The start of Tom Baker’s seven years as The Doctor, the five stories of Season 12 kick off a classic era of the show, and are now released on Blu-ray.
Doctor Who was never officially a children’s programme but a family show, being made by BBC Drama rather than the Children’s Department. But it’s undeniable that it, in both Classic and New varieties, has always had a way of attracting viewers at a young age. Russell T. Davies, New Who’s first showrunner, is only a year older than I am, but he was watching at the ripe old age of three when William Hartnell regenerated into Patrick Troughton. I was six when I started, and for me and I guess many other ten-year-olds in 1974, Jon Pertwee was The Doctor. Oh, we knew there had been two earlier actors in the role – we’d read the BBC’s tenth anniversary special and we’d even seen them the previous year in The Three Doctors. But Pertwee had played the role the longest so far, five years and in colour too. But finally, in 1974 it all changed.
Behind the scenes, you could detect a sense of continuity, family almost, having been built up over the years. Barry Letts had produced all the Pertwee stories after the first one, and Terrance Dicks had begun as script editor in Troughton’s last season. Alongside the Doctor, there was a regular supporting cast, a well-established companion in Katy Manning’s Jo Grant, and a recurring villain in The Master, played by Roger Delgado. Familiarity, even cosiness, was setting in. But then Delgado was tragically killed in a car crash, Katy Manning left after three years to be replaced by Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith, and Letts and Dicks decided to leave. Feeling that his team was finally being taken away, and fearing typecasting, Pertwee clearly decided that it was time to move on too.
Enter Tom Baker. He had some notable film roles behind him, with Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales and Nicholas and Alexandra (as Rasputin) on his CV. At the time when Letts was considering actors to play the Doctor, Baker was in cinemas in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, so Letts went to see the film. At the time, Baker was “resting” to such an extent that he was working on a building site. He won the part and so, on 28 December 1974, a day after the showing of a cut-down omnibus edition of Pertwee’s swansong Planet of the Spiders. we had our first look at Doctor Number Four.
The previous regeneration story, Spearhead from Space, had spent a fair amount of its first couple of episodes establishing its new Doctor. Robot, written by Dicks, clears that out of the way quite briskly, give or take some disconcertion and a few costume attempts before settling on the soon-to-be-iconic hat and scarf. Dicks also introduces a new companion in the shape of UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter), who had been an offscreen character in Planet of the Spiders. The story soon kicks into gear, with top secret plans being stolen from a secure location. This turns out to be a seven-foot robot (Michael Kilgarriff), developed by Professor Kettlewell (Edward Burnham), but used for its own purposes by the National Institute for Advanced Scientific Research (aka the “Think Tank”), a covert quasi-fascist organisation headed by Miss Winters (Patricia Maynard) who aim to hold the world to ransom…
Although as broadcast Robot was the first story of Season Twelve, it was part of Season Eleven’s production block. Letts was still the producer, with the incoming Philip Hinchcliffe shadowing him. Dicks had passed on the script editorship to Robert Holmes, though as outgoing editor he claimed the right (by tradition, or so he said) to script the next story, and so he did. Robot has tended to suffer in comparison with what would follow in Season Twelve, the first fruits of the Hinchcliffe-Holmes partnership. Re-watched forty-three years later, Robot is still a middle-ranker: efficient as is most of Dicks’s Who output without that vital spark that separates out the greatest. Its influences are rather too overt as well.
Sarah had worked well with the Third Doctor, but with the Fourth her character really blossomed, forming one of the definitive Doctor/companion partnerships, later returning in the the spin-off K9 and Company, reappearing in New Doctor Who and having her own show, The Sarah-Jane Adventures. It’s also fair to say that Elisabeth Sladen has never made much of a public impression in another role, which tends to be the way with companion actors – and some Doctor actors as well. Her characterisation was in part a response to feminism percolating into popular culture: young women who screamed and had to be rescued were no longer on. She has an independent job, as a journalist, and is shown to be making use of her abilities. The story as a whole riffs off King Kong, and Sarah, the only person who shows concern for the hapless robot, gets to play Fay Wray. In the then current climate, Dicks made the main villain a woman as well. Times had changed, given that only three years earlier the BBC had vetoed a woman being cast as a sadistic villain in Colony in Space.
Male companions were a given during the 1960s – think of Ian, Steven, Ben and Jamie. Pertwee’s Doctor established the formula of one female companion, but with Harry Sullivan the male returned. Harry’s role was to handle the action stuff in case an older actor was cast as the Doctor. But Baker was forty, 6’3” tall like his predecessor, and quite capable of dealing with action on his own, so Harry was really surplus to requirements. You can sense Harry being given little to do in the last couple of episodes of Robot and he, plus the UNIT regulars of the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton (promoted to Warrant Officer in this serial), were written out in the following season. Ian Marter, who had previously appeared in Carnival of Monsters, was a good fit for his intended role, with old-school square-jawed heroic looks.
