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I have to admit to some doubt when approaching the review for the new Doctor Who box set, sure the extended extras seem to hold out some interest, but what of the promise of remastered stories, I didn’t remember the original DVDs being that bad.
Doctor Who: Revisitation Box Set holds thee previously released stories, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, The Caves of Andozani and Doctor Who: The Movie. Staring respectively Tom Baker, Peter Davidson and Paul McGann, gathered together in a seven disc DVD box set.
In a story which imitates aspects of Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor and Leela find themselves in the darkest heart of Victorian London, where deaths and disappearances point to something evil. With the help of local pathologist Professor Litefoot and the cowardly Henry Jago, the Doctor finds himself pitted against the time twisted Magnus Greel, masquerading as an ancient Chinese God, Weng-Chiang. But Greel is only part of a dangerous puzzle which involves a giant rat and the illusionist Li H’sen Chang who has in his employ the murderous dwarf Mr Sin...
The Talons of Weng-Chiang is a six part story originally transmitted between 26 February and 2 April 1977. The story stared Tom Baker as the Doctor with Louise Jameson as Leela, sans skimpy clothing. The story was written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Maloney. The story was well received and continues to be thought of as mid seventies Who at its best. Both the location work, as well as the costumes, added an air of expense which the show rarely enjoyed.
• Commentary - with actors Louise Jameson, John Bennett and Christopher Benjamin, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and director David Maloney. This is the same as the one on the original release.
• Coming Soon (52 sec) for The Seeds of Doom, another Tom Baker story, the disc also contains Programme Subtitles and Subtitle Production Notes
The extras on this disc are all original for this box set
• The Last Hurrah (33 min, 53 sec) has Tom Baker and Philip Hinchcliffe meeting at Tom’s home to discuss the making of what would be their final story together. The feature also features actors Louise Jameson, Trevor Baxter, Christopher Benjamin, director David Maloney, designer Roger Murray-Leach and costume designer John Bloomfield. It is Interesting to hear that the original idea was to have him play a Pygmalion role, rather than the pseudo Sherlock Holmes that he became.
• Moving On (4 min, 36 sec) Ah! And the season that never was as Philip Hinchcliffe, unaware that Talons would be his last story as the producer of Doctor Who, discusses what he had in mind for the following season, including an adaptation of Childhood's End and the Incas.
• The Foe from the Future (6 min, 47 sec) which looks at the genesis of Talons which originally started life as ‘The Foe from the Future’, with contributions from writer Robert Banks Stewart and producer Philip Hinchcliffe.
• Now & Then (11 min, 03 sec) is part of the ongoing series which looks at how the locations, filmed in 1977, now look; it’s an interesting historical piece, if a little dry.
• Look East (3 min, 39 sec) is a section from this news program looking at the time they visited the set of Talons at Northampton Repertory Theatre, where reporter David Cass interviewed Tom Baker.
• Victoriana and Chinoiserie (8 min, 08 sec) is a discussion of the literary references which pepper the show with contributions from producer Philip Hinchcliffe and University of Westminster lecturer in English Literature, Dr. Anne Witchard. It’s another piece which shows that this wasn’t always just an entertainment show.
• Music Hall (21 min, 42 sec) prior to the advent of variety as an entertainment form the music hall held sway in people’s hearts. This documentary looks at the history of the music hall and its traditions with contributions from Michael McManus, with Gerald Glover, Pamela Cundell, Johnny Dennis and Victor Spinetti, featuring songs performed by Katy Baker.
• Limehouse (19 min, 21 sec) A Victorian Chinatown - Limehouse, in the old docklands area of London’s East End is not only the setting for The Talons of Weng-Chiang but for many other stories in English literature. Dr. Matthew Sweet investigates the area and its history. With Roehampton University’s Dr. John Seed, Dr. Tom Wareham, the curator of the Museum of London Docklands and University of Westminster lecturer in English Literature, Dr. Anne Witchard.
The disc finishes with a photo gallery and the usual PDF materials.
The extras on this disc originally formed the second disc of the original release.
• Whose Doctor Who (58 min, 45 sec) and Melvin Bragg pops up in The lively Art program to discuss the psychological impact that the show had, especially on its younger viewers.
• Blue Peter Theatre (26 min, 01 sec and we are back in the land of Blue, this time with the team having to present their show from the Talons set, due to a strike. In what obviously seemed like a good idea at the time the Blue’s make a Doctor Who theatre with Dick Mills, who shows you how to make your own sound effects to accompany the performance.
• Behind the Scenes (24 min, 09 sec) has off-air footage of their recoding of the show. The footage is pretty poor in quality and time coded, but it does give you a flavour of what it was like to make the show.
• Philip Hinchcliffe Interview (11 min, 31 sec) and thank god for Pebble Mill at One, which did some good coverage of the show. This time series producer Philip Hinchcliffe gets questioned about the show and the effects of on-screen violence.
