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DVD Review: Doctor Who: The Complete Specials

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Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi program in the world. Originally airing in 1963, there have been 11 incarnations of the Doctor, a mysterious time traveler whose means of conveyance is the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension In Space), a machine whose chameleon circuit allows it to blend into its surroundings. However, the circuit is broken, stuck on the last object it replicated, and so the TARDIS looks like a police box from the 1950s.

The Doctor, accompanied by various companions, explores time and space, righting wrongs, fighting evils, and getting in and out of trouble in his own unique way. In my review of Doctor Who Series Four I said "There’s been talk for months that the BBC was in negotiations with Tennant to reprise his role for the fifth series. Sadly it’s been rebuked as Tennant has announced he won’t return for the fifth series in 2010.  So we have this year's Christmas special and four specials that will air throughout 2009 before we see the 11th Doctor.  As to who that will be, we’ll have to wait and see as there are plenty of rumors, but no official announcement."

In the 13 months since I wrote that review we’ve seen Tennant’s final five specials and the regeneration from his incarnation of the tenth Doctor into the eleventh incarnation, in which the Doctor will be played by Matt Smith. The Doctor is a Gallifreyan, a race of Time Lords whose bodies regenerate when met with life-ending injuries. (It’s also a great plot device since if you don’t like the current Doctor, give it a few years and there’ll be a new actor taking his place.)

Doctor Who: The Complete Specials takes all five of the specials and delivers a nice box set for the fans. The 2008 Christmas special “The Next Doctor” and “Planet of The Dead’ were previously released as single disc DVDs.

"The Next Doctor" takes place immediately following the events of the fourth season finale, and finds a companion-less Doctor arriving in London at Christmas, 1851. The Doctor encounters another person calling himself The Doctor who also says he’s a Time Lord; The Doctor figures this is his next incarnation, as he doesn’t recognize this Doctor, but is surprised when the new Doctor doesn't recognize his past self.

The two Doctors must determine why the newest incarnation doesn't remember any of his past lives (which leads to a great montage of the past incarnations for the first time since the series was relaunched in 2005; it includes Paul McGann, whose Doctor only appeared in the 1996 FOX TV movie which failed to see a new series launch and firmly places that Doctor in the series' canon) and take on perennial villains the Cybermen. David Morrissey plays the amnesiac Doctor who may or may not be the next incarnation. As we now know, Matt Smith will be the eleventh Doctor, but at the time producers were toying with us. Nonetheless, it's a fun story with both Davids doing a great job in their respective roles.

We next view the Doctor in “Planet of The Dead” where we have the Doctor and thief Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan) on a bus that goes through a wormhole that lands them on another planet. They must work together to get back to Earth and close the wormhole and prevent a race of metallic stingray aliens from coming through.

Along the way they meet the Tritovores, an insect-like race who feed on biological waste. The episode is fun and action-packed, with the chemistry between the Doctor and de Souza being very apparent. It’s too bad she’s his companion for just this one episode, but the writers make the most of it. The end of the episode leaves the Doctor with a very ominous warning which will lead to the return of one of his most dangerous adversaries and most likely the cause of his regeneration. “Planet of The Dead” was just a straight up fun adventure as the remaining specials will deal with an out of control Time Lord and his subsequent regeneration.

Now we have the final three specials which are on DVD for the first time. Up first is "The Waters of Mars." The Doctor arrives on Mars in 2059 at an outpost called Bowie Base One. He meets the crew, which includes Dr. Adelaide Brooks (Lindsay Duncan) who is the captain of the base. Once he learns exactly when and where he is, he realizes that a major catastrophe which will wipe out the base and its crew will happen on that very day! The Doctor realizes what’s about to occur but what’s never been known is what happened to the base and crew. But this is a fixed point in time, which means it can’t be altered as it will have consequences in the future, one of which is that Dr. Brooks' granddaughter will become a great space explorer due to the event. The Doctor needs to leave, but Dr. Brooks won’t let him, then the crew starts getting infected by an organism in the water and wants to take the shuttle back to Earth to take over our planet.

The episode sees an out of control Doctor, who decides to break the laws of space and time to try to rescue some of the crew because he has the power to do so. Because of this hubris, The Doctor has sealed his own fate. When he sees a member of the race known as the Ood, who is there to let him know his time is almost up, The Doctor realizes he’s gone too far, panics, and leaves in the TARDIS.

This leads directly into “The End of Time, Part One” which sees the Doctor after he’s has some additional adventures (which I’m sure we’ll see some of in novels, comics or audio plays) return to the Ood, who show him that one of his greatest nemeses, The Master, is returning. The Doctor then goes off to stop this from occurring and in what can only be described as a Harry Potter-style resurrection, The Master is back! But he came back more twisted and unstable than before with a constant hunger that no amount of food will satiate.

This story also sees the return of Donna Noble’s grandfather Wilf (Bernard Cribbins) who is trying to contact the Doctor and is the companion for this story.

