1001 Nights (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 19 January 2013 - Reviewed by Craig Murray

1001 Nights
Big Finish Productions
Written by Emma Beeby and Gordon Rennie, Jonathan Barnes, Catherine Harvey
Released December 2012
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains spoilers.

Penned by 4 different authors, this years Big Finish Christmas offering is a wonderful adaptation of the ancient tale 1001 Nights, maybe better know on these shores as the Arabian Nights.

The classic version of the tale is a collection of short stories from far and wide, hence the multiple contributors – though these are actually estimated as being somewhere in the region of 260 and the phrase 1001 nights considered just an exaggerated term for many. Legend says that any person who reads the whole collection would go insane and the theme of insanity is one that is touched on throughout this intriguing reimagining.

Though there are countless versions of the tale, all share a common theme, that of a Persian King and his new bride. Having had his wife executed for her infidelity, he becomes bitter and marries a succession of virgins who he executes the next morning, until he meets the daughter of Vizier – the man charged with identifying them on his behalf. In order to ensure her survival, the daughter tells the King a story, but she purposefully does not finish by nightfall. A curious King orders her to proceed with her tale the following evening - and so she continues for 1001 nights.

Here, the storyteller is Nyssa, who is forced to recount tales of her adventures with her time travelling companion, so as to keep the imprisoned Doctor alive. But who is the mysterious Sultan and the captive who resides in the dungeon with our timelord hero?

The Plot

With the Doctor locked away in a prison cell awaiting execution, Nyssa plots to delay his demise by telling stories of their travels to the Sultan. Speaking of their adventures and how they moved between worlds, she explains that they came to the planet to deactivate a beacon that was hidden in the Palace, belonging to the Gantha - the Sultan’s interest is peaked.

Her next tale sees the travellers aiming for the Celestial Basilica, but in true Tardis style, they arrive instead in prison grounds, to find a man tortured in an electric chair surrounded by a fixed atom force field. Here we are introduced to the Myaxa and a truth that binds prisoner and executioner together throughout eternity.

Next we meet Elizabeth Spinker, resident of a large house with a single aid –her other servants having long since fled. Screams are heard loudly in the distance as she awaits the arrival of the specialist, a man her father knew long ago. A ring at the doorbell indicates his arrival and reveals the identity of a man who left the patient there long, long ago – so as not to infect his Tardis. Here he tackles a mysterious virus and tries to release the friend within whom it resides.

As Nyssa moves on to her next tale, deep in the dungeons, the Doctor finally uncovers the true identity of the man aiding his escape and they make their way towards the Tardis – but they are not alone in their quest. As Nyssa feeds her captor more and more information, so the Doctor begins to weaken and his memories begin to fade. Will they arrive before his mind is lost forever?

What Works

Well firstly, he’s my Doctor… we’ve all got one and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Peter Davison is on top form in this offering and Sarah Sutton delivers an equally accomplished performance.

The individual stories are of differing strength, but the tale that underpins them is very strong indeed and a great way to bring the curtain down on an exceptional year for big Finish.

I do love an affectionate nod to the past and this time it is delivered by Elizabeth Spiniker. Those who recall Sharaz Jek’s verbal jousting in The Caves of Androzani will remember that, whatever people make of the Doctors appearance, the eyes tell a different story.

What Doesn't

Well not an awful lot in fact – my only gripe is the 'story of stories', where tales and jokes are currency. The concept here is very weak in comparison to the rest of the tale and brought my final rating down to reflect my disappointment.

Summary

A really strong offering with a clever and intricate plot. As for the ‘story of stories’ section, it’s what the fast forward button was made for!

Rating 7.5/10




The Acheron Pulse (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 January 2013 - Reviewed by Richard Watts

The Acheron Pulse
Big Finish Productions
Written by Rick Briggs
Released October 2012
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains minor spoilers.

