I love Doctor Who, particularly ‘New Who’ from 2005 onwards. I should watch more of the Classic era, I know – I’ve seen a few of the older stories on TV or online and they’ve been alright, and I probably would watch more if I could easily and legally stream them from somewhere. But in any case, I’m enjoying the modern ones very much, and they were my first proper introduction to our Gallifreyan hero.
Christopher Eccleston was therefore my first Doctor, and I dearly wish he’d done more than one series. I understand why he walked away, given that he wasn’t seeing eye to eye with certain people, so I accept his decision. But it is a shame, as there was so much potential there. A proper appearance in the 50th anniversary special would have been awesome at least. But we did get Tom Baker and John Hurt, which did help to make up for it.
David Tennant has been my favourite Doctor so far though. We had a lot more time to get to know him, and he was great to watch, running the gamut of being silly and fun through to dark and emotional. He nailed it, cementing the work that Eccleston had started in reviving the show for a new generation. Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi have also done a wonderful job, again making the role their own and giving great performances. Capaldi’s darker take on the Doctor has proven to be very interesting, especially as he’s settled into the role more and more. And all of the companions have played their part very well too, with Rose being my favourite, again probably because she was the first I saw.
I know there are people online who gripe about Steven Moffat’s writing (just as there were others who moaned about Russell T Davies in a similar way), but I don’t particularly have a problem with it. Yes, it gets complicated and weird sometimes, but it is a show about a man who can travel across all of time and space, so anything is pretty much possible. I’ve never struggled to follow the plots personally, and it’d be boring if it were too simple or predictable. Things usually become clearer on second viewing I find, because you can put everything in context better. For me that makes the episodes just as enjoyable on repeated viewings, as you’re often able to look at them from a different perspective after the first time.
I also adore the music that Murray Gold has composed throughout the series – not just the iconic theme tune, but themes like Doomsday, All The Strange, Strange Creatures and I Am The Doctor, to name just a few, have all added such great atmosphere and emotion to the show. I’ve downloaded all the soundtrack albums from iTunes over the last few years, and have recordings of the various live concerts of Doctor Who music they’ve shown on TV as well.
I mention all of this because recently I got the Steelbook Blu-ray edition of Series 9, so I thought I’d gather together my opinions of it as I go along. It won’t be too in-depth, as this would go on forever, but I just want to give a sense of my thoughts on it all.
The general look of the package has to be given a mention, because the steelbook is beautiful, with great artwork on the cover and on the booklet within. It was well worth paying a little bit extra to get this edition.
And the main menus on the discs are very nicely animated, making various references to locations and events of the series, with Murray Gold’s beautiful music accompanying it.
Audio-described menus are also available as an alternative, and audio description is provided for the episodes themselves. I love the fact that they do this for the Doctor Who DVDs and Blu-rays. I do think they could be more specific with the menus though, as in telling you the episode titles and special feature names rather than saying “Episode 1” and “Special Feature 1”, as it’s harder to know exactly what you’re selecting. It’s a minor gripe though, as is the (thankfully skippable) trailer for the BBC Store that you’re only ever going to watch once at most.
So the set is very nicely put together, and it contains 14 episodes, beginning and ending with the most recent Christmas specials.
This is the Christmas special from 2014, and a very enjoyable one it is too, exploring the concept of dreams within dreams, and having to fight your way out of them in order to survive. So while it may initially seem strange seeing Santa Claus and hearing Slade belting out in the middle of a tense scene, it does all make sense when you understand what the Dream Crabs are doing. It’s all very well put together, with Nick Frost playing Santa very nicely. And the ending with Clara, almost her actual exit, was very well done as well. All in all, a suitably entertaining story for the festive season.
The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar
This is a great start to the main series. The revelation in the very first pre-titles sequence really grabs your attention, and the episode builds on it very nicely from there. The interactions between the Doctor and Davros, and Carla and Missy, are fascinating to watch in their respective ways, with a good mixture of heavier drama and light-hearted comedy to keep things interesting. It’s also great to be on Skaro, seeing so many different iterations of the Daleks represented. Plus there are brief appearances by UNIT, Karn, the Shadow Proclamation, etc, all of which helps it to feel very epic in scale.
