Doctor Who: Tom Baker Complete Season One (Blu-Ray)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who Season 12 (Credit: BBC Worldwide)



Tom Baker - Complete Season One (Season 12)

Starring Tom Baker as Doctor Who
With Elizabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, and Nicholas Courtney

Written by Terrance Dicks, Robert Holmes, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Terry Nation, & Gerry Davis

Directed by Christopher Barry, Rodney Bennett, David Maloney, & Michael E. Briant

Released by BBC Worldwide in July 2018
Available from Amazon UK

REVIEWERS NOTE:  This Review is based on the Region A (North America) Release of the Set.  I can find no real difference in the content of the set other than some packaging and label changes.

 

BBC Worldwide spent over a decade restoring every available Doctor Who episode, releasing them individually on DVD in the best possible quality, with each release packed with special features, and all lovingly remastered.  For some collectors, like myself, diving into my love for the series a bit late...collecting the classic stuff was daunting, pricey, and difficult to even find room for.  I only purchased a few classic DVDs, and watched most of the serials via my very excellent local library, which pretty much had everything. Now, the BBC has finally decided to begin releasing these stories on Blu-ray, and this time they are releasing a full season boxset!

Despite being a show that was shot on SD Analog Videotape in the 1970s, the picture looks remarkably sharp.  The source may be vastly inferior to anything you'd see today, but the details are pretty clear.  The classic Tom Baker opening looks particularly sharp.  Compared to the DVDs, the uptick is minor, but I did feel there was a tad less digital compression than what I had seen of the DVDs.  But the years of detailed restoration has paid off for this release, as stories look clear and look better than they probably evedid on TV or any other home media.  

As for Special features, it is packed.  The Doctor Who Restoration Team spent over a decade compiling special features for each individual story, making sure that even though you were only buying a DVD for a single multi-episode story, that you were going to be buying nothing bare bones.  And that pays off again here...every special feature made for all the individual story has been ported over to this release. The new features exclusive to this set include some Making Of Documentaries for stories that didn't really have them in their original DVD release, a rather mundane "Behind the Sofa" thing in which Classic Who actors watch clips of the old shows, and some other odds and ends.

If you bought the DVDs, I can't say that there is a pressing need to upgrade. The uptick in picture quality is noticiable, but minimal.  You already have most of the features (they have added a few new things, but on the whole you still have packed features on the DVDs), you have all the stories and commentaries. This may be the definitive version of all these great stories from a high quality year of the Classic show, but I don't blame those who already collected the DVDs from being hesitant to double dip for this.  What more you get isn't so great that it warrants replacing everything. 

But if you, like me, never got around to collecting all the old DVDs, or if you would love to unload the bulk of DVDs for the shelfspace saver that is this set (and likely the sets too follow)...then you won't be disappointed in the quality the BBC has put into it.  The source will never look as clean and clear as the latest series, but it is surprisingly good in this set!  





The Enemy Of The World - Special Edition (DVD)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 March 2018 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
The Enemy Of The World
Starring Patrick Troughton as Doctor Who
With Frazer Hines as Jamie and Deborah Watling as Victoria
Written by David Whitaker
Directed by Barry Letts
Released by BBC Worldwide March 2018
It's out, and it's about time.

Some five years after its initial release, The Enemy of the World is once again released this month, this time bursting with the features we've come to expect from a BBC Doctor Who DVD and that were notably absent from 2013. Indeed, even the DVD blurb acknowledges this: "Originally rush released shortly after its recovery, there was little time to complete the extensive Special Features typical of archive Doctor Who releases". Well, quite!

So what do we get in what many would say is the "proper" release? Commentary: check. Production notes: check. Photo Gallery: check. An exhaustive making-of: check! The two-disc release also includes an interview with the man behind the rediscovery of this story, Phil Morris, a brief item on the restoration work undertaken in 2013, a tribute to the late Deborah Watling, the Jon Pertwee introduction to the then only existing episode 3 from The Troughton Years, and the original trailer from 1967 that followed The Ice Warriors. You even get a reversible cover so it can happily sit alongside the rest of your DVD collection if you prefer to maintain that consistent look and feel.

However, one thing that certainly isn't consistent is the disc's opening menu! If you've been watching a number of DVDs recently like I have, the absence of the 'traditional' Davison opening accompanying the TARDIS 'arrival' into the main menu is quite a jarring shock, with the sequence being dispensed with in favour of a brief snippet of the Troughton titles leading straight to the menu. I guess I'll get used to it - at least the familiar "roundels" menu has survived!

