|Synopsis: A DVD package containing isolated episodes, clips and other goodies from the sixties.|
Christmas goodies! by Joe Ford 18/12/04
I shouldn't have bought this DVD, I knew it would upset me but still I could not resist its charms. I love black and white Doctor Who and have never quite understood anyone who falls into the "I only like Pertwee onwards" or "it was never the same after it went into colour" categories. For me Doctor Who is Doctor Who, if it has the logo emblazoned on the front, it counts. Alas this also includes a rather ineffective three year period during Peter Davison's reign but hey, you can't win 'em all.
Black and white Doctor Who has an atmosphere all of its own. Imagine if The Mind Robber had been made in colour? Or The War Games? The Hartnell and Troughton stories are sunk in shadows, full of atmosphere and tension. The monochrome effect also has the terrific advantage of disguising budget problems to a degree too; as I'm sure many of you will agree the surviving Troughton years look a damn sight less dated and gaudy than the Pertwee years.
But it's not only that it was made in black and white, the first six years of Doctor Who also have the advantage of doing everything first and being truly original. It's easy to look at a sixth or seventh Doctor story and go Oh it's oddball just like The Celestial Toymaker and Cor the Daleks haven't been this scary since Power of the Daleks but in those early years it was experiments ahoy! The range of styles, the lengths of stories, the mix of genres, it was an exciting time to be a Doctor Who follower. And this boxset more than any individual story from the sixties proves the sheer breadth of imagination and versatility of ideas that went into making the programme.
Okay time for a little moan. Stomp Stomp. Whinge Whinge. DAMN THE BBC! Despite the fact that practically every single show that I consider worth watching was made by the BBC (their comedy, SF and period drama is uniformly excellent) they can be so bloody stupid at times. Aside from getting on the reality TV bandwagon and flooding the schedules with more and more desperately themed reality shows (Airline! What Not To Wear! How Clean Is You House?) they also managed to burn some of the best ever Doctor Who stories and condemn them to an oblivion, substituted by soundtracks, telesnaps and amateurishly put together retcons! Grrr... material is discovered every now and again (and always welcome!) but usually only clips and the odd episode, it is still not enough to heal the wounds inflicted on us fans by the BBC. In some ways a clip showing a tremendously frightening scene from Fury from the Deep is better off missing because it just whets our appetite for more, more, MORE.
And while it is a joy to be able to watch so much Troughton together in one DVD (Hartnell is different, there are plenty of his stories left intact) it is disheartening that we cannot watch these tales whole, especially given the quality of some of the episodes. The joy of experiencing lots of sixties magic is tainted by this aching feeling of disappointment.
However I should be more adult about this and figure what we have is what we have and as a package Lost in Time is not only the best Doctor Who DVD released this year but the best DVD yet. It's the perfect Christmas treat, like a big box of chocolates full of all the ones you love the most and none of those horrid chalky coconut ones.
How could you choose a favourite from this collection of classics? The showpiece of the set is clearly the recently discovered Daleks Masterplan episode 2, which is obviously wonderful and certainly puts the story in a much better light than the previously owned episodes 5 and 10. Camfield's direction is tense and exciting, we get to see some quality Hartnell moments ("You shut up sir!") and the Daleks are back at their devilish best. A good dose of Kevin Stoney's Mavic Chen is very welcome too, one of the best elements of this epic. However episodes 5 and 10 are not quite up to scratch, easily the least important in the entire story. They are beautifully packaged with some marvellous effects and decent performances but I would much rather see the all important climax rather than watch a fight with invisible creatures and the Meddling Monk causing mischief in Ancient Egypt. Still the three episodes together give a good impression of the magnitude of the story.
My personal favourites both belong to Troughton and take place early in each story. Evil of the Daleks episode 2 and The Web of Fear episode 1 are astonishingly good and bloody marvellous to watch in isolation as well as part of a story. Evil is highlighted by some electrifying dialogue, great period detail and the Daleks scarier than ever. Web of Fear thrives on its spooky atmosphere, creepy musical score and promises of nasties hiding in the London Underground, an ideal location for a Doctor Who story. Both look flawless, as though they had a budget ten times the size that they were and feature strong performances from Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines and Deborah Watling. Series five (okay Evil was series four but we'll include it anyhow) was a period of great confidence and quality for the show and these episodes are shining examples of why.
Next up comes another of my favourites, The Crusade, with episodes 1 and 3 on film and episodes 2 and 4 added on audio so you can get a good idea of the story in its entirety. A dramatic historical drama, word perfect and performed with vigour, it is hard to think of something bad to say about this masterpiece. Douglas Camfield's inventive direction is the icing on the cake.
