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Doctor Who: Myths and Legends

Review by: 
Blackgloves
Release Date: 
1972-1980
Studio: 
2Entertain
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Paul Bernard
Norman Stewart
Kenny McBain
Cast: 
Jon Pertwee
Tom Baker
Katy Manning
Louise Jamson
Lalla Ward
Movie: 
3
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
4
Video: 
Click to Play

This three-disc box set of classic Doctor Who adventures includes one six-part 1972 story featuring the Doctor's third incarnation, Jon Pertwee, and two four-parters from the Tom Baker years, broadcast in 1978 and 1979/1980 respectively . None of them are usually thought to represent the series in its finest hour (in the opinion of knowledgeable Whovians), but all three stories are legitimately brought together here in view of their shared reliance on elements of Greek mythology or ancient legends as a basis for their plots. The Baker stories both attempt to retell several ancient Greek legends in the form of convoluted space operas - to little real success given their rather compromised budgets and rushed schedules - while the Pertwee story, a season 9 finale entitled "The Time Monster", is a sprawling, completely dotty mini-epic that, although perhaps not officially a 'classic', certainly on its own provides enough entertainment and jaw-dropping moments to make this set virtually a must-buy for Doctor Who fans! 

 

By 1972, the show's then producer (and sometimes uncredited writer) Barry Letts, and story editor Terrance Dicks had succeeded in completely reformatting the show for the new decade. No longer primarily based on the wanderer-in-time-and-space idea that had underpinned it throughout the early sixties, the show had been retooled, with the advent of colour, into a largely earth-based adventure series about a flamboyant alien maverick with a love of fast cars and unusual gadgetry, who worked alongside a secret Government military unit in the capacity of  its special scientific advisor, while attempting to deal with weekly hostile alien threats to takeover the earth, usually via the subjugation of the Home Counties. 

 

This made it more akin to popular ITC shows of the day, such as "Department S", and coincided with a form of story-telling that recalled Nigel Kneale's three classic "Quatermass" series. Stories such as "The Daemons" were predicated on Arthur C. Clarke's famous 'third law': stating that 'any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic' and consistently used this notion as a basis to explore all the various sorts of mystical, alternative and new age ideologies and occult notions that were just coming into vogue in popular culture at the time, but in the context of a weekly science fiction series. Invariably, age old superstitions, demonic iconography, Black Magic or psychic powers would turn out to be rooted in some sort of advanced alien science or technology in these sorts of stories."The Time Monster" clearly fits in with this brief, but Letts was pushing the series ever-further into more advanced areas of  theoretical science and philosophy, by now working on the assumption that the show was appealing to an older audience who had grown up with the series, as well as just children. This story clearly latches onto the then current obsession with finding an historical basis to ancient myths, and the popularity of pseudo-history seeking to tie in the achievements of ancient civilisation to past alien intervention, while treating human myths as real cosmic events. The idea that Atlantis may really have been ancient Crete was fairly common back then, and didn't seen so far-fetched compared to some of the other ideas in circulation..

 

***

Anyone still under the illusion that Doctor Who was just a simple Saturday tea-time show for kids, should take a look at the sorts of ideas that are being casually tossed about in the apparently mad plot of "The Time Monster". In order to have any hope of understanding the story during the course of these six episodes, you have to make at least some attempt to get your head around a rather outlandish theoretical quantum theory of time, Carl Jung's theory of the subconscious mind, the timeless Vortex, and even a spot of Zen Buddhism; while the Doctor is prone to making such sonorous existential statements as 'being without becoming is an ontological impossibility." Of course, even then, you won't make much sense of it - because it is all complete and utter twaddle (and there is never any concern with making the story's wild ideas about time and space compatible with each-other), but the point is, Letts (who co-wrote 50 % of this story with Robert Sloman, although only the latter gets an official writer's credit) is quite happy to have the audience required to think about some fairly heavyweight ideas, and does so without sacrificing the entertainment value of the show at all.

