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Doctor Who: Revisitations 3

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
1967/1973/1977
Studio: 
2 Entertain
Genre: 
Sci-Fi
Format: 
DVD
Region: 
2 PAL
Aspect Ratio: 
1.33:1
Directed by: 
Morris Barry
Lennie Mayne
Michael E Brian
Cast: 
Patrick Troughton
Tom Baker
Jon Pertwee
Frazer Hines
Deborah Watling
Movie: 
5
Extras: 
5
Bottom Line: 
5

Three more classics from the early years of the DOCTOR WHO DVD range get repackaged together here in a tempting boxed set that includes a compliment of brand new extras for each, commissioned as part of three ‘special edition’ packages, as well as an extra spruce-up courtesy of the restoration team, using modern digital clean-up techniques undeveloped at the time of their original release in the early noughties. Whether by accident or design, all three adventures involve humanoid foes whose absence of humanity is represented by similarly impassive mask designs: in the blank, letterbox gaze of the Cybermen we’re given a vision of a persona that has gradually lost all humanity through a piecemeal process of technological augmentation; the megalomania behind the exercise of pure Will that is Omega in “The Three Doctors” is represented by the most grandiose, kabuki-featured frown painted and frozen on an elaborate war-like face-mask; while the glittering, sculpted art deco design of the robot servants in “The Robots of Death” are creepily rendered, despite their attractiveness, in identical humanoid features that highlight their artifice with a production line regularity aligned to a design aesthetic that makes it clear they are perfectly at one with the interior design of the world they belong to.

THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN: 2-Disc Special Edition (1967)

 “The Tomb of the Cybermen” comes in the middle of that interesting period in the sixties when the Cybermen were suddenly designated by those running the programme the monster best placed to replace the Daleks as favourite recurring foe for the Doctor. The Daleks’ most recent appearance in the previous story, “The Evil of the Daleks”, had been intended to be their last ever, since their creator Terry Nation now wanted to develop them as a franchise for American TV instead, which meant that they were no longer available for DOCTOR WHO. Indeed, “The Evil of the Daleks” did end up being the famous pepper pots’ last tangle with Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor in the 1960s, although, as we know, they would be back soon enough in the ‘70s. Meanwhile, after their first sighting in William Hartnell’s swansong “The Tenth Planet”, the Cybermen had proved an immediate hit and were quickly pencilled in a few stories later for a rematch with the newly regenerated second Doctor. From now on they would continue to return every two or three stories for the rest of Troughton’s tenure. But “Tomb …” was the last time Cyberman co-creator and science ‘expert’ Kit Pedler would team up with departing script editor Gerry Davis (his co-writer on “The Tenth Planet” and its sequel “The Moonbase”) on a Cyberman story -- although Pedler would continue to contribute ‘story ideas’ for the metal humanoids for the rest of the decade and the two writers joined forces on the ecologically minded Sci-Fi series “Doomwatch” in the early ‘70s.

Considered for many years one of the great lost DOCTOR WHO classics, at least while it remained absent from the archive of recovered episodes and fans had only a handful of impressive-looking publicity stills of Martin Johnson’s frozen Cyber-tomb set to accompany the audio tapes from which to gauge something of what the show might have really been like -- these days “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is generally held to have been exposed as being rather a disappointingly mixed bag now that we can actually get to see it all; true – there is some delightful characterisation on the part of the regulars, yet it seems allied to a creaking story that goes nowhere fast. The familiar photographically gleaned image of an army of revitalised Cybermen emerging from their multi-storey array of thawed out compartments became an influential and iconic template from which to draw inspiration for future Cyberman appearances on the show, especially those of the 1980s, which were devised and screened well before the “Tomb of the Cybermen” episodes were finally rediscovered in Hong Kong in the early 1990s. Naturally, the mythic image which had built up around this story in the interim period before that discovery couldn’t survive the harsh reality, and there’s been a considerable backlash against the serial in the years since.

Certainly, for a story in which logic is meant to play such a foundational role, there seems precious little of it about on the part of anyone seen on screen here, including the Doctor. And in light of all those stills which made the story’s Cyberman antagonists look so imposing and scarily indomitable back in the day, their quaking electronic whines, their inept fumbling when someone so much as throws a few smoke bombs at them, and just the fact that they never really seem to do an awful lot here except mill about before conveniently lumbering back to their refrigerated tombs to recharge, kind of takes the shine off them when it comes to the real deal. In reality, the serial is not as bad as some people were beginning to say that it was (as a reaction against all the people who once claimed it was the best DOCTOR WHO story ever) but, still, as an adventure it’s not that great either.

 In all honesty “Tomb …” has a great premise and is actually a very well structured story; but it’s also one that has very little compelling content, aside from what Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and new recruit Deborah Watling are able to inject into it through sheer verve and determination, in performances which almost on their own manage to just scrape us through four episodes of otherwise mediocre storytelling and flimsy character construction.

Things start off looking rather fetching: director Morris Barry’s decision to shoot the opening TARDIS interior scene on film at Ealing Studios using the full set, gives it an extra charge that introduces the basic concept of the show afresh to new viewers along with new companion Victoria Waterfield, who was experiencing the TARDIS for the first time. From here Barry gives us a dynamically shot opening few minutes, also on film, in which false perspective and a series of jauntily angled shots do a good job of making a simple English quarry stand for the adopted Cyberman home of Telos, where a small group of archaeologists is hoping to locate the final resting place of the Cybermen, backed by the funds of a shadowy group called the Brotherhood of Logicians. The music score throughout this serial is entirely constructed from snippets of library music patched together from various sources, which works rather well to give the adventure a more expansive feel.   

THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN

It’s clear from the off that the story is a play on the myth of the Curse of the Pharaohs. The archaeological team uncover the doors to a hidden tomb complete with large hieroglyphic representations of Cybermen on the adjoining wall facades and a series of booby traps within designed to deter the unwary explorer, starting with the outer doors, which have been wired with a fatal electric charge. The guest cast has been conveniently augmented with a much larger than usual head count so as to provide plenty of fodder to be disposed of over the course of the serial. As well as members of the team itself, the party consists of the crew of the rocket ship paid to bring the expedition to Telos, as well as a further three representatives of the logicians’ club that is backing it. Following in the grand tradition of adventure stories in which the swarthier the skin of the character the more likely they are to be villainous, this third element of the party consists of a sultry temptress called Kaftan (Shirley Cooklin), an egotistical logic expert called Eric Klieg (George Pastell) and their mute strongman servant Toberman (Roy Stewart). Pastell’s casting is a clever piece of shorthand which subliminally alerts the viewer to the theme of the serial, since the actor was well known for having appeared in numerous Hammer films in which he invariably played leaders of ancient cults or the evil-doer intent on bringing entombed mummies back to life in films such as “The Mummy”, “The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb” and “The Stranglers of Bombay”.  If you wanted a dark-skinned foreign villain for a filmed TV adventure serial like “Danger Man” or “The Saint”, Pastell was your go-to man throughout the sixties and early seventies.

The audience for this adventure, then, is invited into an already simple and familiar set-up with obvious, pre-established character types. The design of the tomb complex beyond the mammoth electrically charged entrance doors is an evocative futuristic variant on the layout of an Egyptian pharaoh’s resting place, with anti-chambers of polished chrome rather than sandstone. The first two episodes are very nicely paced, constantly enticing us with eerie evidence of the Cyberman presence in the form of symbols, hieroglyphics  and cyber-logos as well as the first ever appearance of their pet cybermats -- all of which indicate that the Cybermen are lurking about somewhere while keeping them off screen for almost half the story, merely playing with us at the end of episode one when a Cyberman that shoots out of a hatch brandishing a weapon turns out to be a dummy used in a weapons’ room automatic training exercise that the party has inadvertently disturbed, leading to the first of many fatalities.

The fact that members of the group are already dropping like flies before the real Cybermen finally make their appearance towards the end of episode two, only adds to the sense of danger and tension Gerry Davis brings to Kit Pedlar’s endless dialogue about Boolean algebra and logic. The Egyptian theme continues on into the placement of the Cyberman army in their block of stacked compartments, which was filmed at Ealing, impressively packed like frozen sardines in imitation of the mountainside tombs of the early Pharaohs, while their revitalisation chamber takes the shape of an Egyptian sarcophagus like that of King Tutankhamen. The emergence of the thawing metal army is suitably eerie … even if the Cybercontroller (twice the size of the others and with a pulsing Perspex brain pan, played by the towering Michael Killgarriff) for some reason has been forced to squat in a cupboard for millennia until released by one of his cyber-minions.

The devious plot devised millennia ago by the Cybermen, it turns out, has been designed with the intent of luring curious human scientists to Telos, knowing that only the most intelligent of them will be able to first evade the numerous booby traps they’ve set in place and then solve the logic puzzles which it is necessary to overcome in order to uncover their final resting place. Their reasoning is based on the idea that those who succeed in getting this far will necessarily be just the type of prize specimens that would make the best candidates for cyber-conversion. In other words, the tomb is a convoluted way of the Cybermen selecting decent material with which to rebuild their depleted army after their last encounter with the Doctor in “The Moonbase”.

The only trouble with all this is the peculiar way the Doctor behaves all the way through the story, becoming a mischievous meddler who actually causes most of the mayhem that occurs. At every stage of the story, it is the Doctor who is responsible for helping the rather hapless human explorers to solve each puzzle that’s keeping them locked out of the Cyberman tomb space, even though he knows perfectly well that Klieg and Kaftan are wrong ‘uns and, indeed, Klieg gives every impression of being an insane narcissist nearly all the way through. It’s as if he can’t help showing off by pointing out all the mistakes in their calculations. True, this all gives Patrick Troughton plenty of excellent material to work with; he’s hilarious in mischievously finding ways to highlight Klieg’s stupidity and arrogance, showing up his pretensions and misplaced pride in his abilities -- while all the while pretending to be a clown who knows nothing (‘I do like to see the experts at work,’ he exclaims, rubbing his hands with customary glee) . But the fact remains that if it wasn’t for the Doctor’s actions, the exploration party wouldn’t have gotten beyond the front entrance to the tomb – which makes the Doctor ultimately responsible for pretty much all the ensuing carnage, and for the Cyberman forces nearly being set free again to take over the Universe once more. Perhaps the most baffling moment in the Doctor’s seemingly clandestine campaign to cause as much mayhem as possible occurs in the final episode when the Cybercontroller pursuing the Doctor and his companions conveniently runs out of battery power (or revitalisation juice, or whatever it is that recently thawed out Cybermen run on). The Doctor persuades everyone that the best thing to do is to lock him in the revitalisation chamber, on the reasoning that he’s better off safely locked away than left out in the open. If the flaw in this plan needs to be highlighted at all, then it’s probably best summed up by simply drawing your attention to the words ‘revitalisation’ and ‘chamber’. Not content with helping to kill off almost the entire party apart from a few stragglers, the Doctor seems only to compound his culpability at the end of the final episode when he re-wires the entire tomb with a fatal charge -- not just the entrance -- which means anyone else who comes near the place will be instantly killed as well!

