This review is a bit late – Doctor Who – The Complete Fourth Series came out on DVD two weeks ago, but I just got my copy two days ago, and immediately jammed it into the player and started watching. Read More for the details, but as a whole the Fourth Series has thus far I believe produced the most interesting (quantity-wise) episodes to date, and with a running thread through several stories that lead up to the ultimate problem – the destruction of the universe!
In the fourth series, the Doctor David Tennant, after having said goodbye to Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) at the end of the third series, re-encounters Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), who in fact has been searching for him. She joins him on his adventures, solving murders in Pompeii, battle with the Sontarans, take part in a real-world Agatha Christie mystery, meet a future companion in a very strange library, and sees what happens if she never met the Doctor, leading up to the ultimate battle against one of the most evil of the Doctor’s past enemies, joining with past friends and companions.
Highlight episodes…it’s hard to actually not just list out all the episodes, as they all have something of note, but here is a trimmed list:
“Voyage of the Damned” – The Christmas 2007 episode, guest starring Kylie Minogue, it’s a bit far fetched, but amusing and with a surprise sacrifice at the end.
“Partners in Crime” – the return of Donna Noble
“Planet of the Ood” – The Ood are back – are they really the slave-serving race we thought?
“The Sontaran Strategem/The Poison Sky” – The Sontarans return with a new plan to take over the Earth.
“The Doctor’s Daughter” – literally. The part of the “daughter” is played by Georgia Moffett – Real-life daughter of the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” – Steven Moffat’s two-part thriller, with plenty of twists and a guest appearance by Alex Kingston (American viewers may recognize her as Dr. Elizabeth Corday on ER), who plays Professor River Song, who has a past (or future) with the Doctor.
“Turn Left” – an interesting twist on what would have happened if Donna never met the Doctor.
“The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End” – Davros, the creator of the Daleks, seeks to create a new Dalek Empire – or destroy the universe.
Also included in the DVD set is the mini-episode “Time Crash”, the “Children in Need” special that forms a bridge between the end of the third series and “Voyage of the Damned”. It is done in a comedic style, where the Doctor forgets to raise the TARDIS shields, the TARDIS collides with another – actually, the same TARDIS, merging in time and resulting in the Doctor meeting his past self, in the form of the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The crossing of timelines is both humorous and touching.
For the rest of the special features included in the set, there are all 13 of the Confidential Cutdown episodes (I believe these are shortened versions of what airs on the BBC – I’m not sure why they are shortened) which fill the entire 6th disc and are just short of 3 hours of extra material. Each episode also has an audio commentary track, and there are a number of deleted scenes for various episodes, including some deleted scenes from “Partners in Crime” that featured Howard Attfield as Donna’s father, but he was ill and passed away shortly afterwards, so they refilmed the scenes with Bernard Cribbins as Wilfred Mott, who was in “Voyage of the Damned”, and he became Donna’s grandfather. In addition, Russell T. Davies introduces the deleted scenes. No outtakes though…come on, with this group there should be some hilarious outtakes!
There are also two of David Tennant’s Video Diaries – the first deals with the drive all the way to Blackpool, and needed a police escort after getting caught in traffic. The second was about filming the final episodes, late at night, and a little lesson on Welsh pronunciation. I now know how Cymru (Welsh for Wales), and it is NOTHING like what I thought…
There is one other featurette, “The Journey (So Far)”, which highlights the story from the start of the revival through the fourth series.
The packaging itself is like the previous releases. The cover has a nice metallic reflection that appears as circles around an image of the Doctor and Donna, which moves as it tilts. The front of the actual disc folder has a similar non-reflective image, but Davros is featured. The folder rolls out with three double-disc holders. The back has various images from the episodes, and underneath the holders in another image that I believe is of the Sontaran battle pods heading to Earth. Included in the package is a nice Episode Guide with an introduction by Davies, and ad for some Doctor Who and Torchwood merchandise, a reminder about the return of Battlestar Galactica, and a Davros Top Trumps super-card.
The discs themselves, as always, are screen printed, with a different nemesis on each (although the Ood’s status as a nemesis is not clear). Instead of leaving the edge of the discs unprinted like with the third series discs, they are printed in a crackled white pattern (think dried mud, or a faux antique finish on wood).
Catherine Tate did marvelous in returning to the role of Donna Noble – bringing back the more platonic relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and even playing off on that. She brings a personality that you expect to dislike, but provides emotion and a comic delivery that just worked.
All in all, the fourth series was probably, as a whole, the series with the highest average level of quality. Although the chill factor may not have reached quite the level of previous episodes like Blink, every episode had something to offer. My only complaint, which isn’t really a complaint, is that the series finales seem to be falling into a pattern – take a major villain from the past, bring them back with an apocalyptic plot line, and make a two-part episode. We’ve had Daleks (Series 1), Cybermen (and Daleks, Series 2), and the Master (Series 3). Now Davros. That may have exhausted the penultimate villains, so do they go with lesser villains (Sea Devils? Sontarans were done mid-series) or recycle?