Roswell, New Mexico is a busy old place in sci-fi, isn’t it? Dozens of shows have tried to claim responsibility for the alleged alien landing of 1947. Deep Space Nine regulars Quark and Rom were Roswell aliens, as were Roger from American Dad and the lead characters from, well, Roswell. Stargate SG-1 hailed the Asgard as their own little grey men, while Futurama would have us believe that the Roswell spaceship was, in fact, Bender’s shiny metal ass.
It’s safe to say the Roswell incident is well-trodden ground, so much so that a visit from the good Doctor was, perhaps, inevitable. Dreamland, 2009’s red button Doctor Who animation, wastes absolutely no time bringing the show into ‘established’ events, with the fabled crash happening before the opening titles. The camera then pans across to the Area 51 sign, and a caption tells us it’s Roswell on June 13th (which, incidentally, is my birthday. Send presents c/o Den Of Geek) 1947… Cue the theme music.
Thankfully, The Doctor doesn’t land until eleven years later, meaning we miss out on the most epic of crossovers. Arriving in a diner, he wastes no time in befriending Cassie, a young waitress, and Jimmy Stalkingwolf, her friend/love interest. They’re quickly thrown into an adventure involving men in black, big insect aliens entering into a pact with the US military, and little grey aliens (you knew they had to be in there somewhere), one of whom is being held captive at Area 51.
Turns out the big insect aliens (the Viperox) have a bit of a history with the Greys and would quite like to see the ones on Earth found and destroyed, at any cost. Can the Doctor, Cassie and Jimmy rescue the Greys and save Roswell from the Viperox..? Answers on a postcard, please.
Dreamland is the second animated outing for the Tenth Doctor, the first being The Infinite Quest, back in 2007. In many ways, this is a huge improvement. Sarah Jane Adventures head writer Phil Ford turns in a gem of a script, featuring the Tenth Doctor at his bantering best (“Sorry I can’t salute, but I seem to be strapped to a table.”), and a seam of humour a mile wide at the episode’s core. We get references to Die Hard, Alien and Star Wars, among others, and there’s a slightly cheeky take on the ‘men in black’ concept.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few clunkers. In one scene, the Doctor remarks “Some men are born great, others have crates thrust upon them,” to audible groans from the audience, but they’re too few and far between to be too noticeable.
Unlike the slightly frenetic Infinite Quest, Dreamland stays in one place and time (broadly speaking) for the whole of its 45 minutes, and is all the better for it. It makes for a much more coherent single episode, rather than the mess that was the complete version of TIQ. It also means we have time to properly familiarise ourselves with Cassie, played brilliantly by Doctor’s daughter Georgia Moffett, and Jimmy, played a little less brilliantly by Tim Howar (though in Howar’s defence, the script does seem to portray Jimmy as a bit wooden).
The main cast is rounded out by Jonathan Creek star Jonathan Milligan, adopting a suitably gruff tone as the by-the-book Colonel Stark, and David Warner, who chews the scenery something rotten as Lord Azlok; it’s a hammy performance, but wholly appropriate.
And, of course, there’s some Scottish bloke playing the Doctor. And he’s absolutely wonderful. But then, you all knew that already, didn’t you? I had a horrid daydream the other day, where his Doctor regenerated into this guy with no eyebrows and masses of hair… Thank God, Tennant’s staying on for another three seasons. And joined by Sally Sparrow as his companion, no less! About time too…
But, I digress. It’s a shame, given the wonderful writing and performances on display here, that the animation itself is so bloody awful. The pseudo-3D look isn’t bad in itself, and most of the character designs are passable (though the big yellow cat eyes look faintly ludicrous when placed on the Viperox). The problem comes when the characters are required to move in any way. Jerky, lifeless running is de rigeur here, and the severe lack of facial expressions makes it seem as though the real monster attacking the Doctor and his friends is Botox. The only thing I can say in its favour is that the RTD-era TARDIS interior has never looked more beautiful. Perhaps that’s where the budget went? Pity it was only used for one scene.
The other thing that irked me about Dreamland was the music. I’m a huge fan of Murray Gold’s scores, but not when slammed together randomly like this because the budget wouldn’t stretch to fresh compositions. There’s nothing wildly inappropriate, but just enough to be annoying, like when the UNIT Theme is piped in over a chase sequence, presumably because they’d already used Series 4’s Corridors And Fire Escapes earlier in the episode.
The music and the animation betray the fact that this was clearly a low budget project, which is less than the script and performances deserve, but at its heart Dreamland is still a cracking adventure, and a decent final DVD outing for the Tenth Doctor. But, if you decide to watch it with your eyes closed and pretend that it’s an audio outing, nobody will think any less of you.
The second disc in the package is devoted to Doctor Who’s Greatest Moments, the recent trio of compilation shows put together by the Confidential team. Split into three categories – The Doctor, The Companions, and The Enemies – these do exactly what they say on the tin. Well, almost; the series should really have been called The Tenth Doctor’s Greatest Moments, as there’s precious little Chris Eccleston on display here. His regeneration is discussed about five minutes into The Doctor episode, and he’s then reduced to mostly cameoing in montages.
It’s not just clips, of course. There’s the obligatory talking heads, most of which are newly-recorded, with luminaries ranging from David Tennant and Freema Agyeman to Mark Gatiss and Elisabeth Sladen. You probably won’t learn anything new here, as we’re very much in soundbite territory (particularly when the omnipresent Barrowman cheeses up the screen), but it’s nice to see everyone talking so enthusiastically about the show. One highlight is Sir Derek Jacobi lamenting the fact he didn’t get more time as the Master. There must be a way to redress this. Steven Moffat, are you listening?
As nice as it is to have these shows on a shiny disc, the lack of Dreamland-specific extras is part of a worrying trend on the part of 2|Entertain. The recent ‘Complete Specials’ boxset was lacking commentaries on three of the specials (previous boxsets had commentaries on all episodes), and the rest of the special features seemed a little sparse and lacklustre, with re-used episodes of Confidential making up the bulk of the extras’ running time.
It may sound like petulance on my part, but extras existed for this release – the official website had a whole ton of ’em, and a red button commentary was recorded for one of the airings over Christmas – yet, all we get is repeats of programmes which have been chopped up and used as filler on an all-too regular basis on BBC3 ever since? Not cool, guys. Not cool.
We can only hope these cost-cutting measures don’t start to filter through to the Classic Who range, which has established itself as one of the finest around (thanks, of course, to the sterling work of the restoration team). I spent years screaming “SCENE SELECTION IS NOT A SPECIAL FEATURE!” from the rooftops. Please don’t make me start again now. I’m watching you.
Feature:Disc: Doctor Who: Dreamland will be released on February 1 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.