British DVD Invasion! Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Sherlock: Review

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series/Sherlock: Season One/The Chronicles of Narnia – Available November 9, 2010

by Aaron Einhorn
When it rains, it pours, and that was certainly the case as I looked at the DVD collections I had been sent to review from BBC America. All on the same day, we were getting not one hit series, not two hit series, but two hit series along with a DVD re-release of a sci-fi classic, in the form of Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, Sherlock: Season One and The Chronicles of Narnia. After many hours of complete and utter indulgence, I have emerged with a new accent, a belief that Americans spell things completely incorrectly, and with a new appreciation for how the Brits do genre drama. Let’s dive in, shall we?

Official Synopsis
Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series

Matt Smith and Karen Gillan star as the new Doctor and his companion in an all-new series of Doctor Who coming to DVD and Blu-ray. After his explosive regeneration, the Eleventh Doctor awakes to discover his TARDIS is about to crash! After falling from the sky, he pulls himself out of the wreckage to come face-to-face with young Amy Pond. The Doctor promises to take Amy to the stars. But first they must divert an alien plot that could destroy the Earth. The Doctor makes good his promise, and Amy boards the regenerated TARDIS, ready to take to the stars on a series of wild adventures that will change her life. As always, wherever the Doctor goes, his oldest enemies, the Daleks, are never far behind. They are hatching a new master plan from the heart of war-torn London in the 1940s. But they are not the only strange creatures the Doctor and Amy must face – there are also alien vampires, humanoid reptiles, the Weeping Angels, and a silent menace that follows Amy and the Doctor around wherever they go.

Sherlock: Season One

A contemporary take on the classic Arthur Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock is a thrilling, funny, fast-paced adventure series set in present-day London. Co-created by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling) and Mark Gatiss, Sherlock stars BAFTA-nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement, The Last Enemy) as the new Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman (The Office, Love Actually), as his loyal friend, Doctor John Watson. Rupert Graves plays Inspector Lestrade. The iconic details from Conan Doyle’s original books remain – they live at the same address, have the same names and, somewhere out there, Moriarty is waiting for them. And so across three thrilling, scary, action-packed and highly modern-day adventures, Holmes and Watson navigate a maze of cryptic clues and lethal killers to get at the truth.

The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis’s enchanting tale comes to life in this classic BBC adaptation from 1988. When young Second World War evacuee Lucy Pevensie hides in an old wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, she finds herself transported to the magical land of Narnia, locked in eternal winter by the evil White Witch. Her siblings do not believe her when she tells them of this strange new world, but they are soon in Narnia themselves, fighting alongside the noble lion Aslan to defeat the witch and her mighty army. This set includes the following complete stories from the book series: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; The Silver Chair.

The Episodes
What I got between these three collections was a very mixed bag – although all three collections delighted. In the case of Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, I had seen all of the Matt Smith episodes of Doctor Who, so the episodes weren’t new (although re-watching them was still incredibly fun). With I didn’t catch Sherlock when it aired in the U.S., so it was completely new to me, and while I had watched the different miniseries which make up The Chronicles of Narnia, it has been close to a decade since I had seen them.

In Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, Matt Smith and Karen Gillen give us a great new adventuring duo as The Doctor and Amy, joined quickly by Rory (Arthur Darvill) and River Song (Alex Kingston). Smith’s Doctor is unpredictable, weird, and brilliant, and while it will take him some time to step fully out of David Tennant’s shadow, it is my belief that Smith is well on his way. The episodes are fun and exciting, perhaps a bit less contemplative than most of the stories under Russel T. Davies’ run, but remaining very, very smart. Moffat likes to really explore the nature of time travel, not just use it as an excuse to get to the story, and that shows here. With classic enemies returning, new enemies introduced, and the mystery of “Who is River Song?” hanging over the entire series, I greatly enjoyed re-experiencing Doctor Who.

Sherlock: Season One gives us a modern-day Holmes and Watson, and reinterprets classic stories from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories into the modern world. If I have any complaint about this take on Holmes, it is only that Holmes in the modern day seems oddly derivative of characters who he inspired (Doctor House from House, MD, and Patrick Jane from The Mentalist) when placed in the contemporary setting. This isn’t the fault of either Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes, nor of show creator Steven Moffat, but merely one of my own perception. That said, the modern-day Holmes stories are fast-paced, quick witted and fun. Of course, it is impossible not to compare the series to the Guy Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes, but I find that the BBC version holds up – perhaps better because it places Holmes and Watson in the present. There are only three stories here (which would make up 6 episodes of regular televisions), which is slightly unsatisfying, but only because I find myself wanting much, much more.

The Chronicles of Narnia consists of three older BBC series (The Lion, the Witch & The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian & The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair), which cover four of C.S. Lewis’ books. With the recent Chronicles of Narnia films, this is the perfect time for the BBC to re-release them. Despite having slightly dated special effects, these three series bring nearly unabridged versions of the story, and very strong acting performances to Lewis’ books, and make a delightful way to acquaint younger audiences with the stories. There was a bit of nostalgia for me in re-watching the stories, and a sense of delight to see Tom Baker back on the screen.

Bonus Features
We get a very mixed bag here, with Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series packed with extras in the form of episode commentaries, video diaries, monster files, additional scenes, and out-takes, along with an entire disc that is only bonus features in the form of episodes of Doctor Who Confidential and BBC trailers for the series.

The Chronicles of Narnia also delivers, providing a documentary titled “The Watchful Dragons” which looks at how C.S. Lewis came to write the book series, a cast reunion and interview, behind-the-scenes views, outtakes, featurettes on costumes, sets and special effects, photo galleries and more.

Sherlock: Season One is a bit on the anemic side, giving us commentaries on two of the three episodes, a featurette titled “Unlocking Sherlock” and a look at the pilot of the first episode. But considering it has the fewest stories of the three sets, it makes sense that the extras would be lightest as well.

Packaging
Another case where the three sets are completely different. Sherlock: Season One is a simple 2-disc flip case with no inserts or anything else special. The Chronicles of Narnia is a handsome slipcase which contains a reinforced, flip-open case holding all four discs, while Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series features a lenticular cover, and when you pull the set from the slipcase, you discover a thick set which resembles the Pandorica. Also included with Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series is a set of art cards. My only complaint is that the blue plastic which makes up the inner case is a bit brittle (my set has already chipped), and the slipcase is a bit tight, making it hard to remove the set the first few times.

Final Thoughts
All three of these sets are delights to own. The Chronicles of Narnia brings back a childhood classic. Sherlock: Season One is a wonderful retake on the classic story. And Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series gives us some of the best Doctor stories we’ve ever received. Of the three sets, I find Sherlock: Season One the most disappointing in terms of packaging and extras, but the strength of the episodes makes the set a must-have regardless.

You can purchase Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series, Sherlock: Season One, and The Chronicles of Narnia now, either through Amazon.com by clicking on the links, or or order through Comic Hero News at our online store.

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