Saturday, March 30, 2013

50WHO: A Twisted Garden of Pertwee

This is the third part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

In 1985 my local PBS station KTCA debut the Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who. By this point I had been watching the series for a long time. I had seen ton of episodes that spanned between the Tom Baker and Peter Davison era. In fact, I was an expert. Of course the reality of the situation was that I had been watching the series for about a year, it just seemed like forever. I had seen a handful of Peter Davison stories and the Tom Baker era was being re-shown probably for the 50th time but it was new to me. Our PBS station and many around the country just got the Pertwee package of episodes that consisted of all of the episodes of his era minus 2 and this was heralded as essentially new Doctor Who on our screens. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that episodes of Jon Pertwee stories had been shown on American television.
After seeing stories from Tom Baker and Peter Davison, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from any Jon Pertwee story and I was in for a surprise. The first story shown was obviously Spearhead from Space and what took me immediately was the fact it was shot on film.  It makes everything look so different. I have never seen Doctor Who look this way before. The pacing of the story was different too. I won’t say I instantly loved it but it didn’t shy me away. Perhaps what I didn’t take to was how much older the Doctor was than what I had been watching. The only other time I had seen Pertwee would have been in The Five Doctors and that is really know way to form an opinion on a Doctor you haven’t seen before. When it first aired, KTCA said that Spearhead from Space had not been shown anywhere before, for once they were right. The last time the Pertwee episodes made an appearance on American television, Spearhead from Space was not included.

Back in the day KTCA showed these stories as movie versions opposed to episodic format. In fact, to celebrate the arrival of Pertwee on KTCA, they showed a marathon that evening of episodes. It started with Spearhead from Space, a truncated version of Robot, a truncated Logopolis, Castrovalva and The Caves of Androzani. To be honest, I am not 100% sure on the airing of Castrovalva. The Hartnell or Troughton stories would not even be available to us until the beginning of 1986 but at that point I was convinced that I would never see those stories anyway. The next week we moved on to the second Jon Pertwee story billed in our TV Guide as The Silurians. It was surprising to see the actual title on the story to be called Doctor Who and the Silurians but it was shocking to see that the story was in black & white.
Up to this point, all Doctor Who I had seen was in colour. There was a “super” over the screen which was put up by KTCA that basically said, “not our fault that we have to air this story in black & white!” and life continued onwards. As we would find out over the coming weeks, this wasn’t the only story to be in black & white when it should have been in colour. This rare affliction also contaminated The Ambassadors of Death, Terror of the Autons, The Mind of Evil, and The Dæmons. Look on your DVD shelf now. How many of those stories are in black & white now? Of those stories on the list above that are yet to be released, will that be in black & white? No. Now, a confession. I am a liar.

I love Doctor Who and the Silurians. I love the Silurians and the setting of a story taking place in a research facility located underground in caves. This is one of the Pertwee stories I watch whenever I want to watch a Pertwee story. In fact, I re-made a DVD of the story so all 7 episodes is on one disc. I love season 7! It is one of my top seasons. The lie though is that this article is not about Doctor Who and the Silurians. It is about the colour Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who!
As I mentioned above which is now lore is that Jon Pertwee episodes were the first episodes of Doctor Who to be exported to the United States in the early 1970s. This was part of the Time-Life package of 72 episodes of Doctor Who. This package ranged from Doctor Who and the Silurians to The Time Monster. There was no Spearhead from Space. It would have been real interesting to watch the series for the first time with Episode 1 of Doctor Who and the Silurians. Even with the Doctor in it, there is nothing that really gives a favour for what Doctor Who is about yet that is OK. Even though the stories I listed above were shown in 1985 in black & white, when they were shown for the first time in the US, they were in colour.

Right here on the page there should be a graphic I would have loved to include but I can’t. Many years ago back in the late 1980s I visited the house of a person named Wayne. He sold Doctor Who merchandise. One of the things he showed me was an original sales brochure for the original package of Jon Pertwee episodes from Time-Life. This dates back to the mid-1970s. The title said something like “Get the new Series Doctor Who available as 72 episodes.” This also included the picture of Jon Pertwee from the title sequence. I believe it was one page folded to be 2 pages of double sided print. Inside it gave descriptions for all the episodes available. Wayne wouldn’t sell it to me back then. Now that I had more of an income I wanted to give him a good price for this document of significance. He never sold it but now couldn’t find it. I really want that piece. Has anyone else seen it? Wayne told me he also had something similar from Lionheart to announce the Peter Davison package of episodes. I was hoping to get this to scan in and offer to Steve Roberts to put onto a Jon Pertwee DVD as an extra but it won’t happen. If I ever do get this piece, I promise to scan and add to an upcoming article. If you have scans of this, please contact me.
As I have mentioned before, and hopefully not enough times to bore anyone, I remember walking into the video room at Time Festival in 1988 and seeing some of The Dæmons in colour. I probably looked like a cartoon character with my eyes getting super big and then wiping my eyes with hands in disbelief to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Please remember, I was a kid who had no idea what existed in the archives. This was all new to me and I had previously seen The Dæmons from KTCA in black & white. This copy was Eric Hoffman’s perfect off-air copy which was the envy of fandom.  He was mentioned to me he was pretty sure he also had The Mind of Evil but had lost it over the years. It doesn’t matter anymore. It was really exciting but that was just the tip of the iceberg. As I have mentioned in this article, after that weekend I made it my job to track down episodes that weren’t shown on PBS. When I started to meet new friends they would open my eyes to what was available.