Of the supporting cast, Nicholas Courtney and John Levene have good moments as the Brigadier and Benton. Miss Winters is played with suitable iciness and not a few dykey overtones by Patricia Maynard. Michael Kilgarriff had been a Cyberman previously, living out the rule of thumb that particularly tall actors (6’5” in his case) tend to play inside monster suits, does as well as he could as the robot. Classic Doctor Who has a reputation for dodgy special effects that has been overstated: for every sore-thumb effect there are several miracles on a low budget. Robot was shot entirely on outside-broadcast video, partly to make use of colour-separation overlay (CSO, also known as Chroma-Key), especially for the scenes in the final episode where the Robot grows to giant size. But while there’s nothing so awful as the rubber creatures from the previous season’s Invasion of the Dinosaurs, some shots – notably the Action Man model tank – are not the effects unit’s finest work to say the least. The Robot was designed by costume designer James Acheson, later to win an Oscar for The Last Emperor. Dudley Simpson’s score quotes from several different nursery rhymes.
There could have been a better introduction to Tom Baker’s seven-year reign, but Robot does its job without too much in the way of fuss or frills. However, soon things were going to be a lot better.
The Ark in Space (98:52)
Leaving in the TARDIS, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry arrive on a deserted space station. This is Nerva, orbiting a far-future Earth devastated by solar flares. The last of the human race is held in suspended animation. But what no-one knows is that Nerva has been infiltrated by an insectoid alien race, the Wirrn, who have laid their eggs and absorbed the technical knowledge of one of the sleeping humans…
The Ark in Space, written by Robert Holmes from an uncredited outline by John Lucarotti, was the first story produced by Philip Hinchcliffe and the second with Holmes as script editor. Hinchcliffe and Holmes were in place for three seasons, and pushed the series in a more adult direction, not afraid to be horrific at times. Too much so for many people, including Mary Whitehouse, who frequently complained about the level of violence and horror in a supposed children’s programme. For many people – myself included – the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era was a high point. It seemed that many others agreed: Episode Two of The Ark in Space attracted an audience of 13.6 million, a record for the programme and some three million more than any episode in the 1970s up to then. I was ten when it was first broadcast and like many people of my generation I received my basic education in SF and horror from Doctor Who, not forgetting the original series of Star Trek.
The story came about as part of cost-saving measures by Letts and Dicks. They had cut back on the longer stories which had featured before: their first season, Pertwee’s first, had featured three seven-parters out of four serials, and after that, four-parters and some six-parters were the norm, with just the five-part The Daemons as an exception. However, it was often found that six-parters were harder to sustain dramatically, often subdividing into smaller units and sometimes feeling padded out. On the other end, the greater number of episodes made for savings in sets and costumes. So, The Ark in Space and the next story, The Sontaran Experiment, were allocated the resources of a six-episode story, with the same director (Rodney Bennett) for both: an all-studio four-parter and an all-location two-parter respectively. Given that the final story of the season, Revenge of the Cybermen, was also set on Nerva, that meant a substantial saving on the studio sets.
The Ark in Space is fascinating to watch nowadays as it deals with body-horror themes a good few years earlier than Alien or The Thing. David Cronenberg had made Shivers the previous year, but at the time he was little known outside horror/exploitation fans and in age-certification terms was certainly off limits to most of the intended audience for Doctor Who. That said, the story’s influences are clear – notably Horror Express (1973) and The Quatermass Experiment (TV 1953, film 1955). The fear of your body changing from within you became even more current in the following decade, but it’s very much present, and potent, here.
The BBFC gave The Ark in Space a U certificate, presumably because the special effects are so dated (as are the 70s fashions). The flesh of mutating astronaut Noah (Kenton Moore) is exactly what it looks like – bubble wrap painted green. Maybe today’s children have moved on, but if you can suspend your disbelief then parts of this story still have the power to chill the blood. Even if you aren’t hiding behind the chair, there’s still much to enjoy in a tense, well-paced adventure. Notice how Holmes and Bennett keep up the suspense in the first episode, when only the three regulars appear on screen.
The Sontaran Experiment (49:33)
Following the events of The Ark in Space, The Doctor, Sarah and Harry teleport down from Nerva to a far future seemingly deserted Planet Earth (well, Dartmoor). But they are not alone: a crew of Galsec colonists are stranded on the planet, and something is tracking them down…
The Sontaran Experiment was the first Doctor Who two-parter since The Rescue, ten years earlier. It’s a sign how things have changed in the four decades since in that this is the length of many a modern-day story. But by 1975, there seemed something right about four twenty-five-minute episodes, allowing for sufficient build-up of atmosphere and plot complexity to satisfy and not to outstay its welcome. A two-parter, on the other hand, felt a little slight. The two previous examples had been effectively fillers: The Edge of Destruction was devised to use up the original thirteen-episode allocation with just the existing cast and no budget for any sets other than the inside of the TARDIS, while The Rescue was a vehicle to introduce a new companion, Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki, while giving the Doctor a not-very-difficult mystery to solve.
And that’s what The Sontaran Experiment comes across as: it’s an enjoyable interlude between the two heavyweights either side of it, but little more than that. Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin wrote to a tight brief given to them by Robert Holmes: as well as the all-location stipulation they had to reintroduce the Sontarans, an alien race created by Holmes for the The Time Warrior, which had also been Sarah’s introduction story. In this first Tom Baker season, the stories had been originated by Letts and Dicks, and there’s a sense, with no one then knowing who would be the next Doctor and how he would play the role, of a falling back on old-favourite adversaries: first the Sontarans and then the Daleks and the Cybermen. It’s notable that Seasons Thirteen and Fourteen, with stories originated by Hinchcliffe and Holmes, that there were no recurring monsters, only new ones, unless you counted the very decayed Master in The Deadly Assassin.
