Tom Baker returns as The Doctor

A friend pointed me in the direction of this Doctor Who-themed clip over the weekend, a series of short ads for New Zealand superannuation services featuring Tom Baker in full-on Fourth Doctor mode.

The ads were made in 1997, long before the return of the show to BBC One in 2005, and I wonder how much they had to pay for the rights to use the character and the music.

Tom’s on fantastic form and it’s evidence, if it was needed, that he’s still got what it takes to play the role. Here’s hoping the BBC decide to bring him back for next year’s 50th anniversary celebrations…


DVD Review: Doctor Who – Day of the Daleks

Although the idea of kicking off Doctor Who’s ninth season with the ratings-grabbing return of the Daleks must have seemed like a good idea in 1971, the fact that the metal foes barely appear in Day of the Daleks thankfully doesn’t stop the story, now out on DVD, from being one of the Third Doctor’s most memorable outings.

Called in to investigate sightings of ghosts at the home of diplomat, Sir Reginald Styles (Wilfrid Carter), just ahead of a world peace conference, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo (Katy Manning) become involved in a plot to change the course of history thanks to guerillas from another time.

As if that wasn’t enough to cope with, the Daleks turn out to be part of the 22nd century plot, with the Doctor forced to move back and forth between modern-day Earth and the future as the safety of the universe hangs in the balance.

Running to just four episodes, writer Louis Marks manages to set up the story and involve viewers in the action with little delay, ensuring that time travelling soldiers of fortune, Ogron bodyguards and a dystopian future are introduced without anybody really missing the Daleks, who finally pop up at the close of episode one.

Jon Pertwee glides through the story with ease, clearly relishing the opportunity to be a man of action, while the regular UNIT cast don’t hamper things too much. Aubrey Woods’ Controller is a decent match for the Doctor, though the assorted guerillas don’t make too much of an impact.

Let down by the Daleks themselves, who neither sound as scary as they should or mark themselves out as being worthy of ruling the universe, the adventure does benefit from frequent pauses to contemplate the merits (or lack-of) of time travel and the consequences it can bring. The episodes also look good, in both time periods, the odd duff effect forgivable when everything else works so well.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Sun Makers

Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor finds himself in a rather taxing situation in The Sun Makers, landing on Pluto in the far future with Leela (Louise Jameson) in tow as he discovers the planet’s populace is being kept in its place by The Collector (Henry Woolf).

The Sun MakersAssisting the rebels fighting to overthrow their oppressors, the Doctor discovers the true nature of The Collector’s origins and that sometimes money is the root of all evil.

Written by Robert Holmes, perhaps Doctor Who’s most celebrated scriptwriter and also its script editor at the time of The Sun Makers, the story is packed with the type of humour rarely seen in the series.

With overt references to the British tax system, this was never going to be your typical Saturday tea time romp, but social commentary doesn’t overwhelm the science fiction at the script’s core.

Baker and Jameson are both on fine form and it’s a joy to see them take on Woolf and Richard Leech as Gatherer Hade, even if things do get slightly heightened as the story goes on. The guest cast are uniformly excellent, particularly Michael Keating and William Simons as Goudry and Mandrel respectively.

Clever, challenging and always entertaining, The Sun Makers is a welcome DVD release which shows once again just how diverse the series has been over the years.

Extras on this single disc edition include an informative commentary from Baker, Jameson, Keating and director, Pennant Robert, and a new documentary, Running from the Tax Man, which looks back at the story’s development and production.

Yet more fact-filled production notes can be switched on to aid enjoyment while the usual PDF documents and a photo gallery are available.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Paradise Towers

They say that the memory cheats. They’re wrong. I still remember being banished to my bedroom to watch Doctor Who back in October 1987, at the same time as Coronation Street was being enjoyed in the living room downstairs. The same thing happened every week, and every week I expected a classic episode.

Then along came Paradise Towers.

Even as an 11-year-old I knew something wasn’t quite right about this one. The way the actors just spoke their lines rather than investing them with any feeling. The way Bonnie Langford seemed to think she was on the stage,  shouting every line to the gods. The way the music seemed to actively be fighting against any attempts at drama that might escape from the script and onto the screen.

Paradise Towers

Watching this new DVD release 24 years on it’s fair to say that nothing much has changed, with 2entertain sadly avoiding any sort of special edition treatment that might excise most of the actors and replace them with CGI replicas.

