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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Doctor Who on Video

Doctor Who On Video

Home video really came into its own in the late seventies, but it wasn't until 1983 that BBC Enterprises finally released any Doctor Who on tape. While the fans had been clamouring for repeats on television (which rarely happened), and for some of the old material to be released on video, the BBC seemed indifferent to the requests. Then, at BBC Enterprises' 20th anniversary Doctor Who convention at Longleat House in Wiltshire, BBC Home Video gave out voting forms to try and gauge the level of support for Doctor Who releases, and to get some idea of what would be popular.

This resulted in the totally bizarre choice of 'Revenge of the Cybermen' to have the honour of being the first BBC Doctor Who release. It was packaged in an oversized box (as were all the BBC releases at the time) and retailed for £39.99 - this was before the days of sell-through video. The second release was 'The Brain of Morbius' and rather than give us the complete four part story, the BBC chose to put out an hour long edited version. This had fans in uproar as not only had the story been butchered, it also cost £19.99.

Eventually, the BBC realised that what the public wanted was un-cut recordings, with all the opening and closing credits intact, and this is how they started to release them. Unfortunately they still couldn't keep their scissors off them and small, insignificant cuts were being made for no apparent reason. All the black and white releases were edited in one way or another and it is only in the last year or so that the tapes have been released completely uncut.

The BBC also realised that if they could ask £10.99 for a four part story on one tape, then they could charge double that for a two-tape release, so six part stories, which had previously fitted onto one tape ('The Seeds of Death', 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang') were now released on two tapes for twice the price. This was acceptable in the case of a story such as the ten part 'The War Games', or when, thanks to fans working in BBC Video's offices, they combined a six part story with the two part story that had preceded it on transmission ('The Sontaran Experiment'/'Genesis of the Daleks'), but for other six-part releases this could only be described as blatant commercialism; getting more money for the same goods.

More recently, effort has been put into releasing special tapes covering a particular Doctor's era, an excellent idea, allowing episodes from stories which are not held by the BBC in their entirety to be released on tape. We have also seen one 'extended edition' tape ('The Curse of Fenric') and other ideas have also been rumoured, for example including some out-takes on the end of the tapes, and releasing other 'special editions'.

Looking through the list of what is currently available on BBC home video, it is interesting how many stories are available from the early Tom Baker years as opposed to the other Doctors. Not counting Years tapes, the breakdown is: Hartnell - 4; Troughton - 6; Pertwee - 7; T Baker - 13; Davison - 3; C Baker - 1; McCoy - 1. Maybe the fact that those Tom Baker stories got some of the highest ratings ever for Doctor Who explains the obvious bias. Cynics can argue that the show was better then, and since the start of the eighties it has been on a downward spiral from which it was just starting to recover when the BBC decided to pull the programme from production. They also decided not to allow anyone else to make it, and to refuse to say when they would make it again. Strange behaviour from a public body which is making enough money from the current video releases of old Doctor Who to make a new series and still have cash in hand.

Here then is a round up of all the Doctor Who available on BBC Video at the moment. There are some gems and some decidedly dodgy choices, and our star rating may help you decide what to look out for.

The Hartnell Years (1991)

Introduced by Sylvester McCoy
Episodes featured: Pilot
The Crusade #3
The Celestial Toymaker #4

The concept behind these 'Years' tapes is to give an overview of that particular Doctor's era by including three episodes from incomplete stories held by the BBC, together with some clips from other adventures and a linking commentary from a well known Doctor Who personality - in this case that of the Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy.

This tape, in common with the other 'Years' tapes, fails on the choice of episodes. Doctor Who's pilot episode, deemed not good enough to transmit back in 1963 and subsequently re-made, is a curiosity piece only. The plot is the same as on the transmitted episode (which can be found on 'An Unearthly Child'), and the production standards are considerably worse, which is why it was re-made in the first place.

'The Crusade' was one of the historical stories favoured by the production teams in the show's first couple of years, and despite bravura performances from the likes of Julian Glover and Jean Marsh, episode three is the traditional 'padding' episode, in which the characters, having survived the perils of the first two parts, wait for the resolution which is to come in the final part.

'The Celestial Toymaker' however, is a classic of its time. With a superb villain in the Toymaker, played with gusto by Michael Gough, and a small cast of supporting characters (including Carmen Silvera, now better known for her role as René's wife in 'Allo, 'Allo), the story involved the Doctor and his friends playing a series of deadly games to win back the TARDIS which has been taken by the Toymaker.

Rating: ***

An Unearthly Child (1990)

First UK Transmission: 23/11/63 - 14/12/63 (4 episodes)
Writer: Anthony Coburn & C E Webber
Director: Waris Hussein
Regular cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara)
Starring: Derek Newark (Za), Jeremy Young (Hur), Alethea Charlton (Hur).

This is the first ever Doctor Who story, and while the final three episodes may appear dated today, the first episode still captures a sense of wonderment and awe as we meet for the first time the mysterious stranger known as the Doctor, his unearthly granddaughter Susan and her teachers Ian and Barbara. The Doctor whisks them all back to Paeolithic times where they are captured by a stone-age tribe searching for the lost secret of fire.

