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?




The Aztecs SEBookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 March 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

The Aztecs SE
Written by John Lucarotti
Directed by John Crockett
Broadcast on BBC1: 23 May 1964 - 13 Jun 1964
DVD release: 11 Mar(R2), 12 Mar(R1)
This review is based on the UK Region 2 DVD release.

Back in the mid-1980s, the stories of William Hartnell were something that I knew little about. I'd had the chance to see the original Doctor in action with the wonderful repeat of An Unearthly Child in 1981 - plus the glimpses of him in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors - but other than that all I had to go on was the way in which he was depicted from the Target novelisations. The Aztecs was published in this format in 1984, but a year later you could imagine my excitement when the story about the Doctor's encounter with that ancient culture actually arrived on my lap!

Perhaps this is something those of the Cheques, Lies and Videotapes era will appreciate more, but back then with the VHS range only just finding its feet it wouldn't be until 1989 that the First Doctor was to be finally acknowledged with the release of The Daleks, so perhaps unsurprisingly I immediately fell in love with my first proper experience with old-school Doctor Who. Okay, so the picture wobbled and the sound warbled, but it was Hartnell and Co actually there on my television!

Some years later (and a multitude of Hartnells since), a "proper" VHS arrived to replace this god-knows how many generation copy, and I was able to fall in love with the story once again, as the beautiful sets were now visible in all their glory and the sparkling dialogue delivered without an "anti-autotuning" effect! Flash-forward to the 21st Century and the story is the first Hartnell adventure to receive the DVD treatment - and the 'soft focus' of VHS was banished into the past with a restored print delivered which included some new-fangled process called VidFIRE ... and suddenly the fantastic backgrounds turned into ... erm ... obvious backdrops with even the corners visible. I must admit I was very disappointed with that, as I felt this was taking a step backwards and taking some of the magic away from the story I had first encountered in my youth, and - like "the hand of Sutekh" - once you're aware of it your eye is unerringly drawn to it every time thereafter.

However, even with such production deficiencies now revealed, it wasn't going to diminish my love of this story, and just over a decade later I can fall in love with it once more as BBC Worldwide release the Special Edition ...

You can't change history... not one line!

The TARDIS arrives in a tomb, which history teacher Barbara quickly recognises as being from the Aztec civilisation. Passing into a temple through a secret door, she is captured but mistaken by Autloc, High Priest of Knowledge, to be the former high priest and now resurrected god Yetaxa, as indicated by a bracelet she had absent mindedly tried on. The Doctor, Ian and Susan are believed to be the privileged servants of Yetaxa and so any immediate danger is past. However, Barbara is determined that - as a god - she can lead the Aztecs away from their sacrificial beliefs before the arrival of Cortez and tries to stop a sacrifice - but she fails and in so trying is seen to be false by the High Priest of Sacrifice Tlotoxl ... who then sees it his duty to expose her by whatever means possible ...

Episode one sets up the plot nicely for the next three episodes, as Tlotoxl comes up with a variety of schemes to reveal that Barbara is not who Autloc believes her to be, and is not adverse to putting her companions at risk in order to do so. Barbara demonstrates that she is more than capable of countering his attempts, though ultimately the odds are of course weighed in his favour. Jacqueline Hill is able to shine throughout, with her portrayal of Barbara's frustration over the Doctor's continual assertions she will fail and the confrontations with Tlotoxl leading to some of the best scenes in the story.

The ignorance of characters as to what is happening elsewhere is used to others' advantage several times during the course of the tale. Ian's knowledge of pressure points to defeat Ixta embarrasses the warrior leader to quite happily use nefarious means to best his rival in combat - and tricks the Doctor into giving him the means to do by promising his father's plans for the Temple which he doesn't actually have. Then the Doctor is later captured for speaking to Barbara as he didn't know nobody was allowed to approach her. Susan brashly talks about choosing her own husband in contrast to the Aztec way, little knowing that her lack of understanding of the wishes of The Perfect Victim would lead to severe punishment - and Barbara agrees to this not knowing who the punishment is for.

Two characters are above all these schemes, and sadly they are the ones who come out the worst after their encounter with the TARDIS crew. Autloc only wishes his culture to become enlightened, but discovers that his trust and support in Barbara to achieve this is badly misplaced, forcing him to challenge his own beliefs and ultimately turn his back on everything he knew. Meanwhile, Cameca succumbs to the Doctor's charms as he gently manipulates her to help achieve his goal of getting back into the tomb, and then having mistakenly accepted her romantic overtures ultimately has to break her heart.

