It's the 14 October 2013 and Christmas has come early, as BBC DVD releases a treat that will beguile and fascinate DOCTOR WHO fans worldwide.
It may not contain electro-deletion at the touch of their metal-cased hands, or delectable self-controlled limbs that can attack the unwary and nor displaying an ability to move at a sub-quantum speed, but DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET does introduce the half-flesh, half-mechanical Cybermen to an unsuspecting 1965 viewing audience and, now, to an appreciative & new following eager, in this 50th anniversary year, to comprehend why the drama series is so enduring.
Certainly, in DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET we have what could have been the beginning of the end for BBC 1 family-orientated programme as its lead actor leaves, or could have been the sparks that would re-energise it. Thankfully, it was latter, and not since 1963 when the series came so close to being cancelled after the recording of AN UNEARTHLY CHILD's 'pilot', was the series mired with such doubt. Was the conceit of 'reincarnation' going to be accepted by millions of viewers?
This DVD release recounts the momentous changes that the series uncontrollably had to deal with, and it's a fascinating story and told in DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET in an accomplished manner. And, of course, the release contains a true 'previously thought lost' gem; an on-screen interview with William Hartnell. Truly, it is Christmas.
Disc One highlights:
In FROZEN OUT - THE MAKING OF THE TENTH DOCTOR the cast & crew recall the pressure of the Ealing soundstage filming as it doubled for blizzard-ridden Antarctic, the casting of multi-cultural personnel for the subterranean base (which irritated the programme's lead actor, it seems according to Anneke Wills: "Bill had a real block about coloured people. Michael Craze and I were ashamed for Bill". Whilst Earl Cameron, playing Astronaut Williams, praised the story's director for ".casting a black actor at the time was very futuristic."), the design of the Cybermen and, of course, the conceit of 'regeneration'.
Throughout SEASON THREE, there was an exodus of viewers watching the series and its Producer, Innes Lloyd's view was that it only had a chance to continue if William Hartnell left it and a method to allow the re-casting of the lead character could be designed. FROZEN OUT demonstrates the ingenuity of the production team of 1966, especially the set designers & costume makers, to re-create the sub-zero environment of an isolated community and the unnerving flesh-biomechanical aliens, whilst being supported by its Director, Derek Martinus. Described as ".an insightful director.", his calmness under pressure to meet unacceptable deadlines and budgets was the glue that, as Designer, Peter Kindred suggests ".held us all together." One of the most heartening contributions comes from THE TENTH PLANET's Vision Mixer, Shirley Conrad, who had the unenviable task in creating the 'regeneration' process on-screen. Admitting that they (the production team) were ".trying things." to create the unique television moment but were thankful that both actors' ".cheekbones matched." whilst Anneke Wills thought ".it was bloody magic." and it was ".a lovely thing going down in history."
The EPISODE FOUR VHS RECONSTRUCTION is as thrilling & exciting as the ANIMATED version, and is recommended for viewing before watching the latter.
Disc Two highlights:
Still in his fifties, Hartnell agrees to an interview with local BBC broadcaster, Roger Mills of Taunton's POINTS WEST (broadcast on 17 January 1967) as he appears as the character, Buskin, in PUSS IN BOOTS, and, as he's renowned for his 'grumpiness' the interview could have been a disaster from the start. However, if you watch it a number of times, you will observe a professional intensity in his choice of words and behind his eyes that belies a more resigned, consolatory matured actor (and that's all he was; an actor) who has nothing to prove, nothing to be shameful of and, as such, possess a refreshing openness (none of the 'luvviness' that the acting profession can regurgitate on hearing "Action"!") that it may surprise (some) fans.
Interviewer: Do you think you'll ever shake it (DOCTOR WHO's The Doctor) off?
With honesty and with inner belief, William Hartnell: Oh, yes. By being a success in something else. That's the actor's job. I don't like anything (acting roles) 'blue' or salacious or 'suggestive'. I'm not that type of actor.
Interviewer: Is pantomime something you'd like to continue doing in the future?
Assertively, William Hartnell: Ooh, no, no, no, no, no.
Interviewer: Oh, why not?
William Hartnell: Well, I'm a legitimate actor. Pantomime is for the sort of person who is used to variety and going on the front of the stage, but I'm a legitimate actor. I do legitimate things.
And, if you've seen Hartnell in BRIGHTON ROCK and THE SPORTING LIFE, quite right too. A legitimate actor who had potentially risked his reputation and career on a teatime series for the BBC, but only a 'legitimate' actor would have succeeded in the role.
Whilst the interview is brief, and it is a Billy Hartnell that we, fans, may not have seen before - a scrawny middle-aged actor, dressed in a t-shirt, attending to his own stage make-up - it does impart that he is not the officious & overbearing, often bumbling & forgetful, lead actor that his co-stars frequently configured him to be.
In this lost interview, the myth that is William Hartnell may be (thankfully) broken but the enigmatic spell that he cast remains as possessive and enduring as ever, and without whom the series may have withered without reaching episode five, desiccated on the floor of Lime Grove Studios.