Rating: ***½

The Daleks (Two tape set) (1989)

First UK Transmission: 21/12/63 - 1/2/64 (7 episodes)
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Christopher Barry (1,2,4,5) & Richard Martin (3,6,7)
Regular Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara).
Starring: John Lee (Alydon), Virginia Weatherell (Dyoni), Alan Wheatley (Temmosus).

This was the series which launched Doctor Who in the public's eye. It introduced the Daleks, evil mutated creatures living in mobile metal shells in their gleaming city on the planet Skaro, and their unique appearance and grating voices sent a wave of Dalekmania around the country.

The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara arrive on Skaro which is an apparently dead world apart from a massive metal city. They are captured by the Daleks who plan to wipe out the planet's other inhabitants, the Thals, with a radiation bomb. The Doctor must convince the pacifist Thals that peace is worth fighting for.

Today the story stands up surprisingly well despite one or two naff moments, and overall is an enjoyable if slightly overlong watch. Personally I prefer this TV version to the film version (Dr. Who and the Daleks) as the latter is very cut back and loses much of the impact in the process.

Rating: ****

The Dalek Invasion of Earth (Two tape set) (1990)

First UK Transmission: 21/11/64 - 26/12/64 (6 episodes)
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Richard Martin
Regular Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara).
Starring: Bernard Kay (Tyler), Alan Judd (Dortmun), Nicholas Smith (Wells), Peter Frazer (David Campbell).

One year later and the Daleks returned by popular demand, and this time their activities were not confined to an alien planet, for they had invaded the Earth. They planned to mine the Earth's radioactive core and thus convert it into a massive mobile power source. The Doctor, with the help of resistance fighters, managed to save the day.

The excellent scenes of the Daleks parading around deserted London sights are regrettably let down by pitiful effects of the Dalek saucer flying and the high pitched and ineffective Dalek voices. The Robomen (humans converted into Dalek slaves) are fairly unimaginative too. The problem here is that the second Dalek film, Daleks' Invasion Earth 2150 AD, which is based on this story, is superior in almost every important aspect.

Rating: **

The Web Planet (Two tape set) (1990)

First UK Transmission: 13/02/65 - 20/03/65 (6 episodes)
Writer: Bill Strutton
Director: Richard Martin
Regular Cast: William Hartnell (The Doctor), William Russell (Ian), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), Maureen O'Brien (Vicki).
Starring: Roslyn de Winter (Vrestin), Arne Gordon (Hrostar), Martin Jarvis (Hilio).

Watching this story really requires a suspension of disbelief beyond all the others. The story's central concept and plot is sound: an alien parasite has invaded a peaceful planet and turned the ant-like Zarbi against the butterfly-like Menoptra; but the budget and technology available back in 1965 were not up to creating the visuals required to make the story work. Vaseline smeared on the lens helps to disguise most of the shortcomings of the costumes and sets, but the adventure often comes over as a pantomime in space rather than the serious political drama suggested by the script. It's all good fun though.

Rating: **

The Troughton Years (1991)

Introduced by Jon Pertwee
Episodes featured: 'The Abominable Snowmen' #2
'Enemy of the World' #3
'The Space Pirates' #2

This tape contains a very poor selection of episodes from the Troughton era. 'The Abominable Snowmen' part 2 is weak compared with episode one of the following Yeti story 'The Web of Fear' (which the BBC also hold) and 'Enemy of the World', despite featuring Troughton in the dual role as the Doctor and as the evil dictator Salamander, is a slow and rambling affair. The same goes for 'The Space Pirates', another tedious space opera included here apparently only because the tape's producer, John Nathan Turner, worked on it.

The episodes they could have chosen included some from 'The Ice Warriors' (a brilliantly directed and atmospheric tale of which the BBC hold four out of six episodes), 'The Faceless Ones' parts 1 or 3 (fairly slow but with good performances from the regulars and the guest cast) or any of the many Dalek/Cybermen episodes still in existence. These were deliberately not included due to the planned release of Dalek and Cybermen compilations, but their omission means that this tape is a very poor representation of Troughton indeed.

Rating: *

The Tomb of the Cybermen (1992)

First UK Transmission: 2/09/67 - 23/09/67 (4 episodes)
Writer: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis
Director: Morris Barry
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Deborah Watling (Victoria).
Starring: Aubrey Richards (Parry), Cyril Shaps (Viner), Clive Merrison (Callum), George Roubicek (Hopper), George Pastell (Klieg).

This is the release we never expected to see. Missing from the BBC until the episodes were returned from Hong Kong at the start of 1992, The Tomb of the Cybermen has been hailed as a classic ever since it was first transmitted. Cast and crew recall it fondly and everyone who watched it back in the sixties has some recollection of its power and impact.

A group of archaeologists have uncovered the lost Cybermen tombs on the planet Telos, and the Doctor joins their party as they explore further. It transpires that the Cybermen had set traps to lure the humans into reviving them, and once the silver giants are awakened from their frozen sleep, they set about attempting to convert the humans into Cybermen.

If you want one tape to start with, which will give you a good introduction to Doctor Who and to Patrick Troughton's Doctor then this is the tape for you. It also features a specially recorded introduction by its director, Morris Barry.

