DVD Extras feature documentaries on Seasons 27-30 up to and including "The Next Doctor":
3D WoodOf course, there are some striking differences in visual style from live-action Doctor Who, since this is an animated format. It is in fact primarily 3D animation all the way through, including all the character models. But the characters aren't created with photo-realistic 3D models, but rather an imitation cartoon look. Any particular still-frame of them will look like a 2D animated cell, but in full motion they are actually 3D models.... a contrast which I found initially to be quite distracting.
Visually, this film's animation can be quite spectacular when dealing with moving vehicles and many of its camera moves with wildly shifting perspective - things that 3D CGI typically excels at in any modern film. This gives some sections a very expensive, cinematic, feature-film style look. The character animation of "Dreamland" is another matter. It's definitely not up to the "Disney standard" of movement saturated with personality and charm, which they somehow managed to uphold with very limited CGI in 1981's "Tron". Here, the voice artists are putting a lot into their performances as you would expect, while their 3D avatars remain largely wooden and inexpressive. It's particularly noticeable with David Tennant's Doctor, since we're so accustomed to this particular character, and we're able to hear another typical performance while noting how many of the typical accompanying gestures and facial expressions are either off or completely missing. In fact, only the very most basic facial expressions exist for any of the characters here, and it just doesn't seem to be enough.
But, give the film a chance, and these oddities gradually fade into the background a bit, as the story takes over. After a while, it's not hard to get invested in what's going on. It is Doctor Who after all, with all of its strong story-telling conventions helping to pull viewers in and along for the ride. Though a slightly dodgy opening may make you wonder if they're at all able to pull off the TARDIS or want to keep it off-screen on the cheap, fear not. The TARDIS comes into play later on and is done fairly well.
As for music and sound, you may as well be watching live-action Doctor Who, as this is equally as good. We get great voice performances, familiar sound effects, and a typically energetic and full musical sound from Murray Gold that includes many themes that have become popular during David Tennant's era. Full marks.
I'll admit that when I first heard that Georgia Moffett was in this one, I had hoped she might still be playing the same character from "The Doctor's Daughter" (story no. 198) who really deserved another chapter in her ongoing story. Alas, it was not to be, although the character here has her own merit and works well enough also.
Humanized Zeta ReticuliThe story's subject matter pulls in a lot of the more obvious elements of popular U.F.O. mythology, such as the legend of a saucer crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, little grey aliens, men in black, and U.S. government containment of such secrets in a mysterious place known as "Area 51". In fact, this animated episode is actually doing something that the live-action show has shied away from in being first to tackle this material head-on. But though the concepts and imagery are here, it really doesn't dig in very deeply. On top of the most obvious surface relationships between these elements, "Dreamland" concocts its own myths and backstory, eventually resembling other Doctor Who alien invasion stories so closely that its uniqueness is about 70-80% diluted.
One thing that stuck out a bit amongst all of this was the characterization of the little grey aliens. Visually, they have all the typical looks of what actual research might term the Zeta Reticuli race - small grey bodies with large heads and big black eyes. But in terms of character, personality, and motivations, they've been pretty much completely anthropomorphized, as Star Trek has done with most species of prosthetic-foreheaded aliens over its long run. Unlike the Zeta Reticuli that I'd heard about, we don't see evidence of them being a near-sexless species where each individual clones a copy of him or herself to reincarnate into. We don't see evidence of them being nearly incapable of any emotion other than scientific curiosity. We don't see evidence of them communicating almost exclusively through telepathy and having a nearly unified group mind. We don't see the difficulty of them responding more to our soul agreements rather than our conscious ego and thought processes, a source of great miscommunication and conflict in our current relations. In fact, what we get is almost exactly the opposite, an extrapolation of very human thinking and motivation instead, and being almost too cutesy at that. The grey Zetas could have afforded to be portrayed much more woodenly, and wound up being too emotionally expressive instead. I also wonder if these aliens were allowed to ingest nutrients through their skin (i.e. fingertips) directly from the underground cavern walls, as they had adapted to do, or if the filmmakers believed that they ate solid food as we do during their 11-year stay.
Oh well. I do think it speaks well to the collective Human psyche that we should have one of our most popular mythological heroes fostering helpful, friendly co-operation with what finally looks like a real extraterrestrial race that we have actually encountered in the real world. There may be hope for us yet. Can we do as well with the real Zetas, when we won't be able to anthropomorphize them so easily, when we may have to truly look at some more significant differences?
In the end, such thoughts about acceptance of Zeta Reticuli into our popular culture overpower the rather simplistic plot that plays out in later stages of this adventure. Having defined the pieces and characters and props of the story, much drama ensues over the struggle to get everyone and everything into just the right places, whereupon the Doctor can undertake a somewhat arbitrary and not-quite-convincing final fix. Perhaps adding greater depth to some of these pieces of the puzzle might have helped me buy the solution at the end, but it's all very tinker-toy plotting at best anyway. It works okay, and the story goes out with a feel-good ending that suits it.
This story has become available on DVD.
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