Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years Of Fandom! (FTS Media)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 June 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom (Credit: FTS Media)This well-prepared and well-paced documentary came as somewhat of a surprise to me when I got word of it the other day - perhaps having got the impression that the 50th Anniversary was covered exhaustively by the BBC alone. The 'hook' that separates it however is its focus on the many, many fans of the show. Some of the Who fans of course only came abroad when the wildly successful revival last decade hit full steam, but there were many who kept 'the flame alive' during the so-called 'wilderness years' of the 1990s and early 2000s.


The very beginning is a treat for anyone - grown-up or kid - who has been given a scare by the iconic Weeping Angels. A damp dark area somewhere urban which brings up memories of 'indistinguishable corridors' and these monsters are coming after the person with the running point of view. Although creepy there is a little 'tongue-in-cheek' side to it at the same time, which to my mind sums up Doctor Who's je ne sais quoi handily.

Although the title would imply there was a lot of fandom from the very beginning in 1963, this is perhaps misleading when it comes to which stories and production eras the documentary covers. Given the duration of this film it is in any case rather wise that the focus is on the 1970s onwards - that decade mostly in part to the prize interviewee that is Louise Jameson who played Leela for nine stories. Indeed full-on conventions really took off once John Nathan-Turner was producer and exercised his trump card ability in getting events to happen -with greater and greater scale and ceremony added to them.

Perhaps if the film had an extra ten or fifteen minutes and a budget to cover someone like Peter Purves or Anneke Wills then this would have really been a case of getting insight into the fifty years' span; although Purves does feature very briefly in convention footage. Jameson does at least describe the thrill of her and her family gathering to watch the show in its black and white days, which is something I did not know before.

I myself fall into that generation who got to experience classic doctor who in a wildly jumbled chronology as different stories had priority in terms of being released on cassette or repeated on BBC Two. One fan on the documentary describes his earliest memory being Remembrance of the Daleks - quite understandably given its quality and *that* first cliff-hanger episode ending. I myself had rather less vivid memories of the story from start to finish, but that didn't last long once I secured a BBC video copy a few years later.


Some of the interview material provided by Jameson and Robert Shearman is familiar if the viewer has bought the DVDs of relevant classic series stories. Nonetheless both are as engaging as ever. Jameson's outlining of how she got a bigger profile in the 70s and 80s - be it onscreen on TV or treading the boards of major theatres - is a good topic, reminding the viewer that some in the show did move into more mainstream projects such was their talent. Yet unlike some who shy away from conventions, Jameson was always comfortable with being recognised for her time as Leela and indeed noticed as a star of a major long running show.

Jameson also covers the fascinating area that was and is her up-and-down connection with Tom Baker, fully emphasising just how much they are friends in present times. Her candour in saying questions at fan signings and panel interviews repeat themselves and her consequent need to try and get new material is very welcome; the sign of an out and out professional even when she is not acting. She also is rather concerned about some fans being perhaps taken for granted as a means to an economic end. Most important though is her summary of the Doctor being the do-gooder/outsider defending the vulnerable and different from bullies.

Shearman is still one of my very most admired authors and commentators of the show. How he continues to be passed over for a return to television Doctor Who when others with clearly less imagination and wit return at least one more time is one of the great unsolved mysteries. But Shearman never for a moment gives you the impression that he is bitter. His recollection of attending meetings in the lead up to series one being produced and his low or vague expectations of any impact on the ratings are a welcome reminder of just how much of a risk the big-wigs at the BBC were apparently making when they let Russell T Davies convince them of investing in an institution which many now saw as from a bygone age.

The author of Dalek shares his feelings on being both a fan and a staff member, in a relaxed fashion. If only more people behind entertainment had that sense of being given the dream job of providing first rate escapism. He details the early days of writing for fanzines and expressing his views within the niche communities that were representative of pioneering fandom. There is also a fascinating glimpse into the heated debates that the writing team had when putting the show together; much like they did when they were still amateur fans in times past.

In terms of the actual 'normal' fans themselves, there is a lot to take away and reflect on, Lecturer John Paul Green, who gets to include programs like Doctor Who in his film and media syllabuses for undergrads, sums up well what I myself enjoy in Doctor Who. There is a flexible formula and top notch realisation of our wildest dreams. A nice mention is made of The Unfolding Text academic work of the early 1980s - which arguably had a big hand in the eventual glut of reference and in-depth texts which hit book shelves. He also reminds us of just how much Star Wars made Doctor Who look pedestrian, at least on the surface, for the rest of its run as an under budgeted family show. More positively Green backs up Shearman's words on the fandom creative output that was published professionally by Virgin, BBC books and produced as plays by Big Finish. His story on being an extra in Rise of the Cybermen in series two is well-told. Whilst arguably most meaningful if the viewer knew Green personally, I still rate an invitation into a flagship drama as an extra being more valuable than being an oddity on a cynical reality TV show.

Lynne Hardy is a welcome contributor who points out that being able to hold a conversation is one of many skills all good fans have (and indeed had before 2005). I am happy to be writing this review knowing that this documentary is freely available to a market of fans bigger than ever before in 50+ years of space and time. Hardy describes fandom as a big 'family' which is rather a different perspective on things than Green's 'small community' description , and indeed a number of the other interviewees. This diversity of perspective is most welcome and makes the documentary end up avoiding a one-note 'love letter' feel.


Celebrating 50 Years of Fandom (Credit: FTS Media)Fandom in America - and how it changed and grew at different points - it would provide more than enough material for a whole separate documentary. What does feature of it here is quite enjoyable. We meet YouTube film maker Michelle Osorio. There is a great story her in initiation by an ex- boyfriend into the show we all know and love. Also there are enticing details of her pet project of a series that features a Dalek in disguise in an office - complete with a brief clip from her film. Her story on how the Dalek prop was transported to where the film was being made is also uniquely heart warming for a travel enthusiast like myself.


The film also features a member of the crew who contributed to the series for about 5 years (and covering both Tennant and Smith). Nick Robatto's laid back manner of describing his fine work on props - that defied the cliché of sellotape and polystyrene of yesteryear - is one of the better 'talking heads' elements of this film. He mentions cots, mirror catcher devices and of course our favourite power tool the sonic screw driver. Clearly leaving his mark on as popular an era of the show as any Robatto also mentions his steady work producing replicas for ardent collectors of various merchandise. He also gets a well-intentioned dig on those paid to remember lines from a script by saying that it is tough to make his products 'actor-proof'. And indeed certain fans who know more about his own work than he does.

