This strictly limited edition and individually numbered deluxe merchandise collection (only 5000 to be released worldwide) is a recent and unexpected addition to the BBC Worldwide release schedule and celebrates fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s seven year stint on the series with a diverse collection from the DOCTOR WHO merchandise range, which is of particular interest to this site primarily because of its inclusion of two exclusive DVD discs, the content of which we’ll come to in a moment. First, the set itself, if you’re a collector of any of the multifarious merchandises included here, is sure to get any fan salivating. The content arrives in a hefty-looking ‘Gallifreyan Casket’ embossed with the Seal of Rassilon. Inside can be found a veritable treasure trove of fourth Doctor-related delights fronted by an introductory hand-written letter from the man Baker himself.
Action figure collectors will be intrigued by the inclusion of a 5 inch post-regeneration Fourth Doctor figure wearing Jon Pertwee’s velvet smoking jacket and frill-fronted shirt from “Planet of the Spiders”. This will be exclusive to this set and is apparently never going to be issued separately. A toy sonic screwdriver based on the design used by Baker’s incarnation of the Doctor (also from British toy manufacture Character Options) will be included, as well as an audiobook version of Terry Nation's classic Baker era story “Genesis of the Daleks”. The original BBC books novel “Tomb of Valdemar” by Simon Messsingham, which is set during the Fourth Doctor’s search for the Key to Time and features Romana 1 and K9, comes with a new ‘time cog’ cover design seen last during the “The Invasion of Time”. There is also a stylish collection of art cards featuring all the companions who featured during the Fourth Doctor’s reign.
This is the kind of product which is intended to appeal to the committed merchandise collector (and undoubtedly will do so), but the main reason for this review is its inclusion of two exclusive DVD discs as a novel part of the package. The first of these is a ‘vanilla’ preview release of the only Fourth Doctor adventure yet to appear on DVD, the forthcoming “Terror of the Zygons”. It’s due to appear in a special edition later in the year, but this is our first chance to get a look at the beautifully restored episodes minus any extras or commentaries etc., which will be part of the package when the story finally gets its official release. By no means one of the best stories from Tom Baker’s extensive and varied tenure, it is nevertheless one of those that definitely sticks in the memories of those of us old enough to remember seeing it when it was originally broadcast back in late August, 1975.
Written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield, it had originally been filmed as part of season 12, but was held over until the start of season 13 when that series was re-scheduled and brought forward to start in the autumn of 1975 rather than in January the following year (as had previously been the custom throughout the Pertwee years) in order to put it head to head with ITV’s new Gerry Anderson series “Space 1999” in the Saturday night ratings war. This meant that producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes had nowhere near the same amount of time in which to prepare the new block of episodes for production; holding “Terror of the Zygons” back was a way of giving themselves slightly more leeway, although it also meant that Tom Baker's introductory series ran unusually short.
This is also the last official UNIT family story, with Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart making his final appearance in the series until the 1983 Peter Davison story “Mawdryn Undead”, despite the original intention of having him return for “The Android Invasion” a couple of months later.
“Terror of the Zygons” is the first of two fondly remembered stories Robert Banks Stewart authored for Tom Baker’s Doctor, although in structure (and even in much of the content), it echoes some of his earlier work for action series such as “The Avengers”, particularly in the way it deals with the regular protagonists, the Doctor (Tom Baker), Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) -- sending each of them off on separate strands of an investigation into the destruction of a series of North Sea oil rigs off of the coast of Scotland. The story starts off like a typical action espionage adventure, but one in which the strange goings on turn out to be the work of slimy, orange, shape-shifting aliens who are in control of a giant cyborg Loch Ness Monster that sustains them with its lactic milk!
It is mostly its introduction of those body-morphing Zygons for which this story is best remembered: they’re one of the most vividly rendered DOCTOR WHO monsters ever, despite only appearing this one time. They made a huge impact on fan consciousness and are due to play a role in this year’s 50th anniversary special. However, despite a fantastic look and excellent costume design, they’re not given very much to do in this story, which consists of a fairly generic alien invasion plot in which the details of the actual invasion are always sketchy to say the least. It mainly seems to involve secretly monitoring the goings on in a local Scottish inn owned by a bagpipes playing landlord, with the aid of a video surveillance camera planted in a stag’s head above the dartboard. There’s something memorably queasy about the way in which these hissing, slimy beings are seen tweaking and caressing (in a quite frankly obscenely suggestive manner) a series of fleshily organic-looking nodules and protrusions on the control desk of their spacecraft while they’re voyeuristically perusing the comings and goings at the inn -- the craft later turning out to be part of an underground base in the catacombs of a Scottish castle.
This being a story largely based in Scotland, the adventure is filled with stingy Scotsmen and references to haggis and bagpipes; the Brigadier wears a kilt and the Doctor is happy to play along in the stereotyping with a tartan scarf replacing his usual multi-coloured variety, at least for episode one. Despite all this, none of it was actually filmed in Scotland! And unfortunately, despite there being a couple of brief moments of stop-motion animation included in episode two, the Skarasen Loch Ness creature is ‘brought to life’ mostly with the aid of nothing but a rubbish glove puppet and crude CSO, undermining the ambitions of Robert Banks Stewarts’ script and making the finale appear rather weak, uneventful and anti-climactic.
But, although it has clear flaws, this is an excellent choice of story for a set showcasing the Fourth Doctor’s reign: Baker is compellingly watchable in this early outing, which in reality belongs to his first block of adventures and sees him still blatantly enjoying the process of discovering the fact that he can play this character as an extension of his own eccentric personality. The second DVD disc features a never seen before 25 minute interview with Baker: “Interview with a Time Lord: In Conversation with Tom Baker”, which was recorded last year in the warm and pleasant surroundings of the Mermaid Tavern: a former Smugglers’ Inn in Rye, East Sussex which was rebuilt in 1420. Here a reflective and surprisingly nostalgic and sometimes contrite Baker muses by the fireside on his seven years as the reigning Time Lord. There’s not much here we haven’t heard before, but we’ve never heard it told quite like this. This was quite clearly a period that Baker now recognises to be the defining moment of his life, and one he looks back on with great warmth, affection and nostalgia. He speaks with moving honesty about how much the role meant to him at the time; what it entailed for his self-esteem to be loved by children, and how difficult it has been for him to adjust to leaving it all behind and confining this part of his life to the past. He also talks fondly about the development of his post-series friendship with Louise Jameson, who played his former companion Leela, with whom he had a fairly well documented difficult relationship during their time together making the series. Since persuading him to resume the Fourth Doctor role for a series of Big Finish audio adventures, the two have become firm friends and Baker has publically apologised to her for his past behaviour. Baker also talks briefly about his relations with some of the other Doctors and mentions how, even though it is common for actors to discuss with each other their performances in certain roles, none of the actors who have played the Doctor ever talk about each other’s handling of this iconic character! This is an undeniably interesting and sometimes quite emotional and thoughtful recap on the Baker era, but it seems oddly short given that it takes up a whole disc. The only clips used to illustrate Baker’s points or to break up the sections come from “Terror of the Zygons”, and there seems no real reason why this couldn’t have been included on that disc given its lack of any other extras.
Still, overall this is sturdy and nice-looking piece of merchandising for the avid collector, although if your main interest is in the DVD preview of “Terror of the Zygons” then you’d be best off waiting a couple of months more for the special edition stand-alone disc(s) to arrive. I suspect, though, that the Baker interview will be kept back as an exclusive to this release.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!