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The Eleventh Doctor Arrives In Style On Blu Ray
on 13 March 2011
The 2010 series of 'Doctor Who' is, at first glance, very different to what went immediately before. Lead writer and executive producer Russell T Davies has departed, to be replaced by Steven Moffat, and David Tennant has handed over the keys to the TARDIS to Matt Smith, the youngest actor to play the role to date. There's a look and feel to Series Five that marks it out as different from its predecessors, but ultimately, it's still cut from much the same cloth as before, mixing exciting adventure with great writing, and still being one of the best things on British television in years.
Matt Smith had a tough job, following in David Tennant's footsteps, but from his first moments in series opener, 'The Eleventh Hour', you know everything is going to be fine. His relative youth seems irrelevant, because he feels so at home in the role of the Doctor that you can absolutely buy into him as a 900-odd year old Time Lord. In many ways, his performance brings back memories of Tom Baker and Patrick Troughton - he's a natural, juggling the dramatic and the comedic effortlessly. He's ably supported by Karen Gillan as the feisty Amy Pond, and Arthur Darvill as her sometimes-bumbling fiancee Rory, not to mention a stellar guest cast that boasts names such as Ian McNeice, Sophie Okonedo, Tony Curran, Iain Glen, Helen McCrory and Toby Jones, as well as Alex Kingston making a glorious return as River Song, the mysterious woman whose life keeps intersecting with the Doctor's.
As usual, there's a real ambition to some of the stories told here, both in their scale and the complexity of the storytelling - 'The Eleventh Hour' takes place across fourteen years of Amelia 'Amy' Pond's life, whilst 'Amy's Choice' slides between a number of realities, only one of which may be real, and season finale 'The Big Bang' features all manner of jumping forwards and backwards in time, alternate realities and other such head-spinning concepts. The series has lost none of its epic potential, either - 'Victory of the Daleks' is a WWII epic in under 45 minutes, 'The Time of Angels / Flesh and Stone' by turns a creepy horror and epic sci-fi action thriller, and 'The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood' presents an entire underground civilisation living beneath the Earth. For me, the stand out episode was 'Vincent and the Doctor' by Richard Curtis, a wonderful character-driven piece treading the difficult ground of exploring issues of Vincent Van Gogh's terrible depression, whilst also throwing in an invisible giant space turkey for good measure. The fact that it manages to do both of these - and throw in a scene-stealing uncredited cameo from Bill Nighy - just shows how good the series can be when it's firing on all cylinders. It's not all perfect, of course - some episodes don't work as well as others, and the attempts to reinvent Who icons such as the Daleks and the Silurians don't quite come off as planned. But it's certainly up there with the best the series, past and present, has to offer.
This Blu Ray release presents the episodes in stunning high definition - as they're meant to be seen, really. The 2009 Specials didn't always exploit the potential of HD to the max, but this series really does - whether it's the space battles of 'Victory of the Daleks', the sky lit up with alien spacecraft in 'The Pandorica Opens', or simply the gorgeous (and incredibly detailed) new TARDIS interior. The episodes have, quite simply, never looked or sounded better than they do here on BD (though you may need a bit of tinkering with your player settings to get the sound mix right if you don't have a surround set-up - switching audio output to 'Bitstream' may help), and it's definitely worth opting for this version over the slightly cheaper DVD set.
Extras wise, there's plenty here for viewers to enjoy - perhaps most notably two new scenes penned by Steven Moffat, exclusive to DVD and Blu Ray. These sequences feature the Doctor and Amy in the TARDIS, and serve as preludes to 'The Beast Below' and 'The Vampires of Venice' respectively. They're a lot of fun, and are a nice little bonus. It would be good to see more of these in future, if possible. As with previous boxsets, there's a bonus disc housing the 15 minute cut-down editions of 'Doctor Who Confidential' covering each episode, which offer behind-the-scenes access and insights, and are consistently enjoyable. There are commentaries, too, although disappointingly compared to previous sets, these are only on selected episodes, and are in-vision commentaries, which aren't to everyone's tastes. Aside from that, there's an array of video diaries, trailers, and 'Monster Files' focusing on some of the Doctor's enemies throughout the season.
All in all, 'The Complete Series Five' is a fantastic Blu Ray release for a series which not only continues the 'Doctor Who' legend in the quality to which we've become accustomed, but also reinvents it in style. Minor issues over the extras shouldn't deter you from giving this a go, as it really is the best way to watch the Eleventh Doctor's first adventures.