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 ... ?




The Legacy CollectionBookmark and Share

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

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

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

Disc One: Shada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disc Two: Extras

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disc Three: More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

Next Time

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





Series 7 Part 1 (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 October 2012 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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