The Ark in Space SEBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 February 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Ark In Space
Written by Robert Holmes
Directed by Rodney Bennett
Broadcast on BBC1: 25 Jan - 15 Feb 1975
DVD release: 25 Feb(R2), 12 Mar(R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

After a spate of stories of which I have no real memory, this month finally returns to a period that I can firmly recall from a more youthful time of life. Having become an an avid viewer (translation: my parents were allowing me to watch now), the coming months were to bring great excitement: Sontarans! (remember those last year), Daleks! (remember those last year, too!), and Cybermen! (parents remember those with a Doctor that wasn't Jon Pertwee and assure me they'd be scary too ...). But, after a fun romp with a giant Robot and Sarah being stuck on a roof, this week we were off to a strange Space Station orbiting the Earth ...

The Ark In Space is the adventure that heralds what many of my age think of as the "golden age" of Doctor Who, a period when Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes ruled the show and brought us some of the greatest adventures encountered by the Doctor, accompanied by his best friend (and our favourite companion) Sarah Jane Smith. Though Hinchcliffe and Holmes had inherited the initial set of scripts from their predecessors Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks, the falling through of the original storyline by John Lucarotti enabled them to launch their tenure with the kind of story they'd like to tell. And boy were they to do so ...

After a teaser of a strange glowing green thingy apparently attacking its sleeping victim, our heroes arrive some time later to discover an apparently lifeless station. First they have to deal with the lack of air, then a door sealing Sarah off from the others, then a re-activated security system intent on wiping about anything organic it can set its sights on; after that, Sarah has been transmatted off somewhere and the Doctor and Harry have to track her down, whereupon they finally find her amidst a huge "Ark" containing the survivors of the human race.

That, in essence, is episode one, which by description alone might not sound too exciting, but what really brings it to life is the already apparent familiarity and comfortable rapport that the lead actors have together. It isn't often that an episode has just the principal cast performing (computer voices excepted) and be able to pull it off over some twenty-five minutes, but this episode manages just that. It sparkles with clever and witty dialogue, from the repartee between the Doctor and Harry as they undertake each challenge through to the Doctor's soliloquy on homo sapiens. And then there's the surprise cliffhanger as Harry opens a cupboard and a huge monster leaps upon him ...

... okay, so actually it's a dead wirrn and it's simply falling on him, but that wasn't quite so important to this infant!

Putting my adult fan head back on again, if anything with hindsight it is the realisation of the "monster of the week" that lets the story down slightly. The slight glimpse of the larva in the corridor is okay, but its more prominent appearance in later episodes shows just how reliant on bubblewrap it is. The adult wirrn also looks too much like fibreglass in the harsh studio light (something Hinchcliffe laments in the commentary) - plus, the initial stages of Noah's transformation does look a lot like he's simply put a glove on. However, it is the characters' reactions that help sell the threat, and Kenton Moore's rivetting performance as the tormented leader desperately trying to hold onto his own humanity is totally compelling and means his 'appendage' does not cause a distraction, nor do his subsequent appearances as the physical transformation continues apace throughout episode three - it's testament to this on how shocking it is for this episode's finale that we see Noah's tortured visage finally subsumed into the full wirrn form. Of course, the deficiencies apparent now meant nothing back then, and I can still recall how frightening these giant grasshoppers (as my mum called them) were. And, some 35 years later, the single staring eye out of the solar stack at the Doctor in episode two still sends a shiver up my spine!

Besides Noah, we have Vira, the Ark's First Medtech. On the documentary Wendy Williams explains how tricky it was to approach playing a really intelligent person, and on screen this comes across as a seeming aloofness much of the time - meaning that at the moments she does crack are really telling. However, I did think that perhaps the character should have been a little more emotional at the ultimate death of Noah (her bond partner). Out of the other characters that are brought out of cryogenic suspension, there is poor Libri (Christopher Masters) who barely gets to take his breath before he becomes the "possessed" Noah's first victim, Lycett (John Gregg) who gets smothered in bubblewrap - sorry a victim of a larva - but at least Rogin (Richardson Morgan) gets to nobly sacrifice his life to save the Doctor as the transport ship lifts off. To be honest, none of them really engaged me as much as the principal five stars, but Holmes still ensured that none of them were neglected, dialogue-wise.

There are some superb sets on display from designer Roger Murray-Leach (some of which to be seen again when the Doctor, Sarah and Harry return to the space station some time before in Revenge of the Cybermen) - the cryogenic chambers themselves look fantastic (a special mention should be made for Jan Goram, Tina Roach, Barry Summerford, Peter Duke, Richard Archer, Sean Cooney, Roy Brent, Rick Carroll, Lyn Summer and Geoffrey Brighty, all of whom had to stand patiently in the pallets pretending to be frozen through long recording sessions!).

The DVD

The special edition sees a new documentary covering the production of the story; A New Frontier delves into the making of The Ark in Space and the move into a whole new era of Doctor Who, with then-incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe reflecting on the issues he had with the inherited scripts, as mentioned earlier. Director Rodney Bennett and designer Roger Murray-Leach discuss the production itself, with contributions from Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore - the latter explaining the fun of portraying a character disappearing under progressive layers of bubble wrap! Oh, and there's an appearance by an unexpected fan to look out for, too ...

The new production notes written by Martin Wiggins provide the usual in-depth analysis of the story's development; if you want to know which recording of Handel's Concerto Grosso in B Flat Major was used during Sarah's preparation, the original badge colour of the decontamination chamber, which extra ended up in which pallet, what John Lucarotti's original episodic titles are, and how Douglas Adams fits into the grand scheme of things, here's the place to find out!

Doctor Forever! is a new feature to appear on successive(ish) DVDs, looking at how Doctor Who survived in its 'wilderness years'. The first here, Love and War, explores the literary adventures of the Seventh and then Eighth Doctor through Virgin Books (under Peter Darvill-Evans) and then BBC Books (under Steve Cole and Justin Richards). Narrated by Ayesha Antoine, there are contributions from a host of authors including Russell T Davies (who also talked about his novel Damaged Goods contained elements he'd then recycle for the television series), Paul Cornell (whose the only author to date to have a book translated to screen with Human Nature), and the An Adventure in Space and Time writer Mark Gatiss. An interesting summary of how these ranges kept Doctor Who alive until the series return in 2005, and some candid observations over the BBC's abrupt 'seizure' of the book franchise from Virgin in 1997 as well as how they eventually reached their own demise (and the (ahem) novel way the spares went to use in Eastern Europe orphanages ...).

