Thursday, September 1, 2011

Doctor Who: Series Six Part 1 Blu-ray Review

Doctor Who: Series 6, Part is the first half of  the second season from award winning lead writer and executive producer Steven Moffat (SherlockCoupling) and starring BAFTA nominee Matt Smith as the Doctor, premiered on April 23 on BBC AMERICA.  The new season includes a two-part premiere set in the U.S. and an episode penned by long-time Doctor Who fan and award-winning writer Neil Gaiman (Coraline,NeverwhereThe Sandman).  The season opener also marked the first time Doctor Who has filmed on American soil for a story that will have a major impact on the Doctor Who universe.   As Steven Moffat has said: “As ever, in this show, the stories all stand alone, and every episode is a perfect jumping-on point for a new viewer. But at the same time the over-arching plot will be a bigger player this year. More than hints and whispers – we’re barely ten minutes into episode one before our heroes face a dilemma that they’ll be staring at months from now. And there will be no easy answers.” 

Film (5 out of 5 stars) 

Growing up, I’d heard about Doctor Who from my uncle Randy who’s always been a fan but I was never interested in it which is kind of surprising since I’m a pretty big geek.  The snippets I saw of the show just didn’t interest me at the time and I kind of forgot about the show until it came back in a big way with the 9th Doctor Christopher Eccleston who revived it and then it went on to even greater success with David Tennant playing the 10th Doctor.  I’d heard enough good things about the show that I decided to give it another shot and started watching Eccleston’s run.  It was entertaining enough that when I was offered the chance to review the beginning of the 11th Doctor’s run, I agreed to do it (read it here) and I’m glad that I did.  Much like James Bond, I think ends up as your favorite Doctor depends on who you grew up with in a matter of speaking.  For me, the definitive Doctor is Matt Smith who is the latest and greatest one out of all of them.
As much as I raved about the last season, this season is hands down the winner as the writing, directing, and effects are even better than before.  As good as the cast is, the production staff are just as good with every area raising the bar in every way.  The scripts are clever, funny, and creepy all at once.  When I was trying to encapsulate the show for my wife, the best comparison I could come up with was the X-Files crossed with Quantum Leap.  The show is hard to describe as it is a potent mix of sci-fi, comedy, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and a touch of horror as well.  This season so far seems to lean more into a darker X-Files direction and I loved it.  The stakes are higher, the characters and their relationships to each other are really put to the test this season.  A lot of secrets are revealed too and the set’s final episode was pretty epic in both style and content and really leaves you wishing the second half of the set was out.  With only seven episodes across the two discs, they go really quick since they are so good you want to keep watching them.  Here are the episodes that make up Part 1 of Series Six:
  • Episode 1: The Impossible Astronaut – Four envelopes, numbered 2, 3 and 4, each containing a date, time and map reference, unsigned, but TARDIS blue. Who sent them? And who received the missing envelope numbered 1? This strange summons reunites the Doctor, Amy, Rory and River Song in the middle of the Utah desert and unveils a terrible secret the Doctor’s friends must never reveal to him. Placing his life entirely in their hands, the Doctor agrees to search for the recipient of the fourth envelope and figure out just who is Canton Everett Delaware the Third? Also what is the relevance of their only other clue: ‘Space 1969′? Their quest lands them—quite literally—in the Oval Office, where they are enlisted by President Nixon to assist enigmatic former-FBI agent Canton in saving a terrified little girl from a mysterious spaceman.
  • Episode 2: Day of the Moon – The Doctor is locked in the perfect prison. Amy, Rory and River Song are being hunted down across America by the FBI. With the help of new friend and FBI-insider, Canton Everett Delaware the Third, they reunite to share their discoveries and memories.   The world is occupied by an alien force who controls humanity through post-hypnotic suggestion and no one can be trusted. Aided by President Nixon and Neil Armstrong’s foot, the Doctor must mount a revolution to drive out the enemy and rescue the missing little girl. No one knows why they took her. Or why they have kidnapped Amy Pond…
  • Episode 3: The Curse of the Black Spot - The TARDIS is marooned onboard a 17th-century pirate ship whose crew is being attacked by a mysterious and beautiful sea creature, as the time-traveling drama continues.  Becalmed and beset by cabin fever, the pirates have numerous superstitious explanations for the appearance of a mysterious Siren. The Doctor has other ideas but as every plan of escape is thwarted, he must win the trust of the implacable Captain Avery and uncover the truth behind the pirates’ supernatural fears – and he must work quickly because some of his friends have already fallen under the Siren’s spell…
  • Episode 4: The Doctor’s Wife - The Doctor receives a distress signal from an old friend. Could there really be another living Time Lord out there? Hopes raised, he follows the signal to a junkyard planet sitting upon a mysterious asteroid in a Bubble universe, populated by a very strange family. The Doctor, Amy and Rory are given the warmest of welcomes by Auntie, Uncle and Nephew.  But the beautiful and insane Idris greets them in a more unusual fashion – what is she trying to tell the Doctor? As the Doctor investigates, he unwittingly puts his friends in the gravest danger.
  • Episode 5: The Rebel Flesh - A solar tsunami sends the TARDIS hurtling towards a futuristic factory on earth where human doppelgangers are used to mine dangerous acid. A second wave hits and the ‘Gangers’ separate. They can remember every second of their ‘originals’ life and feel every emotion they’ve ever experienced. But are these memories stolen or have they been bequeathed? Are the Gangers merely faulty machinery that must be shut down or are they living, breathing, sentient beings? Can the Doctor convince the terrified humans to accept these ‘almost people’ and prevent an all-out civil war before the factory explodes?
  • Episode 6: The Almost People - As the solar storm rages, Jennifer, a Ganger driven mad by the memories of being ‘decommissioned’, is seeking revenge. She can remember every excruciating second of every ‘execution’ and is determined that the humans will pay. And she isn’t just talking war, she’s talking revolution.  As the crumbling factory fills with toxic fumes and drips lethal acid, the ‘Originals’ wait desperately for the shuttle from the Mainland to rescue them. But Jennifer has other ideas. Can the Doctor convince the terrified factory workers to embrace their own humanity and work together with their Gangers to overcome a monster of their own making?
  • Episode 7: A Good Man Goes To War - Amy Pond has been kidnapped and the Doctor is raising an army to rescue her. But, as he and Rory race across galaxies calling in long-held debts and solemnly-given promises, his enemies are laying a carefully concealed trap.  In her cell in Stormcage, River Song sadly acknowledges that the time has come at last. For today will mark the Battle of Demons run and the Doctor’s darkest hour. Both sides will make their sacrifices and River Song must finally reveal her most closely guarded secret to the Doctor.
The first two episodes are fantastic and they set the bar for the rest of the season.  The third episode was pretty good and I’m always happy to see a pirate story!  The fourth one was written by Neil Gaiman and it offered some interesting tidbits about the Doctor and his Tardis when it its soul is placed in a human that he can communicate with.  The fifth and sixth episodes were the weakest of the bunch but that’s mainly due to the rest of them being so good.  On any other show those episodes would have stood out more.  The final episode is pretty epic and it brilliantly portrays the Doctor in a heroic way but then flips the whole thing around and shows his actions in a new light which kind of made me unhappy since it was all going so well.  Matt Smith really got to show his range this season and he deftly handled his dark scenes with the same aplomb as he does his comedy scenes.  The Doctor is a very difficult role to portray with all of his contradictions but Smith pulls it off with finesse.  The rest of the cast is also very good in their roles and the Doctor’s companions really seem to matter more now than they ever had before.  I highly recommend this show to all people of good taste!

