Bigger on the Inside: Doctor Who Season 1 DVD set

TARDIS? Check. Daleks? Check. Enigmatic 900-year old time traveler? Yes. Perky companion? Absolutely. Everything is in place for the new season of 13 episodes of the longest-running science fiction show on television – except for the creaky sets and dodgy special effects that viewers in 1963 didn’t even notice. Improvements in sets and effects may be required for 21st century television, but this show was never about the externals; the characters have always taken centre-stage.

Russell T Davies (writer/producer) certainly understands that and picked a winner in casting Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor. Eccleston brings a sparky but manic and darkly depressive quality to the role, reminiscent of William Hartnell’s original Doctor, as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of his people in the Time Wars, while continuing his adventures in time and space.

Accompanied by Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, the Doctor’s latest companion, Eccleston’s thirteen episodes of season one (or season 27, to be accurate) stormed onto the BBC to excellent ratings, accolades from critics and public, and finished the season on a high by winning the (Emmy-equivalent) BAFTA for Best Drama Series. The show has recently ended its run on the US Sci-Fi Channel, again gaining great ratings in its slot.

The dialogue is sharp and witty, the pace fast, the emotional touches deft. Sprinkled throughout are contemporary references, as well as the teasing motif of the "Bad Wolf" that won’t be explained until episode 13 ‘The Parting of the Ways’. And it’s not what you think.

The casting of the supporting characters is also sure. Noel Clarke is sweet as Rose’s dim boyfriend, Mickey (but watch out for his transformation in the second season); Camille Coduri perfect as Rose’s mum, naturally worried about her 19-year-old daughter leaving her steady job to go traveling with a stranger in an old police box.

There’s a bit of a dip of pace after the first few stonking stories, when the farting ‘Aliens of London’ remind us that ‘Doctor Who’ was originally intended to be a children’s show, and that even TV scriptwriters can’t resist occasionally bringing their inner 8-year-olds out to play.

But it gets back on track, and how, with the seriously scary two-parter ‘The Empty Child’/’The Doctor Dances’. This is in the best tradition of watch-from-behind-the-sofa ‘Doctor Who’ as The Doctor and Rose land in wartime London to be faced with a semi-dead child in a gas mask looking for his mummy.

These episodes also introduce Captain Jack Harkness, the charming intergalactic conman played by John Barrowman. Driven almost entirely by his libido, Jack brings a new twist to the Tardis team’s dynamic, and while he might start out a rogue, he ends the season a hero.

The character proved to be so popular that Jack has been given his own show, ‘Torchwood’, a 13-part spin-off currently in production, about an organization investigating alien technology in contemporary Cardiff. Reported to be darker, wilder and sexier than ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Torchwood’ will see John Barrowman reprise the role of Captain Jack and is scheduled to air later this year in the UK in the post-watershed (ie grown-up TV time) slot of 9pm.

From the two-parter on, the show doesn’t put a foot wrong. With hilarious send-ups of current TV shows such as ‘Big Brother’ and ‘The Weakest Link’, and an epic space battle against the Doctor’s oldest enemy, this is a wild, wild ride to be enjoyed by fans of great science fiction of all ages.

As The Doctor says, "Fantastic!" [center]


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The Region 2 (UK/Europe) DVD set was packaged in a mini-TARDIS-shaped box. Initially eliciting a response of "Oh, that’s so cool!", this rapidly turned into an irritated, "But it’s too big to fit in the DVD cupboard!" to even more annoyance when the pan-galactic glue lost its transdimensional integrity and the box fell apart. Reversing the polarity of the neutron flow didn’t help, so the box is now held together with an elastic band. Nice idea, guys, but please don’t do it again. Thankfully, the Region 1 release comes in a neat fold-out package in a more regular, user- and storage-friendly format.

Extras include:
• Subtitles (English)
• Commentary on all episodes by combinations of writer Russell T Davies, producers Phil Collinson and Julie Gardner, actors Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Simon Callow and other cast and crew
• Interview with Christopher Eccleston
• On set with Billie Piper
• The Adventures of Captain Jack
• Making Doctor Who with Russell T Davies
• Waking the Dead: Mark Gatiss video diary
• Doctor Who Confidential – 165-minute collection of features narrated by Simon Pegg
• Backstage at Christmas: behind the scenes of Doctor Who ‘Christmas Invasion’
• Launch trailers

The range of extras is excellent, especially the commentaries; the cast and crew so clearly love what they do – and that shows on screen. But they are also not above pointing out where they could have improved things, or where something went wrong, which adds extra interest and makes the commentaries much more than the "This is fabulous!" love-fest of some shows’ commentary tracks.

Doctor Who: A+
Extras: A
Final grade: A+


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