Title: Doctor Who: The Revisitations One Box Set
Directors: David Maloney (The Talons of Weng-Chiang), Graeme Harper (The Caves of Androzani) and Geoffrey Sax (The TV Movie)
Starring: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy, Daphne Ashbrook, Yee Jee Tso, Eric Roberts.
Released: Out Now
The Fourth Doctor takes Leela on a theatre trip to Victorian London, but when a cabbie is murdered and several young girls go missing he starts to investigate. Deerstalker donned, the trail leads him to encounter a Chinese magician, a murderous dummy, giant rats and the Chinese God Weng-Chiang, who may have a more murderous identity.
The Fifth Doctor and Peri arrive on the barren world of Androzani Minor and soon get caught up in its politics. The military are hunting the masked renegade Sharaz-Jek and a battle rages for the life giving properties of Spectrox. The travellers are much more concerned with finding a cure for their recently contracted disease though. Can the Doctor get the ingredients he needs before his time, in this incarnation at least, is up for good?
Travelling back to Gallifrey to dispose of the remains of the Master, the Seventh Doctor is forced to land in San Francisco in 1999. The city is preparing for the millennium but before long the Doctor is fatally shot and dispatched to a local hospital. He regenerates into the Eighth Doctor and enlists the help of Dr Grace Holloway to stop the Master, now in a new body, from opening the Eye of Harmony and stealing the rest of his regenerations.
We Doctor Who fans are really spoiled when it comes to extras on DVD releases. You only realise it when you buy box sets of other TV series and find them lacking in commentaries or even a basic ‘making of’. Even though some Who stories are over 40 years old or unloved by the fanbase, you will still get at least an audio commentary, ‘making of’ and a wonderful text commentary to lead you through the production. One of my personal favourites has been the Now &Then series which revisits old locations. In that spirit, 2Entertain has gone back to three of their early releases and upgraded them with more goodies than a vat of jelly babies. Talons and Caves are two of the very best stories the series has to offer and while the TV movie may not be at the top of many wish lists, it certainly occupies a unique place in the series’ history.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang may be my very favourite Doctor Who story of the entire run. An old fashioned mystery, free of some of the more traditional alien trappings of previous adventures, and set in a fog-drenched Victorian London straight out of the movies with the Doctor assuming the role of one his inspirations, Sherlock Holmes, deerstalker and all. A Robert Holmes script produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and starring Tom Baker as the Doctor places us slap bang in the series’ 1970s golden age. There’s so much to enjoy here: for a start Magnus Greel and Mr Sin are two memorable villains and while John Bennett’s Li H’sen Chang may not be the most PC it’s certainly a sinister and conflicted performance. Theatre impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor Litefoot are two of the best supporting characters and when they finally meet it’s a joy to see them interact. Leela was one of the best companions of the series and here she gets some great stuff to do, especially with the Pygmalion theme running through the script, as both Litefoot and the Doctor try to civilise her.
These six-part stories often dragged for me, but here the pace is kept up surprisingly well and we have some great cliffhangers, such as Greel and Mr Sin, cackling like supervillains, driving off into the night with the Time Cabinet strapped to the back of their carriage. I doubt anyone who watched it as a child will have forgotten the moment when Leela rips off Greel’s mask. It slips up a couple of times, most notably with the brown carpet masquerading as a giant rat but, as Jago himself might ask, have I seen a better Doctor Who serial? The answer must be never sir! Never!
The Caves of Androzani was voted number one in Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 poll of all 200 stories. This must mean that it is a bit good. Robert Holmes is scripting once again and director Graeme Harper takes the reins for the first time and in fact made quite a few waves with his début, which would go on to further influence the style of the series. Peter Davison takes his final bow as the Doctor so you know it’s going to be explosive and for the most part, it is; however it’s also quite traditional in its own way. What this story does is turn the traditional on its head and provide us with an alternative story in what should be the main plot. We should see the Doctor helping to bring down the corrupt Morgus and ensure that Spectrox is free for all, however it’s not quite as clear cut. The Doctor, by his very presence, changes things when all he really wants to do is find the cure for the disease both he and Peri have caught and get off the planet. The renegade leader, Sharaz Jek, is another marvellous conflicted villain who, once again, covers a disfigured face with a leather mask. Although he visually reminds me more of Farscape’s Scorpius, you can’t help but recall Magnus Greel and wonder what Robert Holmes did in his spare time.
Peri is less annoying here and the only thing which lets it down is the Magma Beast, but it’s really the Doctor’s story and Peter Davison gives a marvellous performance, staying true to his gentlemanly persona despite getting into a frightful rage and trying to stave off his regeneration in order to save Peri. When Colin Baker finally inhabits his, now filthy, cricketing whites it’s one of the series’ most memorable, and more than a little chilling, moments as the new Doctor’s already brash style and odd glint in his eye mark him out as different from his predecessors. “Change, my dear. And it would seem, not a moment too soon,” is a quote which became infamous for many. Another stone cold classic submitted for your approval.
One reason I believe that 2Entertain have reissued the 1996 television movie onto DVD is because they’ve got Eighth Doctor editions of special features that need an airing. Not that I’m complaining of course, the Eighth Doctor edition of Stripped for Action is one of the most entertaining entries in the series and tells the story of a very unique time in Doctor Who comics, although why they put the second part of Who Peter on here is a mystery. The movie itself is decidedly average but watching it back now you can see how it influenced the series’ return in 2005, including the Doctor himself who develops a dashing romantic hero persona. First of all though, we have to dispatch a very relaxed Seventh Doctor who, in one of the series’ most brutal moments, is shot down in a hail of bullets by a group of thugs as he steps outside the TARDIS. For a man who was always one step ahead of the galaxy's biggest and nastiest creatures to be killed in such a manner is painfully ironic.
