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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Doctor Who: Season 8 (Blu-ray)
Doctor Who: Season 8 (Blu-ray)
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // December 9, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $99.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted December 15, 2014 | E-mail the Author
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The Series:

When Matt Smith departed from Doctor Who at the end of Series 7, he left some pretty big shoes to fill. During his time in the TARDIS the long running series had soared to new heights of popularity and earned the show legions of new fans. In order to keep the momentum going, those running the show behind the scenes had to make the right choice for his replacement, and they did just that by selecting actor Peter Capaldi to play the role. A longtime fan of the series himself, Capaldi proved to be an excellent casting decision right from the start, bringing to the role a bit more darkness than we'd seen in the years before but still perfectly capable of handling both the dramatic aspects and the humorous aspects of the series as well.

Series 8 ran for twelve episodes and is spread across the four discs in this set as follows (note that for whatever reason BBC America have only supplied test discs for review, so if what's here differs from finished retail product, feel free to send them an angry email).

DISC ONE:

Deep Breath: The Paternoster Gang (that'd be Dan Starkey as Strax, Neve McIntosh as Madama Vastra and Catrin Stewart as her wife Jenny) are unsure what to do about a dinosaur that's arrived in the middle of downtown Victorian-era London. The Doctor arrives to help out with the problem but soon enough it becomes quite clear that he's not quite… right after his latest regeneration. Clara (Jenna Coleman) is still coming to terms with the fact that this ‘new' Doctor is very different from the one she had previously travelled with but she does what she can to help him find his mental footing as he begins to question the merits and worth of what he does and how he does it. When The Doctor and Clara later wind up at a restaurant only to learn that all of the other patrons are actually robots, things get strange. Even stranger still is the presence of a mysterious woman named Missy (Michelle Gomez).

Into The Dalek: The Doctor arrives just in time to save a rebel fighter named Journey Blue (Zawe Ashton) from the Daleks invading her ship but her brother is not so lucky. He returns her to the ship with Clara in tow, upset that he's taken her away just as she was about to go on a date with her new co-worker, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a former soldier now working as a math teacher. To save the day The Doctor must lead a team literally inside a Dalek. They're reduced in size to make this physically possible but what The Doctor learns about his arch-foe makes him question all that he knows about them.

DISC TWO:

Robot Of Sherwood: The Doctor says to Clara that she can choose to go with him anywhere she'd like in the time stream and so she decides to go to Sherwood Forest to meet Robin Hood (Tom Riley), even if The Doctor claims he never existed. They arrive and sure enough, Robin and his band of ‘Merry Men' are there, as is the villainous Sheriff Of Nottingham (Ben Miller), who is trying to repair a spaceship he's found out about. Maybe, just maybe, if The Doctor and Robin Hood can stop squabbling, they might be able to work together to stop him. Note that this episode, like it's UK counterpart, does not contain the decapitation that was in the ‘leaked' version of the episode.

Listen: Clara comes home after a less than perfect date with Danny to find The Doctor awaiting her return. He tells her that he's learned of the existence of a creature that has perfected the art of hiding and that has subsequently been responsible for children's nightmares for centuries. They travel back in time to the nineties where Clara meets Danny as a boy and learn that he has a very strong fear of ‘something' hiding in his room. A bit more time travel sees Clara meet a younger version of The Doctor where he too was terrified of something hiding in his room.

Time Heist: A strange phone call leads The Doctor and Clara to The Bank Of Karabraxos, the most secure facility in all the universe, where someone known only as The Architect is insisting that they rob it on his behalf. The Doctor and Clara team up with two others, Psi (Jonathan Bailey) and Saibra (Pippa Bennett-Warner), but become increasingly concerned once they see the bank's Teller (Ross Mullen) catch a would be robber and turn his brain into ‘soup.' They eventually do get access to the bank's vault but of course, things don't turn out as expected.

The Caretaker: As Clara's relationship with Danny becomes more serious The Doctor goes undercover as the new caretaker at the school where they both teach. There's more to this than just The Doctor snooping around, however, as he's actually trying to track down a machine called a Skovox Blitzer capable of destroying an entire community.

DISC THREE:

Kill The Moon: The Doctor and Clara head to the year 2049 and travel on a space shuttle loaded with nuclear weapons to the Moon. After questioning the woman in charge, Captain Lundvik (Hermione Norris), he learns that they intend to destroy the Moon to stop it from creating a high tide capable of eliminating the human race. When they arrive on the Moon and The Doctor finds that a lot of the colonists who were working/living there have been bound in strange webs, he then discovers some spider monsters there that just might have something to do with all of this.

