‘Doctor Who’ celebrates 50 years
Owls Head — Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited (BBC, 4 DVDs, NR, 872 min.). The celebration of 50 years of “Doctor Who” is in full swing, to culminate with the switch to the 12th actor to play the Doctor towards the end of the year. I will miss the current Doctor, Matt Smith, a lot, but this set, the first of three, concentrates on the first four actors to play the Doctor.
Longtime fans will have most of the special features already. They are these classic episodes: “The Aztecs” with William Hartnell as the First Doctor, a four-part episode that introduced the rules of time travel and a hint of romance (companion Barbara tries to stop the Aztecs from relying on human sacrifice); “The Tomb of the Cybermen” with Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor (the introduction of a classic foe); “Spearhead From Space” with Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor (the first story of the series to be shot in color and on film, and the first story of the Doctor’s exile on Earth); and “Pyramids of Mars” with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. These stories already have been issued on their own, with lots of extras, so only newcomers would find their inclusion here useful. The other extra is four fridge magnets, which are quite cool.
The meat of the releases is a 25-minute documentary on each of the first four Doctors. Current show runner Steven Moffat is interviewed and David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, contributes a lot of observations to all four programs. Each documentary looks at the actor and what he brought to the character, at each Doctor’s companions and at each Doctor’s major foes. Many of the actors who played the companions are interviewed. Hartnell debuted the character in November 1963, and his Doctor was not a very likable character. Among the interviewees is William Russell, who played teacher Ian Chesterton. The most notable foes were the Daleks, of course. Troughton took over the role from 1966 through 1969, making the Doctor a cosmic hobo with a Beatle moptop, who was both funny and nice. His companion, the kilt-wearing Jamie McCrimmon, was played by Frazer Hines, who is interviewed. Another companion was Wendy Padbury as Zoe, who was ever bit as smart as the Doctor. The main foes were the Ice Warriors and the Cybermen. Pertwee played the Doctor from 1970 to 1974, bringing along a stylish cape. Pertwee became the first action Doctor, as he was exiled to Earth by the Time Lords and worked with Great Britain’s UNIT. With no TARDIS (and, hence, no time travel), the Doctor had his toys and machines, and even owned a car. Classic foes included the Autons (the living plastic creatures from “Spearhead in Space”) and the Master, a fellow Time lord, but one who is evil, played by Roger Delgado. Baker, with his long scarf, played the Doctor from 1974 through 1981. His most famous companion was journalist Sarah Jane Smith (the late Elizabeth Sladen), while Louise Jamison played Lela and there was the mechanical K-9 robot dog. Classic foes included the Zygons and Davros, who created the Daleks. Other then Tennant’s comments, Baker is the only Doctor to be interviewed directly for these specials. Grade: package: 3.5 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
Doctor Who: Spearhead From Space (1970, BBC Blu-ray, NR, 96 min.). This is the first classic Doctor Who tale to be released on Blu-ray. You may remember from above that it also was the first episode in color and the first episode recorded on film (due to a strike at the BBC). Overall. It is the 51st story in the series. The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is introduced, and has been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords. At the same time the Doctor arrives, a swarm of meteorites brings the Autons, creatures of living plastic who pretend to be department store mannequins. Can you think of anything creepier than mannequins that come to life? The Doctor begins his work with the government agency UNIT and has a newly-appointed scientific advisor in Liz Shaw (Caroline John). Also to have a long-running role in the series is Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. It looks very good on Blu-ray, even if the budget were small. Disappointingly, none of the extras from the special edition DVD, including the two audio commentaries, have been carried over to the Blu-ray edition. Instead, there are new features, including a 42-minute look as Pertwee’s Doctor as a dandy and a clown, with actors Katy Manning, Judy Cornwell, David Jacobs, Geoffrey Bayldon, Kenneth Earle, writer and script editor Terrance Dicks and long-time friend Stuart Money; a 29-minute tribute to actress John; and 22-minutes on the title sequence. Grade: episode 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars
Doctor Who: The Green Death special edition (1973, BBC, 2 DVDs, 153 min.). This was the fifth and final serial of season 10, with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. The six-part story was the last to feature Katy Manning as companion Jo Grant. A man is found dead, and his skin is glowing green, in a mine in South Wales. Suspicion leads to a nearby Global Chemicals factory, but Grant gets trapped underground where old mine tunnels are crawling with giant maggots. Extras include audio commentary by Manning, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks; bonus commentary on episodes three through five by actors Richard Franklin (Capt. Yates), Mitzi McKenzie (Nancy) and visual effects designer Colin Mapson; bonus commentary on episode six by Manning and writer Russell T. Davies; a 26-minute making-of feature; a spoof investigative follow-up report (11 min.); interviews with Mapson (12 min.), writer Robert Sloman (7 Min.) and actor Stewart Bevan (Prof. Clifford Jones, 7 min.); Davies and then-BBC Controller of Drama Jane Tranter talk about the genesis of Doctor Who’s rebirth (23 min.); the two-part story, “The Sarah Jane Adventures -- The Death of the Doctor” (2010) with Manning and Matt Smith (52 min.); and a photo gallery. Grade: episode 3.25 stars; extras 3.75 stars
Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors (1967, BBC, 2 DVDs, NR, 147 min.). The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) travels to a distant future Earth that is threatened by an ice age, when a team of scientists, sent to try and spot the oncoming glaciers find a frozen alien warrior (originally from Mars, his people are trying to take over the Earth). The Ice Warriors have appeared in four more stories, including this year’s “Cold War,” which was set in a submarine. Only partially extant, animated versions of episodes two and three have been created for this release. Extras include audio commentary on episodes 1, 4, 5 and 6 by actors Frazer Hines (Jamie), Deborah Watling (Victoria), Sonny Caldinez (Turoc), designer Jeremy Davies and grams operator Pat Heigham; audio commentary on episode 2 with actors Bernard Breslau (Varga), Peter Bark worth (Clent), Wendy Gifford (Miss Garrett), make-up supervisor Sylvia James, writer Brian Hayles, director Derek Martinus and costume designer Martin Baugh; audio commentary on episode 3 by Troughton’s son, Michael: a 24-minute making-of feature; a 10-minute look behind the animated scenes with producers Chris Chapman and Niel Bushnell and animation director Chris Chatterton; and other brief featurettes. Grade: episode 3 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka (2003, BBC DVD, NR, 78 min.). Produced to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the series, this animated adventure was originally posted in six weekly parts on bbc.co.uk’s “Doctor Who” website. It was intended to be an official continuation of the television series that had ended in 1989, as well as the 1996 television movie, but the revival of the television program in 2005 relegated it and its Doctor to unofficial status. Richard E. Grant provided the voice of the Doctor, but he never took over the role as was rumored at the time. Grant did appear in two recent episodes as a villain. His companion, Allison Cheney, was voiced by Sophie Okonedo (a year later she would be nominated for an Oscar for her acting in “Hotel Rwanda”). Derek Jacobi voiced the Master and future Tenth Doctor David Tennant voiced the Caretaker. The story concerns an invasion of Earth by the Shalka, who are hiding underground beneath the village of Lannet in Lancashire. Extras include audio commentary by writer Paul Cornell, director Wilson Milam and producer James Goss; a 27-minute making-of feature; 7 minutes of archival interviews; and a 24-minute history of the BBC website and the role Doctor Who has played on it. The cover indicates two discs, with the second one possibly being a soundtrack album, but there actually is only one disc in the package.
Doctor Who: The Krotons original television soundtrack (Silva Screen CD, 25:51). There is, however, this second Silva Screen release of a classic soundtrack from a 1968 broadcast, starring Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor. It features the original sounds by Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. This was recorded without access to multitrack tapes, computers, samplers or even synthesizers. What was used was the Crystal Palace, so called because its case was made of clear Perspex, which exposed its inner workings. The machine, created by show engineer Dave Young, could mechanically sample 16 inputs and combine them into a single output in four, prearranged patterns (listen to “The Learning Hall” and “Kroton Theme”). There actually is no music score for this episode, except for Ron Grainer’s new, 1967-composed “Doctor Who Opening Theme.”