 

Or then again ... you could just sit back and enjoy one of the zaniest and utterly kitsch stories in Doctor Who's zany and utterly kitsch history, a story that manages to encompass everything from Ingrid Pitt and Susan Penhaligon in Atlantis; a lumbering Minotaur in his traditional underground labyrinth, who happens to have David Prowse's muscle-bound body (inevitably the Doctor tackles him like a matador would; and even more inevitably there is cod Spanish music on the soundtrack while he does so); a whole episode of the Doctor and the Master bickering with each other like naughty schoolboys from their respective TARDISes (this is the first story to posit the idea that the TARDIS might be sentient and that it has a telepathic link with the Doctor); a monster conjured from the time Vortex, and thus supposedly unimaginable to the human mind - although it looks suspiciously like a bloke dangling on a wire while dressed a weird pigeon costume; and lots of amusing time-based jiggery-pokery such as UNIT troops getting slowed down and frozen in a "time lock", or prematurely aged into Steptoe-like decrepitude, or - in the case of unlucky Sergeant Benton (John Levee) -  regressed to a baby ... only to be brought back to adulthood again dressed in an adult-sized nappy while standing in front of Jo Grant and another female scientist with a cheeky grin on his face! And this was the last image of the series that year!!

 

The initial premise of the first episode is that the Master has somehow got himself a gig at Cambridge University, working as a theoretical physicist (no qualification checks back in 1972 then?) under the pseudonym of Doctor Thascales. The Doctor, Jo Grant and UNIT also turn up at the Newton Institute to witness a demonstration by two young physicist (who've been unknowingly working alongside the Master) of a new device for transporting matter through space called TOMTIT, or, the Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time. This works on the basis of their discovery that time is, in fact, particulate and lumpy rather than smooth, and that matter can therefore be transported through space by breaking it down into light waves and squeezing it through these infinitesimally small gaps in time, or temporal atoms - the space between "now" and "now". 

 

Of course, the Master has bigger plans for it: i.e. - the complete domination of the Universe (he's nothing if not predictably consistent!) and to that end, the device has been powered with a slice of crystal stolen by the Master from Atlantis! The complete crystal was known then as the Crystal of Kronos and used to keep control of a deadly time-devouring creature called a Chronovore, which lives in the Vortex (the place that is no place, and therefore, outside of time). In his attempt to bring the creature under his control, the Master only manages to transport the Atlantian High Priest to '70s Cambridge, and realises that he will need to gain possession of the whole crystal if he is to achieve his plan for complete domination of the Universe. Thus, the Doctor's arch enemy sets out for Atlantis, planning to charm the Atlantian queen, Galleia (Ingrid Pitt), into helping him, while the Doctor and Jo attempt to follow in the TARDIS.   

 

This synopsis contains only the briefest of sketches of the whole range of outlandish ideas that propel this mish-mash of a story from one crazy event to the next. The TOMTIT experiential device is merely a pretext for shoehorning every time-related gimmick into the plot that Letts and Sloman can think of, many of them originally intended for the unmade sequel to "Day of the Daleks" -The "Daleks in London" - in which the Daleks manipulate time as part of their next invasion plan. The story was scrapped after a dispute with Dalek creator and rights-holder, Terry Nation. All of that material is instead made a part of the Master's attempt to throw UNIT off his trail during the middle episodes of this series. Thus we get the memorable sequence where the Master plucks various foes from Earth's history - such as a medieval knight on horseback, a division of Roundheads and a WW 2 doodlebug bomber - and sends them into battle against the brigadier and the UNIT team. It's also another excuse for the Doctor to indulge his fondness for Heath Robinson-like inventions such as the Time Detector we get see here (used to pick up ripples in the 'Time Field' caused by the Master's TARDIS); and, a truly bizarre sequence, which takes up about five minutes of screen time, in which the Doctor uses a wine bottle, two corks and a couple of forks to create a device he calls 'a time flow analogue' that he claims he and the Master used to make as schoolboys back on Galifrey, in order to disrupt each other's Time Experiments (?!). Eventually, the Doctor tries to materialise the TARDIS inside the Master's TARDIS (which is disguised as a 19'70s computer - In other words, it's the size of a wardrobe!), but accidentally sets up a dizzying M.C. Escher-like temporal regression, where each ship appears simultaneously inside the other  - meaning that when the Doctor tries to leave the console room of the TARDIS, he ends up inside the Master's TARDIS, even though it still appears to be sitting in the corner of his console room; but when he then leaves the Master's TARDIS, he ends up back inside his own ship again (even though the familiar police box also appears to be sitting in the corner of the Master's TARDIS control room!).

