Doctor Who: The Complete Specials (BBC) – There was a noticeable grumble among Doctor Who fans when Christopher Eccleston left the role after a single season and the Doctor was reborn in the fun-loving, hyper-animated persona of David Tennant. There’s no question that Tennant made the part his own in his four years with the character, just as producer Russell T. Davies brought a whole new energy and sensibility to the iconic series with his 21st century reboot. And with both Tennant and Davies leaving the series, they decided to give the fans something very special by way of farewell and followed the fourth season with five hour-long “specials” (well, four actually, but one of them was broken into two separate parts and comes that way on disc). These shows take what was inherent in this incarnation of the Doctor and finally, fatefully transform the last of the Time Lords from happy-go-lucky time- and space-traveler into a tragic hero on a collision course with destiny and a death foretold.
The adventuresome Planet of the Dead (with Michelle Ryan) and the melancholy The Next Doctor (with David Morrissey) have already appeared separately on DVD and Blu-ray. The rest debut this week, separately or in DVD and Blu-ray box sets. The Waters of Mars, starring Lindsay Duncan as the leader of an Earth colony on Mars, is an invasion thriller that puts the Doctor in the heartbreaking position of putting compassion up against the laws of time and space that he considers immutable. Under the spring-loaded energy and snappy repartee that gives The Doctor his goofy amiability and lighthearted lift, Tennant layers in a note of anguish that is fully brought forth in the two-part The End of Time (titles don’t come more epic than that). And they outdo themselves on The End of Time, which delves into the mystery of the Time Lords (check out Timothy Dalton as narrator and rogue Time Lord), spins an apocalyptic showdown like you’ve never seen (John Simm as the Time Master, a madman with seemingly unlimited power to transform himself into… well, something epic) and ends with a touching farewell tour of the lives the Doctor has touched in his current incarnation before his inevitable transformation. It’s a touching and deserved farewell to one of the finest incarnations of The Doctor. Each of the specials runs just under an hour except for The End of Time, Part Two, which runs over to give the Doctor time to say farewell to everyone.
The BBC pretty much has the supplements covered in their “Doctor Who Confidential” specials they made for each of the programs, plus there’s “Doctor Who at the Proms” and “Doctor Who at Comic-Con” featurettes and a collection of Doctor Who station IDs for the Christmas season. David Tennant and director Euros Lyn team up for commentary on “The End of Time” (joined by Catherine Tate on Pt 1 and John Simm on Pt. 2), producer Russell T. Davies introduces a collection of deleted scenes and David Tennant presents his video diary of his last days as the Doctor. Five discs in a fold-out digipak on DVD and Blu-ray.
I had to check out She-Wolf of London: The Complete Series (Universal) based on the title alone. I’d never heard of it and only after a little research discovered that it was a syndicated show from 1990 created by Tom McLaughlin and Mick Garris and shot in Britain. And yes, there is a female werewolf at the center of the show: American graduate student Randi Wallace (Kate Hodge), who makes her entrance with giant glasses and hair tied back, her face buried in thick scientific book, going for that sexy smart girl look and succeeding. She has a touch of nerd and a bit of tomboy and is strong-willed and flirtatious, all of which both enchants and intimidates her favorite professor Ian Matheson (Neil Dickson). Then again, this American girl is named “randy,” which carries a while different meaning on this side of the pond. She gets bitten by a beast on the Moors while doing research on her chosen field, which just happens to involve disproving all forms of superstitious belief and mythical monsters, which she believes can be explained by psychological phenomenon. What a learning experience for both of them!
It’s part Beauty and the Beast and part Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with Randi shifting her studies and Ian joining her in supernatural sleuthing. The late-night sexiness gives way to a more screwball energy and tongue-in-cheek humor but there’s a definite romantic spark and a good balance of monster mash mystery and lighthearted adventure. In one episode, they even embark on a truly terrifying cultural phenomenon: a sci-fi convention dedicated to a cheesy TV series (a lo-fi, tongue-in-cheek parody of Star Trek done up as a cheap Captain Video-style B&W program). The characters moved to Los Angeles for the final six episodes and the show was renamed Love and Curses, but neither change resulted in a second season. Which is too bad, because this is a lot of fun. Their first American episode lands them in a suburban zombie-land that turns out to be a bizarre conspiracy involving a wizard’s curse and a race of ancient trolls (led by Paul Williams) kidnapping humans and ends up with Ian landing a talk show on the supernatural, which hooks them up with even more mysteries to investigate. Note that all of the episodes on this collection sport the Love and Curses credits. My best guess is that the entire show was renamed for the next round of syndicated showings and these episodes were mastered from those versions. 20 episodes on four discs in a digipak, no supplements.
Dying Room Only (Warner Archive) – Author and screenwriter Richard Matheson, whose resume includes Duel, the Night Stalker movies and numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone, was a one-man TV thriller industry when he adapted his own short story into this taut desert mystery. Cloris Leachman is the frantic wife searching for a missing husband under the intimidating gaze of surly diner cook Ross Martin and lazily threatening Ned Beatty, a bad ol’ good ol’ boy with a menace behind his sour grin. Director Philip Leacock strips the entire film down to a forlorn diner/motel on a lonely highway in the middle of nowhere. It’s a terrifying place to be alone when the sun goes down and the only people around are suspects in your husband’s disappearance. Debuts on the Warner Archive.
Also new this week: the British mystery sets The Inspector Lewis Complete Set (WGBH), featuring 11 mysteries on eight discs, A Mind to Kill: Series 1 (Acorn) with Philip Madoc, plus more American seasons of classic shows, including Beverly Hills 90210: The Ninth Season (Paramount), Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Eleventh Season (Universal) and Mister Ed: The Complete Second Season (Shout! Factory).