Doctor Who series 4 volume 4 DVD review

A chance to look again at the end of Doctor Who series 4, with this latest release from the BBC.

On sale at £17.99. Box set following at Christmas...

The drill here is very familiar for those who have been following the BBC’s policy with Doctor Who DVDs for the past few years. This, the final single disc release from series four, contains three episodes, and that’s your lot. All the extras and trimmings are then being held over for the full series boxset that’ll set you back around £50 in November.

That said, even the most fervent Doctor Who fan, who usually saves themselves for the end-of-year set may find themselves struggling to resist the temptation to pick this release up. I fell for a similar trap last year, when I found myself impatient to rewatch The Family Of Blood and Blink again, and there’s a similar appeal here.

For the three episodes here are, by turns, brilliant and frustrating. They mark Russell T Davies’ swansong from the rigours of writing for the regular Who series (his specials are still due at Christmas and into 2009), and he signs off in some fashion.

The first episode on the disc is Turn Left, and this is the one that proves Donna-centric, leaving the Doctor to the side. In fact, more than that, it outright kills him early on, in a story that sees Donna’s future – and the fate of the world – being reduced to one single decision about which way to turn her car.

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It’s not a fresh science fiction convention to do this, but it does allow Russell T Davies to explore and demonstrate what would happen if the Doctor wasn’t around in the world, and he has a lot of fun doing it. Several previous adventures are recalled, and Tate is adept at holding it all together, only occasionally slipping into the louder moments that define her comedy series.

It’s not a problem-free story, and there’s a moment of sacrifice at the end that you wonder if it should have had more impact on the two-parter to follow, but Turn Left is nonetheless a tight, very good way to lose 45 minutes. It also reintroduces Rose – replete with slurred speech – ready for the ambitious concluding pair of episodes.

Said two parter kicks off in loud, brash style with The Stolen Earth, which is the episode of series four I’ve rewatched the most. It’s a blockbuster of an instalment, cramming in a sizeable cast – Sarah Jane, Rose and family, Martha and the Torchwood gang are all present and correct – yet it gets away with it for sheer ambition. It also manages to reintroduce Davros – nicely played by Julian Bleach – and leads up to one of the very best cliffhangers that Who has ever thrown at us. It’s an episode full of holes, of course, but for sheer outright and loud entertainment, it’s arguably as good as RTD has delivered from one his scripts across his entire Who run.

Which makes it all the more frustrating that he didn’t finish the job off anywhere near as well with Journey’s End. While a repeated viewing is certainly kinder to the episode than my initial reaction was, it’s still a missed opportunity. It still grates that an outstanding cliffhanger was so easily thrown away inside a minute, and the happy-go-lucky band of campers on the Tardis is a little odd. Plus, the plot is wrapped up surprisingly quickly (with a tip of the hat to Superman 2), leaving some long goodbyes to deal with.

Some of these aren’t really that necessary – I’m looking at you, Rose Tyler – but the rounding off of Catherine Tate’s character is neatly done. Plus there’s Bernard Cribbins and German Daleks to admire. And, it’s a better episode than I first gave it credit for. It does, however, leave you wondering why science fiction as a genre generally does the build up a lot better than the pay off.

Yet this is still a strong disc, with two very strong episodes, and one that could keep you talking for hours on end, as you catalogue its highs and lows. If you can’t wait for the boxset, then it’s probably the best single disc release of the series.

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The Disc

4 out of 5

The Extras n/a 

Rating:

4 out of 5