Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited - Fifth to Eighth DVD review

And so BBC America’s celebration of 50 years of Doctor Who continues with “The Doctors Revisited” series, not only on the network, but also on DVD, where its presentation is considerably more celebratory, rather than an irritant. As you may recall, in my recent review of the first volume of this DVD series, I ranted and raved about the decision to stretch the 4:3 image to fit 16x9 flatscreen TVs, but ultimately forgave it since the DVD presents, alongside the distorted version, the original square(ish) imagery, in its original episodic format.

The presentation has not changed for the second volume, though it’s worth mentioning that the prints used for the stretched feature presentations are in much better shape than some of those used on the previous set (no doubt due largely to the newer age of the serials). One thing that I didn’t make room for in the previous review is the method used to stretch the serials, which is something I’m not sure I’ve seen before. If you look closely at the images, you’ll see that about the center third of the original image – the area where the eye is typically focused – is not actually stretched at all, and that the real stretching is only of either side of the image. This is a pretty fascinating technique, and is probably why these presentations don’t look particularly offensive to many an eye (most people are not as fussy as I am). Of course, this presents a problem if you use the aspect ratio buttons on the TV remote to try to alter the image back to its 4:3 image – it simply doesn’t work, and results in a different kind of stretching altogether.

So once again we come back to the original episodic broadcast versions to get us through the night. Given that the aim of these sets is to introduce viewers of the new incarnation of the series to the classic, this volume strikes me as being friendlier toward modern audiences than the last one. While I find it difficult to believe that “Pyramids of Mars” would turn anyone off the classics, who but the most hardcore among us will find a great deal of entertainment value in “The Aztecs?” The serials (and movie) presented here are somewhat closer in pacing and characterization to what audiences of today are used to seeing. 

Peter Davison: A Doctor of action?
This set kicks off with friggin’ “Earthshock,” – a hugely entertaining serial brimming with action, suspense and emotion, featuring redesigned Cybermen, making their return to the series after a mind-boggling seven year absence and…something else. On the off chance that somebody unfamiliar with this serial is reading this, I don’t want to get into the “something else,” as it’s rather special, and should be viewed spoiler-free by virgin eyes...which the accompanying 25-minute Fifth Doctor retrospective on here doesn’t take into account - it completely lays out the end of this story! So my advice when watching this set is to just go ahead and dive into the serial, and then come back and watch the Fifth Doctor piece afterward. Two other things worthy of mention: The single disc edition of “Earthshock” is currently out of print on DVD, and now going for $50 $100 on Amazon, and the version presented on this set is the original, not the one with updated effects work, which was available to view on the now OOP single disc DVD.

Of the other three stories presented here, “Remembrance of the Daleks” is another major highlight, and, like “Earthshock,” is almost sure to entertain new series fans. Funny that it took getting to Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s era for “Revisited” to showcase a Dalek tale, but what a tale it is! Any fan who was around at the time will tell you how enthralled we all were with this story, as it seemed to signal a bold new era for a series that for several years seemed to many to be in a fair amount of trouble. The versions presented on this set still omit the Beatles tunes, as did the previous DVD incarnations – sorry folks. My review of the double disc special edition of “Remembrance” is over at Bullz-Eye.

The 1996 TV movie stars Paul McGann in his sole TV outing as the Doctor (as well as McCoy in his final TV appearance, prior to regenerating into the new leading man), and Eric Roberts as the Master. The movie is tricky, and I’ve still no idea what newbies think of it. It lacks many of the fantastical elements we associate with Doctor Who – there’s no question this is largely a product of ‘90s American television. Shot in Vancouver for Fox, its texture and look is comparable to The X-Files. While many will not care for Roberts on principle, few will dislike McGann, who’s utterly charming as the George Lazenby of the TV Doctors. Likewise, the TARDIS interior is really rather gobsmacking, all decked out in Jules Verne d├ęcor; clearly the bulk of the film’s design budget went into creating it. My extremely long-winded review of the special edition DVD of the TV movie can also be found over at Bullz-Eye.

And finally there’s “Vengeance on Varos,” which I wrote about here at the Morgue not too long ago when its special edition was released. It’s the true wild card of this set, and it’s anyone’s guess what a newbie might think of this entry from Sixth Doctor Colin Baker’s era, but folks with a taste for wicked satire and black humor will surely find something to appreciate within this tale of a society gone mad. Indeed, I personally think “Varos” is stronger now than it was back in ’85, but then I expend far more energy and thought being angry and disappointed with my government than I did when I was I was a teenager.

As with the previous collection, there are no extras, beyond a set of four fridge magnets, featuring each Doctor from this set.

Fridge Magnets