Doctor Who: Revisitations 1 Review
Within a couple of years, every surviving episode of Doctor Who will have been released on DVD, and most of the releases to date have been reviewed on this site. Revisitations collects three relatively early discs and upgrades them. This box set is Revisitations 1, which implies that there will be further box sets, and we can all think of candidates for the treatment. However the first three are The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Caves of Androzani and the 1996 TV Movie (sometimes known as The Enemy Within, but not on screen.) Each one has been given an additional disc of extras.
This selection seems odd to me. Maybe 2 Entertain intend to lead off the Revisitations line with some high-profile serials: Talons would be in many fans' Top Ten Best Ever, and Caves is a frequent Number One on such polls. (Indeed, I reviewed it here for the show's fortieth anniversary in 2003 because it had just topped Doctor Who Magazine's poll.) As for the TV Movie, it seemed in 1996 a brave but unsuccessful attempt to revive the show, with an eye on the American audience and up-to-date special effects. Its DVD came out in 2003, since when of course New Who has arrived. In many ways, the TV Movie – the only television outing for Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor – seems a dry run for the new show, making some mistakes along the way which the 2005 version avoided.
But I would argue that, in terms of picture and sound, none of these needed upgrading. All three exist in the archives in their original states. No colourisation, VidFIREing or Reverse Standards Conversion is required. Giving each serial an additional extras disc is fine, but Talons was already a two-discer.
The original releases were reviewed here as follows:
The Talons of Weng-Chiang, reviewed by Mike Sutton
The Caves of Androzani, reviewed by Gary Couzens
The TV Movie, reviewed by James Gray
I rewatched all three before writing this review (the TV Movie for the first time since its May Bank Holiday 1996 UK television premiere) and have no reason to disagree with Mike, James or myself as to the merits of these stories. What I will do in the rest of this review is discuss the discs and the extras.
Revisitations 1 comprises two two-disc sets and a three-discer, separately packaged, inside a box. All the discs are dual-layered except for Disc Two of Caves. The feature discs for each story are encoded for Region 2 only; the extras discs for Regions 2 and 4. (The original BBC Worldwide editions of Talons and Caves were dual encoded for Regions 2 and 4. I do not have a copy of the original release of the TV Movie available to compare with the new version.) The TV Movie gains this box set its 12 certificate; the other two stories are rated PG. All seven discs have audio descriptive menu options.
Talons amd Caves were shot in the series' usual mixture of analogue video (two-inch and one-inch respectively) for studio work and 16mm film for locations. The TV Movie was shot on 35mm film, the only Who television story apart from the 16mm-originated Spearhead from Space to be entirely made on celluloid. The aspect ratio of the two earlier stories is 1.33:1, as you would expect from Seventies and Eighties television. The TV Movie is also in this ratio: the BBC had started making programmes in widescreen by 1996 (though still broadcasting in analogue at the time), but I suspect it was early days yet for the US market, so 4:3 it was. Much work was done for the earlier DVD releases of these stories (for further details, see the Restoration Team's site ere) and I'd say I can't tell any difference for the two stories I was able to make comparisons for. Talons has a dark look, with much chiaroscuro, which – given the limitations of the original source materials – makes for a rather soft and at times noisy image on DVD. That's not a criticism: this is as good as this will likely ever look. As I remarked in my original review of Caves, the standards of BBC videotape had clearly moved on in seven years, and the results are clearer, with improved shadow detail, even in the scenes set in the eponymous caves. James had issues with the video quality of the TV Movie in his review. I don't, as I say above, have that edition to compare with the present one, but the film does have a soft look pretty much throughout, which was presumably have been a choice of director Geoffrey Sax and his DP Glen MacPherson. That said, the night scenes have good shadow detail and strong blacks.
The soundtracks are mono for Talons and Caves, Dolby Surround for the TV Movie. All are professional jobs of work, clear and well-balanced. The surrounds in the TV Movie are used mainly for the music score, while my subwoofer picked up some redirected bass from the gunshots. English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing. As well as the feature audio and the commentary/ies, Caves features Roger Limb's music as an isolated score. The TV Movie also includes an isolated score (by Johm Debney, John Sponsler and Louis Serbe) plus four songs which can be played audio-only - “In a Dream” (3:50), “Ride into the Moonlight” (3:25), “All Dressed Up” (1:58) and “Auld Lang Syne” (0:43).