As with Planet of the Spiders in 2011, the omnibus repeat of the story is included on the second disc, which at seventy minutes means pretty much an episode is lost in the condensed version. I must admit I skimmed this a bit (at 1.5x too), being I'd watched the full version recently, but it is interesting to see how some sections get excised along the way - I noticed the Doctor's speech about humanity in episode one had been lost, and little things like Noah initially shooting the Doctor in episode two and the High Minister's speech in episode three disappeared too.

Other new DVD features include the raw footage of Tom Baker's visits to Northern Ireland in Scene Around Six, the clips of which were rediscovered back in 2011, plus 8mm film of location filming for Robot and the PDF files of Radio Times listings and - for those of us who didn't buy every single tie-in merchandise in the mid-eighties - The Doctor Who Technical Manual (so I can finally build my own TARDIS!). Most of the original 2002 features have been carried across to the special edition, with the notable exception of the Wookey Hole interview with Tom Baker that was released again in its 'proper' place on Revenge of The Cybermen in 2010.

Random Observations

  • The "pink" title sequence present for this story is a fun anomaly (as are the other title sequence variants that are included as an extra)
  • Unlike some of the commentaries to come, Tom Baker is quite serious on this one, though he still has time for his own style of random observations with comments such as "four jaunty buttocks"!
  • It's interesting how the role of a women is played around with during the story, with Harry's blissfully ignorant inappropriate comment to Sarah about "the fairer sex being the top of the totem pole" contrasting against the Doctor's deliberate goading of Sarah's deficiencies to get her to move through the pipeline.
  • I wonder if Begonia Pope ever heard that her alias was Madame Nostrodamus ...
  • The Doctor's introduction of Harry's credentials as being "only qualified to work on sailors" is still amusing, though being it is also on the main menu loops of both discs perhaps it has worn out its welcome now...
  • What with the sailor joke earlier in the script and Philip Hinchcliffe's observation of Robert Holmes having fun with the script, Harry then exclaiming "I found the Queen in the cupboard" caused an outbreak of uproarious laughter from both the commentary crew and myself!
  • There's a strong theme of the fear of possession and loss of identity running through the story, with Noah's struggle against his physical transformation, the Doctor's mental struggle with the hive mind, and the lingering thought about what actually happened to the hapless Dune (Brian Jacobs) under the Queen's ministrations ...
  • The way in which the wirrn propogate through 'contagion' is a theme that rears its head again a year later with the Krynoid's reproductive cycle in The Seeds of Doom.
  • It's a shame that the cut scene of Noah's plea for Vira to kill him no longer exists - it might have been a step too far for the audience in 1975 but it would have made a great deleted scene in 2013!
  • The autobiography "All Friends Betrayed" by Judas Baker is something to look forward to (grin)
  • And for those who always turn off before the end titles have finished ... well, you've missed out on a treat!

Conclusion

All-in-all, the story is quite minimal in its presentation but very effective in its execution. Great acting, stunning sets and scintillating dialogue all competently meld together to create a compelling story, and though the creature realisation was perhaps not as effective as some past and future efforts, in combination with the other elements they form a memorable adversary.

And as for the TARDIS team of Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter, they are on fine form, and between them triumphantly launch this "golden age" of Doctor Who!

Coming Soon ...

The Doctor learns the intricacies of cocoa-making and Barbara find out being a god is not all it's cut out to be as the TARDIS travellers touch down in the murky tomb atop a pyramid of The Aztecs ...




The Reign of TerrorBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 January 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Reign Of Terror
Written by Dennis Spooner
Directed by Henric Hirsch and John Gorrie
Broadcast on BBC1: 8 Aug - 12 Sep 1964
DVD release: 28 Jan(R2), 6 Feb(R4), 12 Feb(R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

The historical adventures are quite often overlooked in the grand tapestry of Doctor Who's 50-odd years of adventures. A staple aspect of the very early seasons of the show, they fell out of fashion and practically disappeared completely by the time the show transformed itself through the introduction of regeneration. A number of modern stories have taken the 'celebrity historical personality' route with the likes of Dickens, Shakespeare and Churchill making an appearance, but during the first year of the show, a concerted effort was made to enhance the education of its viewers through the alternation between 'sci-fi' serials and concepts behind genuine historical times and figures. We experienced the fight for survival of early man, journeyed to Cathay with Marco Polo, experienced the sacrificial belief systems of the Aztecs and then, as the first year of Doctor Who drew to a close, the fear of a populace under The Reign of Terror.

Set during the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution just before Napoleon's ascension, the TARDIS travellers find themselves embroiled within the intigues of those wishing to usurp First Citizen Robespierre's tyrannical grip on France, whilst also trying desperately not befall the fate of 'traitors' to the revolution, the guillotine.

Unlike The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror languishes quite a way further down in fan affections, at least as far as Doctor Who Magazine readers are concerned - Barbara's attempts to change a culture ranked 57th whereas the Doctor's favourite era could only manage 144th in the (then) 200 stories. This seems a bit unfair, really, as the latter story has just as much going for it with strong performances from regulars and guest cast alike amidst the firm Parisian locations.

However, one key factor to such aloofness is that, unlike the former, two of the episodes no longer exist, so watching Reigh is a disjointed experience. Fortunately, the soundtrack to every Doctor Who episode does still exist, and (in what's hopefully a new lease of life for the remaining curtailed stories) BBC Worldwide commissioned animations for both missing episodes, The Tyrant of France and A Bargain of Necessity.

An Animated Tale

The focal point of interest in this release, of course, is the recreation of the fourth and fifth episodes, giving many of us a chance to finally "visually" experience a story that has only existed on audio for decades - and as always does this ever match up to how we can imagine the adventure to have been? There are scant clues to how the story originally played out on screen (with just a few photogeaphs, a script, but no telesnaps) so animators Planet 55 have a fairly free - ahem - reign on how they recreate the appearance of unknown scenes and characters (especially the cellar scenes during episode five). The backgrounds are truly spectacular (and can be seen in a separate feature on the DVD), and the depiction of the regulars etc. are broadly very accurate.

The animation itself is presented in a 'modern' style, with quick cuts between characters speaking, and close-ups on faces - something that is quite distinct from the production style of the existing episodes themselves with their more static scenes and strategic close-ups. Going from episode three to episode four can, in the first instance, almost feel like you're watching a different story, but I personally found that I soon settled into the action and was able to enjoy the adventure in much the same way as I had done so with The Invasion's animated episodes. In many ways I actually preferred the new look and the switch back to the 'real' episode six made me feel the same way as replaying the original Myst and seeing the island after the experience of the version depicted at the end of Myst V: End of Ages - it seemed a bit two-dimensional and sluggish.

