Doctor Who

Starring: Tom Baker
BBC Video
RRP 12.99
BBCV 7332
Certificate: U
Available now

The Dodecahedron, the mysterious power source of the planet Tigella, is failing. Zastor, the Tigellan leader, calls for the Doctor's help. But on the nearby world of Zolfa-Thura, a cactus-like being called Meglos plans to prevent the Time Lord's arrival. The villainous vegetable wants the Dodecahedron for himself...

With no genuine classics left to release on VHS (though Invasion of the Dinosaurs is rather good), I find myself getting more excited by the BBC's DVD schedule than its video list these days.

That said, this story is worth watching for the dual role played by Tom Baker as the Doctor (of course) and as Meglos, whose frequently spine-covered flesh provides memorable visual appeal. Baker does some nice "mad" scenes, although occasionally it is difficult to tell the two characters apart - after all, his Doctor is fairly barking as well. Fortunately, musician Peter Howell always inserts an appropriately "prickly" signature whenever the villainous doppelganger appears on the scene.

Another point of interest is the presence of the late Jacqueline Hill, who played one of the earliest Doctor Who companions, Barbara Wright, in the 1960s. Here she portrays Lexa, the leader of Tigella's religious caste. How ironic that she should play an advocate of blood sacrifice, when DVD viewers have so recently seen Barbara condemning the practice in The Aztecs!

Effects-wise, Meglos sees the pioneering use of Scene-Sync, an early form of motion control, which allows camera movement in conjunction with the Colour Separation Overlay process. Unfortunately, most of the CSO effects themselves remain as fuzzy as they have ever been.

This is a very lightweight story, and shouldn't be taken too seriously. For instance, no explanation is offered as to why Meglos should need his hired mercenaries (led by Bill Fraser as General Grugger) to go out of their way to acquire an Earthling (Christopher Owen) for him to possess, when the more nearby Tigellans seem identical to human beings. And the Doctor's method of escape from a time loop - sorry, chronic hysterisis - is nonsensical, though amusing. The slightness of the plot is attested to by some extremely short episodes and long reprises - Part Four is the shortest of the lot at less than 20 minutes.

Not a classic then, but this cactus-based lark isn't entirely cack.

Richard McGinlay

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