Published on September 10th, 2014 | by admin
Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Review
Summary: So when it came to celebrate its 50th anniversary, you can bet that the BBC and the programme’s makers, were going to pull out all the stops
Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collector’s Edition Review
Reviewer: Robert Mammone
Over its long, long history, Doctor Who has been a flagship programme for the premier broadcasting organisation in the world and its most embarrassing little secret. It has enthralled generations of children and enraged Christian fundamentalists. It has been a hit at home, and a worldwide phenomenon.
So when it came to celebrate its 50th anniversary, you can bet that the BBC and the programme’s makers, were going to pull out all the stops.
Now, living out in the colonies, if you were to pure to avail yourself of the torrent sites, the cornucopia of programming slated to celebrate the milestone would’ve past you by. Thankfully, this celebratory release allows everyone the chance to experience the buzz and excitement in the lead up to that magical date, November 23rd.
The seeds that showrunner Stephen Moffat sowed in the 2012 Christmas special, The Snowmen, begin to bear fruit with the main story on this first disc. The Name of the Doctor features the culmination of the plans of Great Intelligence (Richard E. Grant) first seen in The Abominable Snowmen and laterally in the miraculously returned The Web of Fear, to bring the Doctor undone. The Doctor and Clara are forced to journey to the planet Trenzalore, where the Doctor’s tomb is located. There, the mystery of the Doctor’s true name is touched on, and the audience discovers exactly why Clara is called The Impossible Girl.
And if that isn’t enough, we farewell the Doctor’s wife, Professor River Song, and welcome John Hurt has a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor, setting us up memorably for the 50th anniversary feature, The Day of the Doctor.
Name of the Doctor is a curious beast of a story. While ostensibly promising revelations and action, it actually reveals very little, only deepening the mystery around the Doctor. A very talky episode, it does what modern Doctor Who does so well – deal in emotions and character – that has gained it a whole new audience. It also does that curiously modern thing of not ever really resolving the mystery, instead giving more tantalising hints, then seeding more through the narrative for future development.
Jenna Coleman works hard with thin material she’s given. The common complaint for her character Clara is that she lacks a character. And in this episode, she fulfils what she feels like – a plot device designed to solve a problem. What comes after the resolution of the story for the development of the character sees its fruition later in the Capaldi era.
Matt Smith is Matt Smith – fun on the one hand, but deeply moved and moving on the other. With the end of his time in sight, it’s easy to see the mood darkening around him. While some may quibble about the Doctor marrying River Song, his farewell to her shade is beautifully played and heartbreaking.
Special Features: Aside from subtitles and scene selection, there are three special features on Disc 1. Behind the Scenes offers exactly that, a very, very quick look behind the curtain at the making of this episode. There’s some fun stuff involving Alex Kingston (River Song) slapping Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh) but otherwise, perfectly disposable. Your reviewer has previously discussed The Ultimate Guide, an American produced clip and chat show designed to introduce new American viewers to the show, its history, and its modern incarnation. In that aspect, it works perfectly well, but otherwise there are better documentaries to be experienced included in the classic DVD range. Finally, the piece de resistance, Night of the Doctor. Ever since the show came back in 2005, there have been calls by some fans to bring back the Eighth Doctor and star of 1996s TV Movie, Paul McGann. There wish was granted a few evenings before Day of the Doctor screened. And the internet erupted. For 7 brief minutes, Paul McGann was the Doctor once again. And it’s a brilliant 7 minutes, beautifully scripted by Steven Moffat (apparently the night before the mini-episode was shot!). It gives closure to the Eighth Doctor’s reign, validates the Big Finish audios as ‘canonical’ Doctor Who, and most importantly, introduces John Hurt as the 9th Doctor (confusingly pushing Christopher Eccelston to 10th…but that’s another story). A masterpiece of economy and pacing, Night of the Doctor whetted the appetite for what was to come only a few days later.
November 23rd 1963 saw the birth of a television legend, though no one realised that at the time. Designed to fill a gap in the Saturday tea time schedule between Grandstand (sports for the Dads) and Juke Box Jury (hip tunes for the swinging kids), Doctor Who quickly grew and blossomed and became an overnight sensation, with assistance from the stunning reveal of the Daleks. Over the course of the next 50 years, Doctor Who would quickly become a national institution, inspiration for two generations of children, the flagship that launched a million pieces of merchandise, a punch line to any number of tiresome jokes, and a fond memory for many, many adults nostalgic for their childhood. When Doctor Who came back in 2005, it was made for a new, modern audience in mind, taking on the sensibilities and idiom of television now. But, against all odds, it was still Doctor Who.
Fifty years, especially in television, is a very, very long time. And with the history and regard that Doctor Who developed, came a lot of baggage and expectations. In hindsight, only one man was capable of catering to the expectations of old time fans, and the millions of new viewers the show gained on its return – that man of course being Steven Moffat. The Day of the Doctor is an exciting romp that consciously refers back in to the show’s history (the basic structure of Hurt, Tennant and Smith echoes Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee in the 10th anniversary story, The Three Doctors). But it also looks forward, freeing the Doctor from the guilt of his genocidal role in the Time War, and thus giving the show fresh impetus as it looked to the future with a new actor in the lead role, Peter Capaldi.
