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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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 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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Interview: Bill Maynard

Bill Maynard

Though perhaps best known to today’s viewers as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass in the ITV drama, Heartbeat, actor and comedian Bill Maynard has a long list of theatre, TV and film appearances to his name. The release of a number of his series on DVD seemed to be the perfect excuse for a chat with the man who has specialised in loveable rogues and larger-than-life characters.

“I did a Greek anti-war play called Stand Up and Retreat Onwards about 40 years ago during the Edinburgh Festival. On opening night there were two men at the door in black suits from the Greek Embassy, I think because it was written by a dissident. They were about the only audience we had.”

I’m talking to veteran actor Bill Maynard over the phone from Edinburgh as he recalls one of his many appearances on stage in the Scottish Capital, part a of a career which stretches back to the mid-1930s and his time touring men’s working clubs in his native Midlands.

Bill’s on good form. After enquiring how he’s keeping – “It’s best not to ask. When you get to my age you’re just happy to get up in the morning,” – I ask how he got into the profession.

“I started at the age of eight as a turn in the clubs, and the day after my first performance I was carted off to a sanitorium with scarlet fever. Whilst I was there my dad brought me a ukulele which I learned to play. When I came out about four months later, leaving the ukulele behind because it was contaminated, I was ready to be released on the unsuspecting British public.

“By the time I was nine I was doing nine entirely different acts, including being in drag singing a song called I’m Knitting a Singlet for Cecil then doing a routine about my boyfriend. I also did an act with a guitar playing cowboy songs and one as a soldier, plus one about a QC with a few jokes about judges.

“We didn’t have to be PC back then, so one was about a cross-eyed judge who has three defendants in front of him. He says to the first one “What’s your name?” and the second one says, “Smith.” Judge says, “I wasn’t talking to you,” and the third one says, “I haven’t opened my mouth yet.” Then he has two in front of him and he says to the first, “Where do you live?” and he says “No fixed abode, Your Honour.” He says to the second one, “What about you?” and he says, “In the flat above him.”

“My first series was in 1955, when I did Great Scott! It’s Maynard with Terry Scott, similar to The Two Ronnies, and then in 1957 I decided I wanted to be a film star – and still do! – and realised I needed to learn to act. I didn’t know you didn’t have to. After a number of years in the theatre, I did my first TV drama as the lead in Dennis Potter’s Paper Roses, then six months later I did Kisses at Fifty at the BBC which won a BAFTA.”

So is it fair to say that most of his work has been in the theatre? “Well, quite a bit has been the theatre, but there’s been a mixture of music hall, TV and around 35 films, most of them forgettable. I try to do as much as possible and bring in to the characters things I’ve learnt.

“For example, when I did Davies in The Caretaker, he wore an army greatcoat and when I went into Heartbeat they wanted me to wear a long black Crombie overcoat. I said it was too sombre and, remembering The Caretaker, I said get him an army greatcoat, because in many ways Davies was like Greengrass, an old rogue and a con merchant.”

I note that for much of the 1970s he was best known as a regular in British sitcoms.

“If producers know they can rely on you then they’ll ask you back and if you’re spending money you can’t take chances. With dramas you don’t need much expertise: a gentlemen much greater than me once said all you have to do is learn the lines and try not trip over the furniture.”

One of Bill’s biggest hits was The Gaffer, which ran from 1981 until 1983. Was it an enjoyable series to make? “Oh yes, I mean it was shot in front of a live audience every week, and to do a sitcom is really hard work, not like doing a drama which are the easiest things to do in the world. To do comedy is fifty times harder than any drama, you’ve got to be a specialist to do comedy but not drama. Anyone can do drama but not everyone can do comedy.”

Bill starred alongside Callan’s Russell Hunter in The Gaffer. “Russell was wonderful, absolutely wonderful, and became a very good friend. The last time I saw Russell he was in pantomime in Perth, and I went to see him. The one thing I remember about Russell is that he had the greatest collection of whiskies of any man I know.”

Bill was also known to younger audiences as Sergeant Beetroot in Worzel Gummidge, a show he remembers with fondness. “That was great fun to make, the only problem was having to get made up. Jon Pertwee would be in the make-up chair for two hours every morning before he could even speak, and I had to have purple make-up and green leaves stuck on me.”

Worzel also occasionally featured appearance from Barbara Windsor, while Bill also starred in some of the Carry On films. What were the Carry On team like on set? “Barbara’s a love. Sid James used to love playing poker, so whenever we had a break we’d sit down and have a poker school, but it was great fun. If you got it wrong you could do it 20 times till you got it right, not like a sitcom when you have to do it all in one night in about 50 minutes.”

The main reason for our chat is the release on DVD of Heartbeat, which recently ended its run on ITV1 after an impressive 18 years. Bill was one of the original cast members, the unforgettable rogue, Claude Jeremiah Greengrass.

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