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Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (1963)
Director: Waris Hussein

review by Jeff Young

It's a weird experience watching this - the first ever appearance of the most famous British SF icon. William Hartnell's original interpretation of the immortal character is a decidedly odd combination of (other?) worldliness and brittle pomposity, as he virtually kidnaps a couple of nosy teachers from his 'granddaughter' Susan's school, and coolly transports the four of them back to the Stone Age.

The four episodes here feature poorly realised cavemen fighting with each other over who controls the fire (something whole nations are still doing today, of course). But the time-travellers' escape from being prisoners of the overly chatty primitives is clever, as Susan (Carole Ann Ford) comes up with the idea of using the tribal superstitions against them. The development may be unsophisticated and the ending too neatly achieved by later standards but, if viewed as a product of its time (excuse the pun), this brief little adventure is curiously tolerable (good b/w picture quality!) and really quite instructive for fans of the programme (like me), born after its early broadcasts.
previously published online, VideoVista #18

Related item:
tZ  Doctor Who: Time And Relative by Kim Newman - book review

Dr Who: An Unearthly Child

Doctor Who: The Tenth Planet (1966)
Director: Derek Martinus

review by Debbie Moon

The BBC's endless drive to exploit its Doctor Who back catalogue rolls onwards, arriving now at this William Hartnell era story written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davies. The year is a 'futuristic' 1986, complete with computers that do all the work for scientists. The Tardis appears at Mission Control in the Antarctic just as a routine orbital mission is disrupted by the appearance of an unknown planet. The Earth's energy supplies begin to dwindle, and when alien forces storm the base, Earth has its first sight of the Cybermen...

Some deft storytelling can't quite disguise technical problems past and present. William Hartnell is absent for almost an entire episode, as the Doctor suffers a regeneration-related collapse that seems to have more to do with actor availability or health than the plot. The fourth and final episode is missing entirely, and has been ingeniously reconstructed, after a fashion, from stills and scraps of film matched to the original voice-track.

However, the story has its attractions. The trigger-happy General Cutler, ready to risk irradiating the Earth in a desperate attempt to nuke the rogue planet, provides scope for a debate on military policy, and provides a stark contrast to the Doctor's mannered cunning and, if the female assistant is useless, and the male one annoying - well, those were simpler times. This is an enjoyable, but probably not essential, addition to any fan's collection.
previously published online, VideoVista #20
Dr Who: The Tenth Planet

Doctor Who: Tomb Of The Cybermen (1967)
Director: Morris Barry

review by Gary Couzens

The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), and new companion Victoria (Deborah Watling) arrive on the planet of Telos. At the same time, an archaeological expedition from Earth is trying to gain entrance to the tombs of the Cybermen. However, Klieg (George Pastell) and his sidekick Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin) are planning to revive the Cybermen and use them for their own ends, and the tombs contain a few surprises of their own...

For many years, the four-part Tomb Of The Cybermen was one of the several Troughton-era Doctor Who stories believed lost, until 16mm prints were returned to the BBC in 1992 from a TV station in Hong Kong... and so the story was seen again for the first time in a quarter of a century. Tomb still has the ability to grip an audience, despite some distinctly creaky production elements (at least one very visible wire, for example). The high metallic monotone in which the Cybermen's voices is quite effective.

As this story began Doctor Who's fifth season, it begins with a short sequence where the Doctor shows Victoria (who had been introduced at the end of the previous season, in the story The Evil Of The Daleks) around the Tardis control room, before they dematerialise and land on Telos. Victoria is in the screaming-teenager tradition of Doctor's companion, which nowadays seems quite retrograde; however, there's a moving scene where the Doctor talks of his own family - an early hint at the complex backstory that would develop over the years that the series ran.

