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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Doctor Who: The Complete Fourth Series (review)

Calling All True Fans!

(For my episode-by-episode commentary on Series 4, start here, with “Voyage of the Damned.” This is a spoiler-free look at the DVD package.)

I spent hours this afternoon going through the new Doctor Who Series 4 DVD set, and I barely even scratched the surface. And still: I think I might have to go lie down for a while. I’ve gotten a bit overexcited, a bit overwhelmed. There’s so much stuff in it, so much beyond just the episodes, that my fangirl gland is overheating.
First of all, you have to be aware of the fact that if you’re watching Doctor Who in the U.S. on the Sci Fi Channel, you’re not getting the complete episodes (as I’ve complained previously). The actual, original, proper episodes, as they first air in the U.K, are longer. Not by a lot, just a few minutes, but the few minutes that get cut from those episodes are exactly the kind of moments that true fans want to see: little bits that deepen character and relationships. If you’ve only seen the Sci Fi Channel’s version of, say, of this season’s “Turn Left” (here on Disc 5), then you missed some lovely little bits of the Doctor (David Tennant) and Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) shopping at the alien marketplace that — I guarantee, if you’re as big a Doctor Who dork as I am — you are going to love. And they’re here: it’s the actual, original, proper British versions of the episodes you’ll find here.

If you’re completely new to Doctor Who… whew. Go back and start with Series 1. No, really. Yes, there are some episodes here that stand out as briliant, brilliant science fiction, Doctor Who or not — watch for “Midnight,” on Disc 4, which is like United 93 meets the Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” to win a Hugo next year for Best Dramatic Presention, Short Form. (The Hugos, for the uninitiated, are voted by the most serious SF fans on the planet, those who attend the annual World Con, so you can trust them to know how to single out the very best sci fi.) You can appreciate “Midnight” even if you’ve never seen any other Doctor Who — it’s also a fantastic showcase for Tennant, handily demonstrating that he might be the most beloved actor to play the role because he’s one of the most expressive and most affecting actors working on TV anywhere in the world today. But you’ll love it even more if you know the four-year-long backstory that leads to it. (Not to mention the 40-year-long backstory that precedes that, with the old, classic Doctor Who show.)

But these Doctor Who box sets are must-haves for all the many extras. If you can’t get enough Doctor Who, the copious deleted scenes are a good place to start, and as a bonus-bonus, this time out we have series creator Russell T. Davies explaining why the deleted scenes were deleted. (Most notable, perhaps, are those bits deleted from Disc 2’s “Partners in Crime,” which featured actor Howard Attfield playing Donna’s father. I’ll leave it to you to discover why they were deleted.) There is also one scene that has already become legendary — it involves a new TARDIS for a new Doctor at the end of this series — as well as a junked cliffhanger ending.

“David’s Video Diaries,” one on Disc 1 and another on Disc 5, are lovely peeks into what it’s like behind the scenes — producer Julie Gardner has the best giggle! John Barrowman is such a geek! David Tennant’s double is as adorable as he is! And true-true fans of long standing will not want to miss “Time Crash,” the short that introduces this series, which did not air on American TV, in which Tennant’s Doctor has an encounter with his own past: the Doctor as played by actor Peter Davison.

And I haven’t even mentioned all the good-natured and highly entertaining commentary tracks — on every episode — by the likes of Tennant and Davies and Gardner and a lot of other smart, enthusiastic people involved in producing this show. And I haven’t mentioned the entire disc’s worth of “Doctor Who Confidentials,” making-of featurettes that air in Britain immediately after every episode there but never air in the U.S. at all.

If you’re any kind of Doctor Who fan, you need this set. Trust me.


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
  • Gina

    MaryAnn,
    Just to be clear and make sure that I don’t need to get a region free player (yet), the American DVDs contain the full versions of the show as aired on BBC, correct? That is what you are reviewing?
    Thanks!

  • Susan

    I received mine yesterday, too … absolute Heaven!!! Has anyone found any Easter eggs on the DVDs yet?

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, the American DVDs — which is what I’m reviewing here — contain the unedited versions of the episodes that aired on British TV.

  • Joy

    In the hopes that Amazon does another amazing TV on DVD boxset sale, I’m holding off…of course, I timed my Netflix to have four of the six DVDs waiting for me yesterday.

    At the risk of making snap judgments without having seen the last two discs…

    I’m not as thrilled with this set as previous ones – obvi, because I would have rather had more DT diaries than the deleted scenes explained by RTD. They’re not all warranted. For example, I don’t need to see scenes that consist of someone walking out of a door. Mind you, there are some real gems mixed in, so you just have to watch them all.

    And, as for the DW Confidentials – I really, really, really wish they’d just put the complete versions of what aired in the UK. The edits just don’t have as much content…and frankly, if you spent the money to make it, why’d you spend the money to edit them all down, when it should be cheaper to just pay the DVD rights to the whole thing? (Obvi, it’d run an extra disc or so…but in that case, package S1-4 DWCs and sell it for an additional ancillary revenue stream.)