But not before the stunning appearance of Tom Baker (who played the Fourth Doctor from 1974-1981). Controversially absent from the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctor’s, Tom Baker’s appearance in the 50th anniversary brought a gasp of surprise and delight in the cinema your reviewer watched this episode. Here was the nod to the past the fans were looking for, in the shape of the man who for many millions was Doctor Who.
An exciting crowd pleasure, The Day of the Doctor will reward return visits for many, many years to come.
Special Features: Aside from subtitles and scene selection, this disc is chock full of special features. The Last Day is the worst of them, a three minute mini-episode that takes place on Gallifrey as the final Dalek attack of the Time War begins. All the hallmarks of a video game, with no drama or action or character. Forgettable. Happily, the Script to Screen feature offers a fascinating insight into a key aspect of the production process, the script read through, where the kinks in the script are smoothed out with the aid of (most) of the actors. It was fascinating to see how Tennant and Smith interacted together out of their characters. What was also on display was a lot of gracious actors very pleased to be involved in the anniversary episode.
For those who attended the cinema screenings of The Day of the Doctor, the following two shorts are particularly memorable. Dan Starkey as Strax the Sontaran greets the viewers in Cinema Intro. This enjoyable piece of comedy fluff riffs on the warnings cinema goers face each time they attend so as not to annoy fellow watchers. Played with typical understatement by Starkey, this short was quickly followed by the second Cinema Intro, this time featuring Matt Smith and David Tennant. Smith is hilarious here, his comedic timing absolutely spot on, and displaying all the charisma we’ve come to expect. Tennant is an amusing straight man, before the intro changes tone to reveal the back of John Hurt in his guise as the War Doctor.
Two quick fire trailers follow – the Early Trailer is designed to announce the main elements of the anniversary episode to the casual viewer, while the 50th Anniversary Trailer is one long fascinating Easter egg for die-hard fans, a quick fire journey through 50 years via computer rendered iconic images from the series. This trailer definitely rewards repeat viewing.
Tales from the TARDIS follows roughly the same vein as The Ultimate Guide on Disc 1. Told through the eyes of past actors and production staff, here are more insights into the production history of the show, and serves as a nice introduction to some of what we saw in the anniversary episode.
Rounding the special features out is Behind the Lens – Day of the Doctor. Narrated by Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor) we have a quick, cheerful look through the making of the special. Some of the footage was seen in the Script to Screen feature earlier, but it is nice to see the crowd reactions to the shooting in Trafalgar Square.
Time of the Doctor: So after the fireworks of The Day of the Doctor, we finally arrived at Matt Smith’s swansong. An old man trapped in a young man’s body, the Eleventh Doctor faces his end with nobility, dignity and self-sacrifice. Smith had to carry the tag of the youngest actor to portray the part, and quickly dispelled fears his abilities were inadequate to the task. Charismatic, funny and capable of great power and dignity, the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration story (mostly) ties up the intricate storytelling of his era. The Time Lords return, the Doctor is gifted a new regeneration cycle, and Matt Smith leaves in a very touching farewell scene which takes us back to his first story, The Eleventh Hour.
Smith came to the role knowing nothing about Doctor Who. In leaving, he has touched a generation of Doctor Who fans who will never ever forget him.
Behind the Lens – Time of the Doctor. The departure of Matt Smith as the Doctor came as something of a shock to fans, particularly given he had only a month or two before stated his intent to appear in 2014. So when he left, there was a massive outpouring of grief and sadness at the news, emotions that continue to swirl to this day. This short behind the scenes feature concentrates mainly on this aspect. Seeing Smith dissolve into tears in the read through as he reads out his Doctor’s final words is extremely touching, almost as touching as the emotion Stephen Moffat (who cast Smith in the role) displays when farewelling Smith.
Deleted Scene – in recent times the Christmas special has started with an element of humour. Time of the Doctor was no different, with the Doctor appearing nude (but clad in holographic clothing). To play this up, this short scene of Clara hugging the Doctor was filmed, before the decision was made to delete it. Makes sense only if you’ve watched the episode.
A Night with the Stars – The Science of Doctor Who featuring Brian Cox: Brian Cox is a well know British scientist who has worked to bring science to the masses. Tying in with the 50th anniversary, this episode of his show looks at a number of scientific ideas as used in the show, including time travel, black holes and chemistry. Using these as a launching pad, Cox works to bring the insanely complex processes down to the level of the layman, with the help of well-known UK actors (including Charles Dance, set to appear in the new series featuring Peter Capaldi). This is fascinating episode also features scripted scenes with Matt Smith as the Doctor meeting Cox prior to his lecture being recorded. Overall, this will leave you pondering the eternal mysteries of the cosmos.