• Trails and Continuity (2 min, 24 sec) is a selection of trailers and continuity announcements for the show.
• Photo Gallery (3 min, 26 sec) has a selection of self running stills which feature a selection of design and production photographs from the story.
• TARDIS-Cam No.6 (1 min, 44 sec) and here is the ongoing CGI shorts, originally produced for the BBC Doctor Who website. This animation shows the TARDIS encountering a pod of space whales.
The Doctor and Peri find themselves on Androzani Minor, which has become a battleground for the control of spectrox, a substance which can extend life. Soldiers and mercenaries swarm through the caves vying for control. The army is trying to push back Sharaz Jek who controls production, on behalf of Morgus, a powerful and corrupt industrialist...
The Caves of Androzani was the last Peter Davison story. The four part show was originally transmitted between 8 and 16 March 1984. The show was written by Robert Holmes and directed by Graham Harper. I’m sure much to the delight of everyone involved, the show has consistently been voted as the best story, even beating the new series, with its higher budgets.
Partially this is down to the writing of Holmes and the frenetic directing of Harper, but the show also had some of the best guest artists gathered in a single show.
As well as containing the story, disc one has a full length commentary by Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and director Graeme Harper. Once again much if not all the extras on this disc had appeared on the original release.
• Behind the Scenes - The Regeneration (7 min, 55 sec) which is presented with either the original studio sound or an optional commentary with Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper
• Behind the Scenes - Creating Sharaz Jek (5 min, 06 sec) although no longer with us, Christopher Gable left an audio recording discussing his role, this is accompanied with photographs and shots from the show.
• Extended Scenes (4 min, 13 sec) Once again we have some extended scenes which can be viewed with either the original studio sound of a commentary from Peter Davison and Graeme Harper
• Trailer (34 sec), A BBC1 trailer for the first episode.
• News (5 min, 24 sec) gathers together the news announcements regarding Davison leaving and the speculation over the new actor to play the good Doctor
• Isolated Music - option to view the episodes with isolated music scores.
• Coming Soon (52 sec) - a trailer for a forthcoming DVD release of The Seeds of Doom.
The disc is finished off with ether usual PDF material (Radio Times listings in PDF format), Programme Subtitles and Subtitle Production Notes.
The extras on this disc are all exclusive to the box set.
• Chain Reaction (36 min, 06 sec). This is the longest new feature for Androzani where the cast and crew take a look at the making of the show, including Harper's hands-on approach to directing with contributions from Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Maurice Roëves, Robert Glenister and Martin Cochrane, director Graeme Harper, script editor Eric Saward, production designer John Hurst and composer Roger Limb. Written and presented by Matthew Sweet.
• Directing Who: Then & Now (11 min, 46 sec) Graeme Harper is the only director to have worked on both the classic and new series of Doctor Who. In this featurette he talks about the different production techniques used on both. What makes this feature interesting is the inclusion of behind the scenes shooting of Billy Piper and David Tennant, filming the scene where Rose is sucked into the void.
• Russell Harty (8 min, 38 sec) has Harty interviewing Peter Davison and Colin Baker in the week between Davison’s last story and Baker’s first. In tune with the show the piece is light hearted, including a bunch of cringe making fans. The disc is finished off with a Photo Gallery of a selection of design and production photographs from the story.
With the apparent capture and execution of the Master, by the Daleks, the Doctor is asked to transport his ashes; however during the journey the Masters casket cracks, oozing a strange liquid which affects the TARDIS making it crash land in contemporary America. When the Doctor steps out he is in the middle of a gang turf war and gets shot, his possibility of survival diminishes when he is taken to hospital, where the Doctor's alien physiology means that he has a terminal reaction to their attempts to help him, forcing his next regeneration. In his new body he must seek the help of Grace, a doctor, to stop the Master from using the Eye of Harmony to destroy the world...
The television movie, which was to hopefully rejuvenate the franchise, was originally transmitted on 27 May 1996, to a positive, if half hearted, response. Setting the show in America alienated many English fans and disappointed many American fans who enjoyed the show for its very Englishness. The show starred Paul McGann who, considering that he only played the Doctor once, did so with an energy and conviction that his performance won the universal approval of most fans.
The movie was written by Matthew Jacobs and directed by Geoffrey Sax, which makes the film's failure all the more puzzling as much of the blame for the failure of the movie was laid at the feet of Jacobs. An over long introduction to the new Doctor, an okay middle section and a confused and ill paced last third - and this from the man who had written the extremely tense and compelling Paperhouse (1988).
This disc holds the film (1 hr, 25 min, 49 sec) as well as the original 2001 full length commentary with director Geoffrey Sax. This new box set sees the inclusion of another, new full length commentary featuring Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and moderated by Nicholas Briggs. This is a far less dry affair than the original commentary, with McCoy in his usual jovial mood. Also under the audio options you can play the isolated score or play four of the music tracks, including ‘In a Dream’, ‘All Dressed Up’, ‘Ride into the Moonlight’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
The extras on this disc are exclusive to the box set.