The plot, for those of you who haven’t moved on to the Wikipedia entry by now, sees the Tardis land on the Paradise Towers of the title, a rundown tower block where a war is being waged by different factions as a group of caretakers attempt to keep things under control.

The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) manages to become embroiled in the various goings-on, while the death toll rises around him.

What is perhaps more apparent on this viewing is that Stephen Wyatt’s script does have darker undertones that, had they been given free reign, would have seen Who’s position as prime time family entertainment being questioned by TV watchdogs in the 80s. Cannibalism by two old ladies? Allusions to Adolph Hitler by Richard Briers? Bonnie’s costume?

Director Nicholas Mallett could have been trying to tone down the darker aspects for the pre-watershed crowd, but if so it was hardly worth putting the script into production in the first place, meaning we’re left with something that doesn’t really cater for anyone.

McCoy tries gamely with what he’s given but there’s little of substance for him to latch onto, his Doctor, only in his second story, still something of a blank canvas with a Scottish accent. Richard Briers is clearly in another of his sitcoms and it’s only Clive Merrison who comes out of this with anything vaguely resembling dignity, managing to balance humour and menace (what little there is) equally.


For the extras we’re given a commentary featuring actress Judy Cornwell, writer Stephen Wyatt, special sounds supervisor Dick Mills and moderater Mark Ayres, which touches on various aspects of the production without giving it quite the kicking one might expect.

Horror on the High Rise, a new documentary featuring contributions from script editor Andrew Cartmel, writer Stephen Wyatt and actors including Richard Briers and Howard Cooke, does contain some honest opinion from those involved, and it’s the highlight of the disc. Wyatt remains unimpressed with the BBC’s take on his script, though he did undertake the writing process with the best of intentions.

Another short documentary, Girls! Girls! Girls! – The Eighties, brings together Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton and Sophie Aldred to discuss their time aboard the Tardis and it’s nice to see the various companions reminiscing, even if Fielding’s comments are tend not to deviate from her standard views on the era.

A fun production notes track helps keep up the viewers’ spirits during the long haul of the episodes, while an alternative score for the story lets us hear what it would have been like had composer David Snell not been replaced by Keff McCulloch. Deleted scenes, photos and PDFs are also present and correct.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Earth Story

Rather uncomfortably bundling together a First and a Fifth Doctor story together in a collection known as “Earth Story”, the thematic link with the latest Doctor Who release is, well, that they’re both set on Earth. Simple, really.

Combining one story not known for its popularity in Doctor Who fandom – the overt humour in William Hartnell’s The Gunfighters often branding it unwatchable – with another praised for its ability to condense a complex tale into just two episodes in the shape of Peter Davison’s The Awakening, the set makes for an odd combination.

In The Gunfighters, the Tardis brings her crew to the famed town of Tombstone when the Doctor finds himself suffering from toothache. Deciding that America in the 1880s is the best place for medical attention, the Timelord seeks out Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs), a man who is currently somewhat at odds with the Clanton brothers, leading to much confusion regarding the Doctor’s identity and a gunfight that really isn’t OK.

In The Awakening, modern day (1984) England is the location for some village war games, recreations of a Civil War battle. As the Tardis materialises, it becomes clear that an alien war machine known as The Malus has started to meddle with the timelines, merging the 1980s with the 1640s and leaving the Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) to try to put things right.

With its dodgy American accents and a script which attempts to play too much for laughs, The Gunfighters isn’t an easy watch. The overuse of the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, a not-so-witty little ditty sung at various points of the four episodes is wearisome to say the least, while the change in character of the Doctor, Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) to facilitate them misunderstanding the gravity of their predicament is insulting to the audience.

Taken as a piece of throwaway 1960s TV this is just about passable, with Hartnell on good form and the set design and direction impressive, but as a piece of drama it’s pretty average.

Eric Pringle’s The Awakening is a much better example of Who at its best, the series regulars supported by a high quality guest cast, including ex-Liver Bird, Polly James, and ex-Stig of the Dump, Keith Jayne. Both actors are believable and level out some of the more outrageous performances.

With yet another member of Tegan’s family making an appearance and no sign of the padding which inevitably creeps into multiple part adventures, The Awakening is a lean slice of 80s Who which more than makes up for any weakness evident in The Gunfighters.


