DVDs For Those New to (Doctor) Who

Chicago nerds Blog Post(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment, who graciously provided complimentary review copies of several stories listed below). It’s a classic question that many Doctor Who fans have, especially with the new season starting on March 30th: where do I start with the classic series? With so many great stories on DVD, I usually encourage anyone (as organizer of the Chicago Doctor Who Meetup group to look up the Wikipedia episode guide and seek out stories that they think they might like on DVD. Fir those completely new to Who, this is a kind of “expert’s guide” to pointing out some good starter stories whether you come from watching the new series….or are just plain new to the show in general. For a basic overview and intro, I would suggest checking out More than 30 Years in the TARDIS, the 1993 documentary included on disc 3 of the recent Shada DVD release. It provides a great insight into classic series Who, done in a very unique and creative way. It also demonstrates why the show has a great cultural presence in England….and why so many contemporary fans enjoy it along with the new series. Much of current new Who takes its tone from both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton’s time in the role. For new fans, recommending The Aztecs – Special Edition might seem a bit unusual (it is a “pure historical”), but the recent rerelease not only looks magnificent (having been remastered), but also includes a reconstruction of Galaxy Four that includes a recently rediscovered episode. (For insight into the earliest Doctor Who episodes, seek out In the Beginning, and definitely watch episode 1 of An Unearthly Child). Since Matt Smith (the current Doctor) has cited Troughton’s influence, new fans definitely should watch Tomb of the Cybermen, a story that – surprisingly - still holds up after 45 years. (One note – many admirers of the classic series recommend watching fan-created reconstructions of missing episodes. Might we suggest seeking out the recent releases of The Reign of Terror and The Invasion, with animated reconstructions of missing episodes. These are much easier views, and quite honestly, they’re pretty good stories to boot). For those seeking a little bit of the timey-wimey, newer fans might want to watch two Jon Pertwee stories – Inferno (introducing the concept of parallel worlds to Who, and which will soon undergo the “Special Edition” treatment) and Day of the Daleks – Special Edition (with both the original televised story and a revamped version with improved special effects). In looking at how the classic series has influenced the new series, Pertwee’s debut Spearhead from Space (already available as a Special Edition, and coming to Blu-Ray in July) contains many future Easter eggs, from the Autons (featured in 2005′s Rose, which kicked off the new series) to the Doctor stealing clothes in a hospital (or “what Matt Smith did in The Eleventh Hour). Some people think of David Tennant as “the Tom Baker of the new series”, but I like to think of Tom Baker as “the David Tennant of classic Who.” Although any Baker stories produced by Peter Hinchcliffe and script edited by Robert Holmes are worth viewing, The Ark in Space – Special Edition (to be released on March 30th) is a great story. Genesis of the Daleks reveals the origins of the Doctor’s deadliest enemy, and reverberates throughout much of the new series. And for those who enjoy Victorian literature, Sherlock Holmes, and/or steampunk, you definitely want to check out The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Doctor Who reached the height of its popularity in the early 1980s, and the 20th anniversary episode The Five Doctors had its premiere in Chicago on WTTW, and is the best multi-Doctor story made. In addition, 1980s Who has some really good highlights, including the action-packed Earthshock and Caves of Androzani, the satirical Vengeance on Varos, Remembrance of the Daleks (which not only  links back to early Who, but you can see a lot of Sylvester McCoy’s performances influencing Matt Smith), and Survival. (There’s also Doctor Who – The Movie, the only televised Who produced in the 1990s, and which is a great link between the end of the classic series in 1989 and the 2005 revival) Many Who fans have different opinions on what is “essential” Who….especially for newer fans. I try to maintain a regularly updated “Do-It-Yourself Doctor Who DIY DVD guide” on my blog – please visit this blog post for details. But in many ways, the great thing about introducing Doctor Who to newer fans is that there’s no “right way” – in fact, the journey is more fun than the destination. Especially where the TARDIS is involved.

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