Review: Doctor Who – Regeneration / Cert: 12 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith / Release Date: June 24th
This lavish and pricey coffee table book/six DVD boxset (with a recommended retail price of around sixty quid) can’t help but feel like a slightly cynical marketing ploy containing, as it does, bare-bones editions of eleven Doctor Who stories already available on DVD (some of them having been released several times, in fact) with just one ‘new’ release to whet the appetites of salivating fans who have been waiting an age for Hartnell’s swansong story, the incomplete The Tenth Planet, to see the light of day. The story will be released later this year as a standalone edition but it’s likely many hardcore fans won’t be able to resist the temptation to shell out on this celebratory set with this little treasure nestling within its packaging. Newer fans, however, are unlikely to be wildly interested in what essentially presents itself as a collection of creaky, dusty old Doctor Whos with a few well-remembered recent episodes thrown in for good measure.
But ‘Regeneration’ is the name of the game here, Doctor Who’s extraordinary ability to reinvent itself and the character when its leading man decides to move on. Unfortunately ‘regeneration’ stories are rarely amongst the best the show has to offer and some of them don’t or barely feature the regeneration at all. For example, Patrick Troughton’s metamorphosis into Jon Pertwee isn’t shown at the end of The War Games because Pertwee hadn’t yet been cast when its final episode was recorded. But to see Troughton spinning off into the Void courtesy of the Time Lords, the viewer has to sit through ten cavernous episodes in which the Doctor battles the alien War Lord creating his own army out of human soldiers lifted from various wars across Earth’s history. It’s generally good stuff with some decent ideas but at ten episodes it tries the patience. Pertwee’s finale in Planet of the Spiders effectively celebrates its star’s flamboyant five years as the Doctor and the scuttling giant spiders of Metebelis Three may appear crude and unsophisticated today but spiders are spiders and they’re still good enough to put the willies up quivering arachnophobics everywhere. Frustratingly the transformation from Pertwee to Baker is a huge anti-climax, a crude, hurried cross-fade from one actor to the other. Baker bowed out after an exhausting seven year run and by the time of Logopolis, pompous and portentous and devoid of the humour which had characterized the actor’s earlier years, he just looked knackered. Baker’s successor, fresh-faced Peter Davison, took his leave in the magnificent and atmospheric Caves of Androzani, an intelligent and well directed four-parter which pretty much redeemed a frustratingly disappointing three year tenure and his shouty successor Colin Baker suffered the ignominy of being ‘removed’ from the role, his regeneration occurring in a pre-credits sequence in seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy’s first story, with McCoy in Baker’s costume, his face blurred by visual effects to hide the fact that Baker wasn’t around to film the sequence. Time and the Rani is atrocious and at the time represented a new nadir for Doctor Who and its presence here just sullies the name of the series and the stories which sit alongside it in the box set. In 1996 Doctor Who flared briefly back into life in the US TV Movie where we see McCoy gurning into his one-shot successor Paul McGann in a film which is a flawed, cheesy missed opportunity which has its moments – and in McGann a potentially memorable Doctor – but, in retrospect, was always destined to be a missed opportunity.
We’re familiar with the 21st century shows’ regenerations and they’re all here; Eccleston exploding like a firecracker and turning into David Tennant in the fabulously exciting Parting of the Ways (its companion-piece part one, Bad Wolf, is also included) and Tennant’s long, emotionally charged farewell in part two of The End Of Time where the Doctor reluctantly morphs into the then-unknown Matt Smith who will himself bow out in a presumably similar spectacular style later this year.
But if you’re here at all you’re here for The Tenth Planet, which is a pleasantly clunky and pleasingly contemporary base-under-siege story, introducing the brilliantly impractical but quite eerie original Cybermen, who would go on to battle Troughton again and again, their own appearance modified and improved with each return engagement. Hartnell himself is in sturdy form for his last gasp and when he tells his chums Ben and Polly in episode four that “this old body of mine is wearing a bit thin” the stage is set for the first of what would become one of the series’ great signature moments. Episode four, missing from the BBC Archives at the moment, has been animated in a style not dissimilar to Reign of Terror earlier this year but the animation here is more fluid, naturalistic and much easier on the eye, with less reliance on disconcerting close-ups. Oddly the actual regeneration footage, which has survived, isn’t included on the finished product despite DVD publicity material which suggests that the restored regeneration footage would be integrated into the animated episode.
A ‘Regeneration’ set was pretty much inevitable in this special year, commemorating the USP which has given Doctor Who its longevity, and whilst this collection impresses with its lavish presentation it’s not likely to be an essential purchase for anyone but the completist fan or those who really can’t wait to get their hands on The Tenth Planet.
Extras: Stunningly illustrated souvenir book