Certainly whilst Doctor Who has left a strong impact on me creatively and philosophically I am perhaps a bit more reserved than those fans who unabashedly dress up for various events throughout the year. A mention of a Sixth Doctor impersonator encountering Colin Baker emerging from a lift is a truly brilliant moment, as told by Green with a gleeful twinkle in his eye. Yet when Osorio later on describes the dressing up as characters it feels rather more like something to be taken seriously - she works hard on her craft as a filmmaker in all departments and likes to extent the attention to detail when meeting other fans. Two very different viewpoints which are equally valid and enjoyable. And Louise Jameson also puts a good case forward for those who dress up as fictional characters, but one would expect that from a professional entertainer.

Other fan contributors also feature in perhaps a slightly more low-key manner. Robert Ritchie is rather deadpan in style despite having some of the most amusing stuff to say. He performs a Dalek version of "Would you like some tea", and indeed has a lot of interesting and measured material to share - especially in regards to how his creative-oriented career took off and shows no signs of slowing down. Andrew Fenwick Green is perhaps underused as he shows off his various costumes and props. The most amusing being an Ood head-mask at a wedding. He also posies with great supporters of conventions like Daphne Ashbrook and the wonderful Colin Baker.


Although the documentary fundamentally succeeds in terms of remit and execution it does fall short of being a masterpiece. Music has always been important to me and there is simply a dearth of a soundtrack. Consequently the process of watching from start to finish is a little bit more forced than ideal. Also the choice to limit interviews to the single person at a time is a bit too restrictive. As I have enjoyed a multitude of commentaries and documentaries on the BBC DVD range for the classic series, there was always a sense that there was a team spirit. As interesting as the interviewees are, the chance to have someone spark off a debate or a resounding agreement depending on the topic, is somewhat missed. There is an overlap of themes and perspectives but the viewer has to almost piece these together at times. Also I do miss small but effective elements such as blue prints or photo images of stories or the making of stories. Even images of conventions and events where fans congregate seem relatively sparse, given how much the interviews mention these events.

Nonetheless this is a fine effort from all concerned and a nice alternative to the various programs that were featured on the airwaves en masse during last November. This is worth your time in checking out - be it as a streaming online video, or a more conventional DVD. There is a large amount of new material for a die-hard like myself, and even more for those who have discovered our wonderful show in recent times.


The documentary is available to buy from FTS Media on DVD, Blu-Ray, HD digital download, or streamed online. There is also a special offer at present where purchasers can also receive a free digital download using the code "FREEHD".




The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 October 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Tenth Planet SE
Written by Kit Pedler
Directed by Derek Martinus
Broadcast on BBC1: 8 - 29 Oct 1966
DVD release: 14 Oct(R2), 19 Nov (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

This time last week, our world view of Doctor Who was quite different. Last month's Terror of the Zygons represented the end of a DVD era, as the final complete adventure was released and so from The Tenth Planet onwards we'd be looking forward to incomplete stories with animation to fill the gaps ... and then Friday midnight changed that completely! Now, we have another complete story to look forward to (The Enemy of the World), and all the excitement that entails. So, in some ways, the status of this adventure has diminished; however, that can hardly be said of the story itself.

Regardless of above, The Tenth Planet still has its 'firsts': it's the first story in the fourth production block, leading to the first credit on the show for several crew including costume designer Sandra Reid, make-up designer Gillian James, designer Peter Kindred, and production assistant Edwina Verner (and also the first time she met future husband Michael Craze!); it's the first appearance of the Cybermen, it's the first change of the show's key performer - and, of course, the first (fleeting) appearance of Patrick Troughton's Doctor.

But, of course, it is also a story of lasts, with William Hartnell delivering his final starring performance as the Doctor. It's a shame that, then, with his health declining, that it was hardly a "pull-out-all-the-stops" adventure, and Hartnell himself had to pull out of episode three due to bronchitis leading to a rapid rewrite to cover his absence. And to add insult to injury, some bright anonymous spark managed to lose the last episode, so we are almost unable to watch his final performance either (thank goodness for Blue Peter and off-air recordings that at least allow us to see his departure in the closing moments).

His departure is one of those stories of which there are many variations, with Hartnell himself giving two versions as time went on; regardless of whether he was persuaded to leave or otherwise, it is interesting to see him play the role for this final, single story of a new season. As I mentioned above, this wasn't a climatic way to go; Colin Baker famously declined to reprise his role for one final adventure after his removal from the show, but I suspect had he done so his story would have been as 'epic' as, say, Jon Pertwee's or Peter Davison's departure. Of course back then Doctor Who was almost a production line so it would just be one episode after another, with Hartnell coming back off holiday, so in many ways it would have just been 'business as usual' and not such a 'stand out' moment in the same way as Matt Smith's departure at Christmas will be. Another side-effect of this is that the following week's Troughton-led adventure was a natural progression in the series, and not the hugely jarring impact of having a "mid-season change" when The Twin Dilemma followed The Caves of Androzani!

In the scenes that he's in, however, the Doctor continues to be a dominant personality, something he would need to have been against the equally dominant General Cutler at Snowcap base. The production notes indicate that there was a mutual respect between Hartnell and Robert Beatty, and their performances complement one another nicely as a result. It's a shame we lost more of that in episode three, but at least they got to have their confrontation at the start of episode four.

Having those personalities are actually vital to the story as, otherwise, it could have been a very mundane story indeed, in spite of the involvement of the Cybermen. We basically have an attempt to save one space mission (Zeus 4) followed by an attempt to save another space mission (Zeus 5), the fates of both of which were inevitable - the destruction of one and the survival of the other - as Mondas passes through its own inevitable course of destruction as the Doctor foretold. It is Beatty's portrayal of the professional leader abusing his responsibility in order to save his son that maintained my interest, at least.

It is also one of those stories where the overall end result would have been reached without the Doctor being there at all - it is Ben's initiative to help defeat both invading Cyber-forces at the base that is of consequence. To be honest Polly didn't have to be there at all, though she did offer to make coffee - a career that would come to haunt her in future episodes!

Back to the Cybermen. I was a little dismissive of them above, which is a little unfair. They may not have been quite the central threat that they become in future adventures, but The Tenth Planet does a good job of introducing the (apparently) emotionless creatures that evolved from a dying race. Personally, I think the Mondasians look far better than the Telosian we encounter later, the balance between the mechanical and biological works well with the still-human hands and bandaged almost mummified heads - also, though it was probably a production error, the close-ups of them in pristine DVD-a-vision occasionally give the rather disturbing impression of the sunken eye sockets of a cadaverous skull as the actors' eyes were glimpsed within. Vocally, the effect of their mouths opening to emit their syncopated ministrations (thanks to the remarkable performance by Roy Skelton) also accentuates their alien qualities - though post-Rainbow I can't help imagining a cybernetic race of yellow wide-mouthed creatures (which wasn't helped by Zippy popping up in an advert just now too!).

The attempts at giving the International Space Control a truly international feel works quite well (better than in The Moonbase I felt). Earl Cameron commented on his role as a black astronaut as being quite advanced at the time; however, women still hadn't made their way into key technical roles by 1986 it seems. Having said that, there is Ellen Cullen credited as "Geneva Technician", though she managed to pass me by!