Elisabeth Sladen’s adlibbed shout of “Linx!” is part of the cliffhanger to Episode One. But this is not The Time Warrior’s Linx we’re dealing with, despite being played again by Kevin Lindsay. This time it’s Styre, whose mission is to subject the human body to tests to ascertain its limits. As the Galsec colonists are all male, Sarah’s female form makes for interesting variety… These scenes, mostly in the second episode, are disturbing and do push at the limits of family viewing. One viewer did not like what she saw, and reported the show to Mary Whitehouse and The National Viewers and Listeners’ Association. From that point on, they had the programme in their sights.
As this was made the location part of the budget allocation of what would normally have been a six-parter, The Sontaran Experiment was made before The Ark in Space, in seven days on Dartmoor and around Hound Tor. Kevin Lindsay is suitably sinister as both Styre and, in the second episode, his commanding Marshal. There’s a poignant edge to the role in that he had a heart condition and died a few months afterwards. The Galsec colonists include long-time stuntman Terry Walsh, who gets to double Tom Baker quite a lot in the second half after Baker had fallen and broken his collarbone.
One concern of the writers was the evolution of language, and that’s the reason why the colonists speak with South African accents, on the basis that that accent was already a mix of several influences. Most of the actors playing the colonists were South African expats. One of them was Glyn Jones, one of the few people – along with Victor Pemberton and, in the new series, Mark Gatiss and Toby Whithouse – to be credited both as an actor and as a writer, in the latter capacity for the Hartnell-era The Space Museum.
You couldn’t call The Sontaran Experiment one of the greatest serials, but it’s entertaining and certainly not disgraced by the company it keeps in Tom Baker’s first season.
Genesis of the Daleks (142:55)
We begin on the mist-shrouded planet of Skaro – actually one of the many quarries that performed yeoman service to British small-screen SF, but disbelief is willingly suspended. The opening scene, with gas-masked soldiers gunned down in slow motion, sets the scene for a not humourless but still unusually dark six-parter. Eugenics and genocide (with particular resonance for an audience only thirty years away from the end of World War Two) are amongst its themes. Mary Whitehouse didn’t like it at all.
Intending to return to Nerva, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry’s return journey is intercepted by the Time Lords. They want the Doctor to go back to Skaro, and to thwart or otherwise alter the development of the Daleks. Skaro is in the thick of a generations-long war between the Kaleds and the Thals, and the Daleks are the conception of megalomaniac Kaled scientist Davros (Michael Wisher).
Terry Nation didn’t create Doctor Who, which some people seem to think, but in creating the Daleks he certainly helped to establish the show in the public consciousness. On The Beginning box set, there seemed to be a tendency to downplay Nation’s contribution, and to pay more attention to the contributions of the then script editor David Whittaker and designer Raymond Cusick. Certainly, by the mid 1970s, Nation’s inspiration seemed to be flagging, as his previous Dalek stories seemed to be less effective rehashes of earlier ones. Planet of the Daleks, for example, is the first Daleks story redone in colour on a different planet and one fewer episode.
Script editor Terrance Dicks called Nation on this and asked for something different. By the time Nation delivered the story, Dicks had been replaced by Robert Holmes, and it’s certainly clear that Genesis of the Daleks is a distinctly Holmesian story: the dark tone and the increase in violence (still within PG bounds but occasionally pushing it) are all his trademarks, and if he didn’t rewrite much of the scripts he certainly had an influence on them. Of these men, only Dicks is still alive to say their piece: for Dicks, the story is a little too dour and humourless. David Maloney’s direction is pacey and stylish, using some shadowy lighting. There’s little padding compared to other six-parters, and few flaws. The scene where Harry has his foot stuck in a giant clam is quite silly though.
However, in one respect Genesis of the Daleks adds a significant figure to the iconography of Doctor Who, and by extension British 70s popular culture: Davros. Apart from actors playing companions and other recurring characters, and others who tended to play tiny roles or inhabit monster suits, there were a small number of actors whom the producers called up to play featured roles, and Michael Wisher was one of them. Here he gives one of the finest single performances in genre television, one made all the more remarkable by the fact that it’s one delivered under pounds of makeup and sitting virtually immobile in the bottom half of a Dalek casing. (You’re reminded that many of the most distinctive individual Who villains are basically voice parts, Sutekh and Weng-Chiang being others.)
It’s a pity that this performance’s impact was diluted by bringing the character back with different actors playing him, because the combination of Nation/Holmes’s dialogue and Wisher’s voice creates something quite remarkable, and one engraved in my memory since I first saw it back in 1975. Davros at times even sounds like a Dalek: Wisher had performed Dalek voice duty before and he does so here, uncredited, for the Dalek which speaks in Episode Two. Roy Skelton does the voice honours for the remainder of the serial. Also on the villainous side, Peter Miles is indelible as Nyder, Davros’s sadistic sidekick.
As for Baker, he’d already made the role his own, and while he certainly lasted too long in the role, allowing the series to descend into silliness, he’s a galvanising presence here. Genesis of the Daleks holds the distinction of being the most-repeated Who serial, and also the one available in the most formats (six-part serial, cut-down omnibus, LP record, VHS cassette, DVD and now Blu-ray). Its reputation as one of the series’ all-time classics is secure and that’s something I’m not about to dispute.
