Power of the Daleks (2020 Animated Release)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 20 July 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Power Of The Daleks - Special Edition (Credit: BBC Studios)

Power of the Daleks
Written By: David Whitaker
Starring Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
Released July 2020 - BBC Studios

In 2016, BBC Studios released an animated reconstruction of the first Second Doctor serial Power of the Daleks. This was not the first animated reconstruction of lost episodes, but it was the first time that an entirely lost story was animated. Previous stories had just been one or two lost episodes in an otherwise complete serial. It also marked the start of the project being overtaken by BBC Studios, as the earlier projects had been animated by various different studios. 

Power was animated on a limited budget and time constraints. As a result there were elements the creators wished they could improve. When they tackled The Macra Terror, they had more time and a slightly bigger budget. This made them want to go back and improve their first effort. And four years after the initial release, they have done just that. It is easy to wonder why they have decided to re-animate a story they’ve already done, especially when there are so many adventures left missing...but my guess is the cost to redo the animation here was minimal. I was struggling to see too many changes, so I went back to the first attempt to see where the changes were. 

In the end it seems that there are a few cosmetic improvements, but it does seem like a minor spruce up at best. I would guess that they reused 90% of the elements from the first one, it is just all around more polished. It is certainly a story that deserves to be given a more polished effort.  It is a very important story in the history of the show, so it doesn’t deserve a more shoddy animated reconstruction than, say, The Faceless Ones. I applaud the effort to improve this very important adventure, even if the end results aren’t shocking.  

In terms of Special Features, having some more of the newly discovered footage of the original is certainly a bonus.  It's nice that they use this release to add as much new content as they can. As a collector, I'd probably be just as inclined to wait until the inevitable Season 4 boxset for "The Collection" range that will no doubt contain everything on this release and more. 

If you bought the 2016 version, I find it hard to recommend upgrading. This is certainly an improvement...but is it really that much of an improvement? Not really. If you missed it the first time around and aren’t sure which to get...the 2020 version is the better looking presentation. Beyond that it is just a collector’s game. 

 

Power of the Daleks Special Edition can be ordered from Amazon





Doctor Who At The BFI - Planet of the Daleks & Q and A with Katy ManningBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 June 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

CAN I JUST SAY THAT I WAS SAT IN THE SAME ROW AS KATY MANNING, AND TWO ROWS DOWN FROM FRANK SKINNER!?

 

Anyway, that’s enough of that fan...........wallowing! So, on Saturday 15th June, DWN was invited along to the BFI to see this special edition episode of the Pertwee classic, Planet of the Daleks. A story that is now 46 years old and that is showing to promote not only the upcoming series 10 Blu-ray box set but also to show off what the restoration team have managed to do with the original material. So, to the (literal) strains of Roberta Tovey's Who's Who, I entered the auditorium.

 

I have to confess, I’ve not seen this story since it’s release on DVD some years ago, but it does have a fond place in my heart. Why? Well, it has the Pertwee ‘A-Team’ in it; he and Manning never looked better on the small screen than during series 10. Pertwee himself was at the top of his game, and the show looked great. Yes, you can see the studio walls, but the jungle setting looks sumptuous, and the vicious plants incredibly imaginative. I love this TARDIS set, with its pull out bed, hidden oxygen tanks, and that weird entry threshold thing where you can see the outside....from the inside through the interior doors of the TARDIS. Odd, but very cool.

 

Being a direct follow on from Frontier In Space, which I always thought was just a long and drawn out trailer for this very story, it does suffer somewhat from Terry Nation’s writing tropes, but it’s still a cracking Dalek story, with some great cliffhangers, and fantastic character actors such as Prentis Hancock, and Bernard Horsefall. There is also David Maloney on directing duties.

 

As with a lot of the content on these new Blu-ray releases, the special effects have been spruced up somewhat (a feature that you can toggle on and off when watching the Blu-ray at home). Some of the effects are very impressive (the Dalek ship for instance) and some are so well blended in that you don’t notice them until the story has moved on. The standout, however, is, of course, the destruction of the Dalek army in the final episode. When I think back to the original, all I remember is awfully rendered, pathetic looking toy Daleks and bad lava effects. What we have here though is a complete CGI reimagining of the scene that adds real gravitas to the whole thing, and brings the effects bang up to date.

 

Sadly, upscaling a story like this is not all good. I thought as nice as the picture was, it suffered a bit by being on the big screen (I’m hoping it will look better at home). I also noticed a string on an ascending Dalek, Pertwee’s makeup, and how poor a state the Dalek props were in.

 

Story-wise, as mentioned earlier, it’s a Nation classic. He knows how to handle his Daleks and his mercenaries. But his female characters not so much. Some of the dialogue had the audience in stitches, especially that classic scene where Jo goes to find the bombs....and please, the less said about her brief 'romance', the better. Obviously, this is a window into a very different era of storytelling, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh.

 

After the show, there was a quiz, that Katy helped out with, running up and down the auditorium like a blind teenager. There was also a look at some of the newly filmed extras - Keeping Up With The Jones looks absolutely lovely, as do the Behind the Sofa vignettes featuring Manning, John Levene and Richard Franklin - their chemistry together, even now positively sizzles.

 

We then moved onto the Q and A and I must say that Manning was charming, funny and very engaging. She regaled the audience from how Pertwee started to wear hair rollers to hide his bald spot (which Katy had pointed out to him to his horror), to her heartbreak at leaving the show and moving on all of those years ago.

 

This reviewer really enjoyed the afternoon, if I had one slightly negative observation....well not so much as an observation, as a feeling in my buttocks - it would be that these showings would be better suited to four-part stories.

 

Oh! I nearly forgot! Inside scoop! The next Blu-ray box set will be announced Tuesday 18th June. Make your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.

 




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.

 





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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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




The Tenth PlanetBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 October 2013 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode Four

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

The Extras

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conclusion

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

Coming Soon

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