With the Doctor Who range’s commentary moderator of choice, Toby Hadoke, in charge of proceedings for both stories, things go smoothly as cast and crew come together to recall their time on the series.

Peter Purves continues his love-in with Who alongside actors David Graham, Shane Rimmer and Richard Beale plus production assistant Tristan DeVere on The Gunfighters, while director Michale Owen Morris and script editor Eric Saward are the slimmed down pairing for The Awakening.

Both tracks are entertaining and informative throughout, an honesty about mistakes made and an admiration for what was managed all those years ago evident from all participants.

The standout documentary in the set is The End of the Line, a frank look at the production of the programme’s third year. Contributions from those who were there are backed up by excerpts from memos and letters written at the time, while today’s fans also help put past events into some context.

It’s an impressive production which, like all the best documentaries, deserves a wider audience than just Doctor Who fans, and one can only hope that at some point in the future 2entertain consider releasing a documentary-only set charting the Classic era’s development.

One of the odder additions to The Gunfighter’s set is the latest installment of Tomorrow’s Times, which sees a badly miscast Mary Tamm looking at how the series was covered in the press in the 1960s. Tamm’s reaction to one piece of Dalek news is quite the strangest thing you’ll see on a Who DVD this, or any other, year.

The Awakening benefits from a return visit to the fictional village of Little Hodcombe by the cast and crew, with contributions from local residents, and it’s a charming insight into the story’s production and legacy. Elsewhere there’s a look at the making of the story’s creature and some extended and cut scenes that didn’t make the final cut.

As ever, both stories feature PDF Radio Times clippings along with photo galleries and production notes, which by no means deserve to be mentioned last but which are hard to do justice to in a review – just make sure you read them and your enjoyment of any Doctor Who adventure will be enhanced.

The Gunfighters ★★★★★
The Awakening ★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Frontios

If there’s one thing that Doctor Who loves, it’s Earth colonists (or descendents of Earth colonists) having a hard time of it somewhere in deepest, darkest space. 1984’s Frontios takes this premise and runs with it, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) arriving in the midst of a particularly nasty meteorite bombardment, the results of which requires the time traveller’s help.

FrontiosAs the Doctor, Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson) try to assist the planet’s inhabitants, the Time Lord getting confused for an enemy spy by leader Plantagenet (Jeff Rawle) in the process, the viewer becomes embroiled in the politics and confusion of a populace who are tired of being attacked by an unseen enemy.

When that enemy is discovered to be closer to home than anyone expected, the story is flipped on its head to become something much more complicated than a base, or rather planet, under siege tale.

Christopher H Bidmead’s return to Who is a welcome one, his script removing much of the romp-factor from the programme and swapping it with intelligent dialogue and what feels like a genuine challenge for the Doctor and his crew.

Indeed, Turlough gets a decent share of screen time here, the reawakening of dormant memories handled well by Strickson, even if his reaction to the Tractators could be seen to be a tad OTT. Tegan is also given something to do here, Fielding reacting well to Davison whether he’s in breathless or comic mode.

Of the guest cast, while Rawle is strong as the out-of-his-depth Plantagenet, it’s William Lucas as Range and Lesley Dunlop as his daughter, Norna, who are the most interesting additions. The pair have a chemistry that makes their relationship believable, something that’s important when you’ve got power-hungry aliens vying for attention.

Though Frontios’ budget was tiny (as alluded to by Rawle in documentary, Driven to Distractation), designer David Buckingham managed to make the interiors look suitable lived in, although the occasional exterior shot, in reality a BBC studio, does let things down.

Still, a Doctor Who fan can forgive iffy FX and dodgy monster costumes when the story is as good as this, and in Frontios we have something of an overlooked gem that reminds us just why Davison was so special and his era ripe for rediscovery.


Without his usual partners in crime, (Fielding, Sutton and Strickson I’m looking at you!), the Frontios commentary may not be quite as buoyant, but it’s still worth booting up to hear Rawle and script editor Eric Saward have their say.

The documentary is another honest look at the production of a Doctor Who adventure, something that can only come almost 30 years after the fact. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of insights we get for the Davies/Moffat-era stories when they’re reissued in special hologram editions in a few years time…

Add to this an informative set of production notes, an isolated music score, deleted footage, Radio Times cuttings and a few other nice-to-have’s, and Frontios becomes yet another important addition to the Doctor Who range.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

Fan made Doctor Who anime is complete

I’ve been keeping an eye on this fan production for the last few years, a labour love by Paul “Oatking” Jackson which takes audio clips from Jon Pertwee-era Doctor Who and places them in a very different setting.

