Reviews

After 50 Years of 'Doctor Who', the First Four Doctors Get Their Just Commemoration

Because the extras are so representative of each of the Four Incarnations of the Doctor and his evolution throughout, this overall package is a fine catch for the Whovians.


Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited 1-4

Distributor: BBC
Cast: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Steven Moffat, Elisabeth Sladen, David Tennant, Carole Ann Ford
Network: BBC One
Release date: 2013-07-16
Amazon

As hard as it may be to believe, the same year Superman turned 75, the venerable TV show Doctor Who turned 50 (albeit not in consecutive production years like the Man of Steel can boast). In that the BBC's groundbreaking Doctor Who still, in fact, holds the record for the longest running Science Fiction Television show in history, there is great cause to celebrate this anniversary.

BBC Home Entertainment's contribution to the celebration is to release a short series of DVDs entitled “Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited” with the first release in July commemorating the first four incarnations of “The Doctor”. In the series' mythology, The Doctor is a centuries-old alien time traveller with a unique ability to “regenerate” into a younger form (with physical and personality changes, but retaining the same memories and core traits) whenever his present form nears death. To date there have been 11 incarnations of this mysterious character since 1963, with a 12th announced to appear at the end of 2013.

It's rare for the feature programming on a DVD release to be actually outshined by the extras included in the release, but in some of the cases on this release that is exactly what has happened. The BBC has created four superbly produced documentaries as well as four quality introductions to each serial by current show-runner Steven Moffat. So well done and informative are these documentaries that the featured stories (covering multiple episodes, as was common in the original series) actually feel more like the extras on the discs provided as accompaniments to these deeper docs and examples of the larger tales these allude to.

Part of the reason for this reversal is that these documentaries cover so very much of each era of the show. Current Doctor Who cast and crew as well as casts and crews of the past are interviewed and offer opinions, histories and depth. Both David Tennant (the actor who played the Tenth incarnation of the Time Lord) and Moffat himself prove themselves to be complete and total Whovian geeks as they chronicle the histories and trivia surrounding the first four Doctors.

Naturally, the assumption would be that for a release of this kind, the four best examples of each Doctor's tenure would be chosen. However, in the era surrounding William Hartnell's episodes featuring “The First Doctor”, there was a decidedly different attitude about television preservation. Film was often destroyed and tapes often recorded over by new episodes. After all, who could have imagined in the mid-1960s that people would still be talking about Doctor Who, much less that there would be a demand for the episodes. Therefore Hartnell's representation in the collection, “The Aztecs”, isn't necessarily the best example of his tenure, but the best surviving example from his run on the show.

“The Aztecs” exemplifies a period from Hartnell's time during which the show was still very much still figuring itself out. There was no indication there would ever be a “Regenerated” second Doctor and the curmudgeonly elder star of the show is a far cry from the much more fun later versions like Matt Smith or Tennant himself. Still, this is where the character originated and Hartnell's grandfatherly figure (to the point that his granddaughter is literally portrayed on the show) was endearing and funny in his overt seriousness. The DVD Transfer is the best one can expect from old video and the images are crisp to the point that one could occasionally assume one is in the room with these characters (albeit in a colorblind world).

The same can be said for the second disc's feature “The Tomb of the Cybermen”, which proves to be the best serial in the entire release. Featuring Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor, this is the earliest serial known to exist in its entirety from this second era of Doctor Who and fans couldn't ask for a better representation. The capable, if clownish Doctor facing off with The Cybermen for the third time (it was a battle against the Cybermen, incidentally, that caused the “death” of the first Doctor and his regeneration into the second). “The Tomb of the Cybermen” is the most “Sci-Fi” of the serials here and delivers both an action-packed and terrifying plot, involving the first appearances of the Cybermats and Cyber Controler and gives a truly scary early look at assimilation.

The third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, is represented here by the serial “Spearhead from Space” and, as this incarnation's first serial, it also represents a large amount of other changes in the show at large. This is the first serial filmed in color, the first (and only) to feature the new paradigm of the “Exiled” Doctor forced to live and adventure on Earth (as opposed to throughout the galaxy, but especially Earth) and the first appearance of the plastic robotic menace of the Autons. While the Autons are an interesting new angle on alien invaders, especially since the mannequin-like villains can ultimately come to impersonate anyone they wish. However, the promise isn't always fulfilled and, while Pertwee's Doctor is exciting, there are slow parts of this serial.

“Pyramids of Mars” represents the Fourth Doctor's time on the show, which has, to date, been the longest individual and consecutive run of any one of the actors to play the Doctor. Tom Baker remains the most recognizable actor to play the Doctor with his bushy hairdo, trench coat and impossibly long scarf. “Pyramids of Mars” details the concept of the “Ancient Astronauts” who built the pyramids of Egypt on a quest to return to their home planet of Mars. Featuring robotic mummies, a truly scary (if budget-compromised villain in Sutekh and amazingly psychedelic special effects against chroma-key walls, “Pyramids of Mars” is a great story that makes it almost intact to the screen and gives another challenging take on the now-popular sci-fi concept of extra-terrestrial pyramid builders.

While there are no commentaries on the programs, the documentaries alone are worth the purchase for Who fans and each serial can be viewed as one continuous presentation, or as individual episodes (as originally presented). Not every disc has necessarily the best of the best episodes from each era of the Doctor (many fans might have clamored for the Douglas Adams-penned “City of Death” from the Tom Baker years), but because the extras are so representative of each series and the Doctor's evolution throughout, the overall package is a fine catch for the Whovians, if not for casual viewers.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image