Featuring the blustering, bombastic Sixth Doctor, as portrayed by Colin Baker, The Acheron Pulse is the second in a trilogy of recently released Big Finish audio adventures set in the Drashani Empire – a galaxy-spanning civilisation akin to a futuristic Rome, and like the Roman Empire, beset both by internal turmoil and external invaders.

In the first part of the trilogy, The Burning Prince, the Fifth Doctor found himself caught up in an interplanetary rescue mission to the swampy planetoid Sharnax, populated by marauding alien beasts known as the Igris – later revealed to be a rebellious, genetically engineered slave race.

Despite the Doctor’s involvement, the mission – intended to unite the Empire by ensuring a wedding between two warring noble houses – was not a success.

The Plot

Following the deaths of Princess Aliona of House Gadarel and her fiancée Prince Kylo of House Sorsha, in the skies over Sharnax, Aliona's infant cousin, Cheni Gadarel (Kirsty Besterman) was crowned Empress of the Drashani. Thirty years later, the Doctor – once again travelling alone – returns to the Empire, though a little later than he’d intended, in order to visit Empress Cheni and fulfil a promise made to a dying man. Landing on the relatively primitive planet of Cawdor, he is quickly caught up in a drama involving bloodthirsty native tribesmen, arrogant aliens who think themselves better than the local populace, and a monomaniacal, vengeance-obsessed foe.

For many years, under Cheni's rule, peace reigned. Now that peace is threatened by the Wrath – a mysterious race led by the sepulchral Lord Deliverer, Tenebris (James Wilby).

Wielding a dreadful weapon capable of laying waste to worlds – the Acheron Pulse – the Wrath seem intent on destroying the Empire completely, and only the Doctor stands in their way – as long as he can get away from the barbarian warriors who have taken him prisoner on Cawdor…

Observations

Compared to its predecessor, a tightly scripted and fast-paced adventure, The Acheron Pulse feels cumbersome and clumsy. Plot strands feel forced and predictable, and despite a technically proficient production overseen by director Ken Bentley, the story fails to generate tension and drama.

The script, by Rick Briggs, features characters so two dimensional that they’re virtually cartoonish, the most exaggerated of which is the barbarian warlord Athrid (Chook Sibtain), into whose hands the Doctor first falls when he lands on Cawdor. Reminiscent of King Yrcanos from The Trial of a Time Lord parts Five to Eight (aka Mindwarp) Athrid is quickly established as a violent buffoon; bloodthirsty and stupid but essentially decent, and certainly a potential ally for the Doctor – an impression which is jarringly contradicted by his sexual assault upon an incognito Empress Cheni in episode one.

Additional characters, including a minor Drashani envoy, Duhkin Stubbs (Joseph Kloska) and Cawdorian technician Teesha (Jane Slavin), as well as Tenebris himself, also lack definition and detail, though Jane Slavin does an excellent and engaging job as Teesha, Athrid’s strong-willed wife and battle-partner.

Uncomfortable sexual politics and thinly-written characters aside, the unlikely idea that an Empress would travel incognito to witness diplomatic negotiations between Cawdor and her Empire, when her Empire is under attack from a mysterious warlord, makes suspension of belief difficult, while at least one of the major plot threads – the defence of Cawdor by Teesha and Athrid’s barbarian horde – feels like filler. Even the main plot, involving the Doctor, Cheni and Tenebris (whose identity, when it is revealed, fails to surprise) elicits little in the way of suspense or narrative tension, while the lack of a regular companion means the listener needs to become emotionally invested in the lives and actions of the supporting cast – a challenge when the characters they play are so thinly drawn.

An additional subplot involving an alternate dimension, the Undervoid, and further revelations concerning the origins of the Wrath and the Igris, also fails to sustain interest, although it does provide Colin Baker with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the Sixth Doctor’s intelligence and arrogance, via a decision that will no doubt have devastating results come the final part of the trilogy.