There is a lot of attention to detail within the animation for viewers to spot, from flickering candlelight through to scuttling spiders. Faces are also 'alive' with expression in close-up, with the Doctor's eyes often seeming to have a mischievous gleam to them that you can't always pick up on screen; however, if I have a gripe about that, it's that his face sometimes seems a little 'wide' - though then again it bring an strangely more alien countenance to him that I've come to quite like!

I think that much of what has caused consternation in fan circles is how aspects of this animation style can seem 'unfaithful' to the original episodes they replace - is it something to put you off though? The main aim of the recreated episodes should, of course, be to continue your immersion in the story without being distracting, and all-in-all I believe the Thetamation technique works. It might seem a bit strange on the very first viewing - not unlike the way in which Rose gave us a 'shock' with its whole new way of presenting Doctor Who - but as fans we don't just watch stories once and I can foresee that these will be just as acceptable to most people as they become familiar with the style.

The DVD


The episode quality of Reign is a little variable as we get a mixed bag of sources: episodes one and two are derived from the lower definition suppressed field prints that only exist for them, episodes three and six derive from higher, stored field prints, whilst four and five are the animated episodes. All four existing episodes have been cleaned up and look much better than their VHS counterparts. More importantly, though, the audio presentation of all six episodes sounds great, having benefited from remastering by Mark Ayres - especially the removal of the annoying theme tune bleed-through that plagued episode four on the original CD soundtrack release.

Don’t Lose Your Head is the documentary for this release, and features the usual cast and crew look-back on how the story developed from script to screen: in particular they recollect on how the director of the production, Henric Hirsch, suffered a breakdown during recording, and the influence of lead actor William Hartnell (something also covered quite extensively in the production notes). Also, it was good to see William Russell, whose presence is sadly missing from the commentaries.

The commentaries themselves are comprised of three parts: the existing four episodes are discussed by Carole Ann Ford (Susan) and Timothy Combe (Production Assistant), with contributions from cast members Neville Smith (D'Argenson, episode one), Jeffrey Wickham (Webster, episode two), Caroline Hunt about her first television role (Danielle, episode three) and Patrick Marley (soldier, episode six); episode four features actor Ronald Pickup, who chats about his first ever professional role as the Physician; finally, episode five is dedicated to the hunt for missing episodes as discussed by hunters Paul Vanezis and Philip Morris.

The usual production-intensive text notes that accompany episodes are present - except for the two animated episodes! Though it is understandable that notes about the animation itself would not be possible due to them not being available that far in advance, it does mean that there are none of the usual pertinent details about the original episodes and their production to be enjoyed, either. So, if you want to know Radio Times comments and broadcast statistics you'll have to look elsewhere this time.

Similarly, though one of the features is a presentation of the animated backgrounds from the story as previously mentioned, plus an animation gallery, there are no actual interviews or a look at how the episodes were made themselves on the DVD, which feels lacking for such an inaugural event - maybe there'll be something more extensive on the techniques in a forthcoming DVD like The Tenth Planet or The Ice Warriors (fingers crossed we get these, too!). However, BBC Worldwide have provided a short look at the animation of the First Doctor via their YouTube channel.

Random Observations

  • Reign was the last story in the original VHS incarnation of classic series releases (accompanied by existing episodes of The Faceless Ones and The Web of Fear). It was also the last classic story that I sat down to watch a couple of years ago, having put the experience off to savour a "premier viewing" of the old series for as long as possible. It's good to know that there's two more episodes to look forward to, now, hoorah!
  • This was the first story to feature 'proper' location filming, albeit without the regular cast involved. Being slightly interested in such things, I immediately did a Susan and said "That's not right at all" when I saw the production notes refer to the poplar avenue as a lane rather than the driveway of the White Plains resident home ... but that's just me being finicky, as the information derives from what is in the BBC's film diary.
  • The Doctor is reportedly not a man of violence, yet we see him quite merrily hit the foreman over the head with a shovel on his way to Paris!
  • Back in An Unearthly Child we see Susan reading a book on the French Revolution and remarking on an inaccuracy. Here, we discover it's the Doctor's favourite era of Earth history (still not a man of violence, hmm?) - does this mean the two have been here before?
  • In this modern era of celebrity historical figures gracing the show, it is quite easy to forget that this was actually a relatively commonplace during the First Doctor's travels - this time it's Robespierre and Napoleon's turn.
  • The animated episodes make a lot more sense of what's going on in some of the audio-only scenes: in particular the scuffles Ian endures in the cellar during episode five are much clearer now (even though this is an interpretation of the script!)
  • One thing that struck me in the recreated end titles of episode five was the next episode caption reading "Prisoners of the Conciergerie - I thought this was a mistake at first as the surviving episode six clearly doesn't have the extra word, but this was apparently what was in the camera script for A Bargain of Necessity, so I guess that's why it's here ... but was that on screen?!?! The lack of production notes on the animated episodes is a little frustrating in that regard!
  • Carole Ann Ford reminisced about a model of Paris she used to have, which had been made for the show but never used. It's a shame they didn't use that rather than the photo-caption for establishing the city.
  • The temptation to add "Carry on" in front of the documentary title is almost irresistible!

Conclusion

The Reign of Terror is an interesting tale, set in a variety of locales as the story progresses. Its ranking of 144 in DWM's list to me seems quite unfair, and with its fresh animated resurrection hopefully will improve its appreciation for the grand poll!

I think the enjoyment of the animated episodes themselves is always going to be a matter of personal taste; however, I'd say try to approach them with an open mind and don't pre-judge - yes, they may not seem very 1960s in look, but then again Doctor Who is meant to be timeless!

Coming Soon...

The survivors of a devasted Earth are on the brink of calamity as an unknown menace infiltrates and claims its victims one by one ... can the Doctor, Sarah and Harry avert the fate of humanity in The Ark in Space ... ?




The Legacy CollectionBookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 January 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Legacy CollectionThis review is based on a preview of the UK Region 2 DVD, which is released on 7th January 2013.