Revenge of the Cybermen (96:44)
The time ring returns the Doctor, Sarah and Harry to Nerva, but thousands of years earlier than the events of The Ark in Space. Nerva is currently in use as a space beacon, monitoring a new asteroid orbiting Jupiter – Voga, a planet abundant in gold. However, a space plague has killed most of the crewmen of Nerva, the work of traitor Kellman (Jeremy Wilkin), secretly in league with a group of Cybermen aiming to destroy Voga…
Barry Letts’s and Terrance Dicks’s insurance policy for this season continued, after a second bout with the Sontarans and the Dalek origin story, with the return of probably the second most popular foe of the 1960s. This was the Cybermen’s first appearance in colour, and their only one in the whole of the 1970s (other than some cameos) as they didn’t return until Earthshock in 1982. The story was written by their co-creator, and former Who script editor, Gerry Davis. His scripts were rewritten, partly because of continuity reasons given this season’s story arc, and partly because Hinchcliffe and Holmes thought that they were pitched more towards children than the increasingly adult audiences the show now had.
This story wasn’t meant to be the last of the season, which explains the somewhat abrupt ending. The BBC had decided to bring forward the start of the next season to August instead of the Christmas period, so Terror of the Zygons, which was already in the can, was held over to start it. However, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Tom Baker’s first season comprised two very strong stories out of five, with an effective interlude between them, but began with a middle-ranking story and ended with one.
If we are going to consider Hinchcliffe and Holmes’s three years together as producer and script editor, it’s maybe the next two seasons which are at the heart of it, when the stories were originated by them instead of being inherited from their predecessors. Audiences responded, with viewing figures of over ten million most weeks, in the days before any means of time shifting (so you watched it at the time or missed it, barring possible repeats). There was also a backlash brewing from Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association and this came to a head two years later, bringing the era to an end, with lasting effects on the show.
It’s not a bad story by any means, but Revenge of the Cybermen is nowhere near a great one either. It preceded Genesis of the Daleks in production order (given that it reused some of the sets from The Ark in Space) but by now the chemistry between the Doctor and Sarah was in place. Harry, on the other hand, was clearly surplus to requirements and was written out in the next season. Director Michael E. Briant does his usual dependable job, with some on-film location work in Wookey Hole (standing in for the Planet Voga) being effective. The Cybermen have had a redesign, and that works, though the Vogans are less effective – Who regulars such as Michael Wisher and Kevin Stoney behind the masks.
This was the only one of the stories in this box set with incidental music from anyone other than Dudley Simpson, who had become Who’s house composer by now. Carey Blyton’s score is dominated by brass and percussion, including such instruments as the serpent and the ophicleide. Hinchcliffe especially didn’t feel him best suited to the show, so Peter Howell of the BBC Radiophonic workshop added some synthesiser stings, for which he is uncredited. Blyton (nephew of Enid) had composed the scores for Doctor Who and the Silurians and Death to the Daleks, but this was his final work for the show.
Doctor Who – The Collection: Season 12 is a six-disc Blu-ray box set released by the BBC. That “The Collection” indicates that there will be future box sets on Blu-ray, but none have been formally announced as I write this.
The set comprises one disc per story plus a bonus disc. The discs are encoded for Region B only. All the discs have audio-descriptive menu options, with Tom Baker’s voice. The set carries a 12 certificate, due to two of the extras: the Behind the Sofa piece on The Ark in Space (presumably due to a passing reference to bondage) and the commentary on Part Four of Genesis of the Daleks (for reasons I’m not sure of – a brief discussion of psychopathy, maybe?).
Season 12 is the first season where every episode exists on its original two-inch PAL broadcast tapes. Doctor Who, then and for many years after, was shot on standard-definition PAL videotape, 625 lines in colour. It was usual to use 16mm film for exteriors, but Robot and the all-location The Sontaran Experiment were the first two serials to be made entirely on video, using lightweight outside-broadcast cameras for when the stories left the studio. Other than some special-effects work in the otherwise all-studio The Ark in Space, the only film material is in Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen, telecined in during the studio recordings, and that visual jolt between video and celluloid was very apparent then, and it certainly is now, given that television sets are much bigger and less forgiving than those we were watching on in 1975. However, this is a Blu-ray release. That was certainly a plus for Spearhead from Space, the only Classic Doctor Who story to have been shot entirely on 16mm film.
The extra capacity is the main gain, with the episodes needing to be less compressed than they were on DVD, and even a six-parter like Genesis of the Daleks able to have its episodes and extras on one disc. Otherwise, these stories are never going to look better than the upscaled SD video they are, so that should be borne in mind. The episodes are in the intended 1.33:1 ratio. Given that they were shot at the PAL speed of twenty-five frames per second, the Blu-ray transfers are 1080i50.
The soundtracks are in the original mono, rendered as DTS-HD MA 2.0, There’s not a lot to complain about, as the soundtracks are the product of the BBC sound department’s expertise: clear with the dialogue, sound effects and the music scores well balanced. The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks also feature remixes in DTS-HD MA 5.1, which put the music score and some directional sound effects in the surrounds. I find these a pointless exercise but at least they’re tastefully done and the original mono soundtracks are present as well. Something strange has happened to the soundtrack to Part One of The Sontaran Experiment on this disc: it’s 2.0 mono as you would expect, but it’s “brighter” than the other mono soundtracks and plays in the surround speakers as well as in the centre.
English hard-of-hearing subtitles are available for the stories and the majority of the extras, but not the commentaries. Also available on all of the stories are information subtitles, which tell you all you need to know about the making of each story, plus much more besides. These are the work of Nicholas Pegg for Revenge of the Cybermen and Martin Wiggins on the other four.
