Not a huge amount of ‘added value’ in this preamble, I’m afraid.
As they say on board Storm Mine 4: You know the drill. Another three stories from the DVD fleet’s early years have been dug out of the catalogue, buffed up and reissued in box set form along with a suite of brand new DVD extras. This time it’s Tomb of the Cybermen (first released on disc in 2002), The Three Doctors (2003) and The Robots of Death (2000).
The Tomb of the Cybermen
That Matt Smith cites this four-parter from 1967 as a favourite might, just might, be enough to get the kids watching. If so, then this most paranoiac Doctor Who adventure will surely keep them affixed. A treatise in delayed gratification, we’re promised Cybermen, but Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler’s story cleverly keeps them behind a sequence of locked doors until well into Episode 2. By the time they are unleashed, we’re aching. And they deliver with a blissfully good cliffhanger in which, oblivious to the humans furtling at his feet, the Cyber Controller steps forward and flaps open his Freudian letterbox of a mouth to hum: “You belong to us. You will be like us.” Brrr!
Before we get to that point, we’re presented with a shifty company of characters, all of whom seem to be circling one another, until each of their twisted agendas are unearthed – much like the silver giants below. Famously, even the Doctor’s actions seem muddy and unwholesome, as he flips the levers to unleash the baddies, while simultaneously cautioning the archaeologists to let sleeping gods lie. Other stories will explore the Time Lord’s reckless curiosity further, but it’s never more unnerving than here, because he’s never held to account.
Complimenting the release’s original commentary track, which featured Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines, we have everyone’s Doctor Who fan-friend Toby Hadoke marshalling the guests. For Episode 1, he’s joined by script editor Victor Pemberton and the affable Bernard Holley, who as Haydon is killed off at the end of this first instalment. As he points out, the real difference between TV drama then and now is THERE WAS A LOT MORE SHOUTING IN THE 1960s.
Over the remaining parts, Toby is joined by Watling and Hines who are putting in a new stint, plus Shirley Cooklin (Kaftan) and Reg Whitehead (Cyberman). Between them the chat is pleasant, but like most commentaries, it’s almost all gravy. However, a little meat is offered by Whitehead, who recalls his time opposite William Hartnell in The Tenth Planet. “Not as easy as you might expect – I’ll say no more”. Oh, go on. Actually, that sounds like a plea for muckraking, which, admittedly, would be an odd direction for the official range to take. So what to do? Back to Debs and Frazer trading practised observations and puns. Hines even gives us a “tomb it may concern gag.” By Episode 4, Hadoke is introducing himself as “Frazer Hines’ wrangler”.
By the way, Toby is extraordinary. Prettier than a computer (probably), he’s versed in the CV of every Doctor Who player, able to confirm immediately if they’re living or dead, plus offer up career highlights (Cyril Shaps went on to become the voice of Mr Kipling, Hans De Vries got down to the final five for James Bond) and their domestic situation. At one point our hero is near-apoplectic when Whitehead tells a story about running into one of his old Cyber pals who’d since become a bookie. For the life of him, Reg just can’t remember the fellow’s name. Toby barks some possibilities, but to no avail. Help! Help! Bio-data missing!
When our host later reveals that, in prepping for his duties, he went to the trouble of speaking with the best friend of the long since departed non-speaking Cyber artiste Richard Kerley, well, no-one’s surprised. It was the least he could do.
The Lost Giants is the perennial making-of feature, and adheres to the range’s style guide, with a nasty typeface and lightly glazed talking heads. It’s a perfectly acceptable effort, as cast and crew recall the plimsoll-wearing, music-stand-carrying director Morris Barry and his no-nonsense style. Says Victor Pemberton: “I do remember him shouting at a cameraman a couple of times, which was great fun for me.” Elsewhere Bernard Holley has put in a bit of research, and notes viewing figures rose by 400,00 between the first two episodes. More people saw him dead than alive – that’s showbiz.
Rather better is The Curse of the Cybermen’s Tomb. At first, when Sir Christopher Frayling, Emeritus Professor of Cultural History, Royal College of Art (and practically undetectable in custard) pops up, this reviewer cowered in fear at The Curse of the Spurious Doctor Who DVD Extra. But in fact, this lecture on how the Cyberman story was informed by the discovery of Tutankhamen’s resting place is lovely. Frayling makes some smart connections. The Cybermats, he reasons, were inspired by scarab beetles and the frozen Mondasians nicked the idea from Walt Disney, who, it’s rumoured, retired to a cryogenic chamber in 1966. Frayling knows his Who. He even met Kit Pedler on a couple of occasions. “[He was] a fascinating combination of hard scientist and interested in the paranormal”. We hope for more from the professor soon.
