Doctor Who - Series 3, Vol 2 Review
Now, this might sound silly. But...why does a Time Lord run? Having not written anything for DVD Times about the Doctor Who series before and generally being quite shy to post in the hardcore homes of fandom like Outpost Gallifrey, the reason why a Time Lord feels compelled to run has lingered long in my mind. Running implies that one is short of time, which is the very thing that a Time Lord ought to have complete control of. The running thing seemed to creep in shortly after the passing of the Tom Baker era with Peter Davison being almost constantly breathless, or so it seemed. Come the revival of Doctor Who, Christopher Ecclestone was forever running about, as though the years not on television had left him a little forgetful as regards the ability of the TARDIS to travel through space and time. Late for something? Why not simply make one's way to the TARDIS in a leisurely fashion and, setting its dials to the appropriate time and date, arrive as though one had never been anywhere else. David Tennant, possibly in a nod to a very lean physique, is a quality sprinter and in the last episodes of the recent season savoured the runs up and down smoky and tech-strewn corridors until he was transformed into one of the house elves from the Harry Potter films and put into a birdcage.
It might be an inability to overcome the challenge of explaining time travel to an audience of children. It might be that running creates a greater sense of drama than hopping in and out of a police box. It might just be that the writing isn't terribly good all of the time but for a Time Lord, the Doctor seems to have a habit of forgetting that he has a time machine. Granted, I only have a vehicle capable of travelling in three dimensions, and sometimes not even that, but, when sober, I've rarely set off at a gallop through lanes and fields when I've remembered that I'd be better in a car. And for all that, why does the Doctor so mourn being all alone in this universe when he could, again thanks to the TARDIS, go back in time to when the Time Lords were alive. Oh, I don't doubt that someone, somewhere (and in some time) has the answers to these questions so please, even if I'm being very dim, use the comment space below to explain.
There's an awful lot of running in these four episodes from the third series to have been broadcast since the Doctor's return to television in 2005. However, at least in one case, in 42, it's explained by the TARDIS being locked behind a door and contained in room that's 3000 degrees and rising, which, like its disappearance in The Impossible Planet, is as good a reason as any to explain why the Doctor cannot hop through time and out of trouble. And time-hopping is where this set begins with the Doctor and Martha landing in New York in 1931 at the foot of the Statue Of Liberty. Not New New York as Martha is happy to note but the Big Apple, where jazz floats out of nightclubs and where a good time is in store for a girl who's just arrived in town. But the Doctor is struck by a newspaper headline that says Hooverville Mystery Deepens and rumours about disappearances. Underneath the shadow of the Empire State Building, the Doctor and Martha investigate these missing persons and find some hideous creatures working in the sewers underneath Manhattan. But if they are the servants, who are the masters and why is it so important that the communications mast on the Empire State Building be finished that night?
With that being a two-part episode - Daleks In Manhattan and Evolution Of The Daleks - the third episode on this disc is The Lazarus Experiment in which the Doctor arrives home with Martha Jones. Home as in Earth, the morning after the day they first met and in Martha's bedroom where, after switching on the television, they see a Professer Lazarus announce to all those watching that before the day is through he will forever change what it means to be human. Saying farewell to Martha, the Doctor disappears in the TARDIS but returns in seconds, his interest piqued by what Lazarus could possibly mean. Donning a dinner jacket and accompanying Martha to a private reception at Lazarus Laboratories, the Doctor finds out exactly what he meant. With Lazarus stepping into a capsule and activating it, the crowds watch in horror as the machine appears to overload. Fearing for Lazarus, the Doctor pulls the plug on the machine but Lazarus steps out unharmed. In fact, he looks better than he has done in years, decades even. Announcing to the press the success of his machine, Lazurus basks in the glory that comes with having invented an anti-aging machine. The Doctor, fearing that Lazarus will have overlooked something in his research, warns the professor but Lazarus leaves for his office upstairs with his wife, Lady Thaw. It's when he comes back alone and in a change of clothes that the Doctor becomes concerned. The body of Lady Thaw lies upstairs drained of life.
