Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series
It’s Matt Smith’s second series as the Doctor! The 14-episode set of Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series begins with a disc containing the hour-long special A Christmas Carol, a charming story that freshens up the classic Dickens tale with comedy and a giant flying shark. The Doctor has to un-harden the heart of Michael Gambon by going back in time to make his childhood holidays more fun. It’s a brilliant blend of time travel and a story well-known enough to allow viewers to focus on and appreciate the details and changes. And it doesn’t forget the heartfelt message about the meaning of the season and some thrills and romance along the way. (Plus, gorgeous music sung by Katherine Jenkins.)
The disc included here differs from the stand-alone previously sold. Both include the 56-minute Doctor Who Confidential episode dedicated to the special; however, the solo disc includes almost an hour of related classical music performance, Doctor Who at the Proms 2010. In the box set, that has been replaced by two Comic Relief sketches by Steven Moffat, “Space” and “Time” (total seven minutes). Those are the ones with the glass floor/miniskirt jokes (typical of the cheekiness that Moffat has brought to the show) that also feature multiple Amys flirting with herself when the TARDIS winds up inside itself.
Starting off with a holiday special makes this a wonderful set for this time of year, and ideal as a gift. It’s eye-opening to see the Confidential, which starts off with the stars — Smith, Karen Gillan (Amy), Arthur Darvill (Rory) — appearing at Cardiff’s Christmas lighting, and the crowds that resulted. KC remarked, “It’s like the Beatles”, with all the signs and yelling and excited people. It’s really impressive to realize that this nearly 50-year-old TV show is still vibrant and still important to fans.
The Confidential also shows the script read-through and features cast and crew (producers, director, writer Steven Moffat) talking about the episode, along with behind-the-scenes footage. They discuss in depth how they created the shark and the sky flight in the carriage. There’s a lovely story where the production designer talks about how his father and his daughter have both also worked on Doctor Who — I can’t even imagine, three generations contributing to the same show.
Series Six, Part 1, With Extras
Disc two starts the run of episodes, with “The Impossible Astronaut”, “Day of the Moon”, and “The Curse of the Black Spot”. (These are the two episodes where the Doctor dies, meets Nixon, and visits America, followed by the pirate one.) Since I’ve already talked about these on my review of the Series 6, Part 1 DVDs, I’ll refer you there for more details. Unlike that previous set, this disc also includes Prequels to episodes 1 and 3, a minute-and-a-half each of teaser footage.
The other extras are the Monster File on the Silence (included with the Part 1 set) and commentary on “The Impossible Astronaut” by Marcus Wilson (series producer), David Mason (U.S. line producer), and Arthur Darvill (Rory). There are a total of five commentaries on the overall Sixth Series set, but Matt Smith and Karen Gillan don’t appear in any of them. Given the mix of contributors here, it’s not surprising to note that much of the discussion is about when and how things were filmed. Favorite moment: “You couldn’t have faked the moon landings, because you couldn’t have hidden the camera”, said when discussing how difficult it is to film an astronaut suit without a reflection in the visor. Here’s a clip from the Silence Monster File showing their size:
Although I’ve seen the first set of episodes at least twice each now, I still wound up rewatching them, in order to get a better idea of “The Origin of River Song” (played by Alex Kingston), which is the overall arc tying together these various stories. Along the way, I found myself with new appreciation for the way Darvill plays Rory and how essential his character has become to the balance of roles on the show.
Disc three starts with the best (and most-discussed) episode of the first half of this season, “The Doctor’s Wife”, in which the TARDIS inhabits a woman (Suranne Jones). There’s a solo commentary for this episode with writer Neil Gaiman. The other two episodes are “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People”, setting up key plot points about body-swapping. The Monster File about the Gangers, featured in those two episodes, is brought over from the Part 1 set; in addition, there’s a commentary for “Rebel Flesh” with the director and two actors, Marshall Lancaster and Mark Bonnar. According to the Monster File, the story was a twist on identity theft, where people could not only steal your identity, but become another you.
The most interesting special feature on this disc is “Night and the Doctor“, new scenes exclusive to this Blu-ray and DVD release. Four of the five are included here, running between two and five minutes each: “Bad Night”, “Good Night”, “First Night”, and “Last Night”. Amy wonders what the Doctor does while she and Rory are asleep, leading to wacky ideas (the Queen is a fish!), meaningful moments (Amy worries whether the Doctor’s companions mean anything to him), and more River Song appearances and references. And that takes us halfway through the set.
Series Six, Part 2
Disc four has four episodes. It begins with “A Good Man Goes to War”, the cameo-packed end of the first part of the series, with everyone fighting over Amy and Rory’s baby. There are also Prequels for it and its followup, “Let’s Kill Hitler”. They’re both wild romps, full of crazy ideas and excitement. Both explore the role of the Doctor, the first in terms of his reputation among other cultures, the second as a time-traveler who makes idiosyncratic choices.
