Doctor Who: E-Space Trilogy DVD boxset review
Cameron welcomes back Tom Baker, even if it means he has to meet up with Adric again...
E-Space? Trilogy? Story arc in ‘Classic’ Who? That sounds interesting.
Well, yes and no.
The Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and K-9 find themselves in the TARDIS and out with our own universe and in another – referred to as “E-Space”. What’s the difference between our universe (known as “N-Space”) and E-Space, you ask? It would seem not much except that space, when we see the TARDIS fly through it, is tinged with a sort of green. Crazy stuff!
First up is Full Circle, a 1980 four-parter that introduces one of the most loathsome and hated creatures in the history of Doctor Who - the woeful Adric. For those in the blissful position of ignorance when it comes to this John Nathan-Turner inspired atrocity (and you think Matt Smith is young!), Adric is a maths wizard from the planet Alzarius who meets up with the Doctor and the always arousing Romana.
Actually, he doesn’t technically ‘join’ them until the next tale but we’ll get there soon enough. Though you’ll want to get there quickly as Full Circle is not Who at its finest. It starts off congenially with a pleasant scene between The Doctor and Romana who are discussing a return to Gallifrey and the implications for the Time Lady (and what a lady!). And that’s pretty much the best thing this story has to offer.
Although this is not a new remark, I feel it’s worth making again. The juxtaposition of film stock (used for outdoor scenes) and video (studio based antics) is jarring and incredibly distracting. The makers, back then, just didn’t care and our suspension of disbelief is stretched.
It veritably snaps when we are introduced to the Marshmen. Well, that’s a little unfair. In the swamp scenes, when filmed from afar, these aliens are passable but as soon as we get close-ups, or they enter the studio environment, they become pantomime in their execution. Similarly, we are treated (and I use the word quite wrongly) to some spiders that are less convincing than those we witnessed seven years previous on Metebelis Three. Shockingly poor.
And, if that weren’t enough, there’s the acting. Good lord, the acting! Not one half decent performance amongst them, and shame on George Baker who should have known better (or at least performed better). The culprit of the worst is, as you may have guessed, Mathew Waterhouse who plays the aforementioned Adric but more of his odious exploits in the ‘Extras’ section.
The next story, State Of Decay, fares much better though it also suffers from similar contemporary problems; namely, in this case, the music. It’s full of synth plimps, plomps and stabs and yet the story is Gothic in tone and look. Would it have been too much to ask to get a sting quartet in for the day? Anyway, it’s a small point.
The inhabitants of this planet (still in E-Space, mind!) live in fear of the Three Who Rule and it turns out they’ve got previous with the Time Lords. We are then presented with some tantalizing Gallifreyan history (in a neat little scene between The Doctor and Romana) and the ‘myth’ of vampires.
Also faring better are the cast, though the Three Who Rule do vamp considerably (they wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Duran Duran video), and this viewer’s trousers were slightly tightened when one of the Lords, Camilla, shared some glances that are best described as ‘lesbocious’ with Romana. Yummy!
Adric turns up like the proverbial bad smell and you’ll be left scratching your head (or eyes out) at his actual purpose in this story. Also eye-scratchingly bad is the denouement. Throughout the story we are told about The Great One whom the Three Who Rule serve, but it urns out this ‘great’ one is simply a giant hand that is obviously a normal hand and some very poor CSO (for those who don’t watch documentaries, that's a visual effect known as ‘Colour Screen Overlay’). The cutting between the cast in the studio and the SFX (if you can call them that) are laughable, which is a pity as State Of Decay could have been so much better.
This Terrance Dicks-penned vampire tale was originally due for broadcast a number of years previous with the lurvely Leela as the companion (you’ll find out why it was delayed in the ‘Extras’) and I can’t help but feel that the production team then would have given this tale the justice it deserved.
And lastly, closing the trilogy, there’s Warrior’s Gate. An ambitious story that features some high concept sci-fi notions (for a Saturday tea time television show), we are presented with some minimal sets and some eerie background matte pictures.
I’ve seen this four-parter a number of times over the years but I still cannot get the gist of it in one punchy paragraph, so I won’t bother (thankfully, the crew reveal in the commentary similar thoughts, so I don’t feel too stupid). Warrior’s Gate is a complex tale that is there to demonstrate how messed up time and space can be. The titular Gate acts as a gateway, but to what and where and when is best left to you to decide.
The most striking feature, for me, about the story is the direction, here undertaken by Paul Joyce. The opening few minutes are simply a long tracking shot in a spaceship containing no action, just atmosphere. It’s a phenomenal noir-ish start and gives Alien a run in the mood stakes. Sadly, the rest of the episodes don’t live up to this but they do offer some incredible imagery.
The TARDIS sets down in a void and there’s nothing (surprising for a void, eh?), except for an off-white surrounding. It’s either immensely cheap-looking or bravely evocative. The only other features are the gate (and its contents) and an impressive spaceship (though clearly a model).
