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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
olony in Space” is really only noteworthy for one thing: It marked the first time the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) took a trip to another planet in the TARDIS since his exile to Earth at the start of his third life. He’s allowed to do this only at the behest of the Time Lords, who realize the Master (Roger Delgado) has stolen information on something called a Doomsday Weapon, and they quite rightly fear what he plans to do with it. So the Doctor and Jo (Katy Manning) are whisked away to the year 2472 on the dirty, muddy world of Uxarieus, the planet of the weapon’s origin. There they encounter two opposing factions of humans: a group of colonists trying to begin a new life (Earth has apparently all but gone to hell at this point) and a group of miners working for a corporation called IMC. IMC has discovered that the planet is rich in minerals and they’re using some very unscrupulous methods to get the colonists to leave. There are also the planet’s indigenous life forms, which appear to be little more than mute and tribal, yet deep in their underground city lies the secrets of the Doomsday Weapon.
Penned by Malcolm Hulke, who was one of the more socially conscious writers the series ever had, “Colony in Space” overflows with parable, and, surprisingly, much of it remains as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. Hell, the stuff about corporations bullying the little guy couldn’t possibly be any timelier. This is an unusually serious story, and understandably so given the ideas Hulke was attempting to get across. Pertwee turns in a good performance, but he may actually be bested by Manning on this occasion, who drops the bubbly blonde routine and seems to be going for something more serious than she’d done previously. In particular, her reactions to traveling through time and space are very good, and she proves herself more than worthy as the show progresses.
Yet despite the good there is to say about “Colony,” there are just as many negatives. The extensive supporting cast is written only a couple steps above cardboard. The aliens fare even worse – cardboard would be an improvement on their total lack of character. They’re also very silly looking. The old joke about British gravel pits is put to the serious test in this one. It could be the definitive “Who” gravel pit story (well, no, that would be “The Hand of Fear”), and boy is it unpleasant to look at. Mostly though, “Colony is Space” is only just sort of interesting. It’s difficult to completely hate, but impossible to totally praise. It may very well be the most average “Doctor Who” story ever made.
A tale that’s anything but average is “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” which recently got a spiffy new special edition double-dip. “Talons” is top tier; one of the very best stories ever written, classic series or new. Writer/script editor Robert Holmes, producer Philip Hinchcliffe and lead actor Tom Baker pull out all the stops for what would be the final story of Hinchcliffe’s grand tenure. No “Doctor Who” viewer should call themselves a fan without at least having seen it. Set in Victorian London, “Talons” sees the Doctor and Leela (Louise Jameson) battling the masked criminal from the 51st century posing as a Chinese god. Goodness, what more do you need to know?
I’m going to keep this simple, since this serial’s been on DVD before. Here are some things that are excellent about “Talons”: The dark, villainous night; I don’t think there’s a moment of daylight in the entire six episodes. Baker’s deerstalker and cloak is inspired, and a perfect fit for a tale out of which Conan-Doyle seeps from every pore. Louise Jameson gives her best performance as Leela, hands down, owing much to Eliza Doolittle. The dialogue is rich and sweet, like pies at Christmas, only better. Mr. Sin (Deep Roy), a miniature cyborg with the cerebral cortex of a pig posing as a ventriloquist dummy is a devious creation and one of the best henchman, ever, in anything. Li H’sen Chang (John Bennett), the Chinese magician who’ll do anything for his master Bennett gives a wonderfully sinister, and then later, moving, performance. David Maloney was always a great “Who” director, but this might just be his masterpiece. Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) – you’ll know what I mean when you watch it. And if you already have? Then you agree with me. The theatre! The lovely, lovely theatre! A story that last six episodes without ever missing a beat, or playing a false note; this is exceptional sci-fi adventure storytelling, and I’ll put it up against just about any drama you can show me today. (According to Deep Roy, Johnny Depp is a huge fan of “Talons,” for whatever that may be worth.)
Here are the bad things about “Talons”: One giant, fluffy rat. And that’s it.
You do the math.
Special Features: “Colony in Space” is one of those “light” releases, but it is a six-parter on a single disc, so take that it into account. It has a commentary featuring Katy Manning, actors Bernard Kay and Morris Perry, director Michael Briant, Terrance Dicks and Graeme Harper with Toby Hadoke moderating. “IMC Needs You!” is your standard making-of with a very funny intro. “From the Cutting Room Floor” is some extra film location footage. There’s also a photo gallery, PDF Radio Times materials, production notes, and a trailer for “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” and “The Android Invasion,” which will both be out in January.
“Talons” is a boffo, three-disc affair. It’s almost ludicrous. Is it worth the rebuying? Depends entirely on how big a fan you are of the story, or maybe how anal you are. I always felt the original release looked slightly faded in spots, but not so much with this one, which is pretty gorgeous. Its commentary (with Jameson, Bennett, Hinchcliffe, Benjamin and Maloney) has been ported over from the previous disc. Disc Two is where all the new stuff can be found. “The Last Hurrah” is a long overdue making-of. In “Moving On,” Hinchcliffe discusses what his next season would’ve been like had he been allowed to stay on the show. “The Foe from the Future” details Robert Banks Stewart’s original idea that would’ve been made instead of “Talons” had he not got a more pressing job offer. “Now & Then” is the usual location featurette. “Look East” is a vintage interview with Baker from the set of “Talons,” which is followed by three more featurettes detailing all manner of minutiae. There’s also a photo gallery, PDF Radio Times materials, production notes, as well as a third disc that ports over all the stuff that was on Disc Two of the original DVD release (minus the Howard Da Silva intros).