Shiny Shelf


Fox TV DVD round-up

By Mark Clapham on 24 April 2004

Fox, bless ‘em, don’t let up with their rolling programme of releasing TV on DVD. Only a few weeks after wading through a huge wedge of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ discs, I find myself with another huge backlog of good stuff to look at. Don’t they think we need time to sleep? Are we allowed to have money to spend on other things?

Enough whining. In spite of the detrimental effect on my wallet, I’m grateful to Fox – the company has led the way in the release of TV on DVD, setting standards with season box sets, complete runs of shows and decent extras. The standards of the episode transfers and presentation have been consistently high.

The X-Files: The Complete Season Eight

The penultimate season of ‘The X-Files’ is one of my personal favourites, for exactly the same reasons that so many long-term fans hated it: this is the first season without David Duchovny as a regular, following Mulder’s abduction at the end of season seven. Although Duchovny makes odd appearances throughout the season as the ’search for Mulder’ progresses, Robert Patrick takes on the position of male lead. Patrick’s character, John Doggett, is a straight forward ex-cop, and takes on the role of skeptic. The whole dynamic of the series shifts as, in Mulder’s absence, Scully and Skinner take on the role of ‘believers’. This change is all for the good, shaking the series up when it was in danger of winding down. With Duchovny a part-timer and Anderson intending to follow, the production team took the opportunity to start planning for the series to continue without its original leads. As well as Doggett this season introduces a new female lead, Monica Reyes, played by Annabeth Gish. Reyes, introduced late in the season, is a believer, not in the fanatical way that Mulder is, but as part of kind of new-age acceptance of possibility.

These newcomers both work well; Patrick is excellent as Doggett, bringing the show down to earth, while Gish’s Reyes is a more optimistic and open character than the series has been used to. The existing regulars get a shot in the arm from the changes as well, with Gillian Anderson recreating Scully as a dynamic and driven heroic lead, and Mitch Pillegi bringing some extra depth to Skinner. The changes introduced provide an opportunity to not only tell new stories, but to have a clear arc throughout the season as the status quo adjusts. While the ’search for Mulder’ may have contributed to the series demise, trapping the show in the shadow of its departed leading man when it should have been moving on, for this season it works well, and all the ‘mythology’ episodes this year are far, far better than those of previous ones. Arguably, ‘This Is Not Happening’ and ‘Deadalive’ represent the best two-parter since ‘Duane Barry’ and ‘Ascension’ – very high praise.

The new dynamic adds a buzz to even the most standard of standalone episodes. The early episodes, especially ‘Patience’ and ‘Roadrunners’, are about Doggett and Scully adjusting to each other, and putting the new boy through his paces. Thankfully, there’s a limit to the extent that the writers swaddle the resident skeptic from ‘the truth’. While Scully was constantly not-quite-seeing evidence of the supernatural, Doggett is punching bat-monsters in the face by the end of his first X-Files case. Yes!

In the end, the season does move back towards its original premise, reuniting Mulder and Scully at a key point in their lives. While, as I alluded to before, this focus on Mulder may have dragged season nine, down, the final scenes of the season are just fantastic for long-term fans. Any X-phile claiming to have a dry eye as the credits of ‘Existence’ appear is either a) lying or b) hasn’t been paying attention.

Special features are the usual: a featurette overview of the season (with Chris Carter et al talking candidly about the changes being made to the show), deleted scenes, special effects breakdowns and a couple of commentaries. All good stuff – ignore any skeptic who tells you otherwise.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Seven DVD Collection

Shiny Shelf thoroughly reviewed the final season of ‘Buffy’ at the time, so I won’t extensively dredge through the episodes here – bearing in mind the presence of spoilers, a dig through our TV archives will give you a feel for individual stories. In general, the final season is a big change from the previous one. While season six mixed in some of the show’s best episodes with some of the worst, and varied wildly in tone, season seven is more consistent and serialized, but lacks the spectacular high points of the previous year. What matters is that the series ends well, and in a way that is entirely satisfactory.

Fox must be pretty confident that anyone who has bought the previous DVD box sets isn’t going to stop now, but thankfully they haven’t scrimped on the special features. Commentary listeners are particularly well served with seven commentary tracks, with a wider range of cast members and production staff than we’ve previously heard. There’s also a good few featurettes, including a season overview that has some excellent insights from the entire writing team, including creator Joss Whedon. Rather wonderfully, Fox have also included the ‘Previously…’ teaser from ‘The Gift’, which recaps the first 100 episodes in a matter of seconds. It’s a nice addition, and shows the care that goes into these sets.

Firefly: The Complete Series

With only one season of ‘Angel’ left to release, Fox are running seriously low on Whedon goodness to release. So here’s Whedon’s cancelled space western ‘Firefly’, a series that has seen its reputation grow since its premature cancellation. The concept is spiky and difficult to get a grasp on, and the pace a little slow, but this remains a crafted and unique series. Whatever reservations you begin with during the glacial pace of the pilot episode, by the time you get to the final episodes you’ll be bashing your head against the screen and wishing there was more.

There’s a fantastic making of featurette that looks at the short life and abrupt death of the show, with Whedon and fellow Executive Producer Tim Minear talking through the highs and lows of the process. It’s rare to get perspective on a cancelled series, and Whedon and his crew provide that perspective. There’s also a number of other goodies including commentaries, a couple of songs, short production featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel. Not bad going for a series cancelled in its first season. At the time of writing Whedon is prepping his ‘Firefly’ feature film, ‘Serenity’, for Universal. Here’s hoping the series sees more success on the big screen

Roswell: The Complete First Season

As well as throwing ‘Firefly’ out there, Fox are also digging around for other shows that might sell to the same folks who’ve been loyally snapping up the ‘Buffy’ DVDs. ‘Roswell’ has been in this position before, of course, being one of the teen fantasy shows created to cash in on the success of the vampire slayer. It is, however, a very different and entertaining show in its own right. It never hits the dramatic heights of ‘Buffy’, but as a science fiction teen-soap it works very well.

The genius of combining teen romance with sweeping science fiction is that it reflects the extremes of adolescent relationships – in ‘Roswell’, teen romances don’t just feel like the end of the world, they genuinely could be apocalyptic. In this first season, the emphasis is on the teen show aspect first and the science fiction second; this is a show about the relationships between a group of attractive young people, and the science fiction elements are a useful device to add high stakes to the drama, and of course to create splashy metaphors for the traumas of adolescence. There’s sound talent both in front of and behind the camera. Writer Jason Katims and director David Nutter between them created a sense of heightened reality that’s both convincing and cool, ably assisted by a good cast of young actors. It’s very telling that so many of these youngsters have gone on to movie roles.

As with ‘Firefly’, the series low ratings haven’t been reflected in the DVD set. In fact, this is probably the biggest bargain of the releases reviewed here: 22 episodes, several commentaries with cast and crew, a couple of featurettes using a combination of archive and new interviews, and a random selection of videos, deleted scenes and audition clips. A nice package, and at a relatively lower price per episode than the more high profile shows. Well worth a look.

Fox continue to do good work with their TV DVDs. With both ‘The X-Files’ and the ‘Buffy’-verse franchise wrapping up their releases this year, Fox are branching out. Aside from ‘Roswell’, the second and third seasons of which are due to be released before the end of 2004, Fox are also moving from ‘The X-Files’ to other Chris Carter series, with ‘Millennium’ and the little seen ‘Harsh Realm’ pencilled in for later this year. It’s all good.


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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named markclapham.com.




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