It’s not entirely coincidental that the latest DVD release from “classic” Doctor Who which features those delightfully bellicose potato-headed nasties, the Sontarans, should be released just days after they made their long-anticipated comeback in the current series. The 2Entertain people knew the Sontarans would be appearing, so dropped this one into the release schedule with the hope that it might pick up some more buyers. While there’s a hard core of people who buy every DVD release, there are many others who just buy occasional disks, and 2Entertain obviously want to persuade more people to do just that. Of course, they’d be happier if that core of serious fans was a wee bit bigger…
So, what do we have this time? First shown in February and March 1978, this six-part story was the last in the 1977-8 series. It starts with the Doctor (Tom Baker) behaving very oddly. And I mean oddly for him given that on his most normal days, Tom’s Doctor was always at least a little odd. Come to think of it, that’s probably why he was my favourite Doctor for so long. Leaving Leela (Louise Jameson) and K9 on the Tardis, he meets some mysterious and unseen aliens on a large spaceship, and makes some kind of agreement with them.
He then returns home to Gallifrey, and demands his right to take up the role of President, which he ran away from at the end of the last Gallifrey-based story, The Deadly Assassin. He continues to behave strangely, having Leela banished to outer Gallifrey, generally acting in an unsual manner, and err, sabotaging the planet’s defences. Once the first level of defences are down, his mysterious allies, the Vardans appear in the form of
tin foil strange, shimmering shapes. The Vardans, it seems, can transmit themselves over any electromagnetic frequency, and can read thoughts. Resistance is, of course, futile. Much fun ensues, with the Doctor relying on Borusa, his old teacher and now Chancellor of the High Council. Having the Presidential office lined with lead proves to be useful. With K9’s help, the Doctor tricks the Vardans by opening the force field and allowing them to appear physically, which is a bit of a let-down, as in place of the moderately menacing shimmery things are three shouty blokes in dodgy uniforms, but no matter. Budgets were tight. Meanwhile, Leela and some new friends from outside the Citadel do a bit of storming and invading.
Having traced their home planet, he’s able to perform some technobabble which removes them from Gallifrey. And that would have been the end if it had been a two-parter. But in the usual manner of six-part stories of the time, there’s a twist. While the force field is down, some more invaders arrive – Sontarans. And then there’s more of the traditional running around, including a very silly romp through the numerous rooms inside the Tardis, some silliness involving keys, and a forbidden weapon.
Once all that’s sorted out, the Doctor prepares to leave. But Leela decides to stay with Andred, a Time Lord guard who she met for about five minutes. And K9 decides to stay with her, leaving the Doctor to travel alone again. But he’s obviously been preparing for this moment – he pulls out a box labelled K9 MII, and it’s that new K9 (with quieter motors) who appears in the following series.
There are some nice extras on the second disc. In addition to the usual production subtitles, original continuity announcements, commentary and pictures, we have:
- Out of Time: A brief look back at the making of the story featuring members of the cast and crew.
- The Rise and Fall of Gallifrey: How the portrayal of the Time Lords went from seeing them as actually rather scary beings with godlike powers to a bunch of scheming, bickering ninnies in silly collars
- Some deleted scenes
But the prize for supreme silliness goes to a short film investigating the mysterious writer of this story and City of Death. Two script editors, Terrance Dicks and Anthony Read, talk about the difficulties of contacting Agnew, who also wrote for a number of other BBC series. On-screen captions at the end admit that “Agnew” was a BBC house pseudonym for writers who either didn’t want their names to appear, or who couldn’t be credited due to the BBC rule at the time that script editors and producers weren’t supposed to write scripts for the series they were working on. Nicely silly, with the cherry on top being that the credits tell us that the director of the piece was a certain Alan Smithee.
And following the recent practice, there’s a trailer for the next release – a set of the Tom Baker story The Invisible Enemy, in which K9 first appeared, and the one-off spin off show K9 and Company starring K9 and Elisabeth Sladen reprising her role as Sarah Jane Smith. It was intended as a pilot for a series, but the series didn’t materialise until last year. Well, sort of. I’m sure that The Sarah Jane Adventures is the successor to K9 and Company, even if nobody admits it! I’m looking forward to getting that set, as I haven’t seen the spin-off show for , err, well, since it was first shown, I think.
And if you haven’t already got the previously released Sontaran stories, there’s a reasonably priced box set including The Time Warrior (with Jon Pertwee), The Sontaran Experiment (with Tom Baker), The Invasion of Time as mentioned above and The Two Doctors (with Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton).
 There’s this guy called David Tennant, you see….
 Oh dear. Louise Jameson wasn’t happy with her leaving scene…
 And of course, the rules seem to have changed. Last time the Doctor came home, he couldn’t take Sarah Jane Smith with him, because aliens were not allowed on Gallifrey. Now Leela can not only visit but stay…