Doctor Who: Revisitations boxset DVD review

Revisitations repackages and reassesses three adventures from the Doctor Who archives, starring Tom Baker, Paul McGann and Peter Davison. Here's our review...

Revisitations takes a fresh look at three classic Doctor Who stories: Talons Of Weng-Chiang, Caves Of Androzani and The Television Movie. Presented as a seven disc boxset, you can’t help but get the feeling that re-releasing stories could be a cynical marketing gimmick. However, the wealth of extra features here makes it worth the investment, whether you’re a new fan or an old fan looking to upgrade your DVDs.

The stories are probably incredibly familiar to fans of the series, so I’ll cover them briefly before I move onto the real meat of this boxset. In this case, it’s the additional features that have seen Talons Of Weng-Chiang go from a substantial two disc release to a thorough three disc set, whilst the Caves Of Androzani gets some decent features on the a second disc and, most surprisingly, The Television Movie receives a thorough makeover that treats the story with more respect than many think it might deserve.

Talons Of Weng-Chiang

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Talons is actually one of my favourite Tom Baker stories, featuring the fantastic Leela (Louise Jameson) as the savage, simple, yet resourceful assistant to Baker’s bombastic Doctor.  Together, they’re investigating mysterious deaths, ably assisted by Jago and Lightfoot, in nineteenth century London.

A story dripping in Gothic imagery, Talons Of Weng-Chiang features a giant rat, a Chinese ventriloquist and his murderous dummy, and borrows heavily from Fu Manchu, Phantom Of The Opera, Sherlock Holmes and references Jack the Ripper. Of course, it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an element of science fiction. Thankfully, we’ve got Magnus Greel, a fifty-first century war criminal who poses as the entirely fictional, but creepy sounding, Chinese god, Weng-Chiang.

Baker was in his element as The Doctor as he bounds around the screen, delivering an incredibly focused and sometimes crazed performance, whilst Jameson performs admirably as a fish out of water, a fighter having to contend with Victorian sensibilities. The banter between the two drives the quality story forward rapidly, making all six episodes fly by.

Extras

Information Text is present on all three stories, providing a light-hearted, yet informative, background to the story.  The text is, occasionally, self-deprecating. It shows the short comings of the series and the challenges that the production team had to endure in order to do their best, whilst also providing plenty of information on script changes, location work and how the special effects were put together.

The Commentaries for all three stories offer a more personal view of the highs and lows of making the stories, featuring cast and crew. The crew go from being quite focused on the story to sharing seemingly random, but still endearing exchanges, reflecting on the stories and how they were received at the time. There is a sense that, unlike some commentaries, the cast and crew are speaking quite openly.

The second disc of Talons Of Weng-Chiang is full of all new features, expanding on the previous two disc release, providing more background to the creation and execution of this story.

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The Last Hurrah features Philip Hinchcliffe and Tom Baker as they discuss their final story together. Hinchcliffe also interviews Louise Jameson and other cast and crew about their involvement in the story, with topics ranging from Baker’s resentment of the character of Leela to accents, table manners, giants rats, costume design and filming difficulties. As a thirty-three minute feature, this does a brilliant, yet brief job of allowing cast and crew to recall a story from more than thirty years ago.

Moving On is a featurette that allows Hinchcliffe to explore ideas, had he stayed on board for another season. It turns out he was influenced by the Arthur C Clarke story, Childhood’s End, and the Incas, found out that he was moving on from the series by some rather ungracious means of which he still isn’t truly sure, and had even planned a bizarre Dalek story. Sadly, the feature runs at just over four minutes, so there’s not enough time to flesh out the ideas.

The Foe from the Future is a look at the original story before it was replaced by Talons Of Weng-Chiang and features Robert Banks Stewart and Hinchcliffe discussing the story making process and the circumstances that led to Foe not being realised.

Now & Then is a semi-regular DVD features that looks at locations used in filming and what they look like today, featuring some behind-the-scenes footage. Whilst there is a voiceover, it just points out what was filmed where and provides no opportunity for exploration of the sites. It still remains quite interesting, especially when you see how the various locations have changed or have been demolished, replaced and refurbished.

Look East is a short interview from a BBC News programme covering filming in Northampton Repertory Theatre and an interview with Tom Baker as he’s asked why the programme was well regarded, along with other questions.There’s nothing deeply analytical here, but as a piece of nostalgia it is interesting.

Victoriana and Chinoiserie explores the literary references found in the story and features Hinchcliffe and University of Westminster lecturer, Dr Anne Witchard, as they look at different aspects of the story, including the portrayal of Leela (an Eliza Doolittle character) and the various other characters that appear. It’s not a bad little feature and effectively explores the various influences, from Moonstone to Jack the Ripper and Dracula, that are present in the story.

