Doctor Who, like many other television programs, has seen many of its episodes released to DVD since the late 1990s. The first story to be released in this format was a remastered and re-edited version of The Five Doctors. Since then, BBC Video, later in conjunction with 2|entertain, has released many classic-series stories in the format, often with commentary, documentaries and other features. Some serials, such as The Ark in Space, have included the option to view with upgraded special effects, while some releases such as The Curse of Fenric have included extended versions with previously unbroadcast material.
Except for the two season-long story arcs, The Trial of a Time Lord and The Key to Time, BBC Video/2|entertain has chosen to release individual serials, rather than complete seasons, from the classic series, although several themed releases, or multi-story arcs, have been issued as well. It's also common for shorter two-episode stories to be paired with a longer stories following or preceding it (though some, like The Sontaran Experiment, have also been released on their own). Occasionally, releases have occurred to correspond with events in the 2005-present revival series, such as the release of The Invasion of Time, featuring the Sontarans, which occurred around the time the Sontarans made their return appearance to Doctor Who in the The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky two-parter.
A special release, Lost in Time, collected "orphaned" episodes from the 1960s, the remainder of the stories in question having been wiped. Another release of an incomplete story, The Invasion, saw the two missing episodes of that story reconstructed using animation and off-air audio recordings; a second story with missing episodes, The Reign of Terror, was released in January 2013 in the UK and February 2013 in North America.
Unlike other TV series that have seen home video release in a sequential fashion, this has not happened with the 1963-89 series of Doctor Who, creating a seemingly randomised order of releases. Discounting Paul McGann's TV movie, it was not until 2009 and the release of The Twin Dilemma to DVD that it was possible to watch a complete classic-series Doctor's era — the Sixth Doctor's, in this case — on DVD without interruption. All stories which exist in their entirety in the BBC archives have now been released on DVD.
This story-by-story release format has resulted in BBC Video releasing massive amounts of supplementary material for the series. Each release includes at least one and sometimes more behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentaries, and related material such as promotional clips from Blue Peter, deleted scenes, outtakes, and even BBC continuity announcements, where archived. As a result, Doctor Who stands as the most-documented TV series ever released in a home-video format.
The BBC Wales-produced series has been released differently, with 2|Entertain choosing to initially issue "vanilla" (special feature-lite) single-disc releases of three or four episodes (with the exception of Series 2: Volume 1 which has two episodes), followed by a full-season box set (with extras) later; these releases occur sequentially. Included in each box set are specially edited versions of Doctor Who Confidential, as well as, when applicable, charity mini-episodes such as Time Crash. David Tennant has been closely involved in the production of the box sets featuring his episodes, sometimes recording extensive video diaries for each. The spin-off animated adventure The Infinite Quest has also seen DVD release on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2009 and into 2010, BBC Video released the 2009 Specials, including the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor, individually. These discs are not "vanilla" as they include features such as Doctor Who Confidential and the 2008 Proms concert. A box set collecting all the specials, including The Next Doctor, was released in January 2010 with the North American release in February. UK and US DVD release of the second animated serial Dreamland followed.
All official Doctor Who spin-offs have also been issued to DVD: K9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. The unofficial spinoff K9 has also been released on DVD. The behind-the-scenes series Torchwood Declassified and Doctor Who Confidential have also been released, usually as bonus features in box sets for the applicable seasons, although most episodes of Confidential, due to music and footage rights and space restrictions, are usually only available on DVD in a shorter version dubbed Doctor Who Confidential Cutdown (there have been a few exceptions). No episodes of Totally Doctor Who have been released to DVD with the exception of The Infinite Quest, which originally aired as a segment of the programme.
There has also been limited DVD release of some of the independent spin-off productions made during the 1990s, such as Summoned by Shadows. To date the only BBC release of such material has been Devious, starring Jon Pertwee, a fan-made film that was included as a bonus feature on the 2009 DVD release of The War Games.
In 2009, a magazine called Doctor Who DVD Files was launched in the UK featuring photos and stories built around an enclosed DVD featuring two episodes from the revived series.
Although the arrival of the Blu-Ray high-definition format (see below) in the second half of the 2000s threatened to render the standard-definition DVD format obsolete, much as CDs supplanted vinyl in the early 1990s, the DVD format has proven to be extremely resilient and popular, especially with releases of older films and TV series that, due to technical restrictions in their original production, cannot be affordably issued at present in a high-definition format. Doctor Who, which from 1963 to 1989 was primarily produced on standard-definition videotape, would require extensive remastering to be viable for high-definition release.
The advancement of technology has allowed recent DVD releases of 1960s-era Doctor Who to be rendered closer to what viewers originally saw on television. After their original broadcast on the UK, the episodes were furnished to international broadcasters as filmed copies. It is in this form that many of the episodes survived and were recovered following the BBC's decision to wipe most original videotape copies of the stories. Only from the start of the Jon Pertwee era were episodes retained and circulated in their video/film hybrid format; specifically, that interiors were usually rendered on videotape, and exteriors on film, a format used by the series until 1985. Even then, some recovered episodes from Pertwee's era were only available on all-film copies. Spearhead from Space, Pertwee's first story, was the only serial of the entire 1963-89 series to be completely produced on film.
Beginning with an Easter egg in the DVD release of The Tomb of the Cybermen, and continuing in full use with The Aztecs and other Hartnell and Troughton-era stories, a process called "VidFIRE" was applied. This digitally reprocessed filmed copies of videotaped footage, deinterlacing the image and creating a simulation of what the original videotape footage looked like. As a result the seemingly higher frame rate (actually, a higher shutter speed, but with only half an image taken at twice the speed of film) of many early broadcasts has now been restored, although in some cases this has served to emphasise the low-budget nature of the production more than the transferred-to-film versions of the episodes. For example, it is much easier to notice the ragged nature of certain scenery backdrops in the restored VidFIRE version of The Space Museum than the filmed version.