For the episodes themselves, the DVD boasts of further remastering with modern techniques by Peter Crocker and MArk Ayres - how much of an improvement in picture quality to the previous release I'm not so sure about, but the story looks and sounds very clean, and possibly as pristine as it'll ever be (and a definite improvement to the 480 line i-Tunes cash-in back in 2013...).

I won't dwell over the story itself - after all if you're reading a review then you're probably familiar with the plot(!) - but it is one of those stories that features the change of direction halfway through that transforms the story into something else rather unexpected that I always like in drama. With only episode three as a visual guide for literally decades I hadn't appreciated this change of direction, and it is still a delight to savour now - it's probably no coincidence that the director, Barry Letts, becomes producer of an era full of such twists and turns. The complete serial also allows us to enjoy the characters in all their glory, and more to the point being able to watch the performance of Patrick Troughton in his dual role as hero and villain. I must admit that it still feels like a novelty being able to watch and appreciate the full story, and leaves me eager for more (something that animations can only partially sate!). But seeing Troughton smoking a cigar in episode five as though in competion with Roger Delgado in The Mind of Evil still feels out of place, even though it is of course Salamander puffing away, not the Doctor. How the perception of that enemy of the world's health has changed!

The accompanying production notes provide the usual behind-the-scenes essentials, dates, figures, the development of the story from script to screen, changes to planned dialogue, action, etc., plus of course detail of the cast and crew and related observations. Insights include how several inserts made their way into later stories, how the slick action sequences in episode one were more fraught in production with both a hovercraft mishap and the helicopter very nearly following suit. During episode two it is revealed that there is a mysterious scene included featuring the Doctor and Kent that doesn't appear in the production schedules. And in episode five it is revealed how some of the more excessive blood and violence in the script were restrained in production. Though the production of the story can of course now be digested through reading Volume 11 of The Complete History, here the notes are more practical in illustrating what's currently appearing on screen - for example, In episode four, a practical example of the way in which those recording the programme worried less about the edges of the frame owing to on-screen visibility of the time is illustrated.

The commentary for the story is initially taken up with a lively discussion between Frazer Hines and Mary Peach, joined by Gordon Faith for the next couple of episodes. All change for episode four with Milton Johns and Sylvia James taking up observational duty, before returning to the original duo for the finale. Discussions across the episodes included acting with helicopters, working with Patrick Troughton, actor-come-director Barry Letts, and the delightful Debbie Watling (of course!), acting in the confines of small studios and limited sets, plus Sylvia's explanation of how the crew approached the creation of 2018[1], some 50 years ahead of time.

The commentary was moderated by Simon Harries, who had big shoes to step into following the mighty moderator extraordinaire Toby Hadoke; however he was more than capable of keeping the conversations going and keeping Frazer in check!

 

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Treasures Lost and Found (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Recovering The Past (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The Enemy Of The World Special Edition: Remembering Deborah Watling (Credit: BBC Worldwide)

The main feature on the second disc is Treasures Lost And Found. Unlike the more usual more straightforward fact-based making-ofs, here Toby Hadoke takes us on a "treasure hunt" for new information on the story in his indomitable style, uncovering "clues" along the way in a similar vein to Looking for Peter on The Sensorites - so it isn't surprising that his accomplice on this mission is researcher Richard Bignell[2]! Along the way Toby (possibly) drank his way through innumerable relaxing teas conversing informally with Mary Peach, Sylvia James, David Troughton, Frazer Hines and Sarah Lisemore, plus several inserts on the making of the story from a 2008 interview with Barry Letts and also a 2011 interview with Deborah Watling.

The informal approach to the documentary meant that Toby took time to chat to his interviewees about more than just their Enemy-specific memories. Mary's extensive career was discussed, including what occured when she met Marilyn Munroe, and David reflected on life with the Doctor and his father's views of acting in theatre - which also highlighted the perceived nepotism of the time with his cameo as a guard in the story, not to mention Frazer's brother Ian, Barry Letts' nephew Andrew Staines and finally production assistant come influential producer Martin Lisemore's wife Sarah, whose interview at the end of the programme turns into its most poignant moment as the treasure is finally revealed.

I did have a couple of niggly issues with the presentation, though: the archive interview of Barry Letts was interspersed with shots of Toby and Richard watching the footage on a laptop, which I found both disjointing and a distraction to hearing what Barry had to say. The other was the "pop-up" message gimmick, which reminded me more of Top Gear style antics (something perhaps not lost on Toby? grin). These were only minor quibbles though, overall the feature is highly entertaining, ably guided by Toby throughout.

