Gene Autry’s television series, a new “Doc Martin” season and the “Doctor Who” special with both Matt Smith and David Tennant lead TV shows on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
“The Gene Autry Show: The Complete Television Series: Collector’s Edition” (Timeless, 1950-55, b/w and color, 15 discs, $79.99, 91 episodes, photo galleries, movie trailers, audio-only radio episodes, two episodes each of “The Range Rider,” “Annie Oakley,” “Buffalo Bill Jr.” and “The Adventures of Champion”). Autry gained fame as a singing cowboy in movies from the 1930s through the ’50s. And as a singer and songwriter, he was enormously influential in the development of country music. He also sang and wrote several Christmas tunes that are still popular today.
When Autry, a shrewd businessman, got into television, he kept ownership of his program, then produced others (the four listed above being examples). Autry’s shows are simplistic white-hat/black-hat half-hours; bad guys go to jail, good guys get the girl, life lessons are learned. (There’s a reason “Gunsmoke” was hailed in 1955 as TV’s first “adult Western.”)
But that’s not meant to disparage the show’s worth. For baby boomers like me, there’s a glow of warm nostalgia here, and it’s fun to see a very young Lee Van Cleef in two episodes and Gail Davis in no less than 15 before Autry created “Annie Oakley” as a starring vehicle for her.
It’s also fun to see the color shows — the final two episodes of Season 1 and the entire fifth season, several years before “Bonanza” began motivating viewers to start purchasing color TVs.
“Doc Martin: Series 6” (Acorn, 2013, two discs, $39.99, eight episodes, featurette, photo gallery). The reluctant British seaside-village physician with the blood phobia is back, hilariously played by Martin Clunes. He finally marries schooteacher Louisa (Caroline Catz), the mother of his child, but it isn’t easy going domestic when you’re the ultimate OCD case surrounded by eccentric characters. This is a welcome return of this funny, warm, strange and completely engaging series after a long hiatus.
“Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor” (BBC/Blu-ray 3D, 2013, two discs, $29.98; 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD versions; featurettes, mini-episodes, trailers). In celebration of the 50 years “Doctor Who” has been on the air, this unique 76-minute episode has the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) meeting up with Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and the “hidden” War Doctor (John Hurt), who is forced to see the results of his intended actions. Also here are the two mini-episodes “The Night of the Doctor” and “The Last Day,” which sort of bridge “Doctor Who” eras. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
“The I Love Lucy Christmas Special: Colorized For All Ages” (CBS/Paramount, 1956, color and b/w, $16.99, three episodes, colorized and black-and-white versions). Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz star in three episodes from their seminal “I Love Lucy” sitcom: “The Christmas Show,” “Lucy’s Italian Movie” (with the famous grape-stomping sequence) and “Lucy Goes to Scotland.” In the Christmas show, flashbacks from previous episodes are still in black and white. And 50-plus years later, this is still funny stuff.
“Civil War Double Feature: Gettysburg/Lee & Grant” (Lionsgate/History, 2011, two discs, $14.98, two documentaries). These two History Channel cable movies explore the title subjects, from producers Ridley Scott (“Thelma & Louise”) and his late brother, Tony Scott (“Top Gun”), and narrated by actor Sam Rockwell (“The Way Way Back”).
“The Best of the Universe” (Lionsgate/History, 2009-11, two discs, $14.98, seven episodes). Episode titles tell you what to expect with this collection of favorites from the popular History Channel documentary series: “Death Stars,” “The Day the Moon Was Gone,” “How the Solar System Was Made,” etc.
“The Best of Ancient Aliens: Greatest Mysteries” (Lionsgate/History, 2010-11, two discs, $14.98, eight episodes). Popular episodes from this History Channel series that speculates about ancient edifices having been created by advanced technologies: “Alien Tech,” “Aliens and Ancient Engineers,” “Aliens and Lost Worlds,” etc.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com.