VidFIRE was introduced after the DVD release of several Hartnell and Troughton stories, such as the aforementioned Tomb of the Cybermen. These stories have subsequently been re-released with full restoration using the VidFIRE process.
A new optical disc format, Blu-ray Disc, emerged in 2006. Developed by Japanese consumer electronics corporation Sony and the winner of a two-year format war with Toshiba's HD-DVD format, Blu-ray was created to be a successor to DVD, allowing for high definition content and better digital audiovisual compression thanks to its significantly higher data capacity. Due to the limited gains of mastering older video sources for Blu-ray release, BBC Worldwide has not (as of 2015) stated any plan for regular release of twentieth century Doctor Who on Blu-ray. However, Series 1 did receive a Blu-ray steelbook release despite being shot in standard definition, and the Blu-ray release of the TV movie simply upscaled the 480i broadcast copy rather than re-scanning the 35mm negatives. The higher storage capacity of the Blu-ray format could also allow whole seasons of the classic series to be released on a single disc each, though the BBC has not currently announced any plans to take advantage of this possibility. Series 1 of Torchwood was the first franchise release to be issued in the format; subsequently, all Torchwood releases have been released on Blu-ray.
The first Doctor Who release on Blu-ray occurred in the summer of 2009 with Planet of the Dead, which was also the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed and mastered in high-definition; since then it has become standard for both DVD and Blu-ray editions to be issued of new-series releases. In January 2010 BBC Video released a box set of the 2009 Specials season in both DVD and Blu-ray. This release included the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor, which had been produced in standard definition and previously issued only on DVD; it became the first Doctor Who episode to undergo professional upscaling.
Spearhead from Space, the only story from the classic series of Doctor Who to be shot entirely on film, was released on Blu-ray in July 2013.
It has not been announced when or if non-HD seasons of The Sarah Jane Adventures will be released in the Blu-ray format, although up-conversion makes this feasible. Nor has any timeline been offered for potential classic series releases on Blu-ray: the 1996 TV movie, having been shot completely on 35mm film, has source material worthy of Ultra HD Blu-Ray release. Much depends upon the quality of the source material-given the scarcity of original film segments from Doctor Who in the archives, there would not be any great benefit from releasing much footage on Blu-ray Disc.
Due to the fact that Blu-ray players will also play standard DVD, albeit with varying degrees of picture and sound quality depending both on the source material and method of upscaling, the older format is expected to remain the standard for pre-high definition era releases, including classic-series Doctor Who.
Doctor Who DVDs tend to debut in the Region 2 UK market, with releases later coming in the Region 1 North American markets and the Region 4 Australian markets. (There has been the rare exception, such as Series 1 of The Sarah Jane Adventures being released in Region 1 first, and The Key to Time: Special Edition which was released in North America in March 2009, with Region 2 release occurring in the fall of 2009 - though it should be noted the Region 1 edition is a repackaging of a Region 2 release previously issued in limited release in 2007.) There are generally only minimal differences between a Region 2 and Region 1 release of any particular Doctor Who adventure; The most obvious difference is mainly in the packaging of the particular adventure. Releases of the "old" series (i,e. Season 1 through Season 26, starring the first seven Doctors) Region 2 discs have a distinctive packaging format which is mostly shared with Region 4 releases but is quite dissimilar to Region 1 packaging.
A few minor bonus features have been omitted between releases. For example, a bonus feature in the The Trial of a Time-Lord set featuring TV presenter Anne Robinson was omitted from the Region 1 version, reportedly due to licensing issues over a piece of music. This also resulted in a John Barrowman commentary, included in one of the Region 2 Doctor Who-BBC Wales DVD sets, being omitted when the set arrived in Region 1 (due to him breaking into song at one point).
A rare case of a major difference between regions is occurred with the DVD release of The Chase. The original version of the story includes a clip of The Beatles performing "Ticket to Ride". The Region 2 release includes this sequence but it was later announced that release of the story outside Region 2 would be edited to remove the sequence. Another major difference occurred in September 2010 when the Region 1 release of TV: Planet of Fire was issued sans the story's making-of documentary "The Flames of Sarn" due to, according to the DVD packaging, "insurmountable rights issues". This is to date the only major supplement to be lost to Region 1 consumers.
The general breakdown of the major DVD regions is as follows:
- Region 1: United States, Canada, and all US territories.
- Region 2: Europe (except the larger former Soviet republics), plus Japan, Middle East, Egypt, South Africa (including its neighbours Lesotho and Swaziland), French overseas territories and Greenland.
- Region 3: Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea
- Region 4: The Americas from Mexico south (including most of South America), Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Oceania
- Region 5: Former USSR republics, regions of Africa and Asia not covered by Region 2 or 3 (including India), Mongolia, North Korea
- Region 6: China
Doctor Who DVDs are often considered to be released by region but are more often released in various markets. Doctor Who DVDs have been released primarily into the United Kingdom (Region 2), North American (Region 1) and Australian (Region 4) markets. Other markets that exist within the Region 2 and Region 4 spectrums have also seen releases of DVDs; these releases are usually the same though may be translated and with different marketing choices to the UK, North American and Australian releases.
- See the Wikipedia article DVD region for a more detailed discussion of DVD Region codes
- see separate article
List of releases
to be added