This week in TV on DVD, we look at new seasons for two cult favorites: the BBC's Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series and CBS DVD's The Game: The Fourth Season.
Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series (BBC Home Entertainment)
The Show: Matt Smith's edition of Doctor Who has endeared itself to fans and critics alike. Smith's second full series in the TARDIS is full of energy - and incredibly complicated, as we learn the truth of River Song's (Alex Kingston) true identity and wonder about The Doctor's final fate.
When Who is good, it's really good. The opening two-parter ("The Impossible Astronaut"/"Day of the Moon") is honestly nail-biting at points, and includes a guest arc from the sci-fi staple Mark Sheppard (Supernatural, Battlestar Galactica, Leverage). The next-to-last episode "Closing Time" also brings back Craig (James Corden) from the series five episode "The Lodger," with both hilarious and touching results. It's obvious that everyone involved in the show is having a great time and bringing the audience along for the ride.
Like many a sci-fi show before it, though, sometimes it can get convoluted. I must admit that I was never quite a fan of the character of River Song, but her story over the season lost me before we got to the end. Without revealing spoilers, I had to look up an episode synopsis for the finale and read it a few times before I truly grasped everything that had happened with her character. There's a little head-scratching involved. That's not to say series six is bad - far from it - but struggling to keep up did make it a little less fun to play along.
Overall, though, Doctor Who hasn't seen a slip in quality from the Russell T. Davies/David Tennant regime. As much as I appreciated the previous years of the show, one can't say that Steven Moffat and Matt Smith - and everyone else, for that matter, cast and crew - haven't put forth a stupendous effort. The show is one of the classic franchises in science fiction and this series upholds that reputation.
The DVDs: BBC Home Entertainment has always done a great job of putting together sets for Doctor Who (as evidenced by the last release) and this is no exception. This set is brimming with additional scenes (which actually contribute something instead of the usual 'we can see why these were' deleted scenes), commentaries, trailers and the Doctor Who Confidentials that we're used to finding on these sets. The one thing lacking is the accessibility; you have subtitles for the hard of hearing, but no foreign language support of any kind, which is odd considering that Who has a worldwide following. I've seen Region 1 releases of less popular shows with more language tracks.
The six-disc set comes in the same book-style packaging with the plastic DVD trays as the previous set did, and this time the plastic trays appear to be held together much better. The last ones fell apart the first time I opened the kit; these ones do wiggle a bit but generally don't budge. There's a booklet that comes with the set and an informational panel of which episodes are on what discs that you'll see when you open the set all the way up. I love how these Doctor Who sets are designed art-wise; they always look beautiful, and this one does as well.
The presentation is solid if not spectacular. On DVD, some of the dark scenes (and there are a few, this is a show that goes into space) look a bit muddled, but no more so than has happened with other sci-fi shows. Based on my past experience, I can only imagine that the Blu-Ray transfer might go a long way to eradicating this problem. I had the same issue with my DVD's of Battlestar Galactica and the BR cleared that right up. Granted, they were different studios, but BD technology generally helps to sharpen visuals for me, particularly in more effects-heavy shows. Despite that, though, episodes look better here than they were presented on BBC America in standard-def; gone is the odd bit of grain in certain shots.
A word of caution: BBC has previously released Series Six, Part 1 and A Christmas Carol separately, and put out Series Six, Part 2 day and date with this set. So to upgrade, or not to upgrade? The only special feature I can see that didn't make the jump from A Christmas Carol is the Doctor Who At The Proms program, and as mentioned in that review, the transfer for that isn't great. This set does include more features and you have the added benefit of having all the episodes in one set, rather than three separate smaller ones. I'd say to go for the upgrade, unless you're not terribly interested in bonus content.
Verdict: Recommended. It's not necessarily my favorite season of the show, but there's no denying that Doctor Who is a fantastic franchise and BBCHE always delivers sets that don't let it down. If you have the option of doing so, take the Blu-Rays over the DVDs, though.
You can pick up your copy of Doctor Who: The Complete Sixth Series using this link.
The Game: The Fourth Season (CBS DVD)
The Show: Your feelings toward the fourth season of The Game are likely to depend on what you loved most about the show's previous three seasons. As mentioned in my episode reviews, season four continues the show's trend of more drama - there's very little comedy by the end of the run. What was a legitimately funny and often touching show is now a bit dour, including the season-ending revelation about Melanie (Tia Mowry-Hardrict).
Despite the shift, though, The Game still has a talented ensemble cast, in particular Wendy Raquel Robinson as the scene-stealing Tasha Mack. Former regulars Coby Bell and Brittany Daniel drop to recurring roles, but do appear in a significant part of the season, the former moreso than the latter. The cast is full of charm, even if the scripts get a little shaky from time to time.
There are some bumps in the road, and it gradually becomes obvious that this isn't the same show that left The CW earlier. In all fairness, it probably took some time for the writers to jump back into writing for a show that had been cancelled. Season five (which airs on BET in January) should be one to watch now that everyone has settled back in.
The DVDs: This is a decent if not stellar set. The picture and sound quality are very good for both episodes and special features; for example, in the opening titles, I could actually hear the sounds of the football players colliding with one another. I'm less impressed with the accessibility (subtitles but no foreign language support) and the packaging. The contents of the set are listed on the inside front cover of the case - underneath disc one. In order to read any of the text, which is printed incredibly small to begin with, you'll have to take out the disc. It's one of those little things that happens quite often in TV on DVD that gets annoying.
There are three special features on the disc. They are five-minute gag reel, thirteen-minute featurette called "Playing The Game" that is basically an extended interview with showrunner Mara Brock Akil about the season (beware of spoilers!), and a nearly nineteen-minute one about bringing the series back that contains comments from the showrunners and cast members.
The latter two are a bit oddly edited, because the interviews are broken up by clips from the season - sometimes between every other sentence, which makes the comments feel choppy. The last one is the most watchable because, although the story and its players are well known by now, it's just heartwarming to hear the gratitude and passion of all involved.
Still, I would have loved to have seen commentary tracks on episodes, or perhaps some input from the cast in the second featurette. We hear a lot in that one about what the writers were going for, so it'd be interesting to hear more of the actors' perspective, particularly since there's such a gifted cast here.
Verdict: Consider it. The "new" version of The Game may not be for you, but if you enjoyed the season, then this is one you should enjoy having in your collection.
You can pick up your copy of The Game: The Fourth Season using this link.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.