Doctor Who releases have shunned the High Definition format until David Tennant’s last “movie” episodes – mainly because they weren’t recorded in HD. Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, released last week (on DVD as well), is the first full series released on Blu-ray. So how does the video – and the new Doctor – fare?
Matt Smith and Karen Gillan star as the new Doctor and his companion in an all-new series of Doctor Who coming to DVD and Blu-ray. After his explosive regeneration, the Eleventh Doctor awakes to discover his TARDIS is about to crash! After falling from the sky, he pulls himself out of the wreckage to come face-to-face with young Amy Pond. The Doctor promises to take Amy to the stars. But first they must divert an alien plot that could destroy the Earth. The Doctor makes good his promise, and Amy boards the regenerated TARDIS, ready to take to the stars on a series of wild adventures that will change her life. As always, wherever the Doctor goes, his oldest enemies, the Daleks, are never far behind. They are hatching a new master plan from the heart of war-torn London in the 1940s. But they are not the only strange creatures the Doctor and Amy must face – there are also alien vampires, humanoid reptiles, the Weeping Angels, and a silent menace that follows Amy and the Doctor around wherever they go.
Matt Smith makes his debut (aside from his cameo after the regeneration scene) as the Eleventh Doctor. As with every new Doctor, the fans watched with a combination of anticipation (of a new Doctor with a different style) and trepidation (especially after David Tennant’s extremely popular run in the role). Plus a new companion, new TARDIS interior, new “old” enemies, new producer, new budget…fans had a right to be nervous. Fortunately Matt Smith does eventually grow on you once you get used to his slightly more manic portrayal.
Matt’s Doctor starts off, like several post-regeneration Doctors, as a bit crazy – well, crazier. Getting used to his new body, and especially his new hair, and some interesting cravings. There are many references in the opening episode, “The Eleventh Hour”, to his “new face”. Eventually the craziness subsides, but he retains a bit of mania throughout, being both self-congratulatory of his own genius, yet at times surprised by it. Matt is also able to play the old, tired 907 year old Time Lord while giving a youthful view and trying to fit in to the younger contemporary crowd. “Who’da man?!?” he exclaims at one point, just before realizing how lame that sounds…
Karen Gillan as new companion Amy Pond also provides more youth and cuteness, and provides a great counter to Matt Smith, grilling him in all sorts of ways that fans would have loved to have done over the years.
Frequent guest star Arthur Darvill, as Amy’s boyfriend Rory, also does a great job as a man uncertain of himself – is he good enough for Amy, or is he good enough to be a hero.
And of course we see the enigmatic River Song (Alex Kingston) again, on a couple of occasions, and are STILL left wondering, “Who is she?!?” Because any clue to that would, of course, be “spoilers”!
And let’s not forget the Doctor’s constant “companion”, the TARDIS! It gets a makeover again given the damage during the regeneration. The TARDIS repairs itself, but also apparently redesigns itself as well – not necessarily with the Doctor’s input. The set is supposedly bigger but visually seems more cramped. It still retains its “steampunk” theme, but with differences that the Doctor of course instantly knows how to deal with. Also, the seemingly out of place white lamps – they are the same Pileo floor lamps that featured on Space: 1999!
For the entire series, there is a common thread that ties everything into the ultimate climax – the “crack in the wall”, plus references to the “Pandorica” (a supposed myth) and “the Silence”. Unfortunately, I think the ultimate explanations get a bit contrived by the end, and the ultimate conclusion of the series left so many questions that they will probably be debated for years. But we do get to see the Doctor dressed up and doing some sort of crazy monkey dance, so that makes up for it…
Here is a quick rundown of some of the episodes:
“The Eleventh Hour”: This is where it all begins…you can’t watch the end of the series without watching the beginning, as they are very tied together. Plus you get all the introductions, and some great lines. And it probably increased the sales of fish sticks and custard – briefly. One particular bit of cinematography, when the Doctor “remembers” seeing something by the camera zooming lots of places, I thought would be seen repeatedly through the series, but did not happen again. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not.
“The Beast Below”: The Starship UK, a country in space, with of course something very mysterious going on. I don’t think it was a terribly strong episode, but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing Liz 10 again. Although the sets seems very low budget, I liked how some iconic British symbols like the Underground roundels get used. The story tried really hard to be an emotional-turmoil-evil-for-the-greater-good episode, similar to Torchwood: Children Of Earth, but didn’t pull as hard – possibly because of the shorter amount of time.
“Victory Of The Daleks”: Winston Churchill (played by Ian McNeice) and the Daleks. In Color!