Shot on a mixture of 405-line videotape and 16mm film, this story would never have anything like state-of-the-art picture quality. Thanks to the efforts of the restorers, the story looks on this DVD as good as it possibly could do. It's presented in the original ratio 4:3 with Dolby digital 2.0 mono sound, with both English hard-of-hearing and information subtitles. DVD extras include a commentary by Hines and Watling, an introduction by Morris Barry, an extract from a 1967 edition of Late Night Line-Up showing the work of the visual effects department, highlights of the Q&A session after a 1992 screening of the story at BAFTA, footage of the destruction of the Dalek city shot on the set of Evil Of The Daleks, title sequence tests, a short feature on the restoration, a stills gallery and three Easter eggs.
Dr Who: Tomb Of The Cybermen

Doctor Who: The Deadly Assassin (1976)
Director: David Maloney

review by J.C. Hartley

Difficult thing, the canon; on its first appearance The Deadly Assassin caused outrage amongst 'the keepers of the true flame' with its depiction of Gallifrey, home of the Time Lords, not as some Chronal Parnassus but a Vatican City of conspiracy and doubt, and the Time Lords themselves not as lofty paragons with portable plinths but politicking time-servers. They even had TV! One can imagine the slammed bedroom doors, and the fanboys' mums having to scrape baked beans off the living room wall.

Within a few years of course The Deadly Assassin was a classic, one of the best ever; not only a withering analysis of an empire in decline but, to believe the DVD extras, an indictment of political corruption and media influence. Yeah right, and The House At Pooh Corner is a study of bi-polarity and eating disorders. Deconstructing intertextuality has a lot to answer for.

Having dumped winsome companion Sarah-Jane, the Doctor (Tom Baker) receives mental messages summoning him to his home-world. Baker was apparently convinced that he could carry the series companion-free, by talking to himself and turning the ham dial to maximum. Once arriving on Gallifrey and having given the palace guards the slip, with unseen help, the Doctor dons ceremonial robes and gains access to the Panopticon to view the ceremonial outgoing of the old President. Alerted to the danger of an assassination attempt, the Doctor only succeeds in implicating himself in the resulting hit and faces trial.

It is revealed that working behind the scenes to engineer the Doctor's execution is his old adversary the Master, allied with another mysterious helper. The Master is at the end of his cycle of regeneration and is a horrible decaying near-corpse. It took me some time to identify who or what this apparition, with its shrivelled skin and protuberant eyeballs, reminded me of. Was it the image of death that stalks the Baron in The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen? Was it the founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, Mary Whitehouse, who graces the DVD extras' package? Finally, I realised that it was the irritating gibbering aliens from Mars Attacks! Fortunately treacle-smooth and sinister Peter Pratt plays the Master, breathing vicious animation into the jerking flapping parody of existence the evil one has become.

The Doctor puts himself up for election as President to stall for time and avoid the call for his execution that is being urged on Cardinal Borusa by Chancellor Goth (Bernard Horsfall). He manages to convince head of Capitol security Castellan Spandrell (George Pravda), and co-ordinator Engin (Eric Chitty), that he could not have been behind the assassination. Having deduced that the Master is behind the plot, the Doctor enters the Matrix, the 'amplified panotropic computer net', the sum of Time Lord thought-patterns, a virtual reality currently manipulated by the Master. During a montage of surreal confrontations, filmed in the series' favourite chalk-pit, the Doctor finally unmasks the Master's ally, Chancellor Goth. Goth does not survive the encounter but the Master fakes his own death in order to steal the Sash of Rassilon and the Great Key. Protected by the sash, which is a bit of complex engineering rather than a ceremonial scarf, the Master intends to open the Eye of Harmony using the power of the black hole within to regenerate and seize control or destroy Gallifrey. The Doctor and the Master fight, with the former managing to reseal the Eye of Harmony; however some of the released energy has restored his old foe.

