DVD Review - Doctor Who & His Companions

Cover to 'Torchwood: The Complete Second Season' DVD

•    DOCTOR WHO: THE INVISIBLE ENEMY/K-9 & COMPANY: A GIRL’S BEST FRIEND

(BBC) (2 DVDs)

•    DOCTOR WHO: THE INVASION OF TIME

(BBC) (2 DVDs)

•    TORCHWOOD: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON

(BBC) (5 DVDs)

Everyone is now well aware that Doctor Who is the longest running dramatic series in the history of English-speaking television. Another amazing aspect of the show is starting to prove it’s fertile ground for more stories than the (mis)adventures of everyone’s favorite Time Lord.

If you need further proof, one need look no further than Torchwood. According to sources inside BBC America, the second season of this show was the most watched in the history of the cable network. One look and it’s easy to see why.

Quite honestly, the debut season wasn’t bad at all, but it still ran on three things. First, it was a spin-off of the revamped series. Second, it did feature one of the Doctor’s most popular characters, Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). Finally, it had such incredible raw energy one didn’t have time to truly see the plot holes and sketchy supporting character development. The ride was just too plain exhilarating and the flaws only became evident with the first DVD set.

With this new set, one can see why it did so well with the American public. The errors of the previous year are over and buried. Team Torchwood not only becomes a solid team, but it’s much more richly fleshed out. Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) has become a solid second-in-command. Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) is more than just the sci-fi equivalent of Jeeves. Toshiko Sato (Naoki Mori) develops a lot more soul and Dr. Owen Harper (Burn Gorman) becomes more than just a constantly rebellious punk. Several side characters, particularly Gwen’s now fiancée Rhys (Kai Owens) is also given a lot more depth than the unwitting boyfriend. Because we now have this depth of character, fans truly start to empathize with their upcoming fates, particularly those of Tosh and Owen.

While the background stories of the characters are greatly enhanced, this doesn’t mean the show doesn’t continue to move forward. The introduction of new character Captain John Hart (magnificently played by James Marsters) gives Harkness a darn near perfect nemesis to work against. Also of note is the guest appearance of Doctor companion Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman) for several episodes. As hardcore fans now know, the appearance of Martha is a harbinger of things to come, and seeing it all come together so smoothly is an added plus.

Still, probably the most amazing addition is the introduction of Jack’s brother Gray (Lachlan Nieboer). How he’s slowly but surely introduced, first through an episode-ending comment by Hart and then bit by bit until the epic season finale, is smooth scriptwriting and series plotting at its best. Additionally, Nieboer gives this other great new villain for Harkness some solid depth as a truly damaged piece of merchandise. The way they end his run is a classic comic book/science fiction way of making sure the character comes back. Let’s hope Gray does.

One thing the BBC continued with this season set was some superlative extra content. Providing the complete “Torchwood Declassified” bits is a great start. Still, the best section has to be “The Life and Deaths of Captain Jack,” which does a seriously great job of explaining the history of this sometime companion of the Doctor. Replete with interviews of not only Barrowman, but series head honcho Russell T. Davies and even David Tennant, it goes a long way towards explaining this admittedly complicated character’s life story. The only thing missing is his history as a Time Agent. Then again, they do have to leave something for season three, and hopefully beyond, don’t they?

Who fans know Torchwood was not the first spin-off from the venerable sci-fi series. It was K-9 & Friends featuring everyone’s #1 companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen). Also, as most fans know, K-9 and Sladen never worked together during their respective debut runs on Doctor Who.

The Invisible Enemy arc was the one that introduced the Doctor’s robot pet to the general public. At the time of K-9’s introduction, Sladen left the show in the spring of ’74. By the time of the arc, his companion was Leela (Louise Jameson, not Katie Sagal). K-9 came shortly thereafter, in October. Fans took a quick shine to the annoyingly matter-of-fact mechanical mutt, even though one must admit Enemy had one of the most disappointing enemies during the Tom Baker period. On the plus front it did employ very early green screening, and it’s interesting to see how far that SFX has matured in over 30 years.

The one-and-only episode of K-9 is an interesting curio in its own right. It did pretty well when it aired a few years later. As explained in the bountiful extra content any DVD in this series will tell you, the main reason the show never got past its pilot wasn’t the ratings, it was a change in BBC upper management. The irony is one can also see a lot of the modern-day Sarah Jane Adventures in its mood and structure today, and according to BBC sources, a new season of that show is quite possible. One source says the next season might include a guest appearance from another stalwart companion, former UNIT General Lethbridge-Stewart (retired).

Finally, if one wants a top arc from the same season as the one that introduced K-9, one should take a gander at The Invasion of Time. This grand arc finds Baker, Jameson and the ‘bot going back to Gallifrey, where we learn an incredibly lot more about the Time Lord’s home planet. Also, the inclusion of one of the Doctor’s greatest villains, the Sontarans, is always a good thing.

Anyway, as you read this, a third mini-season of Torchwood started production this August. This five-episode series entitled “Children of the Earth,” may not have the true length that the rapidly growing legion of Harkness fans truly want, but it will have to suffice for now. Still, one has to admit it is something to show that 30 years later Doctor Who has learned that growing horizontally can produced a lot of quality SF the same way as growing vertically. Don’t be surprised if a lot more such spin-offs are in the development phase as you read this.

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