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Music Hall is a twenty-two minute documentary that is quite educational and looks at the history of music halls, and the performers and songs that graced these bawdy establishments. Sadly, they couldn’t remain so ribald and many of the music halls became respectable homes to variety acts before cinema took over.

Limehouse – A Victorian Chinatown takes us on another educational journey through the Limehouse area as a variety of academics explore the history and the representation of the area in literature, the working conditions and communities that grew in the area, and the myths surrounding the place.

Photo Gallery is set to music and features, as could be guessed, photos from the production.

Finally, on disc two, there’s a collection of Radio Times listings in PDF format.

The final disc contains the extras found on the second disc of the original DVD release.

Whose Doctor Who is a BBC 2 documentary from 1977 that explores the impact of Doctor Who and the history of the series.  Featuring stories from a number of Doctor Who episodes, we’re treated to a series of vox pops with children (in some shocking clothing) and parents, educationalists and other authoritative adults, as Melvyn Bragg discusses the appeal of the long-running series and how it has developed from actor to actor.  It’s a very formal feeling programme that is low on humour, but quite indepth. It’s also interesting to see footage from the effects work in the series (particularly Dick Mills and the Radiophonic Workshop) and from stories that are not yet on DVD or that you might not have seen for some time.

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Blue Peter Theatre is a collection of articles from the TV series featuring the making of your very own Doctor Who Theatre (which, as we all know, won’t look anywhere near as good if we actually make it), along with the characters and backgrounds to go in it. There’s also an appearance by Dick Mills as he shows how to create your own special effects.

Behind the Scenes is a poor quality (due to the source) recording of the studio recording of this tape. It’s in black and white, is difficult to watch, but is definitely worth persevering with (being only twenty-four minutes long).

Philip Hinchcliffe Interview is a Pebble Mill At One interview that serves as a lead into the Whose Doctor Who feature. Hinchcliffe talks about his experiences of the series before he joined the programme (including his belief the series wouldn’t last), violence on television and the appeal of the series.

Trials and Continuity are the bits that lead into the broadcast programme, as well as adverts for the Whose Doctor Who programme.

Photo Gallery is a different photo gallery to the one on the second disc, set to the same piece of background music.

TARDIS-Cam No. 6 is a CGI sequence in which the TARDIS flies through a pod of space whales. It featured on the BBC website many moons ago and would have been greatly enhanced with some background material as to its creation.

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Caves Of Androzani

Previously a single disc release, Caves Of Androzani receives a second disc of features.

Peter Davison’s swansong sees him tackle the villainous Sharaz Jek whilst dealing with a conflict on Androzani and the most valuable substance in the universe, the life-lengthening Spectrox. Caught between a group of gun runners and the military, the Doctor and Peri have to play a dangerous game, fighting a deadly infection, androids and the forces of evil.

As the layers of intrigue and duplicity build up upon each other, to the point where it does feel like the plot will topple over under its own weight, the Doctor must defeat the spectacularly creepy Jek, save Peri and reveal the bad guys for the rotters that they are, all before he pays the ultimate price.

Caves Of Androzani is a tense political and corporate drama filled with a twisting script that has more than one red herring leading up to an emotional finale.  

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Extras

From the previous release, we’ve got a full range of decidedly short features.

Regeneration features the studio audio and an audio commentary featuring Davison, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper. The footage of the filming process is interesting and made better by the addition of the commentary track, as Harper discusses the decisions he made in the filming (inspired by The Beatles) and the strains of the four hour filming process. Davison gets a chance to take a few digs (in good humour) at his successor, Colin Baker.

Creating Sharaz Jek is a five minute feature that focuses on the creation of Jek. Using a voice recording of Christopher Gable and accompanied by photos, Gable talks about Jek, the inspirations for the character’s look and the execution of his role in the time constraints of television.

There are also three extended scenes with optional commentary by Davison and Harper, a collection of news excerpts covering Davison’s departure from the series, a trailer for the first episode and Radio Times clippings in PDF format.

The second disc, however, is where the new material can be found, giving more depth to the release.

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Chain Reaction is a retrospective of the ‘Greatest Doctor Who Story Ever’ (according to a 2009 poll), featuring cast and crew, including Peter Davison and Nicola Bryant (who still looks radiant). Running at thirty-six minutes, this ‘making-of’ covers the creation of the story (and the decision to bring back Robert Holmes as the writer) through to the regeneration (and cleavage), casting decisions and John Nathan Turner’s influence, Graeme Harper’s involvement as director, with a variety of cast members (including Robert Glenister talking about his dual role), their involvement, interspersed with behind-the-scenes footage.

