Doctor Who: The Complete Specials – DVD Review

Doctor Who crouches on my monitor right behind the Word window I’m writing this in, sonic screwdriver at the ready, Martha Jones standing just behind him with her hands on his shoulders, and Captain Jack Harkness hunkering just to his right, his traditional smile shining almost as bright as the screwdriver. Behind them a group of paramilitary mercenaries surround the TARDIS, ready to take in the trio. And while Jack smiles and Martha looks pensive, The Doctor looks determined, and you just know that he’ll save the day. Or at least my desktop screen.

That’s the thing about The Doctor—no matter the time, no matter the place, no matter the enemy, The Doctor always comes through. That’s true no matter what incarnation, but there’s something special about David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. Christopher Eccleston may have led the charge of the Doctor Who revival as the Ninth Doctor, but David Tennant took what began in Season One and brought it to incredible heights. The verve, the life, the humor, the compassion, and the flashes of almost holy rage against the injustices of the universe that he brought to the role were just amazing. He took a character with an incredible history and a long line of actors and absolutely made it his own. Any Doctor Who fan will understand it when I say that he was my Doctor.

Obviously this review is going to be one long love letter to David Tennant, but considering that this collection of specials comprises the last adventures of him as The Doctor, it only feels right to pay tribute to him.

Maybe it’s just because I’m an American and didn’t have the access to the Doctor Who culture that exists in England, but Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth Doctor felt special. In terms of sheer acting ability, the man is incredible, which is not surprising considering he’s a classically-trained member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. But there’s more to it than that. The man loves the character and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the show. In fact, Doctor Who was the whole reason he went into acting in the first place, and actually playing The Doctor is really a childhood dream come true. Tennant loves being The Doctor, and the energy and joy that brings to his role practically glows.

That may be why his run feels so special, and his leaving feels like the end of an era. This is only compounded by the fact that Russell T. Davies, the man really responsible for bringing Doctor Who back to the air and served as executive producer for the past five years, is leaving too. The show won’t end: fan favorite writer Stephen Moffat will take over as executive producer and Matt Smith will play the Eleventh Doctor, but it will be different. Possibly better, hopefully not worse, but different nonetheless. Like many, I’ve grown very attached to this version of the character, but I hold hope that the next series will be just as good.

But that’s enough looking to the future. Right now we have five specials to look at, and so, without further ado, allons-y!

The Next Doctor
It seems like the purpose of these specials is to push The Doctor out of his comfort zone, and the first thing that fans will notice is that he travels alone. Typically The Doctor travels with a companion (most of the time a young, rather good-looking woman), but because of events from Season Four, he finds himself alone. In this special The Doctor winds up in London 1851 on Christmas day. Following a series of bizarre murders, The Doctor discovers Cybermen, the Cyberking, and The Doctor?

This was probably my favorite of the specials. David Morrissey plays the titular next Doctor, and he really makes the show in a lot of ways, beginning first as a pompous, over-the-top semi-parody then gradually morphing into a rather tragic, noble hero. And on top of all of that, a gigantic Cyberking does the Godzilla stomp on Victorian London. What more could you want from a show? Nothing, that’s what.

On a more serious note, one of the defining aspects of The Doctor’s personality is his loneliness. It’s a theme that’s been played with before in certain episodes, but it really comes to the foreground here and starts a thread that runs throughout the entire series of specials, setting up, I think, the reason for the passing of the Tenth Doctor and the birth of the Eleventh.

Planet of the Dead
The Doctor, along with the jewel thief Lady Christina and a group of unlucky bus passengers, pass through a wormhole from England to a desert alien planet, not unlike Tatooine. The Doctor and Lady Christina must find a way to get themselves and the bus passengers home before falling victim to the mysterious force that stripped the planet of all life.

Of all the specials, this one is the most forgettable. It’s not that this one is bad in any way, but compared to the way that the other specials push The Doctor, this one’s pretty tame. The premise is fun, and the interactions between the characters—especially The Doctor and Lady Christina—are great, but it doesn’t do much for pushing The Doctor to his finale.

Also, I have one minor quibble about the title. This is probably due to the veritable orgy of zombie movies produced in the past decade, but when I saw the title “Planet of the Dead” I was expecting to see some zombies munching brains. It sort of makes sense once you find out what’s happening on that planet, but it still feels like a big tease to me.

The Waters of Mars
According to history, the first human colony on Mars was Bowie Base One. Crewed by an international group of astronauts, it was humanity’s first step into the larger universe, but in 2059 something went horribly wrong. The only clue to what happened lies in Bowie Base One’s last recorded message: “Don’t drink the water. Don’t even touch it. Not one drop.” Will The Doctor violate the laws of time and potentially alter humankind’s future, or will he stand back and watch the tragedy?