Each story has a new featurette called Behind the Sofa (in story order: 44:19, 37:51, 17:43, 43:11, 31:57). Two groups of three people associated with the programme sit on a sofa – with Who monsters standing behind them – and watch the story in question, with appropriate extracts on screen, and give us their reactions. The first trio are Tom Baker, Sadie Miller (Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter, who does resemble her, different hair colour and style apart) and Philip Hinchcliffe. The second three are former companion actors Louise Jameson, Janet Fielding (swathed in a blanket, presumably due to the cancer treatment she’s had in recent years) and Sarah Sutton. The results play like a combination of an interview and a scene-specific video commentary. Fielding tends to be as critical as she has been on previous commentary tracks, but there’s affection for the show and some sadness in watching the contributions of those now dead.
Extras for the individual discs follow. There are a lot of them.
The extras begin with a commentary, which like all the others in this set, was recorded for the previous DVD release. This one features Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Terrance Dicks, plus Barry Letts who for some reason wasn’t listed on the DVD release and still isn’t listed here. This chat sounds like what it is, the reunion of old friends. The rapport is obvious, and the results very entertaining, with Baker’s contributions a particular standout. These four have done quite a lot of Who commentary together and separately, and it shows: they’re in a comfortable groove here, and they do without the need for a moderator, not the case with certain other commentaries. It’s inevitable, given the passing of time, but it’s now a poignant experience given that Letts and Sladen are now no longer with us.
Are Friends Electric? (38:59) is a documentary covering Tom Baker’s casting as the Doctor and the making of Robot. Contributors include all four commentary participants, plus incoming producer Philip Hinchcliffe, director Christopher Barry, production unit manager George Gallacio, plus actors Patricia Maynard, Alec Linstead, Michael Kilgarriff and Edward Burnham. It’s a well-constructed piece as similar ones on other DVDs. A particular bonus is the inclusion of footage of the cast – looking much younger, naturally – at the read-through of the script, of which more below. Some of the actors Letts considered for the Doctor are intriguing, Graham Crowden, Michael Bentine and Fulton Mackay among them.
In The Tunnel Effect (13:48), Bernard Lodge describes the making and evolution of the series’s distinctive title sequences, using such techniques as howlaround and (inspired by the Stargate sequence in 2001) slitscan. This is a good little feature, managing to convey a lot of information about what could have been a very dry and technical subject and to make it interesting. Lodge consistently pronounces “Pertwee” with the stress on the final syllable, which is a little distracting.
Television Drama (35:58) is 16mm footage of the script readthrough of Robot, with the cast, Christopher Barry, Robert Holmes and Terrance Dicks, shot for inclusion in a documentary series of the same title. The series never happened and this mute footage is all that remains. It plays with explanatory captions and the corresponding scene from the final broadcast in a small box to screen right. Subtitles are provided when what the cast says differs from what is said on screen (due to later script revisions) and for comments made by those present, as determined by a pair of lip readers. It’s a sign of the 1974 times how many of the people are smoking.
Location Footage (1:11) is exactly what it says: behind-the-scenes 16mm footage from the location shoot, presented silent. This is followed by Tom Baker in a short, jokey advertisement for the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition (0:15).
Extracts from the long-running children’s TV show Blue Peter have made appearances on quite a few Who releases. Included on this one is the opening (2:14) of the 23 May 1974 edition broadcast from the set of Robot due to a technician’s strike. This features the classic threesome of Lesley Judd in a very 70s dress, John Noakes and Peter Purves. Valerie Singleton is named in the credits but doesn’t appear in this extract, though the two dogs and the cat do. Next up are “clean” versions of the opening and closing credit sequences (2:26) and also unused sequences (0:44).
On Target: Terrance Dicks (21:27) is a featurette which was originally on the DVD of The Monster of Peladon. He was the most prolific contributor to the Target range of Who novelisations, which for many a young fan in the 1970s was an opportunity to experience to some extent the stories which predated us, which we couldn’t see then and in many cases can’t see now. This featurette covers his work for Target, both as a writer and as a template for other writers to follow. He is interviewed and there are tributes from former Doctor Who Magazine editor Alan Barnes, future Who writers Paul Cornell and Gareth Roberts and David J. Howe, co-author of an overview of the Target range The Target Book, and others, with readings from the books by Caroline John, Katy Manning and David Troughton. In many ways, as Cornell suggests, Terrance Dicks is a default voice of Doctor Who, both on screen and on the page, and probably one writer a generation of children and teenagers read more than almost any other.
Next we have original BBC1 continuity announcements (0:41), an Easter Egg on the DVD release, namely the start of the first episode and the end of the last, with a soundtrack clearly recorded off-air. Finally on this disc are a self-navigating stills gallery (4:14) and the Coming Soon DVD trailer for The Ark in Space (1:02).
On the disc is a substantial amount of material in PDF form: production paperwork (148 pages of it), starting with the press release announcing Baker’s casting, with a no doubt helpful handwritten addition telling us that he was forty years old. Also included are set designs, budgets, call sheets, shooting scripts for all four episodes, a map of Evesham, a form signed by Letts concerning Dicks’s “staff contribution to programmes outside normal duties” (i.e. writing the story when he was employed as script editor, which had to be authorised), memos, props requirements, and a proposal for the Television Drama series mentioned above. The four shooting scripts are available separately, as are cuttings from Radio Times from the original transmissions.
