Earlier this year Doctor Who fans witnessed a new resurgence for Classic Who in physical media. It was announced that Season 12, AKA Tom Baker’s first season, would be getting released on Blu Ray. The release itself (review Part 1 and Part 2) was an impressive one (faulty discs aside) and showcased that classic Who could be improved on Blu Ray, if only slightly on the visuals. It also provided us with invaluable new special features, such as an hour-long interview with Tom Baker, and fun “Behind the Sofa” segments with cast members discussing the events taking place in the individual serials. Now, after several months on speculating which season would be chosen next, we have Peter Davison’s debut getting the deluxe treatment. All seven stories and a wealth of special features are included.
The restoration process here is not dissimilar to how Season 12 was upscaled to HD. The key difference here is that the exterior shots and on-location footage for certain stories i.e. The Visitation and Black Orchid were shot on 16mm, which still exists and could be restored to Native HD for this release. The remaining PAL studio footage naturally also looked better than Season 12’s initially due to the newer equipment being used, therefore the picture upgrade here looks cleaner and crisper.
Peter Davison’s first season as the Doctor ran for seven serials from 4th January to 30th March 1982. It carried over three companions, Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) established in Season 18, and the other two Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) and Tegan (Janet Fielding) who only joined the TARDIS crew in the final Tom Baker story Logopolis. It became a season known for its “crowded TARDIS” referencing how the writers would have to juggle the companions and would sometimes write them out of stories (such as Nyssa being written out of Kinda) which ultimately resulted in the first death of a companion since the 1960s with Adric. Season 19 featured an array of villains, both old and new- the master made two appearances, we got inventive designs such as the Terileptil’s, the dastardly Mara and the return of the Cybermen after a seven-year absence. Once again, I will be going through each serial and giving my honest thoughts on each of them.
“That’s the problem with regeneration; you never know what you’re going to get” Castrovalva is an intriguing regeneration story in that the titular namesake doesn’t even appear until around midway through the narrative. The story instead dedicates half its runtime to the typical dazed-and-confused doctor (portrayed here as reliving his past lives and misnaming his companions) and his companions trying to assist him through his difficult regeneration. This involves creating a makeshift “zero cabinet” that helps with timelord recovery and taking the Doctor to Castrovalva.
Two captures later and the story is dealing with the inventive scenario of a fictitious world intended to snare the Doctor, devised by the Master (Anthony Ainley) using Adric as a tool. The interior shots of the Doctor and company walking around a never-ending loop of the same sets in different ways never get old for me and watching the Doctor slowly realise what’s happening is a treat. Davison does a fine job here, though it’s worth noting that this wasn’t his debut as the Doctor in terms of production, as following a rejected debut script the season was filmed out of order. Then producer John Nathan-Turner took advantage of this to give Davison the chance to have a firm idea of how he wanted to play the role before recording the regeneration story. It works in favour of the story and makes it one of season 19’s strongest right out the gate.
Four to Doomsday
This is a story I admit to having little recollection of until revisiting it in HD. Four to Doomsday has a solid premise and some interesting ideas such as human androids taken from various points in history (ancient Greeks, Chinese Mandarins, Mayans and Australian Aborigines) being used as entertainment and the Monarch’s plan to travel to the beginning of time to become God. The serial is notable for being the first story that Davison did as the Doctor, and he does a fine job considering the fact.
However, the story is a bit of a slow burn, which could be a turn off for some. Also, Adric’s behaviour under the Monarch’s influence doesn’t help his character much, and I don’t mind him unlike some.
Overall Four to Doomsday was a better experience than I remember it being the first time around. It’s not a vital watch but I still recommend it.
Kinda is one of the more highly regarded stories of season 19. On the planet Deva Loka a group of humans are attempting colonisation whilst analysing the natives of the planet, who are seemingly telepathic. One of the deputies on the expedition begins to go insane, resulting in a very solid cliff-hanger “I have the power of life and death over all of you!”