I remember my new friend Peter stopping by my house. I mentioned to him how I was really interested in getting a copy of the colour Dæmons. Peter had some tapes with him and he asked if I would also like colour copies of some other stuff. He showed me some of Doctor Who and the Silurians and also The Ambassadors of Death. Once again, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! If this guy Peter had them then surely a TV station would have these too. What was KTCA playing at? Then I learned the truth. The truth was that the recordings that I was watching in 1989 were made in the late 1970s. Not only that but these recordings were made mostly by chance. Video recorders were very expensive and so were the tapes. Something like Doctor Who and the Silurians was 7 episodes even if the colour version we had (recorded from Iowa) was movie version. These were not taped by one person nor from the same city. The recordings were made all over the place. My copy of Doctor Who and the Silurians in colour came from Iowa, The Ambassadors of Death came from WNED Buffalo, Terror of the Autons from WTTW in Chicago and The Dæmons came from LA. Even the fact that there was a 6 minute segment from the final episode of The Mind of Evil was nothing short of miraculous.
I think my favourite from the bunch once I saw it in colour was Terror of the Autons. Just the word Auton is a cool 70s type word. I love the colour palette of this story. The way the shots are framed and the colour palette really make me feel like I am looking at a video comic book. I love it. This was one of the stories I would just try to keep getting in better quality. As many of my fellow tape trader friends could verify, just because we had some stories in colour, it doesn’t mean that the colour was always good. These copies just came from a handful of sources so these were often copied so many times that it was mostly black & white with colour bursts. Plus the sound was very, very hissy. The more you would trade, the better quality recordings became available to you. Then there were the episodes that people thought were in colour but were wrong.

If you were into tape trading into the 1980s, you may have been told of the colour version of Part One of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs (The Invasion). I knew 2 people in MN who swore up and down that they had the colour episode. Their story went that these colour copies had been copied so many times that they had virtually lost their colour. What, we are told, was the true hint that this was an actual colour episode is because of burst of colour and a greenish blue tint to the overall picture. This was not the case. The reason why there is a greenish tint to the episode is that the analog signal degenerates with each copy that is made and creates strange colour anomalies even to black & white material.  There was no colour episode of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One in fan trading circles. It’s just a mistake people took for thinking that it existed and why not? The fact that so many other episodes that the BBC only held at the time in black & white surfaced in colour off-air domestic recordings makes it seem reasonable but there is a reason for this. These were all US recordings from the Time-Life syndication package recorded in the late 1970s. The Invasion of the Dinosaurs was not part of that syndication package. It was only shown in the UK in 1974 and the colour Part One was never syndicated anywhere. When it eventually came to the story becoming available to the US via Lionheart in 1985, they omitted Part One all together because we were apparently all too stupid to understand the story changing from black & white to colour. The black & white episode was finally made available to PBS stations via TJ Lubinsky in 1996 or 1997 for pledge drive purposes. This also included the first time Planet of the Daleks Episode Three was shown in black & white in the US too. The last time I spoke to one of these people about their “colour” episode of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One, they still firmly believed that what they had was a descendent from the colour tape. That’s impossible but they can believe in what they want and I will believe in factual evidence.
Of course it is all academic now anyway. If you own The Invasion of the Dinosaurs on DVD, there is a colour version of Part One on that disc. It may not be perfect but you better believe when I watch the story that is the version of Part One I watch. In fact, if you were a fan in the 1980s and knew the archival status of the Pertwee years, would you have ever thought that one day you would own all of these episodes in colour? In June of 2013, you will have the ability to buy one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories in colour, The Mind of Evil. With the release of this story, it concludes a journey that began in the early 1990s with the unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team syncing the colour signal from the NTSC off-air recordings to the black & white film print to create a colour version of a story. It’s just that now, the re-colourization of this story is more complex on many levels. I won’t go into great detail here as I will be writing a review of it in the coming months but this is the story that so many of us never thought we would see in colour because there were so many hurtles to jump through for that to happen. This story only had 6 minutes of off-air colour recording. Now, because of Chroma Dot Recovery and manually re-colouring Episode One this story will complete the Jon Pertwee era in colour. In a matter of a few weeks you will be able to watch Spearhead from Space onwards of the Doctor Who catalog in colour. I still can’t believe it! I will never take that for granted.

As for The Mind of Evil itself, I read on some forums people remarking that this release in colour will allow people to re-evaluate the story more almost intimating that people will now watch it because it’s in colour and re-appraise its place in history. I’ll be honest, I think of The Mind of Evil as the true “UNIT Family” story, over The Dæmons. There is so much more happening in the story for all the regulars and each one have more “character moments” than they do in The Dæmons. I hope this DVD release does open people’s eyes to how brilliant this story is to watch. Terror of the Autons and The Mind of Evil back to back is an amazing set of episodes. The work and diligence that the Unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team have brought to Doctor Who is amazing, the work and genius of technology to restore the Pertwee episodes to colour is simply stunning.
What about the man himself? What about Jon Pertwee? As I do these articles, I forget that I have met many of these stars themselves. I first saw Jon Pertwee at Time Festival in St. Paul in 1988. I was 14 and I remember him coming out on stage for opening ceremonies. All the guests came out of a Police Box (very original), and when Pertwee came out it was noteworthy. First of all, he was wearing his costume and he grabs the microphone and confidently says, “I am the Doctor!” Cue enormous applause. Well, from everyone except me. I never fall for that crap. Yes, it is awesome to see him there but you are not the Doctor, you are an actor. Even at 14 I had no humour.