Under The Lake & Before The Flood
This is a good story as well, involving mysterious ghosts, time travel (with the Bootstrap Paradox), and the fierce looking Fisher King. There’s lots of tension and spooky moments, and the obligatory running down corridors. And the team on the base comprises a good variety of characters – including deaf character Cass (played by deaf actress Sophie Stone), whose inclusion is handled very well. She’s not there just for political correctness, she plays an important part and has plenty to do. The greater controversy this season has been the Sonic Glasses – I prefer the screwdriver, but I’m not against the glasses either, as they do serve an important purpose in this story. And then there’s that wonderful rock version of the theme tune used in Before The Flood. Can’t we have that every week, even if it’s just for one season?
The Girl Who Died & The Woman Who Lived
I’ve never seen Game Of Thrones (I should really get around to trying it), so I had never heard of Maisie Williams before seeing this. But she’s clearly a very good actress, going by her performances throughout this series. In the first episode of this two-parter, I like the way all the vikings get together with the Doctor and Clara’s help to save the day, and especially the callback to David Tennant’s period to explain how the Doctor got his current face. Peter does a great job of exploring the Doctor’s emotions and frustrations, so you can understand how he reaches the decision he does. The closing, circling shot of Ashildr at the end is beautiful too. And then, in the second episode, we see the consequences of Ashildr (now known as Lady Me) dealing with being immortal, and how her character has matured, which Maisie plays very well. Rufus Hound does a good turn as Sam Swift too, adding a good touch of comedy during the episode, without diminishing the dramatic moments.
The Zygon Invasion & The Zygon Inversion
This is a great follow-up to the 50th anniversary special, as a faction of Zygons break from the ceasefire and attempt to take over the world. So there’s lots of action and drama and tense moments, and a great cliffhanger in the middle. There are various parallels with real terrorist activities we see around us today of course, but it’s good that they haven’t shied away from doing such a story. It’s worth it just for the Doctor’s impassioned speech to Kate and Bonnie towards the end. Everything he says is spot on, and you can really sense the emotion that the Doctor is feeling. It’s a superb performance by Peter Capaldi. Jenna Coleman also does a great job at playing Bonnie, making her very distinctive to Clara. Having to play scenes with yourself, given that you have to do one side at a time, can’t be easy, as Ingrid Oliver must also have found playing the two Osgoods, another cool aspect of the story.
Sleep No More
This is a very unusual episode in so many ways – it’s presented in the form of ‘found footage’ (like the Blair Witch Project), it has no title sequence and barely any background music (other than the Sandman song, which sounds very creepy in this context), and the Doctor doesn’t actually manage to save the day in the end, a valuable reminder that he’s not perfect or infallible. It also has no relation to any other events in the series, being a stand-alone adventure. So it does feel strange and out of place, and it is my least favourite episode of the series. But it was worth experimenting to try something different with the show, and it is still watchable and enjoyable, with good performances by Reece Shearsmith and the supporting cast. It will be interesting to see if they do a sequel to this story given the way it ended. It would seem silly if they didn’t. Then again, we haven’t had follow-ups to stories like The Doctor’s Daughter either, when there was a lot of potential there, so who knows?
Face The Raven
This is the episode where Clara dies. That was well-known before it aired, because the BBC made such a big deal of telling us. And that made me suspicious that it was not going to be as clear cut as that, and was proven right given her reappearance in the series finale (we’ve had misdirections like that before, such as when Rose told us Doomsday was the story of how she died). However, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a brilliant episode, and a fitting ‘ending’ for Clara. She had become reckless and played very close to the wind, believing the Doctor could always fix things, and paid the price for it here. But she dies in a manner that proves she’s brave and caring, sacrificing herself in the way that she does. Both Peter and Jenna again give wonderful performances here, with all the emotions their characters are dealing with. It’s also great to see Ashildr again, whose plan doesn’t go entirely as hoped when Clara interferes, and the return of Rigsy from Flatline. Plus the concept of trapped streets, which I’d never heard of before, is very cool and is incorporated very nicely as the basis for the story.
