Doctor Who: 4th Doctor Time Capsule (UK - DVD R2)
The Wilson Bros are all teeth and curls over this limited edition Tom Baker set...
For many Doctor Who fans, Tom Baker was THE Doctor, not merely the Fourth Doctor. The three actors who came before him had each brought something unique to the part, but it was little Tommy Baker who grabbed hold of it with both hands and embraced it a manner that left the actor and the role of the Fourth Doctor forever intertwined.
Out of all of the stories during Tom Baker's seven year stint as The Doctor, one story that has been consistently hanging around in the top ten is the 1975 story, Terror of the Zygons. With the Golden Anniversary episode of Doctor Who looming, which will feature the grand return of everyone's favourite one-shot adversaries, the final Fourth Doctor story is about to be unleashed on DVD...
Something is very wrong up in Scotland; an unknown force is systematically destroying oil rigs and the authorities - and UNIT - are baffled by the destruction of these supposedly "unsinkable" pieces of engineering. The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) are recalled to Earth to assist with the investigation; what they discover is an attempt to colonise Earth by a race of shape-shifting beings, who are unwilling to share with the existing population and seemingly have the Loch Ness Monster on their side in order to accomplish their goal...
You know that you are in Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes territory, as another mythical and/or literary creature is tackled by dragging it from the realms of the fantastic and into the light of vague scientific possibility. This time the subject of the Loch Ness Monster is lined up in the cross-hairs grafted on top of Robert Holmes' oversized pipe and writer Robert Stewart Banks created a script which incorporated many Scottish tropes and clichés, along with "Nessie" rampaging across the highlands and even having a spooky castle for our heroes to skulk around, all this and a definite nod to Don Siegel's classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers make for a wonderfully entertaining mixture. Holmes' influence on Banks Stewart's extended to encouraging him to focus more on the Zygons, rather than just have the story about the Loch Ness Monster and in taking Holmes' advice, Banks Stewart came up with one of the most memorable and loved adventures of Tom Baker's run.
It's easy to see just why Terror of the Zygons is so highly regarded by Doctor Who fans - it's witty, intriguing, handsomely mounted and features the greatest "monsters" never to appear in a follow-up story. The script contains many Scottish references, with some of them being about as subtle as a caber to the goolies; appropriately, The Brig gets to wear a kilt and sporran in this story (seeing as the latter half of his double-barrelled name is Stewart; The Doctor dons a natty hat and there is the sound of bagpipes playing loudly in the place where UNIT has set up temporary headquarters. Writer Banks Stewart is himself a Scot and it’s interesting that he would choose to play up many aspects that could certainly be considered stereotypical, but many would say that it’s all part of the fun. We would point out that instead of asking to ship in haggis, the doomed oil rig worker should - to be a little more cryptically Scottish - have radioed in for Arbroath Smokies.
Though this was not the final time that UNIT would appear in Doctor Who, there was certainly an element that they were already nearing the end of their relevance, given the direction that the show was moving in; producer Philip Hinchcliffe was keen to have more outer-space adventures and UNIT just seemed to anchor them in present-day Earth, which was awfully handy during the more budget-conscious “exile” period that marked a substantial portion of Jon Pertwee’s tenture, but was probably frustrating after the exile storyline ended. Though it’s always great to see The Brig, Benton et al in Doctor Who, there is a maudlin feel to them in Terror of the Zygons, but it’s not nearly as depressing as watching them in their swansong, The Seeds of Doom.
Indeed, Terror of the Zygons marks the final regular appearance of Nicholas Courtney; Courtney seemed better suited to playing off Pertwee, as Baker’s Doctor was more freewheeling than Pertwee’s and the antiauthority stance that was so prevalent with the Third Doctor diminished due to the more Bohemian Fourth that something was lost and could have been another small indicator that the days of UNIT was drawing to a close.
Tom Baker is in his element here, as he has that mischievous twinkle in his eye that glimmered so brightly early on in the role and gradually dimmed as time went on; Baker once famously described Jon Pertwee as being like “a tall light bulb that glittered”, but Baker is like a lighthouse with a wide beam, attracting the attention of all around and steering them safely out of danger. Here Tom is firing on all cylinders, displaying a casual contempt for authority - rather than the almost pathological one associated with his previous incarnation - in gently winding up Nick Courtney’s Brigadoon, sorry, Brigadier. Along with two great companions of play off and a mystery to be solved, Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor is on top form in this story.
