Doctor Who: The Complete First Series
October 29, 2006

I got this DVD set for my birthday recently, and like any good internet fan, I thought I’d gripe about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I was glad to see a successful revamp of the character, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the episodes when I first saw them. That was part of the problem, though — I’d already seen these episodes, some of them twice (original airing, and again on SciFi). Too much of my enjoyment, it seems, depended on plot points and surprises, and once I knew what was going to happen, I didn’t feel like I particularly wanted to see them again. (Especially when it meant hearing “weakest link” over and over; some of the gags were dated as soon as they aired. Although if they hadn’t chickened out and had kept Jack’s butt shot in that episode, I might be much more favorably inclined to it.)

This contrasts greatly with how I’m handling the second new Doctor’s run so far. I’ve only seen five of those episodes, and only once each. Even when I’ve wanted to, I’ve kept myself from re-watching them so I’ll enjoy the DVD set more when I get it in January.

Doctor Who: The Complete First Series
Doctor Who:
The Complete
First Series
Buy this DVD

Plus, this set brought home to me how much more I enjoy David Tennant’s portrayal. I think Christopher Eccleston did a fabulous job creating a Doctor for a new generation, but he’s just not as much fun to watch. He’s too tormented and moody. Tennant is sexier because of his playfulness. Plus, the writers seemed to have settled down to telling stories instead of needing to reestablish the mythos and similar high-toned aims.

Anyway, I was looking forward to this set because of the extras. I wanted the disc of Confidential episodes … but I was severely disappointed to see that they were the cut-down 15-minute versions. I’m darned glad I saved my 30-minute version discs, because those episodes have the older actors and historical context maintained, which was the best part, comparing then and now.

Most of the extras seem like cutting-room-floor sweepings, “video diaries” and the like. I found two of the extras worthwhile. The first was the morning show interview with Christopher Eccleston, because it’s the first time I’ve ever learned anything about his views on the character and the show. It’s particularly interesting watching it considering that he knew he was only on for one season, but the viewers and interviewer didn’t.

The other one was the too-short interview with John Barrowman, whom I adore as Captain Jack. He’s very articulate and seems to carry through the devil-may-care attitude of his character that makes him so attractive.

The trailers, of which there are several bunches, made me wonder if British video design was really that much behind the US — some of the color choices and techniques looked like high school video class to me instead of the creation of a professional, nationwide network.

It took me a while to find the commentaries (one per every episode). They’re under Set Up instead of Special Features, which isn’t where I’d expect them. Most of them are with producers, directors, effects creators, and the odd supporting cast member. Billie Piper participates on “Father’s Day” and “The Parting of the Ways”, both times stating that she hasn’t ever seen the completed episodes before.

The commentaries really picked up for me starting with “The Empty Child”, the introduction of Captain Jack. John Barrowman participates on those episodes he appears in, and he’s really entertaining. (I suspect his theater and musical background makes him well-suited to provide audio entertainment.) Steven Moffat, the writer, and he play well against each other, especially when they’re joking about gay officers’ clubs and the like.

Russell T. Davies (Head Writer, I think) and Julie Gardner (Executive Producer), in contrast, mutter on too much about things that seem obvious or I somehow already knew. They also have a bad habit about joking about cut-out footage that should show up on the DVD, only it isn’t there. The only thing that Davies said that will stay with me is when he called the haunting wordless female voice singing (used as mysterious background in many episodes and over the DVD menus) the voice of Counselor Flavia, an old Who reference.

On the bright side, my tuning out so much of the commentaries means I can approach them fresh when I rewatch this in a few years. Whether I recommend this is a tough question, because for me, there was no question of not getting it. I’m looking forward a lot more to the next set, though.

21 Responses  
John writes:  

I thought Christopher Eccleston’s approach to the Doctor was ‘fantastic’. I really appreciated the childlike delight he took in small things while being very serious when getting down to business with the bad guys. I didn’t think I could ever get used to David Tennant, but I have to agree with you that the writing is truly top notch with Season 2.

I couldn’t wait for this DVD set to come out, but honestly haven’t watched it yet, for much the same reason… I’ve seen all the episodes at least 2 or 3 times recently, and now that Season 2 is on, I just don’t have time to go back.

