REVIEW: Doctor Who - The Doctors Revisited (BBC)
The world will go Doctor Who mad today with the 50th anniversary special The Day of the Doctor. Before you catch it on Prime at 9am, at any one of many Kiwi cinemas later in the day, or on Prime again at 8.30pm, why not revisit some of the long running series' best stories?
The Doctors Revisited is an anthology of the best stories from all 11 Doctors that we know so far. The set is released in three separate volumes but rather than being labelled volumes 1, 2 and 3 they are labelled First to Fourth, Fifth to Eighth and Ninth To Eleventh.
Each Doctor gets his own disk.
Each disk contains a half hour documentary on his era of the show, his travelling companions and foes as well as two versions of what current show runner Steven Moffat has considered that Doctor's best episode. The first is a feature film version with a short introduction from Moffat, the second is the original broadcast version.
It's evident with the way that Moffat speaks with almost breathless enthusiasm that he was a massive fan of the show long before he began writing for ninth and tenth Doctor actors Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and long before he took over as show runner from Russell T Davies.
He's like a wide eyed schoolboy who is telling you in the playground what you missed out on last night if you didn't watch Doctor Who. It's good that he has so many great things to say about the show, even during its decline in the 1980s.
Given all the guests appearing on the documentaries, however, it is surprising that Davies doesn't appear in any of them. Neither does Eccleston, although it is well known in fandom that he is trying to leave his days as the Doctor behind him. No one knows why, but perhaps he fears the typecasting which Tom Baker suffered after his long tenure.
There's about seven hours of previously unreleased extras in these three releases.
Now I haven't seen every episode of Doctor Who ever, a lot of the first and second Doctor's output was junked by the BBC before repeats, let alone home videos and DVDs, were thought of. But I did grow up in the UK during Doctor Who's first heyday before its decline. I am not sure I entirely agree with Steven Moffat's choices here. But then, when it comes to the classic series, he's limited to four parters which run for two hours if he's to get everything on one disk.
The First to Fourth (PG) volume is a four disk set.
The Aztecs is Moffat's choice for first Doctor William Hartnell and while it include some classic ingredients that have lasted all this time it's a little slow. The Reign of Terror is a far more interesting story.
Second Doctor Patrick Troughton's The Tomb of the Cybermen is, indeed, great. It's got Cybermen breaking out of tombs like mechanical mummies. But it's not the first time the cybernetic menaces appeared.
Spearhead From Space, which recently enjoyed a Blu-ray release because it is the only classic episode recorded on film, is third Doctor Jon Pertwee's first appearance. Good choice then. It's classic for turning shop window dummies into things to fear.
I'm also a fan of the fourth Doctor Tom Baker's story Pyramids of Mars, for the way it melded ancient history and alien invasion long before the Stargate franchise was considered. It also features my late friend Michael Sheard, who lived near me on the Isle of Wight.
The second volume, Fifth to Eighth (M), is less controversial.
I haven't seen fifth Doctor Peter Davison's story Earthshock since it first aired in 1981. They sneaked the Cybermen back for the first time in years but, more memorably, it saw the departure of Matthew Waterhouse's extremely annoying companion Adric. Ironically his departure was the best story he ever appeared in.
With sixth Doctor Colin Baker's story Vengeance on Varos we get a cleverly crafted satire of reality TV decades before it arrived, as well as an interesting nemesis in the slug-like Sil.
The seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, was sometimes given short shrift with budget cuts and bad scripts but Remembrance of the Daleks was one where everything aligned perfectly. Including companion Ace's (Sophie Aldred) attack on a Dalek with a baseball bat.
Until the seven minute 50th anniversary prequel The Night of the Doctor, which aired online this month, eighth Doctor Paul McGann had only appeared on screen once. The rest of his outings have been via Big Finish Productions' audio plays and it was nice to see them referenced in the online special. There's a lot in Doctor Who - The Movie, which featured McGann, that Davies and Moffat would borrow when they took over the show.
Ninth to Eleventh (PG) features Christopher Eccleston's last two episodes Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways. They were the first series finale in Doctor Who's history, as such spectacle just was not done before Davies took the helm. They have Daleks and they are tear jerking.
The Series 4 finale The Stolen Earth and Journey's End make up tenth Doctor David Tennant's offering. The Daleks steal the Earth for a nefarious galaxy ruling plot and the Doctor and his friends from Torchwood must work together to bring it home. I never thought I'd live to see my homeworld being towed through space like a giant marble by a mid 20th century police box. Epic. And Murray Gold's music really comes into its own here.
Moffat chose the Series 6 opener The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon for Matt Smith's tenure. A great series which opened with the finale! But I prefer Series 7 episodes Asylum of the Daleks and Name of the Doctor for scale and epicness but they're not a two parter.
Most fans will have these stories on DVD already, but they come highly recommended anyway. Between them they demonstrate all the things that have made Doctor Who endure for 50 years.