Elisabeth Sladen is her usual spunky self in this story, once again having to prove herself useful when in the company of The Doctor and Harry Sullivan; at the beginning of Terror of the Zygons, the shots of her and her two male co-stars making their way across scenic landscapes is wonderful and there is a vitality and a look of genuine joy on Lis’ face that makes you think that her premature passing was even more tragic.
Ian Marter doesn’t get all that much to do as Harry Sullivan, but Mr M really gets to show a very different side to this thespian skills when he has to act as Harry’s Zygon double in episode two, which has him being cold and disconnected, with some appropriately mean and moody photography on him (courtesy of Doctor Who’s greatest director, Douglas Camfield) during the sequence when he is hiding in the barn. The fact that the character of Harry Sullivan was created before Tom Baker was cast as The Doctor meant that the main reason for Harry’s existence was essentially written out from the start, as Baker was a younger man who was capable of doing all the necessary rough stuff by himself (save for the occasional stunt-doubles, of course), but Harry was ultimately a fun character, even if he was - occasionally - an imbecile.
Playing the mysterious (and somewhat sinister) Duke of Forgill is John Woodnutt, who was no stranger to Doctor Who, having popped up in Spearhead From Space and Frontier in Space with Jon Pertwee, he would later crop up again in The Keeper of Traken. This is conclusive proof that a good, dependable actor was always kept in mind and on the books in Doctor Who.
Angus Lennie makes a return to the series, having previously played Storr in The Ice Warriors; Lennie is Angus the landlord, the seventh son of a seventh son (and from the sound of him, some would argue that he was probably the last of his line) and seems to exist in order to provide handy expository dialogue to Sarah Jane before meeting The Phantom Piper shortly afterwards. By the time that this story was in production, Lennie had already done a year of his seven-year stint on Crossroads (playing the VERY Scottish-sounding Shughie McFee), so he must have shoehorned his appearance in this during a break.
This story, possibly even more than Invasion of the Dinosaurs, is desperately in need of the option of revamped visual effects. Terror of the Zygons is a great story that is marred by some of the weaker model effects to grace Doctor Who at that particular time. The Skarasen lacks the terrier skull base that made the Drashigs seen in Carnival of Monsters look fairly impressive; OK, so there's the whole ethical nature of using dog skulls for effects work in a family shot to consider, but it still looked pretty good.
The original Quad videotapes for this story still exist and is one of those Doctor Who stories that enjoyed releases on multiple formats before finding it’s way onto DVD; originally in the dreaded omnibus format on video and later on Laserdisc in it’s original episodic format.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team have cleaned up this story as best they can, and the results on the studio footage are most impressive, with a healthy level of detail and vibrant colours that only reach saturation point when reds dominate inside the Zygon spacecraft. The location footage obviously no longer exists and the guys have done their best with it; the film footage is fairly clean and looks pretty good (you can clearly seen the stubble on John Levene's chin in one shot), but there is one composite shot involving the Nessie-like beastie, where clarity takes a nosedive in a manner not dissimilar to the stop-motion work on Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash, with seemingly nth-level generational loss and muddy visuals, but there was really nothing that could be done about it - it will always look pretty poor.
When popping this disc into the DVD player for reviewing purposes, we were rather curious to see that the main menu had an "audio options" setting. Seeing as this was an essentially bare-bones disc, we were puzzled as to what could be included, maybe an audio commentary, but no - the answer was one of the things we least expected...
A FUCKING DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1 SOUNDTRACK!
It’s a somewhat bizarre experience listening to this all-too-familiar arrangement of the Doctor Who theme in 5.1; all of the original elements that make up this version have been separated and you can clearly hear each of them with a fidelity that you would probably never have imagined. Specific pieces of the score startle you a little, as they don’t quite sound how you had always taken them to sound with the added clarity and they float around the soundstage in a sonic blizzard.
There are those would doubtless prefer their version of the Tom Baker era theme to remain in that thick mid-range aural soup that they have listened to for all these years, but you have to give them full marks for presenting this digital upgrade.
As to the newly-created 5.1 soundtrack - considering that Terror of the Zygons is nearly 40 years old and it was made on a relatively small budget and there are precious few (if any) other BBC productions from the period that have had this sort of treatment - the results are pretty bloody impressive! The opening attack on the oil rig has been given a degree of sonic punch that really helps to elevate the tension and excitement in the scene, with low frequencies being used quite extensively and the crashing waves and howling winds filling the soundscape to really sell the scene.
Elsewhere, a gunshot that comes from the rear-right speaker is the one that grazes poor old Harry and really takes you by surprise; the interiors of the Zygon spaceship has all manner of organic sounds oozing from the every channel and seriously augments the otherworldly feel to the Zygons and their craft.
As fabulous as the new mix is, many fans will be relieved to hear that the original mono track has also been included here and is the default setting.
Interview With the Time Lord - In Conversation With Tom Baker: With Doctor Who reaching its 50th anniversary, there’s always going to be a pertinent question: which of the old guard are still around to help out with the celebrations? Well, with his 80th birthday almost upon him, Tom Baker grants a candid interview on his life on the show, and events surrounding it, encompassing both the elation and doldrums of the fame which brought him into the nations’ living rooms every Saturday teatime. Spending half an hour in the company of the elder statesman of Doctor Who is always going to be an entertaining prospect, but this time it’s almost as though it’s his “thank you and goodnight” tour. Once he’s gone, Britain will have lost one of its great eccentrics, so get ready to reflect on as golden age of television from the man who admits that the role was made for him: “I didn’t have to reach for it at all. I just had to filter the lines…”
The autobiography Who On Earth Is Tom Baker did little to dispel the popular generalisation that thespians consider themselves as a breed apart from “regular” people, turning to acting so as not to join the plebs and have to graft for a living, or that they spend most of their downtime in pubs, holding court within their own cliques as idolised raconteurs rattle off stories which are probably hilarious if your were either there at the time or know them personally. Oh, or that thesps are usually so wrapped up in themselves that they are unable to hold down relationships, and how their kids normally end up suffering or missing out one way or another. One thing which really endeared us to Mr Baker through his book was that he blew the lid on the business of acting as merely being the perfection of the art of lying, something which Baker learned when unexpectedly being mistaken for a grief-stricken mourner at a funeral and making money from it. It’s this blustering quality to Mr B which qualifies him for canonisation, an accolade which would probably conflict between his former religious aspirations and his current self.
Whilst Baker has always been riddled with self-doubt, he details one instance where his usual happy visit to a children’s hospital was a decidedly tragic affair which clearly affected him. “…Where someone says ‘excuse me, Tom, but there is a boy downstairs who was knocked over and is in a coma and he was a great fan of you, and wonder if you could go down and talk to him?’, and I’d go down into a little room… where some family shattered with grief will be around a boy… and I would go through a terrible routine feeling desperately inadequate. I’d say: ‘Hello, George, it’s the Doctor here. K9 was telling me this morning that you’ve been in an accident, and that you don’t want to talk to us. And I just wondered how you feel’. And they would watch - they way desperate people do - in the hope that I would revive the boy. I never did. It was a terrible, terrible experience to have to go through.”
Recorded in January, it is topical enough for Baker to mention his sadness at the death of Elisabeth Sladen, although he talks of Mary Tamm as though still alive, and just when you might assume that he would talk otherwise of another certain person who played Romana, but he almost charitably says that he “doesn’t regret” being married to her. Baker even mentions his involvement at the launch of the 50th anniversary stamps, detailing how respected MPs were having their pictures with him whilst Davison and Paul McGann were almost rolling their eyes at how much Baker was relishing the attention.
His initially reluctant entry into the Big Finish audio adventures is covered, and it’s wonderful to hear him talk so fondly of what was once a niche, but has blossomed into the realms of “beloved” among Doctor Who fans. We say “reluctant”, but as most reading here will know that once Louise Jameson originally asked him to come on board, the only reservation he had was covering the distance between Canterbury and London, but once a closer venue was found, he really threw himself into it. “…It was as if no time had elapsed at all he muses. “…It was just quite extraordinary. And the same with Louise, after all those years”.
The nature of taking over on Doctor Who gave Baker the first clue as to how prestigious and contested a job it was, remembering that “…Jon Pertwee wasn’t very affectionate towards me when he was leaving… because he was leaving a very, very prized job. I suspected, actually, that he regretted it, but I don’t know. So he lay down… and they locked off the camera and dragged him away, and I went down as we never spoke again”. He doesn’t shy away from how he stuck his oar in too much as time when on, but claimed it was never a problem with Philip Hinchcliffe, but it was when John Nathan-Turner took over than it started to grate, and led to his uncontested resignation from the show.
As the flipside to the mortifying incident at the children’s hospital mentioned earlier, possibly the most heartening story comes when Baker visited a hospice, meeting an elderly woman in the final stages of death. There is no way we would ever spoil it for you, but it is at once amusing, life-affirming and uplifting. The goodwill generated by his memories of the show is almost palpable, and gives way to an occasionally bouncy mood from the man himself. At one point, he makes an attempt at humour, which he doesn‘t think will come across too well, but really endears himself to everyone when he says to [presumably] the interviewer: “You know, I thought it was funny, but it’s a bit pathetic, really, but thanks for smiling”.
With no spite or ill-will intended, we have to say that it’s rather ironic that this DVD set is called a “Time Capsule”, as this is something which is soon to be buried, a fate which is getting ever closer for the hallowed Mr Baker, as - by his own admission in this interview - his body is starting to turn against him as the years roll on. He appears visibly more frail than he ever has before, even during certain periods during his time on the show, but his mind is as keen as it ever was, and the spirit of a man wildly over-compensating for a lack of self still very much in evidence. That he was able to free himself of most the tropes associated with thespians through one-too-many bad marriages and the death of too many associates through alcohol is testament to his character. This is Tom Baker’s command performance, and possibly the definitive last word on his tenure as the most beloved character on British television, and to be able to be one of the few able to get their mitts on this set just to see this almost life-affirming piece with the old rogue is worth the price-tag in itself.
We‘ll leave it to the man himself to encapsulate his time as the Doctor, in possibly his last extensive interview. What better way to sign off than the words:
“It was just heavenly, and there’s nothing quite like it”.
Also included in this set are a veritable plethora of collectable items, one of which is exclusive to this set. It should be pointed that we received none of them to review, including:
Action Figure: An exclusive post-regenerative Fourth Doctor action figure, wearing Jon Pertwee's trademark frill-fronted shirt. Meaning that Character Options have essentially done yet another head-swap.
Fourth Doctor Sonic Screwdriver: A nice item to have and fun to do Steven Moffat-era impersonations by waving it around like it's Harry Potter's magic wand.
Genesis of the Daleks Audio Book: We haven't heard this, but given that we thought that some of other the other ones that Baker has recorded were the aural equivalent of watching paint dry, we hope that this one is an improvement.
Book: The novel included for your added pleasure is entitled The Tomb of Valdemar by Simon Messingham, and is set during the Key to Time season. Sounds interesting.
Art Cards: All of Tom Baker's companions are included in this set - there are probably some fans who are hoping that they have the ability to be wiped clean.
Letter: From Tom Baker, no less! It'll probably be every bit as barking as the actor himself.
Terror of the Zygons is quite rightly regarded as being one of the best stories of the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who; despite a few flaws (most of which are effects-related), this is a cracking story that rattles along and introduced the world to the Zygons. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remix was a surprise and a most welcome one at that!
This Time Capsule box-set is fairly elaborate, but contains little that is truly exclusive and the copy of Terror of the Zygons will be superseded when the extras-laden release surfaces in October. Fans of the Fourth Doctor will want to pick it up, but everyone else might want to wait until the tenth month of this year.
Review by Wilson Bros
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 29th July 2013
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Tom Baker Interview, bits of collectable Doctor Who tat
Easter Egg: No
Director: Douglas Camfield
Cast: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Ian Marter, Nicholas Courtney
Length: 100 minutes
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