DOCTOR WHO: Series 1-7 Limited Edition Giftset (Blu-ray)
BBC / 2005 - 2013 / 4815 mins / TV-PG
It may be ironic to say that a television series about time travel was ahead of its time, but DOCTOR WHO has truly proven to be exactly that. On November 23rd, 1963 the television series began challenging viewers with high concept ideas, mind-bending plot devices and current political commentary. It continued to do so for 26 full seasons before unceremoniously being pulled off the BBC. While the mysterious central character of The Doctor was a funny, dashing, sarcastic and adventurous man of action, the way low-budget television series of the 1960's through 1980's could depict that action and cutting edge ideas was anything but. Thanks to the budget and technology of that time, DOCTOR WHO was mostly dismissed by most viewers outside of the UK as a children's show (which it originally was intended to be) or that science fiction series with wobbly sets and monsters made of bubble wrap. Despite being a major success for the first two decades of its existence in its home country, it was generally thought of as a silly little show by most of the rest of the world.
In 2005, show runner Russell T. Davies brought back DOCTOR WHO to the BBC. While the series appeared to be starting anew from scratch, Davies was far too clever and reverent to the original to simply ignore it and start over from the beginning. The show has an incredibly rich history to mine and expand; his challenge was to make DOCTOR WHO current and accessible to new viewers while NOT losing its history.
What Davies did was to distill the essence of that brilliant original series and cut away all of the negative aspects it was burdened with for decades. Gone were rambling and heavily padded plots that were stretched to fill sometimes as many as six episodes. The new series would tell a complete story in one or two hour-long episodes at most. Gone was the traditional three-camera studio set up that severely limited how a story could be told. Each episode of the new series would be shot like a feature film with a lightning fast pace and state of the art high definition cameras and editing equipment. Gone were wobbly sets and dime-store monster suits. The new series would have cutting edge digital special effects that literally would allow anything to be shown.
But cutting away the fat and updating the look was just the beginning. Davies added layer upon layer of complexities for the modern audience to devour. The Doctors' "companions" or "assistants" (or whatever you want to call them) may still be mostly young attractive women, but they were by no means the screaming one or two dimensional characters existing to ask The Doctor to explain things and getting into dire predicaments in order for him to save them. The Doctors' travelling partners now had families back at home that worried about them, they had boyfriends, fiancé's and a life outside of the time travelling blue box called the TARDIS. The Doctor may be the hero saving a planet or vanquishing an alien threat, but his actions now had consequences that we would see. What may seem to be the right thing at the time may not be the best solution for the future. And Davies (and later Steven Moffat would continue this) would add season long background threats that would subtly pop up during episodes to be revealed and battled in the finale. Bad Wolf. Knock Four Times. Silence Will Fall. DOCTOR WHO would no longer be a children's television series that struggled to get its ideas on the screen. It would emerge as The Best Science Fiction Television Series of All Time.
The new series of DOCTOR WHO picks up with The Doctor's 9th regeneration (played by Christopher Eccleston.) He was recently a key figure in a war that destroyed his home planet of Gallifrey and left him the last of that noble race called Time Lords. He still wanders the universe as he always has righting wrongs and fighting evil, but he is an angry character, one coming to terms not only with being the last of his kind but being a cause for that situation. He meets Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), a beautiful young Londoner and offers to show her all of time and space. She accepts and over the course of the first season, slowly starts to reawaken The Doctor's humanity and purpose.
Due to "creative differences," the brilliant Eccelston only played The Doctor for Series One of the re-launch. One of the aspects that have given DOCTOR WHO such a successful and lengthy run is the ability of the main character to "regenerate." When he is mortally injured and on the verge of death, a Time Lord's body will literally regenerate all the cells in his body, thus allowing a new actor to take over without having to change the character. Each incarnation has his own very distinct and peculiar idiosyncrasies, but he is still The Doctor.
Though Eccleston was an amazingly popular Doctor who not only successfully brought the series back but also made it hugely popular in America as well, his successor managed to be even better. For legions of fans around the world, David Tennant simply IS The Doctor. Through Series 2 through 4 and a season of specials, Tennant brought DOCTOR WHO to a level of popularity it had never seen before. Even at the height of the "golden era" in the 1970's, the series was never the worldwide phenomenon it was under Tennant's reign. It is also arguable that DOCTOR WHO has never been as perfect as it was during his time at the controls of the TARDIS. His chemistry with the three companions was an amazing trifecta made in heaven.
