on 11 February 2013
My Granddad used to me, "If you have nothing new to say, keep your mouth shut".
Wise words, indeed, and when it comes to reviewing DOCTOR WHO Special Edition DVD releases it is some that should be heeded by all parties - DVD Commissioning Editors and Fandom Critics - and a careful assessment of what can be said "new" undertaken before continuing on a journey that will inevitably end with hard earned cash being agitated from fan's TARDIS moneyboxes.
There are two questions; (1) How valuable are these "Special Editions" - whether published under the REVISITATIONS sub-brand or singularly - in adding further narrative to DOCTOR WHO story, and (2) Should Fan Critics promote what is clearly a (clever, if not manipulative) marketing tool in perpetuating the DOCTOR WHO archive knowing that fan's, like myself, will buy the product because we are fans even though we know that such releases are/can be a "cash cow" for the BBC?
The answer to both those is, as yet, undefinable. There has yet to be a "special edition" release that truly demonstrates a worthiness to be re-issued. Am I being too harsh or, heaven forefending, (too) cynical, or (very) narrow-minded? Probably to all three.
On 18 February 2013, BBC CONSUMER PRODUCTS are releasing an undoubted and unchallenging classic story from 1975 but with less than a handful of new items for fans to view would they be better off buying a roll of `Bubblewrap' and get more enjoyment from laying it across the kitchen floor and `de-pimpling' it under bare feet? I want to say categorically "Yes" but I want to be truthful, honest and independent in voice. So, sadly I have to say "Maybe". Certainly the level of professional production quality exceeds all expectations but the new content hardly pushes the envelope of originality as it once did (recently only DVD extra content for THE SENSORITES' "Looking for Peter" and, in 2004, THE GREEN DEATH' "Global Conspiracy" have been extraordinarily perceptive). It would seem that this "special edition" will be viewed once and then left to garner a layer of dead skin cells and household detritus on the DVD shelf.
However, there is true jewel that contradicts the inglorious content assessment; "A NEW FRONTIER - THE MAKING OF THE ARK IN SPACE" is fascinatingly astute and entertaining in equal measure. As expected, this new classy documentary (from PUP's Chris Chapman) chronicles its genesis (originally scheduled was a story called SPACE STATION from Christopher Langley, superseded by a complicated contribution from John Lucarotti), casting, design and filming with contributions from its series producer, Phillip Hinchcliffe ("...a vision of mine...science fiction...taking it away from Earth...Feature Film design on a shoestring"), director Rodney Bennett ("...very complicated script and lots of challenges as I'm not a very technical director...I would have like to have more slime..."), actress (as Vira), Wendy Williams for which time has been generous for her ("...haughty...very proud to be in it 40 years later"), actor (as Noah), Kenton Moore ("...I think Tom Baker was inspired casting...may hand was gift-wrapped in Bubblewrap..."). The documentary discusses the rigorous approach that Hinchcliffe applied to both the script and filming, undertaking self-censorship where he felt that elements would be unsuitable for the viewer (In episode three, Noah, then partly infected by the Warn DNA, confronts the Doctor and (his life-long partner) Vira in which the original script he pleaded them to kill him. "...for pity's sake, kill me..."). A fascinating insight in to the process of developing story narrative without being exploiting the viewers' goodwill, balancing a broad church of morality and depicting gratuitous acts of violence. A NEW FRONTIER delivers everything you'd expect from a featurettes; intelligent, earnest yet warm, and informative; if only other documentaries followed this winning formula.
In DR FOREVER! - LOVE AND WAR an array of DOCTOR WHO luminaries analyse the often overlooked (or purposefully ignored?) contribution of the VIRGIN BOOKS publishing licence in perpetuating the DOCTOR WHO brand following the broadcast termination of the CLASSIC SERIES (in December 1989). For nearly 15 years, the company's NEW ADVENTURE range of original novels reimagined, as Russell T Davies would do with the 2005 NEW SERIES, the Doctor and his companions for the most dedicated of fans and harnessing latent writing talent (including Paul Cornell, Robert Shearman, Gary Russell, Mark Gattis) that was genuinely fostered within the incestuous world of DOCTOR WHO fandom fanzines of the 1970's and 1980's. Thankfully, the documentary avoids crude acts self-congratulatory naval-gazing and gestalt pats-on-the-back, and eloquently focuses on the valuable contribution that the series of novels inadvertently provided in - perhaps - re-engaging the BBC in considering the brand as a equally valuable commodity and, yes, "cash-cow" (VIRGIN's licence was revoked-terminated, and BBC BOOKS launched their own novel series on the back of the 1996 TV MOVIE). Indeed, you may logically deduce that perhaps VIRGIN's contribution (and its Commissioning Editor, Peter Darvill-Evans) may have been a major catalyst in seeing the viability of re-commissioning a television series itself?
The only other `new' VAM (value added material) as part of this two-disc release is the 1975 edited `TV movie version', and, as an example of television drama produced on a shoestring nearly forty years ago, it is remarkably watchable. If only it had been "cleaned" as part of the restoration process.
Oh, yes, the cleaning process. The `blurb' states that "...newly re-mastered, utilising advances in technology and technique..." Now, I'm a little confused as I have viewed both this release and the original (2002) release and I'm struggling to see any difference (unless my SONY television and gold-plated connection cables are faulty..!). Personally, each of the `re-mastered' DVDs should include a mandatory VAM feature detailing the updates whether it is cleaning of picture flickering, scratches, dust, colour balancing.
Nevertheless, whilst the new content is (very) limited, the release of DOCTOR WHO - THE ARK IN SPACE is truly welcome, ready to be explored and devoured with the same relish as a mandible-chomping insectoid who thought, in discovering Space Station Nerva, that their all their Christmases and birthdays had come all at once. Yes, it is `classic' in the truest sense of the word but, regrettably, I felt that this release deserved more (perhaps, a 360 degree animation of Nerva's interior, demonstrating the extent of its storage capability) to warrant that emptying of the TARDIS moneybox.
I'm glad I sometimes disagreed with my Grandad about keeping my mouth shut; DOCTOR WHO - THE ARK IN SPACE is always worth talking about.