"The End of Time, Part Two" sees the long lost Time Lords and Gallifrey come knocking. The Doctor must deal with The Master, The Time Lords (led by Timothy Dalton as the President of Gallifrey), and more. By the end of the story, we see Matt Smith emerge as the eleventh incarnation of the Doctor. There’s also a trailer online that shows what’s to come and it looks promising, to say the least.

I am sad to see Tennant depart, but Doctor Who is all about  change. Sadly, since Syfy handled Who so badly that they have lost the rights to air the new episodes and BBC America isn’t covered by my provider, I will have to either wait for the next DVD set or find alternate means to follow the show.

The extras for Doctor Who: The Complete Specials are as follows:

“The Next Doctor” DVD originally had one extra, “Doctor Who at the Proms – Music From the Series composed by Murray Gold.” This hour long special contains footage from a live concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London in the summer of 2008 where musical highlights from series one through four were played for a packed house. The concert was hosted by Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones) and includes appearances by Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey Smith), and numerous monsters. The highlight for this is a six minute mini-episode called "Music of the Spheres" which features the Doctor trying to compose music of his own when the TARDIS is invaded by a Graske.

For the Complete Specials you get that and exclusive to this box set is Doctor Who Confidential which is the companion behind-the-scenes documentary series that airs directly after each episode.  For various reasons, past DVD releases have had Doctor Who Confidential: Cut Down which trims Confidential to 10 to 15 minutes. This time we get the full 56-minute special, which is great to have.

Moving onto “Planet of The Dead” you get the same extras as the single DVD release which is another full episode of Doctor Who Confidential.  It’s a great extra to have; it just would be nice if some more extras were included.

“Waters of Mars” also has a full episode of Doctor Who Confidential.  Those who bought “The Next Doctor” and “Planet of The Dead” when they originally came out have the option to purchase the single DVD of “Mars” as well.

They’ve saved the best extras for last with “The End of Time."

“End of Time Part 1” has a commentary with David Tennant, Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), and director Euros Lyn. The commentary is fun, with Tennant and Tate playing off each other and getting Lyn’s thoughts on the episode. Tennant really had fun as The Doctor and while he's sad to go, he wanted to go before he overstayed his welcome.

The full Doctor Who Confidential for the first part of the end of Tennant's run is included as well. There’s also “David Tennant’s Video Diary” which is about 40 minutes of footage that Tennant shot while making “Planet of The Dead,” “The End of Time Part Two,” and appearances he made to promote the specials.

The last set of extras is “BBC Christmas Idents” which are four short promos the BBC used to introduce its various Christmas programming which feature the Doctor or his TARDIS and a Christmas theme.

Moving on to “The End of Time Part Two,” the extras include a commentary again with Tennant and Lyn, but this time they are joined by John Simm (The Master). Once again this is a fun commentary, but tinged with sadness as Tennant says this is his last time portraying The Doctor. Tennant talks about what it was like shooting his last scene, which scene it was and talks with Lyn and Simm about their thoughts on the episode.

The full Doctor Who Confidential for the last episode of Tennant’s run is included as well. A highlight of this episode is Tennant’s speech after he had shot his last scene, left and was called back under false pretenses for a celebration.

“Doctor Who at Comic-Con 2009” was a segment that I could have watched for hours. It follows Tennant, John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), executive producers Russell T. Davies and Julie Gardner, and director Euros Lyn at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. One highlight that has been on the net for some time is from when Tennant, Davies, and Barrowman are at a hall to introduce Torchwood: Children of Earth Part 5 and Doctor Who: Planet of The Dead and Tennant and Barrowman share a kiss which then causes Barrowman to shriek in pleasure and then swoon. I’m sure there were many girls, and some boys, who were very envious of that kiss, and from this short featurette and others you can see that Tennant is a fan of the fans, and is grateful for them.

There’s also “Deleted Scenes with Russell T. Davies Introductions.” This extra has 12 scenes from all of the specials except from “The End of Time, Part Two” that were deleted. Each scene is introduced by Russell T. Davies and he gives a brief explanation as to why they were cut.

There’s also an episode guide booklet which has a great forward by David Tennant, where his 2009 self visits his 1979 self and tells him what’s to come.

It’s been a heck of a ride with the tenth Doctor and his adventures. Tennant will very much be missed, but I’m looking forward to what Matt Smith will bring to the table.

That’s not the end of my Tennant review; I’ve also been fortunate enough to get the Blu-ray edition of the specials (I’ve been Who-obsessed for the past few years, just ask my wife) and since the only difference is the sound and picture quality, I’m going to use that space to elaborate on these specials, how I came to be a Who fan, and more. Look for that article very soon on Blogcritics!

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  • http://sites.google.com/site/gavinbollard/my-other-interests-and-hobbies/doctor-who Gavin Bollard

    Not the best season from David Tennant. They’re all good stories, just not great ones.

    The fact that the final two-parter drags on a bit is probably good news for the new doctor Matt Smith. The first story of a new doctor is always difficult, but much more so if it follows a classic.

    Even so, as a fan, I’ll be getting this box set as soon as it’s released in Australia. The extras sound pretty interesting too.