June 12, 2013


(Special thanks to BBC Home Entertainment for providing complimentary DVDs for review)

There's nothing quite like early 1970's Doctor Who - unlike the whimsy of the current series, many stories during Jon Pertwee's tenure are a mix of slightly harder-edged, almost pulp elements, with an immediacy that makes them inherently watchable. Two recent BBC DVD releases - focusing on stories written by Don Houghton - really establish a much more pulp-flavored Doctor, giving him an edge that many contemporary audiences can appreciate.

Although it's seven episodes long, Inferno moves at a very brisk pace, and can easily be watched on a lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoon. The final episode of Season 7 (which was a radical reworking of the show), Inferno focuses on efforts to drill into the earth's crust to find a new energy source. However, as always complications arise, but what makes the story work (and makes it not feel very padded) is that events transpire on a parallel world. (One of the few times classic Who would dive into that theme). In addition, several new featurettes - including a comedic focus on Havoc (the stunt team during series 7) and a look at the failed Dark Dimension 30th anniversary movie make this DVD (which was initially released only a few years ago) a definite must-buy. (Plus, the restoration is excellent, and the picture quality is far beyond the previous effort).

But the noteworthy release is The Mind of Evil from 1971, which had been delayed repeatedly, and was only available as a relatively poor black-and-white film copy. In short, this is not only a great-looking release (in full-blooded color), but is a pretty strong, cracking good story. Focusing primarily on a prison riot, much of The Mind of Evil has some definite pulpish elements: strong antagonists with a variety of motives, an espionage-flavored subplot involving a stolen missile...and a stellar performance from Roger Delgado as the Master. Although the previous story (Terror of the Autons) introduced the character, here's where he begins to shine. Although the series was beginning to move in a more family-friendly direction, this is one of the few classic Who stories that feels like it would fit in the current, plot-driven era of modern Who.

Both stories are from the 1970s, and let's be honest - several of the attitudes and fashions presented are Mind of Evil's picture quality is well worth the wait - it looks as if the original two inch videotapes were located and restored. (However, much like The Ambassadors of Death, this is a longer story that deserves to be watched in hour-long chunks due to its dense plotting).
One of the great things about Don Houghton's writing on both stories is that he provides both Inferno and Mind of Evil with strong well-plots which never really feel padded nor which plod along for their own sake.

Both stories have been released as dual DVD sets, and are worth it. Oh, and by the way, Spearhead from Space will be released on Blu-Ray in August. I'm glad that I'm fortunate to work with BBC Home Entertainment on reviewing its video releases, because with their classic Doctor Who re-releases, they're not only laying the groundwork for an excellent 50th anniversary celebration....but are setting an example for other television DVD releases.

Doctor Who as pulp fiction? The DVD releases of Mind of Evil and Inferno answer that question with a resounding "Yes!"

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