Of all the DVDs in the classic series collection, this set has perhaps been the most divisive within fandom online before its release than any other. Without dragging this review into the quagmire, much of the discussion surrounds the presentation of the abandoned and never-broadcast Tom Baker adventure Shada and expectations over whether the unrecorded scenes would be 'completed' by animation or other means, and the resulting disappointment from some quarters when it was announced that it would 'simply' be based upon the edit produced for the VHS range in 1992.

Context is everything, though: is this a release of the story Shada with other extras, or is this a collection of bits and pieces that includes Shada? Steve Roberts of the Restoration Team clarified:
The whole point of the 'Legacy' boxset is a mopping up exercise - it's mopping up Shada, MTTYITT and a few other extras that are left over at the end. That's all it was ever supposed to be!
In this context utilising the previous commercially available version in this set alongside More Than Thirty Years makes sense; so, enough of what we didn't get, let's look at the wealth of material we do have in the set!
 

Disc One: Shada

ShadaThere are two versions of the story to choose from on the disc, the 'reconstruction' presentation of the original Tom Baker material from 1979 that was produced by John Nathan-Turner for VHS in 1992, and a revised animated version with Paul McGann that was produced by Big Finish in 2003 for the BBC Doctor Who website. Being a classic series release, it isn't surprising that the primary version on the disc is the 1992 version, whilst space limitations mean that the animated version is consigned to watching on a computer - however, which is actually considered the 'better' presentation of the story will fall to personal taste!

Apart from the necessary adjustments to continuity to introduce why a different Doctor is involved, the main plot remains essentially the same in both. The Doctor answers a message from retired Time Lord Chronotis, now living at St Cedd's college in Cambridge, finding out that his old friend is actually in possession of a 'dangerous' book, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey. However, Doctor Skagra of Think Tank is also after the book, knowing that its pages can reveal the way to the Time Lord prison planet of Shada where a criminal Salyavin has been incarcerated - Skagra wishes to obtain the latter's ability to project his mind into others in order to become the most powerful person in the universe. What ensues is a run around Cambridge and the galaxy as the Doctor, Romana and Chronotis with the aid of students Chris and Clare chase Skagra and his Krarg allies in order to thwart his plans.

And that's essentially it. To be honest there isn't much more to the story and the filmed scenes show that whilst the sparkle of Douglas Adams dialogue is present, there isn't an awful lot of plot to fill the 1hr49m running time of the release, let alone a full six episodes' worth had the story been completed. Adams himself had said that he hadn't thought it very good (and cannibalised elements of the script for other works) - the story had only been released on VHS through him accidentally signing the paperwork.

It's the notoriety of the production that makes the story interesting, and this is documented quite thoroughly through both the production notes that accompany the episodes, and documentaries that can be found on the other discs in the set. Briefly, strikes were quite commonplace within the BBC in the 1970s, and Doctor Who suffered three consecutive years of industrial action for the recording of season finales - 1979 was the year the production team's luck ran out and so Shada was never able to recover the time needed to complete it, much to the chagrin of cast and crew. Nathan-Turner attempted to resurrect the story a number of times (including a potential Colin Baker-narrated version in 1985), but in 1992 was able to convince BBC Enterprises that the story could be produced with new effects and linking narration from its star.

The ensuing release is a brave attempt to tell the story, but the lack of filmed material really becomes noticeable in the latter half the story, where much of the unrecorded studio material was destined. Chronotis's rooms, Skagra's ship brig, and Think Tank scenes were recorded, but TARDIS interiors, Skagra's and the Krarg's ship control rooms, and Shada itself were all lost. Though judicious use of new special effects help bridge some of the gaps, the latter episodes end up very heavily reliant on Tom Baker's narration of what's happening "off-screen", and can lead viewers to wonder what is actually going on! Watching the animated version first can actually help a lot here as, with all the scenes 'present and correct', it means that when watching the original version it is possible to 'visualise' what is going on during those narrated moments.

One thing that grated in 1992 and still does in 2013 is the incidental music, which was written for the release by late 1980s resident composer Keff McCulloch. I'm afraid I've never been a fan of his music in Doctor Who, and the "tinkle tinkle" throughout Shada is quite distracting at times. It's a shame JNT didn't secure Dudley Simpson's services to provide a 'contemporary' score (and a shame the budget for the DVD couldn't stretch that far, either!). I also found K9's voice a little irritating too, but at least David Brierley is contemporary (though John Leeson's interpretation will always be definitive, and very welcome in the animated version).

A few observations on the VHS version:
  • From the outset it feels like the story is being introduced by Professor Geoffrey Hoyt, as Tom struts around the old MOMI Museum Doctor Who exhibits in a suit straight out of Medics. His delivery is also quite OTT, though fortunately the actual narration is delivered in a matter-of-fact way (and as the Doctor).
  • Watch out for Professor Chronotis's magic spectacles in episode two!
  • The major plot point of needing Salyavin's mental agility is perhaps of less importance if you consider the Doctor demonstrated this ability with himselves in The Three Doctors, or more recently with Craig in The Lodger!
  • The one genuine recorded effect of the two TARDISes in the vortex actually looks quite poor in comparison with the 1992 CGI ...
  • ... though the "blocky" effects used in some places feel very dated!
  • Nobody seems to know why Clare's hair changes from severe scientist bundle to a more feminine wavy loose style in episode five - maybe her shock at the sparking console had more of an effect on her than originally thought ...
  • K9 seems to be back under the influence of the Shadow at one point, judging by the Danger, Doctor exclamations as Think Tank explodes.
  • There was a proposal for romantic interest between Chris and Romana ... half-human on his father's side?!?!
  • Christopher Neame spends way too much of his time resembling Julian Glover!
  • If you consider Shada as part of the canon then there's plenty of Time Lord lore here to challenge Robert Holmes! Time Lords are allowed to retire on alien planets so long as they don't have a TARDIS. Time-Tots (an unscripted line by Lalla Ward now often quoted in the never-ending debate over Time Lord procreation). Time Lord bodies fade out of existence in their final death (is that what was potentially happening to the Doctor in The Five Doctors?).

The alternative Eighth Doctor version of Shada is accessed through a computer, and is presented as a flash movie powered by any web browser capable of running the Adobe format. An initial menu gives access to the six episodes, which can then be watched through the browser. The episodes play very smoothly, and as it is local to the machine the occasional annoying net-pauses are of course absent. There are a couple of issues that occur with playback though; firstly, you have to select each episode to watch (there's no "play all"), and when watching the episodes the chapters and running time remain permanently visible at the bottom of the screen - these are a product of the code included on the DVD to play the files, however, and the raw SWF episode files can easily be played through another capable player without such distractions!

