"I think you need a Doctor." With that line, Christopher Eccleston was about to make his exit from Doctor Who, wrapping up his only season in the role. But it just as well sums up his entrance to the series, a 2005 reboot of the historically long-running BBC science-fiction show (1963-1989). Under the guardianship of executive producer Russell T Davies (Queer as Folk)—who also penned eight of the thirteen First Series episodes—Doctor Who thundered back onto the BBC in a manner that honored the series' canon while also injecting new energy and reestablishing a show previously aimed primarily at children as one sophisticated enough that adult geeks could love it unabashedly.
Though still redolent of B-movies in its sometimes cheesy content and its TV-level production values, the new Doctor Who displayed a significant upgrade in budget and an undoubtably sexier tone. A format change meant episodes of roughly forty-five minutes, rather than the old half-hour shows, but frequent two-parters on the reboot added up to something like the most common historical Who story size: feature length. Though technically its own series, Davies' Doctor Who unequivocally positions itself as a continuation of the original. Eccleston's time-and-space-travelling Ninth Doctor falls in line right after the Eighth (Paul McGann in the BBC co-produced 1996 telefilm), who in turn inherited the role from the seven doctors of the 1963-1989 run. Clad in a battered leather jacket, the Ninth Doctor evinced a lonelier, tougher Time Lord, qualities that tempered the character's still-present absent-minded professor and university-wit qualities.
All the elements of the new Who are in place in the series opener "Rose": thrills of adventure, chills of creepy creatures, spills of action (the Doctor's first line, to companion Rose: "Run!"), crazy plotting with heaps of science fiction weirdness, an intimation of romance, and a pronounced sense of humor. The second episode, "The End of the World," shoots into the far-flung future (as far flung as it gets for Earth, to the Sun-exploding year Five Billion), and the third episode, "The Unquiet Dead" (penned by Sherlock scribe Mark Gatiss) travels back to 1869, to hang with Charles Dickens (Simon Callow). Three episodes in, Davies has effectively reestablished the ground rules of Doctor Who: monsters that send kids hiding behind the couch (with the plastic-fantastic Autons, "Rose" pays homage to the first color Who adventure, "Spearhead from Space"), sexy Doctor and sexy companions (Billie Piper as nineteen-year-old Londoner Rose) for the dads and mums, and adventures in future space and Earth past.
Davies' Who also made clear that it would play in the big leagues with long-term story arcs, starting with the nascent "Bad Wolf" effort. This is the sort of thing Steven Moffat would later raise to a high art in his tenure as executive producer, but Moffat was already on board as the writer of Series One two-parter comprised of "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances." The earlier two-parter comprised of "Aliens of London" and "World War Three" showed how the series' ambitions stretched all the way to evoking blockbuster cinema, complete with spectacular damage to a world landmark (Big Ben).
Davies was thinking big, and expanding the canon with flourishing references to the Time War, new monsters like the Slitheen, new characters like The Face of Boe and bisexual adventurer Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). In addition to Captain Jack, Series One had short-term male companions in Adam Mitchell (Bruno Langley) and Mickey Smith (Noel Clarke). Doctor Who got shockingly philosophical (and surprisingly satirical) with the brilliant game-changer "Dalek," in which the last of the Time Lords meets the last of the Daleks, and we understand the Doctor's angry, cruel side.
The series showed its heightened interest in companions' psychology by making Piper a true co-star to Eccleston, and she's particularly featured in "Father's Day," a sort of Doctor Who spin on Star Trek's "City on the Edge of Forever." Davies also showed he wasn't afraid of envelope-pushing cheekiness in the cheeky "Bad Wolf," with its bite-the-hand-that-broadcasts-it TV spoofery. And triumphantly promising that the Doctor belongs alongside James Bond as an all-British hero for the ages, "The Parting of the Ways" ends with the title "Doctor Who will return in The Christmas Invasion."
BBC Home Video gives Doctor Who: The Complete First Series its Blu-ray debut as a part of the Doctor Who: Complete Series 1-7 Limited Edition Blu-ray Giftset. Previously available on standard-def DVD only, these episodes get an upgrade in the form of upscaling to 1080p. Some have questioned whether this was worth doing, since the episodes were shot and edited in standard definition. And they would be right that the results aren't always pretty, but I absolutely feel this upscale was worth doing, for a few good reasons.