Conclusion

While The Burning Prince was a well-written story marred by a key performer’s overacting (that same actor performs well here, suggesting the fault was primarily a directorial one) The Acheron Pulse is a disappointing story featuring strong performances. Its laboured and predictable plot, two dimensional characters, and an anti-climactic ending fail to sustain interest or narrative tension over its four episodes, resulting in a disappointing middle third to Big Finish's latest trilogy. Thankfully, the epilogue, though again featuring extremely clichéd characters, promises better things to come in the final part of the series, Jonathan Morris’s The Shadow Heart.




The Child (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 13 January 2013 - Reviewed by Craig Murray

The Child
Big Finish Productions
Written by Nigel Fairs
Released December 2012
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains spoilers.

Since its 2005 television reboot, Doctor Who has become an integral part of the Christmas schedule and is now widely recognized by broadcasters and critics alike, as the perfect vehicle to convey the magic, mystery and excitement of the festive period.

This years Big Finish Christmas offering is similarly laced with that magical feel; a gentle tale written in the style of a childs fairytale. Penned by regular Big Finish contributor Nigel Friars, The Child is a story of creation and of hope. Fittingly it is also the launch pad for a new era for companion Leela in the Companion Chronicles series, who appears this time as a projection in the mind of Emily – a young girl with old eyes.

Leela’s frequent challenging of Emily’s acceptance of a life in servitude – in the manner her mother supports her father – is perhaps just encouragement to aspire to more; but why old eyes? Call me suspicious, but the smell of a future story arc is as strong as the smell of mulled wine on Christmas Eve.

The plot

As we meet Emily, she sits alone in her room penning a story for her mother accompanied by her imaginary friend, who uses her as a channel to convey stories of the Wizard and the Warrior girl and their travels in the magical blue box.

It isn’t long before the pair arrive on a snow covered planet, the first snow Leela has ever seen. Placing a snowdrop in the palm of her hand, the wizard tells his sceptical companion that in it she holds the answer to all creation and he promises to show her the map of life – which holds all the answers.

The map, a creation by Richard Stempuss – a dying man with grand ideas when the Doctor last met him - is the largest work of art in the universe. In fact it is so big that it covers an entire continent. But when they reach the map of life, it bares little resemblance to the image in the Doctors crumpled photo – instead they enter via a Golden gate now blackened and decaying with age.

As they explore their new surroundings, the Doctor is captured by a mysterious woman, fixated by a desperate need to understand the meaning of existence and to destroy those without purpose.

But who is the mysterious figure? Can Leela find her time travelling companion? Why would I want nuts in the bottom of my Christmas stocking (I don’t even have a nut cracker!)? The answers to all these questions – well almost – are neatly packaged within The Child.

What works

Firstly I think the soundtrack is a really good accompaniment to the production and helps the story to seamlessly flow.

There is a nice interplay in the early exchanges between Emily and Leela, where they discuss story structure and its level of detail as Emily tries to perfect the tale for her mother. It rather reminds me of sitting with my parents doing my homework.

Constant reminders of the charming relationship between the Doctor and his companion, as he continues to challenge and educate her, are a nice throw back to Saturday tea times gone by – and the jelly babies make a welcome cameo appearance.

What doesn’t

Sorry - but for me, it’s the story itself. Christmas TV Who episodes are often a little lightweight in comparison to the regular show and this is very much in the same mould. The problem here is that, while TV uses it to attract a wider audience, the Companion Chronicles are for the Doctor Who hardcore, who I doubt are looking for easy listening.

The Fourth Doctor is back – and when you’ve had a taste of the real thing, its difficult to accept anything less.

The minor characters that the Doctor projects to help Leela – if you didn’t like Frobisher, its time to cover your ears!

Summary

A pleasant tale for a winters evening by the fireside with your children and a good way to introduce them to the franchise. However, if you’re looking for something more challenging, this is maybe one to avoid.

