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Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series(TV) (2011)
Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS. Along with a series of companions, he faces a variety of foes while working to save civilizations, help people and right wrongs.
For more about Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series and the Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray release, see the Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray Review
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, David Tennant, Christopher Eccleston
» See full cast & crew
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray Review
The Series Six release you've all been waiting for, and then some...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 18, 2011
At long last, it finally happened. As much as I resisted its quirky charms, year in and year out, as often as I politely declined its friendliest invitations, I finally took Doctor Who's hand and stepped into the swirling abyss. And what a wild, funny, brilliantly penned plummet it's been. Doctor Who: Series Six is one of the most addicting, brain-bending, side-splitting runs of sci-fi television you're likely to encounter this year, and easily trumps the vast majority of genre programming on this side of the Atlantic (or the other). I'm not sure exactly what it was that pushed me over the edge. The Doctor Who Christmas Carol special (which I raved about in my review earlier this year), Matthew Smith's spirited turn as the good Doctor himself (not to mention Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill's performances as the Doctor's steadfast companions), or executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat's wilier approach to the Who mythos and multiverse (Russell T. Davies helmed Doctor Who's 21st century revival through Series Four, before a very deserving Moffat was handed the reigns). But here I am, free-falling and loving every minute.
Series Six officially begins with Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol. Soon after companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill ) hop aboard a luxury space liner for a honeymoon getaway, they find themselves and their 4000 co-passengers plummeting to their deaths when the ship's crew has difficulty navigating through the strange cloud cover of a mysterious planet. Never fear, though. The Doctor (Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor to grace BBC's long-running sci-fi series) responds to their distress call and heads for the planet's surface to see how he can save everyone on board. There he encounters the wealthy and powerful Kazran Sardick (Michael Gambon), a cold shell of a bitter old man who would rather allow thousands to perish than part the clouds with his late father's weather tower. "We already have a surplus population," he huffs. "No more people allowed on this planet." But when the Doctor spies a hint of humanity within the planet's would-be Scrooge, he decides Sardick would be best served with a side of Dickens. Traveling back in time, the Doctor becomes a most literal Ghost of Christmas Past in an attempt to teach a sweet young boy named, you guessed it, Kazran Sardick (Laurence Belcher) that every life needs a little love and compassion to thrive.
Alas, change doesn't come to Kazran as easily as the Doctor had anticipated. Even though the time-hopping Time Lord visits young Kazran every Christmas throughout the boy's adolescence, he can't seem to alter the future drastically enough to save his friends. First, old Kazran begins developing new memories, a byproduct of the Doctor's interference that initially benefits the cantankerous old cuss but soon leaves him more miserable than before. Then there's a nasty bit of business with the flying fish that frequent the planet's icy clouds (yep, you read that right), in particular a fierce Great White shark that takes a liking to the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. And of course there's Abagail Pettigrew (Katherine Jenkins), a beautiful woman the Doctor and young Karzan release from cryostasis in the Sardick family vault. (People seeking a loan from the Sardick fortune can offer one of their family members as collateral.) Not only does the boy develop an affinity for Abigail -- an attraction that only builds as he unfreezes her every year when the Doctor makes his annual holiday visit -- he inadvertently learns about the cruel hands of fate, a lesson that makes old Kazran withdraw even further into his deep-seated humbuggery.
Doctor Who's spin on Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is not only a fantastic Doctor Who special and an excellent, easily accessible standalone episode, it's an altogether amusing, inventive and witty adaptation of the classic tale. Moffat applies clever twist after finely tuned turn to the original tale -- often to hilarious, heartfelt or genuinely moving ends -- and his take on the Ghost of Christmas Past isn't the last surprise he has in store for fans and newcomers alike. (Just wait till you get a load of who fills the shoes of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.) It isn't a character for character, subplot for subplot adaptation ("loose" might even be a stretch), but it's all in good fun and, more importantly, in the spirit of Dickens's beloved novella. Even the special's jargon-riddled genre banter (ice crystals, isomorphic controls, harmonic resonance) and wackier elements (flying sharks, frozen sirens, misadventures in the time stream) rarely rob Moffat's adaptation of its humor, poignancy or genre-skewing moxie. Some of the Christmas Carol's visual effects stick out like a sore thumb, but Who zealots will hardly flinch. Likewise, Who entrants will be left in the dust as to who Amy and Rory are (their roles in the special are extremely limited), but it won't prevent anyone from wrapping themselves in the cozy Christmas spirit that ensues. Smith's puckish charisma is as infectious as always, Belcher and teen-Kazran Danny Horn deliver strong performances, Jenkins brings arresting innocence to her scenes and Gambon... well, Gambon is one of the most embittered, spiteful, spittle-spewing Scrooges to grace the small screen. The latest incarnation of Doctor Who has boasted smart casting and light-speed dialogue, and its Christmas Carol is no exception.
