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DVD Review: Doctor Who: Dalek War

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Doctor Who is a show about the travels of a mysterious time traveler known only as the Doctor. Accompanied by various companions, he moves about in his space/time vehicle (known as the TARDIS) exploring, righting wrongs, fighting evil, and getting in and out of trouble in his own unique way. The Doctor has the ability to regenerate when critically injured. He’s done this ten times since his first appearance, making Doctor Who the longest running sci-fi series of all time.

Doctor Who originally aired on the BBC from 1963 through 1989 before being put on hiatus until the production of a 1996 TV movie, which failed to garner the ratings network executives were looking for. The show faded into the background until 2005 when it returned to the BBC with great success. In the coming weeks we’ll see the first adventures of the eleventh Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith.

The "classic" Doctor Who was a weekly series which ran for 25 minutes and each episode of a story ended on a cliff-hanger. The stories were typically four or six parts, but there were occasionally shorter or longer story arcs. The BBC hasn’t released the classic Who in seasons, like they have the new series. For whatever reason (most likely monetary), they release individual stories, interconnecting stories, or stories with a similar theme. This time out we have two linking stories from Doctor Who’s tenth season, which feature Jon Pertwee, who was in his fourth season portraying the third Doctor in the Doctor Who: Dalek War box set.

Kicking things off in “Frontier in Space” we find The Doctor and his companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) getting caught up in a war between Earth and what seems to be the Draconians. Each side is accusing the other of raiding their cargo ships, but once the Doctor starts investigating he discovers the Draconians aren’t Draconians but Ogrons, dim-witted though fierce mercenaries. The Doctor quickly figures out that someone is using a sonic device that’s targeting the fear centers of brains to make the spaceship crews see what they fear most. These actions almost brought the two races to war, thanks to the manipulations of one of the Doctor’s greatest foes – The Master!

Turns out The Master (Roger Delgado) isn’t alone either, he’s in the employ of another of The Doctor’s greatest foes – The Daleks! Things were a bit slow in this story until The Master showed up and then things really picked up once the Daleks arrived.

The events of this story lead directly into “Planet of The Daleks.” Picking up from the end of the previous story, The Doctor alerts the Time Lords of the events that just transpired through a telepathic transmission. Due to the Time Lords' “guidance,” The Doctor and Jo arrive on the planet Spiridon, which they discover is the Daleks base of operations where the Daleks are assembling their greatest army!

Jo runs into The Daleks' ancient enemies, The Thals, who have crash landed on the planet while trying to discover what The Daleks are up to. One of the reasons the Daleks chose Spiridon is because the natives evolved to be invisible as a defense against various predators and now the Daleks are trying to figure out that trick.

The Doctor, Jo, and Thal soldiers discover there are tens of thousands of Daleks in suspended animation deep under the surface of the planet.  Once the scientists have discovered the secret of invisibility, they plan to give that power to the waiting army, which would make the Daleks almost unstoppable. So now The Doctor must find a way to stop this from occurring in his own unique way.
This is the better of the two stories in this set, full of action, suspense, and great cliffhangers.  It should be noted that the third episode of “Planet of the Daleks” is presented for the first time in color on home video due to the hard work of the Doctor Who Restoration Team. The restoration is so good you can’t tell that it was restored from a black and white film recording (the episode originally aired in color but the original videotape wasn't saved) that’s been recently colorized.

The classic Doctor Who DVDs are usually full of great extras, and Doctor Who: Dalek War is no exception. Each of the episodes has a commentary. “Frontier in Space” includes a commentary with Katy Manning, script editor Terrance Dicks, and producer Barry Letts, while “Planet of The Daleks” adds actors Prentice Hancock and Tim Preece into the mix. Each of the commentaries are fun and interesting; both stories contain the participants talking about what it was like to work on the series and working with Pertwee, who sadly passed away in 1996 so there will never be a DVD commentary with him. “Frontier” gets melancholic for a bit when talking about Delgado who was filming in Turkey and his driver took a turn too quickly which killed both. There were plans to bring The Master back the following year in a story that would have been the end of the character to coincide with Perwee’s final season.

“The Perfect Scenario” is an extra split over the two stories which have a teacher and student in a sci-fi future having a discussion about how this story reflects the current events of the year it was made. The extra includes interviews with script editor Terrance Dicks, producer Barry Letts, and several actors including Katy Manning and Janet Fielding.

There’s a making-of featurette for each story where the cast and crew talk about the story and its creation.

The “info-text option” allow viewers to read about changes in the script, the shooting schedule and trivia in the “pop-up video” format.

“Dalek War” also includes “Roger Delgado: The Master.” This retrospective takes a look at the life and death of Roger Delgado, the first actor to play the Master, who was killed shortly after making this story. It includes interviews with producer Barry Letts, script editor Terrance Dicks, director Christopher Barry, acting colleagues Katy Manning, Harry Towb, his widow Kismet Marlowe, and more. This was a nice tribute to a great actor whose life ended tragically.

There’s also “Stripped for Action: The Third Doctor” which is an ongoing feature that takes a look at the Doctor’s adventures in comic strips. This one focuses on Jon Pertwee’s adventures. It has interviews with comic writers and Who experts Gary Russell, John Ainsworth, Alan Barnes, Paul Scoones, and Jeremy Bentham.

“Planet of The Daleks” extras also include “Multi-Colourisation” which is a short featurette about how the Doctor Who Restoration Team restored the third episode of this story to color, as only a black and white version has existed for decades, while the other five parts were still in color.

“Stripped for Action: The Daleks”  focuses on the Daleks stories in the comics, and has interviews with comic writers and Who experts Alan Barnes, Paul Scoones, Jeremy Bentham, and Clayton Hickman, and with Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson.

“Blue Peter” is a compilation of segments from Blue Peter, the children’s magazine program which shows an alert to its viewers about a pair of Daleks that had been stolen from the BBC and how they were returned thanks to the Blue Peter viewers.

Doctor Who: Dalek War is a great set containing some of The Doctor’s greatest adversaries with wonderful performances by Pertwee and Delgago. This set brings us closer to getting all available Classic Doctor Who stories on DVD and into your collection.

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