Rating: *****

The Dominators (1990)

First UK Transmission: 10/08/68 - 7/09/68 (5 episodes)
Writer: Norman Ashby (pseudynom for Mervyn Haisman & Henry Lincoln)
Director: Morris Barry
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe).
Starring: Ronald Allen (Rago), Kenneth Ives (Toba), Arthur Cox (Cully).

Not a bad story, but the acting and effects let it down. The planet of Dulkis is invaded by two alien Dominators and their robot servants the Quarks. The Dominators want to convert Dulkis into a radioactive power source for their fleet, and the pacifist Dulkians seem powerless to stop them.

Troughton is on good form here, and Ronald Allen makes a convincingly ruthless alien.

Rating: ***

The Mind Robber (1990)

First UK Transmission: 14/09/68 - 12/10/68 (5 episodes)
Writer: Derrick Sherwin (1) & Peter Ling (2 - 5)
Director: David Maloney
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe).
Starring: Emrys James (The Master), Bernard Horsfall (The Stranger).

'The Mind Robber' is poles apart from 'The Dominators' which it followed in transmission order. The TARDIS arrives in a strange white void where a force tempts Jamie and Zoe away from the ship. From here they arrive in a world of words where myths and legends are real if you believe in them. Encountering Medusa, a Unicorn, clockwork soldiers and eerie White Robots, they finally meet the Master of the Land, a writer kidnapped from Earth who expects the Doctor to take his place.

While the first episode is very atmospheric with good use made of visuals and sound, the story is let down by its ending, which seems slightly silly given all that has gone before.

Rating: ***½

The Krotons (1991)

First UK Transmission: 28/12/68 - 18/01/69 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe).
Starring: James Copeland (Selris), Gilbert Wynne (Thara), Terence Brown (Abu), Madeleine Mills (Vana), Philip Madoc (Eelek), Richard Ireson (Axus), James Cairncross (Beta).

Another brilliant script let down by the appearance of the title monsters. On an unnamed planet the Gonds are taught and ruled by a machine and their brightest students are sent to the Krotons in the machine from which they never return. The Krotons are crystalline beings awaiting enough mental power to revive themselves and leave the planet. The Doctor and Zoe unwittingly supply the power and the Krotons revive. The Doctor discovers that they are susceptible to Sulphuric acid and so disables their machine thus freeing the Gonds.

The Krotons unfortunately look as if they were constructed from egg-boxes, and although the sound effects and voices are very good, the overall impression on watching the story today is that the budget must have been even smaller than usual.

Rating: **

The Seeds of Death (1985)

First UK Transmission: 25/01/69 - 1/03/69 (6 episodes)
Writer: Brian Hayles
Director: Michael Ferguson
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe).
Starring: Alan Bennion (Slaar), Philip Ray (Eldred), Louise Pajo (Gia Kelly), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Radnor), Terry Scully (Fewsham).

I have a soft spot for this second Ice Warrior story, even though it is not as good as their first appearance. The Warriors have invaded the moon, and are using a matter transmission system - T-Mat - to send Martian seed pods to locations across the globe. The pods emit spores which absorb the oxygen in the atmosphere, thus changing the climate to that suitable for the Martians. The Doctor is on hand to discover the solution to the problem.

The story rattles along at a fair old pace, and although the trip to the moon in a rocket seems dated even by 1969 standards (remember the real-life journey was mere months away), most of the effects, in particular the Ice Warriors themselves, are effective.

Rating: ****

The War Games (Two tape set) (1990)

First UK Transmission: 19/04/69 - 21/06/69 (10 episodes)
Writer: Malcolm Hulke & Terrance Dicks
Director: David Maloney
Regular Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Frazer Hines (Jamie), Wendy Padbury (Zoe).
Starring: Jane Sherwin (Lady Jennifer Buckingham), David Saville (Carstairs), Terence Bayler (Barrington), Noel Coleman (General Smythe), Edward Brayshaw (War Chief), Philip Madoc (War Lord).

Patchy is the best word to describe this epic ten part adventure which brought to a close Patrick Troughton's era as the Doctor. The plot trundles along with numerous capturings, escapes and chases, until at the end the Doctor is brought to trial by his own people, the Time Lords, for his past crimes and exiled to Earth in the 20th century.

There are some good performances from the guest cast and the final two episodes are almost worth the price of admission as they lay the groundwork for many stories to come.

Rating: ***

The Pertwee Years

Introduced by Jon Pertwee
Episodes featured: 'Inferno' #7
'Frontier In Space' #6
'The Daemons' #5 (B/W)

The third of the 'Years' tapes is slightly better than the others, and features a selection of episodes chosen by Pertwee himself.

'Inferno' is quite a fun story, and the final episode is included here. The monsters are suitably hairy and nasty and the story's climax is pretty effective.

'Frontier in Space' part six features the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master. This is a good and sensible choice, as we get to see not only the Draconians and the Ogrons, but the Daleks and the Master too.

On the other hand, 'The Daemons' is one of the best stories from the Pertwee years, and what we have here is a black and white copy of the final episode. As the BBC have an American standard colour copy of the story, and as the recent repeat of 'The Sea Devils' was partly from a converted American copy, I don't understand why a colour copy of 'The Daemons' part 5 could not have been included instead.