And so we come to the sixth series proper, beginning with a doozy of a duo. In fact, if any other episode struggles, it's only because the first two episodes -- "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" -- set the bar so impossibly high. At the risk of slipping into deep, hyperbolic waters, I'd even go so far as to call the blistering two-parter the best ninety minutes of sci-fi in recent memory. (Yes, it's really that good.) To divulge too many plot details would simply be mean-spirited, though, as the joy of "Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon" is truly in the discovery of the opening tale's time-hopping, labyrinthine secrets. Suffice it to say, the source of the "silence" that was alluded to over the course of Series Five, and the meaning of the ominous warning "silence will fall," are revealed in their entirety. And the intense, altogether engrossing payoff is every bit as scary, fascinating and exceptionally well-developed as Who fans have come to expect from the machinations of the show's greatest Big Bads. What awaits those who venture into the "silence" of Moffat's initial Series Six volley? Time travel, Richard Nixon, memory tampering on a grand scale, a mysterious astronaut, a terrified little girl, Apollo 11, a chilling pregnancy, Area 51 and one of the creepiest orphanages my nightmares have seen fit to latch onto. Confused? Excellent. As I said, the joy is in the discovery. Moffat weaves a painstakingly careful path through the episodes that, fittingly, leave viewers with more questions than answers. But, oh, what wonderfully dark dreams, ambiguous allusions and unsettling foreshadowing those questions entail.
"The Curse of the Black Spot," on the other hand, is more of an episodic, standalone story. Threads from "Astronaut" and "Moon" are strung through "Black Spot," but rarely get tangled in what is otherwise a fun, simple little romp aboard a 17th century pirate ship. It seems a vicious siren (Lily Cole) is determined to devour every sick or injured man, woman or child on the ship. The crew has been reduced to a handful of people, among them the ship's captain (Hugh Bonneville) and his young son (Oscar Lloyd), and it's up to the Doctor and his companions to uncover the nature of the creature before it can lay claim to every survivor. If there's any throwaway episode in Series Six, I'm sad to say it's "The Curse of the Black Spot." It isn't bad by any means -- I wouldn't even call it average -- but it's a bit lightweight, especially compared to the heavy, heavy episodes that surround it. Episode four, "The Doctor's Wife," is outstanding, and easily one of the best TARDIS-centric episodes I've seen. (Go easy on me, lifelong Who zealots. Keep in mind I'm a fairly recent convert.) After following a distress signal through a rift in time and space, the Doctor expects to find another living Time Lord. The entity he finds instead puts Amy and Rory in harm's way (as always), tries to escape into the known universe, and inadvertently gives the Doctor an opportunity to learn a great deal about the TARDIS; far more than he ever knew before. Here, Moffat and his writers are in top form, focusing on their heroes without allowing the twisty nature of the tale to overwhelm the evolution of the characters involved. Dialogue is as brisk, bouncy and sharp as ever -- even though Series Six continues to prove itself far darker and bleaker than previous Who outings -- and plotting, pacing and character development follow suit with startling precision.
Moffat explores the notion of identity and sentient existence yet again with "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People," another two-parter. While neither episode is as refined or remarkable as "The Invisible Astronaut" or "Day of the Moon," "Rebel Flesh" and "Almost People" are just as twisted, action-packed and, in some ways, surprising. The Doctor, Amy and Rory come across an island factory in which the workers use expendable clones of themselves -- in seemingly never-ending supply -- to perform the dangerous task of harvesting acid for the mainland. Inevitably, a solar tsunami strikes the factory and all hell breaks loose as the clones gain sentience and take issue with everything their human controllers have been forcing them to endure. "Rebel Flesh" and "Almost People" could have probably been condensed into one episode, but only at the expense of a lot of terrific scenes featuring the Doctor and his companions. It becomes quite clear in the course of "Almost People" that the two-parter is really about our faithful trio; not the rebellious "gangers" and their human masters. The final scenes alone spin Series Six on its axis, and Moffat thrusts Amy into the spotlight as the anchor point to which everything in the first seven episodes of Series Six is chained. Thankfully, the last episode in Part One, "A Good Man Goes to War," isn't just a top notch twist-n-turner; it closes out the first seven episodes with exacting ease and emotional power. Amy and Rory are no longer companions, at least not as far as the show is concerned; they're full-fledged players in the narrative, and their surge in importance is both appreciated and refreshing. The plot brings together a slew of characters -- new and old, alien and human -- and very little falls flat; no small feat considering just how unwieldy it all could have become.