The Ark in Space
The commentary features Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe, again with no moderator present. Baker, after a slow start, is entertaining to listen to, and Sladen’s contributions are worthwhile. Hinchcliffe goes into some detail about the behind the scenes work.
Although very few entire Who stories had been repeated up to this point, it was the BBC‘s practice to show a story again as a feature-length omnibus edition, often at Christmas, beginning and ending with credits sequences but removing the ends and starts of the episodes in between. With The Ark in Space, BBC1 showed the omnibus (69:54) on Wednesday 20 August, during the school holidays, as a curtain-raiser to the new season which began the next month.
A New Frontier (29:54) is the making-of documentary. This is a solid account of the serial from its original script difficulties (which resulted in Robert Holmes taking over the writing) to production. Interviewees include Philip Hinchcliffe, designer Roger Murray-Leach and actors Wendy Williams and Kenton Moore. Murray-Leach describes the design and making of the impressive sets and Hinchcliffe talks about one scene that became too intense for the show’s intended audience and had to be edited. Presumably it no longer exists, or else it could have appeared as a deleted scene.
Inevitably the special effects look less convincing nowadays, and even more so in high definition: obvious models betray the usual low BBC budget, not to mention a quarter-century of advances in the craft. On the disc are 1:33 of CGI effects as an extra, each recreating the original shots with today’s technology. You have the option of watching the feature with these shots instead of the original ones.
Whether you would want to do this is another matter: the wonky effects are part of the programme’s charm – and you do have to recognise the effects departments ingenuity in the face of severe time and budget pressures. I found that the CGI effects sat uneasily with the obviously real and constructed interiors. Those sets, one of the highpoints of The Ark in Space were the work of production designer Roger Murray-Leach. In an interview (10:30) Murray-Leach talks about his experiences on this and other Doctor Who stories. As the production designer is someone who tends to be overlooked on TV and film, it’s nice to see one being showcased here. Murray-Leach is an engaging interviewee.
The other extras include a stills gallery, and space station schematics (1:09), which is an extra that’s a bit too anoraky for my liking. There is also 16mm film of model effects (7:11), an unused title sequence (0:42), and a BBC trailer for Episode One (0:53), all of which I doubt you’ll watch more than once. There’s a sort-of Easter Egg at the very end of Episode Four, once the credits have finished: another short Tom Baker ad for the Doctor Who exhibition.
The PDF production documentation on this disc runs to fifty-three pages this time, and comprise studio plans, another “outside normal duties” form (from Hinchcliffe, to allow Holmes to write the scripts, given the short notice) letters from Hinchcliffe to John Lucarotti (who was paid but in the end had no credit onscreen), special effects requirements, a read-through schedule (with added doodles), sound effects requirements and other memos. Also on the disc are the four shooting scripts (not duplicated this time) and Radio Times listings for the story on its original transmission and the August omnibus repeat.
The Sontaran Experiment
The commentary features Elisabeth Sladen, Philip Hinchcliffe and Bob Baker. With half the usual length to cover, it’s a brisk chat with no dead spots. Again the rapport between all three is self-evident and in the fifty minutes they come up with some useful and interesting information.
Like Nothing on Earth (36:46) is a new making-of documentary, the usual solid run-through of the story from inception to completion, featuring several participants still alive – Philip Hinchcliffe, Toby Hadoke (giving a fan’s perspective), Bob Baker, Peter Walshe, Tom Baker, Donald Douglas, Roger Murray-Leach and, via the archive, Barry Letts and Elisabeth Sladen.
Built for War (39:48) is a featurette which runs through the history of the Sontarans and includes a look at their ancient enemy the Rutan, who makes its only appearance in Horror at Fang Rock. Interviewees include Bob Baker and future Doctor Colin Baker, Terrance Dicks, Elisabeth Sladen, future script editors Anthony Read and Eric Saward, future companion Nicola Bryant and long-serving actor and stuntman Stuart Fell.
Next up is a location report (2:55) from the regional Radio 4 programme Morning Sou’West from 30 September 1974, covering the shoot on Dartmoor. It’s presented by Robert Deere with interviews with Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe and noticeable rainfall. Also on the disc is a stills gallery (4:48).
To go with the featurette devoted to Terrance Dicks on the Robot disc is On Target: Ian Marter (16:11), which previously appeared on the Special Edition DVD of Carnival of Monsters. After leaving the show after this Season 12 and his two appearances in Season 13, Marter went on to novelise nine stories for Target. Tom Baker, Terrance Dicks, Elisabeth Sladen, script editor Gary Russell and Nicholas Courtney pay tribute to him. Russell in particular points out Marter’s flair for vivid sensory detail, and regrets that Marter was not alive to be able to contribute to the New Adventures book range. There are readings from his novelisations of The Invasion (read by Courtney) and The Ribos Operation (read by Nigel Plaskitt, who played Unstoffe in that story). Baker discusses Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, their attempt at writing a Who story of their own. Marter, sometimes using the pseudonym Ian Don (his middle name was Don), also wrote five movie novelisations and four Gummi Bears picture books. He died of a heart attack related to his Type 1 diabetes on his forty-second birthday. Sladen and Courtney especially are very moving when they talk about that day.
