Doctor Who: The Complete Second Series

Directors - Various

Cast - David Tennant, Billie Piper

Country of Origin - U.K.

Discs - 5

Distributor - BBC Worldwide

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 01/12/13

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The Series (4/5)

   There are spoilers in this review. That being said this series is 6 years old, proceed with caution.

   When Christopher Eccleston announced midway through the first revised series of Doctor Who that he would be regenerating at the end of the season, many wondered if the new series would be a one trick pony.  At the conclusion of the final episode the regeneration, of course, happened, and we got our first look at his successor, and the man who would go on to be the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker in the 70's David Tennant.

   When the show came back for Season 2, not much had changed. The first story the Christmas Invasion which sees the Doctor still recovering from the effects of his regeneration occurs moments after the end of the prior seasons Parting of the Ways. With this in mind, it already feels like so much has changed for the new series.  Right from the start (when he's awake) Tennant feels fully formed as the Doctor.  He appeared regenerated in this form on screen, and he was the man.  Not to downplay Christopher Eccleston's performance, which was a wonderful change of character, and a great interpretation of the role, but Tennant's Doctor has a sense of fun to him even with all the darkness he is trying so hard to work through.

     Tennant is, now of course known to Who fandom as a genuine fan himself. Now that his tenure is done and past, he claims he can go back to being a fan himself, and just enjoying the show. Prior to that he spent his childhood, and teenage years soaking up the show, writing stories about it for class assignments, essentially being a true fan of the property, and this comes through in his very loving portrayal of the Doctor.

   The series follows up the Christmas Invasion with New Earth, a semi-sequel to the last series The End of the World, which features the final human, (a stretched out piece of flesh with a face) Lady Cassandra, being treated in a hospital, and planning to take over the body of Rose Tyler.  While this is going on, the Doctor discovers some unsettling test going on to creatures in the basement of the hospital, medical experiments in order to provide better results above. It's not one of the finest moments of the Second Series, but it's a nice way to get things going.

   The series, however, begins to hit it's stride with Tooth and Claw. This episode is essentially the Doctor, Rose, and Werewolves, and it's a very good time. The Doctor and Rose Tyler find themselves in 19th Century Scotland, where they end up getting involved with the traveling party of Queen Victoria on their way to the Torchwood Estate. It turns out soon after arrival that the estate has been taken over my a group of monks, who can shapeshift into Lycanthropes.  Of course, being Doctor Who, these werewolves turn out to be part of an alien species that landed on Earth sometime back, and use humans as a symbiotic life form through which to live, and replicate their species. The residence itself is one giant trap against the monsters with floors meant to repel them, and a giant telescope, powered by the Queens diamond, that will bring them to a weakened (human) state long enough to be eliminated. 

   Although the name Torchwood had been subtly name dropped through the first season, and the first few episodes of the second.  The conclusion of the episode sees the Doctor knighted, and Rose being named Dame Rose of the Powell Estates, before being banished from the country, and the Queen declaring the origins of Torchwood to find and stop the supernatural, and the Doctor. Obviously, this conclusion had far reaching implications throughout this season, and when Torchwood received it's own spin-off show at a later date.

   One of the early requirements of the BBC to showrunner Russell T. Davies when he was given permission to bring back Doctor Who was that the show could not be bogged down in 40 years of continuity, and back story.  Russell, and his successor Steven Moffat have done an admirable job keeping the show fairly straight forward, with only occasional nods to the classic run of the show from 1963-1989.  Aside from the obvious return of the Daleks, which everyone had assumed would just happen, the next episode School Reunion would be the first episode in the new series run to really dig deeper into the shows past for it's inspiration.

   The episode finds The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey Smith investigating the disappearance of children in a primary school. Their investigations find that the students are eating a special regimented diet, and their academic scores are vastly improving as a result. Into this scenario comes investigative journalist Miss Sarah Jane Smith who is at the school under the guise of doing a profile on the new principal, when in reality she also felt something suspicious was going on behind the scenes. 

