Last week, BBC Video released not just one, not two, but THREE classic Doctor Who serials on DVD. I am impressed with their commitment to releasing the classic material as well as the new, and this time we get two stories featuring the Third Doctor and one featuring Sylvester McCoy.
Two of the serials are packaged together as the Dalek War boxset. The stories are “Frontier in Space” and “Planet of the Daleks.” The box set title is a bit tricky as the Daleks don’t factor in to “Frontier” much at all, but I’ll take what I can get.
“Frontier in Space” is, honestly, a story that I enjoyed much more when I was watching episodes in order with my best friend. It has the typical trapping of the Jon Pertwee era in that it takes six episodes to tell a tale that could be told in three or four, and therefore, there is a lot of decompression and padding. While at times I like being able to spend more time in certain moments, there is a point when it goes too far.
It’s also VERY 70’s, which might be jarring to those who are used to the adventures of David Tennant as The Doctor.
The best part of “Frontier” is, as per usual, Roger Delgado as the Master. Sadly, it’s his final episode but he is, to me, one of the best actors to play the role. The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is one of my favorite past Doctors, and I really enjoy his adventures with Jo Grant, so those elements all go in the “plus” category.
Upon my first watch I found the cliffhanger near the end of “Frontier,” leading into the next serial, to be SO COOL. Sadly, a major character didn’t cross over between stories, and it’s a shame to wonder about what might have been.
“Frontier In Space” has commentary from actress Katy Manning (Jo Grant) as well as script editor Terrance Dcks and the late producer Barry Letts, moderated by former Doctor Who Magazine editor Clayton Hickman. There’s a Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier extra that I skipped entirely because it seems to be along the same vein as that “visiting the Brigadier” extra that was on a previous release. There’s a “Making Of” documentary as well, but the best extra on this disc is a retrospective/documentary about actor Roger Delgado. There was so much about his career that I did not know prior to this, and it amazes me how different he can look based on whatever he does with his facial hair. Such an amazing actor who died far too young.
“Frontier” also has, as do most in the Doctor Who range, trivia subtitles if you choose to watch them. I love these. The people who put together these sets do an amazing job.
As for my recommendation, I’d have to say that it’s great for die-hards of classic Who but this might not be one that I’d recommend for someone only familiar with the new series. There are much more accessible Jon Pertwee episodes to watch.
The second serial in the “Dalek War” boxset, also with 2 discs, is “Planet of the Daleks.” The highlight of this one is that for the first time in over 30 years, viewers can see Episode Three in color. The color restoration job done on this story (which is also the focus of a DVD extra) is very well done, and I’m impressed the effort was made to do it.
“Planet” is a pretty typical Terry Nation Dalek story, fresh with jungles, corridors, and silly effects, but I enjoy it. Also, like with “Frontier,” there are better examples of similar stories of that era already on DVD, but the colorization done for this in addition to the other extras on this set really do impress me and might make this one worth a look.
Commentary for “Planet of the Daleks” is by Katy Manning (Jo), Prentis Hancock (Vaber), and Tim Preece (Codal), alongside Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts, and that’s just one of a good dozen extra features.
Finally, we go to 1988 for the last Dalek story of the original series, “Remembrance of the Daleks,” back for a Special Edition release. The original release came out years ago with very few extras; this time, it’s 2 discs with many extras, including a “Remembrances” feature talking about influences of other Doctor Who stories, extended and deleted scenes, a “Making Of” documentary, and more.
On the second disc is a “Davros Connections” feature about the history of the Daleks’ creator, Davros. This is very interesting, although I really did not like the emphasis given to the “Davros” audio adventures, as I am one of those fans who really only believes what I see on the TV screen to be canonical. This extra also makes it painfully clear that this DVD set was prepared over two years ago for the United Kingdom, as no mention is made of Davros’ return in the modern Doctor Who. It’s a cool idea, but they could have done more with it.
“Remembrance of the Daleks” is an interesting beast in itself. It’s one of the most memorable stories of the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) era, and arguably one of the best stories. People tend to forget that the Daleks went up the stairs first in THIS era, not in the Christopher Eccleston episode “Dalek.” Unfortunately, even though this story takes place in November 1963, it also has some of the most 80’s of looks to it – between the way it was shot, to the “modern” effects, the overbearingly 80’s synth soundtrack, or the really poor job done on the props.
About that: The Doctor and Ace visit the junkyard where the Doctor was based in the series’ very first episode back in 1963. Sadly, this junkyard, looking nothing like it did in ’63 or in “Attack of the Cybermen,” also has a sign that, again, looks like it was made in 1988 that couldn’t even spell “I.M. Foreman” correctly. Would it really have killed them to create a prop that replicated what was done in the show’s first episode? Apparently. Likewise, tiny items like the book that Ace picked up, to represent the same book picked up by Susan in “An Unearthly Child,” look nothing like how they were in the show’s first episode. I know I sound like a nitpicky fan with that but that really bothers me.
Commentary for this episode comes from McCoy and Sophie Aldred (Ace). Despite some of my criticisms, if you’re really curious to see a Sylvester McCoy story, this might be a decent choice.
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