my fancy, I found them merely adequate. That's not to say they'll all be like that, but I was a touch underwhelmed, especially with David and Billie's in "Doomsday." I also found that I didn't care for how the video commentaries are overlaid on the episodes. A small video box on the bottom right of your screen shows you who is talking during the episode, but it's slanted at an odd 30 to 45 degree angle (the "left side" pointing into your television) which is extremely distracting and a bit goofy on the eyes. The video box should be level with the rest of the episode. You've gained nothing with the fancy angle.
Let's now look at the rest of the bonus items disc by disc:
• Outtakes (8 minutes, 15 seconds): How would they say it in England, "These are a bit rum."
• Deleted Scenes (16 minutes): Twenty-three scenes with a mixture of interesting and dull parts, fleshing out some scenes and dragging others out.
• Billie's Video Diaries (4 minutes): A mere two segments from Billie Piper, and you'll end up asking, "That's it?"
• "Children in Need" Special (7 minutes): An extremely cool segment that fleshes out the moments at the end of Series 1 "The Parting of the Ways" and the beginning of Series 2 "The Christmas Invasion." We get a nice bridging chat between the freshly regenerated Doctor and Rose. Best of all, the cloisters ring! Oh, this is a real scene with David and Billie.
Discs 2, 3, 4, and 5 have no bonus features (except the commentaries).
• David's Video Diaries (1 hour, 25 minutes): Broken down into twenty-five parts, this is an enjoyable compilation of behind-the-scenes material from David lugging around his camera. The only drawback is that it's not continuous and you get an opening and closing "credit" on each. You'll enjoy this.
• Confidential Cut Downs (2 hours, 28 minutes): As with the Series 1 release, this set includes the "Doctor Who Confidential" segments originally available online at the official website. Broken down in thirteen segments, each one more or less meshing to a story, these are interesting and informative bits definitely worth the watching.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"What do you mean that's the Doctor? Doctor Who?"
I believe that part of the reason that I prefer Eccleston to Tennant is that I liked Series 1's stories better. "With this new series, I am happy to say that I either love and very much like every one of its thirteen episodes." I said that for Series 1 but cannot say that for Series 2. There are some excellent episodes (noted above) but there are also some clunkers, like "Fear Her" That's a return to classic form for Doctor Who, with uneven stories and the lot. Luckily none of these is snooze-worthy, but they don't quite maintain Eccleston's momentum.
In trying to up the ante, I think they did a few very odd things. For example, what's going on with the monks in "Tooth and Claw?" If I recall this is Doctor Who not Crouching Tiger Hidden Doctor. Also, I have to admit I'm not excited about the new Cybermen. I'm not sure what exactly I don't like, but they didn't completely work for me.
But perhaps the biggest, biggest sin of Series 2 is the ending of "Doomsday." I'm not going to say exactly what and why, but I found it to be the biggest wimp out I've seen on television in a long time.
Earlier I talked about "The Impossible Planet" being the first non-Earth story of the series. Yes, I do know that "New Earth" is technically on Earth, but it is a new Earth so I think that technicality doesn't count as our first alien planet.
Lastly, a quibble about the packaging and the design. I'm disappointed to see absolutely the same menu system in Series 2. Give me some variety and keep me happy. In tune with that, the lenticular plastic case that slips over the cardboard packaging is once again causing immediate damage to the cardboard. It looks good but it's a problem. And, please, no more double-stacked DVD cases!
"I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye."
I truly feel that the new series of Doctor Who has taken the best of the classic series and updated it for today's audience. In doing so, it's reinvigorated a show that was always niche and campy and made it so much more: more intelligent, wittier, more accessible, and simply better. While Eccleston had to deal with the temporal conspiracy against him, Tennant's tenure is more a study of consequence and continuity. The Doctor now has to face the outcomes of his actions more closely, showing us true emotion and reactions. And unlike the classic series where most ideas were introduced and abandoned within one story arc, we now have strings of continuity, weaving into a temporal tapestry coming back again and again. Consequence leads to continuity leads to consequence.
The evolution of the Doctor and the show has been brilliant and fantastic these past two years. And while Tennant's season may not be as fully realized and stimulating as the First, it is still excellent television no matter how you categorize it. Take that wonderfully enjoyable show, put it on some DVDs with some great bonus materials and you have yourself another vigorous purchase recommendation. It's great sci-fi, great television, great entertainment.
Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series is hereby found not in need of an upgrade.
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