Doctor Who
The Beginning Box Set

Starring William Hartnell
RRP: 29.99
Certificate: 12
Available 30 January 2006

There's something odd about Susan Foreman. She's an average teenager most of the time - she likes pop music and boys - but there's something about her that's just not right. For example, her knowledge of science is way beyond that of her chemistry teacher and she also has the ability to read massive history tomes over night. It's therefore no wonder that two of her teachers are confused by their pupil. To make things even stranger, her home address is a junk yard, a quadrant that contains nothing but worthless tat and a Police Box.

This DVD set contains the very first appearance of the time travelling Police Box, the TARDIS, and its mysterious owner, The Doctor. If you ever wanted to know how TV's longest running SF show started then here's the story - or rather first three stories.

First up we get Unearthly Child - a trip back to the last Ice Age where a group of cave dwellers are trying to discover the secret of fire. The Doctor, Susan and her abducted school teachers, Ian and Barbara, fall foul of a power struggle between clan leaders, although over these four episodes nothing much actually happens aside from some grunting about making flames - it's a dull affair that lends a whole new meaning to 'slow' and 'repetitive'. Get captured by cave men, run away, get captured, run away...

It's the next story that really kicked the series off - Dead Planet (aka The Daleks). Dragged in as a last minute replacement for a story that was cancelled, these seven episodes turned Doctor Who into a runaway success. The story is so well known that it's easy to overlook just how good much of the narrative structure actually is. It is too long and at times very slow but there's actually few genuinely bad scenes or moments total padding. And of course the Daleks are fantastic.

The third story in this set, Edge of Destruction, is just two episodes in length but even at that truncated time scale it's still too long. Once again it's a filler story and this time it shows. Yes, it does add to our understanding of the four central characters but it would have been nice to have had a story to support things. Instead we get a load of old tosh about the TARDIS being under threat, it trying to communicate things are wrong to its trapped inhabitants and a whole load of other odds and sods which generally make little sense.

What really makes this three disc set worth buying - Daleks aside - is the extras. An all too brief photo reconstruction of the missing story Marco Polo is excellent, the photo galleries are also very good and the multiple documentaries are spot on, although once again a little static.

We also get the pilot episode - in full and re-edited - and a splendid 5.1 remix of the original theme by Mark Ayres, who has also worked wonders on cleaning up the audio on the individual episodes. The picture quality is tremendous considering the age and properties of the source material and the on-screen production notes and commentaries are all we've come to expect. Top marks all round.

Only the very first episode and The Daleks actually stand up to repeat viewings but as a package this set is quite simply indispensable.

Anthony Clark

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