A few observations:
  • Was his blasting the Cyberman with its own weapon the first time Ben has taken a life? He certainly was quite cut up about it afterwards.
  • The description of the Z-Bomb's capabilities made me wonder if the Master inadvertently left the Time Lord files on the Uxarian's weapon behind on Earth at some point...
  • Was this the first appearance of an air duct escape in Doctor Who?
  • The Cybermen are depicted as a slow-moving, methodical race throughout - except when they end up under attack, judging by the way the last one scarpers in episode three!
  • Suits that are able to protect against radiation but not poison gas?
  • Why on Mondas do Cybermen ships have prison cells and manacles when they are all logical and wouldn't understand 'crime'?
  • At least in 1986 Mondas would still have been considered a tenth planet in the solar system!
  • "Next Week The Power Of The Daleks" - yeah, we wish!!!

Episode Four

With episode four missing presumed not in Nigeria or other African outpost, this edition presents us with an animated alternative, courtesy of Planet 55 who previously worked on The Reign Of Terror. Their distinctive anime look is still visible, though the quick-cutting points-of-view from their earlier work has been toned down here. There is still a little more inter-cutting between characters that perhaps jars a bit with the more sedately live camera scenes, but this didn't particularly bother me when watching. It was the Cybermen that niggled me slightly, as their expressions were a little more 'dynamic' than I would have expected from their 'mechanical' appearance - certainly more so than their live counterparts in the earlier episodes. I also felt the recreation of the regneration scene didn't flow as well as it could have been (and at first glance I thought it was a re-enactment of the sixth/seventh regeneration with an animated Troughton sporting a Hartnell wig!). However, those are my only reservations, really, overall I felt the animation did the episode justice, and conveys the story better than the original VHS reconstruction (which is also available on the DVD should you wish to watch that way).

The Extras

Commentary for this story are given by Anneke Wills, Gregg Palmer aka Donald Van der Maaten, Christopher Matthews, Earl Cameron, Alan White and from episode three Chris Dunham, plus some inserts with designer Peter Kindred with moderator Toby Hadoke (who continues to display his encyclopaedic knowledge of the acting profession!). The cast and crew reflect on their involvement with the story, its protagonists and of course the departure of William Hartnell. The production notes, compiled by Stephen James Walker supplement the commentaries with plenty more data than you can throw a radiation rod at, pointing out things like a continuity error with the Doctor's glasses thanks to a scene cut, the correspondence between Hartnell and director Derek Martinus, the actor's unexpected way to explain how to be an actor to Kindred, and the various versions of the his departure from the show. However, everything is squeezed into the three existing episodes, with nothing to accompany the animated fourth episode this time around.

A number of pointers from the above also crop up in the making-of feature, Frozen Out, which features anecdotes from Wills, Cameron, Kindred, Cyber-actor Reg Whitehead and vision mixer Shirley Coward. It was quite a poignant discussion of Hartnell's swan-song, and it'll be interesting to see how this is handled in the forthcoming drama An Adventure in Space and Time; however I was a bit surprised to hear Wills say that he "couldn't hack it any more" - very candid! (However, the montage of Doctors at the end was missing Peter Capaldi, reflecting the feature's production some time before Smith's successor was announced.)

Disc Two contains a number of features that are rather companion-oriented. Doctor Who Stories - Anneke Wills is an unsurprising item for this story, featuring the actress talking about her time during the show, including how her audition was against some 150 other potential Pollys and how she originally saw the role as a light-hearted "jolly" on the side as her ambitions were to be a 'serious' actress. Boys! Boys! Boys! (a - ahem - companion piece to Girls Girls! Girls! on The Romans) features a discussion between Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and Mark Stickson on how they got their roles, costume decisions, and where a male companion sits within the show against the more popular girls and the Doctor himself. Strickson participated via a screen virtually, and might well have simply been pre-recorded considering the way the interaction flowed as Hines and Purves dominated the feature with their camaraderie. Companion Piece was a more in-depth look at the role of a companion, with contributions from Nicola Bryant, Arthur Darvill, William Russell, writers Joseph Lidster and Nev Fountain, plus psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic - his views on the companions' roles and their behaviour was quite an eyebrow-raiser! Even though it has been about for some nine years now, it is still a nice surprise to see the 21st Century series pop up on the 'classic' range - and especially fun to see the really early pre-return trailer with Rose, too! It was also quite lovely to see a couple of inserts with the much-missed Elisabeth Sladen.

The oddity in this set is The Golden Age, a feature in which Dominic Sandbrook rambles his way through various loosely themed facts and figures about Doctor Who in order to determine when was the best time to be a Doctor Who fan. I'm not entirely sure what this feature was really meant to prove, though it was quite interesting in presenting JNT's then-infamous "memory cheats" comment on Open Air, which is not as outrageous as it seemed some 25+ years ago, plus the equally infamous comments by then youthful writer Chris Chibnall! Ultimately, of course, it is always going to be down to the individual as to what they believe is the Golden Age - the opening quote from Jon Pertwee taken from Invasion of the Dinosaurs sums it up!

Also on the disc is an extract from the Blue Peter feature on Doctor Who's Tenth Anniversary, which is included in its entirety on The Three Doctors but presented here because of its Tenth Planet clip heritage.

Leaving the most intriguing feature til last, this DVD set also includes the only known surviving interview with William Hartnell, captured during his tour of Puss in Boots where he played Buskin the fairy cobbler. The short interview sees the actor discussing his thoughts about Daleks and how he considers the acting roles he undertakes and what he thinks of pantomimes ...


Conclusion

The Tenth Planet is a story that isn't exceptional by any means, but its significance in Doctor Who history cannot be underestimated. It introduces the fundamental mechanism by which the show has kept alive and kicking for some fifty years; it also introduces my favourite Doctor Who monster, too, so that's another positive vote as far as I'm concerned! The circumstances surrounding the missing final episode also serve to enhance its mystique, and with the recoveries this last week fuelling fervent interest in the quest to find these gems once more, you never know we might yet get to see Hartnell's final twenty-four-odd minutes in all its glory (don't hold your breath though!).

Coming Soon

Those pesky Cybermen are back, this time causing mischief for a Moonbase ... or they would have been had Salamander not resurfaced from his Nigerian bunker to be regarded as The Enemy of the World ...




The Monster CollectionBookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 September 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Monster Collection:Released: 30 September 2013


The Monster Collection is a new series of DVDs that each focus on one of the Doctor's adversaries; unlike previous collective releases such as The Dalek Collection and Cybermen, however, this time around each of the six DVDs pair up both the modern and classic appearance of the subject in question.

