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Doctor Who: The Complete Specials(TV) (2009-2010)
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 Specials and the Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray release, see Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on February 9, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Alex Kingston, David Tennant, Christopher Eccleston
Narrators: Nicholas Briggs, Marnix Van Den Broeke
Directors: Adam Smith, Ben Wheatley, Jeremy Webb, Toby Haynes
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray Review
Five specials to be exact, three of which form a smart, sharply penned send-off...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, February 9, 2010
Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Torchwood man. Cultivated in the mad mind of Russell T. Davies, it's that rare television spin-off that transcends its illustrious forbearer; in this case the long-running, inexplicably popular British science fiction saga, Doctor Who. Try as I might, I've had a difficult time enjoying the primordial Who mythos as much as its dark, genre-defying offspring. To me, Doctor Who has always been that strange show I would sometimes stumble across in my adolescence while click-click-clicking away at the UHF dial on my nineteen-inch tube TV. (A moment of silence for our dearly departed CRTs, if you please.) Its droll bed-sheet aliens and cheeky tin-foil warlords simply couldn't compete with tauntauns and Star Destroyers in my world, and I discarded it accordingly. Even so, the series' 2005 relaunch managed to catch my attention. It still didn't make it past the periphery of my outer pop culture wall, but it at least earned more respect than its original incarnation. As such, I approached BBC Video's Doctor Who: The Complete Specials with a fair bit of skepticism. I wondered: would I be able to keep my head above water? Would my passionate affair with Torchwood properly equip me to dive into the Who series proper? Would the five specials in question address the masses or preach to the converted?
Of the five specials, The Next Doctor is the most enigmatic and elusive. Landing in 19th Century London, on Christmas Eve no less, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) encounters a man claiming to be a Doctor himself. After deducing this Next Doctor (played to great effect by David Morrissey) is a future incarnation, our fabled hero sets his mind to the task at hand: halting the return of the Cybermen (who've escaped the Void), thwarting a plot involving kidnapped children, and stopping the nefarious Miss Hartigan (Dervla Kirwan) from triggering the ascension of the CyberKing. But the special itself? It's easily my least favorite of the set. The story clicks again and again when the Doctors share the screen, particularly when the pair probe the Next Doctor's mind and search for lost memories, but flounders whenever Kirwan (channeling her best Xena: Alien-Summoning Princess schtick) lords over a group of enslaved orphans or commands an army of tin-cans that make Glen Larson's late-70s Cylons look like technological marvels. Mark my words: by the time a brain-in-a-box bot waddles out of the shadows, you'll either find yourself cheering Davies' tongue-in-cheek nods and tipsy throwbacks or wincing at the man-in-suit lunacy unfolding before your eyes. Luckily, Tennant and Morrissey, calling upon the power of their every dramatic bone and tendon, dominate the special and set its tone, lending welcome legitimacy to an expendable episode; one that inadvertently borders on misguided parody.
Planet of the Dead delivers a similar experience (minus Morrissey), but swaps Miss Hartigan's Cybermen for rubber-masked insectoids dubbed the Tritovores. The story? When a bus accidentally drives into a wormhole and appears on a desert planet called San Helios, its passengers -- the Doctor and his latest Companion, a cat-burglar named Christina de Souza (Michelle Ryan), among them -- are forced to find a way home. Before you can say "aliens are people too," the Tritovores are revealed to be misunderstood monstrosities working to stop a real menace, a swarm of portal-generating stingrays bound for Earth. While it's all harmless sci-fi fun (a yawn-and-you'll-miss-it prophecy being the only relevant tidbit viewers will want to tuck in their back pockets), Davies neglects to inject much fun into the proceedings. Tennant continues to anchor every scene with his squirrelly but endearing performance as the series' flawed demigod, but his castmates have little to do aside from gasping and screaming on cue. Worse, Christina turns out to be one of the Doctor's least interesting Companions. Ryan tries her best, that much is clear, but the script just isn't there. Davies' dialogue falls flat, his plotting is based around too many convenient developments (even for a Who outing), and few complications come to bear on the Doctor's decisions. More Star Trek-lite than anything, it won't win anything more than a half-dozen smiles from the series' most devoted apologists.
