It’s that time of the month. No, not the gross kind; the kind where we get a new batch of classic series Doctor Who DVDs. As we wind down the DVD range (there are, as I type this, only eight previously-unreleased stories remaining, with some special editions of earlier releases in the pipeline as well), we’re bound to hit stories that aren’t generally thought of too favorably. This is the case for July, as we see two meh-inducing stories hitting North American shores. One is the Patrick Troughton story, “The Krotons,” and the other is the Jon Pertwee story, “Death to the Daleks.” Are these discs worth the buy beyond merely for completeness sake? Let’s dive in! At the very least, they both have robotic snakes in them.
This story immediately follows “The Invasion,” the eight-part Cybermen-attack-London story which introduced UNIT and established the blueprint for the Pertwee era, and it immediately precedes “The Seeds of Death,” which was released last month and was the last of the Troughton base-under-siege yarns which had been a staple of the Second Doctor. “The Krotons” is a very odd little four-parter set right in the middle of the season. It has the distinction of being the very first Doctor Who story written by the prolific and celebrated Robert Holmes. While the story contains bits of what made Holmes the best there ever was, he hadn’t quite gotten there yet (though it’s nowhere near as bad as his second story, “The Space Pirates.”)
“The Krotons” sees the Doctor and companions Jamie and Zoe as they arrive on a desolate, smelly planet harboring a strange secret. They happen upon a door in the rock that opens, and out staggers a young man who immediately gets shot with a ray. The heroes go inside to try to get help and find a society called the Gonds who offer up their best and brightest young people to become “companions” of the Krotons, the unseen race which gives the Gonds all that they have. The Doctor immediately tells the Gonds that whatever doorway through which they send the young people doesn’t lead anywhere except outside and to their imminent death. The Gonds were told that the “wasteland” is hazardous and they mustn’t go out, but the fact that the heroes arrived from there gets some of them to change their minds. This leads the Gonds, with the Doctor’s help, to try to figure out who and what the Krotons are, while some of the angrier Gonds stage an uprising.
Like I said, this story is more interesting than it is good. Still, it’s a Troughton story, so it’s kind of essential viewing. This release is the very last complete Second Doctor story that exists (of only six) and while it’s on the low end of the spectrum, it’s still great to get to see the Second Doctor in action. It’s also notable for the Robert Holmes script and the first of four appearances on Doctor Who of Philip Madoc, who played two of the best villains in the show’s history, The War Lord in “The War Games” and Solon in “The Brain of Morbius.” Other than that, it’s just okay, though the Krotons themselves rival only the Quarks as least threatening villains of the Second Doctor.
The main reason to get this disc is the 52 minute documentary entitled “Second Time Around,” which is a retrospective on the entirety of the Patrick Troughton years. It talks about how and why Troughton was cast and goes through each of his 21 stories, and gives some behind-the-scenes stuff or discussion about the serial as necessary. It features interviews with stars Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, and Wendy Padbury, as well as writer/producer/script editor Derrick Sherwin, writer/script editor Terrance Dicks, and new series writers/classic series fans Gary Russell and Robert Shearman. While maybe not as dirt-digging as the Peter Davison doc on the “Resurrection of the Daleks” DVD, this feature is a great deal more fun and thorough with the information. It also talks about the recently discovered episode of “The Underwater Menace” with clips and touches on the 62 episodes still missing from the archives. This is a fantastic feature and, if you’re a fan of the classic series or film and TV history and preservation, is absolutely worth the $16.99 price tag.
The other features on the disc are less exciting. There is a 17 minute featurette entitled “Doctor Who Stories – Frazer Hines” which is taken from bits of an interview with the actor for “The Story of Doctor Who” documentary from 2003. It’s fun and lively enough, but if you’re a fan of these DVDs as I am, you’ve heard most of these stories in other forms elsewhere. There’s also another installment of “The Doctor’s Strange Love,” which is a loving tribute to the less-respected serials in the show’s canon. This one features usual contributors Simon Guerrier and Joseph Lidster, but is sorely missing Josie Long, who usually provides most of the energy to the conversations.
