The DVD has served us well for over a decade now, and many have adopted Blu-ray as their format of choice. Sadly, the selection of TV shows in the HD format remains poor, especially for British viewers.
Unfortunately, some great TV shows would not benefit from an HD upgrade due to the way they were filmed. From classics such as Only Fools and Horses and many older episodes of Doctor Who, to contemporary series such as Nighty Night, the filming methods of these shows dictate a standard definition future. But there are still a whole raft of shows shot on both film (which can be transferred to disc in HD) and in digital high definition that have been neglected by their distributors.
So, as part of a new season celebrating the the Blu-ray format (which will lead us up to our ‘BluChristmas’ 100 Disc strand this autumn and winter), here is the first 10 in a carefully curated list of TV titles that deserve a Blu-ray outing.
Five series (four of them not on BD). 2007 – 2013. Digital HD.
Glen Close was the perfect casting choice for the terrifying lawyer Patty Hewes in this glossy and gripping legal thriller. The first series was released on Blu-ray when the format was still rather new and sadly it didn’t sell well. After that, distributors Sony decided on standard definition only releases, which is a shame, since each different season has a distinct visual ‘look’ primed for magnificent HD.
Eight series. 1987 – 2000. 16mm film.
ITV’s fabulous crime drama changed the face of British television. John Thaw’s remarkable performance of the kind (though occasionally grumpy) cross-word solving, opera-loving Oxford Detective captivated the world. The series is made up of 33 feature-length films, some original screenplays and some adapted from the novels of Colin Dexter. Inspector Morse has been remastered in high definition – anyone with Sky can see some of the HD episodes on ITV3 HD – but alas, the only way to buy it is the DVD boxset which sadly boasts some shockingly fuzzy transfers. Doing a direct comparison between how they look on the DVD compared to the lush HD editions on ITV3 HD is startling and really show how appalling the DVDs are. Come on ITV, do your crown jewel justice!
Six series (five of them not on BD). 1999 – 2006. 35mm film.
Shot on beautifully grainy film stock, this landmark in American television starring the late James Gandolfini should be seen in HD. And it can be…for the first series that is (and when it crops up on Sky OnDemand). But, for some odd reason (probably to do with money) Warner Home Video decided not to give any of the later series a Blu-ray release (apart from a US Season 6 offering). Such a shame.
Six series. 1993 – 2006. 16mm film.
Mixed series and feature-length films. 1993 – 2006. 16mm film.
Robbie Coltrane, in possibly his best onscreen role, is a brilliant presence. Cracker took him from comedy to hard, serious drama. And what a terrific drama it was too. Terrible crimes committed by complex people. And Coltrane’s criminal profiler shines a light on their motives. Stunning.
Agatha Christie’s Poirot
Thirteen series. 1989 – 2013. 16mm film & Digital HD.
The good news is, this show is available on Blu-ray if you don’t mind importing from Spain or the USA. The bad news is, it’s not easily available in the UK (which is bonkers, considering what a wonderfully British show it is). Because I’m a Poirot obsessive, I imported all the Spanish Blu-rays (the cheapest way – they are half the price of the Region A US versions) and they look utterly fabulous! The series can be divided in different ways, but roughly it fits into two camps: 1989 – 2001: the ‘Classic’ years, and 2003 – 2013: the ‘Cinematic’ years. The first bunch of episodes and films are sumptuously done, but are very much Poirot’s show and feel televisual. From 2003 onwards, ITV went in a new direction, choosing to concentrate on Christie’s novels rather than simply Poirot’s comedy value. This has allowed the various directors to experiment with different styles and for David Suchet to explore the darker side to Hercule Poirot.
Seven series. 1991 – 2006. 16mm film.
As far as I can tell, this Helen Mirren crime drama which captured the attention of the world when it premiered in the 1990s, has not even been remastered in HD, let alone released anywhere on Blu-ray. So it’s going to take some time and effort if we ever do see Jane Tennison in hi-def glory. But ITV are steadily restoring their library of drama titles, and it was shot on film, so we can live in hope.
UPDATE (12/08/13): This show has now been remastered in high definition from the original 16mm negatives. It’s been released in a glorious Complete Collection edition from Acorn Media and is available……only in the USA. So once again, Britain misses out on seeing one of their best shows in HD. Typical. Please, ITV! Give your home viewers a chance!
A Touch of Frost
Fifteen series. 1992 – 2010. 16mm film.
David Jason turned in a terrific performance as the cantankerous and unorthodox Detective Inspector Jack Frost in this long running series. Once again, ITV are in the process of giving this series a good remastering (and, rather interestingly, the early episodes have been ‘opened-up’ into widescreen versions). You may think the cinematography on this grey-looking series is not worthy of high definition. However, given the right treatment, the 16mm film stock gives this series a satisfyingly deep, rich feel.
Sixteen series. 1996 – Present. 16mm film (S1 -10) and Digital HD (S11 – 16).
The BBC’s fabulous transfers to DVD of this long-running crime drama demonstrate how good they look in standard definition. So imagine how great it would look on Blu-ray! The later series especially feature some of the most inventive and exciting uses of cinematography in recent television. From grainy, grim, muted tones to bright, pin-sharp, glossy, handheld camera shots. This is the crime drama for those who like their murder served up looking ultra-stylish.
Two series. 2010 – 2012. 16mm film (S1) and Digital HD (S2).
This is one of the best dramas in recent years – part anthology series, part serial, each episode features a character accused of a terrible crime. Did they do it? We find out over the course of the episode. Written by Jimmy McGovern (The Street, Cracker), the stories are first-class, and some of the performances are Oscar-worthy. The highlight is a beautifully handled turn from Sean Bean as a transvestite accused of killing his lover’s girlfriend.
Series 1 – 4 plus Specials. 2010 – 2008.
UPDATE: This list previously featured the BBC’s 2005 – 2008 series of Doctor Who which were incorrectly labelled as productions shot on film. Sadly, it has now been learned that the episodes were largely filmed on standard definition digital video, and so would not be suitable for an HD upgrade, therefore this show has been removed from the list. However (the plot continues), despite this, BBC Worldwide are releasing HD up-converted editions of the SD versions on Blu-ray disc in the United Kingdom and United States this November, ‘remastered in 1080p’.. There is currently no news as to the quality of these upscales or whether they will be released in the UK.