BLU-RAY REVIEW: Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series
The Doctor makes an historic visit to America...
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Doctor Who has been a staple of British science-fiction since 1963, with more than 760 episodes (and counting!). The show has had varying degrees of popularity in the U.S. over the years, but it was really the new generation of Doctor Who starting in 2005 that caught the attention of Americans on the then “Sci-Fi Channel” and subsequently BBC America. The “Who” train keeps chugging along with the completion of this year’s sixth Series[/B] (essentially British for “season”) and subsequent annual Christmas special (which now air on the same day internationally!), and fans already can’t wait for the next. Thankfully, in the meantime you can pick up Doctor Who The Complete Sixth Series on DVD and Blu-ray to relive the exciting and momentous stories!
If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Who, here’s a quick rundown. The show follows the adventures of the last of the Time Lords, an effectively immortal humanoid called simply “the Doctor.” His people, the Gallifreyans, were extinguished in the great Time War against a race of alien cyborgs called Daleks. Ever “since,” the Doctor has traveled the universe and time stream in his iconic vessel the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which due to a broken chameleon circuit resembles an old-fashioned British police box. Decidedly lonely at heart, the Doctor periodically swings by present day Earth to pick up a “companion” or two, someone to travel with him and share in his wild adventures. One last thing; in a stroke of absolutely brilliant writing, the Doctor regenerates when killed, coming back to full health in a new body and with a somewhat new personality. This has allowed the series to continue far beyond the lifespan of its actors (especially important for British TV in which seasons and show lifetimes are generally much shorter).
After one season of Christopher Eccleston in the lead role in 2005 came David Tennant, the man most credit with the explosion of Who popularity. But even he had to move on eventually, and so it was that in the final episode of the Fourth Series he regenerated, being replaced by actor Matt Smith. It was a somewhat controversial move, casting the youngest actor as the Doctor ever. Americans especially were hesitant about a new lead actor, having only just recently (by their TV standards) come to embrace Tennant. Of course, that’s already ancient history as we’ve fought, learned, loved, and cried beside Smith for two seasons now!
The new Sixth Series Blu-ray set is packaged similarly to the last release, with an outer cardboard box holding a book-like case. The front cover of the outer box has a dynamic image of the Doctor wielding his sonic screwdriver under a cloudy sky, enhanced with bright green metallic accents that make it stand out from the crowd. Meanwhile, the back cover is full of information like a listing of the series’ episodes and the bonus content. Surrounding all of that are little communication cubes (as see in the episode “The Doctor’s Wife”) containing still images of characters and events. The inner booklet packaging has a fold out three-panel panorama cover featuring the Doctor, astronaut, River Song, Amy Pond, Rory, and a member of the Silence along with the chant from “A Good Man Goes to War.” Inside the cover is a breakdown of each disc’s contents and a one page comic book retelling of 04/22/2011, the date the Doctor dies. Each disc has cool background Gallifreyan symbols and a character from its episodes: the flying shark from “A Christmas Carol,” the Silence from “The Impossible Astronaut,” the Jennifer Ganger from “Rebel Flesh,” the Sontaran nurse Strax from “A Good Man Goes to War,” a Cyberman from “Closing Time,” and the Doctor himself!
The Sixth Series consists of 13 episodes plus its preceding Christmas special (you can read my review of A Christmas Carol HERE), and will go down as one of the most momentous in Who history for a variety of reasons. The very beginning of the series finds the Doctor and his friends personally invited to a mysterious meeting. They head to Utah in 1969 when the Doctor is killed by someone (or something) in an astronaut suit! Of course, things are usually not what they appear in the Doctor Who universe and so in short order the companions run into a younger version of the Doctor who knows nothing of what’s to come. Thus starts a multi-faceted season involving scary new aliens (especially the Silence), historical figures like Nixon and Hitler, pirates, a personal encounter with the soul of the TARDIS, a war among the stars, and much more. All the while, the mystery of the Doctor’s death hangs over everything and isn’t resolved until the very last episode. Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away! One major feature of the sixth series involved the locale of the first episodes. While Doctor Who has told stories that took place in the United States before, this was the first time that the show has been filmed here! Especially considering the massive popularity of Who on this side of the Atlantic, that’s pretty cool.
Beyond the massive overarching plots and interconnecting stories, the sixth series had some especially great moments. Thanks to head writer and showrunner Steven Moffat the show continues to delve into dark and scary territory one week while hitting comedic highs the next. For their look and beyond creepy ability to “disappear” from memory as soon as they’re out of sight the Silence will go down as one of the scariest alien species in Doctor Who, and they bookend this series alongside the mystery of the Doctor’s death. In the Doctor’s Wife, written by Neil Gaiman, we get a heartfelt peek into the literal character of the TARDIS when its soul embodies a human form. The mid-season two-parter Rebel Flesh and the Almost People deals with real-life issues of humanity, souls, and what happens when science outpaces ethics. Night Terrors is a spine-tingling horror story of kid’s toys run amuck, while Closing Time is a great standalone episode full of humor and wit (I dare you not to laugh at Stormaggedon!). Of course, the big set pieces are the opening episodes, A Good Man Goes to War, and the finale Wedding of River Song. Each brings back beloved characters and hated enemies with tremendous action and drama while revealing facets of the main characters’ lives you’ll never see coming.
On top of the amazing television of the 13 episodes and Christmas special, the Complete Sixth Series on Blu-ray has tons of great extras. Five “Night and the Doctor” additional scenes tell you what goes on between the episodes, while two exclusive sketches appear here for the first time after their showing at the UK’s Comic Relief charity event. Four “Monster Files” look at the weird aliens of Who and “Prequels” give additional info for five different episodes. The usual “Doctor Who Confidential” clips are back providing behind the scenes looks at the show, this time with fourteen snippets plus the extended “A Nights’ Tale” and then there are trailers and more.
If you’ve been watching Doctor Who and somehow missed out on Series Six you’re going to want to pick this up ASAP. If you did watch this season on BBC America, you’re going to want to get this set and re-watch all the episodes on high-def Blu-ray with all of the special features. Bottom line: this is a great set for all Who fans and whether you’re looking at the episodes, the extras, or just the presentation of the discs and packaging you won’t be disappointed. The Doctor has come to America and The Complete Sixth Season on Blu-ray is available at all major outlets now. Get yours today!
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of BBC America