Above all else, the first seven episodes of Series Six made the wait for the next six episodes nearly unbearable. (During the series' broadcast run, of course. If you're drinking up the entire series in one sitting, you won't feel the same anguish.) That's not only a testament to Moffat's grasp of the characters and mythos, but he and his writers' savvy scripts, his handle on dialogue and tone, his cast's incredibly focused performances (Smith, Gillan and Darvill are flawless), and his decision to infuse Doctor Who with a sense of ongoing, episode-to-episode danger and darkness reminiscent of that in Torchwood (until now, a far stronger show, in my humble opinion). Even the series' special effects have improved -- mainly due to Moffat's penchant for shadow and blackness, I'll grant you -- as has its overall design sense, be it makeup, physical sets, props, aliens and the practical effects and CG involved in their creation. Essentially, Moffat has dialed back the cardboard-n-rubber camp-factor just enough to retain the feel of what has come before while looking toward the future of what he would like the show to be.
Which brings us to the question of the hour: is the second half of Doctor Who's sixth series as captivating, thrilling and game-changing as its first seven episodes? Not quite. It's driven by the same madcap energy, backed by the same neuron-firing scripts and sharp sci-fi standouts, and packed with the same impervious performances and brain-tickling dialogue. But it's more episodic in nature, and its climactic finale -- the culmination of two series worth of intrigue surrounding the Doctor's predetermined demise and, really, a question lifelong Whovians have been unconsciously asking themselves for the better part of fifty years -- has to pick up the pace and deliver a story ripe for a two-part mythos-shakeup in just one episode. Even so, I'm finding the worst of the new Doctor Who is often better than the best of other sci-fi series. (Not that Series Six, Part Two has much of anything I'd remotely consider the worst of Doctor Who.) Under the watchful eye of Moffat, Who has become a must-see series in my inner circle and brilliant business as usual for those who became the titular Time Lord's companions through time, space and public broadcasting long before I did.
Series Six, Part Two doesn't spin its gears or lurch off the starting line, it launches the dear Doctor and his companions into the thick of pre-WWII Germany in a direct continuation of "A Good Man Goes to War," Six's mid-series finale. "Let's Kill Hitler" is a bit better in theory, though, than it is in practice, and the title has more fun with history than the episode. No matter; Hitler isn't the focus of the story anyway, our resident Time Lord is. The Doctor still has a date with death, after all, and the clock is ticking. In the meantime, he inadvertently crosses paths with a Teselecta, a shape-shifting humanoid spacecraft whose minuscule crew is working to infiltrate Hitler's ranks, kill the Führer and put right what once went wrong. (Or something to that effect.) Instead, the Teselecta's crew comes face to face with the Doctor and his would-be murderer River Song (Alex Kingston), an encounter that puts everyone, Amy and Rory included, in mortal danger. But what else is new, right? It's a prickly, promising and playful opening volley, and it doesn't disappoint. (Well, it doesn't disappoint much. I really wanted Hitler to be a bigger part of the episode. And yes, Doctor Who is probably the only thing that could inspire me to make a statement like that.)
From there, Moffat rolls out four -- count 'em, four -- semi-standalone episodes that don't have a lot to do with the ongoing River Song arc. He grafts in some connective tissue to keep Song and the Doctor's impending doom fresh on everyone's minds, but otherwise, Moffat wanders off the beaten path. "Night Terrors" finds the Doctor helping a young boy who's being terrorized by a vicious neighbor-napping alien; "The Girl Who Waited" is a time-twisting tale in which Rory races to save Amy from the depths of an isolated time-stream containment unit, only to meet a future Amy he apparently abandoned decades before (wrap your head around that one); "The God Complex" finds the Doctor and his companions trapped in a hotel where guests are killed by their greatest fears; and "Closing Time," arguably the only expendable episode Part Two has on tap, reunites the Doctor with Craig Owens (James Corden) in a battle with the Cybermen. Each excellent episode works on its own terms, even "Closing Time," but often feels as if it's one big distraction from the looming finale. But, as usual, none of us should be too quick to sell Moffat short. The four episodic stories he and his team dream up may not focus directly on River and the mysteries surrounding her rapidly approaching assassination of the Doctor at Lake Silencio, but the writers carefully, cleverly and oh-so-casually move a number of crucial pieces of the character-conflict game into play. Watching Part Two a second time makes one thing abundantly clear: "Night Terrors," "The Girl Who Waited," "The God Complex" and "Closing Time" aren't nearly as tangential as they might first seem. Four consecutive episodes still strikes me as an unnecessarily long diversion, mind you, but when each episode is this good, sporadic or no, it's hard to hold too much of a grudge.
