Top positive review
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What the future used to look like
on 10 October 2009
This 4-disc set of two consecutive stories from 1973 is great. Frontier in Space, the first story (2 hrs 23 mins), is a complex tale of interplanetary intrigue and diplomacy, in which the Master is engineering a war between to powerful empires, Earth and the proud, honourable Draconians, who face each other distrustully across the eponymous boundary. If this sounds like Star Trek, it is - it was written a month after the first UK broadcast of the similarly-themed "Balance of Terror". You wouldn't get away with that nowadays! This story is probably best remembered for its aliens du jour, the Draconians, who are both well-written and well-realised, with even close-ups bearing close scrutiny. It's a high point of science fiction alien makeup. Another high point is Roger Delgado, in his final appearance as the Master. Here he is almost jovial as he schemes to destroy Earth's empire, apparently solely to humiliate the Doctor. It's a playful interpretation of the role we get from Delgado here, and he has a great rapport with both the principals. Sadly, after five and a half excellent episodes, the ending is a real botch job. It's hard to work out what's actually happening. The various extras explain what went wrong, and what should have happened. That aside, Frontier in Space was always one of my favourites, and this release confirms its place in my Who top ten.
Planet of the Daleks (2 hrs 20 mins) is a different kettle of fish, despite segueing directly from the previous story. Written by Dalek creator Terry Nation, it's basically a rehash of two of his previous stories - "The Daleks" (1963-4) and "The Daleks' Master Plan" (1965-6). Longtime Who fans may experience deja vu while watching. However, there's still much worth seeing. Where Frontier in Space explores the broad sweep of interplanetary diplomacy, Planet of the Daleks emphasises the personal struggles of survival in a hostile environment and the search for courage and leadership, as a small group of people attempt to prevent the Daleks from learning the secret of invisibility. It's slightly let down by some cheap-looking production values, but the story mostly gets away with it due to the conviction of the cast (Jon Pertwee and Bernard Horsfall especially, and even Prentis Hancock is much better here than his lacklustre performance in Planet of Evil). While nowhere near as good as either Frontier in Space, or Nation's later Genesis of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks is still a thoroughly entertaining adventure.
Extras (3 hours)
Frontier in Space:
Commentary with Katy Manning, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, moderated by Clayton Hickman. A Thoroughly entertaining and informative soundtrack. *****
Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier (30 mins) - This is an attempt to show how Frontier in Space drew on current affairs for inspiration. While there is much interesting material to illustrate the point, it's bizarrely framed in a pointless, distracting Matrix-themed science-fiction story where a future computer and student discuss the information. I'm going to sound like a Grumpy Old Woman here, but do we really need a documentary to be jazzed up with a back-of-envelope framing story and look-what-i-can-do effects? No more please. **
The Space War (18 mins) - cast and crew recollect the making of the serial. Quite interesting. ****
Roger Delgado: The Master (33 mins) - a biography of actor Roger Delgado. An excellent tribute to one of the show's best regular actors, with many clips from his appearances in everything from Quatermass to a documentary. There are also many fond reminiscences from his colleagues, and a moving description by his widow Kismet in which she describes hearing the news of his death in a car accident. A worthy tribute to a fine actor. *****
Stripped for Action: The Third Doctor (16 mins) - The third Doctor's adventures in comics appear to have been an artistic high point, and this is well worth watching for the beautiful illustrations. *****
Photo Gallery ****
Production subtitles - all the production trivia, alternate scripts, trivia and asides you'll ever need. ****
There's meant to be an easter egg, but I'm blowed if I can find it.
Planet of the Daleks:
Commentary wth actors Katy Manning, Prentis Hancock and Tim Preece, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks. A good-natured and lively commentary track. ****
Perfect Scenario: The End of Dreams (30mins) - the second part of this effort loses its way, as Planet of the Daleks had less current-events context to make this feasible. This idea hasn't worked and I hope all involved are sent to bed without supper. *
The Rumble in the Jungle (17 mins) - cast and crew look back at the making of the story. Quite good but nothing amazing. ***
Multi-colourisation (11 mins) - How episode 3 had its colour restored. The highlight for me was that some of the software for this highly technical and complex process was written in BBC BASIC! Fascinating exploration of the restoration, which incidentally is now indistinguishable from the other episodes, it's a first-class job. ****
Stripped for Action: The Daleks (14 mins) - a reasonable exploration of the Daleks' appearances in comics, concentrating on the early seventies. ***
Blue Peter (13 mins) - two items from the childrens' magazine programme, featuring an appeal for any information on the theft of two Daleks from the BBC, and their subsequent return. OK but a bit too long, especially as some of this was on the Genesis of the Daleks DVD. ***
Photo gallery ****
Production subtitles ****
TL;DR - Frontier in Space is a classic of TV sci-fi, Planet of the Daleks is good entertainment, the extras are variable but plentiful. Buy it.