Doctor Who – Mannequin Mania

Moving right along with the classic Doctor Who DVDs – I need to get a move on as there’s only about a month to go before we get new episodes. Yes, only about a month to go  :tigger: !

What we have here is one of the little boxed sets that 2 entertain like to put out several times a year. This might be considered as a way of speeding up the releases, or if you’re slightly more cynical, you might think that it’s a way of selling some less marketable DVDs by sticking them in a box with something likely to be more popular. More of that in a future review, assuming I remember to return to this bit of muttering at the time.

Anyway, in this box you’ll find  Spearhead from Space, previously released in 2000, but now improved and with more extras, and Terror of the Autons, previously unreleased. In the usual way, I’ll look at each in turn.

Spearhead from Space

The last time we saw the Doctor he was in black and white, played by Patrick Troughton and in trouble with his own people, who we’d just learned were called the Time Lords. At the end of The War Games he’d been sentenced to exile on Earth in the twentieth century and obliged to regenerate, even though they didn’t call it that at the time.

Just as a disoriented Doctor (John Pertwee) is arriving on Earth, UNIT, under the command of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney, but you knew that, right?), who previously encountered the Doctor during a couple of alien invasion attempts, is investigating some mysterious objects that have fallen to the planet’s surface. Having recruited Cambridge scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John) as an adviser, he’s interrupted by a report of a strange man having been found unconscious near an apparently abandoned Police telephone box. He rushes to investigate, only to find that it’s not the person he was expecting…

And so the fun begins, with the first appearance of the Autons causing the usual mayhem, misery and murder. The Doctor has several problems to contend with – establishing his identity, dealing with the Nestene intelligence that wants to take over the Earth, and finding the right clothes. Everything gets sorted out, and he’s taken on by UNIT as a special adviser, which does bring into question what Liz Shaw is going to be doing…

While the original release was a mid light on features, as was normal at the time, this one does a pretty good job:

  • Down to Earth Not just a “making of”, but a look at how the show was in imminent danger of being cancelled. The 1970 series was, it seems, pretty much a last chance to get a bigger audience. It’s interesting to see how much things changed from the previous year, and then point and laugh at critics in the 21st century who complain that today’s Doctor Who isn’t the same as it was at whatever arbitrary (and quite possibly imaginary) time they personally prefer.
  • Regenerations: From Black and White to Colour Interesting documentary on the transition from black and white to colour TV, which involved more technical challenges than you migt expect. At the time, colour was still fairly new in British TV, hardly anyone had colour “sets”[1], but the plan was to make things in colour anyway. This did result in things not always looking too good in black and white – the simple greyscale conversion wasn’t ideal. This did set me thinking[2] about the current gradual introduction of 3D. Personally, I’m not that interested in how it’s being done so far, but some variety of 3D TV will probably become as standard as colour is today.
  • UNIT Recruitment Film A lovely bit of silliness made in 1993, which was one of the few extras on the original release. Join UNIT, get zapped by aliens, that kind of thing…

And of course, the usual commentaries (two, this time – one of which is new to this reissue), production subtitles and stuff.

Terror of the Autons

If my fragile little memory is correct, I don’t think I saw the 1970 series when it was first shown[3], but I definitely saw this one. After the relative success of Jon Pertwee’s first year, a few changes were made to the format. Out went Liz Shaw (back to Cambridge, no on-screen farewell on the grounds that she was too intelligent to be the Doctor’s assistant), out went the “futuristic” UNIT uniforms[4] in favour of something that looked more conventional, and in came, well, lots of things:

  • Jo Grant (Katy Manning, but you knew that, etc, etc), the perfect companion for the Doctor[5]
  • Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin), filling the gap between the Brigadier and Sergeant Benton (John Levene)
  • The Master (the original, superb version played by Roger Delgado) –  another Time Lord, allegedly as brilliant as the Doctor, only with evil tendencies and a penchant for Terrible Plans, and I do mean terrible. Really bad, and apt to backfire on him…

With this opening story, the ensemble cast was complete, and things settled down into something of a formula, but it was a good one, and lots of good stuff followed. The creation of the Master (quite explicitly intended as a Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes) was a, err, master stroke – giving the Doctor an opponent who can offer a real challenge makes things much more interesting.

But not everything is new – the threat to Earth once again comes from the Nestene intelligence and its deadly Autons, with some additional tricks courtesy of the Master’s devious mind. Much fun is had by all (apart from the various people killed by the Master, shot by Autons, etc). It was a pleasure to watch it again.

Special features are not too bad, either:

  • Life on Earth One of the usual “making of” things, with the added bonus of an archive Jon Pertwee interview, and a discussion of how the production methods differ with the current version of Doctor Who. It’s all about the cameras, you know…
  • The Doctor’s Moriarty A good look at the origin and continuation of the Master.
  • Plastic Fantastic How TV made everyday objects frightening…

And of course, the usual other bits and bobs.

So, overall, this is one of the better boxed sets in the range. If you’ve already got Spearhead from Space, look at this as an opportunity to get a better version of it. Or something. Or wait a few months for the price to drop.

[1] That’s what they used to call them, you know
[2] Yes, I know it’s a bad habit, but sometimes I just can’t help it
[3] I was quite young at the time, you know. I suspect it was somewhere around that time that we first got a TV. Black and white, of course. Colour was far too expensive!

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