William Hartnell continues to bring the manipulative nature of the Doctor to life, though steadily becoming more mellow as the first year progresses. His highlight has to be the moment when the Doctor discovers he's just got engaged, and then how he casually remarks upon his new status to Ian a little later on. The final moments in the tomb as the Doctor decides to keep Cameca's brooch are also handled extremely well - it's easy to forget how experienced an actor Hartnell was with all the doddery, Billy-fluff nature that is often associated with his portrayal, but here in The Aztecs he ably demonstrates how to dominate a scene.

William Russell continues to portray Ian as someone who is capable of taking everything in his stride, and here also get to demonstrate an ability to fight in both armed and unarmed combat - I almost expected him to go "Hai!" at one point when he appears to use Venusian aikado! Sadly, Carole Ann Ford doesn't have that much to do, but then it was her turn to have holiday time during production so that isn't so surprising. Of the main guest stars, John Ringham manages to tread that very delicate line just above moustache-twirling villainy to create a convincing zealot in Tlotoxl, whilst Keith Pyott similarly gives Autloc a believable air of naivety. Ian Cullen's Ixta comes across a little 'wet' for someone who is meant to be the best warrior in Aztec society, though - it isn't his fault that of course fight sequences are going to be choreographed carefully to ensure actors aren't hurt, but it's a shame he made it look too 'polished' at times. On the other hand, what can I say about Margot van der Burgh other than she was lovely!

Production-wise, both the costumes (Daphne Dare) and sets (Barry Newbery) look wonderful. It was interesting to find out from the production notes that Newbery referenced a documentary about Mexico from 1960 that featured Aztec buildings in order to make things as authentic as he could - and that its writer/presenter Joan Rodker was brought on as a researcher for The Aztecs itself! No wonder it all looked so good. Writer John Lucarotti was able to bring the culture to life too, with plenty of historical references inserted into dialogue to meet the early education remit of the series - though this being 1964 of course, new evidence has since come to light that wasn't known back then (like the role of the wheel in Aztec society). Mind you, none of the great names were to be heard during the story, with only Tlaloc the rain god getting name-checked - apparently this was so the cast wouldn't keep stumbling over the likes of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli and cause countless retakes (though I thought Tlotoxl was a bit daring!).

Music-wise, the production got a coup with classical composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, with producer Verity Lambert mentioning on the commentary that this was a stroke of luck through him being known by director John Crockett - though apparently Sydney Newman wasn't quite so impressed!

The DVD

The restoration is the main "selling point" for these special editions, and The Aztecs doesn't disappoint in that area. The overall quality has taken another leap forward, with modern restoration bringing an even crisper image than the 2002 innovations had provided; improved contrast has also enabled the foreground characters to stand out further and seem less "in the shadows" than before - though it isn't until you compare the old release with the new one that this sort of thing becomes apparent! Shown here are a few comparisons between the 2002 and 2013 releases:

2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Episode One climax - Tlotoxl declares Yetaxa a false goddess. Note the scratch on the left side has been removed (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Episode Two climax - Barbara has to save Ian (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: The Doctor and Cameca share cocoa in Episode Three (Credit: BBC Worldwide) 2002/2013 DVD picture comparison: Doctor with Cameca's brooch in Episode Four (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

There's no new making-of documentary for this release, as the original covered this area quite well with the features Remembering the Aztecs with actors John Ringham (Tlotoxl), Walter Randall (Tonila), and Ian Cullen (Ixta), and Designing The Aztecs with Barry Newbery. (As an aside, both these features and the commentary on the story itself bring home how time moves on, as since those recordings we lost both Ringham and Randall in 2008, Verity Lambert in 2007 and, though not involved in these features, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett last year - sadly, this is going to be even more painfully felt as we reach the forthcoming Pertwee releases this summer.)

There are new production notes for this release, however, which this times sees Matthew Kilburn as our guide as he delves into the story of production and relates fun facts and figures. How did David Whitaker describe time travel? What influences did Richard III and Hamlet have on characterisations? What do we now know of Aztec culture that was unknown in 1964? All this and more and be found within!

Disc one retains the excerpt from a 1970s Blue Peter, which features Valerie Singleton on location amongst the Aztec ruins as she relates the story of the Aztec leader Montezuma and how he mistakenly thought Cortez as the resurrected god Quetzalcoatl until it was too late. This acts as a nice introductionary compliment to a full documentary, The Realms of Gold, that is on disc two. Presented by John Julius Norwich, the 1969 edition from Chronicle examines Cortez's 1519 arrival in Mexico in much greater detail, explaining how the influence, Christian belief and foreign diseases brought by the Spanish conquerors had such a devastating effect upon Aztec culture and civilisation within just a mere couple of years. (It was also great to hear music from Delia Derbyshire. too!)

