Monday, August 12, 2013

Doctor Who on DVD for North America

I can say without a doubt that the classic Doctor Who is the most expensive series to buy today.  Twenty-six seasons (or portions thereof) are sold not in season/series box set like every other TV program released in the past decade, but by story.  Nor are complete seasons available for download.  Of the 157 stories produced before the year 2000 (including Shada and the TV Movie but not The Curse of the Fatal Death which had been released on VHS), 18 do not have a sufficient number of existing episodes to release separately, two stories with half their episodes can be released (The Underwater Menace & The Crusades), but only Underwater Menace will be released.  That leaves 137 stories that have been released on DVD since 1999.

As of October, 2015 all Classic Doctor Who stories will have been released with the exceptions noted above. Now is the best time to begin purchasing DVDs if you haven't already.  Unlike the VHS releases, which were released over a span of 21 years, the DVD releases were never released as movie editions which eliminated the cliffhangers (The Seeds of Death, Spearhead from Space, Day of the Daleks, The Time Warrior, Death to the Daleks, The Ark in Space, Revenge of the Cybermen, Terror of the Zygons, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang).  Other stories were noticeably edited (The Web Planet, Carnival of Monsters, Pyramids of Mars (also movie), The Brain of Morbius (also movie)).  Thus with DVDs you can have an almost totally consistent release of the series, (with the obnoxious release of The Chase in the US and Australia)  More importantly, for the First and Second Doctors, almost all of their episodes have been subject to the VidFIRE treatment to restore the video look to the film telecines that exist today (exceptions include The Time Meddler and Episode 1 of the Crusade. The Moonbase DVD in the U.S. should have had the process applied byt did not)  The Third Doctor's stories that are only available as B&W film telecine and poor quality NTSC tapes have also been colorized with the best technology available.  The Restoration Team that has supervised the releases of Doctor Who has done an extraordinary job with the existing library to produce the best quality releases.

The U.K., (Region 2/Region B) the U.S. (Region 1/Region A) and Australia (Region 4/Region B) are the three major markets for releases of Doctor Who (including the current series, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures).  Everything is available (except for Seasons 4 & 5 of Sarah Jane Blu-ray) in some form or another in each region.  Nonetheless, if you wish to purchase a uniform collection, you should really purchase the Region 2 U.K. releases.

First, new Doctor Who releases in the U.K. begin expensive, but within a few months the prices almost always fall sharply.  New Doctor Who releases in the U.S. begin expensive and seemingly remain expensive to purchase new, seemingly no matter how old.  Older titles (by DVD release date) in the U.K. are often extremely inexpensive (£5-6).

Second, every story is still in print and can be purchased new, today, in the U.K.  In the U.S., there are several stories that have gone out of print, and the prices for them can rise dramatically.  The stories that are out of print in the U.S., with no planned Special Edition to replace them, are :

The Sensorites
The Rescue / The Romans
The Web Planet
The Time Meddler
The Gunfighters
The Invasion
The Krotons
The War Games
Terror of the Autons
Colony in Space
The Time Monster
Planet of the Spiders
City of Death
Black Orchid
Earthshock (included in a barebones edition for The Doctors Revisited Volume Two)
Time-Flight
The Awakening
Frontios
Planet of Fire
Attack of the Cybermen
The Mark of the Rani
The Two Doctors
Happiness Patrol
Dragonfire
Battlefield
Ghost Light
The Curse of Fenric

2003 is the first year where prior DVD releases have not been superceded.  Here are the stories were originally released and have been later replaced with Special Editions :

The Aztecs
The Tomb of the Cybermen 
The Seeds of Death 
Spearhead from Space
Inferno
The Claws of Axos
The Three Doctors
Carnival of Monsters
The Green Death
The Ark in Space
The Robots of Death
The Talons of Weng-Chiang
The Ribos Operation  US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Pirate Planet US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Stones of Blood US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Androids of Tara  US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Power of Kroll US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Armageddon Factor  US Only Key to Time Box Set
The Visitation
The Five Doctors 
Resurrection of the Daleks
The Caves of Androzani
Vengeance on Varos
Remembrance of the Daleks
Doctor Who – The Movie UK Only

Special Editions are more expensive than the earlier releases, but contain more extras (usually an extra disc) and improved picture and sound quality.  Most Special Editions today have dropped in price so much as to make them not any more expensive than buying now-OOP original DVD releases.

Third, copyright clearances are easiest in the U.K., which makes export versions for the U.S. and Australia comparatively more expensive.  Moreover, sometimes music cannot be cleared and must be replaced.  In one instance in the first episode of The Chase, two minutes had to be excised from the U.S. and Australian DVD releases because the Doctor and his companions were watching a concert of The Beatles.  The footage is available on the VHS version of these stories for each country.  Similarly, The Beatles can be heard on the soundtrack of Remembrance of the Daleks on all VHS copies, but that had to be replaced for the U.S. DVD releases.

Fourth, since 2006 the BBC has been releasing story collections of the classic serials in Region 2.  These collections can follow a particular monster like Beneath the Surface, which collects the Silurian and Sea Devil stories, a series of related stories, New Beginnings, which presents the stories surrounding the Fourth Doctor's regeneration, or a looser collection of weaker selling titles like Earthstory, which includes the First Doctor story The Gunfighters and the Fifth Doctor story The Awakening.  In the U.K., virtually none of these box sets had the stories released separately.  Most of the box sets that made it to the U.S. also allowed the stories to be purchased separately.  There are at least nine box sets that never saw a U.S. release, and while the prices may have been high in the beginning, the prices on them have so decreased as to make them very good bargains.  In the U.S. you would have to purchase these stories separately at increased cost.