The site of Time Festival 1988. It was a Radisson when the convention was held there.
Also in attendance at the convention were Frazer Hines and Janet Fielding. I was disappointed to see that they all smoked… chimneys. Unfortunately this was the beginning of a long and often amusing journey of seeing actors from my favourite series acting in a scandalous manner. Not that smoking is scandalous but it would not be the last time I would see an actor from Doctor Who, scratch my head and say really? I had to have seen Pertwee at least 10 times through the years. You could get good Jon or bad Jon at a convention. I don’t think that was because he was temperamental or rude. I think as someone into his 70s travelling to the US often, it wears on a person. I don’t think he suffered fools gladly which I appreciate. I remember seeing him in Indianapolis in 1991 bitching out the front desk of the hotel because of the noise in the bedroom, promptly walking out getting into a red convertible and driven to the site of the convention with his white hair dancing in the breeze of the warm spring day. At that same convention, there was this guy who was always dressed as the Master with a southern accent who kept trailing Pertwee from table to table at an event. It was one of those meet and greets sort of things we were invited to and we watched as Pertwee worked the room with this Master fellow following him around. My friends and I expected for him to blow a gasket (see future article on Sylvester McCoy to see a Doctor Who star lose his shit), it shockingly didn’t happen.
At that time, we were close friends to John Levene and even he commented it to us when he came to our table. Oh yes, I was good friends with Levene for a while but we grew apart. Levene stayed at my parent’s house for a week in September of 1990. One day I will write about it and it will make the Claws of Axos special feature from Toby Hadoke (Living with Levene) look like a man visiting another man who has no personality. My story is awesome. Hell, while I am even at it, maybe I will even write an article about how I stayed at Richard Franklin’s home in Yorkshire. Maybe I will include screen grabs. I’m either an open book or a sadist.

Very little of this article contains any reference to Doctor Who and the Silurians. The title of this article comes from the name of a panel I attended at Time Festival in 1988. I believe the title actually comes from Eric Hoffman.
Next 50WHO article: I think Colin Baker is a very underrated Doctor and I actually think Season 22 is one of my favourite seasons. Next month we focus on Doctor #6 and I look at one of my favourite stories of his era Attack of the Cybermen. Also, I realize that I must be colour blind……

Next week: Much is happening and I am very behind on writing reviews but once I catch up on reviews, a priority for me is to pay my respects to Frank Thornton and I see this in two articles. One article is an Are You Being Served? article while the other is based on the many appearances he made in television over the years and I look at some of the rarer aspects of those such as his appearance on Harry Worth in the 1960s.
Have a great week!

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

DVD Review: Foyles War: The Home Front Files Sets 1-6

Foyle’s War: The Home Front Files 22-Discs (37 hours)
Released by Acorn Media on March 12, 2013. SRP $149.99(DVD)
16:9 Stereo. CC: Sets 1-5; SDH Subtitles Set 6

I love programs that take place during World War II especially series that take place in England. I hope in my lifetime I never go through what the people of England went through during the war. I don’t ever want to fear being invaded or be scared out of my wits on a nightly basis because I am being bombed by an enemy. I have seen a lot of series that gives us a good look at what that period of time was like but when you get to a series like Foyle’s War, it gives you that era but puts it into a unique context.
Purchasing this title from the link above directly helps my site!
The lead in this series is Christopher Foyle. He is not a soldier nor is he in the army. He is a police man. In fact he is Detective Chief Superintendent for the town of Hastings which is on the coast. This is pivotal to the overall story because Hastings is an ideal spot if the Nazis would ever invade England. In reality, the story of Foyle’s War is, in some ways, the story of England during the Second World War. It’s more than just the series main characters but the overall feel to the period of time.The series has a lot to do with military procedures and battles but this Foyle’s War also is focused on crime during this era. It focuses on the people in the UK who either tried to take advantage of the war or tried to escape the war and it is up to the people like Foyle whose job is to stop it.

Christopher Foyle is played wonderfully by Michael Kitchen. I wrote about Michael Kitchen before when I went through the series To Play the King. He was perfect in that but is absolutely amazing in this. Foyle is an interesting person. In the first episode, The German Woman, our first sight of Foyle is in his Superior’s office wanting to be transferred out the police. Foyle believes he would better serve his country if he were allowed a different role that would work directly with the war effort. His Superior believes the opposite; Foyle is a good police officer and Hastings needs someone like that now. Foyle has been at his job for a long time. It is clear that he thinks with years of experience on his side. He is much underrated in his approach to everything. He is not one of those detectives who gets angry or intimidates; he demands respect and to be honest so does this series.
Apart from Christopher Foyle there are a couple of other regular characters in this series. Sgt Milner joins with Foyle in the first episode. Foyle is short staffed in the office and needs someone to help him. In the first episode, Milner is back from the war. He just lost his leg in Trondheim and is trying to pick up the pieces again. Foyle respects Milner and wants to add him to his team. Foyle also gets a driver named Sam. That actually is Samantha Stewart. As stated in the first episode Foyle does not drive. Sam is transferred to from the Mechanised Transport Corps to become Foyle’s driver. Foyle and Sam create a sort of an almost father/daughter relationship except Foyle never interferes with her life but if he is unhappy about something, she just instinctively knows. In fact, Foyle says more with his subtle facial expressions that with words. Foyle’s son Andrew was a pilot with the RAF. He is in and out of the series depending on where the war takes him. At one point, he even starts seeing Sam. Foyle is a widower. He wife has passed away a long time ago.