Doctor Who: Harvest of Time by Alastair Reynolds (Broadway paperback, 367 pp.). The latest entry in the Doctor Whop book series is this very well-crafted novel by Reynolds, a former astrophysicist, who lives in Wales and has become a fulltime writer. He has been short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award twice and for the BSFA Award (British Science Fiction Award) twice, winning the latter for “Chasm City.” Here, the Third Doctor, assistant Jo Grant, the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT have to deal with an entirely new enemy, the vicious Sild, which are strange metal crabs that affix themselves to humans and take control of the bodies, which then are no more than husks, their minds having been destroyed. The Sild are appearing offshore, possibly coming through some disturbances that also are causing the sinking of oil rigs from along the Scottish coastline. It turns out the Sild are a race that the Time lords exiled (and came close to annihilating) because they were considered too dangerous.
Meanwhile, the Doctor’s longtime foe, the Master, a renegade Time Lord, is kept in prison by the British government. Only, he has sent a message through time to engineer his escape, not realizes that the Sild are using that to move through time themselves. Because the Sild are seeking the Master, it forces an alliance between the Doctor and his foe, an alliance that takes them to almost the end of time. Meanwhile, Jo and the Brigadier have to prevent more people dying on the oil rigs and from the Sild invasion. I quite enjoyed the book. The Sild are a good new enemy and Reynolds fills in some history of the Doctor, the Master and the Time Lords overall. He also presents a more multi-faceted Master, one that even could be redeemed. Grade: book 3.75 stars
Time Trax: The Complete First Season (1993-94, Warner Archive, 6 DVDs, 1012 min.) and Time Trax: The Complete Second Season (1994-95, Warner Archive, 6 DVDs, 973 min.). Speaking of time travel, this American-Australian production, which lasted two seasons, stars the amiable Dale Midkiff (Jock Ewing in “Dallas: The Early Years,” Elvis Presley in “Elvis and Me” miniseries, Louis Creed in the film “Pet Sematary”) as policeman Darien Lambert from the year 2193. He is made a captain and given the holographic computer SELMA (Specified Encapsulated Limitless Memory Archive, played by Elizabeth Alexander) and orders to track down some 100 fugitives who have disappeared just when they were about to be captured. His investigation leads to both love (Alyssa, who worked with Sahmbi) and a scientist (Peter Donat as Dr. Mordecai Sahmbi) who has developed time travel. The time travel process has limits: it can only go 200 years into the past; and a person can only safely stand one round-trip.
Lambert is sent back in the past with a weapon that can prep the escaped fugitives for the return trip to 2193 and he uses newspaper classifieds to indicate when a fugitive is coming. SELMA, who is made to look like Lambert’s mother, as well as a prim British nanny, is disguised as a credit card. Produced by Harve Bennett (“The Mod Squad,” “The Six Million Dollar Man” and other TV series), most episodes deal with Lambert trying to capture a fugitive. In the two-part pilot, Sahmbi has escaped into the past, where he is plotting with fugitive Charlie Burke and Sepp Dietrich to kill the president of the United States as a first step to creating a Fourth Reich. Annie Knox (Mia Sara) is a 1993 Secret Service agent who helps Lambert. The budget is extremely limited, which especially affects the future scenes, but there is a nice touch of the Pentagon having been turned into a federal prison. The stories themselves are not bad. As with most Warner Archive releases, the discs are created on demand and can be ordered from the website. Grade: series 2.75 stars
Continuum: Season One (Canada, Universal/Syfy, 2 Blu-ray discs, NR, 7 hours 20 min.). The basic plot here is similar to “Time Trax,” but this show is so much more sophisticated. In the year 2077, the ruthless leaders of the terrorist group known as Liber8 are sentenced to death after killing hundreds by destroying a building (Liber8 fights against the corporations that have taken control of the future government). However, the terrorists escape execution by traveling through time to 2012, and policewoman (or Protector as they are known in the future) Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) is pulled into the past along with them. A stranger in the Vancouver of 2012, she poses as a government agent and helps the police department, including detective Carlos Fonnegra (Victor Webster) fight the terrorists, with the aim to capture them before they can alter the future. Cameron has to hide who she is, how she gets her information and her resources from her partner throughout the first 10-episode season.
