Doctor Who 50th anniversary collection Part 1
A review by Nalini Haynes
Director: Saul Metzstein
Writers: Steven Moffat, Malcolm Hulke (characters: “Silurians”), Robert Holmes (characters: “Sontarans”)
Stars: Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Alex Kingston
The Doctor Who 50th anniversary collection features season 07, episode 14, The Name of the Doctor, the beginning of the two-part story harking back to Classic Who‘s Valeyard, twining several of the Doctors together and preparing for Matt Smith’s departure from the series, paving the way for Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor. Special features include a bit behind the scenes, a mini-zode featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor, and the Ultimate Guide.
I’m stunned. I went looking for my review of the Name of the Doctor to find it’s disappeared. Clara was a tad too thorough when she wiped the Doctor’s records from computers around the galaxy. Here’s my replacement review.
The Name of the Doctor review
The Name of the Doctor opens with Clara falling through a fiery landscape, as bemused as Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Clara narrates her fall: living many lives with the Doctor always appearing, Clara always reaching out to him.
The Silurian Vastra visits a prisoner awaiting the hangman’s noose, a la Sherlock Holmes. The prisoner bargains for his life, swapping coordinates and a cryptic clue: ‘The Doctor has a secret that he will take to his grave, and it is discovered’. Vastra and her wife, Jenny, set up a conference call Inception-style with Strax the Sontaran, River Song and Clara.
Vampiric plastic men invade Vastra’s home during the call, murdering Jenny.
The call ends abruptly. Clara wakes to find the Doctor playing blind man’s bluff with the children Clara nannies — although the children have nicked off to the cinema. Clara tells the Doctor the message, impelling the Doctor to Trenzalore to rescue Vastra, Strax and, if possible, Jenny.
In recent years, the best episodes of Doctor Who have tended toward pantomime-style presentations where personality, breaking the fourth wall by directly engaging the audience, racing music and fast-paced action entertain family audiences without necessarily adhering to science fiction conventions or worrying about cohesive plots. The Name of the Doctor not only entertains and refers to Classic Who with the Valeyard, but it also works in appearances of all the other Doctors by featuring straight shots or original shots with new characters magically imposed. Although not the strongest story in terms of plot cohesion, it has a rating of 9.2 out of 10 on IMDB.
Behind the Scenes review
As fans are aware, the BBC cancelled Doctor Who Confidential. The extras include an incredibly cut-down version of what could have been part of a DW Confidential, showing a few actors, the director and Steven Moffat talking briefly. Matt Smith is quite naughty, doing what he’s told not to do. Meanwhile, the director holds off for the longest and best possible shot before yelling ‘Cut!’ so the TARDIS fires can be extinguished.
The Night of the Doctor review
This disk’s special fiction extra is ‘The Night of the Doctor’, a 7 minute mini-zode where an unexpected Doctor — Paul McGann — shows up to rescue a woman. His offer of rescue is rejected; the woman prefers to die than be rescued by a Time Lord during the Time War. The plot gets a little darker, with a bit of god-in-the-machine when the Doctor’s ‘no’ becomes ‘yes’. I have the impression Steven Moffat, this mini-zode’s writer, is going somewhere with this story. I’m interested to hear the experts’ reactions: I suspect the ranting will be entertaining. For that alone, this mini-zode is a must-watch; it’s so much more work to understand the rant without watching the source material.
The Ultimate Guide commentary
Doctor Who the Ultimate Guide, the 2-hour feature last on the disk, starts with a cutesy pantomime-style scene featuring Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman (Clara); the Doctor has lost his memory so he has to read his 1200-year diary to learn who he is. This 1200-year diary features Doctor Who actors and other famous faces in a Robot Chicken-style ADHD-paced commercial for Doctor Who. Setting the TV volume is a balance between hearing the guests and excerpts without being deafened by the narrator. Someone, please turn the narrator’s volume down and deprive him of caffeine. Seriously.
Fans who’ve seen the like before may or may not be interested but WAIT! There’s a scene — a few seconds, no more — of unmissable footage. WATCH THAT DALEK. That dalek with the really bad dalek voice? Watch it CLOSELY.
