To everything, there is a season. For Doctor Who’s original run, between 1963 and 1989, there were 26 of them. Since the series came back in 2005, however, they’ve taken on a new numbering system, so now we have ‘series’ instead (in order to avoid confusion for casual viewers, no doubt, who’d be tuning in to see Christopher Eccleston appear in a brand new show which somehow starts at Season 27).
The latest run – Series 12 of ‘nu-Who’ – finished in March, and it proved to be one of the most divisive since, well, the last one which proved to kick up a fuss amongst devotees of the programme. Having spent his first year in charge doing a series of standalone adventures to re-establish the basic concept of the show and act as a jumping-on point for any new or infrequent viewers, showrunner Chris Chibnall took the opportunity this time round to delve much deeper into the show’s mythology, and put the ‘Who’ firmly back in the show’s title.
How much of a difference this makes to Joe Public remains to be seen, as the basic concept of the show – an alien with two hearts, who travels through time and space in something that looks like a 1960s Police Box – remains intact, and for them, that’s probably all that matters. For fans, however, it was as big – and controversial – a shake-up as they would have seen in more than 40 years. In fact, the last time there was such a contentious take on the programme’s continuity and backstory would have been in Season 14, which has just been released on Blu-ray.
The BBC’s reissuing of ‘classic’ Who as complete seasons – under the title Doctor Who: The Collection – hasn’t been without some issues, with everything from individual discs needing to be replaced due to authoring errors, to release dates slipping, as well as some of these limited edition sets being harder to get hold of than hen’s teeth. Season 14 is a case in point, which was put back around a month, and has proved to be increasingly difficult to actually purchase, due to pandemic-related production issues causing shortages, and pre-orders being cancelled by some retailers.
More by accident than design, both Season 14 and Series 12 sets ended up being released on the same day, and the two are a marked and fascinating contrast with each other. The Season 14 set was heralded with a lot of fanfare and hoopla, including a specially-shot trailer; as it was asking fans to double-dip (or treble-dip, or even quadruple if you include releases on VHS) for material they already own, the Season 14 Blu-ray not only included all the original DVD extras, but also an entirely new and exclusive specially-commissioned set of value added material.
It’s a nice incentive for you to part with your moolah for the umpteenth time, and it gives you – amongst so many other things – a version of one tale with entirely new CGI effects, and another with a new 5.1 surround soundtrack. All things considered, it’s pretty good for a set of episodes from a TV programme dating back more than four decades. Compared to most other shows, fans of Doctor Who have been pretty spoiled when it comes to the sheer quality of home media releases for the programme’s original 26-year run; it’s why the paucity of extras for the revival’s DVDs and Blu-rays has been such a consistent disappointment.
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Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series sadly fails to buck the trend, and shows the sort of ‘that’ll do’ attitude which feels as though has crept into some aspects of the show’s production. There’s a ‘bare minimum’ approach to the extras which comes across as though they’re put on there solely out of a sense of obligation, rather than any desire to actually deliver a quality product. Of course, you could argue that as a share of the target market for these releases will be casual viewers rather than hardcore fans, why would they want to know about all the minutiae of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ happenings?
Well, such a view actually takes little to no account of the average audience member’s interest in those sorts of things, bearing in mind that the DVD releases of ‘classic’ Who had an unequalled range and breadth of extras, which were put together in such a way that they were readily digestible and easily accessible for viewers from all across the spectrum; it meant there wasn’t anything too arcane for non-fans, but was still enough to bring something new and of interest to the aficionados. It’s an approach which unfortunately hasn’t been continued by the ‘nu-Who’ discs.
It’s not quite as bad as the very early days of DVDs, when it was genuinely thought that ‘animated menu’ could qualify as a special feature. However, the sheer blandness of most of the extras here feels like the sort of anodyne, low-effort features which would be stuck onto Hollywood blockbuster DVDs, taken directly from promotional electronic press kits, with little thought or effort. A case in point here happens to be the inaccurately-named ‘Closer Looks’, which run to an average of about five minutes apiece – their definition of a close look at something seems to differ greatly from most other people’s.
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What would perhaps be most helpful would be some pieces about the bits of the show’s history which are brought up in some of the Series 12 episodes, for the benefit of those not as well-versed in the 56 years’ worth of backstory. Seeing as how this year essentially tore up everything we thought we knew about the Doctor, it would have been nice to have something to explain why this was significant, just what it changed about our understanding of the character, and the way it linked back to what we’d learnt about the Doctor in the past.
It’s disappointing that there seems to be a reluctance on the part of the team behind the new series DVDs and Blu-rays to even acknowledge there was actually a show before 2005 – the closest you get to this is a brief glimpse (in a photo, not even a clip) of the Daleks’ very first appearance in 1963, but it’s soon skimmed over. Conversely, the ‘classic’ series DVD and Blu-ray releases have gone out of their way to link into the revived show, including clips of the newer episodes, and having David Tennant host featurettes.
With people often claiming physical media is dying, you’d hope that more efforts would be taken to try and provide people with something worthwhile, as that extra incentive to go out and buy a boxed set, by providing something you can’t get on streaming services. Other than a repeat of all the extras which were included on the standalone release of last year’s special, ‘Resolution’ (which shouldn’t have been in this boxed set, but Doctor Who fans really know how to use pester power), there’s also the previously mentioned ‘Closer Looks’ at each episode of Series 12, which are over before they’ve really started.
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There’s also three episode commentaries – Parts One and Two of series opener ‘Spyfall’ (with Jodie Whittaker, Tosin Cole, guest star Sylvie Briggs, and Chris Chibnall), as well as ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror’ (with Mandip Gill, guest star Anjli Mohindra, and writer Nina Vetivier). All of these are enormous fun, and you do get a sense of how much the regulars enjoy working on the series, along with the obvious rapport they have. However, you’d have hoped some of the most significant episodes – like ‘Fugitive Of The Judoon’ and ‘The Timeless Children’ – would have received similar treatment, as they’d have benefitted the most.
Whereas Season 14 feels like a well-prepared meal, made with all the finest ingredients, Series 12 in comparison feels like junk food, full of just empty carbs, plus a sugar rush which gives you a temporary buzz, but soon wears off. It’s telling that two simultaneous releases from different eras of the show have such a chasm between them, not just in terms of the quality of the episodes themselves, but the contents of the sets too. There’s no value added material on here which makes Series 12 an essential buy, so unless you’re getting it for completism only, you might be better just enjoying the episodes on BBC iPlayer instead.