Today is the U.S. release of Doctor Who: The Complete First Series, and I was able to get a copy for review. For a long-standing Whovian like myself, this was very eagerly awaited. And all I can say is: Buy it. Now. If you haven’t seen it, you don’t know what you are missing. Read More if you want to know more about it. And lets hope we don’t have to wait so long for Series 2.
“Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor is wise and funny, cheeky and brave. An alien and a loner, his detached logic gives him a vital edge when the world’s in danger. But when it comes to human relationships, he can be found wanting. That’s why he needs Rose. From the moment they meet, the Doctor and Rose understand and complement each other. As they travel together through time, encountering new adversaries, the Doctor shows her things beyond imagination.”
“Come with me if you want to live.” Well, we’ll just go along for the fun ride.
I have always been a fan of Doctor Who, since I was a kid. I found myself oft-confused, as I was watching on a local PBS station when there was one actor playing the role (at the time, Jon Pertwee), and then suddenly I was tossed into another series with another actor (Tom Baker). It was many years later that I learned of “regeneration”, and watched with great enthusiasm when Tom Baker regenerated into Peter Davison (my personal favorite of the original line), and followed non-stop ever since. I was saddened to learn of the cancellation after 26 seasons (series in proper British terminology), but budgets had been seriously cut and stories were of lessening quality.
Fast forward about 10 years (for the sake of discussion, we’ll skip the BBC/Fox TV movie in 1996, although we’ll accept Paul McGann as a Doctor in DW canon. The BBC announces a revival headed by Russell T. Davies (Queer as Folk, Casanova). Excited to see the return of the TARDIS, I awaited its news of its return with great anticipation. A new doctor (Christopher Eccleston, 28 Days Later…), a new companion (pop star Billie Piper) – and no US outlet. The whole first season would air in the UK and not be seen in the US – what was a card-carrying Whovian (yes, I was a member of the DWFCA) to do? Well, I have relatives in England…
A DVD set of the first season is also announced, but when the SCI FI Channel announces it will air the first season during the season break of its Sci Friday lineup, the DVD set was delayed until after SFC’s first run – to today, July 4th.
So now thanks to Warner Home Video I have a copy in my hands, and to sum it up, this is everything I would possibly want in a DVD set – except there are no bloopers, or at least not that I found. I want my bloopers!!!
The DVDs come in a cardboard “roll-up” case with 5 discs – four episode discs in dual-disc overlapping holders (I don’t like these because you can’t easily pull the lower disc out without removing the upper one), and one single “Confidentials” disc on its own. The inside of the case reveals the inside of the TARDIS – with the 4 episode discs screen printed to match the picture in a form of camoflage. The included booklet lists what is on each disc, including extras, and even a few behind-the-scenes pictures. The outside case depicts the Tardis exterior, although strangely. The front is obviously the front door, but the back also shows the front door, but without the “Free for Public Use” sign. At first I thought it was the back, but look closely – door handle, keyhole – and the wood grain is the same. It all fits in a transparent plastic open-ended slipcase to hold it together, with the Doctor and Rose on it and logos.
The 13 episodes are in a different format from previous incarnations. Gone are the episode/part divisions. Instead episodes are 45 minutes long and bear individual names – even in the case of the 3 two-part stories.
In addition, common threads run through episodes. The most prevalent is Bad Wolf, but also we see the beginnings of Torchwood (of which there is much more in Season 2, as well as a forthcoming spinoff series). What are these? Ah, buy the DVDs and find out.
The stories are very well written. We see a tiny bit of one of the original series points –
historical fiction – when we visit Charles Dickens in “The Unquiet Dead” and wartime London
in “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” – but only as peripheral settings. We get no
other-world action as well – everything is on Earth or in orbit. In particular, the center
of the universe seems to be in Cardiff, Wales (where it is filmed), or London (but still
mostly filmed in Cardiff). Even still, the stories make do effectively.
We get to see the return of some classic items – the head of a Cyberman in a museum, the
trusty (but updated) sonic screwdriver, and most of all – the Daleks. Or a Dalek. To start.
