While Gary Gillatt was busy with the Mara boxset, I snuck back into the DVD reviewing pages with this.
Reviewing the three stories in the format I opted for here took a small leap in imagination, chunking it up into three mini-reviews rather than one narrative. Since then, where possible, I’ve inserted lists and the like in the copy, cos I think it’s good to break up the flow.
This is from DWM #433 and presented here with an additional joke about Toby Hadoke, which was excised from the finished piece presumably due to grounds of quality (ie. lack of).
Remember the early noughties? When things like ‘scene selection’ and ‘animated menu’ were all we expected by way of extra-mural fun on our DVDs? And we were happy too. Simple times.
Nowadays we demand much more. As of this month, we want a lovingly rendered CGI snake in Kinda, but beyond that we want Clayton Hickman and Gareth Roberts dressed as big ladies ripping fun out of The Masque of Mandragora, or a specially made smaller version of Planet of Fire.
A sequel to last year’s box set, Revisitations 2 buffs up three more doughty pioneers of the Doctor Who DVD range, bringing them in to line with their bejewelled successors. Step forward The Seeds of Death (first released in 2003), Carnival of Monsters (2002) and Resurrection of the Daleks (also 2002). It’s your time to shine…
The Seeds of Death
From Patrick Troughton’s final series in 1969, the six-part Seeds is a plodder. Pitting our hero against the reptilian meanies from Mars, it takes an ice age for anything much to happen. The first three instalments see the Doctor estranged from the action. While it’s kicking off on the Moon, he’s faffing about on Earth trying to organise a ride to get him to the storyline. When he finally arrives, he’s knocked unconscious for all of episode four.
But there are good bits. The model work is terrific, and the notion of a 21st century world beholden to teleportation system T-Mat is well drawn… even if, latterly, it sounds like a technology coined by Elizabeth Estensen’s sci-fi witch T-Bag. “T-Shirt! Connect me to Oslo!” Meanwhile, Alan Bennion as Ice Lord Slaar is terrific – haughty, slim, sibilant and he sports excellently evil dentistry.
And sssso to the sssspecial features…
Lords of the Red Planet leads the freshly-minted features. A half-hour documentary looking back at the adventure’s creation, there’s an odd regional news feel to the narration. Of the Ice Warriors it says: “Scaled hissing behemoths with claws for hands and arm-mounted sonic weapons. They were a fearsome foe! [Small punctuative sigh] But what of the fertile mind from which they came?”
Thankfully, the talking heads are more lucid, Wendy Padbury revealing she gave Zoe’s leather suit to Oxfam (“How mad am I?!”), director Michael Ferguson confessing he didn’t understand the script, and good ol’ Terrance Dicks recalling how easy he found working with Brian Hayles. But of most interest are the snippets from the original treatment for a sequel to The Ice Warriors. A Peladon-esque tale of royal legacy, it would have definitively named the pincer-pawed perishers’ species as Saurian.
Meanwhile, could someone please let Richard Bignell back indoors? Poor love looks quite abandoned out there on Hampstead Heath, where he’s been assigned the expositional heavy-lifting duties.
[Small punctuative sigh]
So! Do the best monsters come back the most times? This, and other delightfully fannish questions are posited in the very jolly Monsters Who Came Back For More! It features Dalek voice-man Nick Briggs and DWM’s very own Chancellor Flavia, Peter Ware. Between them the duo chew the fat over the DW bestiary and rather thrillingly rank Doctor Who’s foes in order… although we’re sad to report Mr Ware fudges appallingly when selecting a third place candidate after the Daleks and Cybermen.
Michael Ferguson’s Monster Masterclass sees the director postulating a few tips on how to ensure monsters appear truly that – although he doesn’t specifically acknowledge his very finest trick, which is to film them silhouetted against the sun, something that works well in Seeds’ exterior sequences and a device he’d reprise the following year in The Ambassadors of Death.
Carnival of Monsters
Having finally been let out of his bedroom by the Time Lords following a grounding on Earth for three years, the Third Doctor ventures back into space to parlare homosexual slang with Mr Partridge off of Hi-De-Hi!… who’s wearing a transparent bowler hat. As they say, what’s not to love?
