With every commentary recorded by Tom Baker, the more inclined that fans of the NEW SERIES & the CLASSIC SERIES should be to grab the nearest moth bitten sleeping bag, stoke-up the Calor gas powered camping stove and pitch a tent outside their Virgin Megastore (or HMV) store from midnight in order to buy the latest release that morning.
Tom Baker is a perfect antidote to the banal, repetitive commentaries that litter the CLASSIC RANGE of DVD releases, due in part of unfortunate duplication in features versus commentaries, and slip-shod editing by 2entertain's presentation team.
ROBOT is a prime example of a viewer having to re-watch the story twice (at least) - once watching the cleaned-up version and once with both the commentary & Information Notes accessed.
Unlike the forthcoming DVD release of THE TIME WARRIOR, interestingly the Special Effects have not been "re-imagined" to match the quality of the story itself. The story may be critically considered to be a standard Terrance Dicks mundane tale of subterfuge, an artificial intelligence cursed with human morality, with a military-edge dressed in the skin (gorilla) of KING KONG pastiche.
However, it is much more.
Superbly and professionally acted, with an impressive characterisation by Tom Baker in his debut as the lead, the story beguiles both young and old viewers alike.
However, along with Baker, it is K1 robot that is the focus of the production. Michael Killgariff's skill in balancing the mechanically overbearing with the emotional destructive is inspiring, and confidently matches the manic-calmness of that Season's other masterpiece in the guise of Michael Wisher's Davros.
The commentary is more entertaining and enlightening than the GENESIS OF THE DALEKS DVD release, and it is of no surprise that the team that has contributed to it is the same - more or less.
1974 is another country when it comes to memory. It can be hidden in the recesses of "grey matter" or amid the diminishing returns of Alzheimer's - not that I am saying that any of the contributors are afflicted with such a condition.
The team are highly commendable of the contribution that Ian Marter made to this story (and additional ones) but the Pertwee's CARNIVAL OF MONSTERS. It is interesting that the show's Producer was Marter's character was to be called Harry Sweetman and not Sullivan, and that the actor was auditioned for the role of Captain Yates in 1972. However, there will be a feature on Marter's contribution to the TARGET novels will be released as part of REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN DVD in 2008.
Sladen on Marter: So understated.
Similarly, Baker, Sladen, Letts and Dicks are complimentary about the work of the UNIT stalwart actor, Nicholas Courtney.
Baker: (Nick is) a similar genius to Arthur Lowe (Editor: the lead actor in the BBC comedy series, DAD'S ARMY). So incorrupt to the world as he finds nothing funny about a situation unless you explain everything about it.
Strangely, the commentary takes a parallel side-swipe at the BBC WALES NEW SERIES as Tom Baker comments, unashamedly, that the role of the Doctor was instinctively his from day one.
Baker: I was always waiting all my life for this part. I was very shocked that they (Editor: BBC WALES) didn't ask me to come back as the Master. Letts: That would have been fun.
Sladen: They haven't used that character at al, have they?
Dicks: They've used enough of the monsters!
Whilst I think that the inclusion of Baker would be like having a wearing socks & sandals in the middle of a Russian winter - uncomfortable and you can that it would be disaster in the making - it is shame that the talents of Terrance Dicks has not been utilised beyond the BBC NOVEL "QUICK READS". It is time that he has the honour to write for the TV broadcast brand once again.
Unlike the commentaries recorded by the "Fifth Doctor Team", the "Fourth Doctor Team" commentaries are very much "U-rated as opposed to "PG-rated" (what do you expect if you put Matthew Waterhouse, Janet Fielding and Peter Davison in a booth for two hours?). But the team came close with a discussion the statically-charged nylon clothing worn by Sladen.
Baker (playfully): I can hear your tights rubbing together.
Certainly, Baker is on top-form, giving the "listener" a charming insight into the momentous weeks that surrounded the announcement that he was take over the role from Pertwee. Additionally, he discusses - not for the first time - his appreciation of the Michael Wisher in creating one of the most believable aliens/villains in the show's history. However, why this comment was not exorcised from this story's commentary is hard to understand.
The additional DVD features are equally enlightening and entertaining.
OUR FRIENDS ELECTRIC whilst having a truly bizarre title demonstrates the production's shortcomings and the care of drawing together a range of talents for ROBOT.
Tom Baker continues to discuss - with some amazement even after 35 years - his rise from obscurity to high street fame recognised by Grannies and children alike.
Baker: The part became my life. All my sympathies were with this character. I never stopped being DOCTOR WHO. It became very exhausting.
With such an extensive coverage of Baker's announcement is hoped that all his predecessors will have the equal treatment (just how was Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee introduced to the British public?)
The cast of ROBOT, including Professor Kettlewell's Edward Burnham who looks as if time has been very very kind to him, offer lucid and humorous anecdotes.
However, "worth the price of admission itself" as they say, is the mini-documentary feature, THE TUNNEL EFFECT presented by Bernard Lodge, detailing the creation of the iconic & classic Tom Baker title sequence (1974-1979). This is truly inspiring. However, the bonus being an overview of the "howl-round" effect that Lodge crafted for the Hartnell seasons, and revealing that the programme's first Producer had vetoed the use of Hartnell's photograph being part of the early years broadcasts for the fact it was "too scary".
More recently, Lodge was pleased to see that the 1996 McGann story adopted the first specifically designed logo the series had and he had designed (back in 1970).
The remaining features are ho-hum, ranging from the mildly interesting (photo gallery and the information text - which is essential viewing alongside the commentary) and the banal-for-the-fans-that-have-no-friends-outside-Facebook (ANNUAL PDF scans).
ROBOT epitomises the 1970s. A story with a beginning, middle and end, a morality tale, a boys-own adventure and a big robot. Added to which a cannot-take-your-eyes-off lead actor that, from scene one, dominates the screen (and the next seven years), a supporting cast that effortlessly continues to be the reassuring presence amid the upheaval of change around them and a production team that continues to challenge themselves.
For fans of the NEW SERIES, ROBOT is essential viewing and it may just surprise the more jaded CLASSIC SERIES in reminding them how enthealling the series could be some theee decades later.
Even if some of the special effects were a little less "special" at times.