Which brings us to the Series Six finale, "The Wedding of River Song," yet another nervy, neck-snapping string of twists and turns primed for the Whoviest of the Whovians. Doctor Who is at its best when hurtling ahead without pausing to look back, barking at its viewers to keep up. The River Song saga finally comes to its not-so-forgone conclusion as River, emerging from Lake Silencio on the date of the Doctor's appointed demise, accidentally unravels the time stream, creating a convergence of time and space that the Doctor can only repair through his own death. With the existence of the universe (once again) hanging in the balance, Moffat introduces a new mystery that, really, has been the central mystery all along. I won't risk spoiling it here, but I will offer this tiny tease, offered to the Doctor by a disembodied blue head: "On the fields of Trenzelor, at the fall of the Eleventh, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked. One that must never be answered. And Silence must fall when the question is asked." What is the question? How could it possibly allow Moffat's dreaded Silence to fall? How could a question disrupt everything the Doctor has established? The question is both simple and startlingly complex; absolute and ambiguous; obvious and hidden. Above all, it's both satisfying and mind-boggling. But like any good run of the show, Series Six will leave you asking two questions. The question, of course, and another: is Doctor Who one of the best sci-fi series on television? Suffice it to say, answering the second question is much, much easier than the first.
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray, Video Quality
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
Doctor Who's Christmas Carol slides down the chimney with a a spirited 1080i/VC-1 encoded beaut that nearly lives up to the high standards set by Who's remarkable Complete Fifth Series release and subsequent Complete Sixth Series presentations. Detail is sharp and striking, with plenty of exceedingly well-resolved textures and top-tier closeups to go around. Delineation is quite impressive as well, even if black levels are so rich that they sometimes cloak the backgrounds in unyielding shadow. And while Moffat's Carol isn't the most colorful Who special fans have been treated to, its wintry palette and icy interiors aren't without their share of hearthy colors and cheerful primaries. Moreover, troubling issues are few and far between. Minimal crush, errant bursts of harsher-than-usual noise and inherent bleeding creep in from time to time, but little of it appears to be a product of BBC Video's technical encode. Artifacting, banding and aliasing are also kept to a minimum, and the interlaced nature of the presentation is the only point of contention to be had. Fans will be ecstatic.
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One
There seem to be two prevailing opinions of BBC Video's high definition Doctor Who releases: some consider BBC's 1080i presentations to be mildly impressive but noisy and imperfect, while others like myself are far more pleased with the results. Series Six, Part One probably won't defy that trend. As far as I'm concerned, BBC Video's 1080i/AVC-encoded Series Six image is nothing short of stunning. Colors are exceedingly accurate and altogether beautiful; skintones are warm, lifelike, and rarely falter; and contrast is dead on, black levels are rich and inky, and delineation is both natural and revealing. Detail, as always, is excellent throughout. There are a few shots plagued by distracting noise and some that appear a tad soft, but my complaints -- if you can even call them that -- end there. Fine textures are exacting and exceptionally well-resolved, edges are crisp, refined and clean (without any significant ringing to speak of), and clarity skims the rim of perfection. Moreover, aside from a few artifacts and color bands, the image is unhindered and the encode is as proficient as one could hope for. I didn't catch sight of any experience-spoiling anomalies, and crush, aliasing, smearing and aberrant noise simply aren't a factor. Tossing in the word "impeccable" would be overstating things, I'll admit. But I have to say the Series Six, Part One presentation comes commendably close.
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two
If you've seen Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One, you know exactly what to expect from Part Two's excellent 1080i/AVC-encoded video presentation. As seems to be the case with every Doctor Who release, some viewers will be distracted by the source itself. Noise spikes on occasion, clarity isn't always sonic-screwdriver-sharp, and a few other anomalies may give videophiles pause. However, Part Two simply couldn't look any better than it does here, and fans of the show will be most pleased with the results. Colors are bright and blazing, skintones are precisely saturated, contrast is nice and consistent, and black levels, though not entirely perfect, are quite satisfying. But detail is where Series Six really excels. Closeups offer an array of fine textures and neatly resolved nuances, edges are crisp and refined on the whole, and delineation falls in line (unless Moffat says otherwise). It only helps that substantial artifacting, banding, aliasing and other issues are, for the most part, put to death long before the Doctor arrives at Lake Silencio. Some may dare, but I couldn't ask for much more.
