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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Doctor Who
The Collection
Season 26


Starring: Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred
Distributor: BBC
RRP: £29.99

5 051561 004803

Certificate: 12
Release Date: 23 December 2019

Season 26 of Doctor Who would see the show killed off for the foreseeable future. Sylvester McCoy would complete his third and final season with companion Ace (Sophie Aldred). Due to a number of reasons, the show was slowly lurching towards an ignoble death, killed off by forces it could not control. Funding had been cut, the Director General had been trying to kill it off for some time and the show runner, John Nathan-Turner, was leaving. So, against this background how good was Doctor Who’s temporary last hurrah.

There has been a long tradition of releasing Doctor Who, first on VHS – I still own a couple of those – then on DVD and now the BBC has decided to rerelease the original show on Blu-ray with each season being given its own box set. These have proved very popular, possibly too popular, given the limited run of each of the seasons.

Season 26 was relatively short, consisting of only four stories, Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival. Thematically the show continued to hint at the idea that the Doctor wasn’t just any old Time Lord, but something possibly older and more powerful. For all the fans who thought that The Timeless Child broke either character or cannon, this idea had been around a long time.

If, like me you have already purchased these episodes when they were available on DVD, what would persuade you to shell out more cash for the Blu ray release?

Battlefield arrives on two discs and is fairly indicative as to what to expect for all the stories.

As previously stated, money was tight so anything which required extensive special effects tended to look a bit pants. No matter how good the material or the acting, this lack of funds tarnished many of the stories.

My memories of Battlefield are not good and re-watching the TV version did little to change my opinion. The material is overstretched for the story it was trying to tell and watched as a weekly show, the overall story tended to be a little confusing.

The set contains the TV version with a commentary track, but it also contains a superior Special Edition, where the production is presented as a single story, with extra material and updated special effects, it also has a 5.1 surround sound audio track. These are like chalk and cheese. Whereas the TV version is clunky the Special Edition seems to have a better pace and the updated effects add much to the overall experience.

Each story comes with a plethora of extras, some new some which have been seen before and way too many to just list. The most notable for this story is the inclusion of the VHS version, which has not previously been released on disc.

Ghost Light is the first of the stories which turn the focus of the show onto the Doctor's companion. This creepy Victorian ghost story was impressive when it was first shown and remains so today. Atmospheric and unsettling, this was McCoy and Aldred working together at their best. Certainly, in Ghost Light and the following The Curse of Fenric, the Doctor has to face down an evil, while at the same time placing Ace in positions which makes her question some of her fundamental beliefs.

Once again you have a range of old and new extras, including an extended work print which reintroduced cut material. Obviously the old material is not to the same quality, but it’s interesting to see what was cut.

The Curse of Fenric, on the one hand is a standard monster story, with amphibious vampire like creature returning to the land, during the Second World War. But is also about selling the Doctor as this much darker and older character, who has been playing a game of chess against an ancient evil throughout much of McCoy's time as the Doctor. Not content to just have two layers to the story, it also deals with Ace and her feelings towards her mother.

Once again the story comes with a collection of old and new extras and some additions to the special effect. Like the first story you have the option to watch the broadcast version, a new feature-length version or the VHS version.

Survival is notable for being the last story of the original Who as well as the last time fans would see Anthony Ainley’s Master. It continued the theme of the Doctor being other than an ordinary Time Lord and allowed the audience to see a little more of Ace’s background. However, on a personal note, I thought the whole thing risible. Mostly this was due to the show's ambitions far out stripping its ability to deliver on such a small budget.

Although it is a shame that this would, for the time being, be the show's swansong, even JNT knew that things were coming to an end and so asked that suitable last words were written for McCoy and Aldred.

The last disc in the set has some more extras which do not organically fit with the stories, but none-the-less concern season 26.

So, would I but this…?

The cleaned up prints are a welcome addition and you’re not likely to see the show looking better than this. Likewise the inclusion of the 5.1 surround sound and updated special effects do nothing but enhance the experience. In a lot of the stories the feature length versions are the best of the bunch with the inclusion of new special effects. Not too shabby for the price.

On the other hand, I do have one concern. These are released as limited editions and there has been a lot of scalping going on. That is, nefarious parties buying up as many as they can to stick them on Ebay and the like. What was 40 quid can quickly set you back a hundred to a hundred and fifty. If you miss a pre-order, and most of the sets disappear into pre-orders, you’re going to start a collection which is either going to cost you a small fortune, or not complete at all.

It may be that this has not gone unnoticed by the Beeb and I am aware of at least one season being rereleased. If this continues then these will be worth collecting. As for the stories, Ghost Light and Curse of Fenric, still hold up as good stories and some of the best of McCoy and Aldred’s time on the show. Batttlefield is improved with the addition of the feature length version and, well there isn’t a lot you can do to rescue Survival.


Charles Packer

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