Doctor Who: The Movie - Special Edition
As many of you who read this column know, I like to wait until January to write my "Best Pick of 2010" column. I like being able to wait until after the holiday, to wait until the last possible moment to consider my options...and quite frankly, I think doing so was smart in this case. It was only in mid December, through some efforts, that I was able to acquire a work that was...well, it's complicated.
It's a reissue of an episode of a television series that was initially released in England - but not in the US - and although the reissue occurred back in April of 2010, the US release will not be until February 8, 2011. Talk about wibbly wobbly, timey wimey....
I'm talking, of course, about the Doctor Who: The Movie - Special Edition DVD from BBC video. It was originally released in April in a Revisitations boxed set (with remastered versions of the 1996 TV movie, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and The Caves of Androzani). Initially released in England, the DVD was never given a formal American release, with "rights issues" being the main concern (the TV movie was a co-production between the BBC and Universal, and initially shown on the Fox TV network). Granted, maybe it's "not fair" to segregate it as a release when it was part of a boxed set....
...but quite frankly, looking at the content in these two discs, Doctor Who: The Movie - The Special Edition is a Criterion-level rerelease, containing not only some great features (and with a documentary that is one of the best I have seen about television production), but also really helps cement the TV movie less as a curiosity and more as a critical transitional piece between the classic series and the new series. More importantly, it's made me look at the TV movie in a much less critical, more accepting light.
(If you're interested in some of the thinking behind which episodes of classic Who are rereleased, be sure to check out Steven Schapanksky's interview with 2 entertain producer Dan Hall on Radio Free Skaro).
Like many other recent Doctor Who reissues, this DVD contains really great supporting features, but the centerpiece - and revelation - has to be The Seven Year Hitch, an hour-long documentary that focused on how the TV movie came about (and was initially previewed at Gallifrey 21 in February 2010). It is a well-made, well-assembled documentary that not only has interviews with the major players (including Phillip Segal, the producer of the television movie), but also provides incredible insight into the politics and mechanics of producing television around the turn of the 21st century. In one hour, this documentary manages to not only provide context for the production, but also break open many of the popular fan myths around the movie, provide some illuminating insight into who was considered before McGann (without spoiling, two members of Monty Python were considered as the Doctor...and one was asked and turned it down). It is also one of the more honest documentaries about television production - Segal comes across as an eager, enthusiastic producer whose work was compromised by having too many hands in production. There is no blame laid, no recriminations, and The Seven Year Hitch serves as one of the most insightful documentaries made in the past year.
Other features of this DVD make it a treasure trove of information...and a great add-on for any Who fan's library. Two Doctor Who writers and a comedian discuss The Doctor's Strange Love - a twenty minute exploration of how the TV movie presaged many of the themes and attitudes of the new series. The Wilderness Years explores the transitional period between 1989 and 2005 in terms of fandom and Who media: in short, what happens when a beloved television show is suddenly and abruptly canceled. (If anything, I think this supports a theory I have that the 2005 Doctor Who series succeeded so well due to the show being missed - had it acquired spinoff after spinoff like Star Trek, it wouldn't have generate such goodwill...but I digress). There are the prerequisite television spots and other background material (like the infamous "spider Dalek" animation), and the icing on the cake is a commentary by Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy, moderated by Big Finish's Nicholas Briggs. Quite simply, this is a DVD set that is definitely worth the money.
Ok, that says a lot about the supporting materials, but what about the movie itself? Although much of the materials help soften and have led me to reevaluate my opinion, I will say that although my opinion may not be as harsh as my initial blog post may suggest, I still think many of the weaknesses are still there. Much of the script has some glaring holes, suggesting that it required a further rewrite (although having multiple influences on the script may have led to its fragmented nature), and the film is also disrupted by some....well, unusual acting choices (yes, Eric Roberts, I'm talking to you). But in short, I can see why some fans - like Eric Ratcliffe - got involved with Doctor Who as a result of this movie. It's not quite classic Who (which, I'll argue, could not survive in the present television climate), but contains enough to give the franchise a "second wind"...and which may have helped Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffatt feel connected enough to not just provide nostalgic visits to past glories, but help build a greater foundation for the new series' present success.
Granted, this DVD won't see our shores until February 8th, and it was part of a seven disc boxed set, but Doctor Who: The Movie - Special Edition is possibly the best release of 2010. It's entertaining, insightful, and...well, I considered my options and thought about all that I had seen before writing this column. No movie, comic, or television series has engaged me this thoroughly, has excited me, or has me feeling that sense of discovery, that shiver up the spine that says how cool is this?, than this DVD. (The only thing that has come close has been Martin Grams' Green Hornet history, but this is much more exciting).
My only complaint - I would like to see the Revisitations versions of The Caves of Androzani (two discs) and especially The Talons of Weng-Chiang (three discs) receives a formal North American release. (Talons is my favorite Who story...and quite simply, a masterpiece. Remind me to write a column about it some time. Perhaps we can convince 2 entertain to release it in time for my birthday in March?) But the fact that the 1996 Doctor Who television movie - a 15 year old film that never received a formal US DVD release - is receiving such great attention and quality for its release is astounding.
Doctor Who: The Movie - Special Edition comes out on DVD on February 8th. Be sure to be the first in line to get it. It is, quite definitely, the best release of 2010...even if we're getting it a year too late.
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And, as always, keep watching!
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