Doctor Who : Series 1 (2005)
14th November 2005
This remarkable box set contains all 13 stories from the 2005 series of Doctor Who shown on BBC1. Christopher Eccleston's picks up the keys to the TARDIS and harks back to a comedy past not seen since the likes of the Tom Baker. This new Doctor is wise, funny, cheeky and, as usual, brave to the core as he goes about saving the world. As an alien time lord with two hearts, he's a bit of a loner and is the last of his species. His detached logic gives him a vital edge when the world is in danger and it's surprising just how effective a sonic screwdriver can be in helping to save the day. But when it comes to human relationships, he can be found a tad inadequate, and that's why he needs new assistant.
His new assistant Rose is a shop-girl from the present day. But, thanks to the Doctor, when the animated Autons pay her department store a visit, it doesn't take long for the Doctor to destroy the entire building and leave her without a job. But from the moment they meet, the Doctor and Rose are soul mates and they understand and complement each other - even if Rose has the habit of nearly destroying the timeline on a weekly basis. As they travel together through time, encountering new and familiar adversaries, the Doctor shows her things beyond imagination. Starting out as an innocent, unfettered by worldly concerns, she ends up an adventurer who, by the end of the series, can never go home again but plays a big part of saving the planet from invasion.
The picture is wonderfully bright and colourful with an extremely high level of detail. Flesh and colour tones are excellent whilst black levels are impressive throughout. The bit-rate remains high throughout whilst there's no signs of artifacting or outlining. Also, given the fact that it is television production, and a recent one at that, there are no signs of print damage or other forms of picture imperfections. It may have even been filmed digitally. The only down side is that some of the CGI special effects are a little disappointing with a few of the creatures quite obviously people in rubber suits. A good example of this would be the Slitheens who wouldn't look out of place in a pantomime. However, that's part of the fun of the programme and it's not really a problem.
You'll have trouble finding a television series, or film for that matter, that sounds any better than this series of Doctor Who. Whilst some big budget American series have finally embraced the Dolby Digital 5.1 format, they are normally rather plain and unexciting affairs. However, the BBC have thrown all caution (and no doubt much money too) to the wind and produced a soundtrack that truly rattles the foundations and leaves you agog at the quality of the sound. You've just got to believe me when I say that you've got to keep pinching yourself to make sure you're not dreaming and actually watching and listening to a British television show.
The 448 Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is something to behold with every channel extremely active throughout each of the episodes. The surround channels are full of ambient and musical effects whilst there's some very good use of the channels for directional effects. Likewise, the front stereo channels offer an equal amount of impressive directional effects whilst the centre channel provides some clear and precise dialogue. It's a remarkable soundtrack which will have you looking over your shoulder as people talk and other spooky goings on happen all around you. However, the highlight would have to be the LFE channel. Never have I heard such a rumble from my sub-woofer, and from even the most inconspicuous of moments of the programme. And what better way is there to enjoy that classic opening theme tune in all of its 5.1 glory.
The menus across all of the discs are scored and wonderfully animated with 3D CGI interior shots of the TARDIS. The menu introduction is even better with a TARDIS falling through a time stream before finally coming to rest in the TARDIS and its rather tatty, but endearing, interior. The menus are easy to navigate through and there's nothing to get confused about. Unfortunately, the PR company was not able to supply the fifth disc containing a large majority of the special extras, including a look at the 2005 Christmas special, so fans of the series will have to dash out and buy their own copy to learn more about them. Never the less, there's plenty of extras spread across the other four discs worthy of exploring.
The main extra on the disc set is the commentary track which accompanies each of the 13 episodes. Although Christopher Eccleston fails to turn up and provide a commentary (perhaps his head was too big to fit into the recording studio) it's left to the writers and other cast members, including Billie Piper and John Barrowman on the final episode of the series, to provide an interesting and informative look at each of the episodes. There's plenty of information on the clever use of local locations, the sets, some back slapping for the actors and the inevitable lack of BBC money for just about every part of them series. However, each commentary is made all the better by the fact that everyone seems to be enjoying the programme so much as they watch and talk about it. I also think that everyone is still in a bit of a shock that the series has been relaunched.