There are no special features included on the discs for this version, but related extras can still be found via the BBC website.

Overall, as one might expect, Shada's picture quality has been cleaned up and looks much better on the DVD, especially when compared with scenes included in other features. However, it's the animated version that really benefits from being released in this way, as it is no longer constrained by the lower resolution/bandwidth limitations online. Plug your computer into your HD-TV and enjoy!

Disc Two: Extras

The disc kicks off with a documentary on the making of Shada: Taken Out of Time, filmed in the glorious surrounds around The Backs in Cambridge, saw cast and crew recount their personal experiences of the filming (though incongruously Tom Baker was occasionally seen walking his dog in the woods!). Much of the first half focusses on how much fun everybody had filming in the city, with Tom Baker commenting on how much better it was to be out of a quarry, Daniel Hill on it being the best week filming of his life, and production assistant Ralph Wilton wryly observing on the blossoming relationship between Hill and director's assistant Olivia Bazelgette. Then, as strikes loomed the latter half focusses on how everybody became concerned and ultimately heartbroken with how production was delayed and eventually cancelled by the BBC.

One particular anecdote that sticks out is how Angus Smith of the St John's College Choir recounts how they managed to wrangle their way onto the show through appealing to a rather drunk director Pennant Roberts in the pub, and then their increasing dismay over the next year as they never got to see themselves on air.

Now & Then provides viewers with the usual comparisons between how locations look now with how they appeared during filming - or in this case, how Cambridge has pretty much been stuck in a time bubble over the last three decades! As well as those scenes that were recorded, the documentary also looks at locations that didn't quite make the cut due to time running out when filming, and those abandoned due to the strike's impact on night shooting. (Also, for those interested in such things, the music playing throughout is from the second movement of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, named Scene at the Brook, which seems quite apt if you think of one scene in particular!)

Strike! Strike! Strike! is a candid review of how industrial action has affected the show over the decades both in production and broadcast. The documentary looks into the well-known cancellation of Shada, the way in which other BBC strikes caused practical problems for production, and on how the 1970s saw a number of problems with broadcast interruptions due to national industry disputes. Amongst the many anecdotes, one that in particular tickled me was how William Hartnell nearly brought the production of the show to a halt with his haughty attitude to a dresser. (Keep your eye out for a cameo by Doctor Who News too!)

Being a Girl is bit of an oddity; the feature's premise seems to be to look at how women are portrayed in the series (both in front of and behind the scenes), but meanders around topics like whether it really matters that the production team seldom featured women, is gender-blind casting a good thing, and are powerful female villains empowering or insulting? Louise Jameson guides us through the documentary, with insights provided by professional women (and confessed fans). The roles of all of the female companions are explored, with particular emphasis in the class series of Susan, Sarah, Tegan and Ace - and how the latter finally saw a move away from cipher to personality, a trait foremost to modern female companions. The question of if it is okay to fancy the Doctor also rears its head, and of course the old chestnut over whether a woman could ever play the Doctor.

The disc is rounded off with a production gallery, accompanied by clean cues of some of Keff McCulloch's music score for those who can tolerate it (using mute or running at x2 more than ably resolves that problem for those who can't!).

Disc Three: More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS

More Than Thirty Years In The TARDISIt is perhaps fitting that the 'definitive' celebration of Doctor Who in the 20th Century is on one of the final of the original releases in the Classic DVD range for the 21st - in many ways it the the forerunner of all we've come to enjoy about the range!

With all the interviews, documentaries, behind-the-scenes clips etc. that we've been treated to for over a decade now - including the wealth of features on this very boxed set - it's hard to imagine how starved we were for such information back then. The preceeding year's Resistance is Useless on television had given us a tongue-in-cheek retrospective of the series, but then in 1993 the BBC indulged us with a wealth of clips, chats with the stars (and celebrity fans like Toyah Wilcox, Ken Livingstone and Mike Gatting - plus not-so fans like Gerry Anderson), and all manner of archive material in the form of an hour long Thirty Years in the TARDIS - and then even more delights with the expanded More Than version presented here when it arrived on video a few months later.

Though much of the archive material may have since appeared in full on the DVDs, there's still a number of bits and pieces that haven't quite made it to digital clarity before and can be enjoyed for the "first time" here (for example the Terry Nation interview conducted on Whicker's World). Regardless of whether I've seen some clips more recently, though, it still generates a little thrill seeing those original tantalising moments from my youth once again - many of which were seen for the very first time in Thirty Years.

The documentary is split into loosely themed sections, with Part One being Doctor Who and the Daleks, Part Two covering Monsters and Companions, and Part Three on Laughter and Tears Behind the Scenes. These "episodes" were linked by Doctor Who adverts like Sky-Ray lollies and The Doctor and Romana interacting with PR1ME computers (something that I was doing myself at the time in my programming job!). The expansion also enabled a number of items that hadn't made it onto TV, including an interview with the originally very poorly represented Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy (I wonder whether Paul McGann would be similarly 'restored' to history if the 40th Anniversary celebration The Story of Doctor Who ever were to be released!).

Perhaps the most memorable innovation of the documentary are the recreations of classic scenes from the show, such as Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge, and of Cybermen marching down from in front of St Paul's Cathedral; as well as these we also have a number of encounters 'drawn from the imagination' of Josh Maguire, the boy representing us the viewers - for those still revelling in the sight of Clara entering the TARDIS through its doors for the first time in The Snowmen, hark back here to where Josh does the very same thing almost two decades earlier!

(One sobering thought arising from the documentary was that, back then, there were 110 missing episodes. Two decades on and just four more episodes have been recovered. Though, of course, you can also say that four more episodes have been recovered! There's still hope ...)


More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS was narrated by the late Nicholas Courtney, and the disc includes a wonderful tribute to the actor. Remembering Nicholas Courtney explores the actor's life, in many cases using his own words from interviews conducted by friend and co-author Michael McManus, who also presents the documentary. Talking candidly about his career, Nick's love of the show and his rich life shine through, and it is easy to understand how so many admired the man who played one of the Doctor's oldest and most trusted friends. Plus, watch out for the special appearance by a very familiar Doctor Who star, one of Nick's oldest friends. (On a personal note, you can also watch out for a "blink-and-you-miss it" appearance by yours-truly, too!)

