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BBC Video presents
Doctor Who: The Complete First Series (2005)

"Fantastic!"
- The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: September 08, 2006

Stars: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, John Barrowman
Other Stars: Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Shaun Dingwall, David Tennant, Simon Callow, Penelope Wilton, Zoe Wanamaker, Alan David, Annette Badland, Bruno Langley, Simon Pegg, Tamsin Grieg
Director: various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for mild violence, sexual innuendo, rude humor
Run Time: 09h:45m:00s
Release Date: July 04, 2006
UPC: 794051250124
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BB+B- A

DVD Review

I've been a Doctor Who fan for about 22 years now; the much-loved BBC show, which played at 10:30 on Sunday nights on my local PBS station (thanks, KETC) fed my love of science fiction and my nascent Anglophilia, and I became a diehard. But the program, undercut by BBC brass and mediocre scripts, aired its last in 1989, and while I was sorry to see it go, I was also somewhat relieved, given the state it had fallen into. The 1996 TV movie, co-produced by Fox, was something of a disaster, despite having an excellent Doctor in Paul McGann, and things remained dormant on the Who-front until the BBC okayed a new incarnation of the show, to be helmed by Russell T. Davies, who had made his name with projects like Queer as Folk.

Davies, a longtime fan, gathered other professionals enthusiasts, and the new series premiered in 2005 to largely positive response. In the role of the Doctor is Christopher Eccleston, the first time an internationally known actor has played the role. Joining him is Billie Piper as Rose, the Doctor's travelling companion. Despite some ups and downs, the new series brings the Doctor home to a new generation of fans too young for the original run, as well as the hardcore devoted.

Some brief background if you haven't seen the show previously: the Doctor is a Time Lord, one of a race of beings that has mastered the secrets of time travel, among other technological marvels. The Doctor uses a ship called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) to travel the universe. That's really all you absolutely need to know; Davies and his team of writers have made the series accessible to the generation of viewers who didn't grow up on the show, and no prior knowledge is needed, though seasoned fans will pick up on various things here and there.

The season itself is a mixed bag. Davies wrote eight of the thirteen episodes, but none of his match any of the non-Davies scripted episodes. There is a contingent of Who fandom that has its knives out for Davies, something I find ludicrous (as if all of fandom, pro or con, isn't so by its very nature). It's not as if the episodes aren't generally entertaining, it's just that the rest reach a higher level. And there's certainly nothing here that's as bad as, say, the Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy runs on the series (sorry, guys). By no means is this a perfect season, but the central redeeming factors are Eccleston and Piper's performances and their supporting cast of Barrowman, Coduri, and Clarke. They allow a framework of background story to develop, even when the actual story of the given episode is mediocre. At no other time in the show's history has a companion received the level of development that Rose is accorded, both in her own character and in her relationship with the Doctor. This is a good thing, and something that was needed to ensure the series didn't remain a cult relic.

The high points for me are The Unquiet Dead, a morbidly funny ghost story set in Cardiff in 1869, with Charles Dickens (Simon Callow) as a supporting character; Dalek, in which the Doctor's most famous alien foes get a much-needed revitalization; and Father's Day, in which Rose gets to see her father, whom she never knew. The rest are all at varying levels of mediocre to good, with the worst being the two part finale, Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. The scripts here are simply weak, with too many ridiculous illogicalities to make them enjoyable, and the ending is equally lacking. The ongoing thread of "bad wolf" that runs through the season results in a truly underwhelming payoff.

I have to admit originally being somewhat puzzled by Eccleston's casting, as I couldn't really see him as the Doctor, but he does a pretty fine job, conveying a certain alienness with an engaging intensity to match. He is perhaps the bluntest Doctor of the bunch, wearing his feelings and opinions openly. That's not to say he's a sensitve namby-pamby; it's just that the character is freely on display in many ways. Tyler's Rose provides a good match for Eccleston, with the two forming a quick bond and sharing some good chemistry. Those who like the spotlight to be on the Doctor will be rather surprised by the emphasis put on Rose, especially as the Doctor is often shown to be rather less than the almost superheroic character he was in the past. Here he is conflicted, confused, and even mockingly lectured to by the creatures he is trying to stop, and is ostensibly better than. It occasionally grates, to be honest, but I understand the change, as the old ways likely wouldn't have worked in this viewing environment. It doesn't excuse copouts like the end of Boom Town, which plays out as an examination of the Doctor's morality, only to spare him from making a decision.