6/10




The Burning Prince (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 7 January 2013 - Reviewed by Richard Watts

The Burning Prince
Big Finish Productions
Written by John Dorney
Released September 2012
This review is based on the MP3 download from Big Finish, and contains minor spoilers.

Two planets, both alike in dignity,
In fair Drashani, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.


John Dorney’s latest Big Finish adventure – the first of a trilogy featuring the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors – is, at least initially, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet.

Travelling alone, having temporarily left his companions Tegan and Nyssa behind in Amsterdam after the events of Arc of Infinity, the Doctor finds himself on a spaceship in the midst of the Drashani Empire; a galaxy-spanning civilisation caught up in a long and bloody civil war. Two noble houses, Gadarel and Sorsha, are fighting for the imperial throne, vacant for decades since the death of the mad Emperor. The wedding of star-crossed lovers Prince Kylo of Sorsha and the Gadarel Princess Aliona is intended to finally bring peace to the Empire, but behind the scenes, fanatics are plotting a very different outcome.

The Doctor’s arrival coincides with a sudden escalation of hostilities. Aliona’s wedding-barge has crashed on Sharnax, a remote and swampy planetoid and a rescue mission is underway. Unfortunately events aboard the rescue ship, where the TARDIS has landed, quickly degenerate, and the story becomes less Shakespeare, more Drashigs on a Plane – and that’s just the first episode!

Observations

Despite its simple premise, The Burning Prince is a rich and engaging story, featuring a judicious balance of political intrigue, personal drama and thrilling action sequences. A genetically engineered slave race running amok and the wayward use of psychic powers by a key character further enliven the narrative.

Dorney’s script is generally excellent; he quickly and efficiently establishes the tone and setting of the story with help from Martin Montague’s evocative sound design and Toby Hrycek-Robinson's dramatic score. The story’s numerous characters are also effectively introduced, including the non-nonsense Captain Shira (Caroline Langrishe); hot-tempered Prince Kylo (George Rainsford); elderly Tuvold (Clive Mantle), Aliona’s uncle and the Gadarel ambassador; conflicted Commander Corwyn (Dominic Rowan); the bigoted spaceship pilot Riga (Caroline Keiff); and solid, dependable trooper Tyron (Tim Treloar).

Not every character is written quite as effectively; Princess Aliona (Kirsty Besterman) comes across as somewhat two dimensional, an impression not helped by Besterman’s occasional overacting. Another minor script flaw is the introduction of a somewhat grating catchphrase, "Empire be praised!" uttered by most of the characters at one point or another during proceedings. It sounds extremely forced when first heard, though as events progress, the phrase takes on a more ominous, ironic tone.

Another flaw is the introduction of the adventure’s new monster. In episode one, a saboteur aboard the rescue ship releases a caged Igris, described somewhat floridly by Ambassador Tuvold as "an eight foot tall bipedal killing machine; a sabre-toothed emissary of death". The presence of such a beast aboard the rescue ship strains credibility, and even after an explanation for its presence is offered, it still seems a trifle unlikely.

The narrative itself is fast-paced and engaging; a judicious mix of action-adventure tropes, the occasional in-joke, and more than a hint of the pessimistic tone of such Fifth Doctor adventures as Warriors of the Deep and Resurrection of the Daleks. Director Ken Bentley keeps a tight lid on the story, and maintains the pace nicely. The action never flags across the four episodes; events swiftly propel the Doctor from one drama to another towards a particularly bleak climax.

Conclusion

Fans of the Fifth Doctor will enjoy hearing Peter Davison on his own, unencumbered by companions (though a head cold the actor was suffering from is somewhat distracting in the early parts of the adventure) and the story’s set-up allows Dorney to explore both the Doctor’s intelligence and charisma, and his habit of walking straight into trouble as soon as he arrives somewhere new. Save for minor flaws as discussed above, The Burning Prince is a fine addition to the Big Finish range, and highly recommended.





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 ...