The stories these three episodes come from are potentials for release anyway and eventually this tape will be of interest only for Pertwee's linking commentary (which like all the 'Years' tapes is bland and gives no feel for the era at all) and for some clips showing unused experimental footage of the Pertwee title sequence.

Rating: *

Spearhead from Space (1988)

First UK Transmission: 3/01/70 - 24/01/70 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Derek Martinus
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Caroline John (Liz Shaw), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart).
Starring: Hugh Burden (Channing), Derek Smee (Ransome), John Woodnutt (Hibbert).

The first ever colour Doctor Who and the first to feature Jon Pertwee in the title role. The story sees the Doctor arrive on Earth to start his exile, and this coincides with an invasion by the Nestenes and their plastic Autons. Forced on location by a BBC strike, the story is well directed and features some excellent performances and effects.

Rating: ****

The Claws of Axos (1992)

First UK Transmission: 13/03/71 - 3/04/71 (4 episodes)
Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Michael Ferguson
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart).
Starring: Roger Delgado (The Master), Peter Bathurst (Chinn), Paul Grist (Bill Filer), Donald Hewlitt (Hardiman), Bernard Holley (Axon Man/Voice of Axos).

An alien spacecraft, Axos, arrives on Earth containing a race of beautiful golden humanoids who offer a rare mineral in exchange for hospitality. The aliens turn out to be a hostile energy-sapping parasite intent on draining the Earth. The Doctor joins forces with the Master (who had brought Axos to Earth in the first place) to defeat it when it threatens their lives as well as the future of the Earth.

I like this story despite its shortcomings. It has some excellent monsters in the Axons, and imaginative use is made of numerous video effects. It falls down on some of the effects and on a dreadful American accent effected by Paul Grist, but overall it is an enjoyable little tale.

Rating: ***

Day of the Daleks (1986)

First UK Transmission: 1/01/72 - 22/01/72 (4 episodes)
Writer: Louis Marks
Director: Paul Bernard
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart).
Starring: Wilfrid Carter (Styles), Aubrey Woods (Controller), Anna Barry (Anat), Jimmy Winston (Shura), Scott Fredericks (Boaz).

The Daleks have invaded Earth again, this time in the 21st Century, and freedom fighters have travelled back in time to assassinate the minister they see as responsible for starting the wars which eventually led to the Dalek invasion. The Doctor realises that the wars had actually been started by the fighters themselves and that they are caught in a time paradox.

Day of the Daleks is a fun story which saw the return of the Daleks to our screens after a five year gap. Like all the Pertwee stories, it contains a fair share of action and running about, and the Daleks are quite entertaining in their way.

Rating: ***

The Three Doctors (1991)

First UK Transmission: 30/12/72 - 20/01/73 (4 episodes)
Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
Director: Lennie Mayne
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart).
Starring: William Hartnell (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), John Levene (Benton), Stephen Thorne (Omega), Rex Robinson (Tyler), Laurie Webb (Ollis).

The Three Doctors celebrated Doctor Who's tenth anniversary and brought together all three incarnations of the Doctor to fight Omega, a renegade from the Doctor's planet, who was trapped inside a black hole.

As an anniversary story, this show hit it just right. There is an excellent villain in Omega, and many interesting effects, as well as a traditional 'globby' monster.

Lots of fun, and it's good to see Troughton and Pertwee obviously enjoying themselves immensely.

Rating: ***

The Time Warrior (1989)

First UK Transmission: 15/12/73 - 5/01/74 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Alan Bromly
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: Kevin Lindsay (Lynx), David Daker (Irongron), John J Carney (Bloodaxe), Donald Pelmear (Reubish), June Brown (Lady Eleanor), Jeremy Bulloch (Hal).

The Sontaran Lynx has crashed on Earth in Medieval times and is kidnapping scientists from the future to help repair his ship so that he can leave. The Doctor investigates and becomes embroiled in some Medieval rivalry between the robber baron Irongron and the local gentry.

There is some good location work here, as well as some excellent dialogue courtesy of Robert Holmes. Lynx the Sontaran is an excellent character, and the make-up effects are superb. All in all a good little tale. Look out for June Brown in her pre-Dot Cotton days as Lady Eleanor.

Rating: ***½

Death to the Daleks (1986)

First UK Transmission: 23/02/74 - 16/03/74 (4 episodes)
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Michael Briant
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: Arnold Yarrow (Bellal), Duncan Lamont (Galloway), John Abineri (Railton), Julian Fox (Hamilton), Joy Harrison (Jill Tarrant).

This story seems to have a very bad press and I've never been quite sure why. The Doctor and Sarah arrive on the planet Exxilon where a mysterious city drains all the power from the TARDIS. The Doctor meets a human expedition, sent to get a rare mineral which is the only known cure to a space plague. The Daleks arrive - they too are after the mineral - but their exterminators will not function due to the power drain. The Daleks are helpless. The humans and Daleks make an uneasy truce until they can resolve the problem of the lack of power.

Personally I like this story a lot. The Daleks are devious and memorable, the humans wimpish and hopeless and the whole thing hangs together very well. True, there are some naff moments like when the city's venom-spitting roots attack a mining operation, but on the whole the production is enjoyable and there are more Daleks in it than Day of the Daleks.