Now it’s finised and it’s a thing of beauty: it might just keep us occupied until the recently-announced Reign of Terror DVD arrives in 2012.

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Mannequin Mania

In the sort of scheduling quirk rather befitting of a Time Lord, Jon Pertwee’s first Doctor Who adventure, Spearhead from Space, comes to DVD just a few weeks after his final story arrived on shiny disc, a chance to see how it all began for the dandiest of Doctors.

2entertain’s Mannequin Mania boxset bundles a special edition of Spearhead, previously released in a bare bones edition in 2001, with the following year’s Terror of the Autons, both stories featuring the Nestene Consciousness and the Autons while marking the debuts of various characters and a new look for the programme.

Having run for six years and already on its second incarnation of the Doctor in the shape of Patrick Troughton, things were looking grim for Doctor Who in 1969. With the threat of cancellation hanging over it at the end of The War Games, the decision to reboot the series and bring it down to Earth, quite literally, saw the start of a new era for a show which thrived on the ability to go anwhere and anywhen in space and time.

Mannequin ManiaCharged with taking Doctor Who into a new decade, with a new lead and in colour, veteran scriptwriter Robert Holmes crafted a classy slice of sci-fi in Spearhead, which echoed the BBC’s Quatermass serials in its opening moments as alien pods arrive on Earth, just at the Tardis materialises with a regenerated Doctor.

The Nestenes are planning a full invasion of the planet, using shop window mannequins as their army, headed up by authority figures such as General Scobie (Hamilton Dyce) and Channing (Hugh Burden). Still recovering from the regenerative process, the Doctor teams up with UNIT’s Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and new assistant, Liz Shaw (Caroline John), to fight his latest foe.

The Nestenes returned to open the next season in Terror of the Autons, a story also scripted by Robert Holmes which saw him also incorporating the introduction of the Master (Roger Delgado), Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Captain Yates (Richard Franklin).

Though the Nestenes were the main reason for concern in Spearhead from Space, here it’s the Master, a fellow rogue Time Lord, who is the real enemy of the world, and the Doctor. In Delgado, the series gained someone for whom the audience could almost feel sympathy, if not for his methods then for his determination and sheer style in carrying out his plans.

The Master has arrived on Earth with domination in mind, roping in the Nestenes and the Autons to do his bidding. Deadly daffodils, terrible toys and chilling chairs are all used by Holmes to depict the everyday nature of the Nestene threat, the terror present in the most suburban of situations rather than the usual laboratories and bases-under-siege.

As in Spearhead, the Doctor must contend with a new companion and opponent, plus another Earth invasion, Pertwee now comfortable in the skin of the time traveller who is firmly rooted in present-day England.

Under the leadership of Derrick Sherwin and Barry Letts, these two Third Doctor adventures are examples of Who at its very best. It helps that Robert Holmes is behind the typewriter for both tales, his ability to combine humour and drama one which would serve him, and the series, well for years to come.

Shot on film and on location, Spearhead has an extra sheen of quality which shines through on this new DVD. Confident and classy, it’s hard to believe that this is the same series that went off the screen the previous year seemingly on its last legs, something reflected in the ratings and the fact that Pertwee, Letts and script editor Terrence Dicks were allowed to collaborate for five seasons.

Terror is similarly excellent, a tale boosted by the appearance of Delgado and the ball of energy that is Katy Manning. The birth of the “UNIT family” is a joy to behold, the questionable nature of the Master’s scheme (should it really be so easy for the Doctor to change his foe’s mind when he’s already gone to such great lengths?) forgivable when the rest of the story is so much fun.


For this set the Restoration Team have pulled together an impressive selection of extras, offering those of us who bought Spearhead first time around a real reason to double dip.

The addition of a new commentary for Spearhead, Sherwin and Dicks providing a spikier discussion than those we’re used to from Terrance and Barry, offers a different view from the original commentary from Caroline John and Nick Courtney. The pair tell us little new but it’s interesting hearing it from the men who were there.

The two documentaries provide a fascinating overview of both the need for the series to change upon its 1970 return and on the move from black and white to colour, Sherwin’s honest opinions a highlight.