Finally, in 42, the Doctor and Martha arrive on a spaceship and, leaving the TARDIS, are surprised to be greeted by a crew in something of a panic. With the door closing behind them, they're told by Captain Kath McDonnell (Michelle Collins) that they're on the SS Pentallian, that the engines are no longer operating, that it is becoming increasingly hot and that they don't have much time. The Doctor explains about the TARDIS but via a dial on the door that closed behind him, he's told that it's now out of reach. The temperature in the room that he materialised into is now three thousand degrees and rising. Looking out of a window, the Doctor learns why the ship is so hot - the SS Pentallian is falling into a nearby star and according to the onboard computer warning of the possibility of collision, the Pentallian and the crew aboard it have only 42 minutes left. In the medical bay, McDonnell's husband Korwin (Matthew Chambers) is suffering from a fit. Applying a sedative, Korwin is put to sleep but as the rest of the crew leave to fix the engines, medic Abi doesn't notice Korwin's hands begin to move again. But her screams echo through the ship as Korwin rises and, opening his eyes, tells him to, "Burn with me!"
Like a lot of the third season of Doctor Who, there's the good and the bad of the entire series contained within these episodes. David Tennant continues to be very good in the part of the Doctor - yes, maybe even the best since Tom Baker - while Freema Agyeman, in spite of having to portray someone pining for the Doctor while he continues to mourn the loss of Rose Tyler, is excellent as Martha Jones. The settings are good, not least the theatre, Hooverville and the unfinished Empire State Building of Daleks In Manhattan and the Pentallian of 42 while Mark Gatiss, going from writer to star, does a fine job in The Lazarus Experiment, with one never being entirely sure if the lick of his lips comes from the taste of blood or his lascivious staring at a young woman. The period costumes and showtunes of the 1930s come up a treat, not least Tallulah's performance of My Angel Put The Devil In Me, as does the grimy spaceship of 42, which, like a lot of other episodes of Who, suggests that interstellar travel of the future will be done on ships designed by those same engineers currently responsible for oil rigs. And it wouldn't really be Doctor Who if there wasn't something to terrify young children with, with all four of these episodes bringing in a suitable monster, be it the Human/Dalek hybrid, the Lazarus creature or the killers in 42. "Burn With Me!" might well be this series', "Are you my mummy?"
Ah, but for all that, there's plenty not to like about these episodes. The pig/humans of the Dalek two-parter are a woeful monster for the show with even the youngest of children being very much less-than-terrified at the obvious makeup. It would seem as though Russell T Davies thinks that pigs are at once funny and a bit vulnerable with this being the second time that he's used them in some invasion-of-Earth strategy, the last time being the Aliens Of London. The pigs work no better here. That exact same thing can be said about the Daleks and the Human/Dalek hybrid, who become a terrifically weak enemy. That's four times they've appeared in Doctor Who since its revival and only once has it been done well with the lone creature of Dalek. That one Dalek proved to be a much greater threat than the millions seen in the series one and two finales and in this two-parter, with the Cult Of Skaro, reputed to be the most dangerous of Daleks, reduced to hiding out on Earth, bickering amongst one another and stripping themselves for parts and bits of Dalekanium. And then there's the matter of how New Yorkers managed to miss two Daleks flying through the sky between the Empire State Building and Hooverville or indeed why, with the human race at a vulnerable time, they even bothered with the folk in the makeshift town in Central Park. This two-parter would have it that the Daleks fail in their plans due to their inability to employ human emotions in war. Might I suggest that it's due, instead, to their huddling about trying to develop a master plan when, thanks to their beam weapons, they could just kill millions of people...and then, when any spirit of resistance is broken, enslave them.