On to the extras. The original commentaries for all three stories are presented here, while the TV Movie has a newly-recorded additional one. One difference that should be noted between the original releases and these special editions is that the commentaries had optional subtitles in the BBC Worldwide releases, but that is not the policy of 2 Entertain, and so those subtitle tracks are no longer present. The commentary for Talons, recorded in 2003, features actors Louise Jameson, John Bennett and Christopher Benjamin, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and director David Maloney. Bennett and Maloney have since then passed away. The combination of these five varies with each episode, but the rapport between them, and the pride they share in their work, is obvious. Interestingly, they seem to be watching an off-air copy, as you can hear the BBC Continuity announcer over the end credits of a couple of episodes.
The commentary for Caves dates from 2001 and features Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper. As I said first time round, clearly a good time was had by all. It’s a very entertaining commentary, with plenty of jokes and anecdotes and still finding time for a few behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts, mostly coming from Harper. The TV Movie features the original 2001 commentary from director Geoffrey Sax, which James found rather dull (and I agree), with some lengthy pauses, and is a good reason why Who commentaries should not be solo efforts. The second commentary, recorded in 2009, is much better. It brings together Doctors Seven and Eight, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, with the present Dalek/Cybermen voice Nicholas Briggs as moderator. There's a lot of banter between McCoy and McGann, and Briggs occasionally has to step in to insert a disclaimer after some of McCoy's assertions.
All three disc sets feature a Coming Soon trailer for the next Who release, The Seeds of Doom (0:52). The feature discs also have the invaluable information subtitles, which tell you all you need to know, and more besides, about the story in question. The subtitles on Talons are the work of Martin Wiggins, and appear to be an updated version of the track on the original release , the main differences that I could see being that post-2003 death dates are noted. Caves has a different set of subtitles to the original release, and are provided by Paul Scoones. The TV Movie information subtitles are by Niall Boyce.
Disc Two for Talons contains the new extras. It begins with “The Last Hurrah” (33:35), in which Philip Hinchcliffe visits Tom Baker at the latter's home to discuss their last story together. This is in effect the making-of documentary and it also features Louise Jameson, Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin, designer Roger Murray-Leach, costume designer John Bloomfield and, in archive footage, David Maloney.
“Moving On” (4:36) asks the intriguing question of what would have happened if Philip Hinchcliffe had stayed on as producer for another year. It turns out that some ideas were in the air, and Hinchcliffe wanted to do a story inspired by Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End. “The Foe from the Future” (6:47) discusses the story that Robert Banks Stewart was commissioned to write. This got as far as treatment stage, but Stewart accepted a script editing job and was unable to continue, so Robert Holmes had to step in to write Talons from scratch.
“Now and Then” (11:03) is another in the occasional series of featurettes comparing the locations where the serial was shot from the way there were at the time to how they are now. Some of them no longer exist, being on the site of the present day Globe Theatre. Next up is a brief piece from the BBC regional programme Look East (3:39) covering the shoot at the Northampton Repertory Theatre, including an interview with Tom Baker in costume.
“Victoriana and Chinoiserie” (8:08) discusses the conventions and influences that the story draws upon, with contributions from Philip Hinchcliffe and University lecturer Dr Anne Witchard. The latter discusses Leela in terms of the New Woman of the late Victorian era, one of the first wave of women's liberation. In similar vein is “Music Hall” (21:44). Hosted by Michael McManus, this looks back at this form of theatre, which then played to a mass audience, with contributions from Victor Spinetti, Pamela Cundell and others. In “Limehouse – A Victorian Chinatown” (19:21), Matthew Sweet talks about the truth and legend about this area of East London, with contributions from academics John Seed and Anne Witchard and curator of the Museum of London Docklands Tom Wareham. The extras on this disc are completed by a self-navigating stills gallery (3:20) and Radio Times listings in PDF format. The latter also includes letters from an eleven-year-old girl asking for more scary monsters (with a reply from incoming producer Graham Williams) and a 52-year-old man asking for more Leela in her original costume. There is also a listing for the documentary Whose Doctor Who of which more below.
