It seems like every writer I idolize has the same history with Doctor Who as I do. As a young child growing up in Western New York, I stumbled across the show on PBS and the brief glimpse I saw gave me horrible, HORRIBLE nightmares. I didn’t fully return to the series until its recent revival at the BBC. Let me tell you, I’m glad I did. More after the jump.
For those unfamiliar with Doctor Who, there is a vast history, but you can be brought up to speed with just the essential bits. With apologies to die-hard fans for this Reader’s Digest summary… The Doctor is a Time Lord (David Tennant), a being almost a millennia old, but don’t worry, he doesn’t look it. When gravely injured, The Doctor metamorphoses into a wholly new being both physically and personality-wise (though oddly enough, not a female). Please note this as the switchover from current to new Doctor is the crux of this series of specials. With use of the TARDIS, an old-school blue British police box, he travels through space and time. He has a special place in his hearts (yes, more than one, he is an alien after all) for Earth and its inhabitants and often not only takes one of us as his companion on his journeys, but also often fights for Earth’s continued survival. Always on his person is his handy dandy sonic screwdriver which can do anything from opening locked doors to wrecking havoc on computer and spacecraft systems. That’s your primer. Everything else is window dressing, fanciful and spectacular though it may be.
The four specials included in this set are The Next Doctor, Planet of the Dead, The Waters of Mars and two part special The End of Time. We start with The Doctor in Victorian London and journey with him to a distant world, to Mars and to the present. All the while, he deals with his own special form of mortality and villains ranging from Cybermen (they are what you think they are) to the long lost, time-locked Time Lords themselves.
The Next Doctor
The Doctor encounters another man claiming to be The Doctor in Christmastime 1851 London. This new Doctor has a big gap in his memory and a companion of his own, Rosita. His sonic screwdriver is a plain old screwdriver and he has a hot air balloon he calls his TARDIS. Confounding the mystery of the second Doctor’s identity is the presence of the Cybermen. Aside from the identity crisis, the other mystery resolves around the doings of the red-dressed villainous Miss Hartigan in league with the Cybermen.
Planet of the Dead
The Doctor boards an iconic double-decker London bus tracking a hole in space only to find himself and the passengers sucked through said hole. The other passengers include: a noble lady thief, an older couple (the wife of which is a bit of a psychic), a mother, a man on his way to hit on a woman, and a recently unemployed guy on his way home to watch television. They aren’t alone. They’re watched by aliens and the psychic woman warns them about approaching death. In the end of the adventure, that same woman tells The Doctor that his own impending death will come accompanied by four knocks.
The Waters of Mars
For all intents and purposes, this special is very much akin to a horror/zombie movie. The Doctor lands on Mars to discover an international expedition (Bowie Base One – get it? Life on Mars?) on the Red Planet in the year 2059. Of course, because of his knowledge of the ages, The Doctor knows this expedition met a disastrous end. Soon the crew are attacked and taken over by a water-based parasite. At first, the Doctor believes he must leave them to their fated destruction, but then reconsiders. It is only after this change of heart(s), and specifically Captain Adelaide Brooke’s reaction, that he realizes the true limits of a Time Lord.
The End of Time
Alien beings appear to the Doctor and reveal that insane archenemy The Master has survived. The four knocks that are predicted to precede the Doctor’s death are prevalent as The Master unfolds a scheme to take over the Earth once and for all, his Master plan for the Master race. Lingering on the fringes, the long thought dead Time Lords find a way to link Gallifrey to the Earth and plan to bring themselves out of the time bubble that traps them. In doing so, they hope to end all of time and transcend into higher beings. Let’s just say the Doctor has his hands full, but gets some impromptu help from old soldier Wilfred Mott.
At the center of these four specials is the performance of David Tennant (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) as The Doctor. I know it’s odd to say about an alien character, but Tennant infuses The Doctor with an impressive and great humanity. Over the course of these specials, we see him live out the full range of human emotion from happiness to sorrow and from hubris to humility in the face of mortality. David Morrissey (The Reaping, Basic Instinct 2) really stands out as the Other Doctor in The Next Doctor. A good chunk of the mystery requires you to buy into him as an incarnation and his performance makes not doing just that difficult. Without spoiling, I’d love to see more of him. Planet of the Dead‘s cast highlight has to be Michelle Ryan (Bionic Woman, Cashback) as Lady Christina de Souza, the noble thief, who fills the role briefly here as The Doctor’s companion. Help from Earth comes in the form of tightly-wound Captain Erisa Magambo (Noma Dumezweni) and rapidly unwinding scientific advisor Dr. Malcolm Taylor (Lee Evans – There’s Something About Mary, Mousehunt) and her by-the-book character coupled with his eccentricities make for powerful entertainment. The Waters of Mars finds the Doctor in the company of Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan – Under the Tuscan Sun, Alice in Wonderland). The End of Time has multiple standouts, including John Simm (BBC’s Life on Mars) as the Master, Wilfred Mott played by Bernard Cribbins (Frenzy), and Timothy Dalton (License to Kill, Hot Fuzz) as the Time Lord President and Narrator, as well as a slew of surprise cameos from across Tennant’s Who run.
Sound is Dolby Digital 5.1 and the image preserves its 1.78:1 format. English subtitles available.
On startup, trailer for BBC America. Torchwood: Children of Men trailer appears on Disc Two.
Each of the five Blu-Ray discs (including parts 1 and 2 of The End of Time) includes a Doctor Who Confidential which examines not only the episode, but also how it relates to the overall Doctor Who mythos. Thorough and enjoyable and as education as it is entertaining.
Additional Special Features:
(Disc One) Doctor Who at the Proms — Martha Jones actress Freema Agyeman hosts a Doctor Who-oriented concert at the Royal Albert Hall with accompanying images and a very special appearance by the Doctor.
(Disc Four) David Tennant Video Diary — The Final Days — charts Tennant with the read-through for Planet of the Dead as his run as the Doctor comes to a close.
(Disc Four) Doctor Who BBC Christmas Idents — a full commercial accompanied with short station identifications.
(Disc Five) Doctor Who at Comic Con
(Disc Five) Deleted Scenes with introduction from Russell T Davies
These specials are a rollercoaster ride that fully encapsulates the Doctor Who experience. It’s a lovely farewell tour for David Tennant with strong material to support his strong character performance. A great jumping on spot as even newcomers will appreciate the scope of these adventures. As fine an addition to the Doctor Who canon as it will be to your collection.
Final Grade – A