Setting the Standard


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.




Review of The Green Death: SE (#69)

DVD Release Date: 13 Aug 13
Original Air Date: 19 May - 23 Jun 1973
Doctor/Companion: Three, Josephine "Jo" Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding Story: Planet of the Daleks (Three, Jo)
Succeeding Story: The Time Warrior (Three, Sarah Jane)

What is it with green slime that infects the innocently curious on Doctor Who? First Inferno, now this...

Aside from being the finale of the Third Doctor's fourth series, The Green Death marks the end of his Companion Jo's time in the TARDIS. You can see when the farewell scene comes, no one really had to do much acting; all the emotion was right there on the surface. It's so appropriate for this well-loved Companion because, unlike some of them, Jo gets a proper send-off story.

From the beginning of Episode One, we get foreshadowing of her departure. She's exhibiting a new independence from the Doctor, refusing to go to Metebelis III with him and following her own plan of action instead. Then, when she meets the handsome, young Dr. Jones, she gets off on the wrong foot with him in almost exactly the same way she did with the Doctor. Their relationship is allowed a chance to grow, the romance bloom, over all six episodes (unlike, say, Leela's utterly shocking, sudden, and perhaps even out-of-character decision to stay behind on Gallifrey to be with Andred when she leaves Four in The Invasion of Time).

In between the development of that particular relationship, you get more of the usual Three/UNIT fare, with some unusual circumstance threatening the welfare of the entire planet. It's got a Welsh mine, an insane computer trying to take over the world, an environmental disaster in the making, unforgettable creatures (seriously; could anyone, having once seen Green Death, ever fail to remember the maggots?), UNIT trying to solve everything with explosions and guns ("Well, I never thought I'd fire in anger at a dratted caterpillar..." grouses the Brigadier), and the Doctor saving the day through his own cleverness (not to mention a couple of extremely hilarious disguises).


Burn Baby Burn


Review of Inferno: SE (#54)

DVD Release Date: 11 Jun 13
Original Air Date: 09 May - 20 Jun 1970
Doctor/Companion: Three, Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Shaw, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding Story: The Ambassadors of Death (Three, Liz, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story: Terror of the Autons (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)

It seems strange to me that despite how much I love this serial, I've never actually given Inferno a proper review before. I count it among my Top 3 pre-Hiatus favorites and have recommended it often to those who want to try out new-to-them earlier Doctors (as long as they can handle a seven-part serial), so I was thrilled a few months ago to see it pop up on the list of upcoming Special Edition releases.

I was further thrilled when I realized June had seen the release of two stories written by Don Houghton (the other being The Mind of Evil). It's only as I've gotten more deeply entrenched in Whovian culture that I've paid attention to such details. (I used to watch television and simply take what I saw on screen as it came, passing judgment in terms of "I do/don't like this," but not paying the least attention to writers, directors, and such. Go figure.) But I feel the richer for it; I have a new appreciation for why MoE worked for me, knowing my fondness for Inferno.

So what's so hot (see what I did there?) about Inferno anyway? Well, for one thing, it throws in a beautiful idea not really seen in Doctor Who up to this point: that of an alternate universe. I love the way we get to see little personality differences between familiar characters and their counterparts in the parallel dimension. The supporting cast is brilliant, not least the stellar (if regrettably named) Olaf Pooley as Professor Stahlman. Despite some pretty "out there" plot developments, the whole cast plays everything straight, and you can't help believe in their experiences and reactions. If nothing else, the administrative red tape that ties Sir Keith Gold's hands from doing anything useful to prevent impending disaster adds a sense of (slightly depressing) realism.


Technicolor Triumph


Review of The Mind of Evil (#56)
DVD Release Date: 11 Jun 13
Original Air Date: 30 Jan - 06 Mar 1971
Doctor/Companion: Three, Josephine "Jo" Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
Stars: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtney
Preceding Story: Terror of the Autons (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)
Succeeding Story: The Claws of Axos (Three, Jo, the Brigadier)

Although the BBC archives include all six episodes, The Mind of Evil is unique in that none of them (currently) exists in the original color format. Due to that fact, this serial has never before been released on DVD, making it—until now—the only Pertwee adventure I had yet to see.

Through technical machinations, color information buried in Episodes 2 through 6 could be pulled out and used to re-infuse them with a semblance of their original character. However, Episode 1 had no embedded color, rendering the chroma dot color recovery technique used on the other episodes useless. Instead, some seven thousand keyframes had to be hand colorized by the ridiculously talented (and dedicated!) colorizing artist Stuart Humphryes, better known by his YouTube handle BabelColour.

I'll get to the story in a moment, but first I want to convey exactly how bloody brilliant BabelColour's work is. I would put money on it that someone watching this DVD for the first time, never having been told about its history, would never guess it was anything but a cleaned-up original color print—until they got to Episode 2. At this point, the color seems to pulse every couple of seconds—it's particularly egregious on faces in a couple of spots—and one realizes just how seamless a job BabelColour had done in that first episode. While I wouldn't wish the horrendously long, painful, probably underpaid hours on him again, I know I'd dearly love to have him colorize all the other episodes (in this serial and others) that have so far only been done with chroma dot. His work is vastly superior.


Down-to-Earth Action


Review of The Doctors Revisited - Third Doctor

Third month, Third Doctor. (Yes, I'm a bit behind the curve.) For those unfamiliar with Jon Pertwee's incarnation of the Doctor, there are a few surprises in store.

I've talked before about the changes that accompanied Three's arrival on the scene. His overall demeanor and situation are among the biggest of those. In contrast to his predecessor, he's the first "action hero" Doctor, with his Venusian Aikido and love of vehicles that go fast. Further, he's suddenly stuck on Earth in the '70s, and has a "day job" as the scientific advisor for UNIT.

Personality-wise, he's also quite a change from Two. Suddenly less of a clown, he begins this life straight-backed, serious, authoritarian, difficult, and bad-temepered, to quote some of the words used by interviewees (who included Steven Moffat, Caro Skinner, David Tennant, Camille Coduri, Hugh Bonneville, Adam Garcia, Richard Franklin, and John Barrowman). Though he's forcibly associating closely with humans, I think the Third Doctor is in a way the most distinctly alien yet, based on his interactions with those around him. As Moffat put it, Three sees humans as "a fairly convenient species if you want some tea" or "reasonably competent pets," but he blatantly "regards himself as hugely superior to them." That's pretty much Pertwee's Doctor in a nutshell.



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