- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
efore moving on to reviewing these serials, it’s worth taking some time out to talk about where the classic “Doctor Who” video range is at the moment here in the States. For the first time in all the years these DVDs have been coming out, we’re finally getting releases very close to day-and-date with the U.K. “Meglos” is the first such release in the U.S.; the release date for it is January 11th here, while in the U.K. it came out on the 10th. Why it’s taken ten years for this to happen is beyond me, but it’s a welcome development nevertheless, especially for fans that enjoy discussing these discs on internet message boards and the like, because they don’t have to feel out of the loop. It was always irritating to read about a particularly cool U.K. release, knowing that it was going to take six months or more for it to come out stateside. Not so anymore, although the plan hasn’t been perfected yet, as the upcoming releases of “Kinda” and “Snakedance” will have a one-month lag between the U.K. and U.S. release dates (March across the pond; April here).
What this also means is that there will be no shortage of classic “Who” discs this year, because in addition to the newest releases, here in the States we’re still behind on some half dozen or more discs, so we need to catch up on those as well (this month’s catch up title is “The Dominators”). For at least the first half of the year, every month we should be getting no less than two releases. So if you’re someone who collects all of these, you’d better start pinching some pennies. On the other hand, if you’re someone who just wants to pick up the best titles, I’ll be here, throwing out lofty opinions to aid you in your purchasing decisions. Another nice new addition to the range is the recently unveiled BBC Classic Doctor Who Channel on YouTube, which will be updated periodically with clips from past, current and upcoming DVDs. Be sure to add it your Favorites.
So while this is all great news, it’s something of a shame a better title couldn’t have been used to kick this whole thing off. “Meglos” is from Tom Baker’s last season as the Doctor, and its release completes Season 18 as well. Season 18 –John Nathan-Turner’s first as producer and Christopher H. Bidmead’s first and only as script editor – was designed to have a harder sci-fi edge to it, as well as pulling back on much of the comedy that had been prevalent in previous seasons. Having written before about the beauty of Season 18, I won’t go down that road again, except to say that “Meglos” isn’t up to the same level of quality as the other six stories from that block. In fact, in many ways the script feels like a leftover from Season 17, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except that the entire feel and approach of Season 18 was fresh and new. As a result, “Meglos” is a story pulling in opposite directions.
The action begins on the planet Tigella, where its two races, the scientific Savants and the religious Deons, are locked in a power struggle over the Dodecahedron, a mysterious artifact which gives the planet its power. Into this fray comes Meglos, the last survivor of the nearby planet Zolfa Thura. He wants the Dodecahedron for his own nefarious purposes, but most importantly, Meglos looks like a cactus, and I do mean exactly like a potted plant. Good thing Meglos has the power to take over the bodies of other life forms, or the action in this story wouldn’t get very far. Eventually, he’s able to manipulate his form so that he looks like the Doctor, and at that point “Meglos” turns into a doppelganger tale, replete with Tom Baker playing both the hero and the villain, occasionally with green skin and little prickly spines sticking out from his face and hands.
The Meglos Doctor became a huge image once upon a time, and at one point, if I remember correctly, Baker was the only actor to have two separate likenesses at the London wax museum, Madame Tussauds – one as the Doctor, and one as Meglos. But a story cannot be built on an image alone, and “Meglos” doesn’t so much fail as it just fails to come together completely. Outside of the regulars, much of the acting (including the great Jacqueline “Barbara Wright” Hill) is hammy and over the top and the story doesn’t really start to gel until well over halfway through. There are also some truly dire costuming and hair and makeup decisions. All that said, it’s got an excellent, moody score, some memorable set pieces (especially the screens of Zolfa Thura in the final episode), and Baker playing the bad guy is well worth seeing. If you’re into Season 18 like I am, you’ll probably want to own this for completion sake, but if not, then you can probably pass on “Meglos” without too much worry.
This is clearly the month of the “not bad, but not great” “Who” stories. Normally, I jump up and down over a Patrick Troughton release, but boy is that tough to do with “The Dominators.” Of the few Troughton stories that still exist, “The Dominators” is generally thought of as the least engaging, and this DVD unfortunately seems to prove that line of thinking. What “The Dominators” does have is a great premise. The planet Dulkis is a world of complete and total peace. Pacifism is ritual to these people. So naturally, when some hulking, brutish aliens called the Dominators show up with their robot slaves the Quarks, they take one look around and see some easy pickings. Faster than you can say “planetary enslavement,” the Dominators exert their will over the Dulcians, who can do nothing except sit back and take it. Of course, the Doctor shows up along with Jamie (Frazer Hines) and Zoe (Wendy Padbury), and the trio must do their save-the-planet thing in order to make things right.
The script is the sort of thing that could only have been created smack in the middle of the 60s, and when you take into account the social revolutions of the time, it makes perfect sense. Indeed, one of the writers even says something along the lines of, “I was watching a hippie protest and wondered what these people would do if somebody stuck a gun in their face.” Well, words to that effect anyway. The problem is that as good as the premise is, there just isn’t nearly enough story to carry four episodes, let alone five, which is how many episodes make up this tale (astonishingly, it was originally to be a six-parter!). There was apparently quite a bit of disharmony (how very un-Dulcian) behind the scenes of “The Dominators”, and writers Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, who’d previously introduced the Yeti to the series, even asked to have their names removed from it, and so it’s credited to the pseudonym Norman Ashby. On the plus side, Troughton is great as always, the Quarks are memorable as some of the oddest robots ever created for classic series, and the Dulcian girls wander around in some awfully skimpy outfits, which Wendy Padbury dons for the bulk of the story.
So there you have it: Two utterly mediocre “Doctor Who” stories for the month of January. Not to worry, though, as there’s some great, great stuff on the horizon. Next month’s release of the 1996 Paul McGann TV movie, for instance, is something U.S. fans have been dying to own for years.
Special Features: “Meglos” features a commentary track with Lalla Ward, Christopher Owen, co-writer John Flanagan and composers Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. “Meglos Men” is a behind-the-scenes, making-of doc in which some of the parties involved are able to air their grievances. “The Scene Sync Story” is a piece on some of the pioneering effects work used on the story. “Jacqueline Hill – A Life in Pictures” is wonderful reminiscence on the actress by some of the people who knew her best, including William Russell. “Entropy Explained” is fairly self-explanatory. There’s also an isolated score, photo gallery, production notes option, PDF materials, and a coming soon trailer for next month’s release of the Jon Pertwee story, “The Mutants.”
“The Dominators” features a commentary track with Hines, Padbury, and a couple of the guest actors from the story, as well as make-up designer Sylvia James. It’s also moderated by Toby Hadoke. “Recharge and Equalize” is a making-of doc in which, once again, many of the parties involved are able to air their grievances. “Tomorrow’s Times – The Second Doctor,” a look back at the Troughton era through letters and opinions from the Radio Times, is hosted by Caroline “Liz Shaw” John. There’s also a photo gallery, production notes option, PDF materials, and a coming soon trailer for “Revenge of the Cybermen” and “Silver Nemesis,” which both came out in November.