Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
'Doctor Who'
comes to DVD
just in time

September 27, 2001
By Franklin Harris

About every other day, there is some rumor of a "Doctor Who" revival. And about every other day, someone debunks yesterday's rumor. But while longsuffering fans of the British sci-fi series wait, we at least have the first batch of "Doctor Who" DVDs to savor.

The first three "Doctor Who" DVDs are jam-packed with special features. Most movie DVDs don't come this loaded, and TV series DVDs almost never do. These are must buys for all Whovians.

First up is "Spearhead from Space" (1970), the first "Doctor Who" adventure starring Jon Pertwee, the third actor to take on the role.

For the uninitiated, "Doctor Who" follows the exploits of an extraterrestrial time traveler known only as The Doctor. The Doctor is a renegade member of a powerful race called the Time Lords.

Like all his fellow Time Lords, The Doctor possesses an incredibly long lifespan. By the time the last "Doctor Who" story aired, The Doctor was pushing 1,000 years old.

But The Doctor's longevity comes with a catch. Whenever his body wears out, due either to age or injury, he regenerates. He gets a new body and a new personality, while keeping his memories and his sense of justice.

Regeneration proved an invaluable concept throughout the show's lengthy run, from 1963 to 1989.

In all, seven actors portrayed The Doctor during those 26 years: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.

Later, Paul McGann played The Doctor in a 1996 TV movie that failed to revive the series.

In "Spearhead," The Doctor finds himself exiled to Earth. As punishment for his constant "meddling" throughout time and space, the Time Lords have rendered The Doctor's time capsule, the TARDIS, inoperable and forced The Doctor to regenerate. His third persona is a dapper man of action, the total opposite of his former, clownish self.

But even if The Doctor cannot find trouble, it soon finds him.

A seemingly ordinary meteor shower turns into an alien invasion, and soon the English countryside is crawling with extraterrestrials.

With the help of a top-secret military group called UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) and scientist Liz Shaw (Caroline John), The Doctor is quickly back to his world-saving ways.

The DVD's bonus features include an optional audio commentary by John and Nicholas Courtney (UNIT commander Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), TV commercials, a photo gallery, a UNIT "recruitment film" and optional subtitles containing production information.

The second DVD is "The Robots of Death" a 1977 adventure starring Tom Baker.

The TARDIS materializes aboard a mining trawler on a desert planet, and The Doctor and his travelling companion, Leela (Louise Jameson), immediately find themselves blamed for a rash for murders.

To clear his name, The Doctor races to discover the real killer, who may not even be human.

"The Robots of Death" DVD is another gem, featuring commentary by producer Philip Hinchcliffe and screenwriter Chris Boucher, along with other extras.

Last is 1983's "The Five Doctors: Special Edition," the show's 20th anniversary story.

The fifth Doctor (Davison) must join with his previous incarnations — all of whom have been snatched from their proper places in time — to face an enemy too powerful for any single Doctor.

Richard Hurndall takes on the late Hartnell's role as the first Doctor in an adventure that sees the return of a number of The Doctor's old friends — and enemies.

Davison and writer Terrence Dicks provide an exceptionally informative and entertaining commentary track.

Also, this "special edition" version includes footage not in the broadcast version as well as enhanced special effects.

Of course, let's be honest. This is "Doctor Who" we're talking about. Even "enhanced" effects are still pretty silly looking. But "Doctor Who" fans have never let a few rubber monsters and tottering sets impede their enjoyment of what remains the best-written sci-fi series ever produced.

Each DVD retails for about $25.

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