Mummy On The Orient Express: As Clara prepares to stop travelling with The Doctor to get on with her life outside the TARDIS, she and he go for one last adventure and arrive on a train travelling through deep space called The Orient Express. Here they find that the passengers are being killed off by a creature that only they can see and even then only right before it takes their lives. The computer that runs the train tells The Doctor that he's called him here to deal with this thing, referred to as ‘The Foretold' but described as it if were an Egyptian mummy, and that he has very little time left to do this.

Flatline: The Doctor and Clara arrive in Bristol and realize that somehow the TARDIS has been reduced in size to that of a small box. Clara makes it out and tries to go about fixing this while The Doctor remains stuck inside, too big to leave. Clara befriends a teenaged graffiti writer named Rigsby (Joivan Wade) whose paintings may hold the clue as to what's going on here: something alien is siphoning the TARDIS' energy. It turns out that these creatures can be 2D when they want to be and hide in the different paintings Rigsby and the other writers have made in the tunnels. In order to fix this they'll have to re-power the TARDIS but with The Doctor stuck inside, it's all up to Clara.

In The Forest Of The Night: A girl named Maebh (Abigail Eames) runs through the forest and knocks on the door of The TARDIS. The Doctor lets her in and realizes, after looking out the door, that all of London has become overgrown and is now one massive forest. Meanwhile, Clara and Danny are chaperoning a school trip to the museum. When they too realize what's happening she calls The Doctor and he comes to meet her. It turns out that Maebh is one of their students and when she runs off, The Doctor and Clara leave Danny with the kids while they go off to find her. To sort this out they'll have to figure out what exactly has caused the trees to grow the way they have and how this all ties into Maebh‘s past.

DISC FOUR:

Dark Water: Clara's relationship with Danny is stressed because she's still been off adventuring with The Doctor behind his back. When she goes to tell him the truth, he's fatally struck by a car. Understandably devastated she tries to get The Doctor to go back in time to prevent this from happening. They wind up at a strange body storage facility referred to as 3W where Danny is consoled about his new state and a ‘robot' named Missy reads the facility's information manual to The Doctor. When the liquid starts to drain out of the body storage chambers, The Doctor soon realizes what's really going on here…

Death In Heaven:

…which all leads into the series' finale. Here the truth about 3W is revealed, Clara's relationship with Danny is tested in ways she never though could or would happen and Missy's true identity and ties to The Doctor's past all come to light. And we'll leave it at that.

Series 8 has been fairly universally praised for being a ‘return to form' for the series after what some saw as the show going too soft towards the end of Smith's run, and that's pretty fair. Capaldi's take on The Doctor is full of life and energy and acerbic wit, he's an interesting character and occasionally even a little bit frightening. He isn't afraid to put people down or throw his weight around when a situation calls for it and where Smith's Doctor seemed to be in many ways quite in love with Clara, here their relationship has changed. He's still obviously quite fond of her in his own way but often times he shows that with a quip or even an insult. His back and forth with her is a big part of what makes the show humorous but this time around, she's actually given quite a bit more to do. Her character develops well, particularly towards the end of the series, and that makes the whole point of having Clara around matter more than it has in some of the Series 7 episodes. Capaldi and Coleman have an interesting dynamic here and this dynamic allows the writers to take the show into directions that would not have been possible without the drastic change from Smith to Capaldi. Maybe it's a cliché to say that some new life has been breathed into the show, but it's true.

Introducing Danny Pink, likeably played by Samuel Anderson also brings another dynamic into the series. Whereas in the past Smith's Doctor was travelling with Amy and Rory, both of whom really liked The Doctor, here Pink and Capaldi's Doctor don't always see eye to eye. In fact as Clara's relationship with Danny becomes series it in turn takes away from her time with The Doctor and understandably once her boyfriend finds out what she's really up to, he wants her to stop. He realizes it's dangerous and he cares about her and isn't keen on the women he loves traveling through time and space with a maniac in a blue box. This helps with the character development in the series and also serves to humanize certain aspects of the storylines that run throughout the show.