This review is about the absolutely wonderful 22 disc set of Foyle’s War released by Acorn Media. It was released a few weeks ago but it has taken me a while to get through it. You don’t just watch it, you appreciate it. There are episodes and scenes I have re-watched many times because they are so good. Even as Foyle is one of the calmest human beings ever, he has the driest wit and harsh tongue. One of my favourite lines is from The Russian House which comes from Foyle’s displeasure of Brigadier Wilson after getting the run around for the episode:
Brigadier Wilson: What do you want Foyle?
Foyle (calmly): Well, we could start with your resignation.

This boxset includes all 22 episodes from the very first one to the end Series 7. This gets us ready for Series 8 when it debuts over here this year which is really exciting. To look at each episode in this box would be overwhelming so I thought I could break it down better by year. The year is a big part of the overall story. Most epsiodes are tied to a certain event in World War II. I like how it really shows us the ups and downs for the British population during the war seen through the eyes of Foyle, his sergeant Milner and driver Sam Stewart.
Series 1 May – August 1940:

The first series shows us England that is already at war. This takes place shortly after the German invasion of Norway. It is interesting to see how the British public reacts harshly to anyone who is German. In the episode The White Feather, we see that there are groups and associations in England that show support for Germany and believe that the British Government is the one on the wrong side.  Meanwhile the threat of a German invasion looms everywhere. It feels like most people feel like an invasion will succeed.
A lot of what Foyle needs to do is interview people who are in the military or who have lost loved ones in the war. What makes this work, especially as Foyle is not a soldier in this war, is that his son Andrew is in the war and eventually joins the RAF. This is a perfect plot device that allows Foyle to better sympathize with people who are directly affected by the war because of family ties just like Foyle. In the episodes, people and military personal are much more interested in speaking with Foyle once he mentions that his son is in service.

Series 1 is 4 episodes and includes such guest appearance from Robert Hardy, Bernard Kay, Sophia Myles, and David Tennant.
Series 2 September –October 1940:

I fell in love with Foyle’s War with this series. Many people in England at this time were sure they were going to be invaded by the Nazis. This included people who were in higher ranks. This series was where I started to literally rejoice in the fact that television like this was being made! All four episodes from this series are great. Stand outs for me include Fifty Ships where Foyle starts to find out that sometimes the war effort is greater than justice which is something Foyle vehemently despises. War Games is a great episode where Foyle gets a firsthand look at some of the very secret things going on to try and win the war. We also start to see how families get torn apart due to patriotism and see the brutality that can come from it especially if family members are from Germany. There are a lot of pure human aspects to this series.
Series 2 is 4 episodes with guest appearances by Clive Merrison, David Troughton, Christopher Benjamin, and Emily Blunt.

Series 3 February to June 1941:
As the war goes on Foyle finally has a chance to be transferred to Naval Command in Hastings but how is this tied to a death of the son of Sir Giles Messinger who is an important naval officer? Sometimes Foyle loses to be able to win. In Enemy Fire, We see how experimental treatments are done to military personal that are badly burned while in combat. Throughout the series we also get a glimpse at how awful generally human nature can be even during something as horrible as World War II. In the last two series, we see how the public puts their trust in people such as fire brigades etc. who will rob them or in some cases blackmail them. World War II, for some people, was a story of profiteering.

Series 3 is 4 episode and guest stars include: Ronald Pickup, Angela Thorne, Samuel West, Bill Paterson, and Peter Capaldi.
Series 4 March – August 1942 and Series 5 December 1942 – March 1943:

In the Invasion, the Americans join into the war and start taking up residence in Hastings. They need to turn beautiful countryside into an airfield which does not go down so well with locals.  Alcohol is not found anywhere but a local pub is making their own to a very deadly degree.
In Bleak Midwinter, Sgt Milner is suspected of murder of someone very close to him while in Casualties of War, Foyle realizes that the Hastings he fights so hard to keep lawful is undermined by his superiors. This will eventually lead him to a difficult decision.

Guest stars include Philip Jackson, Roy Marsden, Keith Barron, Liz Fraser, John Nettleton, and Michael Jayston.
Series 6 April 1944 – May 1945:

Series 6 was originally meant to be the end of the series. The series was cancelled by ITV and work was put in motion to end the series. It takes place from April 1944 to May 1945. The mood of England is one of knowing the Germans are running out of resources and that everyone is close to the end of the war. This doesn’t mean everyone is excited. There is a lot of uncertainty for our 3 main characters as the next chapter in their lives begins. Nothing will be the same again. Once again, this series reflects what was happening in England at the time these episodes take place. It’s not all about the main cast. In fact, I would say that is one of the best parts of the series is that it is balanced really well. One subject that gets tackled in a couple of episodes is how returning soldiers re-integrate themselves back into their normal lives with their families. Some husbands hadn’t seen their wives or children in years. The children may have no idea who their dads are because they were too young when they went off to war. By the end of the final episode All Clear, everything has changed for everyone.
Guest stars include Michael Jayston, Clifford Rose, and Graham Crowden.

Series 7 June  - August 1945:
Series 7 is the most recent broadcast on TV in the states from 2010. The series takes place between June and August 1945. It features three episodes and I feel, if one could dare say it, is the least impressive of the entire series but not for the reasons I would have thought. If I were a betting man, I would have said the reason why I found Series 7 the least interesting was because World War II is over. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is plenty going on in England with the restoration effort and what to do with all the prisoners of wars and Russian soldiers? Those plots are still extremely stimulating and the visual effects of war-torn London when Foyle visits in The Russian House are great. In fact, The Russian House was the first episode I had ever seen of this series and I loved it.

