Doctor Who: The Complete First Series Review
If there's one television series that got the whole world talking this year – other than ABC's Lost, of course – it has to be the BBC's own Doctor Who. Originally axed back in 1989 during the tenure of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor, the series briefly regenerated in 1996 in the form of a spectacularly bad TV movie starring Paul McGann as the short-lived Eighth Doctor.
There were also several Comic Relief and Children in Need shorts such as Dimensions in Time and the Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death but what fans wanted most of all was to see the Doctor return in a prime time television series and their wish was finally granted earlier this year.
Christopher Eccleston stars as the Ninth Doctor (only for the BBC to announce the day after the first episode aired that he would be leaving the show) with teen-pop-star-turned-actress Billie Piper as his latest companion, Rose Tyler. Like his previous incarnations, this Doctor has his own traits and mannerisms based on the actor playing the role, including his noticeable accent ('Lots of planets have a North!") but this Doctor is also darker and more serious since the last time we met him – a result of the mysterious Time War which wiped out his people and home planet.
As for Rose, she's got a normal life, a boyfriend and a job but when the Doctor crosses her path, she loses all three and realises how much more there is to the universe and so accepts his offer to join him on his travels through time and space.
Companion-wise we are also introduced to Adam, a genius who really isn’t so smart and, in the latter half of the series, to dashing ‘Captain Jack’ Harkness, a conman-turned good guy and rival for Rose’s affections although, surprisingly, this doesn’t seem to bother the Doctor. Rose’s on-again-off-again boyfriend Micky Smith also makes various appearances but won’t officially gain companion status until series two.
This series not only returns to its roots with the appearance of Autons and the infamous Daleks but it also introduces an array of new bad guys and aliens from the Slitheen of Raxacoricofallapatorius (I actually had to pause the DVD to spell that!) to Cassandra and the Mighty Jagrafess of the Holy Hadrojassic Maxarodenfoe (Max to his friends).
As well as being updated for a new generation, the series has some genuinely comedic moments but it is also much darker and serious. For the first time the Doctor has to contend with his growing feelings for Rose whilst also coming to terms with his past and the Time War. He must deal with his contempt for the Daleks, his guilt at surviving his people and decide if he can deliver an enemy to their death.
Rose – Rose Tyler is a normal girl with a normal life and a boring job, until she runs into a mysterious man known only as 'The Doctor'. After saving her from living mannequins, the deadly denizens of the Nestene consciousness, Rose helps the Doctor defeat the Nestene and becomes his latest companion.
The End of the World – To impress Rose, the Doctor takes her to the day the sun expands and destroys the Earth. Joining a party of rich spectators aboard Platform One, the pair become embroiled in a plot to murder the guests.
The Unquiet Dead – Having seen the future, the Doctor takes Rose to the past, except it's not Naples in the eighteenth century but Cardiff at Christmas and the dead are walking. While Rose is kidnapped by an undertaker and his psychic servant, the Doctor meets one of his heroes, Charles Dickens and tries to discover the secrets of a gaseous race known as the Gelth.
Aliens of London and World War Three – A two-parter which introduces the Slitheen family and Flydale North MP Harriet Jones. Aliens of London deals with the repercussions of Rose's departure in the first episode while World War Three is the first time the Doctor has to decide who to save, Rose or the Earth.
Dalek – The return of the Doctor's most infamous foe. Set in an underground bunker in Utah, a rich collector of alien artefacts has annoyed the last remaining survivor of the Time War. The Doctor must also deal with his growing feelings for Rose and also gains a new companion.
The Long Game – The Doctor takes Rose and Adam into Earth's future and discovers history is being manipulated by the mysterious Editor. This episode also marks the final appearance of Adam.
Father's Day – Rose asks the Doctor if she can see the day her father died, an event that happened when she was a baby. Yet Rose’s impulsive actions threaten to destroy both humanity and her friendship with the Doctor when the Reapers are unleashed.
The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances – Set during the Blitz, Rose and the Doctor are drawn to London after they stumble on a piece of alien technology issuing a mauve alert – which the Doctor explains is the interstellar signal for danger. A strange sickness known as the Child’s Plague is sweeping across the city and, while Rose ends up hanging from barrage balloons during an air-raid, the Doctor must figure out what is transforming the people of London.