There's obviously been an attempt to pair up 'origin' stories: for the Sontarans we have The Time Warrior with The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, the Silurians have Doctor Who and the Silurians with The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood, and with Dalek creator Davros it's Genesis of the Daleks alongside The Stolen Earth/Journey's End. Things start to go a little awry with The Master, where it's Terror of the Autons paired with The End of Time (though the latter story does explain why the Master is how he is so perhaps more relevant than Last of the Time Lords. The Cybermen are then represented by Rise Of The Cybermen/Age of Steel and The Tomb of The Cybermen (this being the first 'complete' story featuring them) - I'm guessing either the animated reconstructed version of The Tenth Planet wasn't ready for that set's preparation, or maybe it was actually a decision that having an animated episode is mis-representative and might detract newcomers from the show (I doubt it would have been through it's inclusion in the recent Regenerations boxed set, though, being The End of Time is included here!). However, I'm rather more mystified at Asylum of the Daleks's inclusion with The Daleks - I would have thought Dalek would have been a better choice - not to mention meaning that Christopher Eccleston's contribution to the series could also have then been represented!

Speaking of incarnations, only the first four 'classic' Doctors are represented, though with all of the adversaries in the set introduced during the first twelve years of the show that's inevitable. For those that are, we have one Hartnell, one Troughton, three Pertwee and one Tom Baker story (though Troughton only makes it in through The Tenth Planet not being used). Perhaps if the Terileptils, Bandils and Tetraps return then the others could get a look-in (grin).

If future collections were to be considered, then candidates might be - assuming animations remain off the menu - the Ice Warriors represented by The Seeds of Death alongside Cold War, and the Zygons through Terror of the Zygons and the still-be-broadcast The Day of the Doctor. The Autons are another notable absentee, though with Terror already in The Master collection and Spearhead from Space only just been re-released on Blu-ray that set is probably unviable (though it would have given Eccleston another chance with a pairing with Rose!).

However, I suspect that sets such as The Macra (The Macra Terror and Gridlock) and The Great Intelligence (The Abominable Snowmen and The Snowmen) are rather less likely ...

The Discs


The Cybermen and The Sontarans are presented on one disc, with the others across two. As these are a collection, all the discs use the same basic "rainy" montage with spinning TARDIS in the background, with the main protagonist taking centre stage (see the screenshots below). Unfortunately this doesn't extend to the stories themselves, so the 'classic' story has the same graphic as the 'modern' - this is most noticeable with The Master, where John Simm graces Terror of the Autons where I would have really liked an imposing Roger Delgado!

The Monster Collection - The Daleks (Journey's End Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide) The Monster Collection - The Cybermen (Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide) The Monster Collection - The Master (Terror of the Autons Main Menu) (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

Other than that, these are vanilla releases with only subtitles as an option, and the story-specific sub-menus only give the option to choose a specific episode. There is no restoration work undertaken on these discs either, retaining any rendering issues encountered on their previous dedicated DVD release (for example, David Daker and John Carney credits are still missing from The Time Monster); however, The Tomb Of The Cybermen is the re-released, VidFIREd version from Revisitations 3.

Conclusion


The pairing of a classic era adversary with its modern interpretation is an interesting way to bring those creatures' earlier exploits to the attention of those solely versed in the 21st Century version (not to mention a 'fresh' Doctor, too!) As the publicity says, "These collections are perfect for younger viewers just discovering the scary delights of fifty years of Doctor Who." This is quite a canny move on the part of BBC Worldwide in order to engender an interest in the older stories (and the back catalogue of hundreds of adventures to purcha- enjoy, as well...).

However, there is nothing new of interest to those who already owns previous releases - and the chances are you have, of course - for example with something like Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel this is its fourth outing, having been previously released as part of Series 2 Vol 3, The Cybermen (2009) and Doctor Who: DVD Files Vol #10 (not to mention complete series and era boxed sets!). But then, these DVDs are not really aimed at you!

On the other hand, if you are thinking of treating a younger cousin etc. to a Doctor Who DVD in order to introduce them to larger history of the show then these are perhaps a relatively cheap way to do so.

(It's just a shame that the Jagaroth didn't make a re-appearance in order to have City of Death, so you'll just have to buy them the classic release instead!)





The Fourth Doctor Time Capsule: the DVDsBookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 August 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

Terror of the Zygons

Terror of the Zygons - Title (Credit: BBC Worldwide)The Doctor has received a summons from the Brigadier to assist him in Scotland back on Earth. What seems initially to be an investigation into the destruction of oil platforms turns into something more sinister as they encounter shape-changing aliens and their pet, the Loch Ness Monster ...

Out of my top three favourite stories of Doctor Who, two have been out on DVD for a long while - not only that, both have also received the Special Edition treatment (one coming out next week in fact, so you can probably guess what it is!). However, I've had to wait a long time for the other which - barring a miraculous recovery in the future - looks set to be the final complete Doctor Who story to receive the DVD treatment.

Many of my age will say that the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era was when Doctor Who really rocked, with hardly a weak story amongst the duo's sixteen credited story run. The stories were held up as a banner against JNT's latter series, flying in the face of his infamous "memory cheats" comment. Certainly, for me, there was plenty to keep this primary school kid entertained, and Season 13 was right in the thick of it all! Thinking back, my misty memories of this story mainly involve the Loch Ness Monster chasing after the Doctor in the country and in London - this was re-inforced by the striking cover on the first Target novelisation I read a few years later (which I still have, if a little sorry for itself in its well-thumbed state!). I recall strange eyes staring out from the TV whispering terrible things upon the Doctor. Harry goes bad. And people melting into hideous scaly creatures covered in bumps.

Of course a few decades later and I've watched the story many times since, and if that memory has "cheated" a bit, the full glorious tale is there to prove that the story is still every bit as good as I'd remembered - well, perhaps the Loch Ness Monster isn't quite up to my childhood delight (but then the dinosaurs in Pertwee's final season delighted an infant, too!). Being that I haven't plugged the VHS in for a couple of years, it's been a while since I last watched it, so it is great to be able to finally settle down and once again recapture that youthful experience of fright and delight.


The gang together one last time (Credit: BBC Worldwide)With Nicholas Courtney's unavailability for the two UNIT stories of the following production block, coupled with the Holmes and Hinchcliffe masterplan to take the Doctor back into the wilds of time and space, this was to be the last time the regulars would properly interact together before UNIT faded into the background of Who lore (Harry and Benton did return in The Android Invasion but they're almost caricatures in that). Whether they realised this at the time, in Zygons they are all in fine form here, playing off each other to great effect. Courtney's Brigadier continues to be the authority figure of UNIT who still retains a sense of humour, and the camaraderie between him and the Fourth Doctor is as comfortable as it had been with the Third; it would have been nice to have seen that relationship carry on in future stories had it been given the chance (Tom and Nick became firm friends outside of Who). John Levene's Benton is as methodical as ever, and with Mike Yates loss the year before he is once again effectively the Brigadier's right-hand man. Ian Marter continues to give Harry Sullivan a sense of respect and decency, but also gets to play a more villainous version of his character as a Zygon duplicate - the scenes in the barn as "he" attacks Sarah are really quite disturbing because of the couple's friendship over the previous shared adventures, in spite of us knowing he's a "wrong'un" (this scene was cut in Australia and on the original VHS release, though I think that was more down to the physical rather than psychological activity in the scene).

Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah is well on the road to becoming the best Doctor Who sidekick by this point, and her performance in Zygons only serves to increase our love for her. Her pluck, initiative, journalistic instinct and intelligence are all on display, and she gets some of the best lines too - "why do I always get the dirty jobs?" she wonders during episode three, shortly before discovering the Zygons' base and rescuing Harry!

Tom Baker, of course, manages to practically dominate every scene he's in. You cannot help but be drawn in by his authoritative demeanour, charismatic voice, and mesmerising eyes (left over from The Golden Voyage of Sinbad no doubt!), and it is clear how he is considered by many to be the best Doctor by far from his performance here, and throughout the Holmes era.

Terror of the Zygons (Credit: BBC Worldwide)However, he is given a run for his money by guest star John Woodnutt, playing both yhe acerbic (duplicate and real) Duke of Forgill and the scheming Zygon leader Broton. I didn't realise originally that they are played by the same person, and even with hindsight now it is hard to tell that this is the case, such is Woodnutt's wonderful portrayal of the two personalities of Broton. It's never really made clear how much of the original's personality is instilled during the duplication process, but the polite, gracious Duke chatting with Sarah is such a far cry from a "screaming baddie" it comes as a genuine shock as the realisation of his, ahem, duplicity becomes apparent. Woodnutt also gets to deliver the best line of the story: "“I underestimated his intelligence, but he underestimated the power of organic crystallography!"

Another performance of note is Angus Lennie, who though isn't seen half as much as he should have been in the Inn scenes, is a strong presence whenever he is on screen, not to mention being able to put the creeps into Sarah and us with his tales of mysterious goings-on on Tulloch Moor. He also effectively depicts the Scottish landlord as somebody with a sense of fierce loyalty to his laird, and the realisation of that 'betrayal' with the bug and subsequent horror of meeting a Zygon face-to-face still sends a shiver down the spine.

As the enemy, the Zygons are another triumphant creation by James Acheson, and the finishing touches of make-up by Sylvia James completes the look of one of the most effective alien species in the series. They have always been memorable, and it seems strange to think that they only ever had one proper appearance in Doctor Who, cameos in flashbacks notwithstanding; perhaps it is this enduring popularity that has given them the honour of returning in the 50th Anniversary Special - I sincerely hope they are treated with the respect they deserve and don't become a source of ridicule post-November!

Terror of the Zygons (Credit: BBC Worldwide)However, for every pinnacle there is always a crevice to slip into. The top slot in fan polls tends to see The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Genesis of the Daleks and The Caves of Androzani vie for that accolade - but Talons has its rat, Genesis has its crustaceans, and Androzani its Magma Beast, there to remind us that even these heavyweight masterpieces have something to mar an otherwise immaculate story. Similarly, Terror of the Zygons has its own burden to bear in the form of the Skarasen! Fortunately the Zygons' pet fares quite well, even getting its own cliffhanger in episode two - though this is immediately preceded by a rather ropey chase across the moor which, like the tank in Robot, gets seen again in the reprise! The final appearance in London was also a little patchy, which sadly is often what those who aren't so keen on the story like to point out. It's one of those things that it would have been nice to have the option for a new CGI version, but c'est la vie!

Finally, for those who love UNIT dating there's another forward-looking moment in the series as the Brigadier takes a call from "Madam" Prime Minister, making the story almost contemporary on its original VHS release in 1988 with Margaret Thatcher still in power - mind you, the order to take "discreet and resolute action" perhaps doesn't sit so well with the UK's only female PM to date!

The DVD

As this is a special release of the story at part of the Fourth Doctor Time Capsule, the introductory captions are presented in a different font, as is the Main Menu which has a Zygon-theme about it. As this is marketed as a "vanilla" release, there isn't much to see on the menu as you'd might expect ... but this is not entirely true as lurking on the Audio Options is an option to listen to the story in 5.1 Surround as well as the original mono broadcast version - I certainly wasn't expecting to find that!

Terror of the Zygons - Menu (Credit: BBC Worldwide) Terror of the Zygons - Menu (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

Should you decide to set off on a surround adventure you are immediately presented with a theme tune that swirls around you, bringing new life to the Baker theme tune (though it isn't as noticeable on the closing theme). As one might expect, having depth to the soundtrack produces more balanced conversations on screen and directional effects with the likes of moving cars, gunshots etc. Little things stand out, like the echoes of the Doctor's voice as he hypnotises Sarah in episode two, or the Skarasen's roar across the moor. Also, though I have heard Geoffrey Burgon's score in stereo before, the presentation here helps accentuate those haunting themes that weave their way throughout the story.

In terms of picture quality, this feels like the first time I've seen the episode in such clarity. I was a little too young at the time of transmission to properly remember such detail, and the resultant VHS releases are, well, VHS quality. Even UK Gold's digital broadcasts weren't too great as I recall. So watching Zygons this time around was really enjoyable, with colours vibrant and no real fuzziness present at all (with the exception of the Skarasen scene on Tulloch Moor as mentioned earlier, but this was never too great to begin with). The Zygon transformations looked especially good on the new release, though that does go hand-in-hand with the sharper picture leading to CSO effects standing out more obviously. Mind you, this has always been the case with the more recent DVD releases so isn't really a deficiency!

However, those who were expecting to be watching a new, extended version of episode one with the previously unseen arrival of the TARDIS team in Scotland will be disappointed, as here the 'vanilla' presentation is exactly that - no bells, whistles or extensions. That'll certainly be something to look forward to with the 'full-fat' two disc release due later in the year.


Interview With the Time Lord - In Conversation With Tom Baker

In Conversation With Tom Baker - Title (Credit: BBC Worldwide)The other DVD in the Time Capsule is Interview With the Time Lord - In Conversation With Tom Baker, which after a few minutes looks as if it was always meant to be a special feature to accompany Terror of the Zygons, as that is the only story utlised for clips to illustrate the various sections of the interview. Whether this was originally intended to be for the regular DVD but was instead ported to this set instead is something that hasn't been admitted, but whatever its origin, the interview is now an exclusive to this set.

The interview is split into sections, featuring subjects like "Getting Doctor Who", "Living As The Doctor", "Fandom", and "Something Special". The actual interview bites are regularly split by a montage of stills from other Fourth Doctor adventures, but this regularity does get a little tedious after a while, unfortunately.