For me, the problem was more with the main characters. By the end of the series, the three of them are off doing their own things. It disjoints the episodes by having to find a story that keeps these now very separate people together. In Series 1-6, they all worked together and because of that the stories were more contained. With the characters living different lives, the story telling needs to change. It’s not that I hate it but I find it more difficult to believe. I am hoping Series 8 rectifies this to some degree.
That being said, I would still rather watch that than most other television. The series tells us a very unique story about the Second World War in England. It diverts from actually a story of fighting on the front lines to surviving in the homeland while trying to maintain the structure of authority and to some extent normality. There are great moments in episodes like Enemy Fire and Invasion where the old traditions and customs are threatened and perhaps destroyed to keep the war effort going. In Fifty Ships, The Funk Hole, and War of Nerves features citizens who become profiteers by selling or stealing and taking advantage of people’s fear during the war. We know about rationing during the war but Foyle’s War presents different aspects of living in the UK during the war to try and protect their country. Such as, some citizens who lived in Germany were not allowed to own cameras for fear of sensitive pictures getting back to Germany.

There are a lot of extras on these discs. Some are traditional extras that are done on video and some are text screens. Here are the extras:

The Making of Foyle’s War: (23:49) This documentary is narrated by Nick Gardner and focuses on the making of Enemy Fire especially the sequence of one of the Spitfires exploding at night. It’s a really nicely done “making of” feature.
The Making of Foyle’s War: (6:54) This isn’t a long documentary but it is a nice little look inside the making of the series. Narrated by Anthony Howell (Sgt. Milner) this has a look at the making of Casualties of War. It’s short but has some decent information on it. This is found on Set 4 Disc 3, The Invasion disc.

The Making of Foyle’s War: This is another short making of once again narrated by Anthony Howell. I found this more interesting. This is the making of Plan of Attack (which is an excellent episode). This making of focuses less on the making of the episode but more on how historically accurate it is. The episode is about a group of soldiers and engineers who are recreating maps of German cities to aid in the bombing of key facilities. At the time this episode was made, the information that this group existed wasn’t even known until a few years earlier. Once again short but well worth a watch.
This brings up an interesting point. Anyone who is a Doctor Who fans knows that for 6 years there was a program made called Doctor Who Confidential that took us behind the scenes of how episodes were made. I think it would be much cooler to have a series called Foyle’s War Confidential that could be mini-documentaries focusing on historical authenticities of the episodes we just watched. The only low point of the above extras is that there is really no involvement from Michael Kitchen yet I have read he doesn’t like to do interviews. There’s not much they can do about that!

A Conversation with Anthony Horowitz #1: (11:23) This is an interview with the creator of Foyle’s War Anthony Horowitz. It is nice listening to him because I get the feeling he really enjoys this character and series. I loved listening to him and the conversation ranges to why Foyle’s War was created to how Michael Kitchen got involved.  There is also a great story about how Anthony Horowitz came up with the name Christopher Foyle.
A Conversation with Anthony Horowitz #2: (12:10) The second part of the interview with the creator of Foyle’s War focusing on the research of the series. We also hear Anthony talk about writing about the main characters for the series. The two interview segments are really nice.

A Conversation with Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks: (13:43) It’s an interesting interview where I think this is a case of actors don’t really like to be interviewed. Howell’s and Weeks answers are very good but they don’t really look like they don’t want to be there yet I am glad this interview is on the set. They have interesting things to say even if they look a little bored!
Each disc also contains a piece called “The Truth about” and whatever episode you are watching. It is a few text screens that you read that explains how what we saw in the episode was real or based on historical fact. They are nice to have but I am not always a fan of reading many pages of text on my TV. Too bad these couldn’t be contained in a small booklet but I understand that this would be probably way too expensive to do. There are other text screens that have interviews with the stars and creator and writer Anthony Horowitz.

The quality of these episodes is fine. They were made in 16:9. Based on some research it looks like Series 1 -6 were shoton 16mm film with Series 3 -6 post-produced on videotape. From Series 7 onwards it becomes an HD production. Series 7 is not available on Blu Ray. Theoretically, if all the film still exists from these series, all of Foyle’s War could get a true HD upgrade someday. The picture on these sets is fine just like any modern day production. A did notice a few film specs occasionally which was a little surprising to me and it feels like some of the earlier episodes like The White Feather is bright with no contrast.

This is a 22 disc set that is housed in 6 standard sized Amary cases. It’s compact with each set that had been released housed in one Amary case. Depending on which set you choose to watch there are 3 to 4 discs in each case.

I think the covers and look of this packaging is simple and has some character to it. It fits well with overall look of the series. Each case or disc cover has a picture of Foyle and in the background some other character. Overall it is a really nice and heavy package. I feel like it is completely worth the money and will not take up a ton of room on the shelf. If you are like me, there is very little shelf space left!
Disc breakdown:

Disc 1: The German Woman, A Conversation with Anthony Horowitz, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 2: The White Feather, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 3: A Lesson in Murder, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 4: Eagle Day, A Conversation with Anthony Horowitz, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 5: Fifty Ships, A Conversation with Anthony Howeel and Honeysuckle Weeks, Foyle’s War Production Notes, Fifty Ships Production Notes, Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 6: Among the Few, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 7: War Games, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 8: The Funk Hole, Production Notes, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 9: The French Drop, The Making of Foyle’s War, Production Notes; The Truth Behind The French Drop, Cast Reflections, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 10: Enemy Fire, Production Notes; The Truth Behind Enemy Fire, Cast Reflections, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 11: They Fought in the Fields, Production Notes; The Truth Behind They Fought in the Fields, Cast Reflections, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 12: A War of Nerves, Production Notes – Fascinating Facts; The Truth Behind A War of Nerves, Cast Reflections, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 13: Invasion, The Making of Foyle’s War, Creator/Writer Anthony Horowitz on Foyle’s War, The Truth Behind Invasion, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 14: Bad Blood, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 15: Bleak Midwinter, The Truth Behind Bleak Midwinter, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 16: Causalities of War, The Truth Behind Casualties of War, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 17: Plan of Attack, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 18: Broken Souls, Cast Filmographies.
Disc 19: All Clear, The Making of Foyle’s War, Honeysuckle Weeks on the end of Foyle’s War, Anthony Howell on the end of Foyle’s War, A Real Life Foyle, Cast Filmographies.