The Moonbase also features in the two film (episodes 2 and 4) and two audio (1 and 3) option and is much worthier than its reputation suggests. However taking the story as a whole it is clear that the two episodes suriving are the weakest with episode 3 being the story at its dramatic best. However, cleaned up on DVD, this story shines, especially the Cybermen who gleam with menace as they march over the surface of the moon. Some embarrassing effects cannot detract from what is a entertaining first attempt to get the base under siege sub genre right (after the disappointing Tenth Planet). Plus it is a genuine thrill to get to see some more of Polly and Ben, sadly all but wiped from the archives.
The Enemy of the World episode 3 and The Abominable Snowmen episode 2 are about on par with each other, both hailing from well written, six part, season five stories. Troughton's turn as the villainous Salamander is hilariously good and it is clear that the political machinations of the story are ripped straight from James Bond but work well nonetheless. Snowmen features some superb location work and an especially fun look at the Jamie/Victoria partnership.
The Space Pirates comes in for some real flack doesn't it? But going on the suriving episode alone I cannot see any problems that are insurmountable. The plot is relatively engaging, the music and model work are great and Milo Clancey is a wonderful Holmesian creation. I haven't heard the rest of the story on audio and maybe it is terribly dull but if somebody gave me a slice of cake this nice I would certainly want to try some more. Besides anything starring the delicious Wendy Padbury cannot be that bad.
The Underwater Menace episode 3 however is truly dreadful but in a fun kind of way. It's 25 minutes of Doctor Who farce with an arch villain, silly monsters, terrible music and Troughton goofing up the role but somehow it works. Once I reached the infamous climax to the episode ("You are fool! You are a fool!â") I was chuckling heartily.
The Celestial Toymaker episode 4 is a bit boring to be frank and doesn't highlight the bizarre and colourful nature of the first three episodes. I am rather fond of this tale overall, a genuine attempt to tell a fantasy tale in the Doctor Who format but this episode is the weakest of the four and a pretty poor denouement all told.
The Wheel in Space (episodes 3 and 6) and The Faceless Ones (episodes 1 and 3) are hard to judge because both stories have strengths and weaknesses and wind up seeming a bit average. Wheel introduces cold and clinical Zoe and has some terrific space station sets but lacks the Cybermen menace it needs to truly scare. Faceless Ones is set in Gatwick Airport (which I used to live right next to!) and allows Troughton to be a bossy boots (which is always fun) but is sooooo slow. Watch and decide for yourselves, I think the full length of these stories would drag on a bit.
Like the usual Doctor Who DVD releases there a number of commentaries for the episodes but these are a little worthless, filmed thirty odd years ago now there are only vague recollections from the stars and directors of these vintage episodes. It is nice to hear the creators talk about them with such affection though, it is clear in the episodes themselves how much everybody was enjoying themselves and trying to make the best product possible. Deborah Watling is especially good value, quite entertaining to listen to.
There are tons of clips and 8mm footage from stories that don't get any action on this DVD (because they are entirely missing or have the majority of their episodes intact and worthy of a release of their own). Featured are The Smugglers, The Tenth Planet, Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Macra Terror and Fury from the Deep. It is fascinating to see these clips but without being able to get into the story they remain little more than a curiosity. Their inclusion is another bonus to an already fabulous DVD package and some of the clips (especially from Web of Fear and Fury from the Deep) are mouth-wateringly enticing.
What are you doing reading this rubbish? Go and get this DVD now! And if you are waiting until Christmas please pre-warn your family you won't see much of them over the festive period.
Very, very impressive.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 15/3/05
To the vast majority of fandom, the Lost In Time DVD release must be something of a godsend. 18 random episodes from the black and white era of the show, unlikely to see release if it hadn't been for the recovery of Day Of Armageddon. Showcasing this episode is a selling point that works to the sets advantage,as it is the best surviving episode from The Daleks' Master Plan, featuring the various alien delegates, and indeed being the only episode to feature Adrienne Hill's Katarina, meaning at least every companion has some sort of visual representation.
Picture and sound quality is largely great although The Lion does suffer in this regard, but this is overlooked when you take into account the various missing clips in all their glory. Similarly of interest is the trailer for The Power Of The Daleks, which teases as to what the story promises.
The commentaries are also entertaining, with Deborah Watling and Peter Purves being the standout contributors in this regard, although these are counterpointed nicely by the other commentators. My only minor quibble with the set is no production notes or photo gallery, but at the retail price for 18 episodes, this is great value for money.
A Review by Ron Mallett 12/5/05
When - at the age of 11 - I first learned about the mass junking of the black and white era I am ashamed to admit that I was at best, ambivalent. Yes, I'd read the odd Target adaptation featuring the first two Doctors but they weren't "my" Doctors and they were really only old black and white episodes anyway (shades of Pamela Nash?)! However when the ABC repeated some Troughton episodes in 1986, I found that I really enjoyed them. They were different that what I was used to, of course: plodding, crackly, scratchy... but fun! In fact I had never seen any of Troughton's original run before and found that I was really getting into the adventures of that Doctor and his companions Jamie and Zoe. I think that was when it first hit me: the sense of being cheated. I was born in 1973 and of course I never had the chance to see many of the early episodes and probably never would.