The story is by fan-favourite Robert Holmes, and blissfully there isn't the usual amount of fat in the four-parter. What aroused the ire of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, as expressed by founding President Jan Vincent-Rudzki in DVD extras' featurette The Matrix Revisited, is that the Time Lords were not presented as all-powerful otherworldly intellects, but that the story was about beings with all the petty concerns of earthlings. Having said that, this story establishes much that is now considered canonical as regards the lore of Time Lords, the status of Rassilon and the limits to regeneration. It also suggests the activities of the shadowy CIA, the Celestial Intervention Agency, which may have had much to do with the Doctor's activities in the past. Actor Bernard Horsfall played one of the Time Lords who confirmed Patrick Troughton's exile to Earth and subsequent regeneration as Jon Pertwee at the end of The War Games, and it has been speculated that he could be the same character here.

Other items in The Matrix Revisited are interviews with Baker, director David Maloney, designer Roger Murray-Leach, and NVLA founder Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse explains her concerns about the drowning sequence in the fight between Goth and the Doctor, and this scene was edited in later repeats. Mrs Whitehouse was a phenomenon that it would be perhaps hard to explain to a modern generation. Undoubtedly it was essential that she did exist although she united many diverse factions against her. With the onset of age and maturity I have conceded that she was correct about many things, unfortunately she was incapable of being wholly objective about what she felt should and shouldn't be broadcast, and could not see beyond her own set of moral and behavioural values. In a discussion of sexual practices on the screen, following a well-publicised furore following Denis Potter's Pennies From Heaven, she was adamant that the depiction of oral sex should be avoided at all costs, she conceded that this activity was permissible between consenting married couples in the privacy of their own homes, but then couldn't stop herself from the subjective observation that she personally couldn't imagine why such couples would want to so indulge themselves.

Producer Philip Hinchcliffe reveals that he wanted The Deadly Assassin to be a science fictional Manchurian Candidate, although bizarrely he admits he had never seen the film of Richard Condon's novel. In The Gallifreyan Candidate, Stacy Gillis of Newcastle University and Andrew Shail of Oxford University provide an excellent introduction to John Frankenheimer's 1962 film.

The Frighten Factor is a cheesy consideration of what sends kids behind the sofa. The consensus seems to be the subversion of the everyday into something menacing. There are some great clips in this feature. It sometimes seems to be that Doctor Who is, like James Bond films, most purely enjoyed as a montage of clips.

Other extras include the usual commentary, with Baker, Hinchcliffe and actor Bernard Horsfall. There's also a PDF file of the original Radio Times listing, and a trailer for the next DVD release, Sylvester McCoy's Delta And The Bannermen (interestingly McCoy's tenure has risen in status from the derision that accompanied some of his storylines). There is a photo gallery and an Easter egg. For the Easter egg navigate left from the special features menu options and choose the green 'Doctor Who' icon, it's only a 'next week on Doctor Who' announcement.

A fitting addition to the steady release of classic Doctor Who onto DVD; may they, and it, run and run.
Dr Who: The Deadly Assassin

Doctor Who: The Hand Of Fear (1976)
Director: Lennie Mayne

review by J.C. Hartley

A story from the Tom Baker years of season 14 which, while not a classic, has some standing in fan's memories as it saw the departure of the petite and beautiful Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), companion since the days of John Pertwee's Doctor. Sarah Jane arrived in season 11 as a feisty journalist in a tailored suit, and left as a hippy chick in Andy Pandy overalls.

In the Doctor Who equivalent of the pre-credits sequence we see the ice shrouded planet of Kastria, where storm survivors in a dome on the surface are attempting to obliterate Eldrad, one of their number, in a module in space. Because of deteriorating conditions on the surface the obliteration sequence is rushed with the possibility that some part of Eldrad may survive.

In a nice postmodern touch the Tardis materialises in a quarry, that really is a quarry, on present day Earth. Oblivious to shouted warnings the Doctor and Sarah Jane are caught in an explosion, which frees a fossilised hand from the rock strata. The Doctor, Sarah Jane and the mysterious hand travel to hospital where Sarah Jane is possessed by a blue light emanating from a ring, which she found on one of the hand's fingers.

