|Doctor Who: New Beginnings (2007)
Starring: Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Anthony Ainley, Geoffrey Beevers, Janet Fielding
After awarding five stars to each of the two volumes of the most recent “Doctor Who” series, it seemed only reasonable to try and seek out the next release from the long-running BBC series’ archival DVD reissues. After trying and failing to secure a copy on several occasions, we finally succeeded with “New Beginnings,” a 3-disc set which offers the final adventures of Tom Baker as The Doctor, as well as Peter Davison’s transition into the character.
Now, be forewarned: if your only experience with “Doctor Who” has been the new version, which airs on the Sci-Fi Network, then you may well find yourself fighting the urge to laugh out loud at the obvious lack of budget on these early shows. The price of special effects in 1981 weren’t such that the BBC could afford to lavish the series with many of them, and, boy, does it show. Also evident is that much of the episodes were filmed on BBC soundstages, on video rather than film. Not that we’re suggesting there’s nothing to enjoy here. On the contrary, there’s a reason Tom Baker’s portrayal of the character has remained the definitive Doctor Who for so long.
“The Keeper of Traken” begins with The Doctor still reeling from the departure of his longtime companion (and fellow Time Lord), Romana; still by his side, however, is the young Alzarian lad named Adric (Matthew Waterhouse). They land on the planet Traken, notorious for its long history of tranquility and harmony…so, naturally, everything goes to Hell in a hand basket within hours of their arrival. It turns out that there’s an evil presence on the planet – the Melkur – that’s been struggling to gain a foothold, and it finally succeeds at approximately the same time The Doctor and Adric arrive in the TARDIS. The Melkur, as it turns out, is really The Doctor’s longtime nemesis, The Master, and the pair engage in an epic battle (well, as epic as could be managed on the available budget) which seems to result in The Master’s death. It doesn’t, of course, and we find out as much in the next chapter, “Logopolis.” This involves a trip to Earth before The Doctor, Adric, and their new pals, Nyssa (who joined the crew on Traken) and Tegan (a stewardess from Brisbane, Australia), head over to the planet Logopolis to get the TARDIS worked on.
It’s at the end of “Logopolis” where The Doctor saves the day, beats The Master again, but loses his life in the process, though, as any longtime “Doctor Who” fan knows, death is just another step in the existence of a Time Lord. Thanks to the beauty of regeneration, Tom Baker instantly becomes Peter Davison. Except that, due to circumstances beyond his control, the regeneration doesn’t take quite as well as it’s supposed to, necessitating a trip to yet another planet. We never actually find out its name. All we know is that the city of Castrovalva supposedly possesses the secret of resolving the regeneration problems, or so the TARDIS says. Actually, the TARDIS has been reprogrammed by – you guessed it – The Master, and it’s all a big ruse, one that is eventually figured out just in time. By the end of “Castrovalva,” Davidson is comfortable in his shoes as The Doctor and ready for more adventures.
We don’t really get much of a feel for Davidson as the Doctor. He doesn’t really present much of a persona in these four episodes, given that he’s struggling to figure out who he is throughout most of his screen time. Baker, however, is wonderfully eccentric from the moment he opens his mouth, providing witty non sequiturs and random comments that score laughs. Even though these eight episodes may be your first experience with him in the role of The Doctor, you’ll nonetheless feel a pang of depression when he leaves the role.
While the premise remains the same, it’s clear that today’s “Doctor Who” is an entity that survives on its perfect blend of special effects, scripts and acting. In these older episodes, Baker seems to be the only one who’s in on the joke -- everyone else treats the material like it’s Shakespeare. While that might work on a couple of these planets, it doesn’t work when the dialogue’s coming out of the mouth of a stewardess from Brisbane. Still, even though it looks low budget, the sci-fi concepts are consistently high-brow and, with an omnipresent suspension of disbelief and a willingness to let yourself be drawn into the experience, you’ll still enjoy the old fun of “New Beginnings.”
Special Features: Given how jam-packed the most recent “Doctor Who” series’ DVDs had been, we were hopeful that the BBC had been as consistent with the older episodes of the show; and we were in no way disappointed. We get commentary tracks including contributions from Baker, Davison, Ainley, Sutton, Fielding and Waterhouse, along with a few writers and directors. It’s nice to hear them unabashedly criticizing their various issues with the episodes, a pleasant change from the constant fawning that so often hinders commentaries. Baker, by the way, provides one of the greatest lines in any commentary, ever: “I’ve never allowed not understanding things to get in the way of my convictions that I know something about it.” In addition to a pair of new documentaries – “Being Nice To Each Other,” about the making of “The Keeper of Traken,” and “A New Body At Last,” which explores the “regeneration” aspect of The Doctor – there are countless archival interviews and news footage from the BBC. Yes, “news footage.” “Doctor Who” is practically a national religion in the UK, you know.