Directing Who: Then & Now allows Graeme Harper to discuss his role as director for the new series and the classic series. Using footage from past and present, Harper compares and contrasts the filming process. He talks about his decision to remain on the floor instead of a booth, and the benefits of being a hands-on director.  It’s a really engaging masterclass from a passionate director that suffers from running for just under twelve minutes. It would have been nice to hear Harper talk for longer, and see more footage from his career. Maybe next time…

Russell Harty Show is an interview lasting over eight minutes and features both Colin Baker and Peter Davison. It’s humorous, starting with Davison in a rather snazzy suit, and light-hearted, with Baker and Davison discussing their feelings about the role, conventions, and the series in general. There’s a fantastic moment with a group of Doctor Who Appreciation Societymembers with Harty trying his best to understand the phenomena of Who.

The Photo Gallery makes an appearance, with behind-the-scenes photos from the story along with a variety of publicity shots.

Doctor Who: The Television Movie

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So, here we have it, Sylvester McCoy’s final appearance and Paul McGann’s only television appearance as Doctor Who.

It’s a much maligned story that suffers from a script that is overwhelmingly nonsensical, trying to cram in as many Doctor Who references as possible in order to serve as a potential ‘back door’ pilot to what would have been an ongoing series.

In the end, what we get can be distilled down to this:

The Master (Eric Roberts), having been executed by the Daleks on Skaro, has his remains returned to Gallifrey by the Doctor, only to escape from his little urn, force the Doctor to land on Earth at the turn of the 20th Century.

Once there, the Doctor is killed and regenerates. The Master escapes and spends a lot of time oozing around as CGI before becoming the ultimate pantomime villain. The Doctor falls in love (kind of) with an Earth woman, reveals he’s half-human, and, finally, the Master gets defeated and the Earth is saved.

Admittedly, there’s more to the story than that and, in places, it’s actually really quite good. However, there’s an overwhelmingly feeling of Americanisation in the series. Setting the story in America, with American/Canadian actors isn’t the problem here. It’s the script being overly emotional and filled with pathos, throwing a variety of motifs at the audience (clocks and eyes make regular appearances) and being, well, a mess.

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Having said that, McGann is captivating as the Doctor, despite some poor dialogue, and it’s good to see that he embraced the role again in the vast collection of Big Finish stories that would follow.

Extras

Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy deliver a wonderfully funny commentary about the story, praising and dismissing with aplomb, all overseen by Nicholas Briggs.

Geoffrey Sax’s commentary from the original release is still present.

The Seven Year Hitch is more than fifty minutes long and explores one man’s journey to bring Doctor Who back. Not Russell T Davies. Philip Segal.

Going back to the final years of the TV series, relating the difficulties of keeping the series modern in the face of big budget US science fiction, the programme then goes on to explore Segal’s involvement and the rocky road to returning the Doctor to the screen, including the abortive Lost In The Dark Dimension and the Last Of The Time Lords movie.

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As with many of the features on this and other Doctor Who releases, the interviewees (including Alan Yentob) all speak with occasionally brutal candour about practically every difficulty from bringing the series back to the production and aftermath of The Television Movie. It’s a well presented and researched documentary that casts a harsh light on the many obstacles of what would become a one-off venture.

The Doctor’s Strange Love or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the TV Movie (which should win an award for Best Named Feature) features Joseph Lidster and Simon Guerrier, both authors of many Doctor Who stories in audio and print, talking about their appreciation of the story with the comedian Josie Long. Together they deliver a really light-hearted and rather funny feature that relates the story to the current television series and takes the story apart, all whilst showing us that, perhaps, we shouldn’t take it too seriously.

There’s also the photo gallery, option to watch the story with the music score, and Radio Times listings in PDF format.

If the two main extras on the first disc weren’t enough, there’s a second disc of features broken down into Pre-Production, Production and Special Features.

Pre-Production features Paul McGann’s audition, in which he delivers a stirring goodbye speech with the almost Shakespearean intensity. Sadly, the speech doesn’t appear in the Television Movie, as it’s from the time when the story would have been about Gallifrey.

VFX Tests June 1994 show a series of tests for the opening sequence and the Spider Dalek transforming from its normal state (not like a Dalek) to the spider state.

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VFX March 1996 show the Time Vortex sequence, the TARDIS de-materialisation and number of CGI shots from the story itself.

