Doctor Who is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC. The programme depicts the adventures of a time-travelling humanoid alien known as the Doctor who explores the universe in a sentient time machine called the TARDIS. Along with a series of companions, he faces a variety of foes while working to save civilizations, help people and right wrongs.
Full confession: I've been away from 'Doctor Who' for a while. After spending most of 2014 catching up on Matt Smith episodes (an actor I did not like in the role of The Doctor, although some of his storylines were entertaining), I was pretty excited when Peter Capaldi signed on for the role. However, after seeing him in the first three episodes of Series 8 I became disillusioned with the stories being written for him and pretty much abandoned the show. So I came into this release not having seen seven episodes that proceeded it. I didn't need to (nor do you) to understand what was going on, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover both Capaldi and the overall quality of the storytelling has made a vast improvement since I last watched an episode.
Like many of you, I have not been entirely pleased with Steven Moffat's reign as showrunner of the 'Doctor Who' universe. I feel he's been a big step down from the kind of emotionally engaging stories that Russell T. Davies brought to the series, and I'll confess to being one of 'those' fans who have been hoping he'd turn the reins over to some new blood. However, after watching the two episodes on this release (which have been combined into one single presentation), I'm willing to admit I may have been wrong about Moffat, or maybe he just stumbled onto a good idea. These shows are quite good, and the first episode, 'Dark Water', is some of the best 'Who' I've watched since David Tennant left the role.
The 'Dark Water' half of the presentation begins with Clara (Jenna Coleman) dealing with tragedy, as her boyfriend, Danny (Samuel Anderson) is killed. Naturally, the first reaction Clara has is to have The Doctor change time in order to save him, but her efforts only lead to an emotional confrontation between the two. However, The Doctor allows her to use the Tardis to find out if Danny's soul has actually gone somewhere, which leads to the discovery of the 'Nethersphere', a place that just might be where people go after they die.
Of course, all is not as it first appears, as viewers learn the Nethersphere is being run by Missy (Michelle Gomez), someone who finally reveals her true identity (which will come as absolutely zero surprise to loyal viewers) to the Doctor at the halfway point of this presentation (i.e., the end of the 'Dark Water' episode). Missy's plan is to use all the dead bodies on Earth to populate an army of Cybermen, and the second half – the episode 'Death in Heaven' – has The Doctor teaming up with UNIT (short for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) to figure out a way to stop the Cybermen invasion.
The first of the two episodes is the stronger, as I really liked the idea of the series exploring what may happen to us after death (and, particularly, the character of Danny's reaction to it – which really gives a chance for Samuel Anderson to get his moment in the sun on this series). The whole Cybermen addition to the storyline, however, seems like just an excuse to add one of The Doctor's most infamous enemies to the mix and, in fact, this might be the lamest used of those villains on this show to date, as they are simply pawns of Missy and don't have any strategic goal or purpose of their own.
Still, overall, this is a rather entertaining 'Who' story and one that's worth checking out. The problem here is that I don't know if it's worth checking out in 3D, and since these episodes are already available on the Series 8 Blu-ray set, there's not much here that would warrant more than a rental.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Doctor Who: Dark Water/Death in Heaven 3D' time travels to home video in this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, whose box cover label is slightly misleading, as there's only one Blu-ray in this set, which has both the 2D and the 3D versions on the same 50GB dual-layer disc. The DVD and Blu-ray are housed inside a standard Elite keepcase, with a slipcover that matches the artwork of the keepcase's slick sliding overtop.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with trailers for the Doctor Who Christmas Specials Giftset and Orphan Black: Season 3. Before the Blu-ray goes to the main menu, it has a screen that asks users to select between 2D and 3D. The main menu (for both versions) is a video loop of the opening theme's 'time warp' sequence, with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is region-free.
While 'Doctor Who' is shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment these days, none of the material in the combined episodes on this release was shot using 3D cameras, meaning that what is presented here is a studio post-conversion. Unlike other post-conversions we've seen, however, it doesn't appear as if the filmmakers had any idea that these shows would get a 3D conversion at a later date – so the result is a lot of shots where depth is obvious, but no real imagery where things pop out of the screen towards the viewer.
Because viewing through 3D glasses also tends to dim the image, it makes for less-than-colorful viewing of a series that has almost always been pretty colorful. However, both the 2D and 3D transfers seem to be fairly free of any glitches, and I didn't notice any problematic aliasing or banding. Still, the 3D here seems to be pretty much a novelty at best (unlike The Day of the Doctor release, which was actually filmed in native 3D), although the opening theme sequence looks quite good and there are a few shots here and there which are enjoyable to see in three dimensions.
The 2D version seems to exist on this release only as a novelty, or simply for comparison purposes, as most Whovians will already have these shows (albeit not the edited-together movie version, which doesn't add any new footage by the way) on their Series 8 sets.
Readers can correct me if I'm mistaken, but I believe this is the first-ever 'Doctor Who' release that features a Dolby Atmos track. It's the only audio option here, but it down-converts to a 7.1 DolbyTrueHD track for those without Atmos – including this reviewer, so please be aware my comments about the audio are for the 7.1 experience only, and not Atmos.
It's actually going to be interesting to hear if the Atmos track disappoints for those who have that home theater set up, as I wasn't particularly impressed with the 7.1 audio. Don't misunderstand – it sounds reasonably immersive and there are no glitches that I noticed in terms of the audio, but it also felt very much like ambient sounds from the original track (this presentation was given an Atmos upgrade for its theatrical presentation) were either manipulated or added to the original. Most of the surround activity is composed of things like the Tardis making beeping noises, cars honking in the background, or the murmuring of people in the room. There's a little bit of directionality and LFE use, but not as much as I would have hoped for.
The track plays solidly enough and dialogue is crisp and clear, but the track never blew me away in its downgraded version, and I'll be waiting to learn if Atmos users have a similar reaction. The audio is still good, but far from reference-quality.
Subtitles are available on this release in English SDH only.
Please note: although the bonus materials are available from both the 2D and 3D menus on the Blu-ray, both bonus features are in 2D only.
I actually enjoyed these final episodes of 'Doctor Who' Series 8 more than I thought I was going to – however, the 3D here isn't really much more than a gimmick, and I'm guessing most fans will be adding (or most likely have already added) these episodes to their collection by picking up the Series 8 set. This is worth taking a look at for the experience of seeing the shows in 3D and watching the bonus materials, but it's probably not worth adding to one's collection unless you're a 'Who' completest. Rent it.