Meanwhile, Tegan has fallen asleep and is contacted by a being known as the Mara, a snake-like monster that exists in a trippy and visually intriguing landscape. Her metaphysical crisis is engaging to witness and gives weight to a character that otherwise spent most of the season whining about returning to Heathrow.
Kinda is unique and interesting and serves as a real highlight of early 80’s Who. Even the awful snake effect in episode 4 can’t spoil the proceedings (for the DVD and now Blu Ray release they added in new special effects to improve the look of the Mara.)
My personal favourite for the season, The Visitation takes place in 1666 and leads to the Great Fire of London. Before that, though after another failed attempt to reach Heathrow, the crew finds themselves in a plague-infected England with an ominous “Grim Reaper” scouring the streets.
This reaper is actually a cyborg in disguise, doing the bidding of the Terileptils, a race of fugitive aliens with a plan to wipe out humanity via a deadly plague. Their design is one of Who’s best, courtesy of some great effects work that allowed the masks to be operated mechanically, hereby giving a more natural look.
Elsewhere the Tardis crew are separated (a common theme this season made a necessity by having too many compassions – an issue soon resolved) and also come across a highwayman called Richard Mace (this serial’s guest star Michael Robbins) who informs them of a comet that landed nearby. This sets the team off on their quest.
The Visitation is also notable for the destruction of the Sonic Screwdriver, which was seen as MacGuffin by the producers (ironically it had barely been used that often since Tom Baker’s earlier seasons.) It’s also the first historical episode of the season and an overall very enjoyable story.
The first ‘purely historical’ episode (a story with no science fiction elements asides from the Tardis and its crew) since “The Highlanders” in 1966, this two-parter is equal parts historic and whodunnit. It’s the 1920’s and the Tardis crew are invited to a masquerade ball.
The Doctor ends up being framed for murder, Nyssa has a Doppelgänger, and someone lurks in the halls of the mansion. Black Orchid a breeze to sit through, but the story is rather pointless, and its plot flimsy, something pointed out on the cast commentary. But hey at least we got to see the Doctor play some cricket.
By far the most recognisable part of the season, Earthshock is also the most important. A little backstory as to why the reveal at the end of episode one was ground-breaking is because of publicity.
Producer John Nathan-Turner had a penchant for publicity, an effort to keep the series popular considering it was now being aired twice weekly and therefore only ran for 6 months a year. However, with the reveal of the Cybermen-returning after a seven-year absence “Destroy them – destroy them at once!”
JNT insisted that their return be withheld from the public, resulting in a scrapped Radio Times cover It made episode one’s cliffhanger one of Doctor Who’s best and most shocking for fans. Also kept a secret was the death of Adric, which occurs at the end of episode four wherein he sacrificed himself on an exploding spaceship which may well have wiped out the dinosaurs (allegedly.)
Earthshock itself is a very good story, the best of the season alongside The Visitation. It features some of classic Who’s best directing by Peter Grimwade-managing to be both theatrical and grand. The Cyberman design here would also be a mainstay until their final appearance in 1988 and is my second favourite in the classic run.
There are some flaws here and there such as some overly emotive Cyberman and some peculiar celebrity casting in Beryl Reid. The worst offender is the silent credits for episode four. It just felt like overkill. That being said the story is still a strong point for the era.
Time Flight is pretty shite, to put it lightly. The first episode is somewhat interesting, but the rest of the serial is a clear indicator that the BBC had spent all their budget. The reveal of The Master, who pointlessly masquerades as a sorcerer named Kalil is laughable, whilst the Plasmatons, polystyrene sets and model Concorde do little to help the story.
After Earthshock this was a massive disappointment. Even the cast and script editor Eric Saward struggle to sit through it during the commentary. Watch it once for completionism and then never again.
Best Story: Earthshock
Worst Story: Time Flight
Must-See: Castrovalva/Kinda/The Visitation
Check out the second part of the review (when it releases on Sunday 9th December), which features a rundown of the packaging, special features and audio/visual details. We will also reveal our final score for the entire set in part 2.
By HW Reynolds
Images provided by the BBC