The last installment of 'Doctor Who' really had me pumped up and ready for the next set of episodes. 'Series Five' was my first full season as a fan of the show, and I absolutely loved, L-O-V-E-D the way the main story was teased and slightly progressed as the season wore on. The Christmas special was a real hoot, as well, though the fact it really is a one-off, not fitting much into continuity, made it a bit less enrapturing. After hearing so many rave reviews about the first episodes in 'Series Six,' the fan hype died down, and as the show entered its mid-season break, talk about the show on the channels I frequent was nearly non-existent. Silence fell.
Such is the way the first half of the newest set of episodes from 'Doctor Who' is. 'Series Six Part One' takes all the momentum from Matt Smith's first run as The Doctor and almost spends it all in the first two episodes, which are linked, teased, somewhat, in the last series. Fans may find the overall experience a tad uneven; some episodes fly by with amazing awe and inspiration, while others lag, drag around, and feel stretched far too thin. Newcomers may be advised to not let this be their starting point with 'Doctor Who,' as the previous release serves as a great entry point to the show, if ever there were one in this amazingly expansive, intricate and richly historic science fiction series.
With 'The Impossible Astronaut' and 'Days of the Moon,' we see The Doctor (Smith), Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) travel to America in the late 1960's, to battle a species new to the series; a breed of alien creatures that are all over the world, yet have never been documented, despite being in the shadows of history...for all of history itself, swaying events to their liking. These odd creatures, known as The Silence, rule the human mind through post-hypnotic suggestion, making their witnesses forget all about their extraterrestrial encounter the moment they look away, making them an incredibly difficult foe to comprehend, analyze, or defeat. What these creatures want with the American space program is a mystery; why President Nixon is cursed with strange phone calls from a scared young girl every evening another. The answer to both questions may lie in the future, with a major plot point that should not be spoiled, as its weaving through the timeline is a wonder to unravel.
Soon after, two one-and-done episodes slow the show down, with only the tiniest, tiniest of hints towards an upcoming episode's events. In 'The Curse of the Black Spot,' The Doctor and his companions find themselves on a pirate ship, its crew vanished, taken by a siren/demon who leaves a black mark on the palm of any man with an open wound. With 'The Doctor's Wife,' a strange distress signal sends the triumvirate to an alien world, where a being with a hunger for Time Lords and TARDISes finds a way to threaten the Eleventh Doctor's existence. With the new 'Doctor Who' not featuring "Who-Lite" episodes, that feature strange aliens but no Time Lords themselves, these are the closest we get to unnecessary moments. Sure, it's neat seeing the TARDIS get a voice (and body!), and the strange being that takes control of the powerful police box is very sci-fi, almost V'Ger in application, but nothing is progressed.
With 'The Rebel Flesh' and 'The Almost People,' a strange goo that can create doppelganger, known as Gangers, threatens the inhabitants of an island that converts acidic waste to something of use for a future civilization, but a solar storm allows these shells of people to achieve consciousness outside of the control of their operators. These two episodes...well, they move so slow, and accomplish so little for the majority of the runtime, it's tough to care or get into them. The idea of "Gangers" is crucial to the final episode in this release (don't worry, no major spoilers!), so I understand their creation, their need, but two episodes is about one episode too much. I'm sure the amazing The Silence story could have been fleshed out to a three-parter, and this down to one, but, alas, twas not meant to be. The finale of this set, called 'A Good Man Goes to War,' features amazing revelations, and moments that force the final Time Lord to look inside himself, approached with the opinions of the species he has encountered, as he calls in all his favors to friend and foe alike in an effort to stop a mysterious woman's nefarious plans that involve Amy.
'Series Six Part One' is very uneven. There isn't as much continuity between episodes as there was the last go-round, and with the somewhat episodic formula given here, it makes this half-season a tad truncated. We hit spectacular highs, but dip in such deep valleys that it's hard to not be frustrated by it all. Additionally, there were too many "near death" fake suspense moments that really wear thin fast. I'll admit, I was absolutely gaga for the first two episodes. The Silence are a fantastic creature, a wonderful creation that has many, many more possible applications than my favorite Who species, The Weeping Angels (another newish creation). Their influence in history means they are sure to pop up many, many times again, and their effectiveness creating real tension and distress, general unease makes for some great sci-fi-horror atmosphere. The mysterious space suit opens up the mystery in somewhat peculiar fashion, but there's no denying the fantastic revelations and curiosities to be found. The setting in time is fantastic, the stages amazingly creepy and outright disturbing. Much like the usage of Vincent Van Gogh the previous series, this use of Nixon and the CIA is unbelievably, unbelievably cool.
River Song, a recurring character in the show who is a bit mysterious, a lot ironic, and assuredly the most tragic character in this Doctor's so far brief existence, is a major player in the best episodes this arc, with her involvement in The Silence adding to the creep factor, all the while adding humanity to the mix, while her role in 'A Good Man Goes to War' may be her biggest moment in the show so far. Yes, there's a big reveal regarding this character, and yes, it fits the story amazingly; if this is what Steven Moffat had in mind for the character all along, he really deserves respect in the sci-fi community...at least, more so. Neil Gaiman fans may also be interested to hear he had a hand writing an episode in this arc!