Heaven Sent & Hell Bent
A thrilling finale to the series, with lots of twists and turns. The first episode uses a very clever concept, having him trapped in his own confession dial. It’s really confusing at first when you don’t know that fact, but when everything comes together at the end of the episode, everything slots in place very nicely. It’s also very unusual in that it’s a completely solo performance by Peter Capaldi (barring his silent pursuer and a brief Clara cameo), and he plays it perfectly. He can convey so much with just a look, and that’s also evident at the start of the very exciting second episode, where he doesn’t say anything at all on Gallifrey for the first 10 minutes, despite how much screen time he has there. It is wonderful to see Gallifrey and the Timelords again, though I do wish we could stay there for longer – couldn’t we have a two-parter that takes place there at least?
It’s also great to see Clara and Ashildr again, and for their stories to be left open-ended as they go off to have new adventures. They both deserve that. I loved seeing the original Tardis interior as well, that’s a real treat. Not sure about the American diner exterior though, I must admit – it does seem a bit silly, compared to the striking and streamlined police box the Doctor has. Still, that’s a minor point. It is fun to imagine them exploring time and space together, they do make an interesting partnership. A spin-off show, or even just a special, showing their adventures would be fun, but I doubt we’ll ever get that.
The Husbands Of River Song
Another entertaining Christmas adventure to finish off the boxset. It’s always fun to see River Song, and the twist of her not recognising the Doctor here gives her even more opportunity to show off and enjoy herself, without worrying about what the Doctor thinks, little realising he’s with her the whole time. After she has found out, the ending between her and the Doctor is very sweet – if this is the last time we see River, it’s a lovely ending for the character. River injects a lot of comedy into the episode as usual, with many funny moments, and further humour is provided by the excellent Greg Davies and Matt Lucas. So it is one of the best Christmas specials for me.
There are lots of special features on the set, some of which were already available online, and others which were new to me.
Series 8 Recap
Not an essential extra, but still a good way to quickly remind you of key moments from the previous series before series 9 begins.
Series 9 Prologue and Prequel
The prologue I remembered, but the prequel – entitled The Doctor’s Meditation – was completely new to me, so I must have missed it first time around. When the series was first shown, these were very teasing and mysterious, as they naturally weren’t saying what or whom the Doctor was getting ready to confront. Once you’ve seen the opening episodes and can put them in context, however, you appreciate them all the more. They are very enjoyable extra scenes, so it’s good to see them included.
Provided on Last Christmas, Under The Lake, Before The Flood, The Woman Who Lived and Sleep No More. The commentary for Under The Lake and Before The Flood is particularly interesting, because the writer and producer are joined by Sophie Stone, who plays Cass. This is partly because of the disability angle of course, which they discuss most during the second of those episodes, but it’s also just a nice group chat between the three of them.
The commentary on The Woman Who Lived is also fun, because Maisie Williams is involved, and she clearly enjoyed being involved with the show. It would have been nice to hear commentary from her on the other episodes she was in. Sleep No More’s commentary features writer Mark Gatiss and guest star Reece Shearsmith, while Last Christmas’s commentary just has the director and producer.
It is a shame that we don’t hear from Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman or Steven Moffat in any of those commentaries, but they are still worth listening to at least once, as they are interesting, discussing how the episodes were created and pointing out little things that I hadn’t noticed before.
Doctor Who Extra
Every story in the series has one of these featurettes accompanying it. They’re not lengthy or in-depth like Doctor Who Confidential used to be in the early series, and I wish budget cuts hadn’t stopped them doing those, as they had the time to look at things in greater detail. Some of the background music they use in these short features can also be a bit distracting or irritating too. However, it is great to have glimpses behind the scenes of any sort, and you do get to see Peter, Jenna and various other members of the cast and crew telling you a bit about how the show was made. So again, like the commentaries, they are worth a watch at least once. If you’ve been following the Doctor Who Youtube channel then you’ll have seen most, if not all, of these featurettes already, but it’s great that they’ve been included on the boxset.
A short feature where members of the cast and crew talk about their love of the Daleks. Simple as that. You don’t learn anything new from it, it’s just a little celebration of arguably the most iconic of all of the Doctor’s enemies.
Fan Show Finest
A fun little compilation of moments from The Doctor Who Fan Show, a regular feature on Doctor’s Who Youtube channel. I’ve watched bits of it here and there, as it’s good to see interviews with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, etc, but a lot of it I haven’t really bothered with. Fair play to Christel though, she’s a very enthusiastic, keen and capable presenter, and clearly a big fan of the show. And the cosplay side of things looks pretty cool too – it’s not something I’ve ever done, but it would be fun to go to a convention dressed up as one of the characters one day, I can see the appeal there.
