Upstairs, Downstairs
The German DVDs

When Upstairs, Downstairs was first screened in Germany (under the title Das Haus Am Eaton Place) broadcaster ZDF made two decisions about how they would broadcast the show:

1) Like the USA, they decided not to show the complete run of episodes. Across the five seasons, they took 52 of the original 68 episodes, leaving the remaining 16 (mostly from Season One) unscreened. The selection was bizarre. One of the best, I Dies from Love, was left out, but Magic Casements was in. For Love of Love – Elizabeth's marriage to Lawrence – was in, but the episode setting it all up (The Key of the Door) was out. How the plot thread about Hazel in The Glorious Dead made any sense without If You Were The Only Girl In The World is anybody's guess. The Bolter was gut apparently, but its partner, A Change Of Scene, was nicht so gut...

2) It was deemed necessary to cut the episodes down to a consistent 44 minutes for ZDF's purposes. The UK originals varied in length so, therefore, did the amount cut out for the German screenings. The worst case was the final episode, Whither Shall I Wander? which (being a rather long episode) lost around 10 minutes of footage. The episodes were dubbed into German in their cut-down form, meaning that no German-language footage ever existed for the bits that were chopped out.

Because of these two factors, any attempt to release Upstairs, Downstairs on DVD in Germany is inevitably going to be somewhat compromised: some episodes aren't available dubbed into German, and those which are available are cut!

The first attempt to release the show on DVD was by ZYX in 2006. Their efforts ran to the first 16 German-dubbed episodes (taking things to the penultimate episode of Season Two1), all in their usual shortened forms. The missing scenes from the German episodes were included in standalone fashion alongside their parent episode, but the missing whole episodes were not.

The German fans weren't happy, things stopped and no further episodes were released. German fans who could understand English resorted to importing the Network set from the UK instead.

But now Fernsehjuwelen (which means "Television Jewels" in English) have trumped ZYX earlier releases by putting out five new season-by-seasons box sets, this time squarely aimed at fully satisfying the German fans of the show.

Unlike the ZYX editions, this time all 68 episodes are there, all uncut. The 16 episodes not included in the German run are simply presented solely with the English soundtrack and (optional) German subtitles. The 52 German-dubbed episodes are given with switchable English or German soundtracks (and German subtitles, again optional).

But what about those scenes which were cut and never dubbed into German? Those are included too, in their correct place in their respective episodes; if you're listening to the German soundtrack, the DVD simply cuts back to the English soundtrack and turns on the German subtitles for those parts. It ain't perfect but it's obviously the best that can be done.

The actual sets are spread across four disks per season (the longer Season Five is five disks). Of the episodes I've had a look at, the picture quality is akin to the UK or US sets and there are no obvious complaints on that front.

Network's lavish five-part The Story of Upstairs, Downstairs documentary project is included as an extra, one part per season (see my reviews of Network's UK DVD offerings for details of that). Also there is Sandy's Last Stand, an offshoot of the same project.

Each box set also comes with rather nicely done little booklet about the show. These booklets each run to around 24-or-so pages and feature background information about each season of Upstairs, Downstairs, information about the show's characters and the actors behind them, and an episode guide for each season (cast, plot, and behind-the-scenes factoids). There are also some short interviews with members of the cast scattered around (Christopher Beeny, Lesley-Anne Down, Simon Williams and, more strangely, Horst Janson of A Suitable Marriage fame).

I'm quite impressed by the care that seems to have gone into this set. Someone's gone to the trouble to make sure all the footage is there (even if some of it isn't in German) and someone's worked quite hard on those little booklets. Well done, Fernsehjuwelen!

1 A later repackaging from ZYX included the last episode of Season Two as a bonus, presumably as an attempt to round things off to some degree.