From the off, the twelve minute interview with Christopher Eccleston on BBC Breakfast seems to indicate a lack of enthusiasm for his role as after being asked whether he was a fan of the series as a child he replies that he was outside playing and would only tune in the watch the regeneration or an appearance of the Daleks. Sure, he's an intelligent guy with plenty to say about his role and the genre on television in general, but after watching it I got this definite feeling that he always only ever planned to film one series. He even avoided answering a direct question on the subject too. The three minute Destroying the Lair is a short featurette on destroying a scale model for the opening Rose episode. Although short, it's a remarkable feature in the fact that it reveals that it wasn't a full sized set, but a replica model with an amazing level of detail. The time and effort put into this series is remarkable and highly commendable.
The fifteen minute Making Doctor Who with head writer and executive producer Russell T. Davis featurette starts off looking rather dull, but explodes into a wonderful and chatty making-of featurette with piles of behind-the-scenes footage. Filmed by Russell and executive producer Julie Gardner with a camcorder, he talks us through a read through, rewrites and actual filming in and around the streets of Cardiff (with an impromptu visit from a Dalek). He even passes the camcorder to other people so he can waffle into the camera too. It's all interesting stuff and I'm surprised that more people weren't annoyed with him appearing with a camera, sticking it in their face and proceeding to ask lots of questions.
Next up are two features with The Unquiet Dead episode writer Mark Gatiss of The League of Gentlemen fame. The first is the eighteen minute Waking the Dead feature in which Mark talks about writing for Doctor Who. In it, he uses the ever trusty camcorder, and over a period of weeks he talks about the pressure and frustration of writing for the series and his story ideas for the episode. And as the feature progresses you get to see just how his story evolves from an idea to the final product you see on the screen. Following on is the eight minute Laying Ghosts featurette where Mark is back to talk about the origins of the episode. With more candid thoughts, plus plenty of clips from the episode, it carries on nicely from the first featurette and indicates that Mark is a bit of a prolific writer. It's certainly something I didn't expect from a member of The League of Gentlemen. For what is my favourite episode of the first series, it's a great collection of features. Things are rounded off with two minutes worth of Launch Trailers which wouldn't look out of place in the promotion of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. There's even a Storyboard for the opening trailer too.
The second disc starts off with the five minute Deconstructing Big Ben feature which looks at how the model unit went about crashing into the famous clock tower in miniature form. Naturally, the good old BBC budget soon comes into play, and director of the model unit, Mike Tucker, talks us through the creation of the miniature, its wonderful level of detail and it's ultimate destruction. There's also a nice revelation about something in the shot too, but I won't spoil it for up. Let's just see if you spotted it. Next up is the rather jolly twenty minute On Set With Billie Piper feature. It does exactly what is says on the tin and Billie is equipped with yet another camcorder and, when she's not in front of the camera, she's wandering around the sets filming just about everything and everyone she can. It's all interesting stuff, especially her green screen work for the The Empty Child episode, and Billie gets to interview most cast and crew members, including a Dalek, although a certain Mr. Eccleston appears to shy away from a chat. The second disc is rounded off with one minutes worth of Trailers for the three episodes on the disc.
The third disc contains the six minute Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons featurette. In this featurette director of the model unit, Mike Tucker, returns to look at the model and miniature work used in the The Empty Child episode. It explores the lighting and camerawork required in order to blend the miniatures in with the CGI and studio shot footage. Again, it goes on to prove that CGI is not always the best way to go and the good old BBC can still use models to great effect without spending huge amounts of money. It's safe to say that the opening shots of this episode are probably the most impressive of the first series.
