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DVD Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who


Starring: William Hartnell and Peter Davison
RRP: £30.63
Certificate: PG
Available 20 June 2011

Another month sees another Doctor Who box set hit the shelves, a format which appears to becoming increasingly popular - probably, as in this case so that a weak story can be packaged with a much stronger one.

Doctor Who: Earthstory collects together a William Hartnell tale - The Gunfighters - alongside one from Peter Davison - The Awakening.

Having developed a toothache the Doctor and his companions land in nineteenth century America, looking for a dentist. They quickly discover that they have landed in Tombstone, where the only dentist is Doc Holiday. The feud between holiday and the Clanton family is moving to its inevitable fight at the OK Corral where the Clanton’s intend to kill Holiday. An initial misunderstanding leads the Clanton's to think that the Doctor is Holiday and they mean to kill him...

The Gunfighters was written by Donald Cotton and directed by Rex Tucker. This four part story originally ran from 30 April to 21 May 1966.

Let’s get one thing quickly out of the way, not only is this story very poor but if is generally rated as one of the worst five in the show's history. Some of the criticisms can be laid at the feet of the production team whilst others can be attributed to the show's limited budget.

What looks good on paper does not always translate well on the screen. Having previously completed two light-hearted historical tales it looks like the production team thought that a western would be a good genre to mine as it was popular at the time. The problem with this is that in the viewing public’s mind are the great western vistas which were literally just outside an American productions back yard. Without access to these Doctor Who had to create the wild west entirely on set. It didn’t work. The inclusion of some live horses does try and help the illusion, but there was no way that a convincing set could be built.

If it were just a problem with production values, most would still be willing to suspend disbelief, but some of the main problems come from the story itself. Introducing each episode and occasionally commenting on the action is ‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’, sung by Lynda Baron which veers between embarrassing and awful. The same can be said of much of the acting and script. No one seems to care that in a light comedy nothing comes over as funny.

The disc’s extras are a little sparse, but then considering the age of the show it's surprising that they could muster this much. The full length commentary has contributions from Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer, David Graham Richard Beale, Tristan de Vere Cole. The End of the Line (42 min, 28 sec) which looks at the transition from Verity Lambert's tenure to a new approach to the show. It was a time when the show's future was in doubt, with the loss of the main actor and much of the production staff. The show's third year would be a decisive turning point.

Mary Tamm Narrates Tomorrow Times - The First Doctor (14 min, 17 sec) which covers the newspaper coverage of the show’s opening years. If you didn’t get enough of ‘The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’ then you can listen to it again while watching the photo gallery, personally I’d have more fun tearing my own teeth out. The first disc is wrapped up with the usual Coming Soon, Radio Times Listings, Programme Subtitles and Subtitle Production Notes.



Landing in contemporary rural England to meet Tegan's grandfather, the crew of the TARDIS discover that the villagers are re-enacting a civil war battle. Things start to go horribly wrong when the participants of the re-enactment start to behave as if it were real, endangering both the villagers and the TARDIS crew. When the present and the past collide the Doctor discovers that the village is hiding the Malus, an ancient war machine which is using the psychic energy of the battle to refuel itself…

The Awakening was written by Eric Pringle and directed by Michael Owen Morris, this two-part story was originally broadcast between 19 and 20 January 1984.

Given the relative hash that Who can make when they have four episodes, it’s a pleasant surprise to find a well written taut plot lasting only two. The strong script was complimented by an equally strong cast.

Now it wouldn’t be a Who review without a dig at the budget. Here the period costumes and locations are spot on, what lets the show down is the occasional weak presentation of the Malus, which in many shots is anything but frightening.

A second ‘Liver-bird’ appears in the form of Polly James, giving a strong performance, though most of the cast is put into the shade by Keith Jayne, playing the young Will, torn from his own time into the present.

The disc has another full length commentary with contributions from Michael Owen Morris and Eric Saward. Return to Little Hodcombe (19 min, 36 sec) which is another retrospective of the show. Making the Malus (7 min, 16 sec) looks at the creation of the Malus, oddly enough some of the shots for the short documentary give the model more malice than what was shown in the final show, as case of less would have been more.

Now & Then (7 min, 27 sec) is another part of the on-going series which looks at how the locations look now compared to how they looked when the show was shot - now that’s very anal, even for Who fans. From the Cutting Room Floor (9 min, 31 sec) has a series of extended and deleted scenes from the show. The Golden Egg Awards (2 min, 23 sec) has Peter Davison receiving an award for the outtake of the horse destroying the entrance to the church. The disc wraps with another photo gallery, isolated music, Coming Soon, listings and subtitiles


Charles Packer

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