This small set is filled with intriguing characters, notably a Rosencrantz and Guildernstern-esque duo in the form of two of the ship’s crew and Packard, played by Kenneth Cope of Randall and Hopkirk Deceased fame (though he is rather subdued here).
It’s the best of the three in the trilogy by far and features the rather unexpected (not to mention quick) departure of two of the show’s most beloved companions, Romana and K-9. A rather downbeat ending (even more downbeat than the knowledge that Adric is sticking about for a little while longer) but it matches the entire feeling of E-Space completely. Like the Key To Time before it, the trilogy doesn’t quite manage to conjure up the excitement that a story arc should.
And in the end you’ll feel that “E” Space is more like “Hmm” Space.
As with all the ‘classic’ series DVDs (remember, ‘classic’ is not always a marker of quality), the extras make a substantial list. However, after watching them you may feel a bit cheated.
Each disc features a documentary that will leave you in wonderment at why it’s being included on a Doctor Who DVD. On the Full Circle extras we are ‘treated’ to E-Space – Fact or Fiction?, a discussion with science boffins and writers on alternate universes and their plausibility (narrated by Sophie Aldred, though!). To be fair, they do at least refer to the show a few times which is more than can be said for the docco on the State Of Decay disc, Leaves of Blood. It is literally a history of vampires in fiction (well, it would have to be, wouldn’t it?) including contributions from genre writers and vampire specialists. Yup, a big yawn. Fine if you like vampires (go and buy a vampire DVD then), but on a Doctor Who set? Inappropriate at best. Though it does appear that Nick Briggs is going for the Paul Ross style in scary ghost stories…
The word ‘extraneous’ will definitely come to mind when you reach The Blood Show, which the blurb describes as “a fascinating insight into the use and meaning of blood in society and culture.” It is not fascinating, dear reader. And you’ll be left in exasperation by the time you reach the end The Frayling Reading on the same disc. Does anyone really want to watch cultural historian, Sir Christopher Frayling, discussing State of Decay “with reference to the vampire stories of film and literature”? My apologies if you do.
It’s not all dull, though! As always, the makers of the DVD know their market all too well and do deliver the goods elsewhere. Bizarrely, we get a very Doctor Who Confidential-esque look at the outfits Romana wore during her time in the TARDIS called Lalla's Wardrobe. Look out for current costume designer Louise Page as she purrs over Romana’s erotic outfits. You’ll either laugh or tut severely as the crew take some pictures of Lalla in costume out on the streets and ask passers by what they think. Sound like fluff? Yes, but unlike the previous extras, this one is a bit of fun and they do call it a “Frockumentary”. Titter.
Each story also features, as you would expect, a documentary on the production and interviews with main players. Sadly, Tom Baker is absent throughout (including the commentaries) and this is quite obvious, especially as most contributors feel the need to briefly mention the ongoing spats between him and Lalla Ward (who, if you didn’t know, he went on to marry. Yay! And then divorce 18 months later. Boo!) without going into too much detail. Bah! I want a word-by-word recount of why Tommy B never looks Lalla in the eye!
If you find that a bit galling then prepare yourself. Mathew Waterhouse is all over this set proving at every turn that he wasn’t just playing the character of Adric, he was it. And still is by the looks of it. He gets a docco all to himself and tries, unconvincingly, to dispel some of the rumours about him. Fans with knowledge will howl at this; David Brent could not have done it better.
The other documentaries are excellent with All Aboard the Starliner, a look at Full Circle, being taken from the angle of the youngest writer ever of a Who story, Andrew Smith. A cracking way to tackle it and it manages to make the story seem much more interesting than it actually is.
Likewise The Dreaming, a look at Warrior’s Gate, concerns itself with director Paul Joyce and the number of hassles (he was fired at one point) he encountered on the production even producing a letter decrying his abilities. Frankness is also abundant in The Vampire Lovers, the accompanying piece to State Of Decay. Here the production team express their dissatisfaction at the closing special effects, namely The Great One (as mentioned in my review).
Elsewhere, there’s some lovely footage of Mathew Waterhouse on children's Saturday morning television show, Swap Shop – just check out the prizes they were giving away! The commentaries prove to be disappointing with, as I stated before, no Tom Baker. And Lalla only appears on Warrior’s Gate. Sadly, she is stuck with four other blokes who feel the need to talk over her at every opportunity. This is so frustrating as the other stories only have three people commentating on them (and that’s the perfect number, to be honest). The State of Decay one will provide laughs as Who veterans Terrance Dicks and Peter Moffatt (who has sadly died since recording this) talk Adric/Mathew Waterhouse down at every possible moment. Annoyingly, no one obliges on the commentary for Full Circle where the boredom sets in pretty rapidly, though you will perk up when you hear “rows with Tom” but then get sleepy again when they don’t elaborate. Where are Janet Fielding and Peter Davison when you need them?
A veritable mixed bag of extras, much like the stories themselves. Ranging from poor to excellent and, as a whole, unsatisfying. Much like E-Space itself.
Episodes: Extras: The e-space trilogy is out on 26th january
7 January 2009