Rating: ***

Planet of the Spiders (Two tape set) (1991)

First UK Transmission: 4/06/74 - 6/07/74 (6 episodes)
Writer: Robert Sloman
Director: Barry Letts
Regular Cast: Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: Richard Franklin (Yates), John Dearth (Lupton), Cyril Shaps (Clegg), John Kane (Tommy), Ralph Arliss (Tuar), Geoffrey Morris (Sabor), Gareth Hunt (Arak), Maureen Morris (Voice of the Great One).

The Doctor took a blue crystal from the planet Metebelis Three and the giant Spiders that live there want it back. That's basically the plot, and it is padded out with to-ings and fro-ings between Earth and Metebelis Three, and sub-plots involving the simpleton Tommy gaining intelligence, and one of the Doctor's Time Lord mentors posing as the Abbot of a monastery.

The final Jon Pertwee story, Planet of the Spiders works well on a number of counts. I don't believe that anyone could mistake the eight-legged creatures in here for the real thing, but they do occasionally look pretty authentic. There is a lot of action, with a classic chase sequence on road, air and sea to look forward to.

A fitting end to one of the better Doctors.

Rating: ***½

Robot (1992)

First UK Transmission: 28/12/74 - 18/01/75 (4 episodes)
Writer: Terrance Dicks
Director: Christopher Barry
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan).
Starring: Edward Burnham (Kettlewell), Alec Linstead (Jellicoe), Patricia Maynard (Miss Winters), Michael Kilgarriff (Robot).

The first story to feature Tom Baker's shambling bohemian Doctor, 'Robot' succeeds and fails in equal parts. Michael Kilgarriff is superb as the towering metal creature, and manages to imbue it with pathos and sympathy through his voice alone. The Doctor is recovering after his regeneration and seems scatty and unpredictable, and the other characters are all well acted, in particular Patricia Maynard's icy feminist Miss Winters.

Where it fails is on the special effects. There is a sequence involving an obviously toy tank, and the effects of the robot growing to giant size are typical of the period - all blue fuzzy lines and bits disappearing into the sky.

'Robot' kicked off Doctor Who's twelfth season, the only one so far which is all available on home video.

Rating: **

The Ark in Space (1989)

First UK Transmission: 25/01/75 - 15/02/75 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Rodney Bennett
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan).
Starring: Wendy Williams (Vira), Kenton Moore (Noah), Christopher Masters (Libri), John Gregg (Lycett), Richard Morgan (Rogin).

Compared to its preceding story, 'Robot', 'The Ark in Space' is a masterpiece. The TARDIS arrives on a space ark containing the last survivors of the human race in suspended animation, which has been invaded by the Wirrn, an alien parasitic insect species. A handful of humans must battle to prevent the Wirrn from using humanity as fodder for its young.

With its small cast, claustrophobic sets, and the image of a man being slowly converted into an alien Wirrn, 'The Ark in Space' has all the elements that made the 1977 film Alien so successful. The formula works here as well, and this story is one of the best available.

At the end of the adventure, the time travellers use the Ark's transmat system to pop down to earth to see how things are looking down there. This leads into the next adventure ...

Rating: *****

The Sontaran Experiment/Genesis of the Daleks (Two tape set) (1991)

First UK Transmissions: 22/02/75 - 12/04/75 (2 episodes and 6 episodes)
Writer: Bob Baker & Dave Martin (Sontaran), Terry Nation (Genesis)
Director: Rodney Bennett (Sontaran), David Maloney (Genesis)
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan).
Starring: Sontaran: Kevin Lindsay (Styre), Peter Walshe (Erak), Terry Walsh (Zake), Glyn Jones (Krans), Peter Rutherford (Roth), Donald Douglas (Vural).
Genesis: Michael Wisher (Davros), Peter Miles (Nyder), Guy Siner (Ravon), Dennis Chinnery (Gharman), Stephen Yardley (Sevrin).

In an increasingly rare move towards value for money, these eight episodes, transmitted consecutively back in 1975, are available together.

'The Sontaran Experiment' was filmed on location on Dartmoor, and the windswept plains and rocks act as a marvellous backdrop to an effective little two part story about a Sontaran (Styre) testing a group of humans. The Doctor arrives from the ark in time to thwart his plans. This is just the starter and the main course is 'Genesis of the Daleks', possibly the best Dalek tale released on video to date. The Daleks don't appear until the end, but the show is completely stolen by Michael Wisher's superlative Davros, the Daleks' creator, and Peter Miles as his devious, sadistic side-kick Nyder.

This is a classic package and is well worth getting.

Rating: *****

Revenge of the Cybermen (1983)

First UK Transmission: 10/04/75 - 10/05/75 (4 episodes)
Writer: Gerry Davis
Director: Michael E Briant
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan).
Starring: Alec Wallis (Warner), Ronald Leigh-Hunt (Stevenson), Jeremy Wilkin (Kellman), William Marlowe (Lester), David Collings (Vorus), Michael Wisher (Magrik), Christopher Robbie (Cyberleader).