Next on the disc are the whole of the two-video set The Tom Baker Years (89:57 and 86:32), which was released on VHS in 1992. This deviated from the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee Years tapes in that Baker, like Pertwee then but unlike their two predecessors, was still alive and, unlike the other three, all his episodes existed on their original videotapes. It also needed two tapes due to Baker’s sheer length of service in the role. The format is that Baker sits in a chair and talks to camera about his seven years as the Doctor, with extracts from each story. In the second part, we also see BBC news footage of his wedding to Lalla Ward and of his departure from the show. Part One ends with Leela’s departure in The Invasion of Time.
Baker has sometimes been known to not tell the entire truth for the sake of an entertaining story, so maybe some of this should be taken with a pinch of salt, especially as he doesn’t always remember things which then were only eleven to eighteen years in the past – another reason why moderators are useful on commentary tracks. He’s warm about his colleagues, though not uncritical about what he saw as the show’s shortcomings at particular times and indeed his own. The advice at the start of each part to use your tracking control in the case of picture breakup will be very nostalgic to those of a certain age.
Given the short length of this story, it’s surprising that the PDF production paperwork extends to 120 pages. They begin with Philip Hinchcliffe’s memo to “Bob” Holmes giving his thoughts on a draft of the story, then called The Destructors. This is followed by memos detailing the logistics of the props used in the story, with designs of the same, call sheets, a map of the area of Dartmoor where the story was shot, hotel accommodation arrangements, an accident report for Tom Baker, props lists and drawings. Also on the disc are the shooting scripts for both episodes and Radio Times listings for the original transmission and the summer-holidays omnibus transmission (unedited other than the credits sequences as it was so short) on BBC1 on 9 July 1976.
Genesis of the Daleks
The commentary track this time brings together Baker, Sladen, Maloney and Peter Miles, the latter turning up during Episode Two and not saying a great deal. Baker and Sladen dominate the proceedings, and their banter is a pleasure to listen to, while Maloney still gets to say his share. In the absence of a moderator, memories occasionally lapse after thirty years, but this is an engaging and informative commentary.
Genesis of a Classic (62:10) is the making-of documentary and is commendably thorough, including interviews with most of the then-surviving cast and crew, plus Michael Wisher who is represented by an archive video interview from 1994. There’s also a clip from an Alan Whicker interview of Terry Nation, which is notable given how sparsely represented he has been on Who disc releases, though granted he has been dead since 1997. Something of an indulgence are Tom Baker apparently receiving a call mid-interview from his ex-wife and six sequences featuring Roy Skelton called “Teach Yourself Dalek”, in which he demonstrates by speaking some of his lines from the script (and one line actually voiced by Wisher). This could have been boiled down into one short item, particularly as the subject is dealt with quite thoroughly in Wisher’s interview.
Another extract from Blue Peter follows (7:12), this time from 1975. It features one viewer’s models of the TARDIS and various Who creatures, and earth creature Shep who gets his nose into shot more than once. There are also continuity announcements from the original and repeat transmissions (6:16), with those from the 2000 repeat featuring dalekoid BBC2 idents.
Live from the TVC Canteen (47:06) is an audio recording of a lunch Keith Miller (then running Doctor Who Fan Club) had on 10 February 1975, when he watched the recording of Part 3 of Genesis of the Daleks. He was taken to eat in the BBC‘s executive waitress-service restaurant, with Philip Hinchcliffe, Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, and Hinchcliffe’s secretary Ann Burnett, and a lot of background noise.
Much of the talk features Hinchcliffe, who discusses the workings of fan clubs with Miller, including talk of some of the rival organisations, such as the Jon Pertwee Fan Club. There’s a startling moment at 5:16 in when Hinchcliffe mentions some of the people who regularly wrote in to the show, likely members of one or another organisation, including a then sixteen-year-old Scot called Peter Capaldi. The suggestion of showing Doctor Who compilations on the big screen during Saturday Morning cinema presentations seems to have been a non-starter, as such cinema presentations were on the decline then. Be advised that there is a mention of a certain singer whose initials are GG during a digression about a documentary on glam rock. Also on the disc is a stills gallery (7:58).
Given that this is the longest story in the set, the production paperwork PDFs on this disc run to just sixty-three pages. They begin with a memo to Terry Nation from Robert Holmes asking for rewrites on his original outline (then called Genesis of Terror) to bring it within a BBC budget. This outline follows, and also included are visual effects requirements, various memos including one to make-up supervisor Sylvia James promising “lots of blood & gore this time”, filming and rehearsal schedules, casting requisitions (which note that Harriet Philpin, as Bettan, is the “only female”), call sheets, a location map, and an audience research report for the original broadcast of Part Six, and set breakdowns.
Also on the disc are the shooting scripts for all six episodes and Radio Times cuttings for the original transmissions, the compilation repeat at Christmas 1975 (which is on the bonus disc in this set) and repeats in 1982 (the Doctor Who and the Monsters season), 1993 and 2000. Also included is an interview with Terry Nation and Tom Baker, and a letter from a viewer who found the story “brutal, violent and revolting”. A cutting from the issue of 12-18 April 1975 points out that it was a banner week in the Nation household, with not just Part Six of Genesis of the Daleks on the Saturday but the first episode of a new Nation show on the Wednesday – Survivors.
Revenge of the Cybermen
For this story, you have the option of viewing with updated CGI effects, though unlike the The Ark in Space disc, you can’t view these effects as a separate item. My view of such an item is the same as above for the earlier story, so I won’t repeat it here.