The occasional complaint aside, it's simply good to have the show back, and generally speaking, better than it was over the last several years of the old series. The second season of the new incarnation, which finished screening in England just a few weeks ago, is for me much better than this one, with several absolutely marvelous stories and a better Doctor to boot (but we won't spoil all of that). Season Two (or 28, depending on how anal you are) will see broadcast this fall on the Sci-Fi Channel, so do tune in if you like this, as it only gets better.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The picture quality is fine; for a show of such recent vintage, it doesn't rise to the pristine level one might expect, but it's solid overall, with a clean, crisp image.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English Dolby 5.1 track here is occasionally mixed so that the dialogue coming out of the center channel is lower than everything else, which makes for moments where it's hard to hear what's being said. You can adjust the speakers to raise the center channel volume, but that's a ridiculous length to have to go to. It's not a deal killer kind of mistake, as the audio is otherwise fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 152 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
10 TV Spots/Teasers
4 Documentaries
19 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
13 Feature/Episode commentaries by See extras section for more details.
Packaging: Digipak
Picture Disc
5 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The bulk of the extras are housed on the fifth disc, and are comprised of material originally screened with each episode, under the title of Doctor Who Confidential. Each is generally related to the episode at hand, with the option of watching them in one giant block (02h:44m:53s) or in chaptered sections. The Confidential shows are typical behind the scenes stuff, with actor/crew interviews and set footage the order of the day. If you're a fan, this is going to be of interest, but there isn't anything groundbreaking or revelatory here. Fun nonetheless. The segments are narrated by actor Simon Pegg, who appears in Episode 6, The Long Game. Also spread across the discs are commentaries on each episode by cast and crew. They are genial affairs that fans will want to listen to, though Eccleston's lack of participation is a letdown. Still, Davies, producers Phil Collinson and Julie Gardner, writers Mark Gatiss, Robert Shearman, Steven Moffat, and Paul Cornell, and actors Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Simon Callow, Annette Badland, David Verrey, and Bruno Langley, in addition to crew, are among the participants.

Also strewn throughout the discs are short documentaries covering different elements of the series. Disc 1 has the bulk of them, and they get shorter as the series goes on, for whatever reason. Anyhow, they are:

Destroying the Lair (03m:24s): Covers the filming of the finale of Rose.
Making Doctor Who (15m:33s): Features interviews with Davies and producer Julie Gardner, as they discuss bringing the program back to life.
Waking the Dead (18m:09s): Mark Gatiss discusses the writing of The Unquiet Dead in a video diary format.
Laying Ghosts: The Origin of The Unquiet Dead (08m:24s): Gatiss again, this time on set during the filming of his episode.
Launch trailers (02m:46s) collects the various trailers produced prior to the character's re-launch; storyboards of the opening trailer are also available.

Disc 2:
Deconstructing Big Ben (04m:52s): Behind the scenes of the effects work on Aliens of London.
On Set with Billie Piper (19m:03s): Piper provides an on set diary of sorts of a handful episodes, including Dalek and Father's Day.

Disc 3:
Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons (05m:32s): Behind the effects work on The Empty Child, specifically the balloon CG and stunt work.

Disc 4:
Designing Dr Who (20m:31s): An overall look at the various designs for the series, including the revamped TARDIS control room.
Adventures of Captain Jack (00h:08m:30s): An interview with John Barrowman about his roguish character, with attendant clips.


Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

A science fiction classic returns at last, with a glossy sheen viewers of the original run never imagined seeing. The leads are excellent, though the stories occasionally come up short, and there's plenty here to enjoy. The BBC Video release has loads of extras to comb through, and the presentation is generally solid.

 


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