'Revenge of the Cybermen' ended the twelfth season, and is the weakest of the five stories. The Doctor and his friends arrive back on the ark only to find that they are in an earlier time period when it was still a beacon. A space plague has wiped out most of the occupants leaving only a handful still alive. The Doctor discovers that the plague has been caused by the Cybermen and that they want to destroy the planet Voga - around which the beacon is orbiting - as it is rich in gold deposits which are lethal to the Cybermen.

This adventure has little in its favour. The Cybermen do not work well within the story's structure - why, for example, would they go down to a planet which is full of gold if they can be killed by the stuff? - and the dialogue is corny and forced.

Considering that this was chosen to lead the video releases, it is surprising that it did well enough to warrant any others!

Rating: *

Terror of the Zygons (1988)

First UK Transmission: 30/08/75 - 20/09/75 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Banks Stewart
Director: Douglas Camfield
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan).
Starring: Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart), John Levene (Benton), John Woodnutt (Duke of Forgill/Broton), Angus Lennie (Angus), Robert Russell (The Caber), Lillias Walker (Sister Lamont).

The Doctor is summoned to Scotland by the Brigadier to investigate the mysterious destruction of a number of oil rigs in the North Sea. The cause turns out to be the Skarasen, 'pet' of the alien Zygons who have their base under Loch Ness. The Zygons want to prepare the Earth for invasion, but the Doctor, as always, prevents them.

This is another of my favourite stories, in this case because I am a sucker for a well executed alien: the Zygons are orange foetus-like creatures and are quite horrific. Camfield's direction is impeccable and the only thing which lets the story down is the dreadful model-work for the Skarasen. If not for this, it would be another classic.

Rating: ****

Pyramids of Mars (1985)

First UK Transmission: 25/10/75 - 15/11/75 (4 episodes)
Writer: Stephen Harris (Pseudynom for Robert Holmes & Lewis Griefer)
Director: Paddy Russell
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: Bernard Archard (Marcus Scarman), Peter Mayock (Namin), Michael Bilton (Collins), Peter Copley (Dr Warlock), Michael Sheard (Laurence Scarman), Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh).

This period of Doctor Who's history was consistently full of well made and entertaining stories and many of them are now available on video. 'Pyramids of Mars' is one of the best. It tells of an ancient Egyptian god Sutekh who was imprisoned in a pyramid on Mars by his brother Horus. Now Sutekh has taken control of a human and is planning his escape ... unless the Doctor can stop him.

'Pyramids of Mars' was strongly influenced by the legends and myths of the Egyptians, and indeed Sutekh's robot servants look like mummies. The story blends horror and excitement, and moves at a strong pace.

Rating: *****

The Brain of Morbius (1984 - edited version, 1990 - full version)

First UK Transmission: 3/01/76 - 24/01/76 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robin Bland (pseudynom for Terrance Dicks & Robert Holmes)
Director: Christopher Barry
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: Philip Madoc (Solon), Colin Fay (Condo), Gilly Brown (Ohica), Cynthia Grenville (Maren), Michael Spice (Voice of Morbius).

Doctor Who's re-working of the Frankenstein story, this is a fun tale featuring a mad scientist (Solon), his deformed assistant (Condo), a supernatural Sisterhood, thunder, lightning and headless bodies. Morbius was an evil Time Lord and Solon saved his brain when his body was destroyed. Now Solon needs a head to finish his work and who should turn up but the Doctor.

Considering the limitations of budget and studio space, this story does very well indeed. Philip Madoc excels as Solon, and Michael Spice's voice for Morbius is powerful and memorable.

Rating: ****

Masque of Mandragora (1991)

First UK Transmission: 4/09/76 - 23/09/76 (4 episodes)
Writer: Louis Marks
Director: Rodney Bennett
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Elizabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith).
Starring: John Laurimore (Count Federico), Gareth Armstrong (Giuliano), Tim Pigott-Smith (Marco), Norman Jones (Hieronymous).

This is one of the better period pieces presented by Doctor Who. We are back in the 15th century and an alien energy force, the Mandragora Helix, has hitched a lift on the TARDIS. It takes over the high priest Hieronymous who is also leader of a secret brotherhood of star worshippers, and attempts to establish a bridgehead to Earth. The Doctor saves the day by draining its power.

Good performances from all the cast, some nice effects and a superb location in Portmerion in North Wales (where The Prisoner was filmed) add up to a good piece of entertainment.

Rating: ****

The Deadly Assassin (1991)

First UK Transmission: 30/10/76 - 20/11/76 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor).
Starring: Peter Pratt (The Master), Angus Mackay (Borusa), Bernard Horsfall (Goth), George Pravda (Spandrell), Erik Chitty (Engin).

'The Deadly Assassin' was the first adventure to blow the lid off the Doctor's home world of Gallifrey. We had always believed the Time Lords to be all-powerful beings, and here they are presented as a bunch of old men, obsessed with ritual and internal politics.

As a story it works very well indeed, and episode three, which for the most part takes place in a fantasy world inside the Time Lords' main computer, is still as powerful as when first transmitted. Here we are re-introduced to the Master, a wizened and disfigured creature who hopes to gain a new lease of life through harnessing the Time Lords' power systems. This story paved the way for the Master to return at a later date.

