Review: ‘Doctor Who’ US DVDs For March 2010

Spring, when a Time-Lord’s fancy turns to…fighting Daleks! For March, BBC/2|entertain give us three classic Dalek stories, “Remembrance of the Daleks” and a Dalek War Box Set that contains both “Frontier in Space” and “Planet of the Daleks.”

Dalek War Box Set
The Dalek War Box Set contains two consecutive stories, “Frontier in Space” and “Planet of the Daleks.” It may seem odd to consider “Frontier in Space” as a Dalek story as they only appear in the final few moments of Episode Six, however it is revealed that they have been the masterminds behind the entire plot to create a war between the Draconians and Humans (seriously, the story was first broadcast nearly forty years ago, it isn’t a spoiler anymore). In the absence of the menacing pepper pots we get the Master and the Draconians. Sadly, this marks Roger Delgado’s final appearance as the Master as he was tragically killed in an automobile accident in Turkey while plans were being made for a proper send-off for the Master. The Draconians, on the other hand, make their debut here…and then promoptly fail to ever appear in the series again. “Frontier in Space” is Doctor Who‘s attempt to do a sprawling space epic and as such it succeeds. One side note is that I think this story takes the record for the most times the Doctor and his companion are locked up in a prison cell.

Commentary by Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Barry Letts (Producer), Terrance Dicks (Script Editor), and former Doctor Who Magazine editor Clayton Hickman (Moderator). There is also an odd thirty minute segment called “Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier” that is about a Scenariosmith in the far future named Zed that looks to Doctor Who as an inspiration for his own storytelling. There are fake interviews with future persons intermixed with actual interviews with actors and the production people involved in this story. I suppose it is a creative way to present interviews, but it didn’t really seem as clever as it was probably intended. “The Space War” is am ore proper look at the making of this story and features actors Katy Manning, Vera Fusek and Michael Hawkins, Visual Effects Designers John Friedlander and Mat Irvine. “Stripped for Action: The Third Doctor” takes a very interesting and comprehensive look at the third Doctor comic strips from the 1970s. As a comic book fan I greatly enjoyed this. There is also a photo gallery and several PDF documents retrievable via computer featuring Radio Times episode listings and some BBC Enterprises literature.

However, the highlight of the extras, and possibly the whole set, is the feature “Roger Delgado: The Master.” This is a wonderful look at the life and career of the man behind the Master and features fond and loving reminisces from his wife, Kismet Marlowe, Producer Barry Letts, Script Editor Terrance Dicks, Director Christopher Barry, actors Katy Manning, Linda Thorson, Harry Towb, Frazer Hines, William Gaunt and Damaris Hayman, Stunt Coordinator Derek Ware and it is narrated by Stephen Greif. It is a great tribute to a terrific man and I recommend this even if you watch no other extras.

The big highlight of “Planet of the Daleks” is that this set sees the first time Episode Three has been seen in color since probably its first broadcast. There is a great eleven minute feature showing how color was restored to the black and white copy and it is fascinating to watch. The biggest issue I have with “Planet of the Daleks” is that the pacing is agonizingly slow for the first two episodes and there seems to be no real point to the first one. This story would have worked much better as a four parter and would have greatly improved my opinion of it. The Daleks are also far too wobbly and prone to run into set pieces and not really menacing at all. basically, this story performs its function as a floow-up to the previous one, but doesn’t really seem to enjoy doing or really seem energetic at all. It’s as if the show itself is worn out from “Frontier in Space” and is doing what it can to get through the day.One bright spot is the inclusion of Prentis Hancock, who would go one to star in Space:1999 three years later. He brings some much-needed earnestness to the proceedings, unfortunately he appears to be the only one.

We gets a commentary from Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Prentis Hancock, Tim Preece, Barry Letts (Producer), Terrance Dicks (Script Editor). We also get the second part of the oddity that is “Perfect Scenario: The End of Dreams,” this time featuring interviews with actors Katy Manning, Jane How, Janet Fielding, Bernard Horsfall and Tim Preece, producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks. “The Rumble in the Jungle” featurette takes us through the making of “Planet of the Daleks” with more conversations with actors Katy Manning, Jane How, Bernard Horsfall and Tim Preece, director David Maloney and designer John Hurst. “Stripped for Action: The Daleks” revisits the world of 1970s comic strip Doctor Who with an in-depth look at the strips featuring the Daleks on their own and as part of later third Doctor comic adventures. There are two Blue Peter segments from the time, more photos and PDFs and two Easter Eggs. Good luck finding them.

The standout extra is the aforementioned feature on the colorization of Episode Three. You will gasp in horror and the revisitation of the BBC’s early practice of discarding TV episodes. That will vanish with the awe of the recovery of many episodes and what was required by 2|entertain to turn a black and white episode into a full color episode. I’m a tech geek and watched this piece in wide-eyed wonder. It is a phenomenal feature and makes the whole “Planet of the Daleks” set a worthwhile purchase.

“Remembrance of the Daleks” – Special Edition
“Remembrance of the Daleks” aired during the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary and takes us back to the beginning, literally. The TARDIS lands in Totter’s Lane, November 1963, near the Coal Hill School and I. M. Foreman’s junkyard. This is apparently not long after the first Doctor left with his granddaughter Susan and two of her school teachers, Ian and Barbara. It seems the Doctor had originally gone there for a reason, to hide some Time Lord technology, and now the Daleks have arrived to uncover it. We actually get a mini Dalek civil war with two factions fighting each other. Eventually, Davros is revealed as the leader of one of the factions (Aired over twenty years ago, still not a spoiler) which, given the trend of Dalek stories in the 1980s, was no big surprise. They did at least give hiding it a real effort with a red herring hidden in plain sight. This is the first adventure with Ace as a solo companion and she gets to really show her chops with being in the thick of the action. There is even a proto-U.N.I.T. group on the scene and in many ways this feels like a third Doctor adventure with modern sensibilities. It’s fun and entertaining and possibly the best of the seventh Doctor’s era.

This 2-disc set is a reissue of the original 2002 release and, as such, greatly improves on the first release. The transfer has been remastered and this set includes the original’s audio commentary from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, Deleted Scenes and Outtakes, Isolated Music Option and Photo gallery. That’s where the similarities stop. The 2010 release has a new Dolby 5.1 Surround Mix that is a treat to hear. There is a great feature called “Back to School” with remembrances from many of the cast and crew involved with the story and gives a great insight into what went into making this Dalek adventure. As part of the series’ silver anniversary there are loads of nods to the past and the segment called “Remembrances” takes a look at these. I promise there will be at least one or two things you didn’t catch, no matter how many times you watch these episodes. The rest of disc one contains Multi-Angle Sequences, Trailer and Continuities, a Photo Gallery and Radio Times listings.

The jewel of this set is found on disc two in “Davros Connections,” an in-depth look at the history of the Daleks’ creator. This looks at Davros as he progressed throughout the series and even delves into the Davros audio play by Big Finish Productions. It featured I, Davros writer Gary Hopkins, Big Finish producer/director Gary Russell, archival interview with Michael Wisher who first played Davros, Peter Miles who played Nyder in “Genesis of the Daleks,” director Ken Grieve, David Gooderson who was the second actor to play Davros, Script editor Eric Saward, Terry Molloy, who was the third actor to play Davros, and writers Joseph Lidster and Ben Aaronovitch. This exhaustive feature goes all the wya up the first series of the new show, particularly the episode “Dalek.” I hope this is updated at some point in the future to include Davros’ recent return in the new show (Nope, still not a spoiler, move along). Again, it’s this one bit that makes purchasing this set well worth it.