Interviewed in 2003, DOCTOR WHO STORIES - ANNEKE WILLS effervesces with a joyous love for the drama series even though ".my entire career was wiped.", as former companion, Polly, Anneke regales viewers with previously undisclosed memories from her short time (only 32 25-minute episodes) working alongside both Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.
On the initial casting for Polly, Anneke Wills: My eyelashes were longer than my (mini) skirts. They wanted a 'dolly-bird'.
Candidly, she reveals the attempts to ".cotton wool." Bill Hartnell to stop him from being as irascible so much, and how it ".was a relief to have Pat Troughton marching into the rehearsal room with a big grin and saying, 'The fun starts here!'."
On leaving the series, Anneke Wills: Better leave now.at that time, you do get typecast.
Scripted by Simon Guerrier and narrated by Dominic Sandbrook, THE GOLDEN AGE is, in effective, an on-screen essay surmising if there ever was a 'golden age' of DOCTOR WHO, and, if there was, when was it and how can it be tangibly defined. Admittedly, the first words from Sandbrook are ".taste is objective." which is probably good indication of the documentary's intent and goal. Nothing more than an on-screen 'blog' that would more at home on YouTUBE than on a BBC DVD release, or on a fan website. With the aid of series' clips, media coverage and official documentation, Guerrier's message is succinct; there is a 'golden age' for the series but it is dependent on whom you talk to and when. "It's not the show that's changed, it's the critics". Sadly, the documentary is the fast food hamburger equivalent of a 'pickle'; it's there to bulk up the main event and, as such, you can take it or Frisbee it into the nearest waste bin.
BOYS BOYS BOYS could be subtitled as "Testosterone Testaments", drawing on the experiences of Peter Purves, Frazer Hines and, via satellite, Mark Strickland as companions of the iconic Time Lord from the 1960's and 1980s, and an entertaining & informative affair it is, though I wonder if Matthew Waterhouse remains sitting cross-legged in his hallway waiting for the RSVP Invite to drop onto his door-mat? Would four male companions in a single documentary have been too much? Nevertheless, the trio discuss working with their appropriate Doctor, the limitations of being a 'male companion' and their exit strategies.
On filming his debut story, THE HIGHLANDERS, and joining as a regular character Frazer Hines: I had already filmed me (as Jamie) waving goodbye to the Doctor at Frenchen Ponds. I had to go back and re-film it again.
On being Turlough in DOCTOR WHO, Mark Strickland: (it was) gold-plated family entertainment.
On not being a famous for the role back in the 1960's as he is now, Peter Purves: .not cult of celebratory.
On leaving the series and attempting to secure the next acting role, Peter Purves: You didn't have the kudos.
Similar in its content is COMPANION PIECE, in which, yes, former companions including Arthur Darvill fresh from his suicide dive from a New York apartment block (DOCTOR WHO - THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN - 2012) who admits straightaway that being cast as Rory Williams he didn't ".think I'm playing a sex symbol." With punctuation from a professional Psychologist, DOCTOR Who writers and actors assess how the inherent motivation of a companion/assistant to the Doctor is one of an 'addiction' lifestyle (as 2005's SERIES ONE's broadcast teaser-trailers announce; "Do you want to come with me?") when compared to 'normality'. It's a fascinating bottom-line and, if you compare it then to 'fandom', it's too close to the unexpected truth; DOCTOR WHO is an addiction and subliminally it promotes it like the NEW NEW YORK Dealers of illegal Mood Patches in DOCTOR WHO - GRIDLOCKED (2007).
The 10 th anniversary of DOCTOR WHO is celebrated by the perennially-supportive BLUE PETER with nefarious clips and a brief summary of the drama series to date (1973).
As ever, the DVD is complimented with Pdf material from the RADIO TIMES, the extensive & excellently researched on-screen INFORMATION TEXT, comprehensive PHOTO GALLERY and a COMING SOON TRAILER for DOCTOR WHO - THE MOONBASE.
Overall, DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET is genuinely rewarding for its fusion of story-focussed content and tenuously-linked featurettes that, to be honest, could be issued on any CLASSIC SERIES release.
However, this BBC DVD release in many ways echoes the charismatic & facetted nature of series that we first witnessed, open mouthed, on 23rd. November 1963 as the two unsuspecting yet earnest school teachers barged their way into the lives of two space:time travellers, and with DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET, in a way, we see the end of that story as the Doctor dies and is reborn anew.
The drama series that we know it today embraces that period (effectively, the three years of the William Hartnell era), and it's founded on the same principles, vision and philosophy, and without DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET, who knows, the drama series would have merely been a broadcasting footnote.
For DOCTOR WHO fans, 2013 has been an outstanding time for exceptional BBC DVD releases, and if you were to buy just two this year, along with superlative DOCTOR WHO - SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE Blu-ray, DOCTOR WHO - THE TENTH PLANET should be an overriding choice.