Doctor Who – New Beginnings

You know, there’s a long wait through the cold and dark of Winter between the Doctor Who Christmas Special and the next series which is due to start in April, or thereabouts. So it’s a Good Thing that the people at 2 entertain have got into the habit of releasing a special set of classic series DVDs in January.

The first was a little early, as the Lost in Time[1] set came out in late 2004, but it did establish a precedent. That set was strictly for hardcore fans, consisting as it did of isolated surviving episodes from otherwise lost stories, some of which might in the future benefit from the restoration process that gave us The Invasion last year. Last year’s special set was the more complete The Beginning, which included the earliest stories from the first series, which began in November 1963.

And so to the 2007 set, which includes three complete stories from 1981 and 1982, marking the end of Tom Baker’s seven years in the role, and the beginning of Peter Davison’s three years. This was a time of transition for the series in many ways. New producer John Nathan-Turner had already changed the title sequence to something more modern[2], and introduced a new version of the theme tune[3]. He’d also seen off K9[4]. Just before this sequence of stories, the Doctor had left K9 and his companion Romana in a gateway between universes. Accompanied by Adric, a boy who stowed away in the Tardis on a planet in a small pocket universe known as E-Space, he continues his travels.

The Keeper of Traken

The Doctor is summoned by the Keeper of Traken, who fears that as he ends his one thousand years of rule end, and a new Keeper is appointed, that forces of evil may destroy Traken’s peace and harmony. And indeed, trouble does seem to be stirring. Traken is so filled with peace and harmony that anything evil coming into contact with its surface is immediately turned to stone. One such being, referred to as a Melkur, stands like a statue, tended by Kassia, a leading Traken lady. Only the Melkur seems a little more alive than the average statue, as it talks to Kassia and persuades her to do its bidding. And as you might guess, its intentions are not altogether for the best…

We see that there is someone controlling the Melkur, seeing through its eyes. Someone who appears to be a wee bit bonkers. The Doctor and Adric are helped by Kassia’s new husband Tremas and his daughter Nyssa. Lots of confusion and trickery later, as the Keeper dies and a new Keeper hurriedly takes his place, things go badly wrong. The new Keeper is immediately replaced as the Melkur appears in his place, with a suspiciously Tardis-like sound.

Yes, the Melkur is a Tardis, and inside is the Doctor’s old foe The Master, still in much the same decayed state he was in the last time we saw him in The Deadly Assassin. It all goes a bit wrong for the Master, and his Melkur Tardis appears to be destroyed, allowing another Traken leader to become Keeper, and so restoring peace and harmony. The Doctor and Adric leave soon after.

But it’s not quite over. A clock appears in the city, and the decaying Master creeps out and grabs Tremas[5]. He takes over Tremas’s body, giving himself a new lease on life.

A new body at last!

It’s not a bad story, and as good a way as any of bringing back the Master, which was part of John Nathan-Turner’s plan for the transition from Tom Baker to a new Doctor.

Logopolis

And so we come to Tom Baker’s final story. The Doctor decides to try to repair the Tardis Chameleon circuit, which is supposed to allow the Tardis to take on any exterior form so it can blend into its surroundings. As it happens, the Doctor’s Tardis got stuck in the form of an old London Police box back in 1963. His plan to fix it involves materialising around a real Police box, measuring it exactly, then taking the measurements to the planet Logopolis, where the mathematical skills of the people, involving something called Block Transfer Computation[6], will restore the circuit to working order.

Of course, it all goes a wee bit wrong, and the Tardis actually materialises around the Master’s Tardis, which has already materialised around the real Police box. This leads to a rather nice Tardis within Tardis within Tardis within Tardis regression for the Doctor and Adric. And they’ve acquired a passenger. Tegan Jovanka, a young Australian on her way to her first day as a flight attendant has wandered into the Tardis[7] after her car broke down.

And, after seeing a mysterious figure in white, they head for Logopolis. There, they are joined by Nyssa, who says she was brought by a friend of the Doctor. Unfortunately, the Master has got there too, and in his efforts to destroy the Doctor, kills enough Logopolitans to stop their spoken calculations from working. Which is a bit of a problem, as their calculations are all that is stopping the universe from collapsing[8]. Whole planetary systems, including Traken are disappearing. Realising that this is a bit of a problem, the two Time Lords agree to work together to repair the damage.