A short feature looking at the writing of Face The Raven by Sarah Dollard. There are interviews with her, Steven Moffat and the script editors, and some footage of the read-through and the shooting of the episode. You don’t learn a lot from it particularly – we don’t get to see ideas that weren’t used, for instance, there isn’t an in-depth discussion of how she fleshed out her ideas, and it could have been interesting to see more of the read-through. But even so, it is a nice little feature giving you a bit of extra insight, and given the significance of the episode to Clara’s story, it deserves that bit of additional attention.
Wil Wheaton Interview with Peter & Jenna
This is one of the longer features. Whereas the Doctor Who Extra episodes are mostly 5-10 minutes long, this interview with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman is a substantial 40 minutes. Granted, you don’t get to hear much detail about series 9, as the interview took place shortly before it began broadcasting, so they can’t spoil anything. However, they do talk about the prologue, the relationship between the Doctor and Clara, the introduction of Missy and various other things. Wil Wheaton is clearly thrilled to be talking to Peter and Jenna, and they clearly love making the show. So it is enjoyable to watch, and there are some fun little insights in there.
A feature looking back at Clara’s time with the Doctor, as she’s done such a lot and has had a huge influence on the Doctor. She’s not been everyone’s cup of tea – no companion ever could be, nor could every Doctor – but I’ve enjoyed watching her character develop over the years. I suspect we’ll see her again one day too. There were cameos by Tennant’s and Smith’s former companions when they regenerated, so when Capaldi eventually goes (hopefully not too soon), I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she popped up then at the very least. But we’ll see. I am looking forward to seeing who the next companion is as well.
The Adventures Of River Song
Similar to Clara’s Journey, this is a look back at River Song’s story on the show, interviewing Alex Kingston, Peter Capaldi, Steven Moffat and others, reliving classic moments and seeing behind the scenes footage. She is a very enjoyable character to watch, and this is a nice little tribute to her.
Sublime Online (Best Of Social Moments)
Lots of little behind the scenes extras were posted on the Doctor Who Youtube channel as the show was being broadcast, and this feature brings together the very best of them. It’s a lot of fun too – you get to see Peter jamming on his guitar, on-set footage recorded by Maisie Williams and Rufus Hound, rehearsal footage, additional interviews and other stuff. The Doctor Who Extra episodes would have been even better with this material included.
San Diego Comic Con Panel 2015
I’ve never been to Comic Con, but it would be exciting to do so one day, when you get to see things like this. You don’t just get the highlights either – you get the complete hour-long panel here, featuring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez and Steven Moffat, which is very cool. It was designed to promote the launch of series 9 so, like the Wil Wheaton interview, they can’t give much away. However, they do discuss a variety of topics about the show, including quite a few questions from the audience, and you do get a sense of what a great atmosphere it is at Comic Con. So I enjoyed watching it.
Here you get a very generous 25 minutes of deleted and extended scenes from across the series. It’s fantastic to see it all, as there are some great little scenes, or little moments within scenes, that were cut from the final episodes.
A non-essential extra, but it’s always fun to be reminded of how the BBC teased the new series and the various episodes. They always know how to get your attention, that’s for sure.
Overall, it was a great season in my opinion, and this is a great box set to go with it. Some of the extras aren’t as lengthy or insightful as the fans would like or deserve, but it is a very nice selection of bonuses nonetheless, with lots of fun moments and interesting nuggets of information from behind the scenes.
If I had to give the set a rating, I would say 8 out of 10 – a great season with generous extras, with appreciation for the audio navigation and description they include as always, but there is some room for improvement where some of the bonus features are concerned. More commentaries, more in-depth documentaries like Confidential, etc, would be cool, though I appreciate budgetary restrictions make it difficult to do too much these days.
It’s just a shame we have to wait a year for the next season now, which will be Steven Moffat’s last one. Will it be Peter’s final one as well? I hope not, but we’ll see. Steven will want to go out on a high in any case I’m sure, so it’s going to very interesting whatever happens.