Also on board is a revolving-door commentary moderated by Toby Hadoke featuring the aforementioned Philip Madoc, who passed away earlier this year, as well as actors Richard Ireson and Gilbert Wynne, assistant floor manager David Tilley, make-up designer Sylvia James, costume designer Bobbi Bartlett, and special sound designer Brian Hodgson. I’m not the biggest fan of these type of commentaries, but Hadoke does a good job of keeping things moving and giving all the participants a turn to speak.
Bottom line on this one – the Troughton documentary is a must, so you ought to get it.
DEATH TO THE DALEKS
The last story to be released on DVD from Jon Pertwee’s final season, “Death to the Daleks” is also his third and final conflict with the psychotic salt shakers. Written by their creator Terry Nation, this Dalek story has to be one of the most atypical. The Doctor and Sarah Jane get pulled off course from a power drain in the TARDIS and find themselves on the desolate planet (they all are, aren’t they?) of Exxilon where they meet a stranded Earth expedition in a similar situation. They’re looking for a specific mineral but they also need to find out who or what is zapping their power. What they think is a rescue ship lands, but it turns out to be none other than the Daleks; However, they’re also without power, which means their extermination rays don’t work. The humans and Daleks have to forge a wary truce while they make their way toward the massive Exxilon city.
We’ve seen a bunch of Third Doctor stories released already this year and we’ll see more before the year’s out, but, unfortunately, this one’s not the best. I’d seen it before and though it was okay, but I have to admit, watching it this time around, I was pretty bored. While it’s refreshing to see the Daleks’ power and menace diminished, the threat of impending doom is really the only thing they have to avoid being laughed at. While the experimental score by Carey Blyton (which is available on an isolated audio track) is quite entertaining and different, and there are some interesting touches, generally I don’t find this story that engaging. I’m a diehard Third Doctor fan, but it’s still definitely not a high-water mark in his adventures. Not bad, just uninteresting.
Too bad there’s not a fantastic feature on “Death to the Daleks” like there was on “The Krotons.” Mostly we just get the usuals. There’s a 26-minute making-of called “Beneath the City of the Exxilons” which is enjoyable enough, with cast and crew interviews and new series Dalek voice actor Nick Briggs talking about why he likes the story. There’s a 23 minute behind-the-scenes studio recording, which is fairly enlightening as it shows raw footage while recording in the studio. Unlike most shows at the time, “Death to the Daleks” was shot like a film, meaning all the scenes at a particular location for the entire story, unlike the usual method, which is to shoot in script order. That’s kind of cool to see, since it was something much different from how they normally did it.
There’s another “Doctor Who Stories” featurette, this time featuring two of the Dalek operators talking about being a Dalek. Again, pretty enjoyable, though neither of these men worked on the story in question. Finally, there’s a very brief extra talking about and showing behind-the-scenes footage of the feature film adaptation from 1965, Dr. Who and the Daleks, starring Peter Cushing and directed by Gordon Flemyng. This I liked a lot, though I wish it could have been longer. It’s only 7 minutes; it could have easily been 10.
And as always there’s a commentary, again a revolving-door, and again moderated by Toby Hadoke. This time it features actor Julian Fox, Dalek operator Cy Town, director Michael E. Briant, assistant floor manager Richard Leyland, costume designer L. Rowland Warne, and special sound maestro Dick Mills. This track was more entertaining, for some reason, than the Krotons one, and I think it has a lot to do with director Michael Briant, whose fond recollections of the making of the program are energetic and fun.
Bottom line on this one: Maybe just for hardcore fans and completists. But, Pertwee’s still my favorite.
That’s it for this month. August will see another pair of releases which should make me a bit more enthusiastic: Jon Pertwee’s first story “Spearhead From Space” which gets a two-disc special edition that was released last year in the UK, and Sylvester McCoy’s final DVD release, “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” Until next time!