Boom Town – Everyone has their favourite episode and this is mine. Set in modern-day Cardiff, the TARDIS is refuelling on the Rift (from The Unquiet Dead) and the Doctor, Rose, Jack and Mickey are out enjoying themselves when the Doctor realises they are not alone. One of the Slitheen survived the events of World War Three and has set up shop in the city.
Bad Wolf – Featuring deadly versions of Big Brother and The Weakest Link, the Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack have no recollection of how they ended up in their present predicament. While the Doctor attempts to escape the Big Brother House and Rose faces off against the Anne-Droid, Captain Jack must use all his wit and charm to escape the deadly attentions of Trine-e and Zu-Zana.
The Parting of the Ways – The Daleks return in this momentous final episode. The truth behind ‘Bad Wolf’ is revealed and Rose learns that appearances aren’t everything when the Doctor is forced to regenerate after saving her life.
Video-wise, the print appears to be identical to the previous bare-bones releases and it’s exceptionally clear at that. The disc is presented 1.85:1, which looks impressive on any widescreen TV while the picture is vivid and clear; there is no evidence of any problems with lip-syncing or the transfer.
The menus have also been beefed up. The original time tunnel motif from the bare-bones editions has been retained as an intro but the actual navigation takes place against a CGI backdrop inside the TARDIS which was specially designed for the boxset. This makes things a little interesting but the layout is the same on each of the discs, right down to the ethereal aria (taken from The Parting of the Ways).
The sound quality – primarily presented in 5.1 Surround Sound – is also excellent, every nuance of Christopher Eccleston’s accent can be heard with crystal clarity. On top of the main audio track, the discs also feature audio description for the visually impaired but the most awaited feature is the cast commentaries.
Each of the thirteen episodes includes commentaries by a mix of cast, crew and Russell T. Davies. They include information on the production, jokes, hints at series two and discussions on some of the major features of each episode and vital scenes or characters. Going into them any more would spoil the surprise but die-hard fans should buy the boxset just for the commentary track alone.
It should be noted there is one small error present on the second disc. Viewers watching the episode World War Three will find two and a half minutes missing from the episode due to a programming error, however this is easily corrected by selecting the 'play all' option. Despite not being a major issue, this is disappointing nevertheless considering the hype surrounding the boxset
The subtitle track is the same as in the previous editions.
The one reason most fans will be buying this boxset is, of course, for the slew of extras. Spread over five discs, the extras comprise of the complete collection of trailers, storyboards, several video diaries and numerous 'making of' featurettes detailing how particular scenes such as the destruction of Big Ben were created or the inspiration behind the revamped TARDIS interior.
The biggest selling point of the set is, of course, the inclusion of the Doctor Who Confidential episodes which originally aired on BBC3 over thirteen weeks straight after the episodes aired over on BBC1. Each installment covers an aspect of Doctor Who lore, from the TARDIS to the monsters and the Doctor's various companions. Unfortunately, these episodes are the fifteen minute cut-down versions rather than the originals (which had run times of around thirty minutes). This is a shame but understandable considering time constrictions of encoding all the episodes on the same DVD.
Aside from this there is also an exclusive look at the special featurette containing behind the scenes footage of The Christmas Invasion which is sure to fascinate any fan counting down the days until David Tennant's first proper episode as the Tenth Doctor.
One of the nice things about the set is that it also includes every single trailer used to advertise series one. From the original launch trailer and its storyboards to the final week's 'countdown' trailers and the season recap trailer that began airing after The Parting of the Ways to promote The Christmas Invasion. There is also a lengthy interview with Christopher Eccleston which aired on BBC Breakfast just before the series began.
Some of the video diaries are a little drawn out and repetitive in places. Mark Gatiss' focuses on the creation of The Unquiet Dead but much of the content seems to be repeated in the second featurette which concerns the making of the episode while Billie Piper's video diary comprises of her whispering off-camera during the filming of scenes from Dalek, Father's Day and The Empty Child. But it is Russell T. Davies diary which proves to be the most informative and gives an excellent behind-the-scenes look at how an episode is written and the other stages before filming.