   Of course, Sarah Jane and the Doctor have not crossed paths with 1983's The Five Doctor's and I do not recall if she ever met the 5th Doctor (Peter Davison), so it has been half a dozen regenerationís since she has seen the Doctor, and at first he is fine with her being unknowing about his true identity just revealing himself to be John Smith. 

   When she does find out the episode hits it's stride as it becomes both a battle against a species of alien creatures, the Krillitane, whose objective seems to involve conquer a species and take what genetic elements like want of that species and add it to their own. It also manages to be an emotional powerhouse of an episode, as Sarah Jane gets one more chance to meet up with the Doctor, and to get more of a sense of closure with the entity she called a best friend in her youth. 

     The best thing to me about School Reunion as an episode is the insight it gives in to the period after the Doctor leave a companion.  We understand that some of them go voluntarily on do other things like when Nyssa of Traken left at end of Terminus to help the Lazars, but in the case of Sarah Jane Smith who was left so the Doctor could go back to Gallifrey (who at the time had a no human policy), and was left expecting further adventures, but instead was given a life of Earthbound-tedium (from her perspective). It gives us a glimmer into the how it feels to have traveled and seen the sights of the Universe, only to be returned home.  It also gives some emotional foreshadowing to a potential conclusion to current companion Rose Tyler whose time will draw to a close at the end of this season.

   Steven Moffat wrote what could be considered the Series 1 Masterpiece with The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and he follows that up with his Series 2 entry, and another masterpiece of modern Who the Girl in the Fireplace. The Girl in the Fireplace finds the Doctor, Rose, and Mickey Smith aboard a spacecraft thousands of years into the future, the particular spacecraft has a fireplace on board that appears to be out of place, and once pushed opens up a time window takes the Doctor to the 18th Century bedroom of Reinette, a young girl, who would grow up to be Madame de Poumpadour.

     It turns out the abandoned ship was left by a group of clockwork androids who killed the crew, and used their organs to repair the vessel. In their minds they believe at the age of 37 Reinette's brain will be the last missing piece of the vessel, and will come to retrieve it. The Doctor ends up visiting her, and defending her throughout various periods of her life culminating in a final battle with the androids during her 37th year. The episode has Steven Moffat's now trademark style all over it, from his use of time as a way to drive the plot, to the mystery of the Doctor's name that he used to close out the recent series 6.

   Girl in the Fireplace is followed up by the Series first Two-Parter, and sees the return (in a way) of the 2nd most popular villains in Doctor Who history. Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel sees the TARDIS steered off course, and into a parallel dimension, where Rose's Father is still alive, and married to his Mother, but she was never born. In this dimension he has a successful soft drink entrepreneur whose business is owned by John Lumic, a notorious inventor who has created a blue-tooth like device that downloads information directly into users minds.

   Lumic, also happens to be dying, and is looking for a day to extend his life, and while he's at the lives of the those in the world around him. He creates a metallic body, in  which to store a human brain that lacks any sort of emotion, and has total uniformity with one another. They are produced by his company Cybus Industry, and are the new breed of Cybermen. Lumic goes against the will of the British, and world governments, and creates the first line of these Cybermen who begin to take over London. These Cybermen round up all the humans in London, and begin the process of cyber-converting them at the Cybus factory in London. The Doctor, Rose, Mickey Smith, The alternate universe Pete Tyler, along with a band of rebels including Mickey's parallel universe alter-ego Ricky must band together to stop the new breed of Cybermen before they can convert the Earth.

   We then come to one of the more minor episodes of the series The Idiot's Lantern which sees the Doctor and Rose in 1950's England at the time of the coronation of the Queen. A local merchant is helping distribute low-cost TV sets to the public to watch the event, but his generosity it seems is only occurring due to an alien being attempting to recreate it's body by consuming the life energy from TV viewers. It's a fun episode, but having a string of excellent episode before and after it definitely affects the way it plays out.