 

All this, and after four episodes, we haven't even got to Atlantis yet!

 

Admittedly, one of the main reasons why this not-exactly-well-regarded Doctor Who adventure now seems like a real hoot, comes down to the writers' and producers' misjudged attempts to inject some authentic early-seventies pop culture into the mix in the hope of gaining it some cred. The results come out about as wrong as you'd expect middle-aged, middle class writers trying to write 'hip' young people's dialogue would be - but that makes it all the more fun to watch now! For this story now feels exactly like what you'd expect 1970s Doctor Who should be like - when in reality, it rarely ever was. The two young physicists, a bloke called Stuart (Ian Collier) and Dr Ruth Ingram (Wendy Moore), indulge in embarrassing debates about 'Women's Lib', Collier acting like he's in one of those mid-seventies sit-coms like "Man About the House". To show how hip and happening they are, they have an Elton John poster on their Wootton lab wall. Then, in the same story, you have Ingrid Pitt doing her 'Ingrid Pitt' thing (her very next job after this was "Countess Dracula"!),while  rubbing up against some painfully 'hip' dialogue from Jo Grant, who looks so '70s it feels like a parody, dressed in her knee-high, stack-heeled canary yellow leather boots, as she is. Later, she gets to wear some 'swinging' Atlantian gear as well (we have to presume they invented the zipper in Atlantis, judging by Jo's costume!). When the Doctor and the Master finally come to confront the true face of the Godhead Kronos, it turns out to be a psychedelic rainbow void containing a giant face that looks like a member of Pan's People in gold face paint. There is a really weird moment in the TARDIS as well, when both the Doctor and the Master make fun of Jo for 'falling on her coccyx'; it plays somewhere between an educational exposition of an unusual word for children and a nudge-nudge, wink-wink naughty joke.

 

But, the thing though, that this story is never, ever dull. It may be absurd and incomprehensible, and a mish-mash of jumbled story ideas, but for a six episode Doctor Who story to avoid having any lulls at all; for it to consistently confound expectations; and for every episode to be almost completely different from the last, and  to be as endlessly entertaining as this - that is a rarity indeed. Even the story padding is amusing. And on top of all the kitschy stuff there are moments of unexpected poetic tenderness. Barry Letts was starting to incorporate more and more ideas inspired by his adherence to Buddhism during his tenure as producer-and-sometimes-writer, and "The Time Monster" begins a strand that would only pay off in Pertwee's swan song story several years later, "The Planet of the Spiders". Jo and the Doctor find themselves imprisoned in Atlantis where Jo voices her worry that "the Master might well win in the end". The Doctor calms her down by relating a strange parable from his childhood, which took place on 'the blackest day of my life' ... When he used to live half-way up a mountainside as a small boy, he encountered an old monk who lived in the gloomy darkness under a twisted tree, where he had learned the secrets of existence. The monk teaches the Doctor to look anew at a daisy struggling for existence in the mud, and suddenly everything seems to be bursting with life, and the daisy seems to be 'the daisiest daisy' he has ever seen. Besides weirdly prefiguring playwright Dennis Potter's final TV interview before his death, this is a direct steal from a Buddhist parable, 'the flower sermon', written into the script by Letts as a way of seeding the emerging character arc concerning the Doctor's insatiable quest for experience and knowledge, which would eventually be this third incarnation's undoing.

 

This disc, like all three discs in the set, comes bursting with inspired extras, including every episode boasting between them an interesting and wide-ranging selection of commentary tracks. Episodes 1, 5 and 6 feature producer Barry Letts and production assistant Marion McDougall in a track moderated by Toby Hadoke. Actor Susan Penhaligon joins them on episode 5 to comment on her role as Queen's maid-servant, Lakis. McDougall discusses the problems of finding suitable locations for the stories, and goes into detail about a dispute that arose after a stunt involving a horse and a truck went wrong. Letts is honest about what he feels to be the story's failure to realise its complex ideas on the screen, seeing it as being down to a failure of imagination on the part of director Paul Bernard, although he acknowledges the story's inherent mish-mash of elements. Susan Penhaligon is extremely enthusiastic about the series, telling how she only got the role, fresh out of drama school, after "Psychomania" and "House of Whipcord" star Anne Michelle was fired for her bad time-keeping (ironic given the story's subject matter!). She also reveals that her mother was a former girlfriend of Jon Pertwee's. John Levene, who plays Sergeant Benton, takes the mike on episodes 2 and 4, and proves an endearing and extremely talkative contributor, and someone who is, above everything else, proud of having shared a screen with Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado. He's flush with anecdotes and amusing asides, even pausing to tell us his favourite Elton John song after he clocks the poster on the laboratory wall! Lastly, writers on "Torchwood", "The Sarah Jane Adventures" and the Noughties version of "Doctor Who", Graham Duff, Phil Ford, Joe Lidster and James Moran give their verdict on this classic era tale, and largely commend it for its great imagination and inventiveness!

 

"Between Now ... and Now!" is a half-hour documentary featuring producer Barry Letts and actors Katy Manning (Jo Grant) and Richard Franklin (Captain Yates), with Professor Jim Al Khalili adding to their views and anecdotes with his light-hearted assessment of the usage of various scientific concepts the story deals with.

 

"The Time Monster" has been meticulously restored from dupy 255-line NTSC tapes obtained from BBC Canada after the original transmission tapes were wiped. There is a featurette included on the disc which documents the techniques that have enabled the look of the original 625-line PAL tapes to be recreated. The results are indeed quite amazing, and this is one of the best-looking Pertwee era stories I've seen to date.

 

***

 

1978 saw both the rise of "Star Wars" while crippling inflation was taking its toll economically in the UK, and both wield an unhealthy influence over the Tom Baker era story, "Underworld" - a late-series four-parter, made under producer Graham Williams' and script editor Anthony Read's production partnership, and the subject of the second disc in this set. The writers of this infamous story were Bob Baker and Dave Martin. They must have been especially keen on the updated-Greek-Mythology-as-space-opera shtick that underpins this rather flimsy and lazily conceived tale, for they also wrote the end-of-season story "The Armageddon Factor" for the Key To Time story arc the following year. While that tale pillaged the siege of Troy for its inspiration, "Underworld" is a shallow re-telling of the Jason and the Argonauts myth. Jason's quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece becomes the quest (they're prone to repeating the phrase "the quest is the quest" over and over again) of the survivors of the destroyed planet Minyos to recover their race-banks - the genetic inheritance of the entire Minyos race - and restart their civilisation on a new home planet, Minyos 2.

 

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) stumble into the story when the TARDIS materialises onboard the Minyan ship R1C (sounds a bit like Argosy, or Odyssey, see! I'm afraid there will be rather a lot of this kind of thing from now on!) as it heads for a spiral nebula at the edge of the Universe. It turns out that the Time Lords play the equivalent role of Greek Gods in Minyan history: they supplied the Minyans with their technology, but failed to take into account the race's lack of sophistication. The people split into warring factions which eventually destroyed the whole planet in a great cataclysm. Not surprisingly, some of the inhabitants of R1C - like the fiery Heirick (sounds like Heracles - you get the picture by now?), who is played here by Alan Lake - are not too keen on the Doctor's intrusion, for this very reason. The Minyan occupants of R1C are the original survivors of the race; they have Time Lord-derived technology on-board the ship in the form of 'Regen' pods that enable them to revivify themselves and get younger again each time they grow old; they've been following the signal of their sister ship P7E (Persephone), which contained a few other colonists when it originally left the devastated Minyos - as well the race-banks which the Minyans need in order to fulfil their quest - for 100,000 years! R1C follows the P7E's signal into the heart of the spiral nebula, where they find that the matter that is being continually created in the form of rock at the edge of the Universe (don't even bother with the science behind all this, for goodness sake) has clumped itself around the P7E to create a planet. In order to fulfil their quest, the Minyans must descend into this rock-formed 'Underworld' to retrieve their genetic race-banks, which they conclude must still be inside the original P7E at its heart.

 

So we have a story roughly analogous to a well-known Greek Myth, that has a whole load of mythological sound-alike names ("Orfe" for Orpheus, "Tala" for Atlanta, "Hedis" for Hades and Jackson for Jason, are a few more), and a parallel drawn between the Time Lords and the Gods of Greek mythology - but, really, what else is there to this story? In the end, not an awful lot. And judging by the incredible amount of padding to almost every episode, with whole scenes minutes long that were flabby enough to begin with, being reprised at the start of each episode - and still they under-run! - it seems Baker and Martin were struggling to make much of it, too. Once the Doctor and Leela join the Minyans in the rock-based Underworld that's been created around the P7E, it turns out that the descendents of the ship's original colonists have become a race of slaves called Trogs (a little unfair to Reg Presley and Andover's finest, but what can you do?) who are enslaved by hooded guards in grey, who in turn are overseen by Seers (blokes in black hoods and robes), who run everything from the P7E's flight deck. The Trogs have never seen the sky and think of it as only a legend; instead they are forced to toil in a labyrinth of tunnels, chipping away at rock, which then gets processed into the food used to feed them. At the centre of the tunnels is the P7E (the Doctor realises that the tunnels look like a tree when looked at from above on a plan, thus this is meant to represent the Tree at the End of the World from Greek myth). Running the whole show though is The Oracle, which turns out to be the computer that originally controlled the P7E: It has gone mad and has built this whole slave culture around protecting the race-banks (contained in two miniature golden canisters) and now won't give them up to the original Minyan inhabitants!

 

Once we get to the cave tunnels - from episode Two onward - things go downhill fast for this story. Perhaps inspired by George Lucas' attempt in "Star Wars" to invest the patterns of an archetypal foundation myth in his SF epic, of the sort described by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, this story, more than any other, looks like it's trying so very hard to be a "Star Wars" on the cheap, with endless scenes of laser battles taking place in white corridors of the P7E, hooded guards who're meant to be like cut-price Storm Troopers and Vader-like black-clad bad guys who turn out to have golden robot heads like C-3PO underneath their hoods. A whole day of 'gallery time' was assigned to this story in order to add the laser beam effects to the footage in post-production.

 

But, besides a misconceived attempt to create a mini-Star Wars mythology, the thing that really does for this tale is Britain's dire inflationary meltdown in the late-seventies, when the serial was being budgeted. It resulted in there being literally no money for the sets after episode one. The entire budget for the series had been blown on the Minyan ship flight-deck (which means episode one actually looks quite promising!) and so, to cut corners, all of the cave sequences are shot using a process called Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), a primitive form of blue screen special effect which results in everyone being projected in front of a photograph of a cave with little yellow lines around them! The best part of three episodes take place in these caves, which means the entire cast are acting against shoddy-looking photographic backdrops nearly all the way through the story. Former production assistant Norman Stewart was handed the difficult task of directing it, and the result is one of the most clumsy and inept-looking Doctor Who adventures ever committed to screen.

