Doctor Who: Regeneration DVD box-set review

Review Andrew Blair 14 Jun 2013 - 16:20

Andrew reviews the terrific new Doctor Who: Regeneration DVD compendium, featuring previously unreleased story, The Tenth Planet...

There's something inherently odd about the concept of a Doctor Who coffee-table-style DVD compendium, as if those people who wear hats indoors have been identified as an untapped market ready and willing to critically examine Time and the Rani as a Kierkegaardian polemic. Still, it's a nice shiny binder, and it's got The Tenth Planet in it. 

Previously unreleased on DVD, The Tenth Planet is presented here with the other regeneration stories (though no extras), and episode four is entirely animated to complete one of the more important stories in the show's history. The animation is easy to accept, blending in well with the existing footage and providing us with some striking images of the Cybermen (here in their Spare Parts, hulking relic stage of development). It's certainly much better than listening to the audio version. Animated William Hartnell still has a twinkle in his eye, even if it's fading. 

This story is many things: a depiction of future space travel from the optimistic foundation of 1966; there's a base under siege but the scale of the story is galaxy-wide (We see International News programmes broadcasting about the events, cut back to a UN-allegory's headquarters, and stock footage aids some tense space sequences), and also somewhat personal: the apparently homicidal General Cutler is trying to protect his astronaut son, companions Ben and Polly are concerned by the Doctor's deteriorating health. There's a lot going on, and that's without mentioning the whole 'Cybermen invading and a new planet appearing in the sky' plotline. 

The Tenth Planet largely overcomes its problems - there are obvious plot holes - with plenty of ideas and well-defined characters. For a story co-written by a scientist the resolution is unexplained, the stuff of fantasy. This is intriguing rather than irritating, leading to a tantalisingly vague realisation of the Cybermen as vampiric cyborg symbiotes, and their destruction begs many questions, linked as it is with the fate of the First Doctor. 

The first regeneration is still shocking. The Tenth Planet features sparse use of stock music, but the final few minutes are all the more eerie for the drop in volume. The acting and dialogue carry the sudden impression that something is very, very wrong. The TARDIS itself seems disturbed, the credits roll with no shred of comfort offered. 

The War Games follows with equally stunning revelations. The Doctor wins, but only at a great cost to himself. Given the story's setting, this isn't exactly triumphant, with the restored time-lines involved not guaranteeing anyone's survival. It feels like a defeat, almost as grim an ending as The Dalek Master Plan

With a surprising number of nods to the show's recent past in The War Games, first-time viewers could be forgiven for thinking that Doctor Who celebrated and expanded its mythology every week. From Lamia-esque planets to the games gods play with men, to the Third Doctor's spiritual quest to confront his own flaws and the funereal Logopolis' science monks vs Ragnarok stylings, there's a sense of scale to the first four regeneration stories.  The show now knows it has an event on its hands, and has acted accordingly. 

The Caves of Androzani, then, feels like a reaction against these galaxy-hopping epics. It's almost a reaction against Doctor Who, but it too has been prepared for. The Fifth Doctor has seemed unable to prevent mass slaughter in the past, and that's still true here. Despite this, it's triumphant for showing us everything that the Doctor isn't, in the face of consistent aggression in a small, unheard of, backwater part of the universe. No great stakes, no great foes, no planets to save or universal destructions to avert – just one girl who the Doctor hardly even knows, followed by a blunt statement of intent in the form of Colin Baker's final line. The Caves of Androzani is one of those rare, happy anomalies in television programme making where it looks like nearly everything went right (and anyway, the Magma Beast isn't in it much). 

Then we have Time and the Rani

It's not fair really. With hindsight, the Sixth Doctor shouldn't have had a regeneration story, but I imagine it felt necessary, the legacy taking priority. Time and the Rani has The Horns of Nimon's correlation between entertainment and wine consumption, but it lacks a good central concept and feels like it should be momentous due to the regeneration. It isn't. It also isn't insane enough to compensate for its other shortcomings, as most of the madness lurks in its first episode. Despite some nicely played moments hinting at a deep sadness beneath the clowning, I fear for the general public's perception of the McCoy era being exacerbated. 

Paul McGann doesn't really have much choice in his representation, obviously. His sole outing in the 1996 TV movie certainly goes all out for a place in the show's mythology (parts of it were still being explained in 2013 episodes), but perhaps this is not the best idea for a pilot episode. Imagine Russell T. Davies had elected to write The End of Time instead of Rose. Fortunately, history records that he did rather well in 2005, culminating in Christopher Eccleston's fantastic regeneration in The Parting of the Ways – the catharsis of a rock-solid morality. Plus we have thousands of Daleks horribly killing a cuss-ton of people. It's an immensely satisfying conclusion to the Ninth. 

The End of Time comes after the show has a new legacy, and has a larger playground to explore. When it's good, it's brilliant, but its indulgences can irk. Still, Timothy Dalton plays Rassilon. Just typing that sentence makes me cackle. And if Bernard Cribbins is looking sad, then by god, I'm going to feel sad along with him. 

Watching these stories in this context is interesting. It shows how the series has often referenced its recent history, and there are intriguing patterns to notice: the relationship between the Doctor and the Master in The End of Time echoes that of Logopolis; the Tenth Doctor's flaws are as ruthlessly examined as the Third, only without redemption. The Fifth Doctor and the Ninth overcome their recent trauma, their heroism highlighted in contrasted to their surroundings. 

At a time when Doctor Who is using the idea of the Doctor as a legend, and his legacy, this boxset is a vastly entertaining reminder that William Hartnell and Matt Smith are playing the same character; that every single moment of the show is part of the one long story.