This batch of stories also returns to some of the scarier episodes that longtime fans will know has always been a part of the show. The Listen episode came under fire from some critics for being too scary for a younger audience but it is in keeping with the series' tradition of dealing with things that go bump in the night. The writing is pretty solid here and while there are a few slips, the series has a few genuinely classic episodes in its favor, Mummy On The Orient Express being a stand out and really just a perfect example of how fun and exciting and tense and insane the series can and still does get when firing on all cylinders. There are a few times where some kinks aren't completely worked out but by and large Capaldi's inaugural run is rock solid entertainment. This ‘new' Doctor isn't kind, he's not even really a nice guy, but after we're a few episodes in, it's hard not to love him, even as we sometimes have to question him. Given that he and showrunner Moffat have had a dozen episodes for find their footing, all signs point to Series 9 as being even better.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series was shot in HD and is presented here in AVC encoded 1080p 1.78.1 widescreen and the quality is about what you'd expect. Black levels are generally pretty strong and detail is generally good. Some of the CGI work looks a little goofy in spots, as is typical with the series, and there are occasional bursts of aliasing that are hard not to notice from time to time but if these aren't reference quality they're at least very good looking transfers. Colors are reproduced beautifully throughout the episode and detail and texture go far beyond what standard definition is able to provide, and in fact look noticeably better than they did when broadcast on BBC American in HD. Now having said that, there are some spots where the bit rate creeps down well below 20 and when this happens, attentive viewers may notice that things don't look quite as sharp. This isn't a constant, but there are scenes where this happens and the picture quality does drop a bit. By and large, however, the good outweighs the bad and the transfers are solid.

Sound:

An English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is provided for each episode and they too are pretty impressive. Overall, this track has some good bass response and a fairly hefty low end going for it, you'll definitely notice this when the TARDIS ‘whooshes' in. The high end never gets shrill and surround activity is pretty constant with the action scenes not surprisingly having the most going on in that department. Dialogue stays crisp and clear and is never hard to follow while the really wide spectrum of sound effects used throughout the show adds some fun to the proceedings. The electronic score that has been employed also sound quite good, punctuating the action rather than burying it, and generally the BBC have done a very solid job in the audio department. Closed captioning is provided in English, there are no alternate language audio tracks or subtitles offered.

Extras:

Extras start off with commentaries for the following episodes:

Into the Dalek: Co-writer Phil Ford and director Ben Wheatley handle the commentary chores on this one, talking about how they launched this episode with a space battle right out of the starting gate. From there they discuss the history of the Daleks and their place in the show, expanding on some of Moffat's ideas for the story, how they need to hide the TARDIS when shooting on location to avoid fan interference, how the show is really weird yet still manages to get on prime time television and more. This is an active and humorous track, these guys obviously get along quite well and that comes through in their talk.

Robot Of Sherwood: This commentary features director Paul Murphy and writer Paul Gattis. They talk about the time travel aspect of this episode and how that aspect of the show opens up a lot of doors to creativity here. There's a fair bit too much ‘oh look what's happening on screen right now' in this track for it to be essential but stick with it and you'll learn about the costuming, the way that Coleman ‘stood out so wonderfully' in this episode (she really does look fantastic here), the humor infused into the storyline, the back and forth between The Doctor and Robin Hood and a fair bit more on top of that.

The Caretaker: Director Paul Murphy joins effects tech types Kate Welch and Pete Hawkins for this commentary for an episode that delves deep into the conflict Clara feels in regards to her feelings for both The Doctor and for Danny. There's a lot of talk here about Danny's suspicious nature but they also discuss the importance of blocking things properly for the camera, the timing of specific movements, the importance of timing to the comedy in the series, the relationship that exists not only between The Doctor and Clara but also the relationship that exists between The Doctor and Danny, how the kids are used in this particular story and more. This is a good talk, an active discussion with Murphy doing most of the heavy lifting but all three participants chiming in and offering their take on things.

Kill The Moon: Assistant director Scott Bates and Paul Wilmshurst, director, team up to provide the fourth and final commentary in this set. They talk about how the big draw in this episode is that we know someone will get killed but we don't know who or how. So there's a fair bit of talk here about the story, but they also talk about what was done with CGI and what was done in camera, the logistics of landing a space shuttle on the moon, the contributions of some of the cast members including Hermione Norris, how to use a rubber spider and when to use a CGI spider (and how to get Capaldi to wrestle with a rubber spider… just bring up Plan 9 From Outer Space!), the landscapes featured in the film and more. This is another illuminating talk, a very active discussion with a lot of interesting information delivered by two guys with a good sense of humor.

The rest of the extras in the set are spread across the four discs as follows:

DISC ONE:

Doctor Who: Earth Conquest (World Tour Documentary): This is a forty-nine minute piece that documents the worldwide appeal of the series by way of interviews with Capaldi and quite a few others. They head to Cardiff, where the series has been made for a while now, and then show off the different popular characters that show up in the series like Daleks and Cybermen. We get to see how Doctor Who has translated to the live stage, hear Capaldi's thoughts on what makes the series so appealing to so many, learn about the series' fanbase, and get a quick history lesson as to the series' iconic opening theme. Moffat pops up here too, to offer his take on things, and we see the tour pass through London and a few other locations as Jena Colman talks about her experiences on the show, Japanese fans speak of their love for the show, and other fans from around the world share their love of the show.