    Whew. Didn’t mean this to become a rant…

  • And, as for the DW Confidentials – I really, really, really wish they’d just put the complete versions of what aired in the UK. The edits just don’t have as much content…and frankly, if you spent the money to make it, why’d you spend the money to edit them all down, when it should be cheaper to just pay the DVD rights to the whole thing?

    Actually, the clearance to the whole 45-minute Confidentials would make the DVD set so pricey that no one would be able to afford it.

    The BBC, as well as many public service broadcasters around the world, pay a blanket fee for music rights for transmission only. They have to secure different rights for syndication and home video – this is why on the Spearhead from Space release the Fleetwood Mac song was replaced. Then there’s an even more confusing deal where they may have the rights to distribute in their home territory for one price, but a higher fee applies to international distribution – as was the case with Remembrance of the Daleks which had Beatles songs on the R2 disc and some generic Mersey beat songs on the R1 disc.

  • Jim has been swearing at UPS since yesterday as our Season 4 was supposed to have been delivered by then!

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not as thrilled with this set as previous ones – obvi, because I would have rather had more DT diaries than the deleted scenes explained by RTD.

    Well, as Our David himself explains, he didn’t feel the urge to do as many diaries this year. I think we probably got as much as was worth getting.

  • Mimi

    I decided to wait for Christmas for this one, because, well, it’s expensive. But the unexpected side effect is that I am now more excited about Christmas than I have been since I was about 8. OH MY GOD. SO EXCITED.

  • Kathy A

    I’m going to wait until January, and then head over to B&N to take advantage of their “Buy 2 DVDs, get the 3rd free” sale. I think I’ll pick up seasons 1 and 4 of Doctor Who and season 2 of Torchwood–I’m not a completist, and even though I dearly love several eps of season 3 of DW (Blink, Human Nature/Family of Blood), I don’t have to own them right now, not like I do season 4. (Donna has become my favorite companion of all time!)

  • Wings

    I love Doctor Who! Sadly, though, I can’t afford to spend $70 on a DVD set, and the rental stores don’t seem to share my affection.

  • Mimi

    It’s $65 — and Netflix shares your affection. And a good indie video store, if you can still find one, might. Or some local libraries have been known to carry them (not mine… but I’ve heard tales…)

    Not to disagree with the main point, though: annoyingly expensive.

  • MaryAnn

    The sets are expensive but there’s so much extra material that they really are worth it.

  • Tony

    The best of the new DW episodes are so much more literate and have so much more sheer elan than the average American TV show it isn’t even funny. And this is a children’s show!

    I hope the BBC doesn’t get greedy and try to launch a dumbed down Americanized version of the show. That 1996 TV film was bad enough as it is.

  • Mark

    And this is a children’s show!

    Doctor Who isn’t, and has never been, a children’s show. It’s always been a science-fiction show suitable for audiences of all ages; it’s no more a children’s show than the original Star Trek was.

  • Lisa

    Maryann

    did you know that Tennant has been off sick since Monday due to a recurring back problem?

    Poor guy is gutted that he has missed 3 Hamlet performances (so far)

    Get better soon David! Good Luck again tonight Ed Bennett!

    Lisa xx

  • Gee

    He’s out until Christmas with a slipped disc. Sugery tomorrow.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/7776191.stm

  • Apparently it takes six to eight weeks to recuperate, which would delay the filming of the specials.

  • Nilo

    Doctor Who is not a children’s show any more, but the original 1963 episodes with William Hartnell were, I think, intended mainly for kids.

    “The Sarah Jane Adventures” is definitely a children’s show.

    And at the other end of the spectrum, Torchwood has elements that make it suitable for “adults only”–which is too bad, because it could have been done better without the raunchy dialogue and sexual themes.

  • Gee

    Doctor Who is touted as a family show. Sometimes, the label ‘family show’ (or ‘family movie’) seems really to mean it *is* a kid’s show but just not for very young children.

    Where I think DW scores is that it is aimed to work at several levels simultaneously although it never forgets its youngest viewers. It has the monsters and the Doctor triumphant for its five year old fans, and for adults, it explores themes such as what it means to be human, loss, achieving something in life etc.

    It astonishes me how often the show succeeds in its lofty ambition to provide something for everyone. A strange alchemy!

    The BBCs other ‘family’ fantasy shows – Robin Hood and Merlin – for me, don’t have this layered density and thus don’t have the same appeal. They do seem in reality, if not intention, more geared to younger viewers. Strangely, The Sarah Jane Adventures is only shown on the BBC Children’s TV channel but I think it has a more adult appeal than RH or Merlin! I don’t understand why the BBC doesn’t air it in the DW slot on BBC 1 where RH and Merlin are aired.

    Torchwood has been shown pre-watershed on the BBC, when children are assumed to be watching, by cutting out the swearing, upsetting sound effects and the gore from the post-watershed edition. This resulted in surprisingly few cuts.

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