15 July 2018

The Box-Set Of Delights

With the new series still several months away, there seems to be more and more focus on classic Doctor Who as we eagerly await the new Doctor making her grand entrance in October. The Twitch marathon continues apace, 20th century companions Wendy Padbury, Carol Ann Ford, and Sophie Aldred grace the front cover of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine, and we’ve recently seen the (slightly delayed) release of the shiny new Season 12 Blu-ray box-set. (Or the ‘Tom Baker Season 1 box-set’ if you’re in America…) 

 

I confess to being slightly nonplussed when the announcement was first made that seasons of the classic show were going to be re-released as box-set collections. I mean, lovely as they are - how many times can we possibly be expected re-buy these old episodes…? But then the sheer amount of love and care that was being put into making this an ‘ultimate’ edition quickly became apparent - this was no rush-job cash-in. Seduced by the strikingly beautiful box artwork by Lee Binding, as well as a glorious gallimaufry of brand new extra features - it took me, ooh, minutes, before I caved in and pre-ordered. And now that I’m sitting here with this sexy and sturdy box of complete joy in my hands, it’s got me thinking about all the different ways in which we’ve welcomed these old friends into our homes over the years… Allow me to take you by the plunger and lead you on a personal voyage through thirty years of house-calls from the Doctor… 

 