The sections themselves are quite interesting, with Baker chatting quite candidly about various aspects of playing the Doctor, kicking off with how he initially didn't know how to play the character and so winged his way through the interpretation and was surprised by people liking it, through to how, decades later, he would be surrounded by middle-aged MPs who grew up with him as the Doctor all wanting their photo with him and 'reverting' to childhood! Along the way, the actor discussed his many experiences as the Doctor - including how he was once asked to chat to a comatose child in character - and how he felt that over time he perhaps became too opinionated on how the Doctor should be, feeling that his connection with the public through his appearances meant he knew what was best for the character (which led to an altercation about a scripted knife scene at one point). His affection for his female co-stars also came across, especially towards the late Elisabeth Sladen, and how he and Louise Jameson are now firm friends enabling her to influence his decision to accept Big Finish's invitation to further his adventures as the Doctor!

In Conversation With Tom Baker - Menu (Credit: BBC Worldwide) In Conversation With Tom Baker - Link (Credit: BBC Worldwide) In Conversation With Tom Baker - Tom Baker (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

There is plenty more to hear in the interview, and being recorded earlier this year covers more recent activities in his life, but as one might expect it is very much focussed on his time as the Doctor. A more personal interview on his life was conducted by Laurie Taylor in 2010 as part of In Confidence for Sky Arts, which is worth catching on a repeat, and there is also, of course, Baker's autobiography with further anecdotes of his experiences.

Conclusion

The Fourth Doctor Time Capsule - Set (Credit: BBC Worldwide)In conclusion, whilst it was great to see Terror of the Zygons again, the fact that the former will have its own formal, fully-featured release later in the year leads me to conclude that you shouldn't buy the boxed set solely on that basis. Even the exclusive Tom Baker interview, though entertaining, might not justify the purchase. However, the two DVDs are just part of the Time Capsule, which also contains a number of collectibles including an exclusive Fourth Doctor action figure in Third Doctor costume, a Fourth Doctor sonic screwdriver, art cards featuring all of his companions, the novel The Tomb of Valdemar by Simon Messingham, the audio book of Genesis of the Daleks, plus a letter from Tom Baker himself. If all that appeals to you too, then The Fourth Doctor Time Capsule might well be worth the purchase.




The Visitation SE (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 May 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Visitation SE
Written by Eric Saward
Directed by Peter Moffatt
Broadcast on BBC1: 15 - 23 Feb 1982
DVD release: 6 May(R2), 14 May (R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

The Visitation falls just a couple of stories before the return of the Cybermen turned me into a fully-fledged fan (as opposed to a regular watcher), but it was certainly a strong enough tale to keep my attention from its opening moments in a cosy Manor House to the destruction of central London at its denouement. Coupled with a striking monster, android, and the flamboyant Richard Mace, it remains one of my favourite stories from that era!

"Well they've certainly let the grass grow since I was last there!"

It's time to take Tegan home, but with the reliability of the TARDIS being what it is, they arrive some 300+ years too early much to the air hostess's irritation. Once everybody's calmed down, a little exploration is called for, but unsurprisingly leads them into trouble with locals, and it is only their meeting with thespian turned highwayman Richard Mace that gets them out of the tricky situation. Mace explains about plague fears, but then the description of a comet seen some months previously and also of alien artefacts found in a barn engages the Doctor's interest ... and as curiousity draws in the cat, the time travellers become embroiled with the desperate attempts by a group of escaped Terileptil prisoners to seize control of the planet through genocide via their own enhanced plague ...

Though fourth broadcast, The Visitation was Peter Davison's second story to be produced. At the time it was reported that the recording order was to enable the new Doctor to settle into his role, but as the production notes point out it was a rather more mundane reason in that the opening story simply wasn't ready! As a result, watching the credits can be a confusing affair with who is responsible for what, with this story seeing the actual first contribution to the series by Eric Saward as a writer before assuming the shackles of script editor even though he's credited as such earlier in the season - I tend to feel that this story is actually one of his greatest triumphs, perhaps because he had yet to be encumbered with overall responsibility for scripts. Here we get a simple, progressive tale that takes us from the initial encounters above through to the eventual besting of the Terileptils and the accidental start of a Great Fire ...

In later years there was to be a lot of criticism over the apparent rampant continuity (and associated errors) within the JNT era, and the first 'biggie' rears its head with the above Fire - though as this clash is with a throwaway line from the Doctor at the tail end of Pyramids of Mars I think it is forgiveable at this stage! However, producer John Nathan-Turner was already attempting to establish a sense of narrative continuity in the series in a way vaguely reminiscent of the early adventures of the First Doctor, though it did have a tendency to feel shoe-horned in rather than natural (something Saward complained about for this story, though he was just as guilty later on!). So here we have the Doctor remonstrating Adric over the TSS machine, and Tegan trying to explain her violation by the Mara in their previous adventure on Deva Loka - though with the out-of-sequence filming of Davison's early stories, Kinda was filmed afterwards (and leading to Janet Fielding pronouncing Mara differently here!). Later, we have the Doctor exclaiming "Not again!" when he's about to have his head chopped off at the end of episode two, a reference to it almost happening to him in Four To Doomsday (though this was added by Davison himself!).

The story introduces the aforementioned Terileptils, and though we only meet a nefarious section of their society they come across as an interesting race, and its a shame they never returned to the show (except via a reference in The Awakening. Also making an appearance is one of their androids, which is a great design (highlighting the Terileptils' eye for beauty), but was revealed way too early in the story in my view. I've always enjoyed plots that seem to start off in one direction and then suddenly take off in another, unexpected one - here, I felt that the story would have been better served had the android not been seen breaking into the Manor at the start and thus revealing the sci-fi origins so quickly (this still annoys me about the film Predator with the spaceship at the start - without that introduction the film would have so much more surprising as the true enemy was revealed). Still, with Doctor Who being well-established as a science-fiction show it isn't so surprising that this element plays its hand so early on - doesn't mean I have to like it though!

Of the main cast members, Michael Robbins brings the flamboyant Richard Mace wonderfully to life, and in a parallel series could have made a fine foil for the Doctor in his travels in much the same way as Jamie complimented the Second Doctor. Mind you, we'd have had to thin out the TARDIS crew quite a bit, though Saward did a reasonable job in giving all of the principals something to do and something to say during The Visitation. Michael Melia does a fair job in bringing the Terileptil leader to life considering being stuck underneath the prosthetics - though Peter van Dissell had even more of a job in the android suit! The rest of the cast is okay, though they didn't really get that much to do, and the accents seem to meander a bit, especially considering the story was set in 17th Century Heathrow!