We also find out what seems to have transpired since we last saw the Doctor. He is alone –
the Time Lords are all gone, wiped from existence along with the Daleks in the last great
Time War – and the Doctor caused, or was complicit, in wiping them all out. I can’t wait to
hear more of this backstory. But, when you play with time, dimensions, and science fiction
writers, nothing is final…
The actors were spot on. Eccleston was incredible – he created his own Doctor, with his own
style of wit and fun facial expressions. Billie Piper was a surprise. After hearing “pop
star” I was ready to tune her out, but she does very well as a companion who shows
Why she travels with the Doctor – partly out of a desire for something more, and
partly out of love. In fact, this is the first where we see there may be something more than
just someone “along for the ride” (and we see a lot more of that on Season 2).
And what would Doctor Who be without some humor? Where else can we see a robotic Anne
Robinson pronounce, “You ARE the weakest link!” and vaporize contestants? Or Captain Jack
Harness producing a weapon – when he’s completely naked?
Let’s cut in some scores:
Plot/Story: I think pretty much all the stories were done well. The weakest perhaps would be
“The Long Game” – the story itself didn’t lend much to the overall arc, but it did set up
the location for later episodes, and a hint that something isn’t quite right with Earth’s
near future. My favorite is the two-part “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, which was
downright nightmarishly chilling. 5/5
Characters/Acting: I’ve already mentioned the stars, but let’s not forget poor Mickey Smith
(Noel Clarke), left behind by Rose; Rose’s mother Jackie (Camille Coduri); and the
over-the-top sweet-talker Captain Jack (John Barrowman). All of them did an excellent job).
Effects/Visuals/Audio: At first, I was going to say how disappointed I was in the DD5.1
surround sound – I was so looking forward to hearing the theme, and the TARDIS
materialization, and “EXTERMINATE!” in full-on surround sound, but it sounded so horrible –
I couldn’t hear voices, things were muffled, etc. I tried all sorts of settings. Finally, I
ran a tone test – and my center speaker was out. Bad wire, which is weird – when does
speaker wire fail? After a quick swapout, things were NICE. Doctor Who fixed my stereo. Must
have been the sonic screwdriver. Effects in general were great. Didn’t much like the
Slitheen costumes, although they did bring back memories of costumes from the old show. And
who can forget the end of the world? 4/5
DVD Packaging/Extras: I have already described the external packaging. The DVD menus were
somewhat animated and interesting, with an intro based on the series opening, and the menus
themselves representing the TARDIS console. Each menu was a section of the console, with the
“Special Features” a continually rotating view. The one fault was that navigating from one
side of the menu to the other was non-obvious. To get to the “Special Features” or “Set Up” entries, you had to go to “Scene Selection”, and then go right (or left). Commentary was also found under “Set Up”.
For extras, there are plenty of behind the scenes features on each disc, and quite a few episodes have commentary tracks. I listened to the track for the final episode, “The Parting of the Ways”, which featured Billie Piper and John Harriman, where they get to talk about all sorts of things, including Captain Jack’s shiny leather pants, and how John was showing a fellow actor how best to hold the automatic weapons, how to use them…only to find out later she was a member of the police Special Forces Unit.I liked the “On Set with Billie
Piper” featurette. I was also pleased to find that they included all 13 “Doctor Who:
Confidential” specials on a separate disc, giving plently of insight on bringing back the
Doctor, and also a DVD exclusive “Backstage at Christmas” look at the making of “The
Christmas Invasion” – which alas is not included – probably with Season 2. But where’s my
bloopers? Come on, Eccleston and Piper should be able to fill a whole new show… 4/5
Overall: I couldn’t be happier with this revival, and I’m very sad at the departure of Eccleston at the end of the series as he was very likable. He certainly was a major part in making it successful, along with Piper and of course Russell T. Davies, who deserves major kudos for not only getting the BBC to allow it, but to pull it off. 5/5
Total: 4.6 out of 5 stars. An absolute must for Whovians, and even if you haven’t watched the originals, it can still be quite enjoyable. I know several others who are totally addicted, and used to tease me for watching the originals.
I can’t wait for Season 2 to be released. Of course, that means I will need to wait another year most likely, but there has been no announcement from SFC on airing the second season yet (which concludes this Saturday in the UK), so who knows. I may have to go underground again for now… 🙂