Saturday, 15 February 2014

DOCTOR WHO in 3D: 'The Day of The Doctor' revisited

Saturday, 15 February 2014
I recently treated myself to a 47" 3D television, and have naturally been trying out some 3D content at home. Someone already bought me The Hobbit 3D Blu-ray, but I also bought cheap 3D demo discs from eBay, and couldn't resist buying 3D Pacific Rim from Amazon. However, my new television has also provided an opportunity for me to watch last year's Doctor Who 50th anniversary special in 3D, as intended, so I thought I'd lay down some quick thoughts below:

Firstly, the menu and navigation of "The Day of The Doctor" Blu-ray is abysmal in every respect. Considering this is such an important release for the long-running show, I'm saddened more care and creativity wasn't involved. Or any creativity. Maybe there just wasn't time, as they wanted to get this disc released quickly, but are you seriously telling me nobody could even include a static image of the one-sheet poster? There isn't even a pop-up menu available while you're watching, so if you want to change settings you have to leave the show and hop back to the main menu (as you would on DVD, like a home theatre Neanderthal).

The "menu" itself is just a purple screen with text options. It's minimalist, to say the least, but what irritated me is that you have to listen to a woman read out the options! I suppose this is for the vision-impaired, as there's also an Audio Description track available, but I'm confused by why people with sight issues would want a Blu-ray (and a 3D one to boot). Whatever the reason, this woman's voice navigation can't be turned off, and results in a lot of wasted time without the ability to skip her chatter.
(Update: a few people contacted me to say this wasn't their experience of playing the disc, so I gave the disc another spin and.... okay, ignore the above. I'm not sure what happened, but somehow my disc jumped to the Audio Description menus. The regular menus are fine.)
Onto the actual feature-length episode itself. This was actually my second complete viewing of "The Day of The Doctor" since last November, as I only really dipped into choice moments after it aired on the BBC in 2D last year. For the most part, I was impressed, although the stereoscopic effects weren't as good in the early pre-Gallery sequences (maybe it took awhile for director Nick Hurran to work out how to use them to his advantage).

Now, I'm not one of these people who hate 3D on principle, and when it's used effectively it can really bring something to life. I enjoy seeing television and film in a style that more accurately reflects "reality", if only because 3D gives everything a more tangible feel. Faces and clothes have a dimensionality to them you only get with 3D – as high-definition alone only really brings you added detail. The downside of 3D is that there are moments when your eye can't quite catch the most important element on-screen, and during very fast-moving sequences it can get a little confusing. That said, I actually tinkered with some of my TV's 3D settings halfway through and that definitely improved matters—so if you have a 3D TV you're disappointed with, don't assume the default settings are correct.

I also find that your eyes naturally adjust to 3D after awhile, too. At home the experience of watching 3D is more unusual, as your gaze is accustomed to looking AT your television; whereas with 3D you're actually looking INTO your television.

The visual experience of "The Day of The Doctor" certainly worked in 3D. The episode was filmed with 3D cameras (not retrofitted afterwards), so it looked really good. Quite a few sequences I remember appearing a little cheesy (like some montages towards the end), actually looked perfectly natural and quite cool in 3D. Plus it was obvious how much of Doctor Who lends itself to three dimensions: the shape of the TARDIS, the depths of the time vortex, whenever a sonic screwdriver gets pointed towards you, and this episode's various "oooh" moments (mostly involving the hologram-style paintings in the National Gallery).

I was actually disappointed this episode didn't feature more Daleks, as everything about them just worked in 3D: most noticeably their eye-stalks, telescopic arms, and death rays. As a piece of design, how fantastic to realise they're future-proofed for 3D TV in the 21st-century.

To be honest, I love this episode so much that the 3D didn't become the primary reason for my viewing after awhile. I was just drawn into the whole story again, and particularly the comedic repartee between Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt. It's such a funny episode when those three are bouncing off each other (the medieval forest introduction, the dungeon escape plan with the "impregnable" wooden door). It's a joy. And the 3D really did add something. I'm a little annoyed I never saw this Doctor Who on a cinema 3D screen now, as I'm sure the added sense of communal viewing and encompassing laughs and cheers from fellow fans, would have made the experience come alive even more.

We're getting a 3D special every year now, right? Peter Capaldi's eyebrows need be intruding into more people's living rooms.