I still would recommend the series, and this DVD set, although I haven’t gone through all the extras yet. I wasn’t aware of the Eccleston interview, so thanks for pointing that out. I definitely want to see that. Living in the States here, I feel like I’m missing out on the behind the scenes bits of Doctor Who and Red Dwarf and the likes. Why DID Christopher Eccleston leave the show?

Like you, I look forard to enough time passing so that I can truly relive the joy of this season… not that I want time to go passing any faster, mind you!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Mike Chary writes:  

You aren’t a true Whovian until you can sit through repeat viewing of Colin Baker…

So, are you watching Torchwood?

Jonathan Miller writes:  

I agree that Tennant’s performance is more fun and I like him better as the Doctor, but thus far Christopher Eccelston got (mostly) better scripts. With some notable exceptions, I didn’t think season two quite measured up to season one, writing-wise…I’ve got high hopes for the third season. :-)

Johanna writes:  

John, I got the impression (based on not much, now that I look at it) that Eccleston is considered a more “serious” actor, and so he didn’t want to stick around too long so he could do other things.

Mike, I have the first two Torchwood, but I haven’t had a chance to see them yet. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any Colin Baker episodes. I only recently tried Sylvester McCoy.

Paul O'Brien writes:  

Regarding the trailers, I assume these are from BBC 1’s unfortunate “cover two thirds of the screen in orange” period, part of a truly horrific exercise in station branding. That dreadful oragne was the official BBC 1 colour at that time, and they were making continuity announcements over horrendously pretentious footage of people in orange, supposed to represent some London media idiot’s idea of “every walk of life.” (By far the worst was a scene of orange-clad, multi-ethnic, dancing wheelchair basketball players, which had clearly been prepared by going through a tick list to see how many minorities they could fit into thirty seconds.)

In fairness, UK graphics generally tend to be a lot more subdued and minimal than American ones – a lot of US television looks absolutely histrionic to British eyes. Having seen Gordon Ramsay on British reality TV shows, I can barely stop laughing at the editing on Hell’s Kitchen.

For a much better example, and far more imaginative, example of UK channel branding, take a look at these efforts from Channel 4:

Paul O'Brien writes:  

Incidentally, BBC1 have since changed their idents. It’s, er, not much of an improvement. They’ve toned down the orange, but it’s still remarkably pretentious. I weep at the thought of how much money they wasted on this stuff.

Paul O'Brien writes:  

(And here’s a compilation of the “isn’t orange great” era. Terrible things. But worth seeing so that you get the joke when they do the kung fu monks in season 2.)

Dan Coyle writes:  

“John, I got the impression (based on not much, now that I look at it) that Eccleston is considered a more “serious” actor, and so he didn’t want to stick around too long so he could do other things.”

That’s pretty much correct; he wasn’t really ready for the grind of series television (IIRC he clashed with the director of “Rose” and “Aliens of London”)and was physically and mentally burned out by the end. He won’t even do the radio plays, which all the previous doctors have done- in fact, there’s a new McGann play coming out soon.

John writes:  

Thanks Johanna and Dan,

I would really love to hear or read an in-depth interview with Christopher Eccleston concerning his stint on Doctor Who, if anyone can point me to one.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I understand his motives. I mean, as a freelancer, there are certainly times when I wish I had more time for my own projects, but hey, when a great gig comes along, you go for the ride, because you just know that all good things come to an end eventually, and great gigs are rare.

Maybe it’s the parallels to my own life that make me so interested? Maybe I’m still shaking my head at David Duchovny for leaving x-files? :0)

Anyway, I was in the UK a few months back, and I read something about David Tennant saying that Doctor Who was so much fun that he couldn’t imagine leaving. I thought that was a dig at Eccleston, but who knows?

Both seasons are definitely enjoyable in their own ways.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Bill D. writes:  

You aren’t a true Whovian until you can sit through repeat viewing of Colin Baker…

Hey, Colin Baker has his moments.

Well, the “Trial of a Timelord” season-long story is pretty good.

Once you get past the parts with Peri. And fast forward through any scene with Mel.