The action moves to Nunton Power Station, filmed at a real power station, where Sarah Jane, with a combination of finger-nibbling winsomeness and the blue power ring, gains easy access to the reactor whereupon the hand begins to regenerate.

After some silliness, such as the director (Glyn Houston) of the power station being able to call up a nuclear strike, the hand completes its regeneration into Eldrad, played by the stunning and androgynous Judith Paris in a grey-blue figure-hugging silicone suit. Eldrad reveals that she fell out with her people after her planet of Kastria was targeted by an alien invasion and convinces the Doctor to take her there.

On Kastria, Eldrad's duplicity is revealed; having refused to follow her dreams of conquest they were condemned to an icy internment when Eldrad destroyed the barriers keeping the extreme weather conditions at bay. Eldrad completes her regeneration into actor Stephen Thorne in a flappy version of the silicone suit and the story rather fizzles out.

Having saved the day, the Doctor receives a call from his home planet of Gallifrey for the first time since 1969, and as he cannot take Sarah Jane with him rather unceremoniously dumps her back on Earth. This dumping has somehow attained a status, which the scene, although beautifully played by the leads, does not really merit. Constricted by the unexplored nature of the Doctor and companion relationship the parting of the ways seems perfunctory now, compared to the tear-fests we have grown used to with the Doctor's modern incarnations. Undoubtedly this release will garner some interest with Elisabeth Sladen's rapturous return to the TV series, in 2006.

Having set a high standard with excellent extras packages for Doctor Who on DVD, this particular release from 2Entertain is a bit disappointing. There is a commentary, interviews with cast and crew, continuity sequences from the original broadcast, and Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, immune to doe-eyed lash-fluttering from Noel Edmonds, on the BBC's Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.
Dr Who: Hand of Fear

Doctor Who: The Robots Of Death (1977)
Director: Michael E. Briant

review by Donald Morefield

On a giant 'Sandminer' the small crew of humans rely on androids to do all the drudgework, and make them rich. But there's something wrong with these fancy dress costume party style robots, and members of staff are getting killed. When he's accused of the murders, our hero with the floppy curls and long scarf plays Sherlock until one of the utility mechanicals is found with blood on its hands, and a mad scientist's revolutionary's plot is uncovered.

Tom Baker was one of the most popular Doctors, courtesy of his incarnation's endearing sense of humour ("Would you like a jelly baby?"), and this remains a vital part of his appeal in the role of virtually immortal Time Lord. Leela (Louise Jameson), the tribal savage, became the Doctor's most troublesome companion, forever wandering off and getting into mischief. However, she comes out with some amusingly apt hunter's wisdom: "If you're bleeding, look for a man with scars." And, at least, she could fight and wasn't in need of being rescued every five minutes. Leela was arguably the first tough heroine to appear as a series' regular on Doctor Who.

Despite some cheapo effects work, this four-episode story about the future's over dependence on machines has reasonably good performances, an intelligent genre-aware script (spot the Clarke reference) by Chris Boucher, and - by the programme's usual standards - some halfway realistic sets that don't wobble about every time an actor moves around. This BBC disc's presentation makes for a highly collectable item!

DVD extras: very good. Scene access (six chapters per episode), nifty animated menus, photo gallery (mostly b/w), featurette comprising outtakes and some test footage of miniatures, studio floor plans, commentary by Boucher and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
previously published online, VideoVista #21
Dr Who: The Robots Of Death

Doctor Who: Remembrance Of The Daleks (1988)
Director: Andrew Morgan

review by Jeff Young

Produced by John Nathan-Turner as a 25th anniversary story, this Sylvester McCoy adventure revisits the schoolyard where the original Doctor (William Hartnell) began his time-travelling career in 1963. There, two dalek factions are about to start a war (racial conflict is a subtext here with opposing black and white dalek forces) over a super-weapon called 'the Hand of Omega', with Earth (or, at least, a few London locations and studio sets) as their battleground.