With this release being a celebration of its return in the anniversary year, it isn't surprising to find its recovery being featured in the extras. In Recovering The Past, Phil Morris takes us through the journey he undertook in his quest to find missing television, and in particular the trail through Nigeria to his eventual find of both Enemy and The Web of Fear in Jos. The passion he has for his job is obvious from the interview, as is his optimism for future finds He also left us with a tantalising hint of what might be in store in the future...

Restoring Doctor Who is an accompanying piece which documented some of the process in restoring the story from its original off-the-shelf condition to what we can watch today.

Remembering Deborah Watling is a tribute to the actress whose bubbly presence is sadly missed. Featuring Louise Jameson, Colin Baker, Sylvia James, Anneke Wills, and Frazer Hines, Debbie's life and career is followed through the memories of her sister Nicky and brother Giles, with everybody involved reminiscing on her wicked sense of humour, practical jokes, and of course her healthy scream!

The package is rounded off with the brief introduction to the then single remaining episode by Jon Pertwee from The Troughton Years, a trailer for the story from 1967, and the usual photo gallery, plus PDF materials.

 


 

So is the special edition worth buying? It does of course rather depend on whether you are interested in the extra features. If you're only interested in the story then, with this version released, if you haven't already purchased it you might well see the original 2013 version drop further in price in the coming months. If you're only after a commentary then an alternative, unoffiicial release from Fantom Films[3] may be a cheaper option (though there isn't much difference in cost between that and this entire DVD online at present!).

However, if you haven't bought Enemy before then I would certainly recommend this as the version to get. It's just a shame it wasn't presented this way in the first place!

 

Hmm, with all the extensive recovery articles on this release, what's left for the special edition of The Web of Fear ... ?!!

 

[1] The production discussion places the setting of the story as 2017, but a newspaper clipping seen in episode five shows "last year's date" of 26th August 2017, indicating it is actually set in 2018 after all.

[2] I might well be the only person who will laugh out loud at Richard's ringtone!

[3] A notable absence on the DVD commentary is of course the wonderful Debbie Watling, who had left us by the time this package was put together. All is not lost, however, as she can be heard on the alternative commentary from Fantom Films (and you can also get your Toby fix as Master of Ceremonies too!). The CD is still available from Amazon etc.





Shada (DVD/Blu-Ray/Steelbook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Shada (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
Shada
Written by: Douglas Adams
Directed by: Pennant Roberts, Charles Norton
Produced by: Graham Williams
Cast
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), David Brierly (K9), Christopher Neame (Skagra), Daniel Hill (Chris Parsons), Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis), Victoria Burgoyne (Clare Knightley), Gerald Campion (Wilkin), Shirley Dixon (Ship), Derek Pollitt (Caldera), James Coombes (voice of the Kraags), John Hallet (Police Constable), David Strong (Man in Car)
Cover Art: Lee Binding (DVD, Blu-Ray), Adrian Salmon (Steelbook)
Originally Released: November 2017

Shada Reborn

Quite possibly a record-breaking candidate for the longest filming period for a single script, Shada bridges two millennia – from 1979 to 2017 – and represents a heroic effort to finally plug one of the most egregious gaps in the Doctor Who canon.

In a way, Shada mirrors the antagonist of that other great Douglas Adams story, City of Death. Just as Scaraoth is shattered into dozens of versions of himself across the centuries, the industrial action that stymied the original production of the serial saw it fractured into a number of variants and doppelgangers. Most famously, Adams decided the root concepts and ideas behind his final Doctor Who script were too good to waste and they found their way into his Doctorless novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. In 1992, a rough edit of the surviving footage was patched together with exposition from Tom Baker and some unsympathetic synthesizer music. Later again, an animated incarnation saw Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor reunite with Romana and K9 and a new supporting cast to cure a nagging feeling of something undone in Cambridge 1979.

But this Shada is very much the real deal. The entire surviving cast have been reunited to record the missing dialogue, the missing sequences have been animated where appropriate, though brand new models and have constructed and filmed by the Model Unit to act as inserts in the live action scenes, and a brand new score by Mark Ayers is constructed like an act of musical archaeology to recreate the instruments, methods and style of 1970s legend Dudley Simpson. It can never by Shada as it would have been, but it by far lays the strongest claim to being the definitive article.

