Review: Doctor Who - Revisitations 3 (PG) / Directed by: Morris Barry, Lennie Mayne, Michael E Briant / Written by: Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Bob Baker and Dave Martin, Chris Boucher / Starring: Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, William Hartnell, Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling, Katy Manning, Nicholas Courtenay, Louise Jameson / Date of release: 13th February (UK)
With the end of the classic Doctor Who DVD releases very nearly in sight, it's not surprising that the BBC/2 Entertain have gone back to the early days of the range (when the concept of 'special features' was in its infancy) and taken another look at some of those initial releases, given them another wash-n-brush up and put together a few more bits and pieces designed to cover production background missed by the original releases. Revisitations 3 is, you'll not be too surprised to learn, the third such repackaging exercise, three already-released archive stories bundled together in a big box across five discs with new cover artwork and a slew of new documentaries, featurettes and assorted curiosities. But will Revisitations 3 persuade you to double-dip, to splash your hard-earned cash on core material which you've probably already got in your collection just because there's some new talking-head supporting material?
It may be a tough decision because, in all honesty, of the three stories included in this collection, Tomb of the Cybermen and The Three Doctors were pretty well-served by their original DVD releases. Robots of Death was the first 'proper' Doctor Who release to attempt any extra material (and don't worry, those 'studio floor plans' are here again in full) and it deserves the extra attention it's received from the new edition. But oddly, both Tomb and The Three Doctors have dropped perfectly-decent quirky stuff from their earlier editions - the 'Tombwatch' panel discussion from the former and footage of Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning (being not at all shrill and irritating) from a 1993 convention appearance - and replaced them with interesting, if fairly traditional material on their new second discs. It may be that Revisitations 3 will appeal to completists only; fans who want the story above anything else may find their needs satisfied by the DVDs they already own.
Special features apart, the three stories included here serve as a decent example of the breadth and diversity of story-telling styles Doctor Who has always been acclaimed for. Long missing from the BBC Archives, 1967's Tomb of The Cybermen reappeared from Hong Kong in 1991 and was quickly released on VHS (ask your parents) long before the words 'remastered' and 'VidFIRE' became common fan currency. Popular opinion before the story's recovery was that it was obviously the best Doctor Who story ever, its legend founded on the fact that it was unlikely anyone would ever see it again. The bald reality, when the show did turn up, is that it was actually another slighty clunky, stagey 1960s Doctor Who serial, and its reputation took a bit of a nosedive for a bit as fans shuffled their feet and looked elsewhere in the wake of the release of the video. But in fact time hasn't really been that unkind to Tomb of the Cybermen now that the heat of expectation has long since died down and whatever the story, any Doctor Who starring Patrick Troughton has got to be worth another look. Unless it's The Dominators, that is... Anyway, in The Tomb of the Cybermen the Doctor and his time-travelling chums Jamie and Victoria arrive on the gravel-pit planet of Telos just as a futuristic group of archaeolgists, scientists and spacemen arrive in their rocket (that's what they call it, honestly!) to investigate the legendary buried tomb of the ancient Cybermen. Despite the Doctor's protestations that they'd really be better off leaving well alone they penetrate the tomb and, sure enough, the Cybermen awake from their frozen underground slumber and much chaos and general running about ensues. Production values notwithstanding, Tomb of the Cybermen is a sturdy bit of story-telling full of intrigue and double-dealing, great performances from the leads and the guest stars and a tight script which really capitalises on the classic 'enclosed environment' location which the show made its own during Troughton's time. The Cybermen still retain that alien sense of nearly-human menace which defined the 1960s version and which the 21st century version have now totally lost, having becoming rather bland silver thugs who turn up when a few cheap off-the-peg costumes are required and who, according to their most recent TV appearance, can be killed by the power of love. There are one or two visual misfires - a couple of dodgy visual FX which don't quite come off (although the Cybermats, seen here en masse, are still pretty creepy and effective) and the sight of an obviously- dummy Cybercontroller costume being flung about the set during a final-episode fight sequence is one of the show's less accomplished sequences. By contrast the scenes of the Cybermen emerging from their defrosting tombs remains one of the show's greatest visual images and their realisation is miraculous considering the budget constraints of the show at the time and the primitive technology available to create scenes of such a scale. At four episodes, the story bounces along and, despite the initial disappointment engendered by the serial's original reappearance, it's actually a strong and compelling example of 1960s Doctor Who.
