With just two days to go to the new series of Doctor Who, there’s just time to get caught up with the DVD releases. The latest from the classic series is one of the occasional themed box sets. These usually have a moderately focused theme – the same enemy, a sequence of stories, or a transition between Doctors. This one is a bit more vague – three stories more blatantly based on mythology than usual for the show. Such borrowings were quite common, so it’s a fairly random selection.
The Time Monster
This is a six part story, first shown in May and June 1972 and starring Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Roger Delgado as the Master. Following his escape at the end of The Sea Devils, the Master pops up again working under a pseudonym with some bonkers technology and an Evil (but mad) Plan. Once again, he plans to summon up a powerful being and use it to give him ultimate power. The Chronovore he manages to produce turns out in a quite unsurprising way to be not altogether friendly. While the Time Lords are having fun in the present, things are a bit messy in Atlantis. Well, not actually while, but it all gets a bit on the wibbly wobbly timey wimey side, and lots of trouble follows, including the destruction of Atlantis. And of course the Master escapes at the end. Good quality silly fun.
Extras include the expected commentary, production subtitles, pictures and PDFs, plus:
- Between now… and now! Professor Jim Al Khalili talks about the science behind the story, with contributions from Katy Manning, Richard (Mike Yates) Franklin and the late Barry Letts
- Restoration Comparison – Short but sweet. A nice demonstration of how a good quality version was salvaged from returned export tapes.
This four part story was first shown in January 1978, and starts Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. The source for this is partly Jason and the Argonauts and partly a bit of a mess, but never mind. It involves a lot of running around in tunnels, which were entirely created using colour separation overlay techniques. This stuff is routine now, but back then, it still had its problems. It also involves a lot of people saying “The Quest is the Quest”, a bit of Time Lord history, and yet another bonkers computer.
Extras are a bit thin on this one and include:
- Into the Unknown – a look at the complex for the time visual effects, and also at the general fun and games involved in making the story
- Underworld – in studio – original video recordings showing the production of the story
The Horns of Nimon
This quite delightfully bonkers four part story was first shown over December 1979 and January 1980, and starts Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana. The source this time is the myth of the Minotaur, except the Minotaur is an intelligent (but nasty) alien out to steal the planet Skonnos as a new home for his race, as they’ve worn out the last planet they stole. There’s a Fiendish Villain, a semi-useless hero figure, and some excellent interplay between the two Time Lords. This was when Douglas Adams was script editor, and was just about the end of the “humorous” phase of the show. After this, there was a new version of the theme tune, a new title sequence, and Tom’s era began to draw to its end. Overall, this was the most enjoyable of the thee stories in the box for me.
They’ve made a bit more of an effort with the extras, too:
- Who Peter – Partners in Time This is excellent: a well-researched, well put together review of the relationship between Doctor Who and Blue Peter, with loads of clips, interviews with former Blue Peter people, including Peter Purves, who was a companion to the first Doctor, and the long-serving Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter. Russell T Davies joins in the fun, too. Apparently there will be another one of these looking at how Blue Peter looked at Doctor Who after it was cancelled in 1989.
- Read the Writer Anthony Read, who wrote the story, looks back at the production.
So there you have it, a random but quite nice selection of classic Doctor Who stories. More releases will follow, even during the run of the new series, which might get confusing…
 Though after his recent TV series on chemistry, I’m struggling not to think of him as Jim Alkali