Having mentioned The Story of Doctor Who earlier, the next two features are extended interviews with Peter Purves and Verity Lambert that were originally recorded for that documentary. Being that these items tend to be cut quite severely to fit their eventual destination, the context of the quotes can be lost, but having said that, the unedited material can sometimes feel quite rambling! Certainly, in Doctor Who Stories - Peter Purves the actor's reflections on his time on Doctor Who, the pittance he was paid, the 'cheapness' of the show, and the effect it had on his career in the immediate aftermath all come across as very negative, yet he speaks highly of how imaginative and innovative the series was, how strong the scripts were, and how its prestige attracted a number of big-name stars. Similarly, in The Lambert Tapes - Part One the producer flits between how excited she was to be offered to produce such an imaginative series having only been a production assistant before, versus the challenges of being the only woman amongst the other producers, and overcoming the then inherent attitudes towards women amongst her own team. Actually, I feel this latter interview does far more to explain the prevailing male-dominated industry than the attempts by Being a Girl on disc two, but then again the former was trying to encompass the whole of Doctor Who's history.

Speaking of girls, the final documentary for the set is entitled Those Deadly Divas, which conjures up images of women in smart attire vamping up the universe ... which in the case of self-confessed diva Kate O'Mara isn't far off the mark! The actress reflects upon how the various portrayals of women characters in Doctor Who bring the show some glamour and pizazz, alongside Camille Coduri, Tracy-Ann Oberman ... plus Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman! The item examines facets of female 'domination' such as enemies like Kate's Rani, Lady Peinforte and Captain Wrack, business-focussed individuals like Tracy's Yvonne Hartman, Krau Timmin and Madame Kara, and those who do it all for misplaced love like Queen Galleia, Lucy Saxon, and Countess Scarlioni. The Doctor's "good" companions also come under scrutiny when they are possessed by evil, such as Sarah by Eldrad in The Hand of Fear. It's quite a light-hearted piece, and to be honest I found the most interesting bits to be the linking titles created by out-takes from Maureen Lipman's Wire!

The disc is rounded off with a Photo Gallery from the Thirty Years shoot - and unlike Shada has a welcome selection of score bites from its respective composer, Mark Ayres - and for computer users there's a PDF file of the Radio Times listing for the transmitted documentary.

Conclusion

All-in-all, I think this set is likely to have quite a mixed reaction. If, like me, you find the documentaries that accompany releases to be a bonus then there is plenty here to keep you occupied - not least More Than Thirty Years itself. If, however, you're more of a fan of just the stories themselves rather than the value-added material that accompanies them, then perhaps the rather bland fragments of Shada won't be to your taste.

Next Time

The Doctor visits his favourite era of history, the French Revolution, but will he, Susan, Barbara and Ian be able to survive The Reign of Terror ...





Series 7 Part 1 (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 October 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

Series 7 Part 1
Broadcast on BBC1: 1 Sep - 29 Sep 2012
UK DVD release: 29 October 2012 (Standard/Weeping Angels)
UK Blu-Ray release: 29 October 2012 (Standard/Weeping Angels)
This review is based on a preview of the UK Region 2 DVD release.

There has been a lot of fan debate over whether the five episodes broadcast this year form their own series or not; however, BBC Worldwide have placed them firmly within the broader thirteen episode run (plus Christmas special) by releasing them on DVD and Blu-ray as Series 7 Part 1! Since the series has only recently been broadcast and all our episode reviews are available to read I'll only concentrate on what is included in the boxed set.

Being this is the 'bare-bones' release there are no commentaries, just the five episodes which appear to be complete ("Next Time" trailers are intact at any rate!), and it's always nice to be able to watch end credits without continuity announcers' verbal diarrhea or squeezing (though the BBC weren't so 'intensive' this year). Disc one has the first three, and disc two has the final two, plus the special features - which as one might expect from this release, there aren't that many!

The five separate mini-episodes of Pond Life are included - which unlike the 'complete' version broadcast on the red-button remain individual even when you "Play All".

Also included are the two 'prequels' that were originally exclusive to iTunes, which provide introductions to Asylum of the Daleks and A Town Called Mercy. The former provides the reason for why the Doctor has travelled to Skaro, whilst the latter covers The Making of the Gunslinger (which unfortunately is a bit of a spoiler for the episode if you had watched it beforehand!).

As well as the 'standard' release, there is also a limited edition "Weeping Angel" release which has an alternative cover and contains a poster. This version also presents an additional special feature in the form of the BBC America documentary The Science of Doctor Who, shown by the channel back in August as part of a series of special shows leading up to the series premiere in September. The documentary takes a light-hearted look at some of the scientific ideas thrown up by the series (time-travel, sonic screwdriver, regeneration, etc.) with comments by members of the scientific community like Maggie Pocock and Michio Kaku, presenters like Dallas Campbell from Bang Goes The Theory, the obligatory contributions from Steven Moffat, and other fan personalities.




The Claws of Axos SEBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 October 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Claws of Axos
Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Broadcast on BBC1: 13 Mar - 3 Apr 1971
DVD release: 22 October 2012 (UK)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

Broadcast almost a year after this month's earlier release, The Ambassadors of Death, The Claws of Axos already represents how many view the Pertwee era, that of the cosy ensemble dealing with the invading "enemy of the week". But is this really a typical 'generic' story of the time or something a little more special?

There's plenty to fit what might one consider the "build a Pertwee story" template. The "UNIT Family" has come together at this point, with both Mike Yates and Jo Grant introduced this year to join the already established Brigadier and Benton; and of course their world nemesis (for this year at any rate) is also firmly recognised in the form of the The Master.

Another thing that is 'settled' by now is that the Doctor isn't about to sell his beloved humans down the river during the story. Even though it seems several times during the course of Axos that he is more interested in his own escape from Earth, ultimately of course we know this isn't the case and it isn't particularly convincing during the story, either. Perhaps the cosiness dispels any potential drama to be made from these scenes, but of course it is needed in the narrative to convince the Master and the Axons of his duplicity if not the audience.

Rather than recalling a plot that (most) readers are more than familiar with, I'll just focus on a couple of bits that stuck in my mind when watching the story again. First up there's the 'staple' pompous official who refuses to understand the seriousness of anything in the form of Chinn. I say 'staple', but I can only actually think of one other off the top of my head - Walker in The Sea Devils. In fact Chinn is really the unsung hero of the story in many respects, consistently doing the right thing for the wrong reasons - he wants to blow up the ship before it arrives on Earth, and then wants to keep Axonite for Britain when the Axons really want it spread globally. He'd see himself as the hero, at any rate! It's quite easy to imagine him as a regular liaison for the Brigadier, too - the two certainly seem familiar at the start of the story, even if the former isn't aware of the Doctor (oh, it's the return of the "Top Secret" documentation!), and as he says later, "the perpetual interference of the UNIT people", inferring other interaction. Thinking about it, it's a shame Peter Bathurst didn't reprise his role for The Sea Devils!

