With the 50th anniversary celebrations of DOCTOR WHO drawing ever closer, BBC Worldwide have released six cheaply priced and separately sold DVD sets making up The Monster Collection, aimed at making younger viewers more aware of the show’s rich history through the process of pairing stories from more recent years (2005 -2013) with a selection of classics from the original series, covering years between 1963 and 1989. These sets feature none of the extras or ‘Making Of’ materials that tend to appeal to older fans who have grown up with the show, but concentrate instead on combining previously released adventures in a context that will hopefully excite the interest of those younger fans who may not previously have been aware of the series’ lengthy history or been given the chance before to see any of its older episodes. The new sets follow the recent release of the Regeneration box set, which served a similar function, acting both as an introduction to most of the Doctor’s previous incarnations (Christopher Eccleston excluded, since he never featured in a regeneration episode) and as preparation for the concept of regeneration itself -- which is doubtless about to traumatise younger Matt Smith fans the world over, who’ve never known anyone else play the role of the time travelling Time Lord before.
The emphasis here though is very much on the continuity the series has managed to achieve across its fifty year history through the enduring legacy and popularity of six of its returning ‘monsters’. The best and most obvious example to lead off with is, of course, the Doctor’s number one enemy the Daleks: the Dalek volume in this collection allows the show’s very earliest years to be introduced to the neophyte, contrasted alongside one of the most popular and spectacular episodes from last year’s 2012 run: “Asylum of the Daleks” -- although it’s probably also rather a risky pairing in some ways as the six-part 1963-1964 Terry Nation scripted adventure which first introduced the Daleks to the nation, and which starred William Hartnell in one of his earliest stories as the grandfatherly first Doctor, couldn’t be further away in tone from the flashy, special-effects laden, wittily written Movie-like spectacle the series has become recently under the helmsman-ship of current head writer Steven Moffat ,and the youthful tenure of the floppy-fringed eleventh Doctor played by Smith. It’s about as blunt an introduction to the vast differences which have accrued in production styles, writing conventions and characterisation as one could imagine, marking fifty years of rather huge changes in the way popular television in general is approached and made these days, let alone DOCTOR WHO. But despite the radically reduced the circumstances of its comparatively primitive production regime (for the time, what the show achieved under the guidance of its first producer Verity Lambert is still amazing), “The Daleks” demonstrates just how little has changed in the design and conceptualisation of the foe who has become one of the most identifiable signatures of the series, along with the sonic screwdriver and Tom Baker’s scarf.
“Asylum of the Daleks” briefly references many of the tweaks and developments that Skaro’s deadliest have incorporated into their makeup across their fifty year history of appearances in the series, with guest cameos by the various different models and rejigged designs. And we get to see another key moment in their developing mythology thanks to “The Davros Collection”, which pairs up Terry Nation’s brilliant fourth Doctor adventure from 1975, “Genesis of the Daleks” -- which first introduced the fascistic Dalek creator Davros -- with the two episode story that later reintroduced the prune-faced one into the new look show for the season finale of David Tennant’s third series. “The Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End” constitute possibly one of Russell T Davies’ most epic, large-scale stories, taking the insane racial-purity-obsessed eugenic vision which Nation introduced into the Dalek calculus through Davros’s influence, to its logical conclusion, imagining a Dalek world invasion in which the whole planet is envisioned as though it were one giant version of occupied Europe during the Second World War, cowering under the rule of a Dalek empire.
Both Dalek and Davros collections provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the means by which various producers and writers have managed to make this attractively designed pepper pot into an icon of menace and racial intolerance down the years. “The Cyberman Collection” is slightly less comprehensive, although this popular returnee monster menace has never quite managed to maintain the focus of the original grim fascination suggested by the squeamish philosophy behind their cyborg provenance, tapped into by Kit Pedlar for the 1966 story “The Tenth Planet” and returned to at regular intervals throughout the tenure of second Doctor Patrick Troughton. In the ‘80s their militaristic qualities were perhaps given more of an emphasis; it took Russell T. Davies again to hit upon our increasing dependency on smart technology as the route to making the Cybermen pertinent once more in the David Tennant-era two parter “Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” from 2006, which gets paired here with the Troughton 1967 classic “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, a witty take on the Egyptian Mummy legend.