   Aside from the Girl in the Fireplace and School Reunion the Impossible Planet/Satan Pit are probably my two favorite episodes of Doctor Who - Series 2. This Two-Parter finds The Doctor and Rose on a planet whose very existence is an anomaly, for this planet orbits very closely to a black hole. They find themselves amongst a crew of explorers and their Ood slaves who are digging into the planets core to discover and claim the energy source that is making this possible. However, the deeper they dig the more volatile the crew, and Ood become.  They end up closing on a creature, who would become known around the universe as the Devil or Satan. In the Satan Pit,  Rose, and the remaining crew must fight off the possessed crew members and Ood while trying to escape the planet as it descends into the black hole. The Doctor meanwhile is trapped in the core of the planet, and must face the demonic Beast down in it's depths.

   The next 2 episodes are as far from classics as the revised Doctor Who has ever gotten. We have Love & Monsters a Doctor-lite episode about a fan, and his encounters with the Doctors. We then have Fear Her, which finds the Doctor and Rose in London on the day of the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in 2012.  They are in a neighborhood held in the grip of terror by a child who can draw people out of existence.

   The next 2 episodes feature a moment many Who fans have long been waiting for...

   CYBERMEN VS. DALEKS!

   Army of Ghosts and Doomsday is a 2 part episode that closes out not just the series, but Rose Tyler's time on the show as a full time companion. The episode sees the Doctor and Rose on present day Earth, upon their return Jackie Tyler begins rambling about Grandfather is about to reappear, and within a moment a ghostlike entity begins to show up in the apartment. Of course, this entity bears no resemblance to any person living or dead, and the Doctor immediately begins to attempt what is actually going on.

   It turns out the alternate universe cybermen have found a way into this universe through the use of a Dalek Void Ship. They end up in Torchwood's Canary Wharf building where much of the episode takes place.  Mickey Smith, and his group of rebels end up back in this dimension, and involved in the battle, which escalates when 4 Daleks are released into the chaos, and declare all out war on the Cybermen. In the midst of the battle Rose Tyler in helping to contain the situation is transported across the dimension's and into the parallel dimension from earlier in the season.

   The first and second series of Doctor Who were both fantastic, but with David Tennant in the role, and the show finally back on firm footing Series 2 is where new Who began to really hit it's stride. Not every episode is a winner, but there is a enough fantastic material in this set to please old and new fans alike.

 

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

     BBC Worldwide have presented Doctor Who the Complete Series 2 in a set of 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfers that preserve the original broadcast ratios of the shows. All the episodes for the most part look fantastic, colors are bright, detail is solid, as our black levels and flesh tones.  There are some minor soft spots every so often, but they rarely detract from the overall viewing experience.

   BBC Worldwide have presented Doctor Who the Complete Series 2 with an equally nice series of 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio tracks with optional English subtitles. The tracks offer a nice bombastic range that allows the effects and music to come through louder and clear while never overwhelming the dialogue sequences.

 

Extras (4/5)

   BBC Worldwide brought Doctor Who Series 2 to DVD with an elaborate slate of extras. Every single episode on this set has a commentary track by some member of the cast, and crew, and 5 of the episodes feature In Vision commentary. These are the commentary tracks, where you can also view the participants talking in the lower portion of your screen.  These episodes for your information are the Christmas Invasion, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Age of Steel, The Impossible Planet, and Doomsday. There are also loads of deleted scenes, video diaries from David Tennant and Billie Piper, outtakes, and 14 shortened episodes of Doctor Who Confidential that run roughly 14 minutes each.

 

Overall

   In my opinion, Doctor Who: The Complete Series 2 is where the new series truly began to hit it's stride. It is a collection of truly great episodes (and a few stinkers) coupled with still great A/V, and an absolute slew of extras.  Doctor Who: The Complete Series 2 comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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