Farewell to Matt Smith: Produced for BBC America, this is another in a long line of clip and interview shows devoted to bringing the burgeoning US market up to speed with the series. Narrated by Alex Kingston (Professor River Song) and featuring an array of talking heads from America, this production looks back at the Matt Smith era. This was the time the series well and truly broke big in the United States, as can be evidenced by the near hysteria public appearances by Matt Smith and other members of the cast evoked. It’s an affectionate look back at Smith’s time and the show, and one can’t help but feel a pang at his departure.
An Adventure in Space and Time.
Writer and producer Mark Gatiss has a great appreciation and love for Doctor Who. One of the most prolific writers in the new series, his Doctor Who pedigree stretches back to the early 1990s with tie-in fiction for the range. Notably, he has teamed up with Steven Moffat to update Sherlock Holmes for a modern audience. So his experience in writing, producing and show running held him in good stead for this project, which he had discussed with Doctor Who Magazine as early as the late 1990s.
An Adventure in Space and Time is a docudrama that looks back at the beginnings of Doctor Who. In focuses on William Hartnell (David Bradley), producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine), director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dahwan) and Sydney Newman (Brian Cox) as they struggle and fight and cajole their way to realising on screen this strange little show that would become a television legend and icon.
Of a necessity, the known facts behind the show’s inception are rearranged, compressed and shuffled to suit the dictates of drama. For instance, we know that Newman never met with Hartnell to tell him he was sacked – his departure was rather more low key than that. Similarly, while Hartnell did struggle with declining health, it was never as radically impairing as what we saw in this story. And it’s a definite fact that Hartnell never hallucinated seeing Matt Smith on the TARDIS set during the mid-1960s!
What we do get is a warm, sympathetic portrayal of William Hartnell, a man who grew up never knowing his father, who moved through the golden age of British cinema either side of the war and gained a reputation for playing hard men even in comedies. However, Doctor Who allowed him to move on from that typecasting and create a character in the Doctor of particular appeal to children. Bradley is a delight here, showing both sides of the man; the cantankerous old hand, and the man taken with the whimsy of the show and the love children had for it. The scene where he realises he has to leave but doesn’t want to is particularly wrenching.
Several cast members from the 1960s make an appearance in the episode, tribute to the impact they made when they featured on the show. William Russell (Ian Chesterton) appears early on when Sydney Newman parks his car at the BBC, and several former companions (Carole Ann Ford and Anneke Wills) appear in a scene farewelling Verity Lambert from the show.
A delightful production, filmed with warmth and tenderness, An Adventure in Space and Time is a wonderful love letter to a show beloved by generations.
There is a diverse selection of special features available on this disc. A number of years ago, Doctor Who researcher Richard Bignell unearthed an extant television interview Hartnell conducted shortly after leaving the role while touring with a pantomime. On offer here in William Hartnell: The Original is a brief glimpse of Hartnell the man, who clearly thinks the stage is beneath his abilities, and one who doesn’t suffer foolish television journalists to boot.
Gatiss, ever the fan, takes the opportunity offered by the production to reconstruct certain scenes from the Hartnell era, some sadly no longer existing in the BBC Archives. Selected scenes from An Unearthly Child and the Pilot make an appearance. A chance to film the lost regeneration between Hartnell to Troughton also appears, as well as Gatiss in full Jon Pertwee costume! The iconic Farewell to Susan from The Dalek Invasion of Earth is recreated, as well as the notorious direct to camera Festive Greeting Hartnell offered to the viewers of episode 7 of The Daleks’ Masterplan. Title Sequences shows the original and iconic title sequence and contrast it with the sequence devised for the docudrama. A pair of Deleted Scenes round out the shorter special features, labelled Radiophonic Workshop and Verity’s Leaving Party.
The undoubted highlight of the special features is the Peter Davison (the Fifth Doctor) directed comedy, The Five(ish) Doctors. Fully supported by the BC, Davison wrote and directed this funny, sometimes touching comedy involving a cavalcade of past actors and production staff in the role. Featuring efforts by Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, to appear in the 50th anniversary special, the story is an all-round crowd pleasure. Look for cameos by Paul McGann, David Tennant, Stephen Moffat, John Barrowman, Russell T Davies and Ian McKlellan. I surprise highlight of the anniversary celebrations.
Finally, the disc is finished off with Doctor Who at the Proms 2013. Combining symphonic music and iconic monsters from the series, this production allows viewers not based in the UK the opportunity to experience the full s plendour of the production.
Features: overall, 4/5. Your reviewers personal highlight is Night of the Doctor, which ably demonstrates that full length episode featuring Paul McGann is long overdue. The other stories are excellent demonstrations of why Doctor Who is today so popular, combining wit, charisma, action and adventure, for all the family.
Special Features: 4.5/5 In terms of length and breadth, you really can’t go passed the comprehensiveness of the special features on display here. The Behind the Lens pieces really deserved to be much longer examinations of the stories involved, but the longer documentaries, made for the American market, go some way to compensating the viewer.
Visual: 5/5 On my home set up, the picture looked crisp and inviting.
Audio: 5/5 Again on my home set up, the audio was perfectly comprehensible, which, given music composer Murray Gold insists on drenching the visuals with sound, is no mean feat.