One of the greatest disservices shiny 21st century DOCTOR WHO has done to what? broadly known as ?lassic?DOCTOR WHO is to have made much of it uncomfortable to watch. So slick and fast and classy is Russell T Davies? clever reinvention that all the sticks used to beat the old series ?shoddy effects, slow storylines, iffy acting ?have got a lot more power behind them than they used to have. I was particularly wary of approaching this three-disc boxset of late 70s/early 80s DOCTOR WHO, hailing as it does from the period in the show? history which would lead to its creative stagnation and a total loss of interest from the BBC itself. Remarkably though, time has been kinder than I? dared expect to these three stories, episodes which bridged the most difficult ?ime of change?for the show since original star William Hartnell bowed out in a blaze of primitive special effects back in 1966. Here was where Tom Baker, who had imbedded itself into the title role for seven long years, took his final bow and stepped aside to allow fresh-faced newboy Peter Davison to take control of the TARDIS.

It all seems like such a long time ago now. The 1980/81 season of DOCTOR WHO had been an odd beast. New producer John Nathan-Turner had affected some sweeping changes to the rather lazy format the series had drifted into in the previous few years, as horror gave way to humour and Tom Baker? ego took control and the subtleties and nuances he? first brought to the role were replaced with tiresome mugging-to-camera and relentless mickey-taking. Nathan-Turner managed to reign in Baker? excesses, replaced the classic signature tune with a soulless electronic version, brought in a new ?tarfield?title sequence and set about creating a fairly bloodless, charmless set of stories which sucked the life out of the lead character (Baker looked bored and tired throughout many of the episodes) and replaced campy adventures in Space and Time with dreary stories bulging with dense scientific concepts such as entropy, block transfer computation and tachyonics. What fun for the playground!

But Time has been kind and a lot of sci-fi water has flowed under the bridge since this awkward transition period. This boxset contains three four-parters. Johnny Byrne? ?eeper of Traken?is a talky, studio-bound pseudo-Shakespearean melodrama set in the groves and chambers of the peaceful planet of Traken, where a sinister off-world intelligence in threatening to destroy the Traken Union? tranquillity. The story is full of beardy people in big gowns pontificating and gesturing broadly but it also serves as quite a neat reintroduction for the Doctor? classic adversary the Master who, at the end of the story, takes over the body of Traken? Councillor Tremas (Ainley) before setting off to put a plan in motion which will rid him of his most frustrating foe. In script-editor Christopher H Bidmead? ?ogopolis? a scheme by the Doctor to take the TARDIS in for repairs to the planet Logopolis, a world inhabited by big-brained mathematicians, results in the Master unleashing entropy across the Universe. Considering its importance in the DOCTOR WHO scheme of things, ?ogopolis?is the weakest of the three stories on offer here. Despite its agreeable funereal air, it? a stodgy piece, full of awkward and downright ludicrous ideas (at one point the Doctor decides to land the TARDIS on the bed of the river Thames in an effort to ?lush out?the Master who? secreted himself on board. What? that all about??) and populated by entirely unbelievable people who don? speak or behave like anybody anyone? ever met. Baker? demise is effective because of what it is and not by the way it? done.

So to ?astrovalva? another journey into brain-bending science courtesy of Bidmead but at least here there? the novelty of seeing how Davison shapes up as the fifth Doctor. He acquits himself quite well, even though he? either amnesiac or confused throughout most of the story. But Fiona Cumming? direction is assured, particularly in the lush exterior sequences in part two and the story has enough novelty and momentum to carry it, gasping, through its fourth episode.

The problems these episodes had when they were first transmitted are still evident today; it? just that they don? seem as irritating now as they did at the time, just another part of the show? evolution. However, it? still sad to see Baker? Doctor dribble away like this, shorn of his characteristic wit and joie de vivre and it? doubly frustrating to see the TARDIS populated by characterless ciphers like Adric and Nyssa, although Janet Fielding puts in a spirited performance as the hi-jacked air stewardess Tegan. For the most part, the dialogue is stilted and awkward, the drama slow and clunky. And yet despite it all these three stories are hugely entertaining, especially after all these years. There? much to admire in the design department and even if the stories are a move away from the Doctor-versus-monster stuff of the previous seventeen years, they managed to maintain the interest and have a certain charm which just didn? seem to be there when they were originally broadcast to an increasingly-baffled audience many of whom, sadly, decided to turn over and watch BUCK ROGERS IN THE TWENTY-FIFTH CENTURY on ITV. But ultimately these episodes can? have done too much harm. DOCTOR WHO returns for its twenty-ninth series in March. BUCK ROGERS is long, long forgotten.

THE DISCS: As usual, the Restoration Team have done superb work on these episodes, easily raising scifind? rating from the 3.5 the episodes themselves probably deserve. As well as the usual pristine restorations to the episodes there? a whole host of special features across the three discs which you?l be investigating for days. Best on offer is ?ogopolis?s fascinating 50-minute ? New Body At Last?documentary which shows Tom Baker being more candid about his place in the series at this time that he? ever been before (or is likely to be again) with lively contributions from Davison, Waterhouse, Sutton, Bidmead and a host of others. Fascinating stuff. Dotted around the discs are other small features ranging from the making of ?eeper of Traken?to Davison discussing ?all too briefly ?his time on the series. TV interviews, trailers, entertaining commentaries (including one for ?raken?recorded by Ainley long before his death in 2004) and the usual galleries fill out an exemplary, exhaustive package. Great stuff.


More to explorer