Rating: ****

The Robots of Death (1986)

First UK Transmission: 29/01/77 - 19/02/77 (4 episodes)
Writer: Chris Boucher
Director: Michael E Briant
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela).
Starring: Russell Hunter (Uvanov), Pamela Salem (Toos), David Collings (Poul), Miles Fothergill (SV7), Gregory de Polnay (D84).

The TARDIS arrives on a sand-miner combing an alien planet for precious ores. The mine has a robot crew and a handful of humans to watch over things. Unfortunately the robots are being reprogrammed to kill the humans, and the Doctor is under suspicion from the start.

'The Robots of Death' is a hokey title which does not do justice to the superb drama of the story. Like 'The Ark in Space' it pits a small band of humans against a strong destructive force and expects them to win out. The strength here is in the magnificent art deco design of the sets and robots, and Miles Fothergill's impersonal and murderously calm SV7 is chilling in the extreme. Gripping stuff.

Rating: *****

The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1988)

First UK Transmission: 26/02/77 - 2/04/77 (6 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela).
Starring: John Bennett (Li H'sen Chang), Deep Roy (Mr Sin), Michael Spice (Weng-Chiang), Trevor Barnes (Litefoot), Christopher Benjamin (Jago).

Another of my favourite stories. This time set in Victorian London, 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' involves the Doctor playing Sherlock Holmes to track down a war criminal from the future. Magnus Greel is draining young women of their vitality in an attempt to prevent himself from dying before he can recover his time cabinet and continue his experiments. He has taken on the persona of the Chinese god Weng-Chiang to enable him to hide behind the facade of a Chinese Tong operating in London.

This story epitomises all that the BBC does right with regards to period drama. The sets, the costumes, the acting and the script are all excellent, and with only a couple of shots of a 'man-in-suit' giant rat to lower the tone, this is yet another classic. All the cast are superb, from John Bennett's misguided oriental to Benjamin's blustering theatre owner and the overall impression is of a very rich and enjoyable story.

Rating: *****

City of Death (1991)

First UK Transmission: 29/09/79 - 20/10/79 (4 episodes)
Writer: David Agnew (pseudynom for Douglas Adams & Graham Williams)
Director: Michael Hayes
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana).
Starring: Julian Glover (Scarlioni), Catherine Schell (Countess Scarlioni), Tom Chadbon (Duggan), David Graham (Kerensky).

A location trip to Paris makes 'City of Death' visually very interesting. The script is a complex beast involving a time-splintered alien directing the course of history to allow a splinter of himself to travel back in time and prevent the splintering happening in the first place.

There are fine performances as one would expect from Glover and Schell, and Chadbon is just right as the bumbling detective. Watch out for a cameo appearance from John Cleese and Eleanor Bron as art lovers in part four.

Rating: ***½

Logopolis (1992)

First UK Transmission: 28/02/81 - 21/03/81 (4 episodes)
Writer: Christopher H Bidmead
Director: Peter Grimwade
Regular Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan).
Starring: Anthony Ainley (The Master), John Frazer (Monitor).

The final outing for Tom Baker's Doctor, 'Logopolis' is a bit of a mixed bag. The plot concerns a plan of the newly regenerated Master to hold the universe to ransom. Apparently the universe's life has been extended by an alien races mathematical calculations holding open holes into other universes to drain off the excess entropy from ours.

Like much Doctor Who in the eighties, 'Logopolis' looks very nice, but has little meat to it. John Frazer makes an admirable attempt as the leader of a race wiped out by the Master, but he ultimately comes over as completely impotent. Ainley's Master, seen here for the first time, is not a patch on Delgado's and the Doctor's companions, Nyssa, Adric and Tegan, are a totally mis-matched trio - Adric in particular is simply dreadful.

Rating: **

Castrovalva (1992)

First UK Transmission: 4/01/82 - 12/01/82 (4 episodes)
Writer: Christopher H Bidmead
Director: Fiona Cumming
Regular Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Janet Fielding (Tegan).
Starring: Anthony Ainley (Master), Derek Waring (Shardovan), Michael Sheard (Mergrave), Frank Wylie (Ruther).

As Tom Baker bowed out, so Peter Davison checked in. 'Castrovalva' comes from the same mould as 'Logopolis', indeed it follows on directly, and has only a slightly more comprehensible plot. The newly regenerated Doctor is lured to the fictional city of Castrovalva by the Master who has kidnapped Adric and is using his mathematical skills to create the illusory city. Once there, the Doctor only realises it is a trap just in time to escape.

What we learn from this story is that Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) really is a hopeless actor in this role, and that the new Doctor is strangely attracted to cricket and celery.

Rating: **

The Five Doctors (1985 - edited version, 1990 - full version)

First UK Transmission: 25/11/83 (1 90 minute episode)
Writer: Terrance Dicks
Director: Peter Moffatt
Regular Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Mark Strickson (Turlough).
Starring: Richard Hurndall (The Doctor), Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Philip Latham (Borusa).

Whereas 'The Three Doctors' worked as an anniversary story because it did not try to be too clever, 'The Five Doctors' is too clever by half. Dicks was asked to write a script which would encompass five Doctors, numerous returning companions (Susan, Jamie, Zoe, Liz Shaw, Yates, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith and K9) plus a Dalek, the Cybermen, the Master, the Yeti and a clutch of Time Lords.

