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Doctor Who, the complete third series

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The Weeping Angels do more than weep, as shown by this unflinching shot from DOCTOR WHO's Third Series episode, "Blink."

At its best, DOCTOR WHO (1963-1987) was a perfect fusion of the best aspects of serial dramas, rich in character development and layered mythology, with the kind of anthology sci-fi exemplified by THE OUTER LIMITS and THE TWILIGHT ZONE. At its worst, it was embarrassingly chintzy. For many years—decades, even—that tension put an onus on the show's writers to keep the storytelling clever and inventive to compensate for low-budget production values. Unfortunately, in the later years of the 1980s, the balance tipped precariously in the wrong direction. Writers like Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel found themselves self-censoring out of a fear that the show's impoverished production team would ruin their best ideas.

The BBC top brass knew that a total creative overhaul was called for, if DOCTOR WHO was to stay relevant, but no producer seemed eager to take on what was viewed as a bad career choice. In 1989, the world's longest-running science fiction TV series slipped off the airwaves—but it did not disappear. Aside from a misfired attempt to reinvent the program as an American-made series (resulting in a one-off made-for-TV movie now MIA on Region 1 DVD), a cycle of graphic novels, increasingly grown-up novels, full-cast audio dramas, and fan-made video spin-offs kept the flame burning.

In 2004, Russell T. Davies, creator of QUEER AS FOLK and one of England's foremost TV dramatists, presented the BBC with an elaborate pitch for a comprehensive and coherent rethink of DOCTOR WHO.

Now in its fourth season on BBC 1, the revised DOCTOR WHO has proven Davies a gifted fortune teller. What was once a cult series that ended its original run preaching only to the choir has now become one of the UK's leading pop cultural institutions—big in budget, scope and appeal, and all without sacrificing either the soul or the heritage of its past.

As a measure of how big the new WHO is, consider its effect on English politics. The program is shot in Cardiff, Wales, along with a number of spinoffs. The result has been a huge boon to the Welsh economy and has triggered a significant upturn in Welsh tourism. Scotland responded by calling this cultural chauvinism, and publicly objected to such economic favoritism—the only way to fix it, they say, is for the BBC to launch an equally popular sci-fi drama in Scotland!

All the more impressive, then, that Davies had to reinvent DOCTOR WHO several times over. The initial reboot in 2005 starred Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, with his sidekick Rose played by former pop idol Billie Piper. Eccleston quit the show after just one season, replaced by David Tennant. At the end of the second season, Piper herself departed; by that point, she had become at least as popular as the Doctor himself. Davies' rethink of WHO places an unprecedented new emphasis on relationships and emotional drama, never a focus of the original series. Classic WHO at its best was always austere—an otherworldly superhero whose motivations, desires, fears, and even name were hidden from the audience. The original series could at times punch deep into the gut ("Caves of Androzani," anyone?) but only rarely tried. The newly configured version unashamedly embraces emotion. For the first time in its history, the show now seriously addresses what it must mean to be the Doctor, and what terrible costs he faces to be the man he is; this is DOCTOR WHO for the age of CASINO ROYALE and BATMAN BEGINS. The battles faced by the Doctor are fanciful and absurd, but the lessons they reveal are universal: one need not face a ravening Dalek to stand up for what is just, decent, and right—and terribly, terribly hard.

Over the course of two seasons, a profoundly passionate (yet still chaste) romance developed between the ancient time-traveling Doctor and his comely assistant Rose. When the events of the second season finale wrenched the two apart, the Doctor's grief mirrored that of his audience. Rose haunts the third season, as a memory of love and loss that leaves the Doctor a darker and moodier figure. Against this potentially depressive atmosphere, the producers contrast a mad series of ideas, each loonier than the last: a hospital on the moon, vampires who bring their own straws, people made entirely of leather, Daleks on Broadway, killer scarecrows stalking a boy's school, statues that throw people backwards in time, secret DVD Easter eggs that talk to you, a man who can never die and the severed hand he lugs around in a jar... and always the simple thrill of watching a blue wooden box spinning through space, a nameless hero at its helm.

STAR TREK depicts a progressive future, in which the current foibles of mankind are perfected and resolved, or nearly so. DOCTOR WHO can seem cynical, with its premise that the distant past and far-flung future will be dotted with the very same conflicts as today. The corridors may change, but the reasons to run through them won't. This attitude, though, allows DOCTOR WHO to examine more dramatically the human soul.

As in the previous seasons, the episodes drop hints that ultimately pay off in the finale. This time, the code word is Saxon, a candidate for Prime

Minister whose election has disastrous consequences for the Doctor. Moreso than in previous years, though, there are also underlying themes that connect the episodic adventures beyond the word games about "Vote Saxon." Season Three is principally concerned with what it means to be human: various aliens disguise themselves as human, humans cross-breed with other species or are mutated, and the driving impulse of survival at any cost—at once noble and yet starkly horrific. War hangs heavily over these stories, both as a memory of wars fought and survived and a fear of wars yet to come; yet those characters with the most to lose and the deepest scars from conflicts past are also quick to take up arms when the situation calls for it—sometimes there is no other choice. Through it all, this smart, savvy show finds empathy and forgiveness for its most hated foes, while celebrating the power of a communal experience—be it attending a Shakespeare play, an off-Broadway musical revue, or falling under the hypnotic spell of a catchy tune (da da dum, dad a dum...).