The new TARDIS is often held up as a thing of beauty with its gothic halls and a smashing new Jules Verne-inspired console, however in my view it looks a bit too much like a stereotype of where a rich eccentric Englishman should live. Paul McGann puts in a great performance as the new Doctor, creating a fresh and more active persona that is still as dotty as he ever was but it’s a shame that Eric Roberts’ Master lands somewhere between a panto villain and the Terminator. As companions we have Dr Grace Holloway and teenage tearaway Chang Lee, both of whom do a great job. In fact it’s a shame that a full series was never made, as the mixture of a dutiful doctor and a Chinese-American pickpocket would have made quite a fun TARDIS team.
As the only example of televised 1990s Doctor Who and one shot in a remarkably different way, it looks rather strange seeing the show through a different lens. The adventure itself is pretty run of the mill stuff but there are still things to enjoy here and you can’t help wondering whether it would have developed its own unique groove over the course of a series or two. Of course, viewers who have come to the classic series through the new stuff won’t find anything earth-shattering, but however you look at it this is an average outing, albeit one can’t be ignored these days no matter how tight you close your eyes and chant.
If you’re just getting into the classic series then this is the perfect box set to start with. Two absolute classic stories and one which, despite not being much cop, will ease you in gently and provide you with an invaluable piece of the series' history. Anyone who has already got the original DVDs will only find the shiny new extras of interest here, but some of them are well worth it. A fine box set for lovers and newbies alike to savour.
Extras: The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Disc 1: Commentary by Louise Jameson, John Bennett, Christopher Benjamin, Philip Hinchcliffe and David Maloney. Text commentary, subtitles and Coming Soon.
Disc 2: Documentary disc. The Last Hurrah is the ‘making of’ while Moving On looks at Philip Hinchcliffe’s ideas for the next season he would have produced and The Foe from the Future looks at the unmade story which inspired this one. Now & Then revisits the locations of the story and Look East is a local news segment on the filming of the serial from January 1977. Victorian and Chinoiserie discusses the serial’s literary references, Music Hall looks at the Victorian music hall tradition while Limehouse – A Victorian Chinatown explores the history of the area.
Disc 3: This disc features the original extras. Whose Doctor Who is an arts documentary from 1977 on the show and Blue Peter Theatre sees the Blue Peter team take up residence on the UNIT set. Behind the Scenes shows rare recording footage and there’s also a Philip Hinchcliffe interview, trails and continuity, photo gallery and TARDIS-Cam No.6, an animation produced for the BBC website.
The Caves of Androzani: Disc 1: Commentary with Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper. Behind the scenes footage of the regeneration scene with optional commentary and Behind the Scenes- Creating Sharaz Jek (looking at the creation of the villain) are the only documentaries. Extended scenes with optional commentary, trailer for the first episode, news reports of Peter Davison leaving the show, isolated music, Coming Soon, text commentary, subtitles and PDF material also included.
Disc 2: Chain Reaction is the ‘making of’ documentary for this serial. Graeme Harper looks at his directing techniques over the years in Directing Who: Then & Now, Russell Harty interviews Peter Davison and Colin Baker and there’s also a photo gallery included.
The TV Movie: Disc 1: Original commentary by Geoffrey Sax and a new recording with Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and Nicholas Briggs. The Seven Year Hitch looks at executive producer Philip Segal’s attempts to resurrect the show and The Doctor’s Strange Love (Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the TV Movie) sees Joseph Lidster, Simon Guerrier and Josie Long discuss the programme. Also included is a text commentary, subtitles, isolated score, music tracks, Coming Soon, photo gallery and PDF material.
Disc 2: Who Peter 1989-2009 looks at Doctor Who’s relationship with Blue Peter since the series ended, The Wilderness Years explores the Doctor’s survival in other media, Stripped for Action: The Eighth Doctor focuses on his era of the comic strips while Tomorrow’s Times: The Eight Doctor features press reaction to the TV movie. Also included is Paul McGann’s audition tape, two special effects tests, an electronic press kit, alternate takes, BBC trails, a behind the scenes look around the set and location plus Philip Segal’s Tour of the TARDIS Set which does exactly what it says. Phew!
Continuing Adventures: Talons spawned a couple of sequels with the Missing Adventures’ The Shadow of Weng-Chiang (1996) by David A Macintee starring the Fourth Doctor and the First Romana and a comic book, IDW’s The Time Machination (2009), featuring the Tenth Doctor and HG Wells. Meanwhile BBC Books’ Emotional Chemistry (2003) by Simon A Forward saw the Eighth Doctor, Fitz and Trix look into Greel’s history. A spin-off starring Jago and Litefoot was mooted in 1977 but never happened, although Litefoot appeared again opposite the Eighth Doctor and Sam Jones in BBC Books’ The Bodysnatchers (1997) by Mark Morris. The two wannabe detectives finally reunited on audio with Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles: The Mahogany Murderers (2009) and this proved so popular that a full series of four episodes, Jago and Litefoot, were released in June 2010 with another due for January 2011. Speaking of audio, part of Big Finish’s Circular Time (2007) was set during the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration.
The events of the TV movie are set up in the New Adventures’ Lungbarrow (1997) by Marc Platt with the Master’s subsequent escape covered in the comic strip The Fallen (1999), which also features Grace Holloway in her only other Whoniverse appearance. He is recaptured in The Glorious Dead (2000) but escapes again in the short story Forgotten by Joseph Lidster which was part of Big Finish’s anthology Short Trips: The Centenarian (2006).
Trivia learnt from the disc: When he shot the TV movie in Vancouver, Sylvester McCoy had his experiences documented in video diary form by a young writer/actor chap named Mark Gatiss.