Doctor Who: The Legacy Collection REVIEW

Doctor Who: The Legacy Collection DVD review: An unfinished curio and an anniversary celebration

Release Date: 7 January 2013
1979/1994 | U | 190 minutes | £20.42
Distributor: BBC Worldwide
Directors: Pennant Roberts, Kevin Davies
Cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Nicholas Courtney, Jon Pertwee and ooh, lots of interviewees

As the Doctor Who DVD range prepares to face its final curtain (with only a couple of complete stories left awaiting release) this box set hoovers up all manner of spare odds and ends.

First up is a two-disc set of “Shada”, essentially Who’s Unfinished Symphony. This Tom Baker six-parter achieved quasi-legendary status in fandom after an electricians’ strike meant it was never completed. That fact that it was written by then-script editor Douglas Adams lent it further mystique.

Sadly, this is one of those Whos where the behind-the-scenes story is arguably more interesting than the fiction itself. Up against a nightmare deadline, Adams knocked his script off in the space of a few days, and although it contains glimmers of his genius, it’s no match for his previous efforts.

Set mostly around the same Cambridge college Adams himself attended, its main strengths are strong casting and attractive location work. Denis Carey is adorable as absent-minded don Professor Chronotis, a retired Time Lord living on Earth, and sequences of the Doctor punting down the Cam or frantically cycling along the streets of Cambridge. There’s a cosy domesticity to many scenes too, with Time Lady companion Romana toasting crumpets by the Professor’s fire, or popping into the TARDIS to fetch some milk.

The weak link? The plot, concerning a mysterious Gallifreyan book holding the key to a forgotten Time Lord secret, which an alien called Skagra is seeking to acquire. There’s not much to it, other than an awful lot of dashing to and fro, and there are numerous plotholes (many of which were fixed in Gareth Roberts’s recent novelisation for BBC Books). It’s the sort of story which is moved along by exposition rather than discovery, and it all fizzles out with a rather feeble mental battle. It also doesn’t help that Skagra’s one of those villains with no backstory or believable motivation; still, he does look rather magnificent as he imperiously strides about in a silver cape and wide-brimmed hat, looking for all the world like a disco Zorro.

A 1992 VHS release of “Shada” pieced together the existing footage, adding brief links by Tom Baker (accompanied by the occasional still), some basic effects, and a typically ghastly score by Sylvester McCoy-era Casio-torturer Keff McCulloch, whose idea of subtle enhancement is underscoring an Adamsian witticism with a CRASHING CHORD. Picture quality aside, this DVD version doesn’t make any upgrades to that version.

As the story progresses, the ratio of narration to live action increases – episode five, for example is only 14 minutes long. It makes for a viewing experience that’s as frustrating as it is fascinating.

The third disc in the box set contains More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS, an extended version of a documentary first aired on the Beeb to celebrate the show’s 30th anniversary. It’s very much a labour of love. An impressive array of talking heads includes celebrity curveballs like Toyah Willcox perving over the Cybermen. Meanwhile, dramatic sequences riff on classic Who moments, with Sixth Doctor Colin Baker menaced by Cybermen in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, First Doctor companion Carole Ann Ford pursued by flying Daleks on Westminster Bridge and so on.

There are also all sorts of fan-pleasing treats: a home movie of William Hartnell making a personal appearance at an air show, studio-floor footage, Who-themed adverts and clips from shows like Blue Peter and Crackerjack. Back in 1994 these were all gold dust, but in the years since, YouTube and DVD extras have rather devalued the currency.

So much has been crammed in that at times the doc does become a little shapeless, but it covers all the bases very efficiently, and doesn’t skirt over issues like sexism and violence. And certain sequences so successfully evoke how Who can release your inner eight-year-old that they may cause a lump in the throat. Let’s hope that whatever the Beeb are planning for this November is put together with this much care and affection.

Click on “Next” to read our verdict on the extras.