The commentary features Philip Hinchcliffe, Elisabeth Sladen, Roger Murray-Leach and David Collings (who played Vorus). Again, this track dates from a time when Who commentaries were unmoderated, which I for one have always found preferable, especially as elderly memories can become erratic and sometimes commentors fall silent.
The making-of documentary (32:13) features Barry Letts (who had passed away when the DVD was released in 2010), Michael E. Briant, Philip Hinchcliffe, Roger Murray-Leach, Tom Baker and Christopher Robbie (who played the Cyber Leader). Briant has a lot to say, particularly because he was a director known to use studio technology a lot: there’s a lot of then-cutting-edge CSO in this story. Briant has a lot of stories on the location shoot in Wookey Hole, including his apparently seeing a ghost there. And while he wasn’t superstitious, the crew’s dressing up the prominent stalagmite The Witch of Wookey Hole with a cloak, hat and broomstick did precede a number of cast and crew accidents… Robbie talks about the difficulties of playing in a no doubt claustrophobic Cyber suit and mask. For this story, the costumes were redesigned and the actors playing the Cybermen were able to speak their own lines for the first time.
Trivia question: what was the first Who serial to be released on VHS and Betamax? Given which one whose extras I’m discussing now, no prizes for saying it was Revenge of the Cybermen, back in 1983. This was, however, edited into omnibus format (as it never had been on the BBC) with credits sequences removed apart from the opening one for the first part and the closing one for the last. So this in an appropriate disc to include Cheques, Lies and Videotape (28:19). This is a featurette on the show’s life on sometimes less-than-legal video, before a time when it was commercially available on tape, hardly ever repeated beyond the two years that Equity contracts then allowed.
However, some second and further generation tape copies did the rounds. The source of these was often overseas, with Australia in particular showing colour episodes when the BBC wasn’t repeating them. We do see some examples of these, with Australian continuity announcements over end credits. Then came the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season in 1981, just before Tom Baker handed over to Peter Davison, and which gave many people, myself included, the opportunity to see earlier Who stories for the first time. In may case, I hadn’t seen any of the first two Doctors’ black and white adventures.
Showing the very first story, An Unearthly Child, was fair enough, but why from Troughton’s stories The Krotons? The answer was, as fans soon discovered, was that many episodes were missing from the archives and that was at the time the only Second Doctor four-parter still in existence. We hear from fans on how they came to see the earlier stories that they had, before the surviving ones were released on tape and then on disc.
Next up is a location report (5:56) for BBC local news on the Wookey Hole location shoot, including an interview with Tom Baker. Also on the disc is a stills gallery (4:36).
The PDF studio paperwork on this disc runs to 105 pages. It begins with a map of Wookey Hole detailing the filming locations for the four days there, followed by a studio plan. Also included are the letters exchanged between Gerry Davis and Robert Holmes regarding the rewrites and the direction the show was now taking, props and design and visual effects requirements, rehearsal schedules, and an accident report for an episode where Sarah’s boat was out of control and stuntman Terry Walsh dived in to help, swallowing water in the process. There is also a letter from Carey Blyton to Michael Briant regarding the music for the story and other memos. Also included are the shooting scripts for all four episodes and the Radio Times listings for the original, and only, BBC broadcast.
The disc begins with Tom Baker in Conversation (64:20), a new interview conducted by Matthew Sweet, the two of them sitting on chairs against a plan background, illustrated by appropriate clips from the show. This interview takes us through Baker’s entire career as the Doctor, starting with his early theatrical and screen work, and the reaction of his fellow building-site workers when he applied for and got the job. Unlike the Tom Baker Years pieces from twenty-six years earlier, the presence of a clearly well-prepared interviewer does help, as there aren’t the memory lapses here. The interview takes us all the way up to Baker’s cameo in the fiftieth anniversary show, where he clearly got on well with the then Doctor Matt Smith. This is a warm and entertaining interview.
Past editions of Doctor Who Times (39:28) often concentrated on coverage of the show in the press and the Radio Times letters page. This one takes a different tack, locating the show in the context of what else was showing on the BBC at the time, illustrated with pages from Radio Times and appropriate clips from other programmes.
Also on the disc is the omnibus edition of Genesis of the Daleks (85:57), shown for Christmas in the afternoon of 27 December 1975, though as you can see from the running time shortened by almost an hour. Finally, there are a series of studio clocks (6:36) counting down to the studio recordings of particular episodes.
There is also PDF content on this disc. These are a reproduction of the 1976 Doctor Who Annual, which went on sale at Christmas of 1975. This includes five short stories and two comic strips (none of them with writers credited), a snakes-and-ladders-alike board game, and brief features on scientific topics. All yours for just £1 in 1975 money. Also included are a US version of the booklet included in this box set (which calls this Doctor Who Tom Baker Season One), reproductions of a 1975 Who promotion by Nestle chocolate (featuring The Doctor, Sarah, Harry, Brigadier, Benton and the TARDIS – 6p per bar but make sure to clean your teeth), the BBC Enterprises sales sheet, and another 1975 promotion, this time from Weetabix (each cereal packet containing four stand-up figures, six sets to collect).
Finally, this box set contains a booklet, with a different cover to the US one in PDF form, but the interior contents are the same: after a quotes from the three principal castmembers and a one-page introduction, details of each story with extras lists and a short essay detailing development, recording, reception and “after image”.