This garish four-parter from 1973 is a joy. Told with charm and verve, it mashes monsters, 1920s flapping, time-loop loopiness, men from the Minorian ministry, a prescient pop at reality television and a little bit of tap dancing.
New for this reissue is Destroy All Monsters! a making-of got up as a B-Movie. It’s a fun concept, but the over-urgent American narration quickly palls.
Watching the feature it becomes obvious Carnival has gifted more anecdotes to convention-going DW stars than most other adventures. All your favourites are here: Katy Manning getting stuck in the mud at Tillingham Marshes, Jon Pertwee trousering the binnacle onboard the RFA Robert Dundas, Brian Hodgson and co’s woeful theme tune remix inadvertently accompanying episodes to Australia, and the ever resourceful BBC FX boys using fox terrier skulls to make the monstrous Drashigs. Still, even an old shaggy dog story can be spruced up, and Manning manages to do just that by musing that if she were a pup, she’d be very happy to have her cranium repurposed for the sake of Saturday teatime chills. Barking.
On Target With Ian Marter contrasts the fun of the lead feature by adopting the gloomy tone of a corporate video. It profiles the actor and novelist, who made his DW debut in Carnival, and died at just 42. He’s spoken of with huge fondness by all, Elisabeth Sladen still moved by the memory of their final meeting. Tom Baker, meanwhile, recalls collaborating with Marter on their abandoned Doctor Who film script, declaring him “competent as a writer” but “tainted by education”. However it’s the bits of Marter’s own prose that really impress, Nigel Plaskitt reading aloud the Target Books version of The Ribos Operation, and the lovely evocation of the Shrivenzale’s “warm, sour breath”.
Sadly, from this juncture, Nicholas Courtney’s reminisces of the last day he saw his friend alive now takes on an unwanted piquancy. Real troopers, both.
The A-Z of Gadgets and Gizmos breaks new ground for the DVDs. Never before has the life-sapping essence of those weirdly anonymous afternoon clip shows (Animals Do the Funniest Things et al) been so wholly assimilated into something associated with Doctor Who. This is an alphabetical scamper, which tells you nothing (K9 had a “useful set of ears”) and trots out a load of bizarre non-jokes (Rassilon had the De-Mat gun “banned, yes, banned!”). There are 26 reasons to skip this one. Mary Celeste and Other Maritime Mysteries is also a miss. Taking the fictional disappearance of Carnival’s SS Bernice as reason to blether on unengagingly about other vacant vessels, it never feels more than spurious. Although there’s some small entertainment in seeing men from maritime museums being forced to cogitate on the veracity of The Chase.
Happily, the new DVD commentary puts us back on course. DWM’s Toby Hadoke is in charge, and sounding uncannily like Antony Worrall Thompson. Your reviewer likes to picture Toby simultaneously reducing a gluten free ‘Spicy Tikka’ marinade on the hob while prompting Peter Halliday for reminiscences about voicing the Silurians. But that’s a mite fanciful. He’s probably got people to do that.*
A rotating array of guests join him in the booth; the aforementioned Halliday, fellow co-stars Cheryl Hall and Jenny McCracken, plus sound effects designer Brian Hodgson and script editor Terrance Dicks. Carnival marked Hodgson’s final Who story, having been with the show since the beginning. He concedes it’s a “slightly sore point” many of his audio creations are still featured in the series today without credit. Meanwhile, McCracken attempts to tell a tale about appearing in a Hollywood film, but is trampled under Dicks’ ardour for the Drashigs: “Oh, there’s the Drashigs! We mustn’t ignore the Drashigs!” There’s also some insightful chat about Jon Pertwee, McCracken remembering how standoffish he was with visiting performers and Hall positing the theory his comedic background made him insecure being surrounded by ‘proper’ thespians.