In Tennant's four series we see three very different couplings: with Rose Tyler they have The Great Romance (something DOCTOR WHO never even touched on in the classic series); with Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) it is unrequited love and a deep respect; and with Donna Noble (the wonderful and hysterical Catherine Tate) they are the best of mates (as in friends, she's not mating with him, sunshine!)
To date the Tennant era is truly The New Golden Era of DOCTOR WHO. From the return of many of the classic era monsters to some big screen worthy adventures (like the Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned") this era delivered on the potential the series showed during its original run; thought-provoking ideas, thrilling adventures, very real and complex relationships, evolving characters, creepy and truly scary monsters... the Tennant era is truly DOCTOR WHO at its best.
When Tennant decided to hang up his sonic screwdriver and leave the TARDIS, show runner Davies left as well. Steven Moffat, writer of some of the best episodes in the entire history of the series ("Blink," "The Girl in the Fireplace," "The Empty Child," the list can go on and on and on), became the new showrunner and started the adventures of the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) with a completely clean slate. Not only does "The Mad Man with a Box" get a new persona, but a wife in the person of daredevil archeologist River Song (Alex Kingston), the TARDIS gets a makeover and the very complicated story of "The Girl Who Waited," Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan), begins.
There has never been a show like DOCTOR WHO. Ever. It is unique in the annals of science fiction television. Its format can allow for virtually any kind of story to be told and with changing actors every few years, the series is always fresh feeling. The series is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month and it is more popular than it ever has been. It is hugely popular not only in its native Britain but all over the world. Not bad for a children's show with wobbly sets and bubble wrap monsters.
The big news for this release is the premiere of seasons 1 through 4 on high-def Blu-ray. DOCTOR WHO did not begin filming in high definition until The Specials that hit in-between seasons four and five and they have all already been released on Blu-ray. Seasons 1 through 4 now join the rest of the new series and are presented in 1080p high definition with excellent detail, strong color saturation and even more exciting, smaller packaging (all of the sets in this collection come in matching keep-cases that take up half of the shelf space of the previous released sets!)
Along with the upgraded picture comes upgraded sound as well! Now the entire new series is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround. The TARDIS engines (or emergency brake, depending on what you believe) grind to life with great oomph and bass, layers upon layers of sound are far clearer during the opening theme and the environment in the control room sounds much more active. This is truly the best technical presentation the new series has ever seen and it is finally all uniform.
There is good news and bad news on the supplement front. However, the bad news is relatively minor and would only annoy the die-hard fans. First, let's hit the good news: Almost every single supplement from all of the previous "Complete Series" releases have been ported over (yes, that "almost" is the bad news). That is a MASSIVE amount of goodies. Let's knock them out one set at a time:
Season One includes audio commentaries on every episode with all of the main cast and behind the scenes filmmakers appearing.
"Interview with Christopher Eccleston" from "BBC Breakfast"
"Destroying the Lair"
"Making DOCTOR WHO with Russell T. Davies"
"Waking the Dead - Mark Gatiss Video Diary"
"Laying Ghosts - The Origin of "The Unquiet Dead""
"Deconstructing Big Ben"
"On Set with Billie Piper"
"Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons"
"Designing DOCTOR WHO"
"The Adventures of Captain Jack"
All 13 "DOCTOR WHO Confidential Cutdowns" (yes, it would have been nice to have the full episodes this time around, but...)
"Storyboards of the opening trailer"
"Launch Trailers" and episodic trailers round out the Season One goodies.
Season Two includes audio commentary for all episodes (and those die-hard fans should take note that there are ONLY audio commentaries)
The "Children In Need Special"
"Billie Piper's Video Diaries"
"David's Video Diaries" (all 85 minutes them!)
"Deleted Scenes" (introduced by Davies)
All 13 DOCTOR WHO Confidential Cutdowns" and the Confidential for the Christmas Special round out the Season Two supplements.