“Let’s Kill Hitler” introduces Mels (Nina Toussaint-White), a previously unseen close friend and extreme troublemaker who grew up with Amy and Rory. It’s precisely the kind of thing that makes fans grit their teeth — “if she’s so unusual and memorable, why hasn’t anyone mentioned her before?” — but her presence demonstrates Moffat’s take on how much history and memories can be changed. It’s also a way for him to revisit the threat of the Doctor’s death. (A risk that, being reused, can uncharitably be seen as a sign that everything’s been ramped up a little too much, but it certainly keeps viewers on the edge of their seats.) I’m still not sure I understand everything we’ve been told about this character, even after rewatching, although her story certainly exercises the potential of the format and genre. If you want a spoiler, here’s Mels’ final scene:
“Night Terrors” is a welcome pause, a non-mythology episode that twists a well-known boogeyman, the monster in the closet. Little boy George is afraid, and with good reason, since his cupboard contains real creepies, including scary giant-headed dolls. Unfortunately, after all the revelations (whether or not they made sense) of the previous two episodes, this installment feels slow and predictable. At least there’s not much “you can’t do that until I say you can” plotting here, which tends to underlie some of the other significant events of this series.
“The Girl Who Waited” is a focus on Rory and Amy (after their relatively unimportant role in the previous episode) with remote involvement from the Doctor. Amy gets herself trapped in a kind of hospital time cage, and while Rory sets out to save her, he doesn’t find her in time. The result, Amy as a bitter, action-oriented robot hunter, is a fascinating stretch for Gillan and another exploration of how our older selves are the result of our younger decisions.
The only commentary in this batch is for “A Good Man Goes to War”, with Darvill, actor Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), and effects supervisor Tim Barter. Unfortunately, it’s not very memorable and doesn’t address any of the bigger themes. If you stick with it, though, there is a discussion of Rory’s character and what’s he’s been through later in the commentary (about 33 minutes in) that I found interesting. There’s also a Monster File for the Antibodies, the floaty killer disc things, a form of robot jellyfish, from “Let’s Kill Hitler”.
Disc five contains the final three episodes of series six. “The God Complex” features a spooky hotel with rooms full of fears. I found myself noticing just how tall Matt Smith’s hair is, when we’re looking up a staircase at him. I also realized I’d never thought of Doctor Who as a horror program before, but that’s definitely a strong undercurrent this season, and I suppose in previous years. After all, that’s the whole “make the kids hide behind the sofa” impulse that causes so many memories. Directly exploring what scares us is clever and makes for a very good episode … with significant ramifications by the end. You can see that thrust in this trailer for the complete series, which emphasizes action and monsters:
“Closing Time” follows up with a character from the Doctor Who Fifth Series episode “The Lodger”, where the Doctor shared a flat with Craig (James Corden). Now, Craig has a child, and he’s not coping well with caring for it. (I love the baby language jokes. According to the kid, the characters are “Not Mum”, “Also Not Mum”, and “Peasants”.) It’s wonderful to see the Doctor trying his hand at everyday life, getting a job as a clerk in a toy shop. Lots of humor, including “Britain’s Got Talent” jokes, with dark overtones and one of the scariest Doctor Who villains of all. Or rather, their pets.
“The Wedding of River Song” brings back all kinds of entertaining cameos in an alternate London where time has stopped. Many threads from the season premiere come back and intertwine in unexpected ways. I won’t say any more about it, other than to note that I think River Song is incredibly cool and I am more excited than ever to be a Doctor Who fan. With the exception of “Night Terrors”, these last two discs are the high point of the series, better than all that’s come before.
There’s a commentary for the Wedding episode with Steven Moffat, Francis Barber (who plays Madame Kovarian, aka the Eyepatch Lady), and director Jeremy Webb. There’s also a prequel for that episode, another Monster File for the Cybermats (which originally appeared in 1967, who would have guessed? then, they looked like Scrubbing Bubbles), “Up All Night” (the fifth “Night and the Doctor” mini-episode, with another appearance by Craig), and two half-season trailers.
Doctor Who Confidential
The sixth and last disc consists of Doctor Who Confidential episodes, one for each episode of the series. These behind-the-scenes glimpses run about 10 minutes each and show footage of the filming. (They run 45 minutes when they originally air in the UK, but they remove most licensed music and many of the historical clips for the US DVD audience.) There’s even an extra one (15 minutes) for the “Night’s Tale” and “Space/Time” segments.
Steven Moffat comments, often telling us what we already know about the plot, but that’s necessary for the promotional aspects. Neil Gaiman guests on the one for “The Doctor’s Wife”, of course. There isn’t a lot of new or in-depth information, but it is fun to see the cast goofing off or talking about each other. The one for “Night Terrors” has a sequence where Smith tweaks Gillan for getting her fashion sense praised in a tabloid. The following episode, the one for “The Girl Who Waited”, leaves the program aside entirely in favor of sending Gillan and Darvill off to do scary things — Darvill swims with sharks, and Gillan learns to drive. I guess they didn’t have anything to say about the show that week.
The Complete Sixth Series set is also available on DVD, which usually has the same extras. I would have liked to have seen the “Best of” specials that they ran on BBC America included. Those three (one each for the Doctor, the Monsters, and the Companions) interviewed fans, both celebrities and viewers who attended San Diego Comic-Con. The Blu-ray box set does have one additional extra: a small print brochure promoting the various Doctor Who toys and merchandise available at the BBC America website shop. (BBC America provided a review copy.)
Update: The three specials I mention will be the extras on the 2011 Christmas Special, “The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe“, when it’s released on DVD and Blu-ray February 14.