The specials take a sudden turn for the best with The Waters of Mars, a taut, tense, game-changing thriller that presents the Doctor with an impossible choice: dutifully adhere to the Time Lords' code of non-interference (think Star Trek: The Next Generation's prime directive) or alter history to his liking. Materializing on Mars in 2059, the good Doctor stumbles across the first human colony, Bowie Base One; an outpost whose destruction is well documented in Future History. However, when a strange virus infects two members of the station's crew, the Doctor begins to wonder if the Time Stream needs repairs of his choosing. Barreling along towards a Torchwood-esque conclusion, The Waters of Mars is decidedly bleaker than The Next Doctor or Planet of the Dead, ending with the Doctor in the most unlikely of places. Both Tennant and actress Lindsay Duncan (playing the Doctor's latest Companion, Adelaide Brooke) deliver startling performances, and their fellow supporting actors are just as strong. Boasting a fully realized cast of characters (that I actually cared about), a daunting challenge the Doctor tackles on various levels, and a haunting denouement that ties directly into the excellent End of Time two-parter, it's tough not to like Waters. Taken as a standalone story, it soars. As a deceptively small part in a much larger whole, it sets a fascinating stage for everything to come. As an opening act in a three-act tragedy, it dissects the Doctor and propels him into action; action destined to define his life and herald the eventuality of his death.
And so we arrive at The Complete Specials' finest entries: The End of Time, Parts One and Two. I'd attach a spoiler alert to the following paragraph, but Davies and Tennant have made the Doctor's looming death so well known, that it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Tennant's run had to end sometime I suppose. Though well-conceived and meticulously constructed, the plot -- the Doctor, hot off a string of ill-advised time-hopping interventions, learns a psychotic Time Lord called the Master (John Simm) has returned and is warned that Time may soon be coming to an end -- is arguably irrelevant. The rousing two-parter is actually about the Doctor coming to terms with his own sins, facing his fallibility, reflecting on the code and purpose of the Time Lords, and admitting the arrogance of his actions. Though the prospect of regeneration slightly undermines any development his character undergoes, Tennant wields the Doctor's inner-conflicts like confetti, hurling them about his scenes with the emphatic lethargy of a man simultaneously actively resisting and reluctantly resigning to his fate. Even the culmination of the four-knock prophecy hinted at in Planet of the Dead is unexpectedly sweet and subtle; a heart-wrenching Wrath of Kahn farewell if there ever was one. The Complete Specials may not have convinced me to plow back through Davies' four-year run on the show, but The End of Time made me want to tune in to watch the Eleventh Doctor's upcoming adventures unfold.
All in all, The Waters of Mars and The End of Time are worth the cost of admission. I wouldn't necessarily recommend anyone new to the series start with The Complete Specials -- as it stands, the time I spent with Torchwood is the only thing that adequately prepared me to sample Davies' Who revival -- but diehards and disciples shouldn't hesitate, particularly when three of the five specials are so absorbing. Enjoy, dear readers.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray, Video Quality
Of the five Doctor Who specials featured in BBC Video's 5-disc set, four arrive with able-bodied 1080i/VC-1 transfers that grant the series a polish and shine its fans will welcome with open arms. Colors -- be they searing blues, sunbeat oranges, or vivid reds -- are bold and beautiful, skintones are natural, and black levels are deep and satisfying (save a handful of poorly resolved nighttime shots, most of which appear in The End of Time). Contrast is quite strong as well, allowing actors and foreground objects to pop without sacrificing the integrity of the specials' increasingly complex backgrounds. Some rather noticeable banding and aliasing wreaks brief havoc on each interlaced transfer, and edge enhancement and artifacting occasionally makes their presence known, but more often than not, the overall presentations remain clean and stable. And detail? Definition is crisp, delineation is decent, and fine textures are abundant (although not nearly as consistent or rewarding as they are in Torchwood: The Complete Second Season). Note the cracks of reptilian skin, the flecks of rust mounting an assault on an aging bus, the tiny lettering on a Martian station's control panels, the tentacled jowls of a squid-toothed alien, the stitches on the Doctor's coat, the slightest freckles on his Companions' faces. It isn't always perfect, but wow moments are there for the taking.