• The Seven Year Hitch (53 min, 55 sec). This is the longest extra detailing Phillip Segal’s seven long year attempt to bring Doctor Who back to the screen with Segal, who obviously had a love for the show's concept, which makes the end result all the more disappointing. The documentary also has contributions from BBC executive producer Jo Wright, BBC Head of Series Peter Cregeen, BBC1 controller Alan Yentob, writer Matthew Jacobs and Graeme Harper, the director of BBC Enterprises's abandoned Doctor Who movie. Narrated by Amanda Drew, it’s a detailed piece and continues the BBC’s ongoing documenting of the history of Who and pretty much tells you everything you wanted to know, including the involvement of Steven Spielberg.
• The Doctor’s Strange Love (17 min, 12 sec) presents a round table discussion between Joe Lidster, Simon Guerrier and Josie Long as they try to reassess the movie with the gift of hindsight.
Disc one’s extras are completed with a photo gallery, coming soon for The Seeds of Doom, the PDF materials, Programme Subtitles and Subtitle Production Notes.
Disc two contains the bulk of the extras which are a combination of new and old material, though to be fair to the set, the original release arrived with only scant material, so most of this stuff if new. The extras are divided into sections, Preproduction, Production and Special Features.
Pre-Production starts with...
• Paul McGann Audition (7 min, 40 sec) the quality of the video is a little soft and the audio is variable, but it’s always nice to see this sort of material in an extra.
• VFX Tests June 1994 (53 sec) which has work from Amblin showing the title sequence and a concept for a new type of spider Dalek, which never made the final movie.
• VFX March 1996 (2 min, 34 sec) and a new video effects studio produces effects which would make the final cut, the visuals are soft and the soundtrack silent.
• EPK (15 min, 24 sec) and we get presented with the Electronic Press Kit which was put out by Fox in 1996, this includes interviews from the entire main cast and some of the production crew trying their best to big up the movie prior to its release. Realistically it’s a very long advert for the show.
• Behind the Scenes (4 min, 48 sec) has shots of the setting up for McCoy’s shooting, this was on the original release.
• Philip Segal’s Tour of the TARDIS Set (2 min, 35 sec) and executive producer Philip Segal takes the audience around the redesigned TARDIS; this is another repeat from the original release.
• Alternate Takes (1 min, 05 sec) has two alternate versions of scenes from the movie, which also appeared on the original release.
• BBC Trails (1 min, 02 sec) has two BBC television trailers for the movie.
• Who Peter 1989-2009 (26 min, 45 sec) is really part two of the story of the symbiotic relationship between Doctor Who and Blue Peter, including contributions from new series executive producer Russell T. Davies, Blue Peter editor Richard Marson, brand executive Edward Russell, writers Robert Shearman and Clayton Hickman and competition winners William Grantham and John Bell. Presented by Gethin Jones. It shows how the new show used Blue Peter to jump start interest in the new show as well as Blue Peter's obsession with the show.
• The Wilderness Years (23 min, 32 sec) and another documentary about Who’s survival in the seven years it was cancelled, this time the focus is on how it survived in print, in independent productions and as audio plays, with contributions from BBC head of serials Peter Cregeen, former Doctor Who Magazine editor John Freeman and current editor Tom Spilsbury., Virgin Books editor Peter Darvill-Evans, BBC Books consultant Justin Richards, script editor Andrew Cartmel, video producers Keith Barnfather and Bill Baggs, director Kevin Davies and Big Finish producer Jason Haigh-Ellery. Narrated by Glen Allen.
• Stripped for Action - The Eighth Doctor (19 min, 46 sec) and we have another of the excellent documentaries which detail how Doctor Who was portrayed in comic book form with writers Scott Gray, former Doctor Who Magazine editors Gary Russell, Alan Barnes and Clayton Hickman, artists Lee Sullivan, Martin Geraghty and Roger Langridge, author Paul Scoones, historian Jeremy Bentham.
• Tomorrow’s Times - The Eighth Doctor (10 min, 50 sec) has Nicholas Courtney narrating an examination of how the show was presented in the press, a press which lauded so much praise on the new show, whilst at the same time had played an important part in its downfall.
Whilst it cannot be denied that the new box set is overflowing with new and original material, in the form of extras, I am less convinced with the claim that these have been substantially remastered, certainly to a point that most viewers would notice. The picture does look less grainy, with better light and contrast balance, but I’m not convinced that the improvements would be enough for owners of the originals to upgrade.
Still, if you don’t have at least two of the stories already in your collection this would be a great way of getting the upgraded extras, otherwise it comes down to how often you realistically watch the extras on DVDs. That said, taken as a standalone produce it till scores pretty high for its extensive extras and for the quality of the stories themselves.