Other observations:
  • The almost throwaway opening with the family passing time together is quite poignant, and it's shame we lose them after just that single scene.
  • Tegan gets some of the best lines during the early scenes, with her comments over the Doctor's "incomprehensible answers", and how "a broken clock keeps better time than you do!"
  • There are good cliffhangers and bad cliffhangers, and then there are some that almost seem to be just 'cut here' - episode one certainly feels like that!
  • when Adric asks what nectar tastes like, Mace sounds like he's about to turn into Corporal Jones, cut off just as he was going to say "you stupid boy!".
  • It seems quite strange for Nyssa to operate the machine in her bedroom - but then in theory the console room exists in a state of temporal grace and so perhaps it needed to be away from there ... though Earthshock indicated it wasn't working any more - did Nyssa bugger it up, here?!!!
  • Another TARDIS feature to have been 'lost in the continuity 'fog' is the isomorphic control of the TARDIS as mentioned in Pyramids - all of the Doctor's newest companions have had a bash at it by this point - maybe this can be blamed on K9 after The Invasion of Time?

Overall, I found the story to be a straightforward, enjoyable tale, and one of the better stories from the Fifth Doctor's era. It was also quite a memorable story for me back when it was first broadcast, though it wasn't the realisation of the Terileptils or the android so much as the demise of the sonic screwdriver. As with the departure of K9 a year earlier, I can fully understand now the reasoning of removing it from the plot resolution portfolio (and that is ably demonstrated by its over-reliance in the modern series), but at the time I was just as sad to see the departure of "an old friend" as the Doctor was!

The DVD

As a Special Edition, it's the improvement to the sound and picture quality that would attract those who have bought the DVD release, and again it doesn't disappoint in that regard. It's the film sequences that really shine through, as the Restoration Team went back to the original 16mm film negatives and re-scanned the sequences, though the studio sequences also seem much crisper this time around too, as evidenced in these comparisons from the beginning of episode one:

2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: studio footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2004/2013 DVD picture comparison: location footage (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

With regard to the film sequences, there had been some controversy over apparent loss of "sharpness", such as the brickwork in the above shot; Steve Roberts noted, however, that: "it looks like the neg is naturally sharp and the older print has had a bit of artificial sharpening added into it, that's all. Also, the presence of grain makes pictures appear to be sharper than they actually are, and the old sequences are definitely grainier!". Personally, I think its only with freeze-frames that the rendering might throw up such a discrepancy, it certainly isn't apparent when watching the action unfold normally!

As with other special editions, the production notes have been completely revised and brought up to date, with Nicholas Pegg guiding us through the production of the story. All the usual intricate details are present, such as the changes from script to screen, character notes, casting, etc., so if you want to know about the historical accuracies within the plot, or what magazine Nyssa happens to be reading in the TARDIS, here's the place to go!

The rest of Disc One contains the features that were included with the original release. In brief, there's the Film Trims, which show some of the retakes and cut bits from the story (and being the original unrestored footage acts as a good comparison against the sterling work on the episodes themselves). Directing Who sees director Peter Moffatt discuss his six engagements on the series from Full Circle through to The Two Doctors. Writing a Final Visitation features Eric Saward chatting about how he went about creating his television debut. Scoring The Visitation delves into the incidental music of The Visitation by Paddy Kingsland (for me, the best composer of this era of the show). Also included are the isolated music track and original highly amusing commentary by Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, with Peter Moffatt, plus the ubiquitous Photo Gallery.

Disc Two contains the new features of this release, with pride of place going to Grim Tales, the behind-the-scenes documentary for The Visitation. This takes the innovative approach of taking Peter, Janet and Sarah back to the locations of the story to reflect on the production of the show - Matthew was unavailable for the shoot, unfortunately, but as with the commentary those present made sure his "memorable moments" were remembered! The trio are instead joined by the anachronous Mark Strickson, who acts as steward as they try to navigate their way around the rather large Black Park - though fortunately also having a rather handy guide from yours truly (grin).

After the forest antics the group then travel by handy TARDIS to the location of the manor house (Tithe Barn), whose current owners discovered they had inherited the Doctor Who legacy when they purchased the property thanks to a copy of The Visitation being left behind. Along with the anecdotes of filming was a rather nice "Visitation Cake" which almost seemed a shame to eat ... not that it stopped them!

The relaxed, informal recollections were interspersed with illustrative clips, plus some more traditional interviews with production team members Eric Saward (writer), Ken Starkey (designer) and Carolyn Perry (make-up), talking about the more technical aspects of making the show. Plus. Michael Melia (the Terileptil leader) added his own anecdotes of being under layers of prosthetics!

All-in-all, this was a very enjoyable approach to the making of the show, ably abetted by the utilisation of the locations which played quite a substantial role in the story. Producer Russell Minton did a superb job in the presentation, and this this easy-going way of presentation is carried on into the producer's next feature on this disc, The Television Centre of the Universe. Here, Peter, Janet and Mark (no Sarah this time) reminisce over what made up a typical day filming Doctor Who at the 'heart' of the BBC as-was, 'supervised' by Blue Peter presenter Yvette Fielding.

The trio continue to regale with their anecdotes over their time recording the series, which for this feature loosely relate to the area of the BBC they have reached. So, at the car park there are tales of the excitement of watching Ronnie Corbett's attempts to park, how hit-and-miss it could be to actually get into TVC's car park in the first place, and how Mark shamelessly used Blue Peter as his excuse to get his dog Bramble in with him! Then, into Main Reception and the symbolic "handing of the key to the dressing room", followed by actually attempting to find it in the 'maze' of TVC and of course confronting the condition of the room once in! As with Grim Tales, there are anecdotes from others inserted along the way, with people such as AFM Sue Heddon talking about the dressing room 'dungeons' where there could be 30 artistes getting ready!

Next up is make-up, a place to hang-out it seems to get all the latest gossip. The quartet are joined by Carolyn Perry and discussed the happy atmosphere that existed back then - and how some of the senior make-up supervisors were to be avoided where possible! Inserts included fellow make-up artist Joan Stribling talking about the 'uniforms' they had to wear, and costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux on how Peter could be naughty with the polaroid camera. Other contributors included production assistant Jane Ashford on the TVC 'industry' and former DWM editor Richard Marson chatting about how you couldn't miss DW when 'in town'; plus, special mention to film traffic supervisor Neville Withers and his Jon Pertwee anecdote.

This was a wonderful feature, and continues the warm feeling about TVC that we've had of late with the 'last night' programming back in March and Marson's wonderful Tales of Television Centre last year. This is very much how I hope TVC will be remembered, and not marred by some of the recent incidents that have come to light and the press gleefully seized upon. Roll on, part two!

