Our little boy's growing up. Or that's the way it feels anyway, seeing the British television institution Doctor Who embraced by a rapidly growing cult. Gone are the days when Doctor Who's American audience could only see the show in its time-lagged PBS airings or screened at a local science-fiction convention. Now Doctor Who's national platform is BBC America, the show has gotten the Comic-Con bump, and mainstream American media regularly show the love to the world's longest-running science-fiction series (thanks, Entertainment Weekly!).
“All of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will. Where do you want to start?” That fresh bit of dialogue summarizes the promise of the Doctor on TV’s longest running science-fiction series: a promise that has thrilled many a companion and, indeed, many a writer. Steven Moffat, the most popular writer of the Russell T. Davies regime that relaunched Doctor Who in 2005, giddily accepts the Doctor’s invitation to adventure in the fifth season of the rebooted Doctor Who, and so does an innocent named Amelia Pond. Officially the eleventh Doctor (the character can regenerate when "killed"), twenty-six-year-old Matt Smith has proven a success in his first season; the youngest actor yet cast in the role, Smith faced a potential wrath from fans sorry to see the enormously popular tenth Doctor, David Tennant, exit stage left, along with Davies.
Moffat and Smith demonstrate they're right in line with their predecessors in understanding the appeal of the 907-year-old Time Lord gifted at saving the world and the universe, and the reasons why the modernized series has worked so well. The show's original twenty-six season run (1963-1989) never threatened to be described as "sophisticated," with its reputation for sci-fi corn, wobbly sets, and men in rubbery monster suits. The new series and especially the new Doctor embrace the geekiness of the show and the core science-fiction audience while chasing the thrills of blockbuster cinema. Like Tennant, Smith is a whirling dervish of boyish energy with a becoming (and well-earned) arrogance, though now the character is done up in tweed jacket, suspenders, bow tie and, at one point, a fez: geek chic.
Still, the polarizing Gareth Roberts-penned episode “The Lodger” and Moffat's episode "Flesh and Stone" indicate that the new regime won't be shy about pressing the format a bit further into 21st century style: the former is a comical romp positing the Doctor as the roommate from hell (and football whiz: why not? He’s had centuries to practice), while the latter bends the unwritten "no sex in the TARDIS" rule by allowing the Doctor's companion to initiate a vigorous snog with the Doctor. That would be Amy Pond (Scottish actress Karen Gillan) revving up the heavy petting, and she makes a charming match for the charming Smith. Moffat cannily introduces the character of Amy as a little girl who hangs out with the Doctor for a bit, then reunites with "the magic man" after growing up. Complicating matters is Amy's fiancé Rory (Arthur Darvill), who she leaves behind—on the eve of their wedding—to travel in the Doctor's time machine (he can always get her to the church on time).
Though the science-fiction element never wavers, the show ranges from episodes with a comic-book sensibility (most of them, including big-scale, two-part finale "The Pandorica Opens"/"The Big Bang") to situation and romantic comedy ("The Lodger") to poignant drama, like the "Vincent and the Doctor," featuring Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) and written by Oscar-nominated screewriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Blackadder). That episode is a small miracle of emotional time-travel fiction, but it also harkens back to the series' sixties roots as a children's series that could dabble is historical and cultural education as it thrilled its young audience: the Doctor also travels in Season Five to Venice and Stonehenge and joins old friend Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) in saving the world. Other notable Season Five guest stars include Bill Nighy (Curtis' Love Actually), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), Toby Jones (Infamous, W.), Bill Paterson (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), Iain Glen (HBO's upcoming series Game of Thrones), Helen McCrory (The Queen, Harry Potter...), and James Corden (The History Boys, Gavin & Stacey).
Moffat doesn't appear to be holding anything in reserve, though he cleverly plants a seed in the premiere that grows over the course of the season and blooms in the finale: a crack in the universe that eventually threatens to open something called "the Pandorica." Likewise, the new and mysterious character River Song (Alex Kingston of ER) plays a dashing and significant role in the Fifth Season while also clearly laying groundwork for an ongoing Sixth Season mystery. Moffat also can't resist building a two-parter around the enormously popular monster the Weeping Angels, the statuesque creepies Moffat created for his 2007 episode “Blink.” Moffat also invites writer Mark Gatiss—co-creator with Moffat of Sherlock—to pen his third episode of Doctor Who, "Victory of the Daleks." Those screeching pepper-pot monsters the Daleks aren't the only old "friends" to pop up in Season Five, but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprises of this family-friendly science-fiction series redefined for the new millenium by an especially grand, generous spirit to its storytelling.