If the Doctor seems to be suffering from an acute logic crisis then that’s nothing as compared to the villains of the piece. Klieg and Kaftan must be the two most stubbornly deranged villains imaginable – goodness knows how they managed to wrangle their way into the Brotherhood of Logicians (a group we never really learn anything about). Even after it becomes obvious that the Cybermen have absolutely no interest in listening to Klieg’s ‘demands’ that they become merely an army of foots soldiers in his plan to rule the Universe with logic (or his rather odd version of it) simply because he brought them back to life; and even when he’s come within a hair’s breadth of being converted himself as the Cybercontroller repeats his relentless mantra of ‘you will be like us’, Klieg still manages to convince himself that he can hold the Cybermen to ransom after he manages to get his hands on one solitary cyber weapon. It doesn’t seem to occur to him that though he may indeed now have one very powerful weapon at his disposal, the Cybermen have hundreds more of them. In fact they have as many of them as there are Cybermen. We may only actually see about twenty odd extras stumbling about in Cyberman costume at any one time, but there are presumably meant to be loads more of them, providing solitary Klieg and his lone cyber gun with just about zero bargaining power by my reckoning. 

So we have here a daft story in which nothing whatsoever seems to make any sense at any stage in the proceedings. Yet there are numerous pleasures throughout: Patrick Troughton is excellent of course, and he and Frazer Hines are already developing by this stage the double act which made them one of the most perfect parings in sixties DOCTOR WHO. Poor Deborah Watling’s year at their side is mostly consigned to the missing file apart from a few odd episodes here and there, but she starts off impressively in this story and script editor Victor Pemberton gives her a charming scene alongside Troughton in which the two stop the narrative to have a heart-to-heart about the death of Victoria’s father in the previous serial, “The Evil of the Daleks”, and the Doctor talks about how he can still remember his own family when he thinks hard about them, but that it’s all worth it because the life they now lead is unlike anyone else’s in the Universe. It’s unexpectedly moving stuff coming in the middle of a tale which is, at best, endearingly shallow. Elsewhere, there’s a nice improvised moment of physical comedy between Troughton and Hines when they both reach out to take Victoria’s hand to lead her into the tomb, and accidently end up walking hand in hand with each other for a few steps, before realising their mistake with perfectly timed comic irritation.

Now expanded to a 2-disc edition, this set includes a whole bunch of brand new featurettes, but most of disc one will be familiar to anyone who purchased the original 2001 version. The original Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines commentary was an early un-moderated example of its type, and although affable enough it’s perhaps not the most informative commentary ever recorded. The two are back for a second try on episodes 2 to 4 of a second newly recorded commentary track, this time furnished with able moderation by Toby Hadoke and accompanied by a selection of the serial’s surviving guest stars dropping in and out on various episodes. These include Shirley Cooklin, who played Kaftan, telling of suspicions of nepotism among her fellow cast members since she was the wife of series producer Peter Bryant. In fact the role had originally been written with her in mind by Gerry Davis. Reg Whitehead played a Cyberman in the story, as he had done on previous stories “The Tenth Planet” And “The Moonbase”, and appears here thanking Mary Whitehouse for complaining about one of his death scenes (probably from “The Tenth Planet” rather than this story) which meant that he got paid a repeat fee when the offending clip was reshown on a viewers’ right to reply comment programme. Watling and Hines are on somewhat better form when prompted by Hadoke’s gentle moderation, Watling revealing herself a particularly fecund subject for practical jokes from both her two co-stars and the special effects team, whom, she recalls, programmed the Cybermats to chase her around the studio set during tea breaks. Not that the little critters functioned that well at the best of times anyway. Their remote control circuits were frequently sent crazy by electrical interference from other sources in the studio, which meant they often had to be tugged along with fishing wire. The commentary ends with the cast expressing the hope that a few more complete stories from their era will be discovered in the future, with Whitehead adding ‘Quickly! … Before we all die!’ The commentary on the first episode of the four is perhaps the best of the bunch, being a separate mini-commentary featuring script editor (and former actor on the previous Cyberman story “The Moonbase”) Victor Pemberton and actor Bernard Holley, once again moderated by Toby Hadoke.

Texted-based production notes provide every snippet of information one could imagine about the recording of the serial and the careers of the cast taking part, and there are the usual PDF files of Radio Times listings accessible from a computer. In addition, the other extras from the original release are carried over to this one. Morris Barry’s Introduction is the one contribution the director made to any video talk about “The Tomb of the Cybermen” before his death in 2000, recorded for the story’s debut on VHS back in the ‘90s. It’s made very clear from the commentaries, documentaries and the featurettes elsewhere on this DVD edition, that Hines, Watling and Troughton (if we can allow his co-starts to speak for him) were not particularly fond of Barry’s strict working methods. The two regular male cast members in particular were great ones for practical jokes and liked a light-hearted atmosphere to reign while they worked on the set; Barry though was something of an authoritarian, who rehearsed the actors with the aid of a music stand and a baton! Barry talks here about the casting of Michael Kilgarriff as the Cybercontroller, and how the actor was at first unwilling to take on a role in which he would be neither seen due to the all-encompassing Cyberman costume, nor heard since his normal voice would be replaced with electronic tones. Barry then mentions ‘getting into trouble’ for the gory demise of one of the Cybermen, when it is seen writhing in agony on the floor as white goo spurts out of his chest unit. There are title sequence tests for the new Troughton era version of the opening (along with an easter egg of one of the rejected final versions); and a clip from a 1967 edition of “Late Night Line-up” in which Joan Bakewell investigates the BBC special visual effects unit and finds it home to lots of middle-aged men with moustaches wearing cardies and bowties. Even scarier we get to see something they would never have allowed on DOCTOR WHO at the time – namely a Cyberman getting his head blown off and lots of white gunge spraying from the stump of its neck! “The Final End” is simply  an 8mm home movie, shot by Tony Cornell during the final moments of the missing story “The Evil of the Daleks” which, when combined with the soundtrack, gives us a taste of what the original climax may have looked like.

Over on disc two we get the meatier extras commissioned for this special edition. “The Lost Giants” is a 27 minute making-of documentary consisting of talking heads recollections from cast and crew such as Hines, Watling, Kilgarriff and Cooklin, script editor Victor Pemberton and special effects man Peter Day. Most of the anecdotes will be familiar from the commentaries and production notes but this is a concise and easily digested overview of the making of this particular serial. “The Curse of the Cyberman’s Tomb” is an excellent look at the parallels between the story and elements of the history of archaeology from which it draws, particularly when it comes to the cultural impact of Howard Carter’s discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. Our guides are the redoubtable Sir Christopher Frayling, emeritus Professor of Cultural History at the Royal College of Art, and Dr Debbie Challis of the Petrie Museum, who provide a rich overview of both the popular perception of Egyptology as portrayed in literature and film from the turn of the 20th Century, and it’s particular manifestations in Pedler and Davis’ story.  “The Cybermen: The Extended Edition” is an amusing romp through the entire history of the Cybermen’s TV appearances on DOCTOR WHO in the witty company of Dr Mathew Sweet (although it was evidently commissioned before the last series’ “Closing Time” episode). This runs for a good half-hour and starts with Sweet’s first encounter with Cyberman history as a child via the Target Books range of novelisations, and goes on to encompass a light-hearted analysis of their not always entirely consistent or convincing history, including the parallel history created for the 2006 series. “The Magic of VidFIRE” is the replacement feature for the first edition’s restoration piece, which explains how the video quality of the original mastertapes has been recreated from the filmed copies which make up the only surviving version of this and many other recovered episodes. VidFIRE stands for video field Interpolation restoration effect, apparently; which oddly enough sounds just like the kind of gibberish that regularly gets put into the Doctor’s mouth by script writers to explain away some plot point or other. A sixties colour advert for ‘Sky Ray’ iced lollies, a photo gallery and an easter egg of Rob Semenoff’s 3D animated reconstruction of the Cybertomb complex rounds off this collection, although it does look as though the original  “Tombwatch” feature from the previous disc about the 1992 BAFTA screening has been dropped.

THE THREE DOCTORS: 2-Disc Special Edition (1973)

With the advent of the show’s tenth anniversary, incumbent producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks decided they needed to come up with something very special to open the new series with a bang in recognition of such a noteworthy occasion. For some time they had been regularly receiving (and dismissing) requests from fans to bring all three Doctors together in one story, but after ignoring such requests for so long Dicks now thought it would be a great way not only to mark the importance of the anniversary but also solve the long-standing problem (which they had inherited from their predecessors) of the Doctor’s exile on Earth -- a contrivance which Letts and Dicks had always felt restricted them largely to plots about alien invasions. Bob Baker and Dave Martin (otherwise known as the Bristol Boys) were the writers chosen to construct a story which could accommodate a role for all three actors who had played the Doctor since the show’s inception in 1963. This writing duo would later become known for the wildness of many of their plots, and for being associated with key moments in the history of the show such as the introduction of K-9. Arguably their most important contribution to the show’s mythology comes in “The Three Doctors” though; as a result of their attempts to come up with a threat expansive enough to require the participation of all three of the Doctor’s personas, Baker and Martin brought yet more clarification to Time Lord mythology with the introduction of the first of the Time Lords: Omega (Stephen Thorne) – the being who originally gave the Time Lords the power source that allows them to time travel by taming the forces of a collapsing supernova. Unfortunately, Omega became trapped in an antimatter Universe on the other side of a Black Hole in the process. The Time Lords believed him dead, and made him a revered part of their founding mythology, but all the while the embittered Omega’s resentment grew and grew until the events of “The Three Doctors” see him using the powers he’s acquired in his own lonely one-man Universe to threaten all of reality in his attempts to destroy the Time Lords. With their power mysteriously draining away, the Time Lords are understandably lacking in manpower and so are forced to break their own laws of time -- allowing the Doctor to cross his own time stream so that he may give himself the help that is sorely needs in his most dangerous mission yet.

THE THREE DOCTORS

“The Three Doctors” is romp of a story where it becomes obvious fairly early on that despite it’s far-reaching implications for the mythology of the Time Lords, the primary aim of the plot is simply to furnish those keynote moments one really wants to see in a story where William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee are all to be vying for screen time in the same space. Baker and Martin were to become fairly infamous for the ambitious ideas behind many of their later stories, in which scientific concepts would frequently get incorporated but mangled beyond all recognition in the process. The duo had apparently read a book once about Black Holes before starting work on the script for “The Three Doctors” but despite the bandying about of terms like antimatter, Supernovas, Black Holes and Einstein’s E=MC2 equation, don’t think for a minute that anything here makes the slightest bit of sense, either scientifically or logically. Omega’s plot is suitably unnecessarily involved and long-winded, but then again it is quickly established that he is completely mad, and indeed only still exists at all through the lingering force of his own Will. To stop the Time Lords interfering in his plot to drain them of power, Omega sends some wobbly mounds of jelly-like substance (christened Gel-guards in subsequent writing on the story) and an energy blob on a superluminal wave direct from his Black Hole universe, to seek out the Doctor and transport him to Omega’s self-created antimatter world.

Thus a great deal of amusement is to be derived from the ropey-looking Gel-guards, which are really just great roles of bubble-wrap with some poor actors wedged underneath and forced to adopt a peculiar jogging gait for a walk. The effect is made even more suspect by the unfortunate decision to dub a noise over the top of them which would later become associated with the inflatable pink blancmange character Mr Blobby, from “Noel’s House Party”! Omega’s palace kingdom is a hastily assembled half-finished set in which the unadorned studio floor has had a few glittery arches erected around it, and Omega’s self-generated antimatter world is realised in the familiar bleak quarry setting we would become all too familiar with over the next ten years or so. Omega himself is a fairly impressive-looking figure though, clad in flowing Time Lord-style robes (only far more glittery ones of course – antimatter universes just love the Glam Rock look!) with a vast inscrutable helmet-mask obscuring the fact that while willing his Universe into existence beyond the event horizon of the Black Hole, Omega’s body has in fact been entirely eroded away by antimatter radiation, so that he only still exists at all, just like the rest of his world, as the creation of his own original force of will. It’s a conceptual sleight of hand that’s just spooky enough to work, despite being completely ridiculous.     

It’s ironic that such an important part of what we now think of as the Doctor’s home world mythology and back story was devised in such a pantomime context, but despite the silliness of it all and even though these episodes demonstrate some of the worst monster costumes seen during Pertwee’s run, “The Three Doctors” is largely a hoot, with Troughton and Pertwee’s allegedly edgy off-screen relationship during rehearsals actually working to enhance their on-screen chemistry considerably. The inconsistencies and sheer imponderableness of the plot can be safely set aside and we can simply enjoy all the fun moments of interaction this adventure has been built to provide without any shame. The writers are clearly having fun with the concept of the TARDIS again here; It’s as though a whole cavalcade of guest characters, such as the affable Dr Tyler (Rex Robinson) and the stoic and steadfast Ollis the park keeper (Laurie Webb), have been created merely to furnish us with a scene in which a large collection of characters have to at some point force themselves into the TARDIS police box prop (in fact there was a backdoor to it, so a potentially endless supply of people could get inside it, and pop out the other side). Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is for some reason particularly recalcitrant and unbelieving of everything he sees in this story (despite three previous series-worth of adventures beforehand): his and Sergeant Benton’s (John Levene) bewildered reaction to being reunited with Troughton’s Doctor is another of those priceless moments the story was specifically constructed to accommodate -- and it doesn’t disappoint. The Brig’s first encounter with the surface of another planet is marked by his belligerent refusal to accept the reality of his trip through time and space, prompting Courtney’s famous ad lib that it was almost certainly not another planet they were on but most probably just Cromer. Jo (Katy Manning) is almost as much of a parody of herself as the Brigadier here, too – endlessly devoted to ‘her’ Doctor but incapable of actually doing anything she’s told at any stage.

The best moments in the story are all saved for the three Doctor’s them-selves, though, with all three getting their chances to shine. This was a harder task to accomplish than was at first anticipated. Unbeknownst to Letts and Dicks, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, was at the time suffering from the advanced stages of acute atherosclerosis of the brain, which meant that he was often not lucid or even aware of his surroundings. Hartnell had been keen to accept the chance to return to the role he had once loved, but the script had been commissioned before Barry Letts was made aware of the severity of his condition, which he was eventually after a phone call from Hartnell’s wife. The increasingly frail actor’s participation had to be kept to a minimum then, and it was down to Terrence Dicks to rewrite Baker and Martin’s screenplay so that Hartnell’s Doctor made only a brief appearance in every episode, which could be pre-recorded at Ealing Studios with Hartnell seated and reading his handful of lines from a teleprompt just below the camera. The idea is that the first Doctor’s transportation unit has got stuck in a time eddy, so he can only appear on the TARDIS monitor screen to advise his two subsequent incarnations. The genius move made by Dicks is to give Hartnell’s Doctor ultimate authority over his two squabbling successors, cutting them down to size with blunt put downs (‘So these are my successors, eh: a dandy and a clown!’) and supplying them with some much needed clear thinking when they get stuck. This way Hartnell barely has to appear at all to make a memorable impression (although his evident frailty cannot be disguised despite his limited screen time). Troughton, though, is in his element. Arguably, the version of the second Doctor seen here is a lot less subtle than the one he actually played during his tenure in the sixties, but the heightened clownish persona he adopts works beautifully throughout offset against Pertwee’s superior, stuck-up Edwardian adventurer act. 

Once again, the extras from the last release of “The Three Doctors” on DVD have been carried over here, all apart from one that is – a convention appearance by Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning at Panopticon, which for some reason hasn’t made it on to this edition. The other carried-over extras are actually pretty special though: the commentary track from Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney and the late Barry Letts is pretty decent, which means it wasn’t necessary to record another one. Letts actually makes a pretty good self-moderator and elicits anecdotes aplenty from the other two as well as providing his own. His most memorable and funniest contribution is probably the inadvertent and despairing ‘oh God!’ he can be heard muttering at the pitiful sight of the Gel-guards and the impoverished look of some of the studio sets. Manning meanwhile gets to run through the full array of her bizarre baby voices and Courtney is adept at commanding silence every time one of the ad libs he managed to get left in the finished programme comes up.

A lengthy section from the mesmerizingly awful 1970s lunch time magazine show from Birmingham “Pebble Mill at One” is included, and makes for increasingly excruciating viewing as a smug Alan Partridge-like host interviews BBC visual effects artist Bernard Willkie about his work for DOCTOR WHO with the aid of various monsters that have been left to lumber out in the dizzily Pebble Mill courtyard in front of a small gaggle of onlookers: a Cyberman, a Draconion, a Mutant Mut, a Gel-guard, a Silurian and a battered-looking Dalek strut their stuff outside while an endearingly deadpan Willkie demonstrates  some of his effects in the studio. At one stage Willkie casually draws the blade of a whacking great carving knife across his palm and blood starts leaking out across his hand; obviously not a lot of rehearsal went into this feature as the interviewer looks genuinely concerned for a second that Willkie has injured himself, before the chirpy guest reveals the secret of the fake blade. If things weren’t embarrassingly stilted enough, they then wheel a youngster on and ask him a lot of feeble questions about being scared of the monsters on DOCTOR WHO and such like, and after this has gone on for way longer than is comfortable to watch, a reluctant Patrick Troughton is interviewed by an even more nervous female host, who only gets even more nervous after Troughton’s rather dismissive answers to her increasingly banal questions. A hard to watch example of the BBC’s often condescending attitude to one of its own most successful programmes.

Another lengthy clip from flagship children’s magazine show “Blue Peter” is included. Former companion Peter Purvis introduces a clip from one of his stories, the now mostly missing “The Daleks’ Masterplan”, explaining to the kiddies how he used to play pilot Steven Taylor alongside first Doctor William Hartnell. This leads into a feature about Jon Pertwee’s Who Mobile, giving the actor yet another chance to demonstrate his pride and joy to a mostly indifferent public.

Yet another archival TV feature takes us back to 1992 when satellite TV Company BSB devoted a whole weekend to repeats of classic Doctor Who stories, and prefaced them with magazine features and interviews with cast members such as Jon Pertwee (in a blinding floral patterned shirt) and Nicholas Courtney, and others such as Terrence Dicks and writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin. One of the presenters for this feast of nostalgia was former producer John Nathan Turner, and BSB even went to the trouble of constructing their own TARDIS set on which to conduct some of the interviews. This is a fascinating glimpse back to the years when there seemed no hope of the show actually appearing on British screens ever again, but when there was still feverish fan interest which was ripe for tapping by the early, audience-hungry satellite channels of the day. Charming stuff.

The nostalgia for itself now decades-old WHO nostalgia continues with a lengthy trailer for “The Five Faces of Doctor Who” -- the 1981 season of repeats which has since gone down as a key moment in fandom, as it constituted the first time many of us who grew up in the ‘70s had been given the chance to see early stories such as the very first DOCTOR WHO adventure “An Unearthly Child”. It was a moment when the history of the programme was very much in the forefront of fans’ minds since Tom Baker had just left the role after seven years and Peter Davison was just about to step into his shoes. All of the trailers for the full season of repeats are included here – “AN Unearthly Child”, “The Krotons”, “The Carnival of Monsters” and “Logopolis”. In addition, a promo made to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary in 2003 is included, and also featured alongside each episode are the usual optional text-based production notes full of every scrap of production info one could possibly conceive.

The newly minted extras can be found over on the second disc in the set, and start off with a fairly traditional ‘making of’ documentary running for 23 minutes. “Happy Birthday WHO” kicks off with Altered Images’ memorable pop hit ‘Happy Birthday’, after which the ubiquitous Toby Hadoke narrates an overview of the production history of the story, full of the anecdotes you will have heard before in the commentary and on the production notes, but done in a much more concise and entertaining way. There’s nothing particularly special about the approach taken here, but you get to hear from Stephen Thorne (Omega) on his approach to the role, and Terrence Dicks, Barry Letts and Katy Manning fill in all the best anecdotes from the initial scripting and the actual shooting stages. A workman-like but effective documentary.

“Was Doctor Who Rubbish?” is an entertaining riposte to the show’s critics, particularly the former BBC Controller Michael Grade, the man responsible for cancelling the programme in 1989. Grade once appeared on the light-hearted show “Room 101”, in which a guest gets to consign a selection of his or her pet hates to George Orwell’s infamous torture room from the novel “1984”. Grade infamously chose DOCTOR WHO to be disposed of forever during his appearance, and went on to positively glory in the fact that he had cancelled the programme, rubbishing it for its ‘wobbly sets’, ‘bad acting’, ‘monsters made out of papier-mâché’ and its ‘lack of emotional involvement’, finishing up by condemning the entire series as ‘a waste of tax payers’ money’. This 14 minute featurette sets out to set the record straight with the help of some eloquent fans of the classic series (and some who have since rediscovered it through acquaintance with the newer version) and a bunch of clips designed to illustrate just how wide of the mark these criticisms could frequntly be. It’s a chance to glory in the things the series so often got right despite the lack of money and the tight schedule it was made on. No-one ever says “Fawlty Towers” is crap because it had wobbly sets for instance, even though it did. Instead of the usual tendency to concentrate on examples of the more embarrassing costumes or rubber monsters, instead there are some great clips of some of the fantastic sets, monsters, locations and special effects the series was able to muster, and some well-chosen examples of emotional sophistication from the series. It becomes apparent that much of the emotional content in the present series is but an extension of the kind of stuff that was already present in the classic series, from Zoe’s mind being wiped of her experiences with the Doctor and Jamie at the end of “The War Games” to Sarah Jane Smith’s beautifully underplayed departure. An impassioned, yet level-headed defence.

“Girls, Girls, Girls: the 1970s” is a glorious reunion for the remaining living actresses who played Doctor Who companions during the 1970s -- Caroline John, Katy Manning and Louise Jameson. This comes with a slick, retro-‘70s title sequence and constitutes a wonderfully engrossing, free-flowing and spirited chat as the three friends discuss their thoughts on the cultural influences they were brought in to embody at the time they were chosen for their roles, and the legacy their involvement with the series has produced from the perspective of the development of their subsequent careers. This is wonderful stuff indeed.

Finally the second disc features a photo gallery with all those lovely publicity stills which constituted the only time all three actors who played the Doctor actually appeared together in the flesh, as well as on-set production stills and behind-the-scenes shots. The usual PDF files of Radio Times listings are available also, of course.

THE ROBOTS OF DEATH: SPECIAL EDITION (1977)

Once producer Philip Hinchcliffe knew he was set to leave at the end of season 14 after successfully guiding the series down a more Gothic route since taking over from Barry Letts in 1975, the final few serials under his reign got noticeably more lavish-looking and one can only assume the budget was being wilfully abused by this stage. This gives us two excellent adventures in the form of “The Robots of Death” and the classic follow-up “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, but probably didn’t do much to endear Hinchcliffe to his replacement Graham Williams, who had to try and live up to the same production standards at a time when the economic situation in the late seventies meant that he was to find himself furnished with only half the budget of his predecessor. “The Robots of Death” takes its science fiction pedigree from Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but the storyline structure is all Agatha Christie’s. It’s the classic 1920s country house murder mystery in which a small cast of dubious-looking subjects is being killed-off one by one in mysterious circumstance, while the Doctor gets to play Poirot and figure out whodunit. Only this one takes place in the far future on board a Sandminer that’s digging for precious minerals on the surface of an inhospitable planet, and Poirot never had a scantily-clad alien native assistant called Leela!

THE ROBOTS OF DEATH

This was Leela’s first proper adventure since joining the cast alongside Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor in the previous story “The Face of Evil”, and she was originally intended only as a short-term stop-gap assistant until the following season. Baker was infamously against the character from the very beginning, which made relations between him and Louise Jameson rather strained to say the least throughout this period. You’d never know it from their on-screen interactions in this story though. Leela was created in the previous story by writer Chris Boucher, and the fact that he also got the chance to develop her character through getting this unexpected opportunity to write both of her first two stories was an extra boon that helped cement the interesting contrast between the Doctor and his new companion, and led ultimately to Jameson staying on for another full season. Boucher develops an idea that was never really taken up in the following season, of Leela having the acute senses of a savage hunter who can spot subtle changes in her surroundings, such as the altered body language of one of the crew which leads her to suspect he’s not telling the whole truth, or a change in the pitch of the engines which tells her something is wrong with the Sandminer at one point in the story.  In a story which involves one of the crew turning out to be a madman raised by robots, who starts tampering with the restraint circuits of the Sandigger’s various classes of robotic helper in order to set the fuse on a robot revolution, Boucher makes his influences clear pretty early on: not only does he rely heavily on Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics as a central spur to the plot, but many of the character names were references to or corruptions of names which had been historically important in the development of fiction writing about robot intelligence, such as the real name Boucher gives to the imposter behind the murders, Taren Capel, deliberately being designed to invoke  the name Karel Čapek – the Russian writer who first coined the word ‘robot’ in 1921.

The thing that really makes the story memorable in the eyes of many, though, is the wonderful convergence of set and costume design which, unusually, takes the distinctive period glamour of art deco as its inspiration. This was largely down to director Michael Briant, here taking his final directorial outing on the show. Briant seems to have had far more power to influence the style aesthetic of the story than would ever be afforded a TV director these days. Back in the time of multi-camera studio recording it was common for the director to select whatever cast he wanted, usually from a repertoire of actors he may also have worked with previously in theatre. In this case Briant also got to oversee the design thinking behind the serial and came up with something that was miles away from what either Hinchcliffe or Chris Boucher had originally envisioned. While they were fixated on the futuristic science fiction aspects of the story, Briant focused on its origins as a classic murder mystery and became inspired by a look that might have been more in vogue in Agatha Christie’s day. He decided that a crew destined to spend years away from home on a barren planet digging for ore would prefer to be surrounded by opulence rather than the usual antiseptic sterility (what Briant termed the Space 1999 look) that characterises most visions of  future space travel -- especially as they had pliant robots to do all the actual work. Thus the communal rooms and private quarters of the digger’s crew were created by set designer Kenneth Sharp with an eye for decedent colour schemes and the sort of functional, symmetrical elegance which wouldn’t have looked all that out of place in an Argento film from the same period, like “Suspiria”. The collaboration between Sharp and costume designer Elizabeth Waller was crucial in, at a stroke, facilitating a vivid image of the kind of advanced society the crew belongs to and presenting a unified vision of its values; we can easily believe that a crew whose female members wear such elaborate non-functional headgear as Toos (Pamela Salem) and Zilda (Tanya Rogers) are seen sporting here, would belong to a race that makes their robot slaves with heads that look like beautifully sculpted ornamental art deco adornments, rather than settling for just the functional droid design we often see elsewhere. The vaguely Egyptian eye-makeup of the crew and the headdress worn by Toos were also apparently a reference to the robot Maria’s ‘Whore of Babylon’ dance sequence in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, another source of futuristic art deco design.

One of the creepiest elements in the robots’ characterisation comes about as a result of their soothing, non-threatening voices (which induce an extra sense of eeriness through being post-dubbed, bringing a strange dislocated effect to their presence). After the re-programmed robots turn murderous thanks to the efforts of the deranged roboticist Capel, who, once his cover story is blown and his true identity is revealed, starts dressing up in his own robot tabard with silvery robot-like make-up (‘you look ridiculous in that costume,’ Baker solemnly intones in one of his own alterations to the script -- just as the murderer is about to plunge a giant hypodermic into the strapped-down Doctor’s cranium), the robot killers continue to address their prospective victims in the same ever-polite tones, benignly informing them ‘I have been sent to kill you’, as though they were merely offering up a cup of tea. Briant manages to pep up the routine mystery structure of the storyline, in which the cast get bumped off one by one across four episodes until the secret identity of the re-programming killer turning benign robots evil is eventually revealed, by doling out the roles to an excellent bunch of actors that together constitute a rare instance of multi-cultural, interracial casting in late seventies TV. Russell Hunter, widely known for playing opposite Edward Woodward as the ever-put-upon thief Lonely in “Callan”, is unrecognisable here as the ship’s captain Uvanov, while “Blake’s 7” fans are treated to an early sighting of Travis Mark Two in the form of Brian Croucher. David Collings gets lumbered with selling one of the plots more extravagant conceits when he suddenly comes down with an acute bout of ‘robophopia’ – a mental disorder induced by the strange collision of human-like traits and the inanimate qualities of artificial intelligence – even though it only seems to affect him suddenly in episode four.

