Doctor Who series 8 DVD review

The Doctor Who series 8 disc release features a wealth of bonus material including the terrific Earth Conquest doc. Here's Pete's verdict...

If you’re reading this review, then there’s a good chance that you’ve both seen the twelve episodes that make up Peter Capaldi’s debut series and know exactly what we’re going to say about them. Series 8 of Doctor Who has been hailed by many as the best in several years, and one of the best since the show’s revival in 2005. It’s a verdict that we here at Den of Geek find it hard to argue with, frankly. From the light-hearted opener “Deep Breath” to the action-packed and slightly bonkers finale “Death In Heaven,” with thought-provoking episodes like “Listen” and “Kill The Moon” along the way, Series 8 has been a confident start to a brand new era for the world’s longest-running sci-fi programme.

There was never any doubt that an accomplished actor like Peter Capaldi was going to do justice to the role of the Doctor, but he’s surpassed many expectations, working with Steven Moffat to reshape the character as someone far more alien than we’ve seen in the revived show – a distinct contrast to Matt Smith’s cuddly uncle figure. He’s still the same man we’ve known for the last 50 years, but increasingly in this series his morality and outlook put him at odds with the people around him. He’s the Doctor that Colin Baker always wanted to play, with many of the nuances that were denied to Baker by the production team during his era.

This was the year when Jenna Coleman got to shine, too. Freed from the ‘impossible girl’ shackles of being a plot point rather than a character in her own right, Clara’s controlling nature is allowed to come to the front, and the writers and Coleman take great pleasure in pushing her to breaking point with the introduction of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), who manages to pull off the seemingly impossible task of being both a likeable, sympathetic character and an antagonist of sorts for the Doctor.

Without a doubt, the episodes by themselves make the boxset an essential purchase. But it wouldn’t be a Doctor Who DVD without bonus material, and there’s a wealth of it on offer here. First off, we get audio commentaries for “Into The Dalek,” “Robot Of Sherwood,” “The Caretaker,” and “Kill The Moon.” These get off to a promising start, with director Ben Wheatley and writer Phil Ford proving themselves lively and informative companions for the Dalek episode. They have a good rapport, and manage to impart a number of new and interesting facts – for instance, did you know that somewhere on the TARDIS set there’s the snowglobe from St Elsewhere…?

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Unfortunately things go downhill from here: director Paul Murphy is given a solo track for Robot Of Sherwood and joined by Kate Walshe and Peter Hawkins of Millennium FX for The Caretaker, while director Paul Wilmshurst and first assistant director Scott Bates take on commentary duties for Kill The Moon. In all three cases the track quickly descends into a running explanation of what’s happening on screen rather than any sort of behind-the-scenes analysis. Wilmshurst is the worst offender here, peppering his commentary with such insights as “The lights are now flickering, which is usually a sign that bad stuff is going to happen… Oh, and there we go, it’s an earthquake.” With only four episodes receiving the commentary treatment this year, it’s a massive shame that three of them are wasted in this way and that the participants weren’t better briefed.

The documentaries on the set fare considerably better than the commentaries, although fair warning – if you’re a Stateside viewer or naughty downloader then there’s little new here for you, as the three main features on the set all aired on BBC America prior to the series’ launch. For the rest of us, however, there are some real treats in store.

The first of these is The Ultimate Time Lord, in which Peter Davison sets out to learn what qualities make up the perfect incarnation of the Doctor. The film pays lip service to the premise, with a visit to the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, but mostly it’s just a chance for Davison to romp around chatting to people involved with the series’ past and present about their perception of the central character. Contributors include Steven Moffat, Jenna Coleman and a whole host of Doctors – Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi. Its sister documentary, The Ultimate Companion, is built along very similar lines, with the Moffat/Capaldi/Coleman triumvirate joined by companion illuminati such as Noel Clarke, John Barrowman, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton.

Both of these films are jolly, breezy affairs; with his dry wit and easy repartee Davison makes for the perfect interviewer, and there’s even room for a few moments of Five(ish) Doctors-style comedy between the contributors. It’s unlikely that the more dedicated fans will learn much here, and having aired before the series’ launch there’s an unfortunate restriction on the things Capaldi and Coleman can talk about, but the two films are a fun way to spend an hour and a half.

The real gem of the bonus features is, perhaps surprisingly, the fantastic Earth Conquest documentary. The film ostensibly follows Capaldi, Coleman and Moffat on their global promotional tour to launch Series 8, but there’s so much more to it than that; Earth Conquest is an exploration of the love and creativity of Doctor Who fans.

As the team travel around the world we’re introduced to a number of individual fans who have made their mark on the ‘Whoniverse’, such as the co-ordinator of the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra, the creator of ‘Doctor Puppet’, digital artist Alice X Zhang and Australian comedian Rob Lloyd. Each of them has been inspired to do more than just watch their favourite TV show, and that’s one of the beautiful things about Doctor Who fandom, as noted by the show’s stars; Capaldi in particular speaks eloquently about the effect the show has on its fans and what it means to him.

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It’s incredibly heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and affection that greets the TARDIS crew at every stop on their journey, and many of the vox pops – from the fan with an unfortunate misprint on her custom-made T-shirt to the couple who met and got engaged because of the show – will leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling. There’s nothing cynical about the documentary at all – it’s just a lovely celebration of Doctor Who’s worldwide fanbase.

The other ‘new’ bonus feature in the set is the Deep Breath Q&A hosted by Zoe Ball and transmitted to cinemas after the initial broadcast. Again, there’s nothing revolutionary contained within, but Ball injects suitable enthusiasm into proceedings and there’s some amusing banter between the interviewees – most notably Capaldi and Moffat arguing about Mondasian Cybermen – and after the other interviews on the set it’s refreshing to hear them being able to speak in any detail about more than just Peter’s regeneration scene.

The set’s final substantial feature is alll twelve episodes Doctor Who Extra, which aired on the Red Button and was available on iPlayer (and is still available on YouTube). Extra is the spiritual successor to Doctor Who Confidential, providing a bite-sized insight into the making of each individual episode. It’s not the comprehensive making-of documentary that many fans would like to see, but each episode is a concise, compelling watch, and the 10-15 minute running time is something of a benefit; Doctor Who Confidential sometimes felt stretched to fill a 45-minute timeslot, particularly towards the end of its run – there’s only so many times you can see Danny Hargreaves blowing things up, after all. Doctor Who Extra isn’t perfect – there’s a few too many clips of older episodes with ‘archive film’ filters over the top, and the narration can grate – but if you’re willing to overlook the flaws then there’s plenty here to enjoy, like Phil Ford’s visit to the set of Into The Dalek or the look at how the London of In The Forest Of The Night was constructed.

Rounding off the collection are a few odds and ends that were previously available on YouTube – Foxes’ full rendition of “Don’t Stop Me Now,” Michael Pickwoad’s tour of the revamped TARDIS set, the trailers for the series launch and a number of short promotional talking-head videos, one of which is bafflingly titled ‘Why watch Series 8?’ – it may be a bit late in the game to be throwing up that sort of question… None of these items are essential viewing, but they’re nonetheless nice to have.

This isn’t a perfect DVD set – it’d be nice to see the same care and attention lavished on these season releases that the classic stories receive, with the lack of deleted scenes or informative commentaries (or any post-transmission insights bar Doctor Who Extra) a particular oversight. But the three BBC America documentaries add a lot of value to a superlative run of episodes, making this a package that must surely already be on every discerning fan’s Christmas list.

Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series is released on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK on Monday the 24th of November and December 9th in the US.

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