As with any such project, the team had to make creative decisions and not everyone will agree with all of them. For instance, with Denis Carey (Professor Chronotis) and David Brierly (K9) having died since their original contribution a couple of minor scenes requiring them are left unanimated, while others have their presence reduced to lines which could be reproduced from other recordings of the actors. While some no doubt may have preferred soundalikes to be used to make as complete a version as possible, it’s a sensitive decision and highlights that, in fact, the missing moments were largely padding anyway. Similarly, but much more controversially, is the decision to assemble Shada as a 138 minute film rather than as six episodes. (It even has - steady yourself - a pre-titles sequence). This will go against every instinct of many long term fans, still sore from VHS cassettes of hacked down stories and the fight to get episodic releases. But in this case it seems to work. Watched in one sitting it makes for a breezy, fun, adventure – yet the way the story is paced would have seen the episodic version with a curiously uneventful Part One and a number of extremely undramatic cliffhangers (only the midway point would have given us something as genuinely brilliant as “Dead men require no oxygen”). For me, the only genuinely poor decision is to seize on the existence of the original K9 prop, some original wall panels from the 1979 set, and the surviving (bottom) half of an original Kraag monster costume to recreate a few shots of K9 fighting a Kraag. I appreciate the sentiment behind it, but the fact the surviving bit of set to squeeze them into is so small, and the Kraag only visible from the waist down, makes for a weirdly, and unintentionally silly, looking moment that takes you out of the flow of the story more than the switches to animation do.

Few would argue, though against the decision to bring in Martin Gergharty and Adrian Salmon to do design work for the animation. Not only are they brilliant in their own right, creating clear lined, loyal yet character-filled, interpretations of the cast in warm, friendly colours, it also helps smooth over the slightly stilted, flash style – the characters may not feel like they have a full range of human movement, but the presence of Gergharty’s art, so familiar to the readership of Doctor Who Magazine, makes it feel almost like panels from the beloved DWM comic strip brought to life.

 

Shada Reviewed

But has all this effort simply been an ultimate exercise in obsessive, fannish, completeness? Are we seeing the resurrection of a poor story just because it’s there to be done, or the completion of a classic in its own right?  In short – is Shada actually any good?

As it happens, Shada is brilliant jewel to add to Doctor Who’s crown if one, like all the most spectacular diamonds, not without its flaws. One the wittiest of Who scripts, and certainly with one of the most fascinating premises, at six parts it’s basically City of Death with extra portions. Famously, one of the script’s biggest critics is its own author – written, as it was, at a point when Douglas Adams was juggling several different projects and deadlines and pouring his greatest effort into his own personal work rather than Doctor Who. Considering that a billion years from now, stuck in the glovebox of an interplanetary roadster, the fruits of that rival project may be the last sign of the human race’s existence, it would be churlish to complain about that but still, Adams is being ungenerous about the serial.

In almost every way, this is the fullest encapsulation of the latter half Tom Baker years. Tom himself exudes the same sort of relaxed charm, peppered with moments of total nonsense that marked City of Death while Lalla Ward has never seemed more possessed of an unearthly beauty. All of their scenes together are a joy and something as simple as them going boating, or visiting an old friend in his rooms for tea is all stuff I could watch hours of, even without any alien menaces showing up. And the alien menace that does show up is stupendous – possibly the most unbelievable thing about the whole story is the revelation on the commentary track that the people in the background of Cambridge genuinely ignored Christopher Neame in his outrageous hat and slowing silver cape as if he was an everyday sight. But the massively fun campness of Neame’s character Skagra is balanced by the imaginative and typically Adamsian plot the villain has hatched. Skagra is unusually preoccupied with the heat death of the universe in several billion years’ time and obsessed with stopping it. Like solving the central question of  Life, the Universe, and Everything the main stumbling block to finding the answer is processing power – so he’s going to absorb every mind in the universe into one great gestalt entity, so that every being in creation is simply a conduit for finding a way to save it without the petty distractions of life. In a way, it’s Douglas Adams inventing cloud computing thirty years early and typical of the scientific verve and imagination he brought to everything he wrote. (Tellingly, a year later his replacement would also craft a story about forestalling the heat death of the universe but, while propounding the superiority of ‘hard science’, would solve it by inventing some space wizards who use magic words to make it go away).There are undoubtedly flaws, mostly as we race towards the end with the mounting sense of a script with the ink still wet and no time for afterthought or final drafts. Chris Parsons is probably the best of the solid young everymen Doctor Who has ever featured, and pitched perfectly by Daniel Hall, yet despite early episodes spending more time of introducing and building on his character, he gets lost in the shuffle of the climax. There’s even a dramatic scene of Chris making a vital deduction and racing out to save the day, only for Adams to be plainly unable to think of anything to give him to do once he gets there (a problem Gareth Roberts ingeniously solved in his 2012 novelization but which, presumably for purity’s sake, the producers here don’t take the opportunity to steal). Meanwhile, the Kraag outfits are really quite poor, even for the era that gave us the Nimon and the Mandrel, and a lot of the location film work in Cambridge feels rather loose and in need of a tighter edit.Yet, there’s an inescapable magic to Shada that goes well beyond its status as a mythical ‘lost’ story, and had it been completed in 1979 it would still have been regarded as one of the highpoints of Season Seventeen.