Resurrection of the Daleks
Although Doctor Who turned 21 in 1984, Eric Saward’s two/four-parter (both cuts are available) feels oddly adolescent. Mistaking cynicism for sophistication, it’s a surly tale full of killing, that’s determined never to crack a smile. And that’s despite the fact it’s replete with the most rubbish hats in DW history.
Mind you, the docklands location looks terrific, and Terry Molloy’s debut as Davros is immediately convincing. But as Tegan says, in the story’s best scene, “It’s stopped being fun, Doctor.”
Toby Hadoke’s grip on all things tangentially Who tightens in half-hour documentary Casting Far and Wide. And it’s a lovely piece, which sees our hero visiting five actors, all of whom appeared in Resurrection. Roger Davenport is the jolliest of the quintet, despite the fact his character – known only as ‘Trooper’ – didn’t even have a name. “He represents 10,000 incredibly strong fighting men all working for Maurice Colbourne,” he reasons, not altogether seriously. In contrast, Del Henney (Colonel Archer) is morose, revealing he hasn’t made a living from acting in the last 20 years. “It’s a tough business,” reflects a deflated Mr Hadoke after their meeting.
In the course of his meanderings, Toby also chats to Leslie Grantham (Kiston), Jim Findley (Mercer) and William Sleigh (Galloway) and then exits the documentary, doubtlessly winning a pub bet by covertly name-checking as many Dalek stories as possible in his closing spiel.
Come in Number Five is the big production number for the whole box set. Hosted by David Tennant, it looks back over Peter Davison’s tenure in Doctor Who. With a definite interest in office politics, it’s a times quite catty. The BBC’s Head of Series and Serials (1981-83) David Reid recalls his reaction to Davison’s casting – “Initially I thought, ‘That’s a bit dull’” – while Christopher H Bidmead talks of “creative tension” between Barry Letts and John Nathan Turner. Throughout, there’s an evocation of the Doctor Who production office constantly in a shambles, with the producer AWOL during crises, and writers and directors not coming up to scratch.
All the while, tensions simmered regarding the approach the series should take. Remembering his relationship with JNT, Davison admits: “We just went in different directions.” However, a welcome advocate for the beleaguered producer comes in the form of Steven Moffat, who supports the decision to cast big name light entertainment stars to raise the programme’s profile. “If I’ve got the right part for Bruce Forsyth,” he warns us, “you think I won’t do it? You betcha I will!” Coming soon: “Here they are, they’re so appealing, come on Daleks do your evil-ing!” Ahem. But back to JNT, a man as divisive as a mag-in-a-bag, he’s best summed up by Reid: “People had wonderful things to say about John – and terrible things.”
Packed with new and archive interviews (a testament itself to a decade of shooting DVD extras), the whole thing is a candid and clever appraisal of an era that still influences the series today. And it all ends with Tennant donning his future father-in-law’s coat and ambling off into the depths of BBC Television Centre. Perfect.
Tomorrow’s Times (love that low-funk intro music) is capably helmed by Frazer Hines and trots through Doctor Who’s treatment at the hands of the press in the early 1980s, while Walrus will scratch an itch for many a fan – a clip from the dimly remembered educational series in which a Welsh housewife debates the importance of inflection in speech, with a Dalek. “Oh, there’s lovely!”
Finally, there’s the new commentary track, appended to the two-part version of the story. Nick Pegg helms, very much from the point-of-view of a man who makes his money trundling Daleks around Upper Boat, and commends the nice “door work” of his Resurrection forebears. He’s joined by writer Eric Saward, Terry Molloy and visual effects designer Peter Wragg.
The conversation doesn’t flow easily, the most revelatory moment being when Molloy puts forward the theory Davros suffered from Asperger’s. Then there’s Saward’s remembrance of Janet Fielding’s hatred for her costume. “She just sort of bore it with…” What? Good grace? “Well, whatever,” is as close as he can come to summing up the fiery actress’ mode of resilience.
Across six discs Revisitation 2 brings us Death, Monsters and a Resurrection. A microcosm of Doctor Who in a box, it’s well worth getting.
*You got off lightly. At one point we were set to extemporise something around ‘Mouths Ate My Vindaloo Calf’.