Doctor Who: Earth Story boxset (DVD TV review).

February 19, 2018 | By | Reply More

What a weird situation placing two divergent ‘Doctor Who’ different regeneration stories in one volume with the expectation that the stories aren’t likely to appeal enough to sell alone.

Doctor Who: The Gunfighters by Donald Cotton

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC, 2011. 1 DVD 100 minutes 4 * 25 minute episodes with extras. ASIN: BBCDVD3380A)

cast: William Hartnell, Peter Purves and Jackie Lane

It’s a shame that ‘The Celestial Toyman’ is lost because after that story which perplexed some viewers, ‘Doctor Who’ needed a sharp contrast. Doing that, the Doctor (actor William Hartnell), Steven (actor Peter Purves) and Dodo (actress Jackie Lane) arrive in Tombstone. The two companions are thrilled to be in the Old West and change their clothes to fit in. Being from the far future, Steven doesn’t exactly fit in with his clothes choice and the Doctor introduces him to Wyatt Earp (actor John Alderson) as a singer and Dodo as a pianist. The Doctor has his own problems with a toothache and needs to see a dentist. This turns out to be none other than Doc Holliday (actor Anthony Jacobs) and hence the confusion as to which one is which to the Clantons, especially when Seth Harper (actor Shane Rimmer) is sent to identify him. The Clantons want to kill Holliday before they tangle with the Earps. Meanwhile, Marshall Wyatt Earp wants Holliday out of town. Holliday in turn wants the Doctor to be used as a distraction and ensures that he’s arrested and placed in jail. Of course, the Clantons want him out and hold Steven hostage.

Much of the story follows events we’re more familiar with now the Gunfight At The O.K. Corral. Probably the main exception is the youngest Clanton not being shot dead earlier. In many respects, this story is one of the most violent of the early ‘Doctor Who’ stories, especially at that time of night. Granted some of the shooting is only implied and you certainly don’t see blood but there was some outright murder.

Considering this is a western set filmed in the wilds of London, this story does remarkably well. Back in the 425 line black and white smaller screen television days, anything like background scenery was less of a problem. We also got on well with what we were shown on the box and less likely to think anything out of place.

This story also has the odd distinction of having two voice artists from Century 21/Anderson Productions in the show, Shane Rimmer (the later voice of Scott Tracy) and David Graham (how many voices should I count beyond Parker?).

The audio commentary is a musical chairs conducted by Toby Hadoke, starting with episode 1 with actors Peter Purves (Steven), Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper), David Graham (Charlie) and then production assistant Tristan da Vera Cole. Information gleaned includes Bill Hartnell was a cousin to fashion designer Norman Hartnell and that filming was split between Ealing Studios and BBC Studios. With episode 2, Richard Beale (Bat Masterson) joined in and explained that director Rex Tucker expect who he cast to know what they were doing which got a new appreciation from Purves who had thought something was wrong when he hadn’t been given notes. As with Shane Rimmer leaving after episode 2, David Graham is gone after episode 3. Respect to Richard Beale and Tristan da Vera Cole for giving a lot of inside information. It’s rather weird that although shaky sets are discussed no one points out that the bar nearly fell over in one early scene.

There are only three significant extras on this DVD. The 43 minute ‘The End Of The Line’ explores the third season of ‘Doctor Who’ where companions were changed rapidly although no one here seems to be keeping count and I make it seven and, of course, the first regeneration in the final story.

The 14 minutes look at the reaction to ‘Doctor Who’ from that period’s newspapers is narrated by Mary Tamm. I still find it annoying that they couldn’t find any comments from the tabloids. Choosing the ‘upper class’ newspapers is bound to be bias simply because their critics didn’t really understand SF. We also have 4 minutes of Photo Gallery with the ending showing the sets and where they end, showing just how good they are.

I do think age and picture resolution has improved the re-showing of this story. It was also rare at that time for the BBC to do a western setting let alone on a SF series. It is also unusually gruesome with strong elements of comedy to balance things out although I doubt if it would have been shown on TV to kids today.

Doctor Who: The Awakening by Eric Pringle

(region 2 DVD: pub: BBC. 1 DVD 50 minutes 2 * 25 minute episodes with extras. ASIN: BBCDVD3380B)

cast: Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Polly James, Denis Lil, Glyn Houston, Keith Jayne and Jack Galloway

The Doctor (actor Peter Davison), Tegan (actress Janet Fielding) and Turlough (actor Mark Strickson) arrive in Little Hodcombe in 1984 seeking out Tegan’s grandfather, Andrew Verney. They haven’t really gone back in time to do this as its with her own time-line. Instead, they find themselves in the middle of a medieval re-enactment of a 1643 English Civil War battle that is getting out of hand. The Doctor works out that an alien downed recognisance spaceship AI called the Malus is drawing psychic energy from the villagers. He also has to stop them using Tegan as the Queen of the May who will get burnt at the stake.

In many respects, this story takes elements from ‘Quatermass And The Pit’, although denied in the audio commentary, but with a different turn. When you have psychic energy and controlled people by a dead alien race, it’s hard not to make the comparison. There’s quite a lot packed into these two episodes.

Speaking of the commentary, conducted by Toby Hadoke with director Michael Morris and script editor Eric Saward, the story had been originally written as a 4-parter which he cut down. Morris points out that rehearsals always gave time to get all that was wrong out the way before going in front of the camera. It was also the last story that Barry Newbery designed for ‘Doctor Who’ before retiring.

Considering the few episodes, there is an abundance of extras. The 20 minute ‘Return To Little Hodcombe’ wanders around the three villages used with director Michael Morris, actors Keith Jayne and Janet Fielding and a couple villagers. There’s also a glimpse of the glass technique for switching churches although I do think they used a finer brush than shown in the painting. ‘Making The Malus’ has its two designers looking over the prop face and finding it still worked. ‘Now And Then’ looks over the villages. ‘From The Cutting Room Floor’ looks at deleted and cut scenes, most significant is a scene with Tegan and Kamelion. The cut scene of the horse walking through the church lynchgate, taking it apart is shown a lot. The 7 minute ‘Photo Gallery’ shows a lot of behind the scenes info.

I suspect if you’re only now considering buying it, you’ll probably end up doing what I did and watch the Hartnell story with other Hartnell stories and likewise with the Davison story. The jump between them is more significant from switching from black and white to colour than anything to do with the stories.

GF Willmetts

February 2018

(region 2 DVD: BBC. Price: about £12.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ASIN: BBCDVD3380)

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Category: Doctor Who, TV

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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