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080i (1.78:1) transfer looks very good much like the previous season.  Colors are vibrant and accurate in all of their varied hues.  Despite not being in 1080p, this is a very sharp picture with a lot of detail evident for textures, clothes, and more are made more noticeable.  Flesh tones are life-like and consistent and black levels are nice and dark as they should be.  There’s a few scenes with some excessive noise but it’s fairly minor compared the the rest of the presentation.  This is an excellent transfer and I think most fans will be happy with it.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

This season of Doctor Who’s audio is also impressive as the DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 surround track delivers on all levels.  Dialogue is clear and well balanced with the music and sound effects.   This is a real surround mix with all of the channels (including the LFE ) get a lot to do.  There’s some nice cross panning of effects and all of the sound effects sound great across the channels.  Ambient sounds also add a lot of atmosphere to the show even when there isn’t a lot of action on the screen.  There were some cases where I had to keep the remote on hand since the sound levels went up and down more than I would  have liked, but overall this is a fine mix.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars) 

There’s only two special features on this set and both offer a more in depth look at two of the show’s aliens.
  • Monster Files: The Silence and the Gangers – A look at the villains from season five that have carried over to this season and we start to see the prophecy of Silence Will Fall in action as far as The Silence goes.  We also look at the Gangers (which is short for Dopplegangers) which are exact replicas of humans who are created to perform dangerous tasks that the humans don’t want to do.  Think Blade Runner except these aren’t robots.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars) 

I really love this show now and I love it’s ambition.  Most shows settle for trying to do one thing right whether it’s comedy, action, or what have you but this one goes the distance by incorporating all of them.  The show is a perfect blend of several genres and that’s most likely why is has such a broad audience. There’s something for everyone in this show if they just give it a chance.  If you haven’t seen the show yet, you can still start watching it with this season and still understand most of it as the show is accessible and dense at the same time.  Or you can do it like I did and just start working your way through the series.  However you do it, I think you will have a good time!
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