Everyone heads for Earth, to a radio telescope installation known as the Pharos Project, set up to try to communicate with any alien civilisations that might be out there. Just as the Doctor is about to send the signal which will affect a thingy[9] in such a way as to save the universe from destruction, the Master does what you might expect and tries to hold the universe to ransom. I’m not sure why he thought that sending a radio signal from a directional transmitter would be a good way to communicate with the universe at large in less than a few hundred thousand years, but then, he always was a wee bit eccentric. The Doctor manages to foil him, but at a price – he falls from the control room and lies on the ground. His companions run to him, and he looks up and says

It’s the end. But the moment has been prepared for

then beckons to the mysterious figure in white, who merges into him as he regenerates into a new body. He sits up and smiles.

There was much to enjoy in this story, but I can’t help feeling that it was a wee bit low key. After seven years, it would have been nice for Tom’s last story to have been a bit bigger. OK, saving the universe and dealing with the Master are big ideas, but the actual execution was a bit on the tame side. Or maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the new series…

Castrovalva

The newly-regenerated Doctor and his companions flee from the Pharos Project. Adric creates a diversion while Tegan and Nyssa help the Doctor into the Tardis. Adric is captures by security guards, but just then the Master’s Tardis reappears. The guards are all stunned, and when it disappears moments later, Adric is rescued.

But all, as you might once again suspect, is not well. The Doctor’s regeneration is not going well, and he has to be helped into the Zero Room, an isolation chamber deep inside the Tardis. And Adric is behaving strangely, too. He sets the Tardis controls then walks out of the Console Room.

What follows is a typically convoluted plot by the Master. When his first plan to destroy the Doctor by sending the Tardis to “Event One”, a bit of technobabble about a “hydrogen inrush” that created the galaxy, fails, Tegan and Nyssa apparently direct the Tardis to Castrovalva, a city where the Doctor will be able to recover.

The story and the city are partly inspired by M C Escher‘s print Castrovalva, and his other, more confusing works, which should be familiar to most geeks. :wave:

The Master is using Adric’s mathematical genius to create projections[10], and it seems that nothing is entirely what it seems. In the end, the Master is defeated when his own creations turn against him, and the Doctor and his companions are able to leave, with the Doctor seemingly fully recovered from his regeneration trauma.

Overall, it’s good fun. The Escher-inspired geometrical confusion in Castrovalva is nicely done, the Master is at his scheming evil best, and Peter Davison makes a good start as a new, more vulnerable Doctor.

Special Features

Lots of these, spread over the three discs.

  • Each comes with a commentary, including a contribution from Anthony Ainley (The Master) recorded a year or so before his death.
  • There are the ubiquitous production subtitles, full of interesting and informative background details
  • Archive TV clips from Blue Peter, Swap Shop, Nationwide and Pebble Mill
  • News reports about Tom leaving, Tom marrying Lalla Ward (Romana) and Peter becoming the Doctor
  • TV continuity announcements
  • PDFs of Radio Times listings and a Doctor Who annual
  • Being Nice to Each Other – a “making of” documentary for The Keeper of Traken
  • A New Body at Last – a documentary about the change of Doctors, with some lovely contributions from cast and crew, most notably Tom Baker cheerfully admitting that he’d become impossible to deal with towards the end of those seven years
  • Being Doctor Who – Peter Davison talks about his approach to the role
  • Directing Castrovalva – Fiona Cumming recalls, err, directing Castrovalva :smile:
  • The Crowded TARDIS – A documentary about the change from the Doctor having one companion to three. This was a reversion to how the series began in 1963, and was part of John Nathan-Turner’s plan to ease the transition from Tom to Peter…

And so there it is. A rather nice set, covering an important transition period in the classic series. A time when the Doctor changed, and the show moved from its usual Saturday tea-time slot to peak hours two days a week, which led to increased audiences at the time. It also led to confusion about when it was on, as over the following few years, it bounced around the schedules quite a lot. According to the subtitles, this was part of a sinister BBC plan. They were (apparently) testing what times on what days gained the biggest audiences, in preparation for the launch of EastEnders in the mid 80s. :eek2:

[1]




[2] Which, as with so many things, looks more dated than the version it replaced.
[3] Inferior to Delia Derbyshire’s original arrangement in my opinion. Interestingly, the version created by Murray Gold for the new series owes much more to the older version…
[4] The fiend!
[5] Subtle anagram there…
[6] Revealed in the production subtitles to have been inspired by the home computers of the time…
[7] The Doctor’s Tardis, that is
[8] Or something like that. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but hey…
[9] OK, it was a CVE, which might be a Charged Vacuum Embodiment, but let’s not go into details
[10] What? No computers?