Which leaves you with, what, about a third of that whole season. Maybe. But that’s decent!

Allan Harvey writes:  

Oi — Colin Baker is vastly underrated! Genius portrayal, let down by appalling scripts and a hostile script editor.

I’d happily point you to an in-depth Ecclestone interview, John; but there aren’t any. I sort of doubt there ever will be. As far as he’s concerned he’s “been there, done that.”

And I have to say that, IMHO, the scripts on the second series haven’t quite matched the consistency of the first. Tennant is superb, though.

Johanna writes:  

I learn so much from my readers! Thanks, everyone, for background — especially Paul for providing the comparative branding info.

Mike Chary writes:  

Eccleston is a name actor in England, sort of like Jimmy Smits. He agreed to do the first season of Dr. Who as a favor to Russell Davies, who’s a pal, but he never planned to stay longer, because everyone who has had the Doctor role has gotten stuck with it including Peter Davison, who was well known before the role. The only sort of exception was Tom Baker. John pertwee did okay, but he did a lot of cons, too.

Mike Chary writes:  

I like Dr. Who, but I’m a true WHovian going back to the Spirit of Light conventions. I’ve met Tom Baker, John Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

But objectively, the episodes are awful. (The Big Finish audio plays are better.)

Bill D. writes:  

Don’t get me wrong, Allan. Colin Baker did have his moments. As I said, he was quite good in the Trial storyline. And I thought he played quite well off of both the second Doctor and Jamie in The Two Doctors. I even enjoyed the fact that not only was his Doctor, on more than a few occasions, all of the character’s worst characteristics personified – smug, crotchedy, vain, terrible dress sense, etc. – but that he was actually sort of proud of it. He just got saddled with terrible writing, as you said, and also with two of the least likable companions ever. But Mike’s not the first person I’ve seen say that the 6th Doctor audio plays from Big Finish are actually pretty good.

Paul O'Brien writes:  

Colin Baker, personally, was just fine in terms of what he did with the material. But he was saddled with some of the worst scripts in the show’s history, not to mention the horrendous costume (which overpowers any attempt at subtlety by an individual director or production designer by being so horrific).

The idea of the Sixth Doctor was an interesting one; the idea of Trial of a Time Lord was also theoretically interesting. But the reality fell far short, and Trial in particular is an absolute mess – as I understand it, the final episodes had to be written at short notice by writers who didn’t actually know how it was all supposed to fit together, and not surprisingly the result was chaotic. Even the notoriously nerdy Doctor Who tie-in novels from the nineties had an official editorial policy of not going anywhere near Trial of a Time Lord because it was too much of a continuity nightmare even for them.

Mike Chary writes:  

As I typoed, I like Colin Baker, but the paradigmatic example of what Paul’s talking about in Trial is the mere fact that Mel and the Doctor never meet. They travel. They know each other. They never meet.

“The Trial of a Time Lord,” however, did introduce the character with the best name in sf tv history: Sabalom Glitz.

Allan Harvey writes:  

The Doctor and Mel’s “meeting” was written into the novelisation of the final “Trial” story — it’s not particularly satisfactory, but they did try…

“Trial” on tv fell apart at the end when author Robert Holmes had the misfortune to die before finishing anything other than a first draft outline. Script editor, Eric Sayward, wrote a finished script and then quit, refusing its use at the eleventh hour. All in all, a bit of a nightmare. But then that sums up much of Colin Baker’s run, unfortunately.

Michelle writes:  

I’m a longtime fan of the series. I really like Tennant a lot-liked Eccleston too, and thought he left far too quickly, but I guess ya gotta do whatcha gotta do…

As to the Colin Baker info, I really appreciate the insight. I remember wondering why things seemed disjointed back when he had his run. Now I understand. Thanks for the comments.

Annette writes:  

I really like Eccleston. I think Tennant is good but to me Eccleston is better. He seemed more like the doctor who’s that I have watched. One of my favs is Tom Baker. He had the longest stretch I believe and I really liked his dry since of humor.

Torchwood: Children of Earth » DVDs Worth Watching writes:  

[…] spite of its origins in Doctor Who, a series for all ages, Torchwood is intended to be a more adult show, and it shows in the tone, […]


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