Over on the Terror disc, the commentary is provided by the late Letts and Courtney alongside Ms Manning. As usual, Letts is keen to point out the technical aspects while Manning has fun and Courtney comes along for the ride, their entertaining banter the result of years of friendship.

We’re spoiled by the inclusion of three documentaries, perhaps the best of which is Life on Earth, a comparison between the production process for Who in the 70s and in 2005’s revived version. Discussion about Delgado and the decision to use plastic as an enemy provide the focus for the other two featurettes.

Both stories also feature on-screen production notes, which are easy to take for granted but which provide incredible detail for both the long-term fan and newbie to the series. PDFs of Radio Times listings and features plus photo galleries are also part of the set, a wealth of information which add greatly to the overall package.

Stories ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Planet of the Spiders

It’s the end of an era for both viewers and Jon Pertwee in the latest Doctor Who DVD release, Planet of the Spiders taking the Third Doctor across the universe as he tries to right a wrong after his actions have great consequences for the Earth and his own mortality.

As the Doctor investigates ESP with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), at the same time as the disgraced Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) looks into strange goings on at a Buddhist meditation centre in deepest England, an artefact from the Time Lord’s past reappears: a blue Metebelis crystal first seen in The Green Death.

Planet of the SpidersThe crystal’s original owners, a group of deadly spiders from Metebelis III, have a plan to take over Earth by using mind control, forcing the Doctor and Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) to travel to the planet with the intention of brokering peace between the spiders and humanity.

As with all good adventures, things don’t go quite according to plan, leaving fans to watch as time runs out for the Doctor as his eight legged foes.

Stuffed with car/Whomobile chases, fight sequences, alien planets, evil spiders and a dose of science vs religion, Planet of the Spiders is, at first glance, a fitting swan song for the dandiest of Doctors. While Spiders may not reach the dizzy heights of Peter Davison’s final story, it does give him a stronger farewell than poor old Colin Baker enjoyed.

Pertwee is on decent form throughout, even if the Doctor is beaten up, kidnapped or rendered comatose a little too often in a story that should have seen him firing on all cylinders.

The decision to return to the character of Mike Yates is a welcome one, showing some maturity for the series when it would have been easy to simply move on and forget. His redemption just about makes up for the treatment of the UNIT family, the Brigadier relegated to the sidelines too often and his military skills ignored.

Where the story falls down badly is in the depiction of the spiders and their Earth-bound lackeys, the eight legged foes never the most convincing of enemies. The idea of the spiders attaching themselves to the back of their victim is sound enough, but watching them in their lair or facing up to their rather hapless minions on Earth does show their limitations.

There’s also the iffy CSO, the system generating the scenery that sits behind many scenes. With actors’ hair frizzing and an odd depth-of-field to some shots, viewers would be forgiven for being distracted from the story itself.

While it may be hard to view Planet of the Spiders as a glorious celebration of the Third Doctor and his tenure, and one wonders what might have resulted from the planned Master vs Doctor finale that was scrapped following Roger Delgado’s death, this should still satisfy those who miss the frilly jacketed hero and his era.

It’s also worth saying that the episodes look quite stunning, restored and rejuvenated for the benefit of new fangled TV sets which show up the flaws so easily.

Thankfully the extras of this two disc set make up for any perceived failings of the actual story to give the Third Doctor a fitting send off.

First up we have the commentary, a banter-heavy affair featuring the late Barry Letts and Nicholas Courtney alongside Terrance Dicks, Elisabeth Sladen and Richard Franklin. There’s much love for the series, Pertwee and everyone involved, with Dicks providing much of the self-deprecating humour and Letts pointing out the flaws. The recent death of Courtney makes this all the more poignant and it’s good to hear him on form.

The main documentary is The Final Curtain, a look back at five years of mainly Earth-bound Who which saw a great many changes in the series, both in front of and behind the camera. With contributions from most of those who were there, including archive footage of Pertwee and Letts, it might lack some of the frankness now emerging from some other eras of the show, but perhaps that’s because it really was one big happy family.

John Kane Remembers features the actor who played Tommy recalling his time on the show, while Directing Who with Barry Letts does what it says on the tin, with Letts explaining some of the secrets of his trade. In addition, the ever-excellent on-screen production notes offer yet another take on the episodes.