The Adventures of Captain Jack is one of the best extras on the set. It provides an in-depth featurette exploring my favourite character, Captain Jack Harkness, using comprehensive interviews with John Barrowman. It explores the character’s history and highlights several aspects of his life which viewers may have missed, while also covering the infamous nudity scene with Trine-e and Zu-Zana and his controversial kiss with the Doctor.
Fans with an interest in the aesthetics of the series will love Designing Doctor Who as the featurette covers the creation of the TARDIS, the Chula warship featured in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, designing the Dalek Emperor and building the sets. While Deconstructing Big Ben covers one of the most memorable scenes in the series, that of a Slitheen ship crashing into England's most famous landmark, using two carefully constructed miniatures and CGI.
Suprisingly there are no deleted scenes or even bloopers which is a shame but the wealth of material spread over the five discs makes up for this.
When the BBC announced its intentions to release Doctor Who as bare-bones discs (and now UMDs) as well as a complete first series boxset many fans were torn but those who buy this boxset will find it worth the wait.
Most people have a favourite doctor – up until this year, mine was Tom Baker – but Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of everyone’s favourite Time Lord is sure to ensnare a new generation of viewers and remind their parents why they hid behind the sofa as children. The series is by no means terrifying but it does have moments that might unsettle younger viewers.
Each of the thirteen episodes is crafted with care by genuine fans of the series (especially writer Russell T. Davies) and the various references to the Doctor’s past and the history of the series will be sure to delight fans.
One of the most interesting aspects for me was the fact that one of the major themes of the series was the consequences of the Doctor's actions: from his realisation that Rose has been gone a year rather than twelve hours, causing her mother untold heartache, to his discovery that it was his meddling on Satellite Five which led to the Earth's dependence on warped and sadistic gameshows.
This is a welcome change as in previous seasons of Doctor Who, companions could disappear for months and even years with the police being called or missing person posters being put up. Exploring the consequences of Rose' impromptu departure in the first episode gives the series much more depth and a grounding in reality which hasn't existed previously. Plus it did lead off to a fascinating stand off between Rose's mother, Jackie and the Doctor!
As to Satellite Five, the last time we saw the Doctor dealing with a mess he had created was during Tom Baker's tenure in the episode The Face of Evil. It's nice to see the writers reminding viewers that while the Doctor might not be human, he's still perfectly capable of screwing up now and again, just like the rest of us, even if his actions have more far-reaching consequences.
However it seems such a shame that Christopher Eccleston’s tenure only lasted one season, his wit and excellent acting gave the Doctor new life and revealed new sides to the character. Particularly in his dislike for 'domestics' and the amusing stand offs between himself and Jackie Tyler. But, after viewing the Children in Need special, I have high hopes for David Tennant.
With an A-list cast and numerous guest appearances by veteran actors like Richard Wilson and Zoë Wanamaker, this series of Doctor Who has to be the best I’ve ever watched. Billie Piper is actually a decent actress while John Barrowman is perfectly suited as the flirtatious metrosexual Captain Jack.
It’s also nice to see some truly excellent villains: from the ethereal Gelth to the Lady Cassandra, played by Zoë Wanamake at her most evil while Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen (aka Margaret Blaine), played by the talented Annette Badland, was the perfect choice for an ethical dinner date with the Doctor and really made Boom Town a riveting experience.
All of the episodes were excellent in their own way and although the irritating use of deus ex machina at the series’ conclusion will no doubt have left many fans feeling a little cheated, the prospect of an hour-long Christmas special and the start of the second series next year will have most on tender hooks. Added to this was the announcement of a spin-off series Torchwood (incidentally a codeword in series one and an anagram of Doctor Who) chronicling the further adventures of Captain Jack.
Regenerating the longest running science fiction series in television history has to be the smartest move ever made by the BBC (although it certainly took them long enough) but this DVD boxset has been well worth the wait and is sure to be at the top of Doctor Who fans' Christmas lists.
Last updated: 12/05/2018 22:04:07