Shows in England generate fewer episodes per year than do American ones, and a standard-issue run of DOCTOR WHO would normally result in 13 45-minute episodes. However, since English television is also loosey-goosey when it comes to running times, some of these episodes spill over past the 45m mark and were therefore aired on US television in truncated form. This 6-disc box set collects the uncut originals of all 13 as well as the bonus-length Christmas special. Broadcast on Christmas Day 2006, "The Runaway Bride" bridges the end of the second season to the start of the third with a goofy story played as an hommage to the screwball comedies of the 1940s. Playing Katherine Hepburn to David Tennant's Spencer Tracy is the award-winning comedienne Catherine Tate. Every week, Tate's eponymous sketch comedy show demonstrates her range as an actress, and when she returns as a series regular next year one hopes the writers take full advantage of her gifts.

Tate is not the only comedian to strut dramatic stuff on DOCTOR WHO. Mark Gatiss, late of THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, is both a writer for the series and a guest actor in one memorable role.

Jessica Hynes of the underrated comedy gem SPACED takes an even juicier guest role in a two-part story that finds her almost wedding the Doctor! This turn of events proves especially painful for the Doctor's latest companion, Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman). Think Tara King from THE AVENGERS, or VERTIGO's Barbara Bel Geddes: the sting of unrequited love. At the Doctor's side, Martha evolves into a capable warrior woman who may not get her man but she saves the world from the villainous clutches of guest star John Simms (LIFE ON MARS).

As the season gallops towards its massive three-hour finale, the Doctor is reunited with Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), last seen on WHO in its first season. In the interim, Russell T. Davies successfully spun-off TORCHWOOD to keep Barrowman busy between WHO appearances. Conceived as a sort of DOCTOR WHO meets THE X-FILES by way of MI-5 hybrid, TORCHWOOD has become BBC America's biggest-ever hit and won rave reviews from the American press. It is still a work in progress, though. TORCH-WOOD angles itself as a grown-up drama, with an amplified degree of sex and graphic violence. However, some of the better episodes of WHO's third season manage to be more adult than anything served up in TORCHWOOD, for all its ostentatious bed-hopping and gore. With any luck, TORCHWOOD's success will embolden its writers to take more chances in its sophomore season and allow that program to grow into an even worthier companion show to main-track WHO.

That TORCHWOOD is sold separately makes perfect sense, but the line dividing what is included for your box set purchase and what is excluded has been drawn in a fairly stingy fashion. British TV shows, as noted above, produce far fewer total episodes per season than their US counterparts, but somehow end up on DVDs priced far higher. The ratio of dollar-to-entertainment-minute is quite disproportionate compared to, say, a box of HEROES. The 13 regular episodes and the Christmas special are all attended by commentary tracks, which range from the pleasingly vacuous to the downright insightful, depending on the participants (star David Tennant is as much a fanboy as anyone in the audience). Video diaries from the stars, outtakes, and extended scenes are scattered across the discs somewhat randomly.

The 6th disc collects a series of making-of documentaries that originally aired on the BBC as a weekly companion show to DOCTOR WHO, called DOCTOR WHO CONFIDENTIAL. Although these are among the most genuinely enjoyable making-of featurettes you may run across in your DVD travels, the fact remains that they aired as half-hour programs but are here shown in their 15-minute "cutdown" form. Back in Christmas 2006, there was a live concert of DOCTOR WHO music set to clips from the show, staged in Cardiff as a benefit for needy children. The music from that concert was webcast only for UK-based listeners and American fans must content themselves here with a bonus CONFIDENTIAL installment about the concert—well-made, but again a choice to exclude bonus material that could have been included. UK fans also have access to a spin-off called TOTALLY DOCTOR WHO, a sort of CONFIDENTIAL for the youngest viewers. That it has been left off the DVD is no great loss, save for the serialized animated cartoon that was shown, using the voice talents of David Tennant and Freema Agyeman along with guest villain Anthony Stuart Head. The total running time of the 'Infinite Quest" cartoons tops out no more than 45m, and could easily have found a home on the box set if the decision had not been made to relegate them to their own stand-alone release, on an overpriced disc currently available only in Region 2.

Griping aside, the DVD box set does include the most important extra, the full-length "Easter egg" from "Blink," arguably the best hour of DOCTOR WHO's entire storied history. With triumphs like these, the growing legion of Whovians will certainly find this package worth its hefty price tag, and the source of many happy evenings in front of the telly.


DOCTOR WHO: THE COMPLETE THIRD SERIES

2007, BBC Video/2-Entertain

DD-5.1 & 2.0/16:9/LB/ST/+,

$99.99, 108m 26s, DVD-1


Caption: The Doctor in his tenth, current and most popular incarnation: David Tennant, seen here with Season assistant Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) outside the TARDIS.

Caption: The Doctor suffered through a chaste romance with assistant Rose (Billie Piper) in David Tennant's first two seasons, and her memory haunts the third.

Caption: Catherine Tate had such good chemistry with the Doctor in the 2006 Christmas special "The Runaway Bride," her character Donna Noble was brought back as his assistant for the current fourth season.

Caption: Introducing Eric Loren as the Dalek Mutant Sec in "Evolution of the Daleks."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Kalat, David (May 2008). Doctor Who, the complete third series. Video Watchdog p. 34.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Kalat, David. "Doctor Who, the complete third series." Video Watchdog [add city] May 2008, 34. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Kalat, David. "Doctor Who, the complete third series." Video Watchdog, edition, sec., May 2008
  • Turabian: Kalat, David. "Doctor Who, the complete third series." Video Watchdog, May 2008, section, 34 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who, the complete third series | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who,_the_complete_third_series | work=Video Watchdog | pages=34 | date=May 2008 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Doctor Who, the complete third series | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Doctor_Who,_the_complete_third_series | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=7 February 2023}}</ref>