Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Doctor Who: Season 8 Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The new era of "Doctor Who" starring Peter Capaldi delivered the highest rated season premiere ever on BBC AMERICA. In the feature-length premiere, the new Doctor crash-lands in Victorian London. As Clara (Jenna Coleman, Dancing on the Edge) struggles to recognize the man she thought she knew so well, killers are stalking the capital. A slaughterhouse restaurant and a buried spaceship lead the Doctor into a confrontation with a long forgotten foe… but how far is this new man ready to go to protect his friends? The new season sees the Doctor and Clara encounter wonders and horrors. They meet a fleet of Daleks as they attempt to rescue a stranded ship of human survivors, face ranks of Cybermen stalking the Earth, go back in time and join Robin Hood in a fight with killer robots in Sherwood Forest, become bank robbers when they break into the deadliest bank in the cosmos, face a mummy on the Orient Express, discover a deadly horror dwelling on the Moon, and come to know the last man standing at the end of the Universe. And as Clara falls for handsome fellow teacher, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson, The History Boys), can she keep her two extraordinary lives going?
Show (4 out of 5 stars)
As a relative newcomer to "Doctor Who," I don't have as much invested in the changing of the guard as some others. I started watching the show when I got a review copy of Matt Smith taking over the role of The Doctor and I immediately liked the show. Since then, I went back to the Christopher Ecceleston era and I've worked my up to near the end of the David Tennant years. Much like James Bond actors, everyone has a favorite portrayal of The Doctor and mine is still Matt Smith, although I think all of them have done a fine job.

When I watched the unveiling of Peter Capaldi as the next Doctor, I was a little surprised that they went with a much older Doctor considering how popular Matt Smith had been with worldwide audiences. That choice however was not only inspired, but it also shows why this series is in the perfect hands with Steven Moffat (who also works his magic on "Sherlock"). Instead of pandering to their perceived audience as most would do in at attempt to keep the status quo, Moffat and the BBC had the fortitude to go the opposite direction for the benefit of the show.

Instead of an energetic young man, we now have an older grumpy Doctor, who isn't as cuddly and friendly as before. Sure, you can still count on him when the chips are down, but it's interesting to see how much the dynamic of the show and his relationship to his companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) has changed so much after this latest regeneration. The first episode directly addresses that as Clara attempts to discover just much of the 11th Doctor is still around. The rest of the episode isn't that great, but it does have some great moments for both The Doctor and Clara where they test each other and themselves in an attempt to take stock of who they are now.