“The Time Of Angels” and “Flesh And Stone”: A two parter featuring the return of River Song and the Weeping Angels! We get hints of the Doctor’s future and River’s past, and see one of the creepiest ever monsters again – and you’ll probably watch these episodes again after you finish the series to look back at one particularly important scene. We also find out that the TARDIS isn’t supposed to make that sound on landing…
“The Vampires Of Venice”: A period episode that I don’t think was one of the strongest. But it does speak of the “Silence” that will have something to do with the climax.
“Amy’s Choice”: The Doctor sees Amy and Rory five years later – Amy and Rory are married and Amy is expecting. Or are they still on the TARDIS?
“The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood”: And old enemy returns from the depths of the Earth – with a new look. The prosthetic makeup work here was amazing.
“Vincent And The Doctor”: Perhaps Vincent Van Gogh (played by Tony Curran) wasn’t quite as crazy as believed. Very emotional at the end. Also features Bill Nighy as the museum guide.
“The Lodger”: A fun episode with the Doctor playing football (soccer for us New Worlders) in a pub league game.
“The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang”: The climax that has been building up throughout the series. Just don’t try to understand the results at a technical level. Just nod your head and dance along…but don’t assume everything is hunky dory at the end, either.
Overall the series works well. It had some down points but those episodes still contained clues as to what was building – a second watching of the series might help you see things that weren’t visible or made sense the first time around. Stylistically, there was some odd shots early on that I thought might be “signature” things (the “remembering” scene mentioned, the shots of Matt looking suddenly to his side when mentioned a couple times) but they didn’t really show up again.
As for the Blu-ray release, this is a 6 disc set that comes in a cardboard slip cover with a neat hologram front of the Doctor, Amy and the TARDIS. Inside is a cardboard disc holder with nice blue plastic disc holders, one per disc (no stacking!), with a front that folds out with the disc contents listed.
Each disc is individually screen printed with a different character. In order: Amy Pond, Winston Churchill, Rory Williams, Vincent Van Gogh, River Song, and the Doctor. Disc 6 contains the 13 “Doctor Who Confidential” specials that are companions to each episode, along with BBC idents and trailers. I think the confidentials might work better if they accompanied each individual episode, so you can watch them appropriately without having to switch discs.
The other discs contain the episodes, along with some special features that go along with them. Notably there are two “mini-episodes”, called “Meanwhile in the TARDIS”, never before seen. The first comes right after “The Eleventh Hour”, with Amy asking lots of questions about the Doctor and his “police box”, including a humorous explanation as to why it is a police box. The Doctor explains how the TARDIS upon landing examines the surroundings for miles and determines the perfect shape to disguise itself – “and then it turns into a police box from 1963.” The second takes place after “Flesh And Stone” and again Amy is asking questions – this time about why the Doctor has companions (with a good reason given), how many have been women, and how many have been “hot”, including some flashes of pictures of companions past. And how the Doctor thinks of himself as a “space Gandalf”…
“In Vision” commentaries are also available on several episodes, where you can see the commentators on screen during the episode. These can be quite informative:
“The Eleventh Hour”: Producers Steven Moffat, Piers Wenger, and Beth Willis
“Victory Of The Daleks”: Mark Gatiss, writer; Nicholas Briggs, voice of the Daleks, and Barnaby Edwards, Dalek operator
“The Time Of Angels”: Karen Gillan and Steven Moffat
“The Vampires Of Venice”: Johnny Campbell, Director; Toby Whithouse, Writer; and Alex Price, “Francesco”
“Cold Blood”: Ashley Way, Director; James Dehaviland, 2nd Asst. Director; and Alun Raglan, “Moe”
“The Big Bang”: Toby Haynes, Director; Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill
Also on various discs are “Monster Files”, featuring behind-the-scenes looks at the new Daleks, the Weeping Angels, The Silurians, and the “Alliance”.
The Video Diaries also make a return, done by Matt, Karen and Arthur that show some of the behind the scenes stuff. They jump around a bit, but they seem to have fun with it.
And lastly, there are outtakes!!! I wish we had these on previous releases. These can always be fun to watch.
Also included in the box are three “postcard art” pieces, featuring the Doctor, a Dalek, and the TARDIS, that are a nice added item.
The video transfer is good, showing the high definition quality throughout, although at times especially during “The Eleventh Hour” I could notice some graininess to the video. I’m not sure the reason and I didn’t notice it as much in other episodes, but it wasn’t obtrusive. It also includes at DTS HD 5.1 audio track on all episodes, but not foreign language audio tracks or subtitles (English subtitles are available).
Although I’m still getting used to Matt Smith’s Doctor (after having loved Tennant for so long), I think he’s doing a good job, as are Karen and Arthur. And this Blu-ray release is befitting the Doctor.