DOCTOR WHO: The 50th Anniversary Box Set Review

.
Tony Fyler looks back a year to the anniversary box set.


Point 1: If you haven’t already bought Name, Day and Time of the Doctor on individual DVDs or blu-rays, you should buy the 50th anniversary box set.

Point 2: If you have already bought Name, Day and Time of the Doctor on individual DVDs or blu-rays, you should buy the 50th anniversary box set.

Question: Is the 50th anniversary box set, then, perfect?

Answer: Erm…well, kinda, yeah.

Facing facts, if you you’re a Whovian (or a Dweek, we don’t judge here at WF), you’re likely to have that little itch of compulsion in the back of your brain that yearns for a sense of completion. Many of you will have bookshelves full of DVDs and blu-rays. If you’re even a little like this, you need this box set – not because of the stories, though of course, there’s that too, but the fact is if you’re a Whovian or a Dweek, you probably do already own the stories. But that little fandom-worm at the back of your brain also probably realises that 2013 was a bumper year for Who, because of all the build-up to the anniversary itself, much of which has not been made available to buy.

It has now.


That’s the real point of buying this box set – never mind the stories, feel the extras.

Because ohhh, the extras.

Of course, we know the additions that were shown or released in the build-up to last year’s anniversary special came in two varieties. There were the extras for the complete novices, the people who knew Doctor Who existed but didn’t really care, and just wanted to be able to carry off the obligatory Who-flavoured watercooler conversation. And then there were the extras for the Whovians and Dweeks, the ones in the know.

You and me.

So if some of the extras will be ‘Janet and John’ bits and pieces, why buy the box set?

Because the extras that are meant for us are of such a ridiculous quality as to be worth buying on a double-disc all on their own, that’s why. They are golden, with brightly-buffed diamonds surprising in the midst.

Let’s just do a run-through, shall we?


Disc 1’s alleged main attraction is The Name of the Doctor where there’s some fun to be had with Richard E Grant, Strax and the Scotsman, and that ‘permission to squee’ moment when John Hurt turns round. There’s the usual Behind the Scenes mini-doc, and there’s Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide – Janet and Johning, to be sure, but rather a better summary than that makes it sound. It’s thorough, covering the watercooler basics and then, to be fair, a good bit more. There’s no real substitute for actual fan-knowledge, but if you wanted to blag it in the anniversary year, The Ultimate Guide probably gives you enough to do it. But there, sitting in pride of place on Disc 1, is seven minutes of pure, McGann-flavoured joy. Night of the Doctor was so much more than a gimmick – it was a genuine surprise, a punch-the-air bringing together of audio canon and televisual canon, and a perfect anniversary gift to fandom: the regeneration it was absolutely right that they didn’t faff about showing in 2005, but that ever since had been nagging at the hearts of Whovians everywhere – the Eighth Doctor’s end was now sealed into canon, and in a way that no-one prior to Name of the Doctor had expected. Yes, you can get it on Youtube, and yes, you can download it all you like, but there’s something distinctly satisfying about having the officially released version of Night of the Doctor on your shelf, able to be relived any time you like.


Disc 2 is rather more of a technician’s goodie-bag. First of all, there’s the generally richer fare that is The Day of the Doctor – three active Doctors, nine clip-based cameos, a gorgeous return for Tom Baker and the scariest eyebrows in the world, uniting to ensure that Gallifrey stands. And that the Zygons fizzle out about halfway through, but hey, that’s a minor quibble.

This disc also delivers both trailers for the 50th anniversary story – the action-packed one with real footage in, and that demented, how-the-hell-long-did-that-take, freeze-frame obsessionfest with all the items from Who stories past and present embedded in it somewhere. Just a hint – buying the blu-ray version allows you to spot more of them than ever before. And, while we’re about it, both cinema trails – the hilarious Strax one, and the one with the Doctors. Maybe this is just me, but when I watched those in the cinema, they tempered my joy just a little, because I thought ‘Bet they’re not on the released version’ – and indeed they weren’t. But they are here. There are two reasonably full Behind The Scenes docs here – including one covering the process of getting the story from script to screen. There’s the ‘other’ pre-anniversary minisode too – The Last Day – showing the first Daleks invade Arcadia. That’s a slightly odd affair, interesting, but turning the mood very dark indeed after Night of the Doctor. And as if that wasn’t enough on one disc, there’s also Tales From The Tardis, a more Doctor-centric look at the show’s history, with interview footage from all the living Classic Doctors, which is better than basic, and worth watching as a real fan of the show. What’s perhaps oddly missing is the ‘They haven’t drawn breath since Richmond’ deleted scene that was released to the world shortly after the anniversary special aired. No explanation – just an odd gap where the compulsive completest demands the scene should be.


Disc 3 is all about Matt Smith’s explosive swansong, The Time of the Doctor, with the by-now de rigeur Behind The Scenes doc, and with the released deleted scene – naked hugging! – intact and included. There’s a somewhat over-extended Farewell To Matt Smith documentary that is probably enough to make even non-Smith fans nod in appreciation of the young man who landed the unlikeliest part on television and cracked America right open with it. And then, as another oddity on this disc, there’s a hark-back to the anniversary warm-up with A Night With The Stars: The Science of Doctor Who, that slightly off-tone lecture by Professor Brian Cox about the so-called science behind the show’s central tenets. Alright for a one-time watch, maybe, but hardly a must-watch extra.


Then there’s Disc 4. Disc 4 in Doctor Who terms is an extra, with extras of its own. The hero of Disc 4 is the definitive love story to the programme’s origins – An Adventure In Space and Time, with David Bradley as William Hartnell and as the First Doctor. If Night of the Doctor was seven minutes of air-punching, An Adventure In Time And Space is 83 minutes worth of the same feeling, with extra sobbing, and wowing and thinking ‘This is what I’m part of,’ enough to work like a really good coffee after the rich dessert of The Day of the Doctor. It makes you feel centred, and replete, and as though you’re connected with something beautiful and in its own small way, quite special.

The Making Of and Behind The Scenes docs on this disc have an extra poignancy, seeing and hearing the likes of Carol Ann Ford and William Russell, talking about the show in its early years. The isolated reconstructions are beautifully, indulgently done and included simply because they could be, and the rather brief but very heartfelt tribute doc, William Hartnell: The Original gives, if not new information on the man, at least a new look at him through some recently discovered footage taken as he prepared for pantomime, in the immediate wake of finishing his time on Doctor Who.

Title sequences for An Unearthly Child and An Adventure in Time and Space are vaguely shrugworthy but good for the completest itch, and the 2013 Doctor Who Proms is a thoughtful ‘When-Will-We-Get-Another-Chance-To-Add-This-In?’ addition.


But there, just as Night of the Doctor was nestled, if you fight your way through several layers of extras you find The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, a hilarious Whovian treat, from the brain of Peter Davison, with Davison, Baker (C) and McCoy, and occasionally with nods from McGann, romping their way through their own stereotypical Whoniverses in a desperate bid to be part of the 50th anniversary special, ‘for the fans’ obviously. Sublime. Just sublime.

The 50th anniversary box set has at least almost everything you could wish for in a celebration of 2013 as the year of Who. We’re a whole year on now, and however much you enjoyed the Twelfth Doctor’s first season, this box set has memories of the year when the Doctor was everywhere. Golden, and black and white, and utterly new and just the same as it’s always been. So pick up this box set, and relive the golden times when the world went Whovian. Relive The Year of the Doctor.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk
Warped Factor
Daily features, news and reviews from the world of geek!