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Dr. WhoDoctor Who – the Complete Second Series on DVD

When the BBC revived Doctor Who they had big shoes to fill. The longest-running sci-fi series in TV history had outlasted eight actors in the title role, and even more "companions", and there was also a huge built-in audience for the show around the world, an audience that wouldn't accept a "half-butted" effort or a cheap money making scheme.

Fortunately, fans needn't have worried. Season One, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, was great. It brought back to life all that was wonderful about the series, but with updated production values that made what had always been a series grand in scope but short on budget (or so it appeared) into a grand series in every way. Such is the benefit that digital special effects can have on a production today.

Unfortunately, Eccleston went back to Gallifrey, or somewhere, after only one season in the TARDIS, leaving the door open for David Tennant. Can he pilot the TARDIS to success and credibility?

You bet! If anything, season two is even better than the first, so Who fans (Doctor, not band) can get this six disc boxed set without worry. Yes, indeed, there's a new "Tennant" in the TARDIS, and he feels right at home.

The same old feel is there, the same kind of BIG stories that made up the Doctor's franchise over forty years – and the updated production values (including widescreen and Dolby Surround) ensure that today's audience, dazzled by CG effects from all sides, will find a comfortable home in the Doctor's universe.

Tennant brings a lot of energy to the role, and a surprising amount of tenderness. Over the course of the season, we even see some shades of romance, of the bond of love that has always existed between the Time Lord and his ladies but which has never really been talked about.

And it's great to see that Rose is back (for now, anyway), one of the Doctor's spunkiest and, dare we say, sexiest companions. As portrayed by Billie Piper, she brings a sense of modern day human society to the series, helping to keep the audience anchored in "reality" as the series explores the most outrageous stories and locations.

But it's the stories that make the Doctor who and what he is, and this season is full of grand adventures. From the opening Christmas Invasion to the awesome season ender, in which we say goodbye forever to Rose (though is there ever a forever in the Doctor's universe?) there isn't a bad episode here. Villains range from alien bullies to the Cybermen of old (well, Cybermen, anyway), to cat-nurses and old Satan himself.

There's surprising darkness now, too, from the Doctor (who's now inclined to give an adversary one warning before doing whatever's necessary – including killing him/her/it/they – to ensure the good guys' victory, and to other characters who are now more prone to shooting than talking. Perhaps this reflects the reality of today's world, or maybe it's just a new maturity to the characters and stories. For example, in "the Christmas Invasion," the Prime Minister orders the aliens' craft blown to smithereens (a planet near Gallifrey) even after they've been defeated – as much to send a message that Earth isn't to be trifled with as to actually off the baddies.

So strap yourself into your home theater and enjoy the ride. It's worth the price of admission.

The DVD's feature outstanding picture quality presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), with Dolby Digital surround audio that'll rock the room. The quality of the presentation helps draw us into the action, and coupled with the production values lets us enjoy and wonder and the worlds created without snickering quietly about how they use bubble wrap for alien infections and other quaint and imaginative solutions they found in years past to tell their grand stories on a TV budget.

And of course there's an abundance of extras, over four hours worth according to the package, including cast/crew commentaries, picture-in-picture commentaries, David Tennant's video diaries and confidential cut-downs.

Noteworthy among these are "Children in Need" a mini-episode that shows us Eccleston's regeneration into Tennant. There's also a good featurette, "Doctor Who Confidential," which lets us look at nearly every aspect of the series, from the Torchwood Institute's introduction to the delicious return of Sarah Jane Smith and K9 (the latter two of whom show up in a terrific episode that manages to make us laugh and cry as the Doctor is forced to confront some consequences of his past incarnations while Sarah Jane and Rose go from suspicious opponents (cat fight, anyone?) to comrades in arms and Sarah finally learns to stop waiting for the Doctor's return and to get on with her life.

Highly recommended.

Doctor Who, the Complete Second Series, from BBC Video
anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital surround
Starring David Tennant, Billie Piper

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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