TV on DVD: 'Doctor Who'

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If a "pepperpot" Dalek or actor Tom Baker's striped scarf bring vivid visions to mind, then you'll think "Doctor Who: The Complete First Series" is, as the Doctor would say, "Fantastic!"

   
'Doctor Who'

   

If not, you'll be a bit lost watching the four hours of features that delve into every aspect of resurrecting the seminal BBC sci-fi series, including constant references to who's Who and what's what from the past. "Doctor Who," about a last-of-his-kind alien time traveler, had been dormant for 15 years until the 2005 comeback season, which finished its Sci-Fi Channel run just last month and is now available in a five-disc box set (BBC Video, $99.98).

Since the DVD is presumably for new fans as well as old, I wish they'd included a reference gallery of the 40 years of Who mythology. As it is, these episodes stand firmly on their own, and most extras still reward recent converts, but there's even more here for folks who can picture a villainous Dalek as readily as Darth Vader.

What's clear from the features is how ingrained "Doctor Who" is in British pop culture -- easily the "Star Trek" of the UK.

Rough and rugged Christopher Eccleston ("The Others," "28 Days Later") is a delight as the leather-jacketed Doctor No. 9 -- alien regeneration being good for actors coming and going. When Eccleston's chiseled face broke into a daffy smile in the first episode, I have to admit I was taken aback. But that "daft" face, as he calls it, quickly became part of his appeal. Sad to say, Eccleston signed on for just one season, and a new Doctor is already on screen in the UK.

It is particularly endearing when, in a disc-one interview, the actor explained he took the role for the chance to work with writer Russell T Davies ("Queer as Folk") and because "people always say I'm not funny, and I'm not charming. And I like a challenge."

The Doctor's partner in time travel is young Londoner Rose Tyler -- the vivacious Billie Piper, in a TV-star-making role. Having "jettisoned the sexism" of past companions, Rose is the Doctor's equal, whether it's the year Five Billion (that's Zoe Wanamaker as the voice of Cassandra, the computer-generated last human), or 1869, when the pair meet Charles Dickens. They are joined in later episodes by swashbuckling Captain Jack (John Barrowman), soon to be the focus of a BBC spinoff series, "Torchwood."

The DVD extra "Backstage at Christmas" gives American audiences a glimpse of the newest Doctor, David Tennant, as they await the likely announcement that Sci-Fi Channel will pick up season two.



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