That it turned out as entertaining as it did is a miracle in itself. The production is quite fun, with familiar faces cropping up all over the place, but ultimately it is a celebration of twenty five years of Doctor Who and not a story in its own right. Perhaps only of interest to the knowledgeable fan.

Rating: ***½

The Caves of Androzani (1992)

First UK Transmission: 8/03/84 - 16/03/84 (4 episodes)
Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: Graeme Harper
Regular Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri).
Starring: Christopher Gable (Sharaz Jek), John Normington (Morgus), Robert Glenister (Salateen), Maurice Roëves (Stotz), Roy Holder (Krelper), Martin Cochrane (Chellack), Barbara Kinghorn (Timmin).

Davison's last story as the Doctor and Robert Holmes pulls out all the stops to make it a good one. The Doctor and Peri arrive on the planet Androzani Minor during a gun-running war. They meet up with the insane Sharaz Jek who takes a shine to young Peri and kidnaps her. The Doctor must rescue Peri and save both her and himself from the deadly illness they have contracted.

'The Caves of Androzani' is perhaps the best Davison story, featuring loads of action, violence, impressive acting (especially Gable as the tormented Jek), startling effects and a brilliant script.

It's a shame that there weren't more of this quality.

Rating: *****

The Twin Dilemma (1992)

First UK Transmission: 22/03/84 - 30/03/84 (4 episodes)
Writer: Anthony Steven
Director: Peter Moffatt
Regular Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri).
Starring: Maurice Denham (Edgeworth/Azmael), Kevin McNally (Hugo Lang), Edwin Richfield (Mestor), Paul Conrad (Romulus), Andrew Conrad (Remus), Oliver Smith (Drak).

This tape is released as a Woolworths special, changed at the last minute from the excellent Hartnell historical story 'The Aztecs' which will now be released by the BBC later in the year. Woolworths may well regret whatever circumstances prompted this change as 'The Twin Dilemma' is possibly the worst ever Doctor Who story with nothing at all in its favour.

The plot is rubbish, concerning a giant slug, Mestor, who wants to take over the galaxy by sending a planet into a sun so that his eggs will be scattered in the explosion. Colin Baker makes his debut as a totally unlikeable Doctor, prone to fits of manic depression and quoting poetry, and the cast, with possibly the exception of Denham who must have wondered why he ever agreed to appear, are uniformly dreadful. The crowning glory is the casting of twins in the roles of the pre-pubescent Romulus and Remus who cannot pronounce the letter 'r' (consider in this light their names!) and they are equally unable to act, making Adric look good by comparison.

Steer well clear of this one. Don't even be tempted because it really isn't worth it!

Rating: -* (minus one)

The Curse of Fenric 'Extended Edition' (1991)

First UK Transmission: 25/09/89 - 15/11/89 (4 episodes)
Writer: Ian Briggs
Director: Nicholas Mallett
Regular Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace).
Starring: Dinsdale Landen (Dr Judson), Alfred Lynch (Millington), Nicholas Parsons (Rev. Wainwright).

By far the best of the more recent Doctor Who adventures, 'The Curse of Fenric' delivers on almost every count.

This tape is a special extended edition with about 6 minutes of additional material not in the original TV transmission. This helps to explain the story and adds some depth to the characters.

The Doctor arrives on an army base near the coast during the Second World War to find that his old enemy Fenric is afoot. Fenric has taken over the commander of the base and calls from the waters a race of vampire creatures called Haemovores.

Of particular note here is the Ancient Haemovore, a superb piece of state of the art animatronics. Also watch out for effects like the runes writing themselves on the crypt wall and the dissolution of the vampires. Even Nicholas Parsons is excellent as the doubtful vicar. Great stuff.

Rating: *****

Finally, a peek at the BBC's schedules for the rest of the year and on into 1993 reveals that there are more Doctor Who adventures to come. 'The Invasion' is a brilliant 1968 Troughton Cyberman story unfortunately with two of its eight episodes missing. The gaps will be filled by Nicholas Courtney (who played the Brigadier) explaining what happened. 'Shada' was a six part 1979 Tom Baker story which was never completed due to a technicians strike at the BBC. Baker will be providing a narrative to fill the gaps. 'Vengeance on Varos' was originally transmitted in the UK as two 50 minute episodes but this 1985 Colin Baker adventure will be released as a four episode version. It's good to see 1964's 'The Aztecs' appearing, one of the better historical adventures from William Hartnell's era. The Tom Baker Years, unlike the other 'Years' tapes, will have no complete episodes, instead it features Baker talking about each of his stories, prompted by short clips. There is also a Dalek Special and a Cyberman Special which will feature some of the remaining material from the sixties. Expect episodes 5 and 10 from 'The Daleks' Master Plan' (Hartnell 1965/66) and part 2 of 'The Evil of the Daleks' (Troughton 1967) presented by Peter Davison on the Dalek tape, and parts 2 and 4 of 'The Moonbase' (Troughton 1967) and 3 and 6 of 'The Wheel in Space' (Troughton 1968) presented by Colin Baker on the Cyberman tape. The tapes will also feature interview material with some of the people involved in the making of the stories. It is odd that one of the three surviving episodes from 'The Tenth Planet', the Cybermen's first appearance back in 1966 is not included.

David J Howe