Season Three also includes audio commentaries on every episode along with:
"Music and Monsters"
"Freema's Tour of the Studio"
"David's Video Diary"
All of the Season Three "DOCTOR WHO Confidential Cutdowns"
Season Four has audio commentaries for every episode and:
The "Children in Need Special: Time Crash"
"David's Video Diaries"
"The Journey (so far)"
"Trailers and Teasers"
All of the Season Four "DOCTOR WHO Confidential Cutdowns"
The Complete Specials begins the era of limited commentaries. The only audio commentaries available are for the two-part "The End of Time" and are absolutely not to be missed.
However, we do get the complete hour long "DOCTOR WHO Confidentials" for all of the specials.
"DOCTOR WHO at the Proms 2008"
"David Tennant Video Diary - The Final Days"
"DOCTOR WHO at Comic Con"
"Deleted Scenes" from all five specials introduced by Davies.
"DOCTO WHO BBC Christmas Idents"
Season Five has six audio commentaries (none with Matt Smith, sadly) and:
Both "Meanwhile in the TARDIS" mini-episodes
Three "Video Diaries"
Four "Monster Files" for the Daleks, the Weeping Angels, the Silurians and the Alliance.
"Outtakes" and "BBC Idents and Trailers"
All 13 Season Five "DOCTOR WHO Confidentials"
Season Six amps up the supplements with five audio commentaries and:
Both hysterical "Time" and "Space" Comic Relief Specials
All five "Episode Prequels"
All five "Night and the Doctor" shorts
"DOCTOR WHO Confidential: The Night's Tale" is a look at the making of the shorts
Four more "Monster Files" for the Silence, the Gangers, the Anti-bodies and the Cybermats
The 13 "DOCTOR WHO Confidential Cutdowns" for every episode of the season along with the complete hour long episode for "A Christmas Carol"
A brief batch of trailers rounds out Season Six.
Season Seven brings us up to date and appears to be the only set that simply duplicates the previously released "Complete Series" set:
Four audio commentaries
"Behind the Scenes" featurettes for all but one of the episodes (sorry, "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.") These replace the now sadly defunct DOCTOR WHO Confidentials.
"DOCTOR WHO in the US"
"DOCTOR WHO at Comic Con"
"Last Days of the Ponds"
"DOCTOR WHO on THE NERDIST"
"The Science of DOCTOR WHO"
"The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe Prequel"
"The Battle of Demon's Run: Two Days Later"
"Asylum of the Daleks Prequel"
"The Making of the Gunslinger"
"The Great Detective"
"The Bells of St. John"
"Clarence and the Whispermen"
"She Said, He Said"
"Clara and the TARDIS"
Not to mention all five episodes of "Pond Life"
So now the bad news. As you can see this set ports over almost everything from the previous "Complete Series" sets with one sad omission: the "In-Vision Commentaries" from Seasons Two and Five are now only available as audio only tracks. The information is there however you can no longer see the cast and crew in the picture-in-picture box relaying the commentary. A small omission but a cool one.
However, you do get a NEW disc filled with three unreleased specials and one of them is, as the ninth Doctor would say, FANTASTIC! You get:
"The DOCTOR WHO Ultimate List of Lists" special from the BBC America series "The Brit List" with special guest presenter John Barrowman!
"DOCTOR WHO: The Best of the Christmas Specials" is from 2011 and is basically a clip show with various famous and not-so-famous fans fondly recalling their favorite moments from the Christmas Specials.
"DOCTOR WHO at the Proms 2010" is not only presented in its 90 minute ENTIRETY for the first time (the previous release was a 58 minute condensed version), but it is also in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround for the first time.
BUT WAIT! There's more! This gift set also comes with some fabulous swag:
An exclusive DOCTOR WHO Comic Book
Three original art cards (one portrait of Doctors Nine, Ten and Eleven
And... the DOCTOR WHO Universal Remote Control Sonic Screwdriver! Yes! You can have your own authentic replica of the Eleventh Doctor's trusty sonic screwdriver to control your television or just run around your house checking for Weeping Angels and alien tech. This is truly The Holy Grail of DOCTOR WHO Blu-ray releases.
Geronimo! Grab a bag of jelly babies or whip up some fish fingers and custard for THE Fantastic Blu-ray release of the year! Allons-y!