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Saturday, 10 November 2007

NEW DVD Spin - Doctor Who: The Complete Third Series (BBC Warner)

Oh, these last three years have been gold for us long-time fans of BBC TV's Doctor Who. For starters, we finally get to come out of the closet and display our Dalek toys proudly because this newly regenerated incarnation of TV's longest-serving science fiction series has become not just a national institution in the UK; it's a U.S. and international hit, and has picked up more serious, non-fanboyish awards than you can shake a sonic screwdriver at. These last three years have been hit or miss (a Doctor Who tradition since 1963), but when it hits it's some of the best sci-fi on TV (at times some of the best TV on TV).

With David Tennant returning for his second year as the wayfaring Time Lord (redefining "the DTs" for swoony fans worldwide), Season 3 starts strong with the arrival of the Doctor's new companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), in a good old-fashioned monster romp that transports a London hospital to the moon, where we find blood-sucking aliens, rhino-headed galactic stormtroopers, and the revelation of interstellar Magic Markers.

Other adventures pit the Doctor and Martha against ancient witches in Shakespeare's Globe Theater, a super-traffic jam billions of years in the future, and a malevolent force plunging a starship crew into a sun. The low points here are the "Daleks in Manhattan" two-parter, which does everything wrong, and (I can hear the fan forums gnashing now) the three-part season finale that resurrects the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master. While there's much to enjoy in John Simm's energetic turn as the evil Time Lord, those three episodes prove once again that series' creator Russell T. Davies really shouldn't be the one writing the season cappers.

However, some of the best stories the series has seen, ever, come from its two best writers -- Paul Cornell's chilling, moving two-parter "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" drives home both the Doctor's alienness and his humanity, and Steven Moffat's scary, enthralling "Blink" is worth the DVD set all by itself (and has us scouring the TV listings for more from young guest star Carey Mulligan, who's going to around for a long, long time).

All 13 eps are here, along with the feature-length Christmas special "The Runaway Bride," in 1.78:1 widescreen and DD 5.1 sound. They're of course uncut, which shouldn't need to be mentioned unless you've seen these only in their whittled-down Sci Fi Channel airings, in which case it's a bonus. This series' DVD sets have been generous with the extras, and this time we get episode commentaries from the cast, producers, writers, directors and others; selections from David Tennant's Video Diary; this season's thirteen "Doctor Who Confidential" episodes (totaling 2 1/2 hours); "Music And Monsters" (one hour) connects the "Doctor Who Confidential" entry for "The Runaway Bride" to the live "Children in Need Concert" of music from the show (joined on stage by David Tennant and assorted alien hordes); trailers and previews.

For devotees of old-school Doctor Who, this week also sees BBC Warner DVD releases of two lesser serials from 1982 with Peter Davison playing the Doctor: Doctor Who: Time-Flight and Doctor Who: Arc of Infinity. Although these are by no means the best of the Peter Davison years, the DVD releases of "classic" Doctor Who are always superbly produced with painstaking restorations and quality extras.

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