In 'Doctor Who: Series Six Part One,' we travel a different course with our already familiar Doctor. We delve to the depths of his existence, to visit his lowest moment, and we come to grips with the way this traveller of all space and time has had an effect on all existence. The Rory and Amy plot isn't pushed early, though it is a major player by the end of this set of episodes. The exact explanation of the TARDIS and its actions at the end of 'Series Five' are not immediately made clear, though this was said to be the main arc of this series some time ago. Through moments Cronenbergian and borderline Burtonesque, this set of episodes has a wide variety of themes, aesthetics, and most certainly moods. It challenges its viewers with the early outline of the puzzle, with a square meant for somewhere in the middle teased but not quite explained. The payoff is sure to come soon. After all, this set ends by telling us The Doctor will be back in an episode entitled 'Let's Kill Hitler!' If anything, this Doctor's first foray into Nazi Germany and WW2 should be quite interesting, especially since last year we saw the Daleks in the war. Which creature will play a hand in the biggest, greatest war in the history of mankind this time?
The Disc: Vital Stats
Us Americans are finally getting 'Doctor Who' releases in the same fashion that the Brits do, often day and date when they first air on television, and in volume installments on home video. This release contains seven episodes from the 'Sixth Series,' across two Region A/B/C BD50 discs. European buyers should stick with the UK version, though, due to frame rate compatibility concerns.
Each disc has some pre-menu content, including a tease for the upcoming American iteration of 'Torchwood.'
It must be noted that there will surely be a 'The Complete Sixth Series' release sometime in late 2011 Q4 or early 2012 Q1 that will make this set obsolete entirely. This release is a smart cash in for 'Who' fanatics, who can't get enough of the show in the break in the season, a way to catch up for fans who missed earlier episodes. Do not expect this to maintain value, as it will plummet when the used market floods with the folks buying the complete series in less than half a year.
Presented in 1080i, just like all of the other 'Doctor Who' releases on Blu-ray, 'Series Six Part One' didn't quite grip me visually in the same way that the 'Series Five' release did so readily and frequently. I don't know if it was a matter of how much was put on each disc (three to four episodes per, though sans much in terms of extras), or just my raised expectations having been wowed so much in that previous release. The video isn't bad, by any means; it just lacks that "wow" factor.
The picture is often quite beautiful, with fantastic detail levels, though the interlacing issue can be a bit more obvious this time around. Good ol' 1080i! Edges are clean for the most part, but there are a few shots, in the distance, where they seem to ring noticeably. Black levels are wonderful and natural, picture depth is frequently fantastic, textures are fine, and colors maintain clarity, without any weird wash outs. Skin tones can get orange at times, which isn't all that great, and grain levels can spike in a hurry. It's really quite difficult to put into words why I'm not all too impressed with this release. It may be that it doesn't seem as clear or as consistent. It may just be disc space issues. It may very well be something that some viewers don't even take note of.
I'm satisfied with the video here, just not blown away.
Imagine the most amazing audio, with wall to wall sonic marvels...well, this is nothing like that...
BBC gives 'Doctor Who: Series 6, Part 1' a DTS-HD HR 5.1 track. Again, for those who don't pay attention to acronyms: high resolution =/= master audio. One is a lossless format. The other is not. This release is an awful lot like the Blu-ray release for the 'Fifth Series,' in terms of how it sounds, with the sole difference being a slightly upped ante. The show features fantastic sound design and plenty of attention has been spent creating a full room atmosphere; as such, rear speakers are readily, frequently, and fantastically engaged. Motion effects, love 'em. Localized effects, love 'em to death. Bass levels are amplified from 'Who' releases past, frequently staying for prolonged roars and rumbles underfoot. I loved the constant dread underfoot in the Ganger episodes, with the ground shaking nearly nonstop, though the noise made from what few words The Silence made were amazing, hitting all channels to add to the eeriness.
Sadly, I can't give this one a higher score, and it isn't out of principal due to the lack of lossless. The fact that bass levels, while constant, are never really all that powerful, especially not to match what is on screen can be unsettling. There are scenes that should have shaken the entire house they were so catastrophic, yet, nothing of the sort came through. The score also was noticeably weaker than it should have been. There were moments it wanted to be powerful, it swelled, it swooned...and it was soft, lacking in oomph or bravado. Fans of the show who have stuck with the Blu-ray releases will be quite pleased with how this sounds, don't get me wrong. It's really, really good. It's just too noticeably short.
Doctor Who Confidentials are musts for fans. This release doesn't have them on any of its episodes, rather than all of its episodes like full season releases do. The lone extra (two features, one on each disc, but still, one extra) isn't bad, but it cannot compare.
"Warning! Post-hypnotic suggestions are running the ships ashore...the orange light that follows will soon proclaim itself a God!"
Sorry to quote System of a Down there, but I can't help it. The way this first batch of episodes from the world's most successful science fiction series of all time meshes classic themes and ideas with modern twists, I can't help but have a nerdgasm. These seven episodes aren't the best the series has ever had, though the first two may rank pretty damn high up there individually, their creations and ideas a real marvel. It's almost certain that the BBC will release the entire series day and date or shortly after 'Series Six Part Two,' so the main question here is should fans shell out the (amazingly cheap) asking price when they'll have to replace it to get the full set with extras (particularly the Confidentials and Proms)? If said fans missed the broadcast of the show, then yes, this is a must have. It's sure to drop in value hard by year's end, obsoleted in the worst of ways, but if you're jonesing for some 'Doctor Who' action, there's only one place you can go!
Let's face it, like fezes and bow ties, 'Doctor Who' are cool.