The other three collections focus on enemies of the Doctor who were first introduced into the series during third Doctor Jon Pertwee’s era. The most frequently occurring of these was of course The Master, originally played by Roger Delgado throughout Pertwee’s second season (in which he appeared in every single storyline). Delgado returned sporadically throughout Pertwee’s tenure and the character of the Master was resurrected several times during Tom Baker’s reign despite Delgado’s premature death in a car accident. The Master was played by Peter Pratt in “The Deadly Assassin” and Anthony Ainley from 1981 onward, after first being introduced in Baker’s final story “Logopolis”. Ainley continued in the role, appearing several times during the Peter Davison and Colin Baker years and bowing out with the classic series in the 1989 Sylvester McCoy story “Survival”. He was also the main villain in the American made TV movie (played by Eric Roberts) but didn’t appear in the new series until 2007 when he was played by Derek Jacobi for “The Sound of Drums”, regenerating into John Simm for the series finale “Last of the Time Lords”. This set represents the Master’s varied history with his first appearance in the enjoyable Jon Pertwee 1971 adventure “Terror of the Autons” and then jumping straight to his final appearance to date, Tennant’s two-part New Years’ swan-song “The End of Time” (parts one & two).
The Sontarans are another perennial favourite, first appearing during Pertwee’s final year on the series in the Robert Holmes scripted “The Time Warrior” to be quickly brought back again next season, when a freshly regenerated Tom Baker encountered the humpty-dumpty race of diminutive warriors in “The Sontaran Experiment”. “The Sontaran Collection” includes “The Time Warrior”-- in which the Sontaran Linx appears in what is perhaps the most memorable end-of-episode reveal in the classic series’ history; then skips over subsequent sporadic appearances during Tom Baker and Colin Baker tenures to the Helen Raynor scripted two parter from 2008, “The Sontaran Stratagem” and “The Poison Sky” in which Holmes’ original vision of the stocky race of war obsessed warriors was returned to most successfully. Since then, the Sontarans have been used more for comedy purposes during the Steven Moffat years, their main on-screen representative being Strax (Dan Starkey), butlering sidekick to Silurian detective Madam Vastra and her faithful assistant Jenny Flint.
The Silurians are also the subject of the final collection and are perhaps the ‘monster’ that has changed the most since the cave dwelling race first appeared in Malcolm Hulke’s seven-part 1971 story “Doctor Who and the Silurians”. When they were reintroduced during eleventh Doctor Matt Smith’s first season for the two part story “The Hungry Earth” and “Cold Blood” they’d suffered a design overhaul that left them the only unrecognisable thing left in episodes that were otherwise a love letter to Pertwee’s era. Although overlong, Hulke’s story is a thoughtful, pessimistic treatise on the conflict generated by ancient territorial claims, a theme that is also made central to the Matt Smith stories, although it is dealt with in a far less convincing manner and resorts to sentimental short cuts that are more or less required by the fast-moving format of the series in the 21st century. However, the comprehensive rejigging of the Silurian design has enabled Neve McIntosh and writer Steven Moffat to create with Madam Vastra what I suspect will prove to be one of the most enduring supporting characters/companions of the Matt Smith era.
These sets are clearly aimed at a particular audience -- namely an extremely young one. Even so, there can’t be many younger fans that have not already got most of the newer episodes featured on these DVDs through purchasing the various boxed sets or volumes of episodes released in accompaniment to each new series, which means at least half of the material here they will already be in possession of. It also seems odd that after the fanfare accompanying the re-appearance of The Ice Warriors this year in the episode “Cold Blood” they don’t appear in this collection at all, despite several of their classic series stories being considered by many bona fide classics of their time. Also, although this is meant to be a celebration of classic returning monsters rather than Doctors, the sets as a whole are a little bit top heavy with Jon Pertwee and David Tennant era stories. However, very young fans just setting out on that fabulous journey of fifty years of TV history discovery that being a fan of DOCTOR WHO now requires, will find their quest greatly aided by the release of these time-spanning DVD collections.
Read more from Black Gloves at his blog, Nothing but the Night!