Meanwhile, there’s another of our DVD pals, Matthew Sweet. He’s in an extended version of the Cybermen documentary, which first appeared on The Cybermen Collection in 2009. Sweet’s squeezed into a tiny chair, in a TARDIS nook, to talk us through the history of the Doctor’s second-best baddies. He’s rather good at it too, his soft burr – from somewhere along the M62 – and parochial concerns lend a pleasing Alan Bennett feel to the feature. Of naughty Kellman in Revenge of the Cybermen, who is secretly working for the Vogans, Sweet says: “They have lovely, glossy fair hair, just like him”. He also strings along an argument that the Cybermen are a metaphor for our desire to have perfect bodies, before adding the caveat: “I don’t recall LA Fitness ever claiming they could help you survive in the airless vacuum of space, but you know what I mean”. This kind of wit – delicate and convivial – is rare in the discussion of space monsters.
Aside from a 1960s Walls Sky Ray ice-lolly ad (a counterfeit Troughton covering his face as though doorstepped by Watchdog), the final extra is The Magic of VidFIRE. I was really looking forward to this, but at just under seven minutes, it skimps on detail, despite evocations of “a dedicated team of specialists”. We can only hope in years to come another dedicated team of specialists will revisit this, and interlace further data between the frames.
The Three Doctors
One day, quite soon, Doctor Who will be celebrating a significant birthday. Here’s hoping that when it rolls around, the show marks it in similar style to this very jolly, very garish jamboree from 1972-3.
The Three Doctors is underscored by the implicit acknowledgement its central conceit is the most wonderful thing ever. But the sheer mischievousness of uniting the show’s trio of leads doesn’t give away to complete self-indulgence. The temptation – and there surely was one – to bus in the Daleks and the Master and all the other poster boys is resisted, and instead we’re presented with a four-parter that’s very much its own boss. It celebrates the current incarnation of the show, beefing up the comedy for the Brig and Benton, before going on to profoundly affect the series’ on-going mythos, peeling away another layer of mystery from the Time Lords with the introduction of Omega.
No new commentary track here. However, a request to 2|entertain. It would be nice if your sleeve notes indicated when the original sessions were recorded, just to give a bit of context – particularly as they were all prior to any inkling Doctor Who was to return to TV.
Toby Hadoke guards his DVD franchise well by narrating the main documentary, Happy Birthday to Who. It’s a solid feature, but it doesn’t quite rise to this very special occasion. Instead, it’s as per, with more talking heads, anecdotes and a slightly clunky script. When Toby signs off: “The Three Doctors went down a treat with fans and the casual viewer alike,” one wonders why such demarcation is required.
Delicacies within include a fascinating verbal sketch of director Lennie Mayne, courtesy of Stephen ‘Omega’ Thorne (who says the man “vibrated”) and Katy Manning (“A naughty little boy”), plus Bob Baker’s revelation that in the first draft Hartnell’s famous line actually ran: “So you’re my replacements, a hairdresser and a clown”. Pound for pound, though, it’s Terrance Dicks who delivers. How well did Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton get on? “Not at all,” he chuckles. Then there’s his tart remark that “when Barry and I took over [Doctor Who], we got stuck with various decisions made by our predecessors – all of them bad!”
Was Doctor Who Rubbish? is a 13-minute rebuttal of the kind of accusations traditionally directed at our favourite show. It features four fans who launch defences against the usual accusations of wobbly sets, bad acting, dodgy special effects, and so on. Alas, their arguments mainly consist of vouchsafing all the standbys (the show looks better on film, and when it’s not too harshly lit etc), when surely it’s better to accept the validity of those criticisms, but point out the shortfalls are a more-than acceptable pay-off for the fact that back in the day Doctor Who got made within a weekly TV production regime inimical to its ambition. Besides, when as recently as 2007 Ricky Gervais was parodying David Tenant’s stint as being blighted by crap special effects and cod scripts, you realise you’re as well taking it on the chin. No-one’s really listening.