Lost in Time is a true homage to an era that quite literally had its heart cut out. The collection consists of three discs; one devoted to Hartnell the other two to earlier and later Troughton. The stories chosen are those for which 50% or less of the material still exists. At $70, it is a bit pricey but for any TV/Sci-Fi buff it is a worthwhile investment. The DVD is also the first of the range to incorporate audio versions of the missing episodes for the two most complete stories featured: The Crusade and The Moonbase. One can only hope that the BBC will also release the mostly complete stories The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet, The Ice Warriors and The Invasion with audio episodes plugging up the gaps.
The material is so varied that everyone is going to find something different of interest to them inside. My six-year-old son for example was quite taken with Episode 4 of The Celestial Toymaker. As I've always suspected there is no substitute for actually viewing the stories. I have always thought of that story as being childish but there is a credible feeling of menace owing much to Michael Gough's performance as the Toymaker. For me it is the striking modernness of The Wheel in Space and The Space Pirates. Perhaps being used to the 16mm graininess of much of the surviving footage from the era released on video, it is mind-blowing to view this restored footage that could easily fit into the early Pertwee era. The Restoration Team needs to be congratulated for their genius. But the stark scratch present throughout Episode 1 of The Crusade is a reminder that miracles cannot be performed.
As I repeatedly ploughed through this little box of treasures the degree to which the material has dated became uncomfortably clear. My wife was in fits of laughter at the end of Episode 2 of The Moonbase when the Cyberman jumps out of the bed he has been hiding in! One has to remember that concepts that seem hackneyed, tired or lacking in realism were probably very challenging and new in the 1960's. Still there is the lingering aroma of crisp freshness in the manner in which the stories are presented and this permeates the surviving material. The footage could be anthropomorphised as the perennial sixteen year old: everything is being experienced for the first time.
There is a certain quality that the black and white era possessed that was lost when the show made the shift to colour. I think the show actually benefited from being in black and white, there is a consistent atmosphere of menace. The first part of The Web of Fear is one of the best examples. As Gary Russell comments in the collection, it is obvious that a lot of money was spent on the production and the performances were often very accomplished. Of course not every story was a classic. The surviving episodes of The Underwater Menace and The Enemy of the World attest to the fact that the occasional script was substandard. However such gems as Episode 4 of The Celestial Toymaker and Episode 2 of The Abominable Snowmen will have even the most casual fans simply salivating for more.
But that's the great tragedy isn't it? For these stories at least, there is no more. Although we all live in hopes that more episodes will be found, we can't count on it. I'll admit to a certain emotional roller coaster effect that this DVD collection has had on me: the ecstasy of viewing the surviving footage - in many cases for the first time - and the terrible pangs of despair at the knowledge of what has been lost, probably forever.
Each of the discs contains a collection of special features mostly made up of the existing clips that survived the purges. Disc 2 for example, provides some tantalising glimpses of such legendary adventures as The Power of the Daleks. Although most clips of this story are taken from jumpy 8mm footage shot by pointing a camera at a TV screen, it certainly brings to life a story those of us belonging to Generation X are only familiar with as an audio story. This was also the first time I've seen any footage from Fury From the Deep, including the infamous Quill and Oak "bad breath" scene removed by the Australian censors. How ironic is it that so much of what has survived was material cut and never originally broadcast due to its violent nature! Actually watching the cuts made from The Smugglers on disc one makes the story seem like it had been the precursor to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre! Disc 3 also features The Missing Years documentary hosted by Fraser Hines and Deborah Watling, which contains a lengthy clip from Galaxy 4. One quibble I have is that this extensive clip wasn't included in special features menu on disc 1, like so many other Hartnell fragments that are also featured in the 1998 special. I had to snort at Ian Levine's remark that there would always be 110 missing episodes of Doctor Who missing. In retrospect it's a little like Mark Campbell's claim in his Unofficial Pocket Guide, that Doctor Who is a dead show!
Despite all this marvellous material, the release falls down in some of the more basic aspects. While the commentary is of a high standard, only certain episodes possess it. The most memorable examples are Julian Glover on Episode 1 of The Crusade and Peter Purves on Episode 2 of The Daleks' Masterplan. The enthusiasm of both actors for Doctor Who is very obvious and sincere. I was a bit surprised that Frazer Hines wasn't called upon - perhaps he wasn't available? Another major gripe is the total absence of any information text.
The DVD is clearly in a class of its own and cannot be easily compared to the previous releases. At best it is a celebration of the resilience of the show that was a victim of systematic desecration and at worst it is a cynical attempt by the BBC to cash in on their own vandalism by serving up the scraps left over by their insane crime, Lost in Time is an essential release.