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol
Christmas Carol's DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track (at 2.0Mbps) may not be a full-fledged DTS-HD Master Audio lossless mix but, frankly, I doubt many audiophiles would be able to tell the difference even if it were. Dialogue is bright, playful and perfectly intelligible, and not a single line gets buried in the snow. LFE output is tough and firm, bolstering every crashing space liner, thrashing cloud shark, slamming cryovault door, crack of thunder and TARDIS groan the special has in its repertoire. Rear speaker activity is just as engaging and energetic, taking advantage of the soundfield in ways television episodes tend to neglect. Not convinced? Just close your eyes and listen as Abagail's songs fill the air. Any lingering doubt about the track's quality will simply melt away. Directionality is precise and pans are smooth, dynamics are tenacious and immersion is a cinch. In short, it all sounds wonderful. A few noticeably front-heavy scenes are all that interfere, but even they fail to undermine BBC Video's efforts.
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part One
Series Six, Part One boasts a terrific 2.0Mbps DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track as well. (Again, not to be confused with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mix.) Dialogue is crystal clear, nicely grounded and neatly prioritized, and sound effects are both effective and energetic. LFE output is noteworthy as well. Hurtling ships, deadly asteroids, swirling vortexes, blazing solar tsunamis, power surges, implosions, explosions and the ominous music that accompanies the series' villains are all bolstered by the LFE channel and, barring a few weak-willed thooms, little drifts off the rails. The rear speakers are also engaging, and do a fine job enveloping the listener in atmospheric ambience, TARDIS noises and environmental nuances; enough to easily label the experience immersive. Some front-heaviness puts a damper on all the fun, but it's the exception rather than the rule. Likewise, some less-than-convincing directional effects feel forced and artificial, although that may very well be in keeping with the at-times madcap tone of the show. All in all, there isn't much in the way of distractions or disappointments, meaning series fans will quickly be absorbed by Moffat's Who-verse and BBC Video's DTS-HD HR track.
Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two
The same applies to Series Six, Part Two's nimble DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track (at 2.0Mbps), as it sounds just as good as its Part One predecessor. Humming power cells make as much sonic splash as lumbering beasties, clunking Cybermen, surging energy blasters, and a crashing TARDIS. The LFE channel pulses with power, injecting welcome low-end oomph when called upon. The rear speakers make the most of the Doctor's latest adventures in time and space as well, especially in "Night Terrors" (with its haunted wardrobes), "The Girl Who Waited" (with its vast inescapable expanses), "The God Complex" (with its cramped and creepy hotel corridors) and "Closing Time" (with its lunging Cybermats and eerie underground lairs). Directional effects are solid throughout, the series' soundfield is fairly immersive, pans are smooth, and dynamics are quite good. Dialogue doesn't waver either. Voices are clean and capable, and lines are rarely demoted to second-class citizens, even when Nimons attack, giant killer dolls press in, the Doctor invades Nazi Germany, the Silence mount an assault, or when dear River Song finally approaches the Doctor on the shores of Lake Silencio.
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Call me jaded, but I expected Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series to be a simple repackaging of the five previously released Sixth Series releases with a bonus disc thrown in for good measure. What I didn't expect were six discs loaded with new special features and supplemental content. The only downside? The "Doctor Who at the Proms 2010" live concert (HD, 57 minutes) that appeared on the February 2011 Christmas Carol standalone release is MIA. It's a terrific extra too, so hang onto both Christmas Carol discs if you want every special feature available.
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you're anxious to add Doctor Who: Series Six to your collection this holiday season, splurge a little and go with the Complete Sixth Series 6-disc set. It not only includes everything the previous standalone editions offered (the lone exception being the "Doctor Who at the Proms 2010" concert performance), it features a variety of previously unavailable extras, among them five commentaries, more than a dozen "Doctor Who Confidential" documentaries, bonus minisodes and much, much more. That said, if you're only interested in the episodes, their fantastic video presentations and strong DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround tracks, going with the sixth series' individual releases may save you a few bucks. For my money, though, The Complete Sixth Series 6-disc set is the only way to fly and more than justifies the cost of admission.
Doctor Who: Other Seasons
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Exclusive Giveaway: Doctor Who: Series Six - November 18, 2011
Blu-ray.com and BBC America are offering two members the opportunity to win a copy of Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series and three more members a chance to win a copy of Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two. The Complete Sixth Series touches down on Blu-ray on November ...
• Doctor Who: The Sixth Series Blu-rays - September 8, 2011
BBC Home Entertainment has indicated plans for Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two and Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series Blu-rays this fall. Series Six finds the Doctor, Amy, and Rory learning the truth about River Song in the wake of a shocking death. Doctor ...
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