Videophiled: ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ – The Birth of Doctor Who

An Adventure in Space and Time (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) is a TV movie made for the BBC but it is a movie nonetheless, a bit of pop culture celebration that takes on the creation of Doctor Who in 1963 (just in time for the 50th Anniversary!). Scripted by veteran Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss and produced by current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, it’s sweet, it’s sentimental and it’s nostalgic. It’s also unexpectedly engaging as a piece of light historical drama made with an affectionate passion and more than a hint of the BBC series The Hour in its observations of the inner workings of the broadcaster half a century ago.

David Bradley plays William Hartnell, the aging veteran actor who reluctantly takes on the role in what he sees as just a kid’s show, and Jessica Raine is Verity Lambert, the former production assistant given the assignment of creating a prime time family show by her mentor (Brian Cox), now a ranking executive at the Beeb. She’s the first female producer at BBC and her director, Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), was a rare director of Indian descent, and their stories are a small but important part of this portrait of an institution in transition. Together they overcome budgetary limitations with flights of fantasy and creative special effects and the show recreates iconic events in the first four years of the series, from the series debut getting clobbered when it had the unfortunate luck of showing the night (British time) of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the first appearance of the Daleks to the explosion of Who-mania in Britain.

The Hartnell we’re presented here is a prickly old man who isn’t always easy to deal with but brings a warmth to the role of The Doctor. Bradley has played his share of grumpy old men, notably the caretaker Filch in the “Harry Potter” films, but he’s quite touching here as the frail veteran who, in the last years of his long career, becomes a pop culture sensation. It’s a late reward that takes its toll—he’s old, losing his memory, and exhausted by the demands of the role—and he offers a poignant performance.

For fans of the show, it’s a loving recreation of the original series art design and special effects along with key moments and characters of the show, but it’s more than simply an extended exercise in insider fandom. If all you know is the current incarnation, this is an entertaining, informative, and rather moving introduction to the birth of the phenomenon.

The Blu-ray+DVD Combo includes a featurette, deleted scenes, recreations of original Who scenes using original Marconi camera, and a bonus DVD featuring the first Doctor Who adventure, “An Unearthly Child,” starring William Hartnett at the Doctor and directed by Waris Hussein.

More New Releases at Cinephiled

TV on Disc: Pond-hopping with ‘Doctor Who’

Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part One” (BBC) – The 21st century BBC “Doctor Who” revival has turned into one of the network’s most popular exports. With only a few new episodes every year, the demand is great enough for BBC to release the season in sections.

So while we await the seventh series to conclude on BBC / BBC America, the five episodes of the first half of the season arrive on disc for those who simply can’t wait for the full season release next year.

This round opens with The Doctor (Matt Smith) arriving to find the Ponds, Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), on the verge of divorce and kidnapped by the Daleks, a situation that spurs a fairly quick reconciliation in the name of survival. So once again the only married couple to accompany The Doctor hops into the TARDIS for another round of adventures that take them to the planet of the mad Daleks, the crippled freighter of an interstellar poacher (an episode with not one but two regulars from the “Harry Potter” series), a 19th century frontier town in the American west under threat from an alien gunman, a “slow invasion” by alien cubes, and a return visit from the “Weeping Angel” statues as they move on Manhattan.

It’s also the farewell run of the Ponds on “Doctor Who,” who make a poignant and profound exit. A new companion is slated to join him when the series returns in 2013. And you just may get a clue as to who that will be in this round.

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TV on DVD: ‘Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two’

The Doctor Faces Fate

Doctor Who: Series Six, Part Two (BBC) completes the strange and amazing story of River Song (Alex Kingston), whose identity and past is finally revealed at the close of “Series Six, Part One,” and brings the Doctor back to the shocking event that opened the season: the death of the Doctor. In the American desert, no less.

The series has been, episodic hiccups aside, uniformly good ever since the reboot with Christopher Eccleston in 2005, but it has been especially clever and playfully plotted since Steven Moffat took over as producer and the Doctor was reborn in the form of Matt Smith and his cartoonish presence in Season Five. The second half of the sixth season opens with The Doctor and his companions, Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill), colliding with Hitler. It’s not quite as epic as the opening episodes, though they have their role to play in this storyline, and it delivers the usual mix of monsters, aliens and time-travel complications.

And it gets a little serious too, not something we’re used to with Smith’s rubbery Doctor, a guy who bounces all over the screen and the scripts with childlike enthusiasm. Because even the Doctor can’t outrun his destiny. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t got something up his sleeve. Oh yeah, there’s a wedding too, and you’ll never guess whose.

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Christmas in February, Doctor Who Style

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol” (BBC)

Doctor Who rewrites Dickens

It’s Christmas in February!