The frenetic pacing and story threads in this extra are a tangled ball of yarn. We’re told it’s about the Doctor (William Hartnell 1963–1966); it starts with Bill as the doctor then veers off into other times and other creatures. I forgot it was supposed to be about a particular doctor then the narrator announces we’re going to look at Patrick Troughton. It starts with Pat as the doctor then wanders off up the dalek alley, discussing daleks and stairs and ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ (an episode from 1988). Next up is Jon Pertwee, a segment that focuses a little more on him as the doctor before talking about companions.
The Tom Baker segment is more about Sarah Jane (yay, but it includes Sarah Jane in New Who in the 21st century), before slobbering over Leela and Perry. The guest commentators actually go there, one almost drooling as he seems to imply Sarah isn’t as memorable as Leela because SEXY before featuring Perry’s cleavage, Perry in a bikini (slow pan from legs to face lingering on breasts on the way through), Perry’s backside in said bikini, and — look! — just for variety, more of Perry’s cleavage. Wait — we actually do look at Tom Baker as the Doctor, briefly, before veering left into Cyberman territory (with a focus on New Who‘s introduction of their catchphrase ‘you will be deleted’ before moving on to Peter Davison.
Apparently we haven’t seen enough of Perry’s cleavage that overshadowed Peter Davison’s departure. We have to watch that scene again. And the bit with the best boobage again. Sure you didn’t miss it? Because, y’know, they’ll show it AGAIN if you didn’t see enough the first several times.
Now we’re looking at the Master, with a focus on John Sims as the Master. Although possibly my favourite Master, there were others before him; their images flash briefly on the screen but they don’t rate a mention.
Colin Baker as the Doctor is possibly the least popular: his unstable personality, his arrogance, his clown outfit… I personally stopped being a regular viewer early on with Colin Baker. Between Colin and, later, my lack of a TV for some years, there is a lot of Doctor Who I’ve missed. If only this doctor hadn’t been… unsafe. Volatile. Scary. The Doctor is supposed to be the hero not the villain. Perhaps now, in the 21st century, they could have pulled this off.
Sylvester McCoy is celebrated as the comedic doctor excellent with props and a darker side revealed when he betrayed Ace.
Now we’re on to the male companions that seem to comprise only male companions in New Who. Although Captain Jack had his own spin-off series, the focus here is on Rory who died. And died. And died. And — well, after dying a fair bit, and waiting 2,000 years, he finally gets the girl.
Minion: So, he wasn’t a bit of dead weight then?
Paul McGann’s one and only ‘zode is discussed in detail except for how he actually defeated the Master. The kiss, the first Doctor’s kiss, is discussed at length with images of that kiss and many of the various Doctor’s kisses since then. Sylvestor McCoy comments that there was no ‘canoodling’ before McGann, saying Doctor Who became more ‘soapy and soppy’ because of the kissing. I agree. These days Doctor Who is running a risk of ‘kiss of the week’ or ‘romance of the companion’.
We jump to the villains of New Who before actually jumping to Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor.
Once the Ultimate Guide reaches New Who, it’s more sequential. They focus on the Doctor of the era, his costume, his persona, his relationships… With David Tennant, there were quite a few kisses, quite a few relationships.
After Rose and Martha both falling for the Doctor and all the other 10th Doctor’s shenanigans, I adored Donna. She was feisty, individuated and not seeking to attach herself like a limpet to the Doctor. The Guide does Donna justice as much as it does anyone justice.
Matt Smith includes the Ponds so we return to the Ponds. Again. In more detail.
And River Song. Right up to Trenzalore. More kissing. It’s interesting to see what the BBC thinks people want to see again and again.
Minion: River by a Pond?
Then on to Clara. The companion who probably dies the most, more than even Rory. More than Captain Jack — on Doctor Who, anyway. We won’t mention Captain Jack’s serial deaths in Torchwood.
If you haven’t watched all Doctor Who throughout all of time and space, this Guide will tell you; you’ll see unfamiliar snippets even if they’re not the subject under discussion. This Ultimate Guide is aimed at fans, particularly fans of New Who as the Guide focuses most on New Who monsters and companions.
My review copy is part of the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Collection to be released on 10 September 2014. Thanks, Roadshow.