The second instalment of Doctor Forever! to be released, Celestial Toyroom, delves into the world of Doctor Who toys. Again narrated by Ayesha Antoine, the feature explores the variety of toys from the early days of fresh 1960s Dalekmania (with Richard Hollis of product licensing) through to the ever increasing retro range from Character Options (discussed by product development director Alisdair Dewar), and along the way drops in on the slightly awry 1970s Denys Fisher figures, the 1980s accurate model-work from Sevans, and perhaps the more infamous range of figures from Dapol. Participants include writers Jim Sangster, Rob Shearman, Paul Cornell, Mark Gatiss and Steve Cole, plus BBC AudioGo producer Michael Stevens and former BBC product approver Dave Turbitt all enthusing over toys they have loved past and present. A host of other items are mentioned, which include discussion of the 70s "pleasure products" from Shearman, the Weetabix action cards by Cole (I still have mine!), and Tom Baker underpants (which a friend of mine has dared to take out in public!). Russell T Davies also recalls that he once thought he could own every piece of new series merchandise. Plus, the original Top Trumps make an appearance, including a brief game between Antoine and Ian McNeice - who also chatted about the process of becoming a Character figure of his own! All-in-all this feature was a lot of fun, with some laugh-out-loud moments!

Other new features include Clive Dunn appearing as "Doctor Fotheringown" in what is considered to be Doctor Who's first spoof, from It's A Square World originally broadcast on New Year's Eve 1963; plus, a behind-the scenes look at the second Aaru film Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. which also features director Gordon Flemyng talking candidly on taking on making the film. The other original items from the 2002 release are also present, including the various specially recorded introductions to the story that were required for BBFC compliance back in 'the dark ages'!

Galaxy 4

The real "selling point" of this DVD, at least for fans, is not so much the spruced up Aztecs but more about the inclusion of the recently recovered third episode of Galaxy 4 - Air Lock. Other than those lucky enough to attend a handful of screenings (or have very long memories!), the majority of fans will be seeing this episode for the very first time! The original recovered print suffered from a number of problems - not least missing its cliffhanger - so this release presents the fully-restored episode in all it glory, including the recreation of the ending. As a bonus, the story as a whole is included, presented as a condensed reconstruction (originally planned for the DVD release of The Time Meddler) that includes especially shot CGI of various planetary scenes and the Chumblies as well the existing clips that had survived from the opening episode.

This episode is perhaps the best one to have been found, as it is here where the motivations behind the main protagonists are finally revealed, and how initial conclusions from the first half of the story are turned on their head. We can now witness the Doctor and Vicki's encounter with the Rill, and see the exhaustion that Marga feels written across her face - something which is merely hinted from the soundtrack alone. A fair chunk of the episode (and indeed story as a whole) also involves on-screen activity with little or no dialogue - like when Steven executes his attempted escape plan, or the Doctor attempts to sabotage the Rill device - which at least make more sense now that we can see them taking place - not to mention finally knowing what is making all the various beeps, whistles and other sounds!

However, for me, the excitement was more seeing a "brand new" episode of Classic Who rather than the story itself. Unlike The Aztecs, it is actually a pretty mundane tale, and the Peter Purves-narrated soundtrack released back in 1999 reinforces how padded the story was. Indeed, with the tighter, faster pace brought about by the short reconstruation, the complete Air Lock almost brings the tale to a shuddering halt! Okay, this might seem like sacrilege, but I happened to sit down and watch the recreated Crisis and The Urge To Live from Planet of Giants recently and that revealed how much more effective an edit can make to the pace! For those that would prefer watching the full length episodes from which the DVD recon is derived from, however, searching a well-known place for such things should sate that need (grin).

Conclusion

As you might have gathered, this is my favourite Hartnell story, and I'd certainly recommend it to anybody who hasn't bought it before. Whether the picture improvements warrant a re-buy for those who have the original release is a matter of preference, though I suspect the inclusion of Air Lock will sway most fans!

(However, I still feel the restoration reveals the backdrops far too clearly!)

Coming Soon...

The Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are up against a group of ancient Martians as they are inadvertently released from their icy 'tomb' and discover a world they'd quite like to live upon ... well they might have been had The Ice Warriors been the next release - the DVD schedule currently indicates it'll instead be a trip to 17th Century Heathrow for the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric, as they encounter plague, fire, alien prisoners in hiding, and the loss of an old friend in The Visitation Special Edition...




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 ... ?