With a second disc offering an unrestored Omnibus edition of the story (for completists only), this is another top-notch effort from the Restoration team, a loving tribute to one of the most important production teams Doctor Who has had.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – Revisitations 2

It was in October 2010 that 2entertain first delighted and annoyed Doctor Who fans with the release of their Revisitations DVD set: delighted because three classic stories had been newly remastered with added extras, annoyed because each of them was already available on DVD.

No matter what your feelings about double-dipping on DVDs, the fact was that the first set was an impressive achievement, offering buyers new insights into stories that deserved, well, revisiting.

Now they’re at it again with the re-release of The Seeds of Death, Carnival of Monsters and Resurrection of the Daleks in Revisitations 2: be prepared to be delighted and annoyed all over again.

Revisitations 2The Seeds of Death sees the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) , Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury) cross paths once again with the Ice Warriors who are determined to make the Earth their own.

In Carnival of Monsters, the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) takes centre stage in Robert Holmes’ high-concept tale which sees alien creatures and 1920s passengers on an ill-fated ship brought together thanks to a seemingly benign peepshow.

Finally, Peter Davison dons cricket gear for a turn as the Fifth Doctor in Resurrection of the Daleks. Along with Tegan (Janet Fielding) and Turlough (Mark Strickson), the Doctor must enter into yet another battle with the Daleks and Davros, this time in 1980s London.

With a number of stories under their belts, Troughton, Pertwee and Davison offer confident performances that make it all look so easy. For anyone simply looking to enjoy more of their favourite Doctor, they’re unlikely to be disappointed.

Script-wise, Seeds is confident enough to leave the Doctor out of proceedings for a good while, before allowing Troughton to quietly take over. As usual, the Second Doctor is happy to watch from the shadows as events spiral out of control, his glee at being the one to save the day palpable.

Director Michael Ferguson keeps things moving at a decent pace throughout, some interesting camera angles introduced as the Ice Warriors make their moves.

For Carnival, Barry Letts does an admirable job of giving energy to Robert Holmes’ layered script, his skill at keeping one eye on the technical side and the other on his cast resulting in an accomplished, and hugely enjoyable romp.

Eric Saward’s Resurrection is the weakest of the three tales, perhaps because we’ve seen the Daleks schemes too many times or perhaps because it’s all just a bit of a muddle. Nothing is quite what it seems here and, apart from a strong turn from Maurice Colbourne as Lytton, it’s hard to care much for anyone.

When it comes to the much-touted extras, the main highlight here is Resurrection’s Come in Number Five, a David Tennant-hosted look back at Davison’s time on the show. With input from many of those involved and some refreshingly honest opinions, Tennant may look a bit grim throughout but this should leave fans of the blonde one happy.

Throw in a new Ice Warriors documentary and a fun look at the monsters that came back for more for Seeds, plus a new commentary, an entertaining look at the making of the story and an investigation into the careers of Who bit-players for Carnival, and you’ve got another fascinating package that tries hard to justify its place on your shelf and, on the whole, succeeds.

Stories ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Mara Tales

Just for kids. That’s the phrase often used to both dismiss and endorse Doctor Who in the media, some fans happy that the show is the children’s series adults adore while others see it as only good enough for the under-tens.

Occasionally a story comes along which confounds the critics and the fans alike. In the latest Doctor Who DVD set, The Mara Tales (2entertain), we get two of them.

The Mara Tales

First up is Season Nineteen’s Kinda, Christopher Bailey’s script taking the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) to the planet Deva Loka, where a survey team is threatening to go native as the alien Mara infiltrates the minds of those in charge…and Tegan (Janet Fielding).

Season Twenty offered a rematch for the Time Lord and the Mara, as the Tardis arrives on Manussa, a relatively peaceful planet whose populace remember the Mara from their history and who are preparing to celebrate their banishment.

Things don’t go well for Tegan as the Mara surface in her mind, causing a race against time for the Doctor and Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) to help banish them.

With these two stories, both influenced by Buddhism and psychiatry to varying degrees, Bailey brought some depth to the Tardis crew and to the people they meet. Whereas many adventures give us alien planets and cultures painted with broad brush strokes, Kinda and Snakedance tried to delve beneath the surface of the psyches involved.