Our last port of call is Girls, Girls, Girls – 1970s, with former companions Katy Manning, Caroline John and Louise Jameson discussing the sexual politics inherent in accompanying the time traveller through that decade. It’s a chaotic affair, with metaphorical elbows flashing fast, as each tries to gouge their way into the conversation, either capping off the other’s thought prematurely, or by openly declaring, “I really have to jump in’ – and then jumping in. Revelations include Manning’s conclusion she’d rather land a hit TV show than a “lover of a lifetime” (“You don’t have to wash its socks!”) and that she grew up mimicking Pertwee on the radio. Jameson, meanwhile, reckons feminism quickly became a “dirty word”, while John recalls she was made to watch The Avengers when trying out for the part of Liz Shaw.
The Robots of Death
It’s fitting that one of the programme’s most prosaically named stories is also one of its most competent. In truth, the script for Robots isn’t all that sparkling, but writer Chris Boucher efficiently taps into everything Doctor Who could do well in 1977. We have a limited and well-defined environment, properly delineated characters with understandable motives and – most importantly – baddies that can be reasonably realised on screen.
Upon this bedrock, director Michael E Briant, in unusually close collaboration (as revealed on this disc) with designer Kenneth Sharp, builds something marvellous. It’s a beautiful looking story, wonderfully played and endowed with its own confident rhythm.
“My name’s Tom Baker, and I played the Doctor. Yes I did”. He heads up the new commentary track, alongside Louise Jameson, Pamela Salem (Toos) and the aforementioned Briant. Initially, they have a high old time, with Briant taking pot shots at the script (that’ll be news to Chris Boucher who, on the original commentary, can’t speak highly enough of it). “[It’s] good actors making slightly unbelievable stuff and slightly unsayable stuff sound normal and natural,” reckons the director, who then goes on to claim it was only the efforts of he and Sharp that managed to “turn it into something quite interesting”.
By the time we get to Parts Two and Three, the tone has shifted. Briant has a weird habit of talking about Baker as though he weren’t present, and sighs, “Working with Tom was frequently quite difficult.” That sound? Both teeth and axes grinding. Thankfully Jameson won’t be drawn, and states she must have had a “humour-ectomy” back in the 1970s when she failed to grasp her leading man’s sense of irony. Tom Baker remains undented, and gets on with the business of being Tom Baker. “Jon Pertwee was… a glittering Sherlock Holmes,” he says, offering a new conglomeration of two previously flogged one-liners.
As the story ends, there’s one more revelation from the booth, because rewatching Robots has really affected Briant. “I’m beginning to be of the opinion that we shouldn’t portray violence in that way”, he says.
The Sandmine Murders is the classiest feature across the whole set. It begins with those infamous, red robot eyes, before fading up to reveal a full on Voc. Much of the conversation, again, centres on poor old Tom. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe sniffily opines, “One out of 10 of Tom’s ideas were really good,” while Brian Croucher (Borg) is much more practical. “Some of us [actors] don’t like each other,” he reasons, but says he found Tom, “laidback”. The man himself still isn’t bruised. “Leading actors have to mollycoddled!” he reasons. “You have to play to their vanity a bit”. And quite right too. Enough, everyone, of putting Tom on trial.
Other nuggets include Briant recalling a pivotal conversation with Sharp (“Ken turned to me and said, ‘Archimedes’ screw!’”), costume designer Elizabeth Waller admitting the robot heads were based on the Wella shampoo logo, and Croucher talking us through the delineation between dangerous and safe actors – the former took lunch in the BBC canteen, the latter went to the pub.
Our final feature stars Toby Hadoke, who by this point is as familiar to your reviewer as those he holds dearest. (A confusing business for all concerned – Toby, expect my therapist’s bill in your DWM pigeonhole). Robophobia opens with a spoof posho 1930s ad, the type of which people have been parodying since Harry Enfield and Chums. And it’s long since past the time when they should have stopped. The item looks at the representation of robots in Doctor Who, but is a rambling, not especially nourishing or funny short. Plus it strong-arms Toby into dragging-up, seemingly now a mandatory element in any ‘funny’ extra on a Doctor Who disc. (Again, Mr Hadoke, let me direct you to your pigeonhole).
Implicit but never bluntly stated in all DWM reviews is the question, ‘Should you buy this?’ Well, yes, of course you should. However, unlike previous revisits – which boasted wonderful features like The Seven Year Itch in the first instance, and Come in Number Five in the second – there’s no real hero nestling within the DVD sub-menus. Granted, the additional material is always welcome, but, getting back to basics, it’s actually the beautifully restored triple-bill of some real Doctor Who favourites that ultimately seals this deal.