Disc Three is the original edition's Disc Two, though updated to include an audio-descriptive menu. Whose Doctor Who (58:45) was a documentary made in 1977 for the Lively Arts strand. Presented by Melvyn Bragg, it discusses the history and appeal of the show with its makers (including Philip Hinchcliffe and Tom Baker), fans, children and child psychologists. Behind-the-scenes of Talons are included. The clips from past serials are an inadvertent tribute to the work of the Restoration Team, including the soft and fuzzy non-VIDFIREd telerecordings of Sixties episodes, plus a black and white clip from the yet-to-restored-to-colour The Silurians.
There just has to be a clip from Blue Peter somewhere on this set, and so there is (26:01), instant nostalgia for us fortysomethings who were watching at the time. Lesley Judd and John Noakes show you how to make a Doctor Who theatre, though you'll need to cut up a 1977 edition of Radio Times to do this. (The relevant bits of that magazine could have been included as a PDF.)
“Behind the Scenes” is 24:01 of very lo-fi black and white timecoded video footage shot on set, complete with off-set commands from the floor manager. One for the connoisseurs, this, but it's good that it exists at all.
“Pebble Mill at One” was a popular daytime magazine show, broadcast from the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham (hence the name). In this extract (11:31) from a 1977 edition, Philip Hinchcliffe is interviewed by David Seymour and quizzed on the violence in the show. Also on the disc are a set of trailers for the serial and for Whose Doctor Who and (mispronounced) continuity announcements. Astonishingly, later the same evening on BBC2 was a foreign-language film, not only subtitled but in black and white - Un carnet de bal from 1937. Another era indeed...
The extras are completed by the original edition's self-navigating stills gallery (3:26) and the sixth of the Tardis-Cam animations (1:44) that were included on Who DVDs at the time. There is an Easter egg, which can be found by clicking left from “Trails and Continuity”: a “clean” (textless) opening credits sequence, which runs 0:43.
The feature disc for Caves carries over most of the extras from the original release. The other extras start with "Behind the Scenes: The Regeneration" (7:55) which is effectively B-roll footage of the regeneration scene: interesting if you want to know what recording TV is really like, but you’ll only want to watch it once. You have the choice of original audio, or a commentary from the same three participants as the main feature. Having said that, Harper repeats his story of how he found inspiration from The Beatles's “A Day in the Life”. "Creating Sharaz Jek" (5:06) is an audio recording of Christopher Gable made before his death in 1988, overlaid on footage from the serial and behind the scenes.
Instead of the one extended scene from the original version, we now have three (4:13). Again you have a choice of original audio or a commentary (from Harper, with some comments by Davison). This commentary however only plays over the first of the scenes, featuring Stotz (Maurice Roëves) and the gunrunners, but not on the next two, both of which feature Sharaz Jek. In the latter, the additional footage comes from a timecoded video copy.
There are three extracts from TV programmes dealing with the news of Peter Davison’s departure from the series. They come from the BBC One O’Clock News (0:24), a longer extract from the Nine O’Clock News (1:23) featuring a brief interview with Davison by Kate Adie, and finally a section of the local magazine South East at Six (3:37) featuring Davison and producer John Nathan-Turner, the latter wearing a particularly hideous combination of crimson Hawaiian shirt and yellow trousers. These were separate menu items originally, but now are one item called “News”, with three chapters running 5:24 in total.
Completists should note that Caves no longer features the original opening of Episode One as an optional opening chapter. During the desert scenes, the matte-painted background failed to integrate with the foreground, causing a wobbling effect. This was fixed for the 2001 DVD, with Graeme Harper's approval, and is now the only version available on DVD.
The extras are wrapped up with a BBC trailer for the first episode (0:34) and the Radio Times listings in PDF format. The previous edition did not include the latter, as they were yet to be a regular feature on Who discs. As Who was being broadcast twice weekly, on Thursdays and Fridays, only the listings for Parts 1 and 3 have cast listings. The original stills gallery, with its simple back-and-forth user-controlled navigation, has been replaced by one which is now on Disc Two.