US Release UK Release Stories Available Separately in US? Stories Available Separately in UK?
Earthstory No Yes Yes No
Bred for War No Yes Yes Yes
Mara Tales No Yes Yes No
Revisitations 1-3 No Yes Yes No
Peladon Tales No Yes Yes No
Mannequin Mania No Yes Yes No
Time-Flight & Arc of Infinity No Yes Yes No
Beneath the Surface Yes Yes Yes No
New Beginnings Yes Yes Yes No
The Beginning Yes Yes No No
E-Space Trilogy Yes Yes No No
The Key to Time Yes Yes Yes No
Lost in Time Yes Yes Yes No
The Invisible Enemy with K-9 and Company Yes Yes No No
The Black Guardian Trilogy Yes Yes No No
Dalek War Yes Yes No No
The Space Museum & The Chase Yes Yes No No
The Key to Time (Original Edition) Yes No Yes N/A
The Doctors Revisited 1-4 Yes No Yes N/A
The Doctors Revisited 5-8 Yes No Yes N/A

Finally, the packaging of the U.K. releases is superior to the U.S. releases.  Each U.K. release came with a booklet discussing the story and giving a listing and description of all the special features on the disc.  These booklets are not available as a paper copy on the U.S. releases.  Also, some U.S. box sets like The Beginning, The Invisible Enemy with K-9 and Company and The Space Museum & The Chase did not have separate cases for each story.

There are, however, a pair of hurdles if you wish to buy Region 2 DVDs outside of the U.K.  First, you must find a seller willing to ship to your country and be prepared to pay for shipping.  Amazon.co.uk. will ship Region 2 U.K. DVDs or Region B U.K. Blu-rays to the U.S., and their shipping charges are very reasonable.  There is a delivery charge of £0.99 per CD, DVD or Blu-ray and a £2.09 combined delivery charge.  This delivery charge does not increase on the number of items in the order.  The delivery time is 5-7 business days.  No VAT or U.S. state sales tax is collected unless perhaps you live in a state where Amazon.com collects the tax.

Second, you will need a region 2 or region free DVD player to play these discs.  I think that the vast majority of people who play Region 2 DVDs in a Region 1 country these days use VLC Player.  VLC will work fine with Doctor Who Region 2 DVDs, so long as the drive does not have a region code (RPC-1) is hard-coded to Region 2.  I now recommend using MakeMKV to backup your Doctor Who episodes.  MakeMKV is a modern program that is trialware, but you can always get a new trial period when it upgrades to a new version.  MakeMKV will easily rip all video and audio tracks losslessly from a disc.

Ripping four episodes of Doctor Who takes about 15 minutes on my PC.  To figure out what to rip, I use VLC or PowerDVD to select each individual episode and mark down the Title number when that episode plays.  Having a list of the episode times helps, which are provided at the excellent and venerable Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time Travel site : http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/

Even though the PS3 will not play PAL content from a DVD, even if the DVD is a region free copy, it has no problems playing the extracted, uncompressed content via a media server.  My flat screen LCD and my CRTs have no trouble displaying the resulting streamed video.  With the latter, presumably the PS3 is outputing an NTSC-compatible video signal (NTSC color encoding, 525 lines/59.94i), and it does it very well.  While the PS3 does not natively play MKV files, with PS3 Media Server, that is not a problem.

Last month, I began ordering all available DVDs from Amazon.co.uk, buying the regularly released boxsets (not limited editions) to save money. On Amazon.co.uk, you can only order 50 items at a time, so for a complete classic Doctor Who set you will need at least two orders.  I was able to get my first batch of purchases into two orders, but the site can get error prone when trying to order so many things at one time.  Prices fluctuate frequently on Doctor Who DVDs, so you may get a better or worse price depending on when you put an item in your shopping basket versus when you actually complete an order.

Fortunately, the value between the British Pound Sterling and the U.S. Dollar has been fairly favorable for the past three years, generally hovering around $1 USD equaling between £1.50-1.70.  However, your credit card will charge a fee to perform the conversion.  My card charged me approximately 3% of the total cost of the order, including shipping.

If you place a large order, Amazon will ship out DVDs several at a time.  You will not get one big box, but maybe eight smaller shipments.  Each time a shipment is sent from the factory, your card will get charged.  I have not encountered a damaged disc, but three cases have had some minor issues with damage.  Also, for one story, the DVD insert booklet was not present, but I understand that the issue does occasionally rear itself.

Having purchased all the Region 2 Doctor Who DVDs, I can definitely say that now is the time to buy.  The BBC apparently is not keen about producing new Special Editions of previously released stories.  The last was back in August, 2013.  Additionally, there are no classic episodes left to be released, save for The Underwater Menace Episode 2.  That story may receive a release with animation or telesnap reconstruction, probably the latter.  Buy before stories go out of print.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me if the "video look" of in-studio classic Doctor Who is maintained when playing via PS3? I'm not a video expert, but have noticed my region-free player outputs Region 2 without that live-video look, which I presume means it's converting the frame rate from the video 30fps to the more film-like 25. Or something.