 

A lot of nonsense is written by people who've never watched the series until the new show started in the mid 2000's, about Doctor Who sets being wobbly and amateurish, but this is the story that seems to confirm their lazy assumptions, though the script also seems to have been hastily put together to start with: the story makes no sense and is so full of holes it's difficult to know where to begin. There is literally nothing for the Doctor or Leela to do for most of their screen time, since the story doesn't seem to have any real dramatic point or to be leading anywhere significant. A contrived piece of final episode jeopardy has to be created around the threat of a bomb going off near the end, just to get something going, but even then the story's complete lack of logic can't be escaped. Why doesn't the Doctor just pile everyone into the TARDIS instead of forcing the Minyan spaceship to take-off with far more people on-board than it was designed to carry, thus risking the entire crew?

 

Once again, the extras here are top-notch, and actually out-shine the story itself. Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and one-half of the script-writing team, Bob Baker, are on-hand for an entertaining commentary track which is made more so by another sparkling commentary performance from mad-as-a-march-hare  Baker (Tom not Bob, that is). Most of the entertainment value of this comes from Jameson and Bob Baker's attempts to deal with the former Doctor's eccentric comments and asides, but we do learn some interesting nuggets of gossip along the way, including the revelation that both Baker and Jameson had crushes on two of their co-stars on this story: Tom had the hots for Imogen Bickford-Smith, who played Tala, and Louise Jameson was rather fond of Alan Lake who played Heirick. Baker also makes the rather unlikely claim that "Star Wars" stole many of its ideas from "Doctor Who" and relates an anecdote about the entire crew of Doctor Who going off on an outing to see the film in London - and of how taken with it producer Graham Williams was! Towards the end, Baker seems to get quite reflective and regretful of how poorly he often used to treat many of the crew on the series, including the apparently gentle producer, Graham Williams. This is something that will be taken up again on the commentary track for "The Horns of Nimon" by Lalla Ward, who played opposite Baker as Romana in that particular story.

 

"Into the Unknown" is an in-depth and comprehensive look at the circumstances that led to the story's dramatic over-use of CSO becoming necessary and of the painstaking process of filming these episodes. There are a range of contributions from people involved with the serial: script editor Anthony Read, writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin, actors Jonathan Newth and Norman Tipton, designer Dick Coles and video effects designer AJ Mitchell. There seems to have been an awful lot of on-set, behind the scenes footage of the story filmed as well, which gives us an intriguing look at Baker's extrovert personality during the making of the show, as well as the terrific job all the actors did when acting in a void but having to meticulously align their performances with an unseen photographed backdrop. Baker claims he found it to be no problem because of his Catholic upbringing, which gave him great training in being able to believe in outlandish things he couldn't see! There's also an absolutely hilarious anecdote about a convention appearance getting him into trouble because of the ubiquity of mobile phone recorded video popping up on YouTube (indeed, you can also see the event discussed on YouTube under 'Tom Baker takes a phone call from the past').

 

"Underworld -In Studio" is all 17 minutes of the time-coded, U-matic video footage featuring the behind the scenes footage - some of it poor quality - that was filmed for this story. It's an unusually detailed document of the recording of the show, and captures quite a few  juicy, gossipy moments between cast members!

     

***

 

"The Horns of Nimon" is another end-of-season story, as was "The Time Monster", but in this case its status as the final story of the series was forced on it when industrial action meant "Shada", the story intended to be Douglas Adams's six-episode-long cap on his time as script editor for the series, as well as the end of Graham Williams' tenure as producer, had to be scrapped. Adams was apparently nonplused, by this stage, about the difficulty of finding writers who could actually write convincingly for the programme; an exasperated memo from Adams to the BBC drama department exists, bemoaning this fact, and after his attempts to draft in outside talent did not result in anything usable being generated, he was forced to turn to former script editor Anthony Read for this tale, which, what-do-you-know, is another revamped Greek myth as space-opera tale - this time, Theseus and the Minotaur! It does exactly the same thing as "Underworld" and takes a familiar, epic Greek myth, but somehow makes it seem that much smaller and rather pointless instead of evocative and mysterious. "Horns of Nimon" does have a few saving graces as it happens though, which we'll come to later.

 

While the Doctor (Tom Baker) is tinkering with the TARDIS's dematerialisation circuitry, the ship gets jammed against the outside of a large but ancient-looking space-carrier that turns out to be transporting a cargo of young people (in ugly yellow pyjamas!) from the planet of Aneth to nearby Skonnos, each bearing a crystal of Hymetusite rock as an offering. The brutal and militaristic people of Skonnos are a fascistic power-mad lot, who have fooled the Aneth people into making these regular sacrifices voluntarily in order to avoid invasion. The Doctor and Romana (Lalla Ward) become separated while trying to get the overloaded Skonnos carrier's engines working again, and Romana gets "sacrificed" along with the latest batch of Anethians, to the Nimon - a creature that lives inside a circuit-maze structure called the Power Complex on Skonnos. The Doctor discovers that the Skonnans have perpetrated something of a scam on the Anethians: Skonnos has long since left behind the days of its military might and glory, which is why their transportation ships are falling apart. The chief Skonnan scientist of the planet, Soldeed (Graham Crowden), has made a secret deal with the Nimon: a black mole-like creature with a giant bull's head, yellow horns and red, deadened eyes - apparently the last of a once-powerful race of creatures, who promises Soldeed he will pass on enough advanced technology to subjugate Aneth once and for all if Skonnos will regularly offer a few sacrifices to him, along with some of the Hymetusite crystals. Romana and the latest batch of Aneth victims (which include later Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis) discover a giant 'larder' full of previous Anethian sacrifices at the heart of the maze. The creature feeds off the energy that binds the cells of the body together, leaving only a powdery husk after it has finished.The Nimon is also using the crystals to power a gravity beam that will create a Black Hole to act as a tunnel that will bring the rest of the Nimon race to Skonnos. It turns out that the Nimon are a parasitic race who drain planets of their resources then move on to their next target, each time offering the same technological help to get themselves established on the new world!

 

Once again, Read resorts to the same trick of using sound-alike names to reference the story's basis in Greek mythology (Aneth/Athens, Skonnos/Knossos, Crinoth/Corinth, Seth/Theseus), and once again, it doesn't amount to much. The story is fairly hollow and depends on the audience being familiar enough with the original story to realise when it is being inverted. For instance, the Greek hero Theseus becomes the inconsequential Seth in this version, who is incapable of doing anything heroic at all. But the story does have a number of worthwhile traits that become apparent in the execution. The Nimon are an interesting-looking creation: sinewy black creatures with felt-like bodies and huge heads, that tower about ten feet tall on ludicrously Glam Rock ten-inch stack-heeled boots, and who go otherwise naked apart from some fetching gold skirts! Watching the actors playing them tottering about in those boots while trying to appear menacing is an amusement in itself. 

 

The Douglas Adams season has become notable in fandom for the overuse of comedy, and watching this story in close succession to "Underworld" from the previous series, makes it obvious just how different Tom Baker's performance is here. It's almost a completely different version of the Doctor from the one he started playing in 1974. Always prone to hamming it up whenever he could get away with it (as he would be the first to admit), Baker seems to have turned the doctor into a completely comic turn by now - a trait the show's incoming producer, John Nathan-Turner would be forced to rein in. The attempts at comedy are often so mannered and unsubtle here, though, that it gives the impression that no one is really bothered by this stage, and the show is slipping into egregious self-parody and laboured in-jokes. There are all manner of horrible pantomime "he's behind you" clowning around moments all the way through, with characters even resorting to theatrical stage whispers when talking about someone while that person is standing right next to them. As if putting your hand up to your mouth while you talk at normal volume is enough to prevent you from being overheard! Baker was often prone to adding his own jokes and lines into the script, but, amazingly enough, Graham Crowden as Soldeed gives one of the most unashamedly over-the-top performance in television history, let alone Doctor Who history. It is truly a sight to behold and worth watching this adventure, despite all its faults, just to see it. Apparently, Crowden was under the impression that the take we see of his death scene was just a rehearsal, and after delivering his "doomed ... you're all dooooooomed!!! line he actually starts giggling. But this was an actual take and it turned out that there wasn't enough time to do it again, so it stayed in the broadcast show!

