Depending on how you approach the 3 serials in this box set, they're either tawdry relics of a cheaper, slower age of television; or they're pure gold. There are so many reasons to enjoy the release of NEW BEGINNINGS, but even fan boys like me can see that not everyone is going to be bowled over. So let's get the criticisms out of the way first.
Generally, there are a number of problems that beset all of the productions. Firstly of course: the effects, though not ALL of them fall flat. For instance, after the poorly staged struggle between the Doctor and the Master on the Pharos project gantry, the sequence at the climax of LOGOPOLIS where Tom Baker's Doctor regenerates into Peter Davison's version works extremely well. However, this is one of the few exceptions. The fake eyes painted on Kassia's lids when she's possessed in THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN, the risible model work in LOGOPOLIS and the cheesy visual representations of the recursive trap in the citadel in CASTROVALVA aren't exactly high points.
Secondly, despite what I'm going to say about the acting later, it has to be said not everyone deserves a BAFTA. For example, Sheila Ruskin is well cast as the zealous, obsessive Kassia in THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN. But for my money she overplays certain moments. Witness her stagey collapse after the murder of Seron in episode 2.
This though is nothing compared to Anthony Ainley's Master in CASTROVALVA. Either he or the director seemed to think that his commendable underplaying in the previous tales was a bad idea, and he often relishes his part just a little too much. Take a look at the moment in episode four when he cries out: "My web! MY WEB!" All seriousness instantly evaporates. OK granted, it's a dreadful line to which an Oscar winner might have difficulty supplying credibility. Certainly his earlier, well-judged performance as Tremas suggests that he was capable of better.
Matthew Waterhouse's Adric too is a liability. In the huge shadow of Tom Baker's stellar performances, we don't notice him so much and he's less irritating. But he has this odd bouncy walk that suggests he's not comfortable in front of a camera. Called on to have a big emotional moment he makes an absolute pig's ear of it. In CASTROVALVA, he and Ainley in the Master's TARDIS have a competition to see who can be the most appallingly OTT. It's hard to say who wins.
Despite all this, I confess I love these stories. TRAKEN's pace, fairy-tale and mythological resonances, its detailed, opulent set designs, Shakespearean characters (not to mention dialogue) and sting-in-the-tail ending make it the best of the set. Spellbinding.
LOGOPOLIS might look cheap, but there's no denying the grandeur of the ideas and the emotional power of the 4th Doctor's swansong. Ainley's Satanic Master is genuinely creepy here and he would only be this good again 8 years later in his final story, SURVIVAL. Tom Baker's moody, brooding performance is a haunting thing of beauty. Paddy Kingsland, my favourite of all the 1980's DR WHO composers provides a rich, funereal and melancholic score.
Peter Davison gives a likeable, well-acted debut in CASTROVALVA, though his Doctor is so fragile and unstable for much of the time, it's anyone's guess at this stage how he's going to turn out. Luckily, this allows Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding's companions to shine. Tegan is rarely more sympathetic than here, and one can see the unused potential of the practical Nyssa. The large multi-levelled sets of the citadel are effective, and there is much to admire in the production and script.
As usual, the extras on the discs are excellent and a massive selling point. Photo galleries, commentaries, contemporary trailers, interviews and news items are all present. Most fans will want to see BEING DOCTOR WHO in which a mostly enthusiastic Peter Davison discusses his approach to the role. But best of all are the moments in the documentary A NEW BODY AT LAST where Tom Baker is surprisingly candid about how difficult he had become to work with and how this led to his leaving the show. A lot of the studio footage from the time would seem to bear this out. Far from ruining one's image of the man, one has to admire his honesty and self-awareness! 26 years later, the man is still a hero.