Disc 20: The Russian House
Disc 21: Killing Time

Disc 22: The Hide

It’s hard to encapsulate this entire series into a few short pages. What make Foyle’s War great are the stories, settings, historical details and Michael Kitchen. If you know anyone else who has seen this series, they will tell you the same things. This is a compact inexpensive way to watch the entire series before the new episodes become available. World War II may be over but that’s not the only war Foyle will be involved with in this series. This series is highly recommended. Check it out!
Next review: There is a massive backlog of material that I am writing reviews for which will be up in the next couple of weeks. This includes Ripper Street Series 1 Blu Ray, Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass from BBC Home Entertainment and No Job for a Lady and Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases from Acorn Media. Lots of lovely stuff!

Have a great week!
Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

DVD Review: The Ark in Space - Special Edition

Doctor Who: The Ark in Space Special Edition 2-DVD Set  (Main Feature: 100 min)
Released by BBC Home Entertainment on March 12, 2013. SRP $34.98 (DVD)
Subtitles: English SDH 4:3 Mono (Main Feature)

The Ark in Space has been out on DVD for a long time. In the UK, it looks like it was the 9th title to be released in the range. As I mentioned in my review for The Aztecs, restoration technique and technology has moved on quite a bit since this title was originally released. When watching the stories in order, the quality of this story from the previous release stood out like a sore thumb mainly because it didn’t look as good as the other stories from Season 12 which were released later in the range. Now with a wonderful restoration, I am happy to revisit this loved story from Tom Baker’s inaugural season.

Purchasing this title from the link above directly helps my site!
I almost called it my favorite story from Season 12 but that would not be true. For me, it is almost impossible to have a favorite story from Season 12. I almost think it is one of the most perfectly balanced seasons of the entire series with one of the greatest groups of regulars the series ever had in its history. This is all my opinion but we get stories that feature the return of Sontarans, Daleks and Cybermen but their stories are all told a little differently. There is something a little more adult and horrific with them. Well, maybe not with Revenge of the Cybermen but I love it to bits anyway. Robot is (literally) a hanger on from the previous era (and production block) with a new Doctor and starting to come to the end of the UNIT era. Then there is this little gem called The Ark in Space.
Thanks to Harry giving the Helmic Regulator in the TARDIS quite the twist, the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry land on a space station far, far off in the future called Nerva Beacon. Us, the viewer, is aware that there is already something on board but we are not sure what it is or its intentions. Right away, Harry and the Doctor get separated from Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane ends up being transported to another part of the Nerva while the Doctor and Harry are battling the internal security system on the ship.

It doesn’t take long for the Doctor to realize what this ship is. It is a massive ship that is carrying all of the Earth’s population and the entire body of information that makes up what is known about the planet. The Doctor and Harry enter this massive space that has rows and rows of people who are in suspended animation because of solar flares hitting the Earth. In one of the banks where people are “asleep”, the Doctor and Harry find Sarah Jane. When she was transported to another part of the ship, it took her as a new addition to the population and put her through the same suspended animated process everyone else went through thousand years earlier. While Harry is looking to find a resuscitator unit to revive Sarah, he opens up a closet door and a giant wasp like creature falls out at him.
We will find out later that that is a Wirrn.  The Wirrn simply want to take over the space station Nerva and the Earth, but that is all. It’s not a tall order is it? When I first saw this story as a child, the more adult level of storytelling was lost on me a little bit. On PBS it is often the case where these stories are seen out of “Doctor Order”. So I may have seen most of the Davison stories before I got to this and the level of gruesomeness and adult violent themes may have been lost to me at the time but it certainly wasn’t when I watched this in perspective.

Back in 2006 I had decided to go back and watch all of the episodes from Doctor Who from the very beginning in order with one 25 minute episode a day. Doing it this way is a wonderful eye opener. When I got to The Ark in Space it was a serious change in story telling from what we had seen in Doctor Who before. There no longer was a thin layer of child safety to it. I never thought of Doctor Who as a kid’s program but The Ark in Space becomes horrific. It’s the beginning of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes master plan. There has been few example prior to this of someone transforming into something else. Mission to the Unknown with Garvey turning into a Varga plant and Toberman partially transformed into a Cyberman in The Tomb of the Cybermen. In The Ark in Space, the leader of Nerva Beacon is Noah. As he is checking the solar stacks for signs of sabotage he is brushed by the larvae Wirrn and his transformation begins. The transformation takes place over a couple of episodes and we see it in all of its gory detail. We see him in different stages of the transformation; the most horrific is seen on the cover of this release.   
There a few moments that reminds me a lot of some of the earlier Quatermass serials. For those who don’t know what the reference is, Quatermass was a set of serials on the BBC in the 1950s written by Nigel Kneale. To many, these are the blueprints to British Science Fiction television and a lot of concepts seen in those 3 serials show up in many different places. Another Quatermass production was done by Thames television in 1979. In The Ark in Space, the Doctor takes the outer layer of the eye of the dead Wirrn found by Harry and hooks himself up to it. The memory of that particular Wirrn’s last minutes alive are seen via the Doctor on the monitor. It is very familiar to when Barbara Judd was hooked up to a device in Quatermass and the Pit that showed the Martians weeding out unwanted mutations as we see it from their perspective. Near the end of the story, we see the Wirrn in force outside the space station advancing on the rocket Harry, Vira and Rogin have taken refuge in. It is so un-human and actually grotesque in some ways. It’s like an infestation!  That reminds me of when Quatermass sees the aliens jumping around in their dome in an episode of Quatermass II. Finally, more tangential, there is a scene where the Wirrn grub advances on the control room with Harry and the other crew firing on it. There is a shot of the green membrane stripping away from itself immediately reminds me of when we get into the capsule of the film version of Quatermass and the Pit and see the Martians in the cockpit for the very first time.