The Tour of the TARDIS is a quick two minute piece in which one of the show's designers takes us on a guided tour of the new TARDIS and shows us what's changed since Capaldi took over for Smith.

Doctor Who Exclusive: There are four parts to this… Casting Peter, Writing The New Season, What Is Doctor Who? and Why Watch Series 8?. Combined these four short featurettes run just over nine minutes and the titles more or less explain what they cover. The first one sees Moffatt talking about replacing Smith with Capaldi and what made him a great choice. The second piece sees him talking about the importance of writing the opening episode for this series, the third segment covers the basics of the series for those new to the show and the fourth details what the appeal of this new series might be. Capaldi and Coleman pop up here and offer their input as well. It's pretty basic and fairly promotional but mildly interesting.

Doctor Who: Live Pre-Show: This is an eleven minute piece that was broadcast on BBC America before the season's premiere episode debuted. Capaldi and Coleman show up here as does Will Wheaton for some reason (he's a fan). Chris Hardwick hosts this and Doctor Who After Who Live, which is a similar piece that was shown after the season's premiere. This one runs a considerably lengthier forty-three minutes and it's got input from Wheaton again, Natalie Morales, Danny Starkey, Mark Gattis and Alton Brown. It's a group chat about the new series with most of the interviewees answering Hardwick's questions about how they got into the series and why they like it.

London Post Premiere Q&A: This piece runs just shy of a half an hour in length and here we see Capaldi, Coleman and Moffatt take the stage to answer some questions about the new run from an obviously rabid fan base. Here they talk about how Capaldi felt taking on the role, his roots in Who fandom, Coleman's take on acting alongside Capaldi, the passion with which the fans embrace the series and more.

DISC TWO:

Aside from the commentary the only extra on Disc Two is Doctor Who: The Ultimate Time Lord featuring Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, which runs forty-five minutes. Here Davison narrates a documentary in which we witness Capaldi taking on ‘one of Britain's most successful characters' for the first time by way of some footage in which the former Doctor shows up on set to watch Capaldi play the current incarnation. There's a lot of behind the scenes material here and interviews with cast and crew members, and quite a bit more on top of that. We also learn about the ‘gadgets and gizmos' that The Doctor might need, the importance of the TARDIS, and the way in which the current season's music reflects Capaldi's take on the character.

DISC THREE:

Doctor Who: The Ultimate Companion also features Peter Davison clock in at just over forty-seven minutes. The emphasis here, as the title implies, is on the companions that have accompanied the various Doctors that have existed over the half century long run of the series. Interviews with Capaldi give us some insight into what makes Clara appealing, but more interesting is the footage in which Davison travels across England to talk to some of the performers who have played companions in the past to discuss the qualities that make the companion characters important to the series in the first place. We also get some insight from David Tennant, Steven Moffat, casting director Andy Prior, `Jenna Coleman and a few others.

DISC FOUR:

When you click the Behind The Scenes button off of the extras menu on the forth disc you get twelve separate segments, one for each episode. You can watch these individually or by a ‘play all' option, in which you get all two hours and twenty minutes of material here all at once! These are fairly interesting as they are episode specific. As they play out you get interviews with all sorts of cast and crew members as well as loads of behind the scenes footage. Highlights include seeing Capaldi strike some awkward poses from promotional photography, watching a small army of Daleks encroach on the camera crew, Capaldi's input on acting alongside ‘Robin Hood' and the importance of pulling it off while decked out in that silly costume, seeing Samuel Anderson get into character, seeing various humans get suited up to play aliens and/or robots and more.

Aside from that we get a music video from Foxes for the song Don't Stop Me Now that was featured in the Mummy On The Orient Express episode, animated menus and episode/chapter selection. Note that the Deep Breath episode was released as a standalone disc and that unfortunately there are extras included on that standalone disc that have not been ported over to this collection.

Final Thoughts:

Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series my hit a few bumps in the road along the way to its big finish but by the time it gets there these twelve episodes make for some great entertainment. As Capaldi becomes more comfortable in the role and strives to make his take on the character his own while still paying tribute to the show's past, he creates a Doctor that is fascinating, funny and even at times a bit scary. The storytelling here is wildly creative and the performances and production values quite strong. The quality of the presentation is also very good, with excellent audio and video and a very nice selection of extra features as well. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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