Doctor Who Season 33 (Matt Smith, 2012-2013)
DVD / Blu-ray Extras include:
Several things are of note for the 2012-2013 season. Visually, it's much more of a treat this year than practically any of the previous 32 years. I don't know how rough this was on their budget, or if all the money that Doctor Who is making finally started to go back into production, but it's great to see Moffat and company make an effort to really vary the settings for the stories. Plus, we note that they gave us not just 15 episodes, but 15 separate stories. I had strongly favoured 2-part stories over single episode stories during the past 6 seasons, but the writers seem to have figured out a few new tricks on how to use the single episode format more effectively. Only Steven Moffat's own scripts were doing this last season, but now the other writers have noticed, learned, and applied the same to their scripts as well. Sometimes a scene only needs one matte shot and two lines for the actors, before we move on across the universe for something else. Storylines are much more cinematic and pithy, sticking to their main points and cutting all padding. If the budget is finally there for it, it is appreciated. Nice!
The downside is that it is hard to feel like there is a standout well-developed BIG story here. In many ways Moffat is attempting to treat each episode as part of one big season-long story arc, but I suspect fans will be hotly debating how effective that truly was this season.
Another point to note for the season in general is that, although still taking care of being "real" about companions' domestic lives, we aren't made to spend all that much time in familiar domestic settings with them. Typically a story will get all of its Earthbound household scenes over and done with in 2-3 minutes, and spend the rest of its screen time in an exotic past or future location and/or on a far flung planet. This is how the best of the classic series used to do it; now the New Millennium version has caught up. Excellent.
Last but not least is quite an impressive list of guest actors. David Warner. Ian McKellen. Ben Browder. Richard E. Grant. Dame Diana Rigg. Warwick Davis. And those are just the ones I personally recognize and can get excited about. I'm sure there are others that audience members will flip out over. This show is truly attracting top talent these days.
Truth be told, both parts of the season have their merits, and both of the included Christmas specials feature worthwhile material. Though Amy and Rory's part perhaps polarizes between good and bad episodes and contains my personal season favourites, the second part of the season was actually more fascinating, exciting, and satisfying on the whole.
Though designer Michael Pickwoad had joined the series for the previous season, it isn't until half-way through this one that he gets his chance to create his own TARDIS interior - and his is the first TARDIS interior for the New Millennium version of the show that I truly like. It actually looks like it could function the way it was meant to, while resembling the most definitive versions from the classic show in all the right places. Excellent!
Well, let's have a go at a ranking then, from favourite to least favourite:
Though there are undoubtedly some substantial criticisms we can (and will) level at some of the narratives that we got this year in Season 33, I'd be hard pressed to say that they were any worse, on average, than what we got in many recent years. Perhaps then Season 33 has risen as high as it has due to excellent visuals and fantastic settings, all of which helped keep my imagination working and my hopes for good stories alive as we got into each new episode. This is something I found far, far more difficult in past seasons.
And to me it seems that Clara is the first companion for the New Millennium version of the show whose introduction isn't tripping over some big stumbling block. Rose was average to the point of dulling the senses, while Martha and Donna got stuck repeating Rose's introductory template without much enthusiasm or long-term commitment from head writer Russell T. Davies. Amy looked set to be an improvement, but the uncertainty over how Rory fitted into the picture often took too much focus away from each adventure. But Clara nicely just teams up with the Doctor, and gets on with the business of each adventure. Frankly, this is really refreshing, and something I'd been hoping and lobbying for. Now if only some of those adventures were rousing big well-developed two-parters....
ExtrasA comparison of each season isn't quite complete without examining the extras included on the full season box sets. Both the classic and the New Millennium versions of Doctor Who have featured some of the most lavish DVD presentations of bonus features amongst all the various TV shows out there for purchase these days. Sadly these extras seem to be dwindling with each successive New Millennium set. Season 33 manages fewer audio commentaries than previous seasons, and only during its second half. It also takes a while to hear the participants find the energy and enthusiasm one usually enjoys from Doctor Who commentaries; but thankfully a trio of actors on one of the later commentaries starts out with this from the beginning. And Matt Smith surprised me by finally participating in one of these commentaries. Good show.
We also usually got a behind-the-scenes featurette on each episode lasting between 9-14 minutes, but on this set, those featurettes are only about 4 minutes each. Disappointing, but at least we still have such goodies.
Of course, bonus "prequel" scenes are more and more prolific. While these are amongst the most pleasant of all marketing tools in TV/cinema history, they're not all that big a draw for me as extras. Quite nice to have regardless though.
What this season has uniquely in its favour are the long documentaries and medium length featurettes covering topics that span several episodes - and even if New Millennium episodes get the most screen time, these documentaries treat all 50 years of the program as one big long show, examining elements of older stories as well. Very good.
Add a couple of extra interviews, and we still have a fairly satisfying set of bonus features. Holding out for full season box sets is still worth it in the end.
This season has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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