For the 2010 “Doctor Who” Christmas Special, series producer Steven Moffat scripts a Doctor Who version of “A Christmas Carol,” which means he rewrites Dickens with a wicked ingenuity. This Scrooge (played by Michael Gambon, Harry Potter’s Dumbledore) is a rich despot who controls the weather of a planet where man-eating fish swim the ice clouds above and the Doctor races against time (while he travels back and forth through it) as the Ghost of Christmas past, rewriting his history to melt his heart and save an interstellar passenger liner from crash landing. Mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins plays the love of his life and sings to the sharks and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill (as companions Amy Pond and Rory Williams) bop and out of the story.

Continue reading at MSN Videodrone

TV on DVD 11/16/10 – A New Doctor, A New Season of Lies and Old Carson

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (BBC) – After four series manning the extraordinarily successful revival of the most beloved time- and space-traveling hero on British television, Russell T. Davies passed the TARDIS off to the prolific and creative Steven Moffat to carry on the tradition. He does the show with a colorful season of adventures, an ingenious storyline that follows a crack in the universe from the season premiere through the entire 13-episode run (and the end and rebirth of the universe) and Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor.

A new universe of possibilities for the Eleventh Doctor

Smith’s boyish energy and animated face (seriously, he looks like a clay animation character) channels all we’ve come to love in the last of the Time Lords. Red-headed spark plug Karen Gillan gets an even more active role than usual as his companion and Arthur Darvill clicks as her devoted boyfriend, as much a hero in the quantum adventure as the Doctor himself, while Alex Kingston back as River Song, a fellow time-traveler and eternal prisoner seeking amnesty by helping the Doctor save the universe time and again. We also get the Daleks, the Cybermen, Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice), a guest cast that includes Sophie Okonedo, Bill Paterson and Toby Jones, and the mysterious Pandorica, a myth that becomes real by the end of the series.

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DVD of the Week – ‘WALL•E’ – November 18, 2008

An animated robot love story with an environmental theme and a slapstick delivery, WALL•E is a charmer of a film and a delightful piece of storytelling. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) with the animation wizards at Pixar, it takes on the challenge of delivering an animated feature that is predominantly wordless (and even some of those used are closer to sound effects than dialogue) and succeeds with both creative humor and visual grace.

walle.jpgWALL•E is a little mobile trash compactor who putters around a junked and abandoned Earth, sharing his days with a skittering cockroach and finding his pleasures in the little treasures he scavenges from his loads.

The nervous little guy has evolved a personality over the centuries, which makes his isolation all the more poignant as he pines for someone (something?) to hold hands (or whatever you call his clamp-like digits) with. And so he falls in love with a sleek, specimen-gathering pod named Eve and follows her back to her ship, becoming one of those unlikely heroes whose pluck and perseverance overcome impossible odds.

With its long, wordless scenes and mix of slapstick gags and delicate mechanical dances, it doesn’t look or feel like your usual animated feature by Pixar or anyone else, at least until WALL•E finds himself with the physically inert future of the human race. It’s almost like two movies cut together, one with the robots and a somewhat more obvious and less magical one with the fat and complacent mankind willingly bound to a luxury liner spaceship.

The mechanical heroes are more expressive and more engaging than the tubby humans, solely through the mechanics of robot eyes and body language and a symphony of beeps and whistles. If it reminds you of a certain little iconic robot from a hit space opera epic, it’s no coincidence. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt not only does the audio honors here, he’s credited as the voice of WALL•E.

Adults will pick up on a social satire in the portrait of a sedentary population lulled to distraction by a non-stop stream of media signals and small talk while the kids won’t miss the message of ecological responsibility, but the bright gags and childlike expressions of robot affection are so joyous that you can be completely charmed without even noticing the themes.

The DVD release includes two bonus animated shorts – the hilarious Presto (a daffy battle of wits between a stage magician and the rabbit which played before the film in theaters) and the new BURN*E (which takes place in the margins of  WALL•E’s odyssey) – but if you want to want to learn why Pixar creates such magic, explore the supplements: the commentary by director Andrew Staunton, the superb “Animation Sound Design: Building Worlds from The Sound Up” (a journey through the technical wizardry and artistic creativity behind the magnificent sound design hosted by Oscar winner Ben Burtt) and the deleted scenes with Staunton explaining the hows and whys. There’s much more on the “Special Edition” releases…

Read the rest of it at my DVD column on MSN here.

Also new and notable this week: The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus Collector’s Edition. And now for something completely different: all 45 episodes of the perhaps the most influential, and almost certainly the funniest, sketch comedy show in the history of TV. A bearded and bedraggled Michael Palin croaks the famous “It’s…,” the “Liberty Bell March” chimes in with the theme song, and for thirty minutes five overeducated British comics (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) and an American illustrator (Terry Gilliam) deliver the strangest, most absurd collection of skits to ever emanate from a TV tube. Monty Python rewrote the rules of television comedy and provided some of the most loved comic bits of all time: the Dead Parrot sketch, the Funniest Joke in the World, Nudge Nudge, the classic sing-a-long The Lumberjack Song, The Spanish Inquisition, Argument Clinic, The Cheese Shop, Olympic Hide and Seek Final, and the ever-popular Robin Hood-turned social economist Dennis Moore (“This redistribution of the wealth is trickier than I thought”).

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