The show and Capaldi got better with each episode and by the third one, "Robot of Sherwood," I was officially a fan of the new Doctor. This season seems to delve into every genre with generally good results. Some episodes are a lot of fun like the aforementioned "Robot of Sherwood," and the "Mummy on the Orient Express," while others had an intriguing premise that it didn't quite live up to like "Flatline," and "In the Forest of the Night." This season also gave us a lot of Clara's love interest Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), and he shares the same unfortunate characterization problem that other boyfriends had like Mickey (Noel Clarke) where they devolve into whiny tearful infants when their girlfriends inevitably choose to spend more time with The Doctor than them. Season 8 is a great season with a nice blend of genres as you can see from the episode descriptions below:
  1. Deep Breath - When the Doctor arrives in Victorian London he finds a dinosaur rampant in the Thames and a spate of deadly spontaneous combustions. Who is the new Doctor and will Clara’s friendship survive as they embark on a terrifying mission into the heart of an alien conspiracy? The Doctor has changed. It’s time you knew him.
  2. Into the DalekA Dalek fleet surrounds a lone rebel ship, and only the Doctor can help them now… With the Doctor facing his greatest enemy, he needs Clara by his side. Confronted with a decision that could change the Daleks forever he is forced to examine his conscience. Will he find the answer to the question “am I a good man?”
  3. Robot of Sherwood - In a sun dappled Sherwood forest, the Doctor discovers an evil plan from beyond the stars, and strikes up an unlikely alliance with Robin Hood. With all of Nottingham at stake, the Doctor must decide who is real and who is fake. Can impossible heroes actually exist?
  4. Listen - When ghosts of past and future crowd into their lives, the Doctor and Clara are thrown into an adventure that takes them to the very end of the universe. What happens when the Doctor is alone? And what scares the grand old man of Time and Space? Listen!
  5. Time HeistThe Doctor turns bank robber when he is given a task he cannot refuse: steal from the most dangerous bank in the cosmos. With the help of a beautiful shape-shifter and cyber-augmented gamer, the Doctor and Clara must fight their way past deadly security and come face to face with the fearsome Teller, a creature of terrifying power that can detect guilt…
  6. The Caretaker - When terrifying events threaten Coal Hill school the Doctor decides to go undercover. The Skovox Blitzer is ready to destroy all humanity – and worse, any second now, Danny Pink and the Doctor are going to meet.
  7. Kill the Moon - In the near future, the Doctor and Clara find themselves on a space shuttle making a suicide mission to the moon. Crash-landing on the lunar surface, they find a mining base full of corpses, vicious spider-like creatures poised to attack, and a terrible dilemma. When Clara turns to the Doctor for help, she gets the shock of her life.
  8. Mummy on the Orient Express - The Doctor and Clara are on the most beautiful train in history speeding among the stars of the future. But a deadly creature is stalking the passengers. Once you see the horrifying Mummy you only have 66 seconds to live. No exceptions, no reprieve. As the Doctor races against the clock Clara sees him at his deadliest and most ruthless. Will he work out how to defeat the Mummy? Start the clock!
  9. Flatline - Separated from the Doctor, Clara discovers a new menace from another dimension. But how do you hide when even the walls are no protection? With people to save and the Doctor trapped, Clara comes up against an enemy that exists beyond human perception.
  10. In the Forest of the Night - One morning in every city and town in the world, the human race wakes up to face the most surprising invasion yet. Everywhere, in every land, a forest has grown overnight and taken back the Earth. It doesn’t take the Doctor long to discover that the final days of humanity have arrived…
  11. Dark Water - In the mysterious world of the Nethersphere, plans have been drawn. Missy is about to come face to face with the Doctor, and an impossible choice is looming… “Death is not an end” promises the sinister organization known only as 3W – but, as the Doctor and Clara discover, you might wish it was.
  12. Death in Heaven - With Cybermen on the streets of London, old friends unite against old enemies, and the Doctor takes to the air in a startling new role. Can the mighty UNIT contain Missy? As the Doctor faces his greatest challenge, sacrifices must be made before the day is won.
Video (5 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks fantastic on Blu-ray and it's possibly the best looking Doctor Who set released so far. Colors are bright and bold and seem to jump off the screen with their intensity. The black levels are crisp and inky and there's a tremendous amount of detail on display. Textures are razor sharp and the flesh tones are natural looking throughout the season. This transfer is just what the Doctor ordered.
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
The Complete Eighth Series' DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as impressive as the video quality. From the cool opening theme song to the grinding noises of the TARDIS, this mix delivers on every front. Dialogue is easy to understand and never drowned out by the rest of the mix. The rear channels offer a nice surround experience as the various sound effects are well prioritized and accurate. This is a very immersive mix for a television show and fans of the show will be very pleased.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
There's a lot of extras included and while I can't fault them for their length as most of them run around 45 minutes each, I do wish that they had been done better. Featurettes like "The Ultimate Time Lord" or the "Ultimate Companion" don't really offer much as the qualities listed as being needed are already fairly obvious to fans of the show. The good news is that all of these are in high definition.
  • Audio Commentaries - For this set, we have been given four different commentaries including: "Into the Dalek," "Robot of Sherwood," "The Caretaker," and "Kill the Moon." Commentators include writer Phil Ford, director Paul Murphy, practical effects crew Kate Walsh and Peter Hawkins, director Paul Wilmshurst, and assistant director Scott Bates. For some reason, we don't get to hear from stars Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman or from showrunner Steven Moffat, but at least these tracks are interesting to listen to although I would have preferred hearing from the big three. I wish they would do commentary tracks for all of the episodes.
  • Behind the Scenes - Running altogether over two hours long, these collection of behind-the-scenes featurettes cover every episode this season.  This is my favorite extra as we get to see a wide variety of behind the scenes looks as each episode offers up new things to see. Each one last about ten minutes and I wish they were longer as I found these to be really interesting. 
  • Earth Conquest: The World Tour - This look at the various worldwide stops the cast and crew made to publicize the new season runs almost an hour. We see the fans interact with the stars and see how the show has influenced many of them to create their own art. It's nice to see Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and others enjoy the adulation that greets them and how they interact with each other. 
  • The Ultimate Time Lord - As I mentioned before, this 45 minute look at what makes The Doctor so special seemed like it was stating the obvious but it's still entertaining if only for the chance to see past cast members again. Hosted by the Fifth Doctor Peter Davidson, this featurette is devoted to discovering what qualities are need to make up the Ultimate Time Lord. To find that out, Davidson interviews Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, costume designer Howard Burden, script editor Derek Ritchie, Sixth Doctor Colin Baker, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, Eighth Doctor Paul McGann and the Tenth Doctor David Tennant, For me, the best part is hearing what the previous Doctors thought, but not enough time was given to them which is a shame.
  • The Ultimate Companion - As before, Davidson asks the same question about the Doctor's companion. To learn that, he interviews Steven Moffat, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, John Barrowman, Noel Clarke, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Nicola Bryant, and of course the previous Doctors.
  • Deep Breath Live Pre-Show & After Who Live - I'm on the record as disliking Chris Hardwick as I find he is a smarmy self-congratulatory twit who unfortunately seems to be growing more unavoidable all the time. For some reason, he's been picked to host the before and after looks at the eighth season premiere. His guests include writer Mark Gatiss, actors Wil Wheaton, Natalie Morales and Dan Starky. I would advise skipping this one but to each their own.
  • Post-Premiere Q&A - On a more pleasant note, Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Steven Moffat got together in front of a crowd to answer questions submitted by fans and to give some hints about the new season.
  • Doctor Who Exclusive - Here's some clip of Steven Moffat where his offers his thoughts on these concepts: "Casting Peter," "Writing the New Season," "What Is Doctor Who?" and "Why Watch Series 8?"
  • Mummy on the Orient Express Music Video - Here is the music video for Foxes' "Don't Stop Me Now."
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Despite being a fan of the previous Doctor, I have to admit that I really like Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. Not only does he bring a new angle to the role, but he also has terrific chemistry with his companion Jenna Coleman. This season really went for a lot of different genres which keeps the show fresh. The Blu-ray set offers some excellent video and audio quality and the extras are extensive but they also could have been better. I highly recommend this show and this set!
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