This disc begins with “Chain Reaction” (36:06), the solid making-of featurette it didn't get first time round. As Robert Holmes is no longer with us, script editor Eric Saward (standing next to a wall with the word WRITER in large letters on it, not to mention two oversized clocks) talks about how he got Holmes to write for the show again, over producer John Nathan-Turner's objections. Other interviewees include Graeme Harper, Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant, plus other cast members Maurice Roëves, Robert Glenister and Martin Cochrane plus production designer John Hurst and composer Roger Limb.
Harper is, to date, the only person to have directed Who both its old and new incarnations. In “Directing Who: Then & Now” (11:46), he talks about the differences in direction for the old multi-camera format with the new, more cinematic, single-camera format. Also on the disc is an extract from a 1984 edition of The Russell Harty Show (8:38), broadcast just after Caves had finished showing, in which Harty interviews Peter Davison and Colin Baker together. Finally, there is a remade, and this time self-navigating, photo gallery (4:58).
The extras on Disc One of the TV Movie begin with “The Seven-Year Hitch” (53:55), a newly-made and extensive documentary on Philip Segal's quest to bring Doctor Who back to the screen. BBC Director of Programmes Peter Cregeen and BBC1 Controller Alan Yentob tell us why the show was cancelled. We also hear from the TV Movie's writer Matthew Jacobs, executive producer Jo Wright and from Graeme Harper. This is as exhaustive as the best documentaries on Who discs are, though I don't know if archive interviews exist with certain people no longer with us, especially John Nathan-Turner.
“The Doctor's Strange Love” (17:12) is a three-way conversation with writers Joe Lidster and Simon Guerrier and comedian Josie Long, in which they discuss and appreciate the TV Movie. They're certainly enthusiastic, but at the featurette at this length is over-indulgent. Also on Disc 1 are a photo gallery (3:48) and the Radio Times listing in PDF format. This also includes a reproduction of the magazine's sixteen-page pullout souvenir brochure.
Disc Three is subdivided into three sections - “Pre-Production”, “Production” and “Special Features”. “Pre-Production” begins with Paul McGann's audition tape (7:40), which comes with an apology for the video and sound quality. Also in this section are two VFX tests (0:51 and 2:34). The second one is mute and timecoded.
“Production” begins with Fox's EPK (15:24) which follows the usual formula of talking heads and behind-the-scenes footage. More behind-the-scenes footage makes up a second item, running 4:48, and dealing with the making of the shootout near the beginning of the film.
Next up, producer Philip Segal gets his fanboy moment and takes us on a guided tour of the TARDIS set (2:35). This section ends with 1:05 of alternate takes.
“Special Features” kicks off with the BBC's trailer for the first showing of the TV Movie (1:02). “Who Peter 1989-2009” (26:45) begins with the Who theme, which morphs into the Blue Peter sailor's hornpipe theme. There has been a strong relationship between the two shows, as has been shown on previous DVDs, and Blue Peter never quite let the programme die after its cancellation. This is largely due to Richard Marson, a longtime Who fan, who was producer and editor of Blue Peter from 1998 to 2007, and this is something that Russell T. Davies comes along to acknowledge. They even had Christopher Eccleston on the show when Who was relaunched in 2005. This featurette is dedicated to the memory of Richard Marson's son Rupert, who took his own life in 2008 at the age of fourteen.
“The Wilderness Years” (23:32) begins with Peter Cregeen talking about how the decision was made to “rest” the programme. However, there was still Doctor Who Magazine, the first video releases, the Virgin New Adventures books, and audio adventures to keep the name alive.
The final two items are parts of ongoing series. “Stripped for Action – The Eighth Doctor” (19:48) details the Paul McGann incarnation's adventures in graphic form. I'm not really a comics fan, but this is still worth a look, and more so for aficionados. The strip continued until Doctor Nine arrived in 1995. “Tomorrow's Times” (10:50) looks at the comments in the press following the original broadcast of the TV Movie, Points of View style, this time presented by Nicholas Courtney.
How much 2 Entertain will continue their “Revisitations” lines remains to be seen, though there are early releases which certainly could bear upgrading. Completists may quibble, and anyone only interested in watching the stories need not apply, but these three Special Editions are probably now definitive.