TV on DVD: 'Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1'
If you're still missing Doctor Who, and BBC Books' dozen recently-released novels aren't enough, BBC Home Entertainment has sent home Doctor Who: Series Six, Part 1 on Blu-Ray and DVD. Here's my review of the DVD version.
This is the second series of Doctor Who under the stewardship of Steven Moffat, and I have to say that I've enjoyed it. To be fair, I've liked Moffat's work since Coupling, but I don't see what's apparently got some Whovians up in arms about this series. That doesn't mean that they're wrong, but I didn't feel as major a sea change as others did when Moffat took over last series. To me, what we've seen so far of series six still has what I like about Doctor Who: it's good, clean fun, while still having some legitimate scares that do well by the sci-fi genre. And while Matt Smith might not be as beloved as David Tennant, I'm of the opinion that he's right on Tennant's heels, as he's definitely made the character of The Doctor his own.
The opening two-parter starts a bit slow (and opens up a conundrum that I'm sure will be addressed later down the line), but the second half has one of the best opening sequences I've ever seen in a Doctor Who episode and there's also a great guest appearance from genre staple Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica). I love that the series makes good use of Arthur Darvill, making his character Rory a Companion in his own right, and not just "the Companion's significant other." It also finally got me to warm up to River Song (ER's Alex Kingston).
Series six, part one isn't flawless, however. The first half's major plot twist is pretty easy to figure out; I know several fans who had it pegged from the premiere. And some episodes are so-so; I was not that enthralled with the pirate adventure "The Curse of the Black Spot," which fell fairly flat except for a great scene near the end that I can't say more about without spoiling. Watching the series also takes a bit of patience; within the seven episodes, there are a pair of two-parters and then the first half finale is open ended in its own right. If you're one of those people that gets annoyed having to wait an extra week for resolution, you're going to be tested by this set.
Still, Doctor Who fans should be optimistic about a good start to the sixth season. We'll have to see how the second half plays out before we judge the second year of Moffat's tenure, but if we take this set as indicative of what's to come, the franchise is in safe hands.
I've said it before and I'll keep saying it as long as I keep seeing them: I hate partial-season releases. I loathe them with a passion, because it's clear that they exist merely to get extra money from the fans before the practically certain complete season release. Even if you put that aside, partial seasons usually consist of the bare minimum and little more. They're just not quality DVD releases. Unfortunately, Doctor Who is no exception.
The two-disc set is pretty unremarkable. There's nothing included with the discs, and the disc art merely reads "Episodes 1-4" and "Episodes 5-7," so you'll have to look up your episode titles. The case itself is a bit flimsy; the first disc is on a tray that was already coming loose before I even opened the plastic wrap.
You'll be subjected to two forced trailers (one for BBC America's Supernatural Saturday block and an anti-piracy advert) before the menus, which are pretty spiffy, complete with music and traveling TARDIS. You can turn subtitles on directly from the main menu, and there's one great option many TV on DVD sets are lacking these days: scene selection.
However, there's a 'but' here and it's a big one, because it concerns the most important part of the DVD: the presentation. It's 16:9 widescreen, but it's surprisingly questionable. While the transfer looked fine (if average) in a smaller window on my laptop, when I played it full-screen and on my HDTV, there was very obvious grain throughout the picture. It looked as if I was watching it played back from a VCR recording. It's definitely one of the weaker transfers that I've seen in my recent TV on DVD reviews.
This is also a terribly inaccessible set: only an English 5.1 Surround audio track and English SDH subtitles. Given the worldwide appeal of Doctor Who, I'm disappointed for foreign-language fans.
The Special Features
As with most partial-season releases, the extras for Doctor Who are sparse. You get "Monster Files" dossiers on The Silence (from the opening two-parter) and The Gangers (from "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People"), and that's it.
The feature on The Silence is just over ten minutes, and you get to see some of the behind-the-scenes makeup work, which is great. However, some of that running time is also made up of clips from the relevant episodes. I'm glad I saw these special features but I don't think they have a lot of rewatch value, and they're certainly not enough to justify buying this set for.
The Bottom Line
Unless you're a die-hard Whovian who really wants to watch these episodes over again, save your money and put it towards the inevitable The Complete Sixth Series release.