While “The Next Doctor” is my favorite special, “The Waters of Mars” is my least. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, the acting, or the directing, it’s a purely gut reaction. You see, one of the tragic, yet wonderful, aspects of The Doctor is his sense of responsibility and his ability to see things in terms of the big picture. As a Time Lord he can see the eddies and flows of time, giving him an almost instinctual knowledge of what can be changed, what needs to be changed, and what can never change. The most heartbreaking moments in Doctor Who come from the moments when he comes up against those events he cannot change. The pain he feels at not being able to act is palpable, and make for amazing drama. However, his actions in “The Waters of Mars” are out of character. They establish the need for him to move on and become reborn, but it’s very unsatisfying, leaving you rather sad and empty.

The End of Time, Part One and The End of Time, Part Two
The Doctor’s nemesis returns just as the Ood prophetesses The Doctor’s death. Teaming up with Donna’s grandfather, Wilf, The Doctor races to find a way to save himself and the whole of creation.

I lump the final two specials together because they really need to be taken as a whole. In many ways it’s an incredibly satisfying and fitting end to David Tennant’s tenure as The Doctor, but it’s not perfect. There are more than a few lingering questions that I can’t really go into here without spoiling the specials for those who haven’t seen them. For those that have watched them and want some answers, check out this io9 article, “Figuring Out Doctor Who’s Lingering Mysteries.” Much of it is conjecture, but it does fill in some good information for viewers like me that are not as up on Doctor Who as Russell T. Davies.

David Tennant gives a stirring, emotional final performance that may well bring a tear to your eye. His final words in particular are heartbreaking, but I think the best part of the finale was The Doctor’s “reward.” I won’t give anything away save that it is completely fitting and perfectly encapsulates why people like me love the character so.

Each special is presented in 16:9 Enhanced aspect ratio with the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and they look and sound great.

The Next Doctor Confidential (55:30) – Of all the “Doctor Who Confidentials,” this one is probably my favorite. There were many times when it went too far into the minutiae of filming certain scenes, or explaining what I just saw, but there were great moments when Russell Davies and David Tennant talked about the Doctor Who episodes they grew up watching and it was really cool to see old Doctor Who footage. There was also a really fun segment on various Doctor Who parodies that have popped up on British television over the years.
Doctor Who Proms 2008 (59:06) – Hands down the best extra on this DVD set. For those that don’t know, the Proms has been around for 115 years, bringing masterfully conducted classical music to the general public. This Proms, obviously, is dedicated to the music of Doctor Who, and it was a real treat to watch. The show was presented by Martha Jones herself, Freema Ageyman, and the music was wonderful. I found it especially sweet that the majority of the audience were kids, most of them in their early teens and younger. The music alone makes this worth watching, but there are fun little bonuses, such as people walking around in full Cybermen and Sontaran makeup. I never say this about extra features, but I’m sure that I will watch this again at some point, if only to be able to listen to the music while I work.

Planet of the Dead Confidential (56:57) – I hate to dog on “Planet of the Dead” so much, but like the special, this one is rather forgettable. It’s all about filming the episode and doesn’t really delve into the show’s past, which was the only part of the other Confidentials that I enjoyed.

 The Waters of Mars Confidential (57:59) – This Confidential doesn’t fare any better. For reasons already stated, I found it rather boring. The only part I really liked about this was the music they played, especially David Bowie’s “Life on Mars.”

The End of Time, Part One Confidential (57:04) – Now we’re talking. This Confidential gives us the history of The Master and the history of the Time Lords. Once again, I really enjoyed seeing the old footage and learning more about these important characters.

David Tennant’s Video Diary: The Final Days (40:39) – I hate saying this about Tennant’s video diary, but I found this pretty boring, too. The parts where he talked about his time on the show and his feelings about leaving it were good, but there was too much space filler for my taste.

Doctor Who BBC Christmas Idents (00:52) – This was cute. The first commercial just showed The TARDIS stuck in snow, but the second had The Doctor hitch it to a group of reindeer and fly through the sky like it was Santa’s sleigh.

The End of Time, Part Two Confidential (56:57) – This was a rather sad Confidential given how emotional everyone was over David Tennant’s last shooting. It reinforces the feeling that, even though every actor that portrays The Doctor eventually leaves, that Tennant’s time was special and that this is the end of a era.

Doctor Who at Comic Con (21:05) – I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed watching this. It was fun to see Tennant, Davies, and John Barrowman interact with the fans and to get a feel for the American fandom for the show.

Deleted Scenes with Introduction From Russell T. Davies (17:04) – Half the time I wasn’t sure what was a deleted scene and what was an extended scene. Honestly, the majority of the deleted scenes here were very similar to the scenes that actually made it into the specials, and watching them really didn’t add anything to the overall experience.

Sometimes you can get so attached to characters that they feel like old friends. The Tenth Doctor definitely felt like that to me, and while I enjoyed these specials, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that they were a bit bittersweet considering I knew what they were leading up to. Despite that, these five specials are chock full of wonder, adventure, and fun and are well worth buying if you’re a Doctor Who fan. Highly recommended.

BBC Worldwide Ltd. presents Doctor Who: The Complete Specials. Starring David Tennant, Michelle Ryan, David Morrissey, John Simm, Bernard Cribbins, Catherine Tate, and Timothy Dalton. Running time: 311 minutes. Rated NR. Released on DVD: February 02, 2010. Available at Amazon.

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