 

One interesting thing about this adventure relates to all that fuss in the papers about whether a woman could ever play the Doctor, which gets wheeled out for publicity purposes each time an actor leaves the role. Tom Baker's incessant clowning around in this story ends up effectively reducing him to the status of a bumbling comedy sidekick, with Romana carrying the burden of most of the action. Romana is, of course, also a Time Lord, and the Doctor's intellectual equal (and yes, she calls herself a Time Lord, not a 'Time Lady' all you sexists out there). If you want to see what a woman playing the role of the Doctor might actually look like, then you need only watch this story (if you can bear it) - because that is exactly what Lalla Ward is doing here. Her character does all the things the Doctor would do in any normal story: she figures out what is going on, explains what is going on, protects endangered people from threat and actively seeks to solve the problem. She even has her own sonic screwdriver for goodness sake! What does Tom Baker do? Indulge in painful skits with K9, crack loads of bad jokes and bulge his eyes every five minutes.

 

Once again we have a commentary track on all four episodes featuring Lalla Ward, Janet Ellis and the brilliant Graham Crowden along with writer Anthony Reed. Crowden seems to be completely out of it, but Ward (Mrs Richard Dawkins, these days of course) is on top acidic form, encouraged by a mischievous Janet Ellis to dish some dirt on her tempestuous relationship with Tom Baker (they were briefly married after both had left the show) as well as encouraging anecdotes and information from the other three participants, she spares no prisoners, but still displays some nostalgia for her time on the show and respect for its continuing success.

 

"Who Peter - Partners in Time" is a half-hour documentary, and a delicious slice of nostalgia, examining the symbiotic relationship between Doctor Who and the long-running children's magazine programme, Blue Peter. From Patrick Troughton judging a 'Make Your Own Doctor Who Monster' competition (the now middle-aged winner is interviewed) to a rather discombobulated Sylvester McCoy being interviewed by Sarah Green only hours after his taking over from Colin Baker had been announced, this is a treasure trove of slightly embarrassing Doctor Who-related clips, taken from the programme over the years, plus lots of interviews with the likes of Verity Lambert (Blue Peter producer in the sixties) and various Whovian commentators.

 

"Read the Writer": a ten minute interview with writer of "The Horns of Nimon" Anthony Read turns into something of a snipe at the over-use of comedy during this season. He claims - both here and in the commentary track - that much of it was added to this story by Douglas Adams in the script editing stage, although this seems unlikely: most now believe Adams was too busy working on his then-supposed upcoming self-penned story "Shada" - as well as his increasing commitment to producing a novelised version of "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - to have had much time to meddle with Read's finished script.

 

Peter Howell Music Demos: This is a segment of episode Two of "The Horns of Nimon" scored with Peter Howell's electronic music rather than out-going composer Dudley Simpson's score. Simpson had been with the show since the late sixties. John Nathan-Turner's planned revamp of the show for the next season was to include a new theme arrangement and a new title sequence (replacing the familiar time tunnel motif), but he also wanted to use the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for all the incidental music from then on, rather than the orchestral scores of Simpson. This segment is the only fragment of the music demos he commissioned to test out the idea, that is known to still exist.

 

***

 

All thee discs also include extensive on-screen information texts (with copious production notes, actor profiles and things to watch out for as you're watching), as well as Radio Times listings for each episode in the form of PDF files; photo galleries of publicity stills, production stills and behind the scenes photos set to music from the series; and a trailer for the upcoming release of "The Creature from the Pit" . Each episode has subtitles and the menu screens have an audio-based option to make navigation easier for the partially sighted.

 

These stories are not fan favourites then, but "The Time Monster" is entertaining enough to require some degree of re-evaluation,  "The Horns of Nimon" has an amusing monster and some stupefying over-acting, while "Underworld" has the appeal that comes from slowing down to gawp at a car crash on the motorway. 2Entertain have produced an exemplary set here, though, with enough beautifully produced material to make it yet another essential purchase for fans of the classic series. 

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