The Regeneration collection will be released on the 24th of June only in the UK and is available to pre-order at the BBC shop, now.

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5

Disqus - noscript

I just have too many of the individual DVDs to justify buying this set. I'll have to wait for the release of Tenth Planet on it's own, later in the year. I hope new Who looks back at old a bit to see how sometimes less is more. Doesn't mean "classic is better" or "things were better in the old days", just a few tweaks to take away some of the silliness, rushed endings and soap opera that occasionally slip into the revived series.

Not the best review is it? What about the packaging, the book? The photos etc etc

Not included with the reviewing materials. Just the discs.

Obviously that's not your fault but it seems fairly stupid for the distributor to not include, with the review copy, what will be features that will draw many fans towards buying the item. It's hardly just some discs in a plastic case is it.
Not having a go at you - just seems pointless.

I can see why they wouldn't. It's a large item (so a few costs involved in distribution), and it is something that looks so very lovingly put together, it'd be a huge surprise if it wasn't a good read. Possibly there's also the time constraints involved in reviewing a DVD boxset and a lengthy non-fiction book.

To be honest by the time I started watching The Tenth Planet I was probably too excited to care about its absence.

Why do you feel the Sixth Doctor shouldn't have had a regeneration story?

Interesting and insightful. Only trouble with Dalton's Rassilon is it's 'bad Rassilon'.

I've been watching the old series and what stands out is that there are more than plenty "rushed endings" and "silliness". I think the"soap opera" criticism of NewWho is overstated.

You've likely heard the rumors going around about all the missing episodes the BBC have apparently recovered and how they are staying very hush hush about them. If those rumors are true (hope so!) then I think that this box set is half the reason for the secrecy. It's been in production for a while now and clearly they've spent some money on the design and the animation for The Tenth Planet, but who would buy it if there was a complete version available? Plus I think they've now got perfect material for BBC4 to show as 50th anniversary celebrations.

The stupid thing is, the BBC will probably release ANOTHER set like this when Matt Smith has his regeneration episode at Christmas. If you ask me, DON'T BUY THIS BOXSET until a few months after Matt has left, just to see if the BBC will release a newer version.

As Colin Baker wasn't involved, we just ended up with the Sixth Doctor off his bike and hitting his head on the console.

If Colin Baker had agreed to do it, then he'd have done what Beyus does at the end of Time and the Rani - stand around in a room full of explosives for no apparent reason - then regenerate. These are both kinda crap (although the former is probably better). This isn't really fair for the Sixth Doctor, I'd have liked him to get a better regeneration, hence the idea of starting the Seventh Doctor adventures with him and Mel already travelling together, just to avoid this.

There probably wasn't time or the confidence to go for something like that. By this time there was a feeling that you HAD to have a regeneration story.

I agree. Out of all the regenerations Colin Baker's one into the Seventh Doctor is my least favourite and Time and the Rani is my least favourite story - I feel McCoy clowned around too much. I prefer his Machiavellian approach later in the series.

Sometimes it truly is incredible to see the scope of this story. True modern myth-making, and I'm grateful the show has come this far.

That whole era was a perfect storm of crap-a producer who didn't want to be there and a guy running the network who came out and said he hated the show.

Yes, it was. It was a real shame that it ended under under McCoy because even though series 24 was pretty weak, his final series 26 was one of the strongest series in the original Who. Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival are four of my favourite episodes. They managed this with out the kind of support that Davis and Moffat got from the BBC.

The thing I love about stuff like this is that it reminds you that the story of the show itself is just as intriguing as the Doctor's travels: it's wonderfully humble start, then a massive rise in popularity to then being despised by all who controlled the BBC at the time before being sent into exile and eventually returning triumphantly. Gotta love it :)
Really looking forward to An Adventure In Space And Time now.

CUSS-TON!!!!

I now have a new favorite word(s)!!!!

By the way, David Tennant just won his first Emmy Award as best performer in an animated series for Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Read Gary Russell's "Spiral Scratch." It gives the 6th Doctor a decent last story leading directly into the regeneration. The climax is pretty awesome and leaves the Doctor on the verge of death before the Rani swoops in.

I'm sorry to sound negative, but this is just not the best review. Are you going to review the boxset itself? We've all seen these stories; we don't need a review of the stories. If the packaging wasn't included for you, then there doesn't seem too much point in a review at all. This is, of course, just my opinion; I know it's not your fault.

I don't know if I'd go quite that far. Yes, Season 26 was very good, and was vastly superior to Season 24, but there was still lots of script editing problems....leaving stories like Ghost Light and especially Fenric with more than a few people scratching their heads. Andrew Cartmel was perhaps not god's gift to script editing, if you catch my meaning. Haha. It would've been nice to see what someone of Eric Saward's caliper could've done with these stories, had he not quit the show.

Of course they wouldn't release a new version of this set containing MS's regeneration episode. There are so many commercial, practical and reputation reasons that couldn't happen...

Sorry Zaphod99 but did we actually read the same review?

Why, did you find out something about this boxset? All it was was a review of the stories themselves, which we've all seen.

I've had a pretty different experience watching the old DW compared to you then. No companion family dramas and relationships happening again and again (Tylers; Ponds/Williams). No protracted, tearful companion departures. The peril always appears to be the centre of the story. Sometimes the final resolution is a bit rushed, but at 4 or 6 23 minute episodes per story, they at least have time to breathe.

SQUEEEEEEEEE tenth planet!

blacks out after intense fangasam

but,but,but....................my birthday isnt till november

how can i get my hands on this sooner

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