Also included on the disc is the next instalment of Doctor Who Forever!, The Apocalypse Element, explores Doctor Who's thriving adventures on audio. Kicking off with the vinyl releases of the original series, Nicholas Briggs unsurprisingly champions Genesis of the Daleks whilst Gary Rusell and Steve Cole discuss their fond memories of original adventure The Pescatons. There's also an honourable mention of that quintessential disco favourite, Doctor Who Sound Effects (injoke for convention-goers of many years ago!) - though from a completist point of view, where's the mention of the original TV Century 21 David Graham narrated release of the end of The Chase!

Of course, the primary focus of the documentary is on how Big Finish has gone from strength to strength over its humble beginnings in 1998 with adaptions of adventures starring Lisa Bowerman as Bernice Summerfield, the arrival of Doctor Who proper the following year with Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Peter Davison, then Paul McGann in 2001, and their successes with Dalek Empire, The Lost Stories and finally the arrival of the fourth Doctor himself, Tom Baker in 2012. As usual, a variety of contributors chat about the range, including future series writers like Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss, Joseph Lidster, and Rob Shearman. plus the producers Gary Russell, David Richardson and not least the overall 'guardian' Jason Haigh-Ellery. Plus Russell T Davies chats about how the range kept the flame alight in the 'wilderness years' and how he then reciprocated in keeping that BF flame going in the turmoil of the series returning to television.

On the AudioGo side of the fence, Michael Stevens commented on how the narrated soundtracks and then the narrated Target novelisation have also proved popular, and on how they tempted Tom Baker back to Doctor Who with Hornets' Nest.

Overall, the feature is a little more serious than the previous instalments, but still very interesting to watch and a good overview of how the Doctor Who world is enhanced outside of the television series itself.

The disc is rounded off with the PDF files for Radio Times listings and the BBC Enterprises Sales Sheet, plus the Coming Soon which unlike with The Aztecs does introduces the next scheduled release!

Just to round of, I don't usually think about the menus themselves, but one thing I noticed about the clips used was that they seemed to be focussed on some of Matthew Waterhouse's lesser moments in the story ... pure coincidence I'm sure!

Conclusion

This is a fun story, as much of Season Nineteen turned out to be, and for those who aren't familiar with the Davison era is one of the stories that I'd recommend to get stuck in with, as there is little continuity baggage to worry about as the following years started to suffer from. For those who purchased it before, I'd certainly recommend the documentary as a great additional feature, and the enhanced clarity of the film sequences give the story a new lease of life.

Coming Soon...

The Doctor's attempts to regain his mastery over time and space go awry as he instead travels into a parallel universe, where friends become enemies in a world counting down to disaster in Inferno Special Edition




Galaxy 4: Air LockBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tim Robins

Galaxy 4: Air Lock
Written by William Emms
Directed by Derek Martinus
Originally broadcast 25 Sep 1965
Released as part of The Aztecs SE (R2)
I believe Galaxy 4 to be the oldest Doctor Who story that I can remember from when the programme was first broadcast. I can tell that I have a true memory of the story because of the inaccuracies. I recall William Hartnell hitting a Dalek with his cane and the Dalek sort of unfolding. The Doctor chuckled, "It's asleep!" I got lots wrong. It was Jeremy Bentham, former historian of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, who pointed out that it must have been a 'Chumbly', the Doctor's companion Vicki's ridiculous nickname for the robots that serve the hideously ugly, ammonia-breathing Rills. I nearly fell off my chair when episode three opened with the Doctor saying these words, although the robot did not semi-wake up as I remembered. In a long-distant past, I saw the the climax of Westworld at the cinema as a child but recalled the scarred gun fighter as a witch, falling back into a cauldron (which is in the scene). The police have long realised what psychologists have not, that truth and accuracy are two separate things (witnesses recalling events in exactly the same way and with the same words are likely to have conspired with each other).

Episode Three of Galaxy 4 is startlingly good. The story involves the Doctor, Vicki and spaceman-of-the-future Steven Taylor (played by Peter Purves in an ill-advised mismatched ensemble comprising a woolly cardigan, slacks and hush puppies) arriving on a soon-to-blow-apart-world where two races, the all-female Drahvins and the Jabba the Huttish-looking Rills, have crashed and are engaged in a grim battle of survival as they attempt to escape the doomed planet. When the planet does blow apart, you can be sure it's the villains who are left behind, victims of their pre-programmed hatred of others.

The high concepts in the story are that attractive-looking characters can be evil and ugly characters good - a concept that entirely escaped children's animation such as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The second twist is that the main antagonists are a race of women, the Drahvins, cloned or bred to fit particular social roles - in this case soldiers. The moral here being that military personnel are (contrary to Star Trek) not the best people to make first contact.

All of this preaching gives the episode the feel of a US TV series such as Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or One Step Beyond. The Doctor and his companions seem thrown into an entirely different TV series. This is emphasised by the way the Doctor misunderstands the entire situation and busies himself trying to kill the 'Evil' Rills until Vicki stops him. He also, in one brilliant scene, abandons his companion to the tender mercies of what he believes to be menacing robots. Classic Hartnell. Not since he tried to kill a caveman with a rock just so he could escape Earth's prehistoric past has the Doctor seemed more calculating.

Of course the production is wonky in places. Vicki is trapped behind a fairly flimsy door. But even the Chumblies - imagine three upturned pudding bowls wobbling along at waist height - have more appeal than the Mechanoids, their big brothers, or the Quarks who are, alas, rubbish on screen. The planet itself is realised by a paint-and-paper landscape that looks bogus even by the standards of Doctor Who at the time. However, it is worth remembering that the team who have lovingly restored this episode have made the picture far clearer and sharper than anyone viewing TV in the Sixties would have seen - woe betide anyone watching an old Doctor Who DVD on a Blu-ray player because the image is automatically upgraded to make the image look worse than any VHS copy. And, for me, the tatty set underlined the experience of Galaxy 4 as a US TV episode, specifically Classic Star Trek with its garishly-lit skylines, glam rocks and randomly-placed twigs.

One thing that lifts Galaxy 4 above rather too much Hartnell 'Doctor Who' is that the supporting acting is tremendous. The Drahvin leader Maaga, played by Stephanie Bidmead, has some brilliant moments of angst in which she curses being given soldiers on her mission to explore space. The direction reminds me of how startling it was to revisit the Sixties' series when given the chance by Jeremy in the late-Seventies. By then Doctor Who's actual direction rarely departed from a linear narrative and a limited range of set-ups. But Galaxy 4 has a great piece to camera and a soliloquy and a flashback. At an art house screening of episode three, media scholars and professionals talked excitedly about it as the first use of a flashback in Doctor Who. Not so, of course. The first-ever episode, An Unearthly Child, is replete with flashbacks.

Sadly, I do find it increasingly hard to enjoy the early seasons of classic Doctor Who. Alas, the audacious The Web Planet - once beloved by me - becomes unbearably embarrassing as the story progresses. But this episode of Galaxy 4 leaves me hoping that the full story might actually be lying in the bottom of someone's cupboard. Who knows?