Things do get a little bit better with The Lazarus Experiment, at least at the beginning but it soon turns into a Doctor Who staple, being the Doctor and his companion running about while a large monster chases them. There are some nice moments in the episode with Mark Gatiss bringing a touch of humanity to Lazarus with his talk of the war and hiding in Southwark Cathedral during the Blitz but this is a very brief moment in an old-fashioned mad scientist'n'monster tale. 42 is a much better story, a real-time adventure on a spaceship falling into a sun that with its humans-in-space, a missing TARDIS and set design, recalls the two best episodes of series two, The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. Over forty-two minutes, we almost lose Martha, get a great death scene and have a novel premise for alien life, which will give anyone who has ever scooped fuel from stars in Elite something to think about next time they retro-game. Yes, there's still too much running about, too many pop cultural references - pre-download, who had the most number one hits, Elvis or The Beatles, which prompts the Doctor to say Here Comes The Sun - and too many shots prompted by cheap slasher movies but it's one of the best of this series. I will admit, though, that the near-silent moment when Martha and Riley fall away from the Pentallian in an escape pod and backwards towards the sun is almost the making of the episode. For a scene in which there's scarcely any noise, it sounds and looks beautiful with the escape pod framed so perfectly against the star behind it that it does a much better job of illustrating the horrors that await us in space than all the aliens, monsters and pigs-in-spacesuits that the producers might throw at us.
Unfortunately, there's still too much banging on about how wonderful humans are. In spite of it being the best of series two, The Impossible Planet also offered that series' lowest point, David Tennant hugging the leader of an expedition exploring a planet underneath a black hole. "Because it's there!" The Dalek two-parter ends with Tennant once again marvelling at humanity because we dare to ask a Dalek, "Why?" Granted, he's a bit less happy with us and our fusion-scoops-of-the-future in 42 but that's because he's possessed by a star-monster and is clearly not himself. But he soon comes round. You might think that one who grew up amongst Time Lords and has the mastery of all space and time might not be too impressed by a people who, in the period settings in which the Doctor finds himself, have only just managed the internal combustion engine but you'd be wrong. And he doesn't half want to let us know how amazing we are. Just once, though, it would be nice if he toned that down. And ran less. But, as hopefully someone will explain below, there might be a very good reason for both, one that isn't explained away by poor screen writing.
On DVD, this doesn't look or sound very much different to how it did on broadcast television. Granted, the picture is better given how DVD affords the show much more bandwidth than either Freeview or Sky Digital did, leaving us with a sharper picture with less artefacting and more detail throughout. However, while I would say that the first three episodes on the disc, particularly The Lazarus Experiment with its dull-looking offices, are only a little better than they were on television, 42 looks very good indeed. There's much more detail with the swirling gases of the star, the flashing lights aren't now ruined by artefacts running rampant over the picture and there's an impressive clarity to the close-ups of Tennant, Agyeman and Michelle Collins. However, what with a noticeable softness to the picture at times, it still could be better and may even ought to have been a show that the BBC could have tested the high-definition waters with. As regards the audio track, it's a surprising DD2.0. Not that there's necessarily a problem with that, more that one expects the DVD releases of television shows to arrive with the kind of DD5.1 track that wasn't available to anyone without a Sky+ box. It does sound fine, particularly that wonderful theme music, but less impressive than it could have been and certainly lacking the impact that would have been given it by a digitally-sourced surround soundtrack. Finally, there are English subtitles selectable off the main menu.
There are no extras on this DVD although audio commentaries are available from the BBC website for each of the four episodes on this set. Given that they're available online for the entire series, one wonders why they couldn't have been included on this release, not to mention material from the Doctor Who Confidential and Totally Doctor Who slots, but apparently not.
It's in this disc's final moments that we're treated to what comes next, the superb two-part story Human Nature and The Family of Blood. Coming out four episodes at a time and without any bonus features or commentaries, one doesn't think that this set will sell as well as the one that's to come in July or the series boxset later on in the year. From the four episodes here, only 42 really stands out but, even then, it's very far from being up there with the two episodes that followed it. Enjoyable nonetheless but not the best that series three had to offer.