The lone exception? The Next Doctor. While presented with a 1080i/VC-1 transfer, the set's first television special has been upscaled from a standard definition source, and it suffers accordingly. Heavy ringing, mediocre clarity, compression artifacts, dull blacks, mosquito noise, contrast wavering... you name it, it's there in some capacity. Still, considering the nature of the special's original source and the fact that BBC Video has commendably spelled out the discrepancy on the box's back cover, it's hardly a point of contention. Taken as a whole, The Complete Specials aren't going to blow anyone away, but they do offer a significant visual upgrade from their DVD and broadcast counterparts.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Doctor Who box set includes five decent DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround tracks (not to be confused with lossless DTS-HD Master Audio mixes); each of which delivers a very similar, very competent sonic experience. Barring a few mid-action mishaps (the worst of which occur in The End of Time, Part Two), dialogue is clean and clear throughout, prioritization is solid, and voices, whether steeped in garbled alien mishmash or Timothy Dalton's immaculately enunciated English, hold court over the center channel. LFE output, though a tad two-dimensional on occasion, is bold and boisterous, infusing portals, wormholes, and surging energy the weight and heft they deserve. Moreover, pans are passable, directionality is adequate, dynamics are notable, and sound effects effortlessly whiz and wing their way across the soundfield on a regular basis. The rear speakers do tend to wax and wane throughout the set's specials, but still manage to craft five suitable soundfields nonetheless. Likewise, The Next Doctor is sometimes hobbled by its budget, but any complaints should be levied against Davies' sound design, not the BBC's technical track. Ultimately, fans will find little to complain about. The individual mixes aren't going to score any substantial praise, but they get the job done quite well.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials has a fairly generous supplemental package that, limited audio commentaries notwithstanding, offers diehards and newcomers a down-to-Earth look behind the scenes. Spread across five discs, the set arrives in a standard cardboard digipak with plastic disc hubs. Unfortunately, while the digipak is housed in a heavy slipcover, the set is flimsy and prone to wear-n-tear. It certainly isn't a deal breaker -- particularly since it falls in line with the majority of BBC Video releases -- but anyone suffering from BD-OCD will cringe.
Disc 1: The Next Doctor
The Next Doctor isn't brimming with special features -- you won't find an audio commentary, a Picture-in-Picture track, or any BD-Live goodies that scream Blu-ray -- but what it has is worth two hours of any Who fan's life. The only major downside? Unlike the other "Confidential" docs in the set, "The Next Doctor Confidential" has been upscaled from a standard definition source.
Disc 2: Planet of the Dead
Planet of the Dead takes a small step backwards. Though blessed with yet another excellent, hour-long "Confidential" documentary, it doesn't have any other features of note (a "High Definition Setup Guide" hardly counts). Thankfully, the meaty behind-the-scenes doc covers so much ground that it helps take the sting out of the near-barebones offering.
Disc 3: The Waters of Mars
Like Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars skirts by with a single documentary. Entertaining and thorough as it may be, it simply can't compete with the heap of features included with The End of Time, Parts One and Two.
Discs 4 and 5: The End of Time, Parts One and Two
The End of Time two-parter boasts more supplemental content than the first three specials combined. Two audio commentaries, two hour-long documentaries, a forty-minute David Tennant video diary, and another half-hour of assorted features add substantial value to the set, and should give Who zealots another reason to drop some cash on the Blu-ray edition of The Complete Specials.
Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A pack of five Doctor Who television specials isn't going to attract many newcomers to the TARDIS fold -- they'll have to wait for the series proper to finally earn a Blu-ray release -- but fans will eat it up. A solid AV presentation, elevated by decent 1080i video transfers and strong DTS-HD High Resolution audio tracks, and more than eight hours of supplemental content only sweeten the pot, making this a must-have for anyone who enjoyed David Tennant's run as the Tenth Doctor.
Doctor Who: Other Seasons
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Doctor Who: The Complete Specials Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Dr. Who Complete Specials $25.99 - February 21, 2011
This week, Amazon is offering Doctor Who: The Complete Specials for $25.99 (57% off MSRP). The price tracker shows that is the lowest that this five-disc set has been since its release a year ago. This offer is valid through February 25.
• Doctor Who: The End of Time Detailed - December 2, 2009
BBC Home Entertainment in conjunction with Warner Home Video has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of the finale 'Doctor Who: The End of Time Parts One & Two', which is scheduled to be released on February 2nd. ...
• Doctor Who Specials Coming to Blu-ray in February - November 2, 2009
BBC Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring a number of Doctor Who specials to Blu-ray on February 2nd, day-and-date with the DVD release. These include the next Doctor Who special 'Doctor Who: The Waters of Mars' and the 'Doctor Who: Two-Part ...
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