Packaging together upgraded special editions of early releases from the Doctor Who DVD range, this third and final entry in 2/Entertain’s Revisitations series saves the best till last with an impressive trio of classic adventures.
The oldest story in the set is 1967’s Tomb of the Cybermen, a self-confessed favourite of current TARDIS occupant, Matt Smith, this opening story of Patrick Troughton’s second season finds the show in rude health.
With the show reveling in the possibilities that Troughton’s more mischievous, youthful and heroic take on the character offered, writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis serve up a classic ‘base under siege’ story that’s hard to imagine working anywhere near as well with William Hartnell in the lead.
More than either of their first two appearances, Tomb also establishes much of the iconography that would come to be associated with the Cybermen over the coming years.
From the imagery of the Cybermen emerging from behind plastic through to the establishment of both a Cyber Controller and the scurrying form of the Cybermats, the echoes from Tomb of the Cybermen can be felt to this day.
And they’re felt for the simple reason that Tomb of the Cybermen is a brilliant Doctor Who story. A fun, sci-fi twist on a classic Egyptian tomb/Mummy story, Tomb pits the Doctor against a newly classic foe, surrounds him with distinctive supporting players and builds to a climax that feels both earned and logical, not a feat Who always manages to pull off.
The story also contains one of the defining moments in the show’s history. A tiny, almost throwaway moment, it finds the Doctor telling his new companion Victoria, who’s missing her own Father, how the memory of his own family ‘sleeps in my mind’ until he wants to remember them.
It’s a gorgeous moment; beautifully written, sublimely performed and in a few sentences illustrates just how right the producers got it when casting Troughton as the Second Doctor.
If Tomb of the Cybermen is an almost perfect example of archetypal Doctor Who then 1973’s The Three Doctors is the template for a very different kind of Who story.
Designed to kick-off 1973’s 10th anniversary season, The Three Doctors was the first – and arguably most successful – multi-Doctor adventure and would prove, in its own way, to be just as influential as the first story in this set.
Thanks to the script by Bob Baker and Dave Martin (and input by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks) The Three Doctors not only established the Doctor’s ability to meet his past selves, but also fleshed out the world and history of the Time Lords in the shape of the story’s villain, Omega.
However, its legacy apart, the real selling point of this story is the chance to see the Doctor interact with his previous incarnations. Sadly, ill health forced first Doctor, William Hartnell, into a cameo role, but that potential cloud soon provided a silver lining in the form of an expanded role for Patrick Troughton.
Essentially playing the comic foil to Pertwee’s uptight and fussy intergalactic aristocrat, Troughton delivers a superb performance, which lights up every scene he’s in and gives the story an air of wit and unpredictability that’s vital to its success.
Though by no means as gifted an actor as Troughton, Jon Pertwee nonetheless plays the overtly powerful and mockingly sarcastic Third Doctor with all the poise you’d expect of an actor three years into his defining role.
Pertwee’s rapport and chemistry with Katy Manning’s Jo Grant is plain to see and their interactions with both the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney) and Sergeant Benton (John Levene) are equally charming.
Possibly more than any other story in the shows original run, The Three Doctors is a romp. But don’t let that put you off as it’s a really good romp that’s filled with interesting ideas, lovely character moments…and some genuinely daft looking monsters. Well, I guess you can’t have everything.
While Doctor Who wouldn’t be as unashamedly joyous again until Russell T Davies took the helm, after its 10th anniversary the show was anything but a spent force.
Hailing from the tail end of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes’ hugely successful mid-70s stewardship of the show, The Robots of Death is one of the finest futuristic stories that the classic series ever put on screen.
Set aboard the sand mining vessel Storm Mine 4, Robots finds the imperious fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and his new companion, Leela (Louise Jameson), wandering into the middle of an undercover operation to stop the robot staff aboard Storm Mine 4 from revolting.
Blending elements of an Agatha Christie locked room mystery, Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot and Frank Herbert’s Dune, Chris Boucher’s script is a belting studio based story that’s directed with real aplomb by series veteran Michael Briant.
Designed in an intriguing art-deco style, which extends to the look of the robot Voc droids as well as the sets and costumes, it’s a cohesive and visually striking world that brings a mood of decadence to the story and adds real texture to the human/robot dynamic.
The supporting cast is uniformly superb, with Russell Hunter and David Baillie giving particularly strong performances opposite a Tom Baker at the height of his powers.
Louise Jameson, in only her second performance as Leela, also excels and it’s clear from the start that she’s already marked out a space within the show that’s decidedly different from her immediate predecessor, the legendary Sarah Jane Smith.
Like the previous two stories in this release, The Robots of Death has a reputation beyond the story itself and its influence on other versions and incarnations of the show down the years is plain to see.
In particular, it’s clear that the red eyes of the reprogrammed Voc robots are the inspiration behind the possessed Ood from 2006’s The Satan Pit, while the blank and expressionless faces of the Vocs are echoed in the similarly blank and murderous Heavenly Host in 2007’s Voyage of the Damned.
Taken individually, these three stories are vital and important benchmarks in the consolidation of Doctor Who as a British TV institution. However, taken together they paint a far more interesting picture of a show that not only feeds off of the prevailing trends in popular culture, but is also acutely aware of its own place within it.
Alongside the additional material released on the 2002 DVD edition, the Tomb of the Cybermen special edition contains several new extras.
First among these is an entertaining new commentary featuring Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Bernard Holley, Shirley Cooklin and Reg Whitehead, which is ably moderated by uber-fan Toby Hadoke,
In terms of documentaries Tomb gets a strong showing with a standard behind-the-scenes/making of piece, which is supplemented by both an amusing history of the Cybermen and the excellent The Curse of the Cybermen’s Tomb.
Featuring contributions from historian Sir Christopher Frayling and Who-fan Dr Debbie Challis, Curse…examines not only the ancient Egyptian ‘origins’ of the story, but also the debt it owes to the various Mummy movies that preceded it.
The new material on The Three Doctors disc is equally enjoyable, featuring as it does Happy Birthday To Who, a look at the making of the 10th anniversary story, while Was Doctor Who Rubbish? is a fun riposte to critics of the show.
However, my favourite piece on the boxset is Girls, Girls, Girls; a enjoyable and pacey conversation between classic Who girls Katy Manning, Caroline John and Louise Jameson as they consider just what it meant to be both a companion and a actress during the 1970s.
Finishing off the set are the extras for The Robots of Death. Chief among these are a new commentary for the story featuring actors Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Pamela Salem and director Michael E Briant.
Baker, as we’ve come to expect, is as entertaining as ever, but his regular flights of fancy are kept in check here and are ably supported by strong contributions from Briant, Jameson and Salem.
As for the two documentaries on the disc, The Sandmine Murders is an enjoyable, though fairly perfunctory making-of-piece, while Robophobia is a comedic look at the history of robots in the show.
Amusingly anchored by the ubiquitous Toby Hadoke, it’s an enjoyable and light-hearted way to round out an excellent box set.