Roger Delgado lights up the plot whenever he appears, and I can see why the production team (and Pertwee?) got worried about his becoming a more popular character than the Doctor himself. He also gets the best line of the story with the counter-measures to nuclear explosions summarised in the form of "sticky tape on windows"!

Pigbin Josh - need I say more (grin)? For a character that could easily be dismissed as padding, Derek Ware manages to pull off a charm to the character which genuinely makes one feel sorry for his demise - it's a shame his full 'disintegration' was cut to avoid too much nastiness (but it is on the deleted scenes to watch).

The Axons are well-realised, in both their humanoid golden forms and their tentacular counterparts - though the 'crawling carpet' during the episode two cliffhanger needs to be overlooked ... the use of Axonite to entice their 'prey' to do the work of seeding the planet for them is also a good ploy, though the time limit for distribution feels too artificial, simply to push the plot along.

It's always good to see familiar effects in play, like 'melting' doors (the wonders of polystyrene) and bubbly organic fluids (foam ahoy!). I also like the physical explosive effects used for body strikes that was also a staple of this time, something the resident stunt-men performed in abundance in this story as Axon tendrils flay about.

However, there's one thing that is a crying shame, and that's a potential regular who sadly was not to be ... Corporal Bell is an unsung heroine both here and in the preceding The Mind of Evil, and it would have been nice to see her pop up many more times during the UNIT era - but at least she gets the immortal line about freak weather conditions over the south-east!

As an aside, one thing niggling me for years was the way in which the Doctor insists that the Master has left Earth; he's very adamant about it here, whereas in the proceeding Colony in Space the initial exchange between him and the Brigadier is much lighter - it almost feels as if Colony should have been broadcast first, continuity-wise (the way in which Jo reacts to the TARDIS also infers this). I asked Terrance Dicks about this, but he wasn't able to recall whether there had been any intention to do this (as became quite common in later seasons) or if it had simply been a scripting issue he had overlooked during production. In any case, they are still in the 'traditional' order on my shelf!


In conclusion, I might have said more in support of the 'generic' nature of the story rather than being something special, but in fact I think it is one of the story's/series's greatest strengths and makes it all something special. There's really nothing wrong with having a 'familiarity' that the audience can identify with and almost take for granted, thus being able to pay more attention to the 'new' plot devices of the story - and that is hardly unique to Pertwee stories but a concept running throughout the show's lifetime over forty-nine years.


This story also has the 'honour' of containing my earliest memory of Doctor Who, which I recall as being a moment when a girl turns round and screams at something coming out of a wall; this turns out to be the cliffhanger to episode one (who says cliffhangers are no longer required?!?!). Whether or not that proved too scary is now long forgotten, though my next memory is The Green Death so maybe the Doctor's adventures were initially a bit too much for this toddler!

The DVD

One of the selling points of this new special edition is the way in which the story has been remastered and image quality improved since the story's original release in 2005. Episode three was presented on the big screen at the Recon event in September, but I didn't think the improvements were very evident when blown up to cinematic size. Watching in a normal television environment does reveal a crisper, deeper image to before, however, and the improvement in quality is clearly evident.

With the release of a special edition the main interest is going to be in what has been added since the original release. No new commentary here, but there is a fresh set of production notes by Martin Wiggins to accompany the episodes, wherein the usual factoids encompass items such as the seemingly rife acts of theft in studios rearing its head again during episode one, how wall throbbers almost led to industrial action, the 'death' of The Vampire from Space, THE VERY WONDERFUL MICHAEL FERGUSON, and also highlighting the first use of framing CSO to being scale to a scene (perhaps best realised for the sandminer control deck in The Robots of Death!).

The second DVD presents us with the new documentary, Axon Stations!, which delves into the making of the story. As one might expect there is quite a bit of detail, including how the story might have featured giant skulls and giant carrots, and on how we narrowly missed out on Pigbin Josh - The Series! The only minor irritation I had with the feature was a 'squelching' sound as captions came up, but fortunately it wasn't that often.

The other major addition is a feature in which DVD presenter Toby Hadoke gets to spend a weekend with the larger-than-life John Levene. Though at times it looked like Toby was a trapped rabbit in need of an escape route, it is actually an entertaining romp (Levene seeming to take on some of Tom Baker's more eccentric moments in interviews), with reflections from the actor's friends and even his mother - though town-folk seemed a bit bewildered by the star in their midst! But does John make a good cooked breakfast - watch and decide for yourselves ...

Disc 1 has the previous edition's out-takes and deleted scenes, and on disc two this is expanded from the original 26m58s to a whopping 1h12m48s! Unlike the former, this doesn't have accompanying production notes so you'd have to have watched the shorter one first to understand the context of some of the re-takes, etc.

Former release material includes the Now and Then featurette (which though having been made several years ago still reflects the locations which have changed little since that or indeed the story itself was recorded!), and the Michael Feguson interview 'Directing Doctor Who' (I'd forgotten he'd pushed for the rehearse-record approach to production that is so often associated with the modern series).

Sadly, however, the feature on Reverse Standards Conversion has been dropped, which is understandable considering the technique has been superceded for the special edition, but means that you'd still need to retain the original release for that - and of course means that the mention of the aptly-named Peter Axon was also lost! (Update: it's still there, but as an Easter Egg now!)

Next Time

It's back to a time of BBC strife and the story that became a legacy as the incomplete Shada becomes the Fourth Doctor's penultimate non-SE DVD release ... The Legacy Box is due out on 7th January next year.




The Ambassadors of DeathBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 25 September 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Ambassadors of Death
Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Michael Ferguson
Broadcast on BBC1: 21 Mar - 2 May 1970
DVD release: 1 October 2012 (UK)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

When I first watched The Ambassadors of Death back in the 1980s I remember not being terribly impressed, finding the story overlong and a bit boring. Watching it now I can hardly understand what that teenager was thinking as there is plenty of action and intrigue to appreciate throughout the seven episodes!

I'm going to assume that people coming to this story will be aware of what the story is about, but briefly it surrounds the attempts by a deluded former astronaut to make people believe that there are hostile aliens intent upon invading Earth, and how the Doctor has to negotiate in order to avoid an all out war between the two as alien ambassadors are held hostage.

