In what is essentially an abbreviated series (which in the States we call a "season"), the four stories that comprise Doctor Who – The Complete Specials finishes the very popular, recent run of executive producer/writer Russell T. Davies and actor David Tennant.
For those unaware, Doctor Who is a long-running, British television, science-fiction program featuring the adventures of the Doctor, a member of an alien race from the planet Gallifrey known as Time Lords. He is able to travel through time and space in a vehicle known as a TARDIS, an impressive bit of technology that is bigger on the inside then it is on the outside, though due to its faulty chameleon circuit it looks like a London police box. The series originally ran from 1963 through 1989 and then returned under Davies' supervision in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston playing the ninth version of titular character. In a brilliant creative decision years ago, Time Lords were given the ability to regenerate thus allowing for multiple actors to play the part over the years. After one series, Eccleston left and Tennant became the tenth Doctor. Davies and Tennant's departures were announced before these specials aired.
In “The Next Doctor,” the Doctor arrives in 1851 London around Christmas and soon hears shouts of “Doctor!” However, when he answers the calls, he finds it was intended for another man (David Morrisey) who appears to be a future incarnation of the Time Lord suffering from memory loss. The two Doctors team up to tackle the Cyberman who have escaped from the Void in which they were imprisoned in "Doomsday". The highlight of the special is the humor derived from the Doctor interacting with his future self.
During modern times, The Doctor and a group of folks find themselves on the desert-covered “Planet of the Dead” when a bus they are on passes through a wormhole created by deadly stingray-like aliens. With the assistance of UNIT (UNified Intelligence Taskforce), the stranded group must find a way to return home and close the gateway before the creatures use it and destroy everything on Earth. This special offers a fun adventure and the writing team create a good, albeit brief, companion in jewel thief Lady Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan). It's too bad they didn't have more time together. It also provides the Doctor with a sign about his impending end.
The Doctor finds himself in 2059 encountering a human colony that is doomed when one of their members encounters “The Waters of Mars.” The Doctor knows their fate and at first tries to leave, but he soon begins to wonder if being a Time Lord makes him a lord over time and so tries to alter history as he knows it. This special provides some thrills as colony members are slowly picked off. The writers provide a nice twist as the Doctor begins to bend the rules.
“The End of Time” is a two-part finale that sees the resurrection of fellow Time Lord and nemesis, the Master after his death in "Last of the Time Lords." However not only must The Doctor stop the Master as he attempts to take over the Earth but also a group thought vanquished who are controlling the Master unbeknownst to him. The two specials make for a great conclusion. The stakes are very big and well resolved. The cause of the Doctor's death is unexpected yet believable. Fans are rewarded with a story dealing with the character's history and a fitting denouement as the Doctor says his goodbyes.
The five-disc set has plenty of extras for fans. Each special comes with a related installment of the behind-the-scenes program "Doctor Who Confidential".
"The Next Doctor" also has “Proms 2008” (59 min), a spectacular showcase of the music by series composer Murray Gold played by the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic Choir. Freema Agyeman, who played companion Martha Jones, presents the evening at the Royal Albert Hall, and film clips and Who monsters accompany the music. This is great because it reveals the power music has to augment drama. The segment where the Daleks take over is very humorous.
"End of Time, Part One" offers "David Tennant Video Diary – The Final Days" (41 min) as the actor is seen over the course of the four specials, doing TV and radio shows and his goodbye to the crew after he is wrapped. "Doctor Who BBC Christmas Idents" (1 min) are cute but after seeing them once, won't be revisited. The special also features an entertaining audio commentary by Tennant; Catherine Tate, who returns as his companion Donna; and director Euros Lyn.
"End of Time, Part Two" also has a commentary like the previous installment with John Simm (The Master) replacing Tate. "Doctor Who At Comic Con" (21 min) in 2009 finds Tennant and Davies introducing premieres and fielding questions to the delight of shrieking fans. Davies also comments on "Deleted Scenes" (17 min) from all the specials.
Although chronology is not something Time Lords are bound by, Doctor Who – The Complete Specials is not the place to jump in. No matter how enjoyable and well crafted the specials are, and they are certainly both, the experience is definitely more rewarding going back to Davies' beginning with Eccleston because events from their first episode, "Rose," play out in Tennant's exit. Once you have traveled through time and witnessed the previous series, The Complete Specials make for a grand farewell in contrast to so many other TV finales that fall short.