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Setting the Standard

Nov
22

Review of The Five Doctors (#129)
DVD Release Date: 05 Aug 08
Original Air Date: 25 Nov 1983
Doctors/Companions: Five, One, Two, Three, Four (cameo), Tegan, Turlough, Susan, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Romana II (cameo)
Stars: Peter Davison, Richard Hurndall, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, (Tom Baker), Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, (Lalla Ward)
Preceding Story: The King's Demons (Five, Tegan, Turlough, Kamelion)
Succeeding Story: Warriors of the Deep (Five, Tegan, Turlough)

With tomorrow's anniversary of the show's beginnings, I felt now would be an appropriate time to look back at a different celebration of its history. Though this year we mark fifty-four years since the show's inception, 1983 was merely twenty, and the Powers That Beeb decided they couldn't let such a large, round number go unnoticed.

Here in the post-fiftieth-anniversary era, we think of that celebration as having pulled out all the stops, but really, it was The Five Doctors that set the standard. And while, like Moffat, JNT didn't get everyone he wanted to participate, he nonetheless pulled together a remarkable cast, including—in a way—all five incarnations of the Doctor who had appeared up to that point.

While First Doctor William Hartnell had (just barely) managed perform a part in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors, he was already eight years dead by the time this next milestone rolled around. Rather than exclude his Doctor entirely, though, JNT simply recast Richard Hurndall in the role, much like David Bradley has taken over the same in the modern era. But much like Eccleston for the fiftieth, Tom Baker could not be convinced to reprise his own Fourth Doctor (reportedly because he thought it was too soon).

Undeterred, JNT simply used footage from the unaired story Shada (new release pending in January '18—watch this space for a review), and trapped Four and Companion Romana II in the time vortex, preventing them from joining the others in the adventure proper, without excluding them outright.

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Confession #59: I'm Sick of the Omnirumour

May
07

Part of the mythos of our show is the sad fact that many of the early episodes from the first two Doctors are no longer in the BBC archives. Pretty much ever since the advent of home video, fans have hoped that some—or preferably all—of those would some day be recovered. We've had our share of happy surprises, most recently when The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear were returned last year.

There are nearly a hundred still absent, though, and someone somewhere always brings up the idea that more are out there, just waiting to be revealed to the public. It's the Omnirumo(u)r—the rumor that will not die—and it has many forms. One particular collector is hoarding ["The Smugglers" / "Marco Polo" / all remaining missing episodes] (strike as relevant). The aforementioned episode(s) have been found in some backwater of Africa / Asia / wherever. And so on.

Of course the BBC's tendency to deny things that later turn out to have been fuzzy versions of truth keep fans frothing. "The BBC's just being coy!" "They're covering their behinds!" "If Doctor Who Magazine (DWM) denied it, it's just that they don't know better!" And I really think the BBC buys fully into the old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity.

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The First Finale

Dec
11

Review of The Tenth Planet (#29)
DVD Release Date: 19 Nov 13
Original Air Date: 08 - 29 Oct 1966
Doctor/Companion: One, Ben Jackson, Polly Wright
Stars: William Hartnell, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills
Preceding Story: The Smugglers (One, Ben, Polly)
Succeeding Story: The Power of the Daleks (Two, Ben, Polly)

With all the focus on regenerations and the history of the show lately, it seems fitting that the DVD releases for the anniversary year should draw to a close with The Tenth Planet. Not only does it bring Hartnell's era to a close with a radical new idea, but it also introduces the "always a bridesmaid, never a bride" baddie from every fan favorite list ever (in case it's not clear, I'm referring here to the Cybermen, who always come second (or worse) to the Daleks).

Tenth Planet is one of the last (mostly) complete stories to be released on DVD. Although I had read the synopsis a few times, and read a photonovelization at least once, then, I'd never had the opportunity to watch it. As a result, it still felt new and unfamiliar. And I'll admit I was taken off guard by these Cybermen.

Forty-seven years down the road, it's difficult to put oneself in the mindset of the audience of the time. They must have found this new threat truly horrific, these once-human, but distinctly alien, robot invaders. On the brink of the Space Age, they must also have recognized many of their own fears about the dangers of space exploration as the plight of the Zeus IV crew unfolded. (I'll admit that I didn't much care to watch their fate, either, despite how cheaply inaccurate the portrayal looked to those of us who have watched actual astronauts at work on the International Space Station.)

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A History Worth Preserving

Mar
20

Review of The Aztecs: SE (#6)

DVD Release Date: 12 Mar 13
Original Air Date: 23 May - 13 Jun 1964
Doctor/Companion: One, Susan, Ian, Barbara
Stars: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill
Preceding Story: The Keys of Marinus (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)
Succeeding Story: The Sensorites (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)

I've mentioned several times before how fond I am of this story, and I don't mind saying it again. I have to admit, though, that when I got the Special Edition DVD and looked at all the extras two things went through my mind. The first was, "Wow - this disk is all about the extras!" The second was, "When am I ever going to find time to watch all these extras?"

The story itself is a lovely little four-parter that follows the TARDIS crew to 15th C. Mexico, taking up about 100 minutes of viewing time. By contrast, even ignoring the minor entries like the ubiquitous Photo Gallery, the extras comprise more than twice that much material. That certainly presents a challenge for the reviewer, but it's a challenge I'm willing to undertake for your sake, gentle readers.

I can hardly praise The Aztecs highly enough. So early in the history of Our Show, it introduces - or at least hammers home - the idea that history is not to be trifled with lightly. It's also one of the earliest remaining stories that can really show us how much the Doctor has mellowed to these humans who - let's call a spade a spade - he kidnapped in order to keep them from exposing him and his granddaughter as the aliens they were. Not only that, it shows a more tender side of him, as he quite frankly falls in love with a human for the first time we see (yes, Rose, we all know you thought you were special).

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Revolutionary Television

Feb
20

Review of The Reign of Terror (#8)
DVD Release Date: 12 Feb 13
Original Air Date: 08 Aug - 12 Sep 1964
Doctor/Companion: One, Susan, Ian, Barbara
Stars: William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill
Preceding Story: The Sensorites (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)
Succeeding Story: Planet of Giants (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara)

One thing I love about the very earliest Who is that it's so clearly taking its self-defined role as educational television to heart. When we first meet the Daleks, we learn about magnetism as the Doctor breaks the group out of a cell, and there were several instances, like in The Aztecs, where we learn a bit about historical events and cultures. In fact, it's not till some time later that the supernatural twists to the historical tales get added.

So when I sat down to watch The Reign of Terror, I kind of knew I was in for another of those "pure historicals," in which all the events swirling around our heroes are ones that actually occurred in our own past. I have to admit I wasn't quite prepared for how heavy-handed it would be. My jaw may actually have dropped when Robespierre straight out stated, "If this plot is successful, tomorrow, the 27th of July, 1794, will be a date for history!"

Aside from such blatant attempts at pedagogy, though, there's actually quite an elaborate bit of intrigue at the heart of the story. Though elements like a burning house and "Madame Guillotine" make the story a little dark at times, the spies, imprisonment, and threats of betrayal at every turn keep the audience on its toes, even if the TARDIS crew is not always quite as careful at they perhaps should be.

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