DVD REVIEW: Classic Doctor Who New Releases
Two More Classic Storylines Back In Print...
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As sci-fi fans are aware across the world, Doctor Who couldn’t be bigger right now. And along with the new episodes coming out of BBC (and airing here in the States on BBC America), the best classic Who stories are being released on DVD. These great presentations are bringing the classic episodes to whole new generations of fans while offering the longtime viewers a chance to re-live the early days of British science fiction on TV. This month’s classic releases include Planet of Giants with the First Doctor (William Hartnell) from 1964 and Vengeance on Varos with the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) from 1985.
Spanning 21 years and two very different Doctors, these two volumes bring back two iconic stories from years past. The first, Planet of Giants in the First Doctor’s second season, starts with a mysterious TARDIS malfunction; the doors open during materialization on Earth which shrinks the craft and its occupants to mere inches. In their diminutive state the Doctor and his companions learn of a scientist’s diabolical plot to unleash a virulent pesticide, and they must figure out how to stop him. The Sixth Doctor appears in Season 22’s Vengeance on Varos, another story that starts with the TARDIS malfunctioning. This time the Doctor travels to an alien planet to fix the device, and there gets caught up in a demented version of “reality TV” featuring government-mandated torture and murder with audience participation.
Just like new episodes of the show, classic Doctor Who storylines featured innovative alien creatures and locales. With the miniscule budget of the first Doctor’s episodes the show’s creators had to be particularly inventive, which you can see in Planet of Giants. Various camera tricks and oversized props give the illusion of tiny size, and while there are no actual aliens in this story there are “giant” insects of various kinds and dead earthworms in addition to props like a massive matchbox, cigarettes, paperclips, a drain chain, and more. Again, for something shot in 1960’s England with very little money there’s some pretty cool achievements here. Meanwhile in Vengeance on Varos you’ll see an example of the heyday of Doctor Who. Varos is a fully realized alien colony with its own unique style, and it’s inhabited by normal humans and those mutated as part of the tortures. Varos also first introduces the recurring character Sil, a slug-like alien black marketer. All of the Doctors love traveling with companions, and in these stories they’ve got Susan, Barbara, and Ian and Peri respectively.
The classic stories are presented in their original formats, meaning black and white for Planet of Giants. Each episode has been remastered (though of course they don’t look or sound as clean as modern TV). BBC is committed to bringing back all of the classic stories, building an amazing collection of Doctor Who and resurrecting episodes unseen for decades. Both of these new releases include a ton of special features. Giants has audio commentary, a reconstruction of what would have been 4 episodes (instead of the final 3), interviews, a photo gallery, prop designs and radio listings on PDF, production notes subtitles, and an optional Arabic audio track. Varos, a “special edition” release, includes audio commentary, featurettes, extended and deleted scenes, behind the scenes video, outtakes, alternative music for a key scene (the acid bath!), BBC News excerpts, interviews, a comedy sketch, photo gallery, trailers, PDFs, optional 5.1 audio mix, isolated music score, and production notes.
Any longtime Doctor Who fan is going to be very excited to add these classic stories to his or her collection, and new viewers just getting caught up will appreciate these as links in the long chain of the show’s history. These are also iconic British sci-fi episodes that tackle big issues like humans threatening the environment and the depths of depravity mankind can reach through television and media (specifically reality TV!). Both Planet of Giants and Vengeance on Varos are available now.
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Samples Courtesy of BBC Home Entertainment