 

Extras

This release comes with a full set of extras the complement the story perfectly. A commentary orchestrated by the unsinkable Toby Hadoke on less funding than the bus fare into town sees him interview Neame and Hall about their experiences during filming, and Gergharty and animator Ann Marie Walsh about the pressures and effort involved in creating the project against incredibly tight deadlines. Taken Out of Time interviews many of the those involved in front of and behind the cameras on the original production to build a picture of exactly how it came to abandoned in the first place. Strike! Strike! Strike! uses contributions from those involved in industrial relations at the time to help explain exactly how the unions of 1970s television came to be so powerful, and give a potted history of their rise and fall through the lens of how industrial action had impacted Doctor Who over the decades both negatively (when it was at the BBC) and positively (when it was arch rival ITV left showing blank screens opposite the Doctor’s adventures).  Both of these are proper, half hour documentaries that tell a story of their own almost as compelling as Shada itself.

There’s also fascinating Studio Sesssions - 1979, showing the working methods of the cast and crew in-studio as the cameras roll between takes. Most fun of all is are the Dialogue Sessions – in which we get to see Tom Baker and Daniel Hall record their contributions for the animation, with all Tom’s uproarious ad libs and suggestions for improvements to the script intact. The extras are rounded out with the video of the Model Unit filming of Skagra’s space station and ship, as well as the TARDIS model, new footage taken of Daniel Hall and Tom Baker’s stand-in as reference for animation, photo galleries, as well as the obligatory Now and Then tour of what the Cambridge locatoins look like three decades on. ROM content even includes a full set of scripts, storyboards, and the 1979 Doctor Who Annual (if, rather bizarrely, packed as 56 separate image files).The Steelbook release goes even further to try and lay claim to the definitive Shada package – with a third disc containing the 1992 reconstruction and the 2003 Paul McGann web animation adaptation (remastered for viewing on TV screens rather than computer monitors). About the only thing not included is the novelization.

 

Presentation and Packaging

The DVD version has a slightly astonishing error where the coding that tells a television to display it as 16:9 or 4:3 is messed up – meaning that if watched on a 4:3 television the image will appear in the centre of the screen, with black bars on all sides – top, bottom, left and right. On a modern 16:9 television it displays the picture correctly (with bars on left and right as this is archive television intended as 4:3) but even then some resolution is lost as the image is basically being blown up to fit. That said, you’d be hard pressed to actually notice the lower resolution on viewing the DVD and it probably still looks better than it would have done on the average 1970s domestic television. All the same it’s disappointing to see such hard work by so many involved obviously handed off to someone much less fastidious at the eleventh hour for authoring the DVDs. It should be stressed, however, that the Blu-Ray and Steelbook don’t share this flaw so, if it’s going to bother you, those are the routes to take.

The cover art, some may remember, was the cause of a bit of a social media flap last year when Clayton Hickman’s distinctive and unusual scarf patterned cover was ditched at the comparative last minute. In the final result, Lee Binding’s replacement is… fine, if a little bland and stilted seeming, probably as a result of the tight deadlines under which it was done. Strangely, a vestige of Hickman’s original design lingers on in the insert booklet.  “Bland” is not something anyone could accuse the Steelbook art of. Undoubtedly DWM’s most marmite love-him-or-hate-him artists, Adrian Salmon provides a cover piece in his distinctive, angular, impressionistic style. Personally, I love him.

A thread long dangling frustratingly at the corner of Doctor Who history, Shada is reborn by a massive and dedicated effort by a hugely talented team to reveal it as an all time classic mix of Douglas Adams’ trademark whimsy and intelligence. Handsomely accompanied by a great set of extras and marred only by some inexplicable technical sloppiness, this is a must for any collection. But one, perhaps, to get on Blu-Ray if possible.