One of things I really like about Ambassadors now is the way in which the story unfolds is so "matter of fact" and played very straight. Like The Silurians before, UNIT have become attached to an important project to provide security, and again the Doctor decides to help out the Brigadier on his own terms only once he becomes intrigued by what's occuring, and then (in this case literally) walking off and leaving them to it once he's "done his bit".

The Doctor here continues to show his disdain for authority figures and those who fail to comprehend how clever he is(!). Liz, who does, continues to display her own scientific credentials throughout - not to mention her courage in trying to evade those eager to kidnap her and in facing radioactive aliens!

The Brigadier depicted throughout this season is a gritty, open-minded individual, and the mutual respect between him and the Doctor shines through (it's a shame he became more of the stereotypical 'military mind' in later seasons). The UNIT of this season is also clearly a serious military outfit rather than the "family" it became in later seasons; in fact it is so formal that when Benton makes his appearance in episode five without hindsight it's hard to tell whether he's going to be a goodie or a baddie! The extensive use of stuntmen serve to make the action sequences worthy of huge-budget movie battles (kudos to director Michael Ferguson and stunt coordinator Derek Ware/HAVOC).

General Carrington as the main protagonist makes for an ambiguous character, flitting between being the leader of the kidnappers and an military ally to the Space Control investigation until his ultimate paranoia comes to the fore in the later episodes. Like many 'real' characters, he sits firmly in that grey area of neither good nor evil, but totally convinced that he is in the right over the intentions of the aliens he had encountered on a former Mars mission. You cannot help but feel pity for him at the end when he craves understanding from the Doctor. All-in-all, a compelling performance from John Abineri.

Like the Silurians previously, the "monsters of the week" here aren't inherently bad but are simply dealing with the environment they find themselves in. The "Ambassadors" have arrived on Earth in good faith, unaware of the delusion Carrington has of their intentions, and are forced to act as radioactive 'weapons' (the "Carriers of Death" as the original story title describes them). However, those on the spacecraft orbiting Earth are quite happy to wipe out the planet should their delegates not be returned, and those held 'hostage' seem happy enough to murder others when carrying out their tasks, so perhaps Carrington wasn't quite as off-the-mark as one might think ...

In spite of the nitty-gritty activity, there's still time for some fun in the story. The Doctor and Liz do some time-travel shenanigary at the start which much as I hate to say it validates a similar scenario with the Doctor and Peri in The Twin Dilemma! (Terrance Dicks also relates this to the opening and original closing scenes in Day of the Daleks). Then there's Jon Pertwee's chance to use his "doddery old man" voice in episode two as the Doctor re-recovers Recovery Seven. There's also inside jokes with the Hayhoe/Silcock van signs to appreciate, as well.

Though it is (probably) unintentional, I find all the labelling within the story rather amusing, too - the space vehicles are emblazoned with their identity just in case any passing space travellers need to know which is the Probe and which is the Recovery vehicle, briefcase explosives are handilly labelled as such, and even the Doctor's "anti theft device" is clearly displayed on the dashboard! Little touches like that serve to remind us, of course, that this is still a family show and not now focussed on being an adult-oriented series as some critics might have suggested at the time.

Finally, music-wise, I do like a bit of Dudley Simpson with my seventies Who, and he is in fine form here as composer of a number of memorable themes - notably, there's the grand "space" music during episode one, the jaunty theme to accompany UNIT, plus the 'unearthly' theme that followed the Ambassadors around.

The DVD

If course the real 'selling-point' for this DVD is the colour restoration for episodes two to seven, so was it worth the delay since its original announcement for last year with The Sun Makers? From a purely objective point of view, there is a noticeable drop in quality between the first and second episodes, and at times the colour seems ropey and occasional strobing peeks through; overall, it reminded me a lot of how The Daemons looked on its restoration in 1993. However, of course, the important point here is that Ambassadors is being presented IN FULL COLOUR and is a vast improvement on the previous BBC VHS release, let alone the swirly patches of occasional colour intermixed with black and white that we were treated to on dodgy VHS copies and even on UK Gold's broadcasts! Many of us won't remember the story in colour anyway, and it doesn't take long to adjust to quality change at all - certainly anybody used to VHS playback won't have a problem. Full marks to the restorers Peter Crocker and Richard Russell for what they've been able to achieve with the material they had to work with.

The commentary team for each episode were 'themed'; so for example episode one included Terrance Dicks discussing how the script developed from David Whitaker's original outline and director Michael Ferguson's obsession with the then new CSO techniques; episode two, meanwhile focussed on the stunt team with Derek Ware's reasoning behind the creation of HAVOC, and fellow stunt men Roy Scammell and Derek Martin recollecting their experiences. The cast popped in and out for episodes, too, and it was bittersweet to hear Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and Peter Halliday recount their experiences on the show during the course of the story - the 2009 recording helps to make it feel as if they are still here to regail us with their tales. Geoffrey Beevers joined the team for the final episode (and immediately asked by compere Toby Hadoke how he got the job in a story alongside his then pregnant wife Caroline!), and the team as a whole spoke about the family atmosphere Doctor Who created.

The production notes are as comprehensive as ever, so if you ever wanted to know the names/locations of all the various tracking stations seen in episode one, the reams of narrative originally planned for Wakefield (as played by Michael Wisher in his first appearance in the show!), and who/what "Grimnod" relates to, it's all there to find within the text!

One gem included Whitaker handing episode two over on the day Armstrong set foot on the moon, and this wasn't the only connection with real-life space history for the story. The main extra on the second disc is the making-of documentary, and its opening 'scene' reflected how sometimes fantasy and reality aren't so far apart as, during a story surrounding the recovery of a space probe, NASA had to undertake a similar feat with Apollo 13's disaster (which occured in April 1970 between the broadcasts of episodes four and five). As one might expect, the documentary delves into how the story was made, expanding and clarifying some of the commentary observations by the production team on the main disc.

Other extras on the disc includes an instalment of Tomorrow's Times focussing on the media coverage of the Third Doctor era (presented by Peter Purves in a manner reminiscent of John Craven on Newsround!), a contemporary trailer for the story (which highlights the action-oriented elements), and the usual collection of images from the story and PDF copies of Radio Times listings.

Next Time

It's the Third Doctor again, one year on - how have our favourite characters developed since we met them in Ambassadors ... find out in the special edition release of The Claws of Axos!