Regeneration Then & Now – DOCTOR WHO: TIME OF THE DOCTOR/TENTH PLANET

Doctor Who: Time of the Doctor

]1 Courtesy BBC Home Entertainment

(Special Thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing complimentary DVDs for review)

One of the more creative concepts within the Doctor Who universe is the concept of regeneration: the Doctor’s ability to change his appearance and personality when his body “wears a bit thin”. Thankfully, two recent DVD releases from BBC Home Entertainment provide some excellent bookends for this concept.

Coming on March 4th is the recent Christmas special Time of the Doctor (also available on Blu-Ray), which concludes Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor and introduces Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. (Yes, we know about the whole Day of the Doctor issue….it’s handled with some thought in the episode). Finding himself on Trenzalore (which, as we know from past episodes, is where the Doctor is fated to make his last stand), the Doctor takes on a variety of enemies (including a wooden Cyberman) to protect the small town of Christmas.

Matt Smith in TIME OF THE DOCTOR

]2 Courtesy BBC Home Entertaiment

Time of the Doctor admittedly, is a bit of a mixed bag – yes, it’s a Christmas episode, but the story is of varying quality. The first half of the story is a bit terse, with an ill-conceived comedy moment followed by needless exposition and info-dumping. (Mr. Moffatt should have requested an additional 15 – 20 minutes to help pad out the plot, since the first half of Time feels more like items being checked off than a full-on story). But the last 20 minutes are spellbinding as we not only learn how the Doctor gets around the long-held convention of “so many regenerations”, but Smith manages to pull off a bravura performance, and at the end, when Capaldi comes, we find ourselves….well, I think Mr. Smith may have had one season too few, and Time allows him to have something of a great send-off. Extras on the DVD/Blu-Ray include a behind-the-scenes featurette; the documentary Tales from the TARDIS, and the excellent Farewell to Matt Smith

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet

]3 Courtesy BBC Home Entertainment

As part of last year’s 50th anniversary celebrations, BBC Home Entertainment released The Tenth Planet, the story that introduced the concept of regeneration, on DVD. In many ways, the story is important historically – it is the final story to feature William Hartnell; it was the first story to feature the Cybermen (who would become the second most recognized Doctor Who monster apart from the Daleks), and it featured an end-of-story change from Hartnell to the Second Doctor, portrayed by Patrick Troughton.

However, in many ways The Tenth Planet DVD is for completists only – since episode four is missing, presumed wiped, the DVD contains an animated reconstruction of Episode 4. (There’s also a pictures-and-film-clip reconstruction – taken from the original VHS release – included as an extra). This was also a story which saw Hartnell being hastily written out of one episode due to illness, and reads as a rough draft to the later “base under siege”-style tales of the Second Doctor. It’s also, sadly, one of the more dated episodes, and suffers from clunky writing, bad acting, and really doesn’t charge up until the last ten minutes….

Tenth Planet Cyberman

]4 Courtesy BBC Home Entertainment

….but those ten minutes, using nothing more than a vision mixer, changed the history of Doctor Who. And the extra features are worth it for the completist, including a rarely-seen interview with a post-Who William Hartnell; some great featurettes about gender roles and social impact of Who; and great episode commentary.

Both The Tenth Planet and Time of the Doctor demonstrate the creative flexibility of Doctor Who, integrating and building on its past mythology to move forward. Both Time of the Doctor and The Tenth Planet are available the BBC America Shop, as well as various other outlets. Despite its flaws, Time of the Doctor is a must-own, and The Tenth Planet is for completists only.

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