In Kinda, Hindle (Simon Rouse) is pushed to the limit by the presence of the Mara, while Tegan is given some a chance to shine and grow as the snake within her is unleashed. For one of the few times in the classic series, sexuality rears its head in Kinda, though there’s nothing too overt for the seven-year-olds in the audience.

Unfortunately there’s also that snake prop at the end which threatens to derail the story: it’s to the actors’ credit that we stick with it till the final moments.

Janet Fielding’s ability to flex her acting muscles continues in Snakedance, one of the few direct sequels in the show’s history and one which actually improves on its predecessor. Here, the Doctor is seen by the Manussians as a raving lunatic who speaks of the Mara’s return, Davison’s breathless performance one of the best of his brief tenure.

From the set design and direction through to the music and the acting, Snakedance is a tour-de-force of 1980s Doctor Who made at a time when the series was about to lose its place in the BBC’s affections for many years to come.

While Snakedance, with its political wrangling, clever dialogue and ability to dress Martin Clunes in a shocking set of threads and still appear to have some authority, is undoubtedly something to be savoured by the adults, it’s tempting to think that the aforementioned children in the audience could have been left wanting.

There’s little in the way of action or time travel in Snakedance or Kinda, but almost thirty years on they’re all the better for it.

The extras on this set compliment the stories near-perfectly, with documentaries Dream Time and Snake Charmer explaining the genesis of Kinda and Snakedance respectively. Christopher Bailey makes for a refreshingly honest contributor, the benefit of hindsight also helping script editor Eric Saward to give his candid views on the stories.

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Nerys Hughes and Matthew Waterhouse take on commentary duties for Kinda, the latter happy to take a gentle ribbing from his colleagues throughout. Director Peter Grimwade is the subject of another lengthy documentary, with extended and deleted scenes, an isolated music score, information text and optional CGI – be rid of the toy snake forever! – bulking out the disc.

Over on Snakedance, Davison and Fielding are joined by Sarah Sutton for the commentary while another stack of deleted scenes, an optional music track, photo gallery, information text and Radio Times listings are present and correct.

Story ★★★★★
Extras ★★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Ark

Never afraid to stretch themselves beyond their means, the Doctor Who production team took viewers ten million years into the future for 1966’s The Ark, as the Doctor, Steven and Dodo witness the remnants of humanity fight for survival.

Escaping an Earth which is soon to be destroyed, the humans, calling themselves the Guardians, are living in less-than-harmony with their alien servants, the Monoids. When the Tardis arrives and the Doctor (William Hartnell) begins to investigate his surroundings, Dodo (Jackie Lane) inadvertently spreads her common cold to the ship’s inhabitants, exposing them to a virus they’ve managed to overcome.

The ArkDetermined to create a cure which will prevent the wiping out of the Guardians and the Monoids, the Doctor’s success is thrown into doubt when the Tardis crew return to the ship 700 years later, only to find that the course of history has been altered and the Monoids sights set firmly on domination of their one-time captors.

From the confines of London’s Riverside Studios, director Michael Imison and his crew whisked fans across the universe for four episodes, the epic nature of the story only hampered by the budget.

Attempting to give a sense of scale, Imison’s decision to film inserts at Ealing is a well judged one, episode one’s appearance of wild animals and vegetation helping to set the scene.

Splitting the story into two distinct halves, with two episodes allocated to each, is both a benefit and a problem for the story.

Though it does result in a relatively pacy adventure, neither segment has much room for development, with the change in fortune for both the Guardians and the Monoids lacking the drama that might have aided younger viewers’ understanding of the moral issues of slave and master scenarios.

Peter Purves is given a chance to shine in the interrogation scenes, while Jackie Lane struggles to nail Dodo’s accent, which veers between Mancunian and London from episode to episode. Hartnell may struggle with his lines at times, but he has a definite presence about him at all times, while the supporting cast are impressive.

Backing up the main feature are a handful of new extras, the best being Matthew Sweet’s Riverside Story. Here, the broadcaster is accompanied by Peter Purves as the take a tour of the studios and Purves recalls his time on The Ark. The actor is honest and open about his feelings, his memories of Hartnell’s trouble recalling his lines particularly touching.

One Hit Wonder looks at the reasons why the Monoids failed to become a recurring Who monster, while All’s Wells that Ends Wells asks what influence the work of HG Wells had on Doctor Who over the years.

Purves and Imison team up for the commentary, moderated by comedian Toby Hadoke, and the pair offer more interesting insights into the successes and failures of the serial.