The forth disc contains the twenty one minute Designing Doctor Who featurette. It looks at the design and building of the majority of the sets from the TARDIS to the frequently visited Satellite Five. With many new sets on a weekly basis the design team are shown making small scale mock-up sets out of cardboard before the carpenters and painters are finally let lose on a real set or proper scale model to be used in filming. But even the smallest amount of detail hasn't been overlooked with designers also being tasked with creating historical items of artwork and posters plus alien languages and their associated inscriptions. Whilst it's all interesting stuff, I would have still liked to have seen more than the few minutes spent on the design of the TARDIS.
Next up is the nine minute The Adventures of Captain Jack featurette. No, we don't get to learn about his pirating ways in the Caribbean, but John Barrowman is on hand to talk about his character and that never ending question of is he/isn't he. Still, clearly on board to increase interest from the American audience, his interview is interesting and there's plenty of clips from the series to highlight his more heroic moments. The forth disc is rounded off with two and half minutes worth of Trailers for the series finale on the disc. Talk about about a Dalek overkill. There's also a nice trailer, but no details, on the forthcoming Christmas special. Still, there's nothing like keeping the best until the end and the Beeb know just how to milk it!
Doctor Who is a very important programme for the BBC, make a mess of it and an absolute classic would be destroyed in one quick hammer blow. And having missed the original broadcast on BBC1 I wasn't really sure what to expect from this new series. Would it be a classic in the making, or something to quickly forget and relegate to the bargain bucket of your local DVD store. Sure, everybody has their favourite Doctor Who actor, and my worries were heightened by the fact that I knew that my favourite, the wonderful Tom Baker, would be a very hard act to follow.
However, I needn't have worried, as the superb chemistry between Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper is something to behold as their banter and their tongue in cheek slapstick have me chuckling all the way through the episodes. The way that Christopher Eccleston can switch his facial expression from his comic to his more serious side in a moment is the mark of a remarkable actor. He's a great find to fill those illustrious time travelling boots and it's just a pity that he felt that he didn't want to be typecast and wanted to leave after only one series. However, now he's quit the series I think it's something that both he and the BBC will come to regret as I don't think that the series can ever the same again. Also, as a producer, would you want to hire him for a series wondering whether he'll see it through to a possible next series and beyond? Too many big headed actors leave shows to move onto bigger and better things only to be never seen again.
Unfortunately, without Christopher Eccleston I don't think the success of the first series is going to be repeatable, but as a golden nugget in the BBC archives it's sure to be a programme which will generate plenty of money through DVD sales the world over. In fact, that's just what the clever BBC are doing at the moment with this rather cheeky release of a complete series box-set. After releasing a number of vanilla discs over the year, fans of the series are now expected to dash out a buy a newer version of the series which are bursting with extras and presented in fancy TARDIS packaging. Whilst I'd normally find it hard to justify discarding DVDs which are only a few months old, fans of the series should still add this box-set to their collection.
At the moment, the future of the show and who's leaving or joining is not that important. It's the present that counts, and series one of Doctor Who can most definitely be classed as a piece of classic BBC programming. Whilst the BBC may look to ITV and its larger budgets with envious eyes, the trusty beeb can still deliver the goods. With classy scripts, some wonderful banter and cutting edge special effects (for the BBC at least) it really is a television series which should be gracing your DVD collection. Best get your copy before it dematerialises.
- Commentaries on all 13 episodes from cast and crew including Russell T Davies, Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Mark Gatiss and Simon Callow
- BBC Breakfast Interview with Christopher Eccleston
- Exclusive Featurettes: Destroying the Lair; Mike Tucker's Mocks of Balloons; Designing Doctor Who; Laying Ghosts - The Origins of The Unquiet Dead; Deconstructing Big Ben; The Adventures of Captain Jack
- On Set With Billie - Billie Piper's Video Diary
- Making Doctor Who - Russell T. Davies' Video Diary
- Waking The Dead - Mark Gatiss' video diary
- Special Doctor Who Confidential disc with 13 specially edited episodes plus an exclusive programme, Backstage at Christmas, containing behind the scenes footage of The Christmas Invasion
- Collector's Booklet including an introduction from Russell T Davies