The story is packed with enough incident and red herrings to keep the energy levels up across all four episodes and the unique design aesthetic means that it hasn’t dated as heavily as some 1970s WHO. One thing that does leap out though is the level and character of the violence from this particular season of stories. Hinchcliffe had already gotten into trouble earlier in the season with a sequence in “The Deadly Assassin” in which the Doctor’s head was held below water for a prolonged period at the end of an episode, but this story is full of characters being throttled by killer robots, sometimes in POV shots which linger on the terrified faces of the victims. Robots get ‘murdered’ with giant hypodermic plungers being thrust into the back of their heads, the Doctor is threatened with the same fate and strangulation over the course of events, and one robot is discovered in the robot mortuary with some bloody gore staining its fingers. It’s pretty certain you wouldn’t get such out-and-out horror and violence in the show these days, but one of the pleasures of watching back episodes from this era is the completely unheeding manner in which Leela, for instance, was allowed to throw knives at people or threaten to ‘gut’ them. It’s probable the show would never have attempted to go down this route if it weren’t for Tom Baker’s calming presence; famed for his rapport with children and able to combine a sense of rebelliousness with incorrigible childlike glee and a sense of silliness, Baker always communicated the belief that no matter how scary or dire things appeared to be, everything was always going to end up being alright, and that’s what I believe allowed the production team to get away with far more than they would ever be able to in later years, or even today.

This special edition of “Robots of Death” includes the original commentary track with producer Philip Hinchcliffe and writer Chris Boucher that was available on the first DVD release of this story and is indeed very good on all the background details, such as Boucher’s sci-fi influences and the creation of the art deco sets and costumes; and the two don’t shirk from mentioning some of the serial’s less successful elements such as the fact that the ‘corpse markers’ used to designate faulty robots are quite clearly just ordinary bicycle reflectors! Hinchcliffe notes that Tom Baker was one of the biggest stars in Britain at the time and that the show was often getting in excess of 13 million viewers during the broadcasting of “The Robots of Death”; that’s much more than it gets even now at the height of its popularity.

A newly recorded second commentary has been added which features Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Pamela Salem along with director Michael Briant. This is an absolute delight mainly because everyone clearly gets along really well now and is willing and able to laugh about any former difficulties they may have had (Louise Jameson and Pamela Salem are close friends and Jameson and Tom Baker now work together on audio adventures and have a better relationship than they ever did back when they were making the show). Everyone agrees that this particular serial was one of the most enjoyable of all to make, but Briant positively delights in poking fun at Baker’s intransigence at the time, while Baker seems to have developed enough of a nostalgic perspective on his former self to laugh along with him and the rest of the group, which makes this an unusually honest but warm-hearted listen.

The new extras consist of two documentaries/featurettes led by the traditional ‘making-of feature called “The Sandmine Murders”, which combines the best of the anecdotes and behind-the-scenes info from the two commentaries into one entertaining package, while its 11 minute companion piece “Robophobia” is another chance for Toby Hadoke to make yet another appearance, this time alongside the D84 robot, and on one occasion while dressed in drag! The feature itself is just a light-hearted look at robots in the classic series, painstakingly noting that no, the Daleks and the Cybermen don’t count as robots: the first is really an alien life-form in battle armour and the second is a cyborg not a robot, so there!  

The recall of the participants appearing on the two commentaries and the making-of doc is, as usual, further coloured in and expanded by a whole plethora of information supplied courtesy of the people responsible for the exhaustive research that goes into the on-screen text production notes – surely combining across the range to create the richest source of info there is on any TV production. The extras from the original release, one of the very earliest in the range, are fairly basic, but included here once more nonetheless: they consist of a short scene of raw studio footage from episode one that is without the re-voicing dubbing on the actors playing the robots – showing us how muffled they would have sounded had their audio parts not been re-recorded. The black & white off-cuts from the model shots filmed at Ealing Studios are included (without sound) as is an overview sketch of the studio floor plan of the layout of the sets for this serial as they would have appeared at the time. There are three  images showing all of the sets for the story, with the first enabling you to zoom in for a close up of the four main designs -- the TARDIS interior, the sand-digger crew room, captain’s cabin and the control room. The BBC’s continuity announcements for the serial are also included, allowing today’s youngsters a shocking insight into just how primitive TV was in the 1970s: forget all those expensive animated idents you get festooned with these days – a simple (slightly crooked) slide would have had to suffice in 1977, along with the usual BBC spinning globe effect to accompany the deliberations of the BBC announcer!

Finally, all three stories include a trailer for the next release, which is ironically, the one before this one, Leela’s debut “The Face of Evil”.

These three stories group together well to offer a compelling reminder of what’s made the DOCTOR WHO format so successful across almost fifty years now. Each story in of itself is a seemingly straightforward fantasy adventure yarn, yet each one still manages to find a completely different approach to the subject matter, each time combining in varying shades science fiction, comedy and light horror with the usual great characterisation. It’s the wonderful impishness of Patrick Troughton in “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, the ad-libbing enjoyment of Nicholas Courtney when obviously relishing the Brig’s nonplussed reactions throughout “The Three Doctors”, and Tom Baker’s always inventive combination of rogue charm and commanding authority which bind all the disparate elements and strands together – in other words great performances can sell almost anything and the series at its best, just as it does today, can make everything from killer robots on way-out art deco industrial miners, antimatter universes full of jelly monsters and elaborate Egyptian-like tombs designed to trap intelligent fodder for the Cyberman army, all seem like perfectly plausible addenda to the fictional universe Sidney Newman and a collection of BBC executives unwittingly created back in 1963. This set is packed with engrossing new extras but it is still the original stories that make it the essential purchase it surely will be for all Whovians.   

Read More from Black Gloves at his blog Nothing But The Night!

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