Story ★★★★
Extras ★★★★

DVD Review: Doctor Who – The Mutants

The planet Solos in the 30th century is the location for The Mutants, 2entertain’s latest release from the Doctor Who back catalogue, which sees Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor arrive as the Solonians prepare for independence from Earth.

As regular Who viewers may have guessed, things don’t go quite according to plan as the Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) land on Skybase with a message for its residents. The decision by the Marshal (Paul Whitsun-Jones) to oppose independence leads to the death of an Administrator (Geoffrey Palmer) and the blame being laid on Ky (Garrick Hagon).

The MutantsCan the Doctor prove Ky’s innocence? Will Jo help or hinder proceedings? Will there be a lot of running about as the story is drawn out to six episodes?

The answer to all of these questions takes time to unfold as The Mutants wends its way to a conclusion. An appearance by Geoffrey Palmer lends a touch of class, but the rest of the cast struggle to match him.

Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin add some depth to proceedings with their allusions to real-world situations, most notably their anti-apartheid stance and mentions of genocide. Not bad for Saturday tea time.

Helping bring the story to life are Christopher Barry’s direction and Jeremy Bear’s set design, the former allowing the latter to look suitably impressive throughout.

In many ways The Mutants is classic Doctor Who, with a moral to convey to the audience, the Doctor fighting for the little guy and enough debate on right and wrong to cover all bases. In saying that, it’s not quite a classic adventure, not as entertaining as it should be but worth sticking with for the long haul.

The extras on the two-disc set are some of the strongest seen in recent months, starting with a commentary from Katy Manning, Garrick Hagon, Christopher Barry, co-writer Bob Baker and more. With moderation by Nicholas Pegg, facts are teased out of the participants, even Manning toning things down once in a while.

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DVD Review: Doctor Who – Meglos


He’s back, and it’s about cacti! Tom Baker’s Doctor faces a fiendish alien foe in this 1980 adventure which sees a household plant attempt to conquer the universe on a BBC budget.

Arriving on the planet Tigella, the Doctor, Romana (Lalla Ward) and K9 visit an old friend of the Time Lord’s, a scientist who is facing a constant battle against the planet’s religious group, the Deons led by Lexa (Jacqueline Hill). Complicating matters is the appearance of the evil Meglos, a cactus-like creature who joins forces with a group of mercenaries to steal the Tigellan’s energy source, while disguised as the Doctor himself…

Meglos cover

Boasting typically enthusiastic performances from Baker and Ward, Meglos sadly it isn’t the most engaging of stories, with little thought given to the real reasons behind the enemy’s grand plans and a need to pad out the four episodes with lots of running around a forest.

The debates between science and religion are interesting enough, and it’s good to see former First Doctor companion Jacqueline Hill back in the series, but the dialogue isn’t the most exciting and its delivered with little conviction from the actors involved.

Saved by Baker’s presence and some light relief from Bill Fraser as Grugger, this is a rather workmanlike story sandwiched between the much more enjoyable Leisure Hive and E-Space Trilogy.

The extras on this single disc set more than make up for the stories weaknesses, with Lalla Ward leading the commentary alongside actor Christopher Owen, co-writer John Flanagan and composers Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell.

There’s also an interesting documentary featuring Meglos writers Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch, who take a tour of their old London haunts which inspired the writing of the story. The Scene Sync is another documentary which looks at the technical aspects of the adventure, while Jacqueline Hill – A Life in Pictures is a touching remembrance of one of the people who played such an important part in the programme’s early days.

ITV1 to screen Coronation Street’s first episode

Don’t panic, this Coronation Street post isn’t the start of a series of blatant attention-grabbing mentions of highly-rated British soap operas designed to pull in as many readers as possible (though an extra two or three would be nice).

No, I just wanted to point fans of classic TV in the direction of ITV1 this coming Monday, 6 December, when as part of Coronation Street’s 50th Anniversary celebrations they’re repeating the very first episode, from December 1960, in glorious black and white.

The episode is cleverly sandwiched between two brand new episodes, meaning modern audiences will be less inclined to switch over during it, but it will be interesting to see if there is a huge drop off in ratings.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that the BBC are paying attention and that for Doctor Who’s 50th in 2013 they screen An Unearthly Child in a primetime slot before The Eleven Doctors 90-minute special.