BBC gives the deluxe treatment to the internationally successful Doctor Who in its first Blu-ray season set. The six-disc Blu-ray set boasts surprisingly beautiful interlaced 1080i imagery: there's plenty of pop to these crisp and colorful thirteen transfers. Contrast, detail and texture all impress, and there's nary a distracting digital artifact to be found. The DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround mixes keep the music bombastic (an arguable flaw of the last five seasons), effects bristling and well separated, and dialogue nicely prioritized.
Bonus features are thorough and never less than interesting, though I was disappointed to find that not every online promo found its way onto these discs (where are those ever-so-charming segments wherein Smith and Gillan answer viewer questions?).
Disc One includes Picture-in-Picture In Vision commentary for “The Eleventh Hour” with writer/executive producer Steven Moffat, executive producer Piers Wenger, and executive producer Beth Willis; a highly amusing “Meanwhile in the Tardis Additional Scene” (3:16, HD); and “Video Diary” (9:38, SD), comprising entries by actors Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill.
Disc Two holds In Vision Commentary for “Victory of the Daleks” with writer Mark Gatiss, Dalek voice actor Nicholas Briggs and Dalek motion actor Barnaby Edwards and “The Time of Angels” with Moffat and Gillan; “Monster File – The Daleks” (10:13, HD) with Smith, Moffat, director Andrew Gunn, Gatiss, Dalek operators Edwards and Nick Pegg, and Gillan; and the second part of the “Video Diary” (9:15, SD) with entries from Smith and Gillan.
Disc Three brings In Vision commentary for “The Vampires of Venice” with director Jonny Campbell, writer Toby Whithouse and actor Alex Price; “Monster File – Weeping Angels” (10:28, HD) with Smith, Gillan, Moffat, writer Gareth Roberts, Iain Glen, prosthetics supervisor Reza Karim, Elen Thomas, and Louise Bowen; and the second and final “Meanwhile in the Tardis Additional Scene” (3:54, HD).
Disc Four includes In Vision Comentary for “Cold Blood” with director Ashley Way, second assistant director James Dehaviland and actor Alun Raglan; “Monster File – The Silurians” (9:14, HD) with Smith, Gillan, Moffat, writer Chris Chibnall, Way, Stephen Moore, Richard Hope, Neve McIntosh, and prosthetics supervisor Rob Mayor; and the last installment of “Video Diary” (10:05, SD) with Smith and Gillan.
Disc Five includes In Vision commentary for “The Big Bang” with Gillan, director Toby Haynes and Darvill; “Monster File – The Alliance” (10:16, HD) with Moffat, Gillan, Wenger, Haynes, and Darvill; and a montage of “Out-Takes” (7:34, HD).
Disc Six houses thirteen installments of “Doctor Who Confidential” (2:59:18, HD), one for each episode in the season. These behind-the-scenes featurettes offer extensive behind-the-scenes glimpses of production and, in some cases pre-production (like the read-through of “The Eleventh Hour”), as well as special educational tours with cast and crew and a look at the Doctor Who personal appearance tours with Smith, Gillan and Moffat. Interviewed are Moffat, Smith, Gillan, Darvill, Wenger, Willis, production designer Edward Thomas, producer Peter Bennett, Gunn, casting director Andy Pryor, Gatiss, Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms curator Cressida Finch, Bill Paterson, Ian McNeice, director Adam Smith, stunt co-ordinator Crispin Layfield, Alex Kingston, Karim, prosthetics supervisor Jill Reeves, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves, visual effects supervisor Dave Houghton, Campbell, 1st assistant director John Bennett, Whithouse, Venetian historian Francesco Da Mosto, costume designer Ray Holman, writer Simon Nye, Way, editor David Barrett, visual effects supervisor Will Cohen, colourist Mick Vincent, Foley artist Julie Ankerson, sound effects editor Paul Jefferies, BBC Vision team leader Tony Hall, playout director Gary Morris, McIntosh, BBC Brand and Events executive Bethan Britton, senior Brand executive Edward Russell, writer Richard Curtis, facilities co-ordinator Bob Gurney, art director Tristan Peatfield, Tony Curran, J. Paul Getty Museum curator Scott Allan, space scientist Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, James Corden, Roberts, Royal Observatory Greenwich public astronomer Marek Kukula, Haynes, Dalek voice Nicholas Briggs, East Village Cinema general manager Steve Albistur, and GMTV reporter Carla Eberhardt. Plus sports commentator Steve Wilson turns up for a staged play-by-play of the Doctor's football game. Lastly, Disc Six also includes twenty-two “Trailers” (12:38 with "Play All" option, SD).
Doctor Who fans simply won't be able to resist this set; in fact, it may just make a few new fans for the series.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
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Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer