November 16, 2004

Doctor Who: Lost in Time

Imagine, if you will, a network that decided to erase several episodes of a television show...simply because they assumed that copies could be found elsewhere. Stories from a long-running show's early years, stories which might not have had importance, but which were, in their own way, indicative of the early direction.

Welcome, my friends, to Doctor Who: Lost in Time, the first Doctor Who DVD that has been released simultaneously in the US, UK, and Canada. It is available either as a three DVD set, or as a single William Hartnell era DVD and separate two disc Patrick Troughton set. The Hartnell disc contains two recently "rediscovered" episodes - The Crusade: The Lion and Dalek Master Plan: Day of Armageddon. The Troughton disc contains a reedited Missing Years (first released on the Edge of Destruction VHS set). Both sets contain episodes from complete stories, some four part stories "completed" with audio episodes, and plenty of film clips. (Click here for a full breakdown of each disc)

Admittedly, this set is a mixed bag - Doctor Who in the 1960s was at its most "comic-book-y" (is that even a word - Mike? Laura? Dorian? Ian? Tom the Dog?), moving at a good pace, not tied into "continuity", and just being a Saturday afternoon adventure show with science fiction trappings. Part of the fault is the quality of the episodes - even after the care and diligence of the BBC Restoration Team, the video still has a grainy quality, but considering the source material (usually 35 mm film right off the television screen), that's to be expected. It's like faulting 1960s comics because they were printed on cheap paper.

Storywise, 1960s Doctor Who was...a mixed bag. Luckily, on the Hartnell disc, we have a "complete" version of The Crusades (which now, 40 years on, seems eerily timely), as well as several episodes of The Dalek Master Plan (which appears to be just a flat-out adventure straight out of movie serials), and even clips of the Hartnell/Troughton switch (it would not be until 1975 when it was referred to as "regeneration"). However, the final episode of The Celestial Toymaker leaves you saying...huh?

It's the Troughton disc that is really revelatory - in the episodes that are available on this disc, The Web of Fear and (especially) Fury from the Deep demonstrate that their reputation is deserved. (Look at the one-minute clip from Fury and tell me that you don't wish it was rediscovered just like Tomb of the Cybermen). However, the Troughton disc also shows that he had some really bad episodes - Underwater Menace and Space Pirates seem to out-camp Adam West.

Much of the blame (as it were) has to go to the production team at the time of each episode - some producers seem to have a casual disregard for the show. Some of the single episode commentaries are revelatory (although be warned - on episode one of Web of Fear, someone forgot to tell Deborah Watling to sit by the microphone).
All in all, however, this is a great Christmas gift for the hardcore Doctor Who well as a great reminder about about retaining a sense of history.

1 comment:

Psychbloke said...

Have you seen the early pics from the new series ? (I think they're over on Outpost Gallifrey) - Fingers crossed - it might be OK.....