Doctor Who: The Complete First Series

Directors - Various

Cast - Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, John Barrowman

Country of Origin - U.K.

Discs - 5

Distributor - BBC Worldwide

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 01/05/13

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The Series (3.5/5)

     It was 16 years between the end of 1989's Survival, and 2005's inaugural Ninth Doctor outing "Rose." In between those 2 episodes the only Doctor Who-related media to hit the TV airwaves was a charity short reuniting the 7 Doctors, with the cast of East Enders ("Dimensions in Time"), the wonderful tribute documentary More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS, and the first attempted reboot the Doctor Who TV Movie (aka The Enemy Within) for most Who fans this was the worst time to be a fan. So when it was announced the series was coming back in 2005, fandom held it's collective breath.  Would this be another failure like the TV movie? Would it be on again, off again like the 80's? Would a new modern audience accept Doctor Who like it was accepted during it's initial run?

   And then Series 1 started with new star Christopher Eccleston (who to this day might be the biggest star to ever take on the role of Doctor Who prior to being the Doctor) as the Doctor, and his companion Rose (played by former pop star Billie Piper), and all fears were quickly vanquished.  The new series didn't look like the old series, it looked new and modern, and felt so as well. It had a new and exciting energy to it that has now carried the continued show into it's 7th full season, and another half season of specials.

   Part of the compromise in bringing the show back that new show runner Russell T. Davies had to make was to not bog it down in 40+ years of continuity, so while we have a show with enourmous history, this series was a great starting point for new fans to jump on, while still leaving enough to chew on for older fans. For the second time in the series history the inaugural episode of a Doctor begins with an invasion by the Autons and the Nestene Consciousness ("Rose").  The first occurrence, of course, was in the Jon Pertwee serial Spearhead from Space. We then follow the Doctor and Rose to one of the many variations of the End of the World in the episode End of the World, where they meet up with the stretched out living flesh of the final human being in existence, and end up entangled in her nefarious plans. We then get a throw back to the gothic horror of the Golden era of Doctor Who with the Unquiet Dead, which takes The Doctor and Rose to 19th Century England, where they meet up with Charles Dickens to investigate a mysterious invasion by entities claiming to be spirits of the dead.

   The series then gets to what had the potential to be an excellent suspenseful two-parter about an alien invasion of modern London, but gets bogged down by a one note joke. The two-parter is Aliens of London/World War 3, and sees a family of aliens known as the Slitheen find their way into the heads of the British Government, and slowly begin to take over the nation after a UFO crash into Big Ben announces their presence to the world.  There is a lot of great suspenseful moments in this series of episodes, great performances, but all of that is pretty much killed by the fact that the Slitheen are from a race of farting aliens, and the joke gets played out repeatedly.  The whole series loses points for bringing these villains back for the late series episode Boom Town.

   It should have been no surprise to anyone that with Doctor Who returning to the airwaves, the Daleks could not have been far behind, and in the 6th episode of the series we get the return of a single Dalek in the episode Dalek. The Doctor and Rose find themselves in an underground industrial complex in the deserts of Utah, run by a man who collects space junk.  His prize possession is the last remaining Dalek, the final reminder of the Time War, of which the Doctor is the lone survivor of his new extinct race.  The staff behind new Who could have brought the Daleks back with any old episode, and most people would have been happy to have them onscreen again, however, this episode is quite a winner, and one of the finest episodes in the entire run of Dalek-Who episodes.

     I also feel Dalek, is where the series truly hits it's stride. Rose, was a good introductory episode, and Unquiet Dead offered a nice gothic atmosphere, and was fun, but End of the World, and the Slitheen two parter left something to be desired.  Dalek could be considered the first masterpiece of new Who. We then get the Simon Pegg co-starring The Long Game which sees the Doctor, Rose, and temporary addition to the crew Adam on Satellite 5 a broadcast new station gone awry. The Long Game was post- Shaun of the Dead, and it's definitely interesting to see Pegg as the villain, it's not the best episode of this excellent run, but it is a ton of fun, and just further proof that comedians play excellent villains.

This is followed up with is one of my absolute series favorites Father's Day, which sees Rose Tyler go back to the day of her Father's death to be there to comfort him as he dies.  Unfortunately, for the world she cannot just watch her Father die, and goes out of the way to save him.  This creates a temporal paradox, and sends a series of Langolier-esque creatures out to avenge the error, and possibly take out humanity in the process. It's episodes such as this that really play around with the notion of the impacts of time travel that make me love Doctor Who so much to begin with, we don't get them much, but when we do they are such a treat.

   We then come to what is for many the absolute high water mark for Series 1 The Empty Child/Doctor Dances 2 parter written by future show runner Steven Moffat. This Two-Parter features The Doctor and Rose finding themselves in the midst of the London Blitz, which aside from being bombed to Hell by Hitler's German forces are also being terrorized by a little boy in a gas mask repeatedly asking for his Mummy. The episode also introduces the character of Captain Jack Harkness who would go on to appear in the rest of this series, and other episodes of the revised Doctor Who, not to mention spearhead his own ensemble sci-fi program for 4 series Torchwood. Much like the Unquiet Dead from earlier in the series this episode uses a simple sci-fi concept, in this case nanotechnology applied to a bombing victim (spoiler for a nearly 10 year old episode), to create a modern gothic horror story that wouldn't feel out of place with the best of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes/Baker stories.

   As mentioned earlier the Slitheen return in the eleventh episode of the series Boomtown, before we get to the two part series finale Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. This Two-Parter takes place on Satellite 5 exactly 100 years after the events of the Long Game. The world based around satellite 5 has now moved on from news programming to reality television, and the Doctor, Rose, and Jack now find themselves each in a different reality program. With some difficulty they manage to escape their TV captors, as it turns out the contestants on this show are perceived to be exterminated.  In the end it turns out that this was a plan to lure the Doctor out by the Daleks.  It is now up to The Doctor, Rose, and Jack to stop an entire Dalek fleet from Satellite 5 with minimal assistance.  The Parting of the Ways is a great action packed episode, with a good deal of suspense, and of course, a regeneration on the part of Christopher Eccleston's 9th Doctor.

   This came as no surprise to anyway paying attention to the media at the time, for shortly after broadcast Eccleston announced his departure from the show paving the way for David Tennant to take over at the end of Parting of the Ways and on his own for the next 3.5 series. Which we'll be reviewing next.

 

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

     BBC Worldwide have presented Doctor Who the Complete Series 1 in a set of 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers that maintain the OAR of the original broadcast. These are the original 2006 DVD's reissued in slimmer packaging, and they still look fantastic.  Colors are good for the most part, and aside from some minor softness I can't find any complaints here.

   The audio is presented with a 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack with optional English subtitles.  This similarly is quite effective with dialogue being completely audible throughout, and music and effects coming through bombastic and clear.

 

Extras (4/5)

   BBC Worldwide have put together a pretty nice package for Doctor Who The Complete Series One.  The main extra is Doctor Who Confidential 14 short episodes equaling 2 hours and 45 minutes of behind the scenes content. We also have an interview with 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston, and another with John Barrowman. There are commentary tracks on every episode of this series. The set is rounded off with effects demos, and TV spots.

 

Overall

   Watching this for the first time in years I was surprised at how well Doctor Who The Complete Series One holds up. It was exciting at the time to just have the Doctor back on our TV screens, and aside from a few minor quibbles (farting aliens), this is quite an excellent series.  The A/V still holds up nicely, and there is a nice array of extras.  Doctor Who The Complete Series One comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!