Production features the fifteen minute Fox Electronic Press Kit that was used to promote the series, starting with a trailer for the Television Movie before going behind the scenes on the “television motion picture event of the year”. 

Offering some background to the series, and featuring interviews with Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and other cast and crew members, the feature is one of those light, fluffy pieces that, obviously, is designed to promote the show as opposed to giving any real depth. Being an EPK, the individual segments from the interviews are also included, giving a bit of a broader range of comments than are used in the Behind the Scenes segment.

Behind the Scenes runs for under five minutes and features on set and location footage as scenes are set up and filmed. 

Philip Segal’s Tour of the TARDIS Set allows us to see the inside of the, quite frankly, magnificent TARDIS set. Sadly, there’s not enough time in the two minutes and thirty seconds runtime to fully explore the wonderfully complex set.

Alternative Takes are two different takes (obviously) of scenes from the movie, one in the lift, the other when the Doctor and Grace confront a police officer.

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In the Special Features section of this disc, we have:

BBC Trails advertising the Television Movie, which may have been voiced by Nicholas Briggs. Though, having said that, I do seem to be hearing the voice of Nicholas Briggs everywhere these days!

Who Peter 1989 – 2006 looks at the relationship between Doctor Who and Blue Peter, presented by Gethin Jones. This isn’t just a compilation of Blue Peter-related clips, It’s a well presented documentary that looks at the relationship with the new series and features interviews with Russell T Davies and others associated with the new series (and two of the competition winners) and how coverage became less about nostalgia and more about Doctor Who being ‘cool.’

The Wilderness Years looks at how the series was kept alive whilst off television in video, audio and print. Quite impressively, we don’t just get to see the official licenses, though these are covered, with the various people in charge of Doctor Who Magazine, the Virgin and BBC Books printed range before heading off into Big Finish territory.

Reeltime Pictures, BBV and Audio-Visuals range are discussed, with Keith Barnfather of Reeltime and Bill Baggs of BBV getting time to talk about their involvement in unlicensed video drama that featured many of the original cast. Particularly interesting is the discussion about the decision to not renew the Virgin Books licence following the belief the Television Movie would be a success and how this spawned a new era of BBC Books and Big Finish licensed products.

Stripped for Action – The Eighth Doctor is a look at the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip adventures and how the character developed in print and features interviews with writers, editors and Comic Historian Jeremy Bentham.  ith very little background material to work on (one television appearance), the writers talk about how the Doctor and his companion, Izzy, evolved across the years.

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Talking about Izzy, the first lesbian companion, there’s a rather funny moment where Clayton Hickman talks about the ripple of response to this revelation: two letters, one cancelling the subscription and the other praising them.

As the comic stories approached the new series, they talk about the final story for the Eighth Doctor and how he would regenerate into the Ninth Doctor, except that they wouldn’t be able to publish it at the time due to timing. 

Tomorrow’s Times – The Eighth Doctor runs at just over ten minutes and features a trip to the British Library to look at newspaper coverage of Doctor Who, presented by Nicholas Courtney, and the critical response to the Television Movie. It’s a bit like watching an episode of Points Of View, as Courtney’s onscreen narration is interspersed with extracts from newspaper articles, including oft-dismissive reviews of the broadcast.

So, the big question: if you’ve got the original discs, is this worth picking up? Quite frankly, yes. For those of you who have the original DVD releases, it’s worth buying for the additional features that really flesh out the events leading up to the Television Movie. The historical documentaries for Talons also stand out, leaving Caves Of Androzani in third place on the extras front, not to say that the Caves extras aren’t bad, of course.

Why not offer five stars for the extras? Well, it boils down to something quite pragmatic. The features here are exceptional. However, if 2 Entertain managed to create more features, especially for the already substantial two-disc release of  Talons Of Weng-Chiang, there’s nothing to stop them producing more features for these stories in the future, re-releasing them in the future with a few more tantalising titbits.

Of course, I’m being a bit critical of the best of intentions and it has to be pointed out that the majority of the new extras are really worth watching, running the gamut from light-hearted fluff and nonsense to mildly technical to, most interestingly, some rather scholarly examples. 

It will be interesting to see if 2 Entertain plan to revisit other stories, adding extras to some of the other single disc releases. 

Episodes:

4 stars
Discs:
4 stars
Doctor Who: Revisitations Box Set Volume 1 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

Check out the new and ever growing Doctor Who page at DoG, where we are marshalling all the Who content at the site, including interviews, DVD and episode reviews, lists, opinions and articles on our favourite time traveller...

Rating:

2 out of 5