Unfortunately, the script by Ben Aaronovitch is simply too ambitious for BBC sci-fi budgets, and attempts to cash-in on fervent fan interest in the genre action variant of SF clichés, generated by successful 1980s' movies like Aliens and The Terminator, fall wretchedly short of even the most easily pleased Doctor Who fan's expectations. The 1960s setting is only haphazardly convincing, the starry supporting cast (Simon Williams, George Sewell, Pamela Salem) are universally dismal, and a throwaway reference to Quatermass only points up how tragically botched this four-part tale is compared to similarly themed alien invasion dramas.

The floating coffin is a neat visual effect, and there are plenty of pyrotechnics for those who like cheap explosions, but these daleks aren't in the least bit scary. Not even the Emperor, or SWAT models, and they characteristically defy all logic: if the legendary, exterminating cyborgs have a mothership in Earth orbit capable of cracking the planet apart, then how come their technology can't outfit trooper daleks with a decent synthetic voice, instead of that horribly grating noise?

The main problem with Remembrance Of The Daleks isn't the lacklustre star (McCoy's time lord - the seventh - is arguably the weakest characterisation of them all) or the daleks themselves - it's the companion, 'Ace' (Sophie Aldred). She's not quite so awful as previous incumbent - and major irritant, Mel (Bonnie Langford), but she does lack the scream queen status of Sarah-Jane (Elizabeth Sladen), bolshie attitude of Tegan (Janet Fielding) or sex appeal of Peri (Nicola Bryant). Ace is a decidedly bland assistant, with the most ironic name of all.
previously published online, VideoVista #24
Dr Who: Remembrance Of The Daleks

Doctor Who: The Movie (1996)
Director: Geoffrey Sax

review by Christopher Geary

Millennial Dr Who adventure starring Paul McGann, this was co-produced by the BBC and America's MCA, but shot in Canada. It's quite radically different from previous entries in the TV series, adopting a glossy US movie style instead of the cheap 'n' cheerful British values. There's also melodramatic love interest - and a controversial kiss - for the typically unromantic Doctor, and, while a majority of the UK TV show's iconic elements (the malfunctioning police box Tardis, all those oddball costumes, the Master as our hero's archenemy, etc), there's a tendency to break the mould - as in the casting of Eric Roberts, even as the narrative strives to remind audiences of a few long forgotten facts about our alien hero (he has two hearts), and yet this was done, in part, just to familiarise American viewers with the genre backstory.

Whether you enjoy this or not will depend on your reaction to McGann in the title role, and not really the numerous concessions made to the format to suit the American market. Reportedly, US network execs were concerned about Christian imagery offending church leaders - as the Doctor rises from the dead and, at one point, if forced to wear something resembling a crown of thorns. Conversely, the BBC was worried about the movie's levels of violence (this was originally released at the time of the Dunblane murders). There is no avoiding the fact that a bigger budget helps with the SF formula here, and the judicious use of CG effects give this drama of temporal apocalypse a certain lustre that most of the BBC productions lack. But, in the end, it's because this has lost much of its quirky Englishness, and takes the prescription offered by US funding as a cure for its many ills, that Doctor Who: The Movie is a regrettable failure.

Unfortunately, this is mediocre when it ought to be dazzling, however much we may have wished it to be a runaway success and restore our faith in the on-going series. It appears that all this production has accomplished is to reconfigure and retrofit the greatly troubled Time Lord milieu into just another easily exploitable character franchise. Whereas the earlier stories often stressed the human flaws of the omnipotent alien, this engaging - but ultimately shallow - fiction attempts to explore the superman beneath his human mask. And that may be its downfall.
previously published online, VideoVista #30
Doctor Who: The Movie
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