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Finally this brilliant series makes its way to DVD, with all 12 episodes represented in our favourite format. The British classic is one of the best comedic series ever to grace the television screen, so it is extremely welcome as a special edition 3-disc set.

For those unfortunate enough not to be in the know, the show revolves around hotelier Basil Fawlty and his establishment, Fawlty Towers. Basil is the epitome of the word “bizarre”, with the various situations he finds himself in bringing out the most crazy outcomes. Who could forget his run in with the Germans, the struggle trying to communicate with Manuel or the insane banter between the hotel guests. The show is one of the best examples of what can be done with terrific writing, immaculate timing and a cast of characters that make the show refreshingly unique. Too often comedy series tend to blend into one another, either telling the story of friends or family or straying too far into predictable slapstick. Fawlty Towers, thankfully, is not one of them.

Other characters in the show are Sybil, Basil’s wife, played by Prunella Scales, Polly the maid, played by Cleese’s real life wife and co-writer Connie Booth and Manuel the waiter, played to perfection by Andrew Sachs. Each has their own way of adding to the hilarity of each situation, with poor old Basil always stuck squarely in the middle. If you haven’t seen this series, you’ll be in for six hours of pure madness and enough laughing to last you a lifetime. For those familiar with the show, you’ll now be able to relive the series on the best DVD package available.

Manuel & Basil trying to communicate
For devout fans of the show you’ll no doubt welcome the much improved transfer for this DVD package. Surely your old VHS copies have almost deteriorated into non-existence by now so anything above that is an improvement. And I assure you, the video quality is incomparable to the (shudder) VHS version. The transfer is presented in its original full-frame format.

Being over 25 years old, one’s expectations of the transfer cannot be set too high. There is visible grain throughout but this is offset by the impressive attention to improving the washed out colour and making the blacks and contrast as defined as possible. Not the best transfer going around and I’m sure some more time could have been spent making the visuals even better but the subject matter certainly doesn’t suffer from merely an average video quality. Placing this type of transfer on a 20 year old action movie might raise a few eyebrows, but for a television series based squarely around situational comedy top-notch visuals are a lot lower on the list of priorities.
<!--Possibly the greatest sticking point is the NTSC transfer used for this Region 4 version, Pal being the standard in Australia. The use of NTSC in Region 4 has caused a lot of concern for consumers and sparked heated debate over various distribution issues. However, as with the other aspects of the video transfer, this aspect does not matter as much as, say, and NTSC transfer on your favourite new release movie. Having an NTSC transfer is probably one of the only ways this series would have made it onto Region 4, so I suppose we should count our lucky stars it reached this region in the first place.-->
Cybil was in one of her moods
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track is included, and is perfectly sufficient for the purpose of this DVD. The greatest concern with television comedies is the ability to hear the audio clearly, and this package comes through with flying colours. So much screaming and shouting goes on it would almost be forgivable to lapse into a few moments of inaudible dialogue, but there are never times when we can’t hear how irritated Basil is with our friend Manuel, so the laughs just keep on coming. While the option to turn the laugh track on or off has been included on other such comedies, I much prefer to have the laughs played out in full so that the original version is adhered to. That said, it would have been interesting to hear the series minus a laugh track but there is no such option on this DVD.

Again, Roadshow and the BBC/ABC have done their best to source out the best possible extras for this set. While some of them don’t quite work to their full potential, their presence would be appreciated by all fans of the series.

First off we have the Audio Commentaries by Director of series one John Davis and Director of series two Bob Spears. John Davis is quite a pain to listen to and does an awful amount of spectating and stating the absolute obvious (“here we have Basil in the foyer…”). There are a few select tidbits scattered here and there but they are too few and far between to be any use. Only for the most hardened of Fawlty Towers fans, cause I don’t think even Davis would want to listen to this one again. Spears, on the other hand, is refreshing in comparison. He seems much more at ease and reveals a lot more about the production and the characters. Too bad none of the cast could make it, but that’s life I suppose.

Next up is a series of interviews with John Cleese, Prunella Scales and Andrew Sachs. These are very entertaining to listen to and provide much of the input from the cast that was needed considering they aren’t on the commentary track. Easily the best feature on the disc, just for the information about the series from those directly involved in its production.

Also included on the disc are the filmographies and biographies of the main cast, which is remarkable in the form of an audio track as well, so you can listen to the track as you read. Interesting addition that certainly jazzes up the usual boring nature of cast/crew filmographies. We also receive a Torquay tourist guide that chronicles the birth of the series which was based on an actual hotel. Very worthwhile.

The last addition to the disc is a series of outtakes which basically shows the usual images of actors fluffing their lines etc. Extremely funny, as all outtake reels tend to be. Don’t you just love them?

Basil's awful sense of style...
The nature of this series lends itself to an impressive DVD package loaded with timely extras and the best possible transfer available. While the video quality is only at the average level and some of the extras are a once-only affair, all evidence tends to suggest that this was the best package one could currently muster, and for that we should be grateful Region 4 received such a complete and competent 3 disc package. A must have for fans of the series, and fans of British comedy in general. Just don’t mention the war...