The Three Doctors, from 1973, sees the series well-established in colour and is pretty much the first time the show attempted to celebrate and purposely recall its own history. It's Doctor Who's tenth anniversary and the show's producer and script editor Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks succumb to viewer pressure and conjure up a storyline whereby all three incarnations of the Doctor are united to fight off some appalling cosmic threat. Just three or four years on from leaving the series Troughton manages to recapture the quixotic nature of his performance and the on-set tension between him and proprietary third Doctor Jon Pertwee is often palpable. Sadly William Hartnell was at the time too infirm to be able to participate fully so he's reduced to appearing once every episode on the TARDIS scanner, chiding his successors for what he sees as their dim-wittedness. Day-glo and gaudy with its silly bubble-wrap Gellguard monsters and cliched booming comic book superbaddy, The Three Doctors is very much Doctor Who-as-comic-strip but what's interesting is that, despite the fact it's a tenth anniversary celebration, it doesn't swamp the story with arcane bits of series folklore, content just to present its three leading men so far and the rest of the then-current cast and therefore doesn't require massive foreknowledge of the series history beyond the fact that there'd been two previous Doctors. Later similar celebratory episodes would be much denser affairs which took for granted that the viewers were up to speed with the minutaie of the series (and in some ways sowing the seeds for the series' eventual collapse) so The Three Doctors and its simple tale of a renegade Time Lord trapped in a world of anti-matter exacting a terrible revenge upon the people who abandoned him is refreshing in its lack of clutter, even if Hartnell's reduced participation remains a disappointment.
1977's Robots of Death is a much more sophisticated affair and easily the best story in the collection. Here the fourth Doctor (Baker) and his new companion Leela (Jameson) arrive aboard a giant sandmining machine on alien world where murder is afoot and the only suspects in a society which can't envisage such atrocities are the miner's sleek, urbane robots. Tom Baker's in fine form here, still very much the slightly brooding, if always disarming alien rather than the jelly-baby obsessed clown he'd become not much more than a year later and the four episodes are enlivened by gloriously luxurious production design, the show's most memorable robot creations and a Chris Boucher script which virtually sings. The fourth episode is a bit of a let down, the identity of the actual murderer having been fairly obvious a couple of episodes before and his motive's a bit mundane but this is a smart and satisfying story typical of the mature Philip Hinchcliffe-produced era it hails from.
Revisitations 3 is a box full of well-regarded Doctor Who stories which deserve a place in any fan's collection but whether you pick up this set pretty much depends on how much you value a few new special features and are willing to cough up for duplicate copies of stories you've already got. For the newcomer though, or those who missed these yarns the first time round, this is a pretty essential set to add to that burgeoning collection of classic Doctor Who.
Special features: So what's in store if you chose to double-dip or if you're here for the first time? Tomb of the Cybermen, like the other titles in the set, now has its own fairly traditional 'making of' feature in 'The Lost Giants' which, like most of its type, rolls along in a sea of talking heads and "this is how we did it and it was great fun" production anecdotes. Nice to see actress Shirley Cooklin (Kaftan) waxing effusively about the series as fan rumour has it her reluctance at seeing her early work resurrected almost blocked the VHS release of the story in 1991. 'The Curse of the Cybermen's Tomb' is a deathly dry lecture piece about the story's Egyptian origins, there's an extended version of Matthew Sweet's look at the history of the Cybermen, a feature on VidFIRE restoration technology, a 1960s ice lolly advert and, ported over from the original release, an introduction by director Morris Barry, title sequence footage, raw footage of Dalek devastation from the otherwise mostly-missing Evil of the Daleks and a behnd-the-scenes feature from the contemporary Late Night Line Up documentary strand. The Three Doctors now has 'Happy Birthday to Who', a new 'making of' documentary, Was Doctor Who rubbish? in which a few well-meaning fans attempt to dismiss some old myths about the classic show and Doctor Who meets Loose Women when Caroline John (Liz Shaw from Pertwee's first season), Katy Manning and Louise Jameson meet and - often raucuously - recall their time in the series. Familiar archive material from the original DVD release bulks out the first disc as Jon Pertwee introduces his 'Whomobile' on Blue Peter and Pebble Mill gets a rare interview with Troughton. New features on Robots of Death include the documentary The Sandmine Murders with contributions from guest actors Pamela Salem, Brian Croucher and David Collings with Tom Baker popping up every now again with a typically irreverent observation and Toby Hadoke takes a sideways/humourous look at robots in Doctor Who in 'Robophobia'. Commentary fans will revel in a new commentary alongside the rather dry original chat-track from Hinchcliffe and Boucher as Baker, Jameson, Salem and director Briant recall the making of the serial.
Elsewhere, trailers, production subtitles and further commentaries bulk out a typically comprehensive package of extras.