As is customary with the Doctor Who specials, BBC Home Entertainment has released Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol as a standalone title, just a few months after its December 25 airdate. Is it worth picking up on its own? Here's a look at what you get with the single-disc release.
As I mentioned in my review of A Christmas Carol in December, this is one heck of a holiday special. If you by some chance missed it when it aired, this is something you really do need to see. Without repeating the entire text of that review, I'll just say that Michael Gambon is as amazing as he always is, and that he and Matt Smith make a great pairing. I don't know if I'd call it my favorite of the holiday specials, just because I was so partial to David Tennant's performances, but it's a good one. All the great reviews you may have read are true.
Gambon plays Kasran Sardick, described as "the richest man in Sardicktown." The fact that the place shares his name should clue you in to what kind of a guy he is. In order to save Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) from dying when the space liner they're honeymooning on crashes into the planet, The Doctor must convince Sardick to help them, which means helping himself. If the title of the special didn't clue you in, this is Doctor Who's retelling of the classic Christmas Carol story. You're familiar with the gist of things, but you get bonus space monsters, special effects and The Doctor being his usual curious self.
I know at least one person who'd never seen Doctor Who before this episode and has now become a fan. It's that good.
As a single-disc release, A Christmas Carol is unsurprisingly very simple packaging-wise. Even the back of the package is straightforward, with a list of major cast, a synopsis of the special, and a list of special features. It doesn't get more simple than that. My disc did come loose in transit, though, so be careful when you open up the case.
You have the standard presentation for most BBCHE releases here: 16:9 enhanced widescreen, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. If you own Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series on DVD, it's the same presentation as that set - which is to say that for DVD, it looks pretty good. If you have the option, you should consider the BR release, which contains the same content. I own the previous specials in Blu and can say that the format is a definite upgrade (though the DVDs are no slouch). Like many effects-heavy shows (and therefore many in the sci-fi genre), Doctor Who looks just great in broadcast but even better in Blu.
The Special Features
Unsurprisingly for a set released so quickly after airdate, there are only two special features here, but they're both substantive. And they make me take pause about this set (more on that in a second).
You'll get a full-length episode of Doctor Who Confidential; this is nearly an hour of behind-the-scenes goodness regarding this episode, and a treat for fans who are probably used to the brief clips that have accompanied other sets and/or been broadcast on BBC America.
Also included is the Doctor Who At The Proms 2010 special that was broadcast during BBC America's Christmas Day marathon leading up to A Christmas Carol. If you're into the music of Doctor Who, you'll enjoy this nearly hour-long live performance of it at the BBC Proms. I certainly kept it on my DVR for a little while after Christmas. Be warned, though, this is not in 5.1 audio - for some reason, it's only a stereo track. This doesn't make it a total loss to me, but it is a bit of a letdown considering the episode has much better audio. I'm surprised at this; you'd think with a full orchestra playing, they would want to use the best possible audio mix available. Ask any Bear McCreary fan how great orchestras can sound when you're listening to them properly.
Here's where I hesitate. If you're a die-hard Who fan, you're probably wondering if you should buy this disc or wait for its inevitable inclusion in the Complete Sixth Series set that we'll eventually see. I certainly recall being bummed when I bought all the Tennant specials individually only to see The Complete Specials released with extra bonus material. My good friends at TVShowsonDVD.com believe that you may not see both of these bonus features on any future release. Though this is, of course, just speculation, Gord and his team are usually pretty right. I wouldn't be surprised if some of this bonus material is missing - so it's a question of if you want to pay $11 for it (and, of course, for having the episode in hand now instead of much later).
I do not think either of these special features are necessarily a "must have" - that is, they're great but I don't think the world will end if you don't see them. I think you could comfortably wait for the next complete season set and save your money. That said, there's nothing stopping you from buying this one, then passing it on to someone else as a gift when you buy the next set, either. (That's what I did.) While I wouldn't necessarily double-dip, it depends on how big of a fan you are.
The Bottom Line
A good, solid, inexpensive release of a great holiday special. Whether or not you want to dish out the extra cash for an installment that will surely be in a later set depends on how much you love Doctor Who.