First of all, the picture is improved from the DVDs: the images are better resolved and productively sharpened, which yields especially good results in close-ups if inconsistent results in medium and long shots; at times, viewers could be fooled into thinking seeing they're seeing a native HD picture in some of those close-ups. All around, there's a better sense of detail from that sharpening—though this also comes with some edge enhancement/ringing, and color and contrast don't really get much of a boost. There's some generally mild aliasing, though quite a bit less than one might expect. The image is slightly pillarboxed, and suffers from an annoying band at the top and bottom of frame—but before you get out your torches and pitchforks, have a look at your standard-def copy of the same material, which has loud video static at the bottom of its frame (part of the oddness of the Blu-rays is that one line of information at top and bottom is sometimes partially blacked out). But much more is gained than lost in terms of picture quality by making these conversions. No one would ever want to go back to their DVDs after seeing these Blu-ray transfers: why would they?
Secondly, these new Blu-ray sets take up a heckuva lot less room on your shelf, with smaller disc counts and slimmer packaging afforded by Blu-ray, and they fit uniformly and handsomely alongside the other new Blu-ray sets in a way the bulky DVD sets surely wouldn't. Thirdly, the Blu-rays are an occasion for lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes that are considerably more potent than their DVD counterparts. LFE is frequently engaged, especially to accompany the physically palpable rumble of spaceship engines, and the discrete placement of sounds impresses along with the fullness and fidelity of the music.
Disc One houses "Rose," "The End of the World," "The Unquiet Dead," "Aliens of London" and "World War Three, as well as audio commentary on "Rose" with Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner, and Phil Collinson; "The End of the World" with Collinson and Will Cohen; "The Unquiet Dead" with Mark Gatiss, Euros Lyn, and Simon Callow; "Aliens of London" with Gardner, Cohen, and David Verrey; and "World War Three" with Collinson, Annette Badland, and Helen Raynor.
Disc Two serves up "Dalek," "The Long Game," "Father's Day," "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances," along with audio commentary on "Dalek" with Bruno Langley, Nick Briggs, Robert Shearman, and Dave Houghton; "The Long Game" with Brian Grant, Christine Adams, and Langley; "Father's Day" with Collinson, Shaun Dingwall, Billie Piper, and Paul Cornell; "The Empty Child" with Steven Moffat, Houghton, and John Barrowman; and "The Doctor Dances" with Moffat, Houghton, and Barrowman.
Disc Three includes "Boom Town," Bad Wolf," and "The Parting of the Ways," as well as audio commentary on "Boom Town" with Collinson, Barrowman, and Badland; "Bad Wolf" with Davies, Gardner, and Collinson; and "The Parting of the Ways" with Gardner, Piper, and Barrowman.
Bonus features on Disc One include "BBC Breakfast Interview with Christopher Eccleston" (11:44, SD); "Destroying the Lair" (3:24, SD) with model unit director Mike Tucker; "Making Doctor Who with Russell T Davies" (15:33, SD); "Waking the Dead" (18:09, SD) and "Laying Ghosts" (8:24, SD)—with Gatiss, et al.—which allow the writer to discuss "The Unquiet Dead"; the new series' "Launch Trailers" (2:46, SD) and "Storyboard of Opening Trailer" (:49, SD); as well as "Deconstructing Big Ben" (4:52, SD) with model unit director Mike Tucker. Most fascinating is the Eccleston interview, which finds the actor politicly submitting to questions, hedging certain answers, but just as clearly seizing the opportunity to clarify what matters most to him about his time on the show.
Disc Two bonus features include "On Set with Billie Piper" (19:03, SD), video diary footage by Piper on the set of "Dalek"; "Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons" (5:32, SD), concerning Tucker's work for "The Empty Child"; "Designing Doctor Who" (20:51, SD), which finds Edward Thomas leading a tour of the TARDIS, including introductions to the rest of the design team; "The Adventures of Captain Jack" (8:30, SD), which allows Barrowman to discuss his character; and "Trailers" (3:30, SD).
Disc Three offers up the "cutdowns" of Doctor Who Confidential (2:35:45, SD)—versions the BBC "cut down" from their original thirty-minute run times—include "Bringing Back the Doctor" (11:56), "The Good, The Bad & the Ugly" (11:06), "TARDIS Tales" (11:04), "I Get a Side-Kick Out of You" (10:48), "Why on Earth?" (13:03), "Dalek" (10:46), "The Dark Side" (11:29), "Time Trouble" (12:46), "Special Effects" (14:03), "Weird Science" (13:11), "Unsung Heroes & Violent Death" (12:31), "The World of Who" (13:20), and "The Last Battle" (9:32). It's really too bad that this set wasn't occasion to spring for the full half-hour versions of these fine behind-the-scenes shows, but music rights issues are probably to blame for us likely never getting those versions on home video.
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