Cameron is helped by teen tech wizard Alec Sadler (Erik Knudson), who can communicate with her on the special radio frequency he developed. That is because he actually developed the technology used in her special police suit. In fact, Sadler is destined to become the most influential man in the future (the elder Sadler is played by William B. Davis of “The X-Files”), while his step-brother Julian (Richard Harmon) is destined to become a leader of the terrorists. Most episodes start with a scene from the future, where Cameron was married and had a son, and the loss of her son plays a large part in mental state the first season. The just-completed, 13-episode second season deepens the connections between 2012-2013 and 2077. This is a series I really enjoy and the extras are looks at the series creators, the future police and the terrorists. Grade: season 3.25 stars
How the West Was Won: The Complete First Season (1977, Warner, NR, 398 min.). Inspired by the Cinerama film of the same name and the 1966 feature-length TV movie, “The Macahans,” which is included as an extra, the series debuted as three episodes. A grizzled James Arness plays Zeb Macahan, an ex-Cavalry scout, turned off by the brutality of the soldiers toward the Indians. In the TV movie, he agrees to lead his brother’s family on the perilous journey to Oregon, but the Civil War breaks out. In the series, we learn that Luke (Bruce Boxleitner) was conscripted to serve in the Union Army and now is considered a deserter, with Capt. Martin Grey (Anthony Zerbo) determined to bring him in. Also, that Luke’s father was killed in the battle of Shiloh.
At Zeb’s suggestion, Luke goes to hide in the hills, where he kills a man while saving a Simonite woman (the Simonites are a nonviolent religious group). Luke both falls for the woman he saves and the Simonite lifestyle, but relatives of the man he killed are out for revenge. Meanwhile, the widow Kate Macahan (Eva Marie Saint) has to find off a local Indian chief trying to marry her to one of his braves. The Macahan home, it turns out is on land disputed by two tribes, so by marrying her, the one tribe would gain the advantage. There also are two Macahan daughters -- Kathryn Holcomb as Laura and Vicki Schreck as Jessie -- as well as a younger son, Josh (William Kirby Cullen). Don Murray plays Jim Anderson, the handsome drifting gunfighter who stays with the Macahans briefly and with whom Kate gets romantically involved. The acting is decent and the plot moves along, and there are plenty of authentic details of the 1860s lifestyle. Grade: season 3 stars
Perry Mason: Final Season, Season 9 Volume 2 (1966, CBS/Paramount, 4 DVDs, NR, 12 hours 58 min.). This set contains the final 15 episodes of the long-running series that starred Raymond Burr as never-lose lawyer Perry Mason (he won two Emmys playing the character). Episodes include Mason becoming the star witness in a murder case; a young golfer is accused of killing a degenerate pro golfer; Mason and investigator Paul Drake’s (William Hopper) fishing trip is interrupted by murder (a bonus feature includes Barbara Hale, who played his secretary, Della Street, introducing the episode); Mason’s car gets stripped for parts; an aspiring British pop star is accused of killing his smarmy promoter; a woman jilted at the altar (Pippa Scott) trades places with a woman who is a target of the mob; Brian Donlevy plays an ex-general who has become the head of a crime commission to rid the city of gangs; Cloris Leachman plays a betrayed widow; Dick Clark plays a TV writer; and Mason loses a case when the jury is convinced that he bribed a prospective witness into changing his testimony. The character of Los Angeles attorney Mason originally appeared in Erle Stanley Gardner’s fiction. Three of these episodes are based on Gardner’s stories.
Rawhide: The Fifth Season Vols. 1 and 2 (1962-63, each CBS/Paramount, 4 DVDs, NR, 13 hours 33 min. and 12 hours 42 min.). The TV western that helped make Clint Eastwood a star would run for eight seasons, so this season begins the second half. Eastwood plays foreman Rowdy Yates, who along with tough rider Gil Favor (Eric Fleming), ride herd over 3,000 head of cattle and 25 drovers. Paul Brinegar plays the comically grouchy cook Wishbone. During the first half of the season, they have to deal with a wild bull, a rising river, a bounty hunter who joins the crew and then an ex-con, being in the midst of a range war, a wolf pack and a prospector who declares he has found gold. In one episode, Rowdy is drugged in a saloon and wakes up to find himself married to the owner’s girlfriend. In the second half of the season, challenges include watered alcohol and bad supplies, Rowdy placed on trial by his former commanding officer, finding help for the ill son of an Indian chief and other run-ins with Indians, including buying three captured white children from the Apache. While packaged separately, the two halves of the season are being sold as one unit.