The Collection (4/5)
It is an understatement to call Doctor Who a landmark show in television history. The fact is the show has now been on the air for the better part of 50 years with a gap of 16 years between 1989 and 2005 where the show was completely off the air (barring the 8th Doctor TV movie included in this collection). Since the show was returned to the airwaves in 2005 it has become a ratings bonanza, not just in it's native U.K., but internationally as well. This sort of success was unseen for much of the original series original run, when Doctor Who was a cult phenomenon in many areas of the world.
Of course, a show that is coming up on it's 50th Birthday deserves some sort of celebration. This November the BBC will be airing 2 specials the 50th Anniversary episode the Day of the Doctor featuring current Doctor Matt Smith, pairing up with Tenth Doctor David Tennant (and if we're lucky a good few classic Doctors as well). They will also be airing a TV movie called Adventures in Space and Time about the making of the first episodes of Doctor Who, and while those are quite nice. BBC America has seen fit to pay homage to all 11 Doctors, one a month in the run-up to the anniversary. They are doing this with a series called Doctors Revisited, each Doctors Revisited pairs an iconic serial (or in the case of Paul McGann's lone outing the TV Movie) with a documentary about their era.
These releases are not just playing on BBC America, but also are coming out on Region 1 DVD in 4 disc box sets like the one released about 2 months ago which brought the first 4 episodes (4 Doctors) together. We now have the next one with Doctors 5-8. The Doctors 5-8 set like the previous set contains a nice selection of stories each one representative of that Doctors era. The Peter Davison era is represented quite well with the Cybermen story Earthshock. It is a well-made, high-action (for it's time), and quite shocking tale with some of the best Cybermen designs of the classic series. For Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor we get the right out of 2000 A.D. story Vengeance on Varos. This is quite a bleak, but exciting story that follows the Doctor as he attempts to refuel on an extremely political corrupt planet where torture is the name of the game, and television is used to subdue the populous. Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor is represented by what could be described as THE best Dalek story of 80's Doctor Who, Remembrance of the Daleks. This episodes finds the Doctor and his companion Ace in 1963 London, precisely one week after the events of the very first Doctor Who episode An Unearthly Child. The 8th Doctor, Paul McGann is represented by his one and only visual contribution to the series the Doctor Who TV Movie (aka The Enemy Within). This story finds the Doctor in 1999 San Francisco, squaring away against the Master.
The thing about these sets is they are all prior releases. Each serial, and the TV movie has a finer stand alone DVD release than what is presented here. So the question is, who are these DVD releases for? The simple answer is new fans. Doctor Who in the classic era was known for slower pacing, more theatrical acting styles, more low budget special FX, and occasional cheap set design. While this was not always the case, it has seemingly found it's way into the mentality of mainstream popular culture, and many fans of the new series are reluctant to jump into the series because of these elements. Those that are willing to explore are usually intimidated by the DVD release format, which sees one serial of Doctor Who released per DVD instead of the usual complete series sets the new series is given. The one high point I have to give these sets is it gives a new viewer of classic Doctor Who, an overview of each classic Doctor, a solid story from them, and gets them comfortable with the shows format. That being said like Doctors Revisited 1-4, the set does have it's issues, and I will go over those in the next section.
These "Revisited" reviews are an odd experience. If you are a hardcore Doctor Who fan such as myself, you probably have a good number of these serials in their original DVD releases, so there would be no point in picking up this set other than the 24 minute documentaries and Moffat introductions included as special features. Therefore, it feels like the A/V section would be more for the older fans who either missed out before Earthshock went OOP and were curious about the quality here, or new fans who wanted to know how these releases looked. Pardon my little rant here, but basically if you have the original DVD release the actual quality here is either less than what you have (in the pseudo-widescreen versions) or on par with it to a point (in the episodic format versions).
Doctor Who until it came back in 2005 was shot in the academy 1:33:1 full screen format typical of TV shows of the era, this goes for the TV movie as well as the serials presented on this set. If you watch the films in their feature presentation format you get the introduction by current showrunner Steven Moffat, and the show presented in a movie-like omnibus format stretched out to 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is very jarring, irritating, and obvious. I do believe the producers of these sets hated having to take the source material and stretch it out for your WIDESCREEN VIEWING PLEASURE, because instead of using the newer masters from the most recent DVD's, they have chosen the older master which appear older and more washed out then their episodic counterparts. The neat thing is if you watch the set episode by episode you will not only get the episodes in their proper aspect ratios, but in the most recent remasters. The only possible downside is that any added special effects like those added into Earthshock for the recent DVD release are not included with this release. These episodes share the same high points as the most recent DVD release, as well as their lows, but considering how well Doctor Who on DVD was treated I would highly suggest viewing it in this manner.
The main extra on the set is the Doctors Revisited documentary for each Doctor. They are 25 minutes in length each, and cover each Doctor in a rather cookie cutter manner, but are a rather nice introduction to the classic series for new comers. There are also introductions by Steven Moffat for each serial (or movie).
A nice beginner set with some fun overview documentaries. If you watch the episodes in the original episodic format you're good, otherwise they are off format, and from older masters. This set is a mixed bag, but if you buy it new you get some snazzy Doctor Who fridge magnets. Recommended in original format only.