Doctor Who has been blessed with many talented designers over the course of its long history. Possibly one of the best is Roger Murray-Leach. The rising catacombs of the human race are inspired. It gives a tremendous feeling of height and the way the set is designed makes it look like that it’s just one room out of many with bodies that rise up. The room with the solar stack is tremendously atmospheric. The set is raised up from the floor which gives a nice metal gantry sound when humans walk on it. It’s nice to see a dark set with a great deal of shadows. Where there is light such as coming from the stack itself, it has a piercing glow that gives the room eerie feel. Then of course there are those corridors that also get a re-use in Revenge of the Cybermen. I love those corridors!

I think this is one of Dudley Simpson’s best and most memorable scores. It adds to the creepiness of the story and the cues are placed in appropriate places to get the most out of the moment. The guest cast is great. My favorite is Wendy Williams who plays Vira. She starts out so stern and slowly over the course of the 3 episodes she is in softens and becomes extremely likeable. Kenton Moore as Noah has a lot to do as he transform into a horrible creature. He has an internal struggle between trying to stay human and the Wirrn taking him over permanently. Who wins? You even get the voice of Peter “Orac” Tuddenham in it! As I mentioned above, the Season 12 lineup of the Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry is one of my favorites in the entire history of the series. Elisabeth Sladen always adds something to the character of Sarah that is not the script. For example, her determination to get out of the tiny utility corridor as she gets stuck and the Doctor bates her to get out is a favorite moment of mine. What I love about Ian Marter’s Harry Sullivan was that he was a naïve gentleman. He treated women as he thought they should be treated but was terribly old-fashioned which would annoy Sarah. He really annoyed her when he would call her “old girl”.  Tom Baker is quite early here in his tenure as the Doctor. I love the way he plays the role in this story. It reminds me of an interview I saw with Philip Hinchcliffe I saw from many years ago. He mentioned how well Tom delivers the “Homo Sapien” speech in Part One. He says that Pertwee couldn’t deliver that speech like that. He’s right. He didn’t mean it as a slight to Jon but saying how different of an actor Tom was to him and this was more in his style. It was the first time I really understood what acting was.

As stated at the beginning of this review, this is a 2-disc Special Edition release. Some of the extras are from the original 2002 release and some are new.
Disc 1:

Audio Commentary: From the original release. Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen and Philip Hinchcliffe. This is a nice commentary with some good insight from Lis and Philip. Less so from Tom but he jokingly says at the beginning that he doesn’t remember anything from it! There are a lot of pauses as I think they got caught up in the action of the program. It is a nice reminder on how important it is to have some kind of moderator. Of course, anything with Lis is nice to hear. It is still quite simply perplexing to me that she is gone.

A New Frontier: This is a brand new feature that goes into great detail about the making of this story. There was a hole in the lineup of stories when Philip took over. The original story Space Station from Christopher Langley was unusable and so was John Lucarotti’s attempt. This feature goes into great detail as to why these were unusable. It has some great snippets from Philip Hinchcliffe, Roger Murray-Leach, Kenton Moore and Wendy Williams. The feature does what it’s supposed to do which is give us an organized insight into the making of the story. Where I feel these features sometimes fall flat is how these programs are graphically treated. For ongoing series like Doctor Forever! the graphics created for it are brilliant. For this, it doesn’t seem right. To me it looks like it is going for a “The Blob” like B-movie look. The green membrane from the story is the graphic focal point to this feature but it is treated more like slime from You Can’t Do That On Television rather than being membrane from the Wirrn. The fonts used are virtually unreadable. I always applaud the creativity in these features in how they pay homage to the stories they represent but sometimes don’t always work for me.
Roger Murray-Leach Interview: From the original release. This was done back in 2002 and gives a lot of great information about designing the sets for this story.  This information also is re-told in A New Frontier (which it should!) but there is a little more detail here. Where it becomes rushed is when he starts talking about other stories he worked on. It all moves quickly but luckily since this had been made he has been on other DVD extras speaking about those other stories in more detail.

Original BBC Trailer, Alternative Title Sequence, 16mm model footage: From original release. These are great archival pieces that are what makes the Doctor Who releases stand out from all other television series released on DVD. These are wonderful.
CGI Effects Footage & 3D Technical Schematics: From the original release. This was the first release where you could view new CGI effect shots in the story replacing the original effects if you so desire. This CGI still holds up well but I personally don’t want to view these episodes with new effect shots but I understand why others do. The 3D Schematics is a bit of fun as we can see where all of the the places we visited in the story are located on Nerva.

TARDIS Cam: Originally for the official Doctor Who website, this is my favorite of all of the TARDIS Cams as we see a broken Cyber helmet in the foreground as the camera pans to the TARDIS. After all of this time, it still stands up very well.
Photo Gallery: Brand new and in the current style of the Photo Galleries we currently get on the releases.  The images are great and presented much better here than in the first release.

Production Notes: This is a new set of notes. A lot of great info here but my favorite is listing what other productions were being shot at BBC Television Centre on the day that each episode of The Ark in Space was being recorded.
Disc 2:

Doctor Forever! Love and War: This edition of Doctor Forever! focuses on the New Adventures and Past Doctor Adventures that were around in the 1990s. For many this was the only way to get new Doctor Who. These novels were not only the vital link between the classic series and the new series, the new series got some great ideas form this range of books and even nabbed a few of the writers. That being said, I was never a big fan of the books yet I found this feature fascinating. It held my attention and I learned a few things especially how the rights to the series of books transferred from Virgin to the BBC.
The Ark in Space Omnibus version: This is the “movie” version that was shown on BBC1 as a repeat back in 1975. It comes in at 70 minutes. In the past we got the omnibus version to Planet of the Spiders on DVD. I love that these are included. It feels like us Yanks get a chance to tap into a bit of UK nostalgia. I loved watching this. To my eyes this wasn’t restored but it still looks great and I am thankful this is included.

Scene Around Six: If anyone ever wondered if Tom Baker was ever really that popular as the Doctor, just watch this. This is news footage from 1978 of Tom visiting with children in Northern Ireland. It is really neat and dear footage as these little kids got a chance to meet their hero. Tom is in fine form here and it is a sweet piece that reminds us how special this series is to everyone.
8mm Location Footage to Robot: Just when you think everything is found and accounted for in terms of rare footage there is this brief but really cool 8mm footage of shooting a scene from Part Four of Robot. It is historically important and all too brief. It is awesome that it exists and present on this disc.

What’s missing from this release?
This DVD set replaces one that was released back in 2002. Back then, the DVD sets were authored separately from the UK sets. Early on the US DVDs featured content that was not on the UK DVDs. Now that DVDs are manufactured for both UK & US at the same time with the same content, the result is some stuff from the original US DVD release is not included in this Special Edition.

Who’s Who: This was a simple but enjoyable feature that Steve Manfred put together on the DVD releases that gave us information on all the actors in the story. It was laid out nicely and although now off the Special Edition, this information is easy to find on such sites as IMDB.
Howard Da Silva Openings and Closings for The Ark in Space: When the series was first syndicated by Time Life in the late 1970s. He did a narration for the opening and close of each episode to let us know what is going on in the episode. This was done for many of the Tom Baker episodes. This would have been a fun thing to have on the UK releases as a way for the UK fans to enjoy a bit of US nostalgia. For whichever reason, they were never included on the UK discs. Back in the 1990s PBS producer TJ Lubinsky made it his mission to restore the Howard Da Silva Intros & Outros by tracking down broadcast quality masters of the Da Silva episodes he did not have in his library. I know this because in 1998 I lent him my broadcast master for The Ark in Space Part One that has the Howard Da Silva Intro/Outro. That was used on the original disc. It’s a nice piece of nostalgia. Too bad it’s no longer available on the new set.

The news report from Wookey Hole from the filming of Revenge of the Cybermen is not on this new Special Edition DVD. Of course that is because it is now on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD.

When this story was originally released the Restoration Team did not use the Transform PAL Decoder on these episodes because it did not exist. The first release this restoration tool was used on was the original Resurrection of the Daleks. The Transform PAL Decoder brings out more detail and lessens artifacts. I am sure there is a lot more that is done to this story that helps make it look so good but I do not know what it is; all I know is that it looks great. I think there is a noticeable jump in picture quality between the two releases. Also, the opening and closing credits for all the episodes have been replaced.

Picture comparison:
Click on the picture below. When that picture shows up larger, there will be a bunch of smaller thumbnails below of the other pictures. Click on them to see up close the difference in quality between the 2002 release and the new 2013 release:

This is another cover by Lee Binding. It is a huge improvement over the original R1 DVD cover but I still prefer the original R2 DVD cover the best. That was really simple and just featured a Wirrn.

Disc breakdown:
Disc 1: The Ark in Space Parts 1-4, Commentary, Production notes, A New Frontier, Roger Murray-Leach Interview, Original BBC Trailer, Alternative Title Sequence, Model & CGI Effects Footage, 3D Technical Schematics, Photo Gallery

Disc 2: The Ark in Space Omnibus Version, Doctor Forever!: Love and War, Scene Around Six, 8mm Robot Footage, PDF Materials.
I am really loving these Special Editions. I love the quality upgrade and the deep digging in the archives to come up with some cool things. The new features aren’t that bad either. I certainly think this is a worthy upgrade and now really fits in nicely, picture-wise,  with the rest of Season 12.

Next review: Working my way through the massive 22 disc box set of Acorn Media’s Foyle’s War. It’s a fantastic way to spend some time. I will also have reviews up later in the month for the Penelope Keith comedy series No Job for a Lady complete series and Midsomer Murders: Tom Barnaby’s Last Cases both released by Acorn Media.
Have a great week!

Do you have feedback, article requests or want to talk about a program but do not want to leave a public comment? Feel free to drop me an e-mail at

I am on Twitter: @FromtheArchive

Also please subscribe to my From the Archive: British Television Blog Facebook Page for updates about new articles.