The Blu-Ray Reviews

I will be updating this page with more details on the individual disks in future. For now, I just wanted to get some basic thoughts down about the new series of Home Video releases on Blu-Ray.

Count on the BBC to take considerably more than a quarter of a century to get it right. 

Since the days when VHS tape launched the beginning of the Home Video market, the Beeb have been using Doctor Who as a cash cow, limiting Home Video releases to pricey single-story discs that were often made from unrestored materials. Until now, the only two exceptions have been the season-long connected stories, season 16’s “The Key to Time,” and season 23’s “The Trial of a Time Lord.” Certain other releases of earlier shows (such as the DVD Doctor Who: The Beginning) offered at most two or three stories out of a season. Meanwhile, especially after the advent of DVD, other studios were issuing Complete Season and Complete Series releases of classic TV with wild abandon. But unless you taped Doctor Who off of the air using your home VHS player, as I did, it has been almost prohibitively expensive (and with many seasons actually impossible) to put together a complete collection of all 26 series comprising the original run of Doctor Who.

That’s still true today, but at long last we may be seeing the beginning of a real solution. Starting in 2018 with the Blu-Ray release of Tom Baker Season One (Series 12 in order), we have at long last begun to see the kind of Home Video releases that Doctor Who has deserved all along: complete seasons, unedited, digitally restored and including a wide range of bonus features. At the rate they are going it may take the Beeb another decade, or more, to deliver the complete original series (or as much of it as still exists) … but at least we can say that finally they have begun.

Given the limitations of analog media, it’s interesting to note how dramatically the video and audio of Doctor Who have improved with each new release. Going back to the early eighties, when broadcast signals were fuzzy at best (especially compared to the technology we have today), through VHS releases that seemed crystal-clear at the time, to DVD which revealed more detail than had ever been possible before, Doctor Who has benefitted more than many shows from the technologies of each new release. Certainly the DVDs offered an astonishing level of improvement in both video and audio over VHS; and these Blu-Ray releases, with their audio and video digitally restored, remastered and updated to a modern standard, offer even more dramatic enhancements that are visible even to tired old eyes like this reviewer’s own. The restorations on these Blu-Ray releases are nothing short of remarkable. As others have pointed out, the original series of Doctor Who will never be true high-definition, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that these restorations don’t come as close to HD as possible. 

Doctor Who has simply never looked (or sounded) this good. You can see details of the sets, costumes, and even the actor’s faces that were invisible until now. Some stories even feature optional updated effects, and with these turned on, a lot of what was formerly embarrassing about the show simply vanishes. 

The extras are nice, and perhaps in later installments I will examine them more closely; but the real selling point of these Blu-Rays is to get all of the stories of a single season, and all looking and sounding better than ever, in one convenient package that takes up less shelf space than a single DVD. Is it worth the double-dip if you already have some of these stories on DVD? Yes, and definitely yes — it’s almost a no-brainer.

But what if you have all of these stories on DVD? That’s a tougher call. If shelf space is at a premium for you, and if you simply want the best-looking versions of these stories, then yes. But if you don’t care about the extras and are content with the quality of your DVD releases — all of which, after all, look good and offer substantial improvements over broadcast quality — you may want to think twice. Later this year will come the first real test, when the Beeb issues Season 23, “The Trial of a Time Lord,” on Blu-Ray. It will have to look significantly better, and offer significantly more in the way of extras, in order to make the replacement of your existing DVD set worthwhile. 


I have to echo the sentiments of others here who have wondered why the series is being released in apparently random order. This set was a little bit of a tough sell for me, as I’d only recently watched this season (for the first time in years) and wasn’t sure that I wished to repeat it so soon. Those doubts were ill-founded, and so far I am quite enjoying the set. It’s a bit like seeing the show with New Eyes.

Disk 1: “The Leisure Hive.”

Lovett Bickford’s more cinematic style of direction benefits greatly from the newly restored materials, as this story has never looked or sounded so good. It’s quite clear today that John-Nathan Turner intended to make a statement with his first series, and especially with this first story. So dramatic is the change of style and substance from the previous season, that it was hard, back in the day, to assess this story on its own merits — which are conderable. “The Leisure Hive” has grown and matured with time, and in this new edition it compares favorably to some new series stories. Baker and Ward are excellent throughout, and the supporting cast give creditable (and credible) performances even when the dialogue fails them, as it sometimes does. From its unusual opening sequence to its flashy end, this is quite the strongest WHO outing since “The City of Death,” and the digital restoration is nothing short of remarkable.

Extras include two making-of documentaries (one of which has been released before), some fun Blue Peter clips, and a lovely interview with costume designer June Hudson.
Hudson joins Tom Baker and John Leeson on the couch for one-half of the Behind The Sofa featurette, which amounts to a visual commentary track. The other half has Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton sitting down with, of all people, Wendy Padbury. While they offer little in the way of new details, these featurettes are actually quite fun for their casual tone and for the honest reactions we sometimes get to see; it feels quite a bit as if the stars are joining you in your own home for the viewing. Tom Baker appears genuinely miffed at one point, when Leeson refers to this as being his last season on DOCTOR WHO (“What?! I’m still playing him!”); meanwhile, for reasons unknown, Janet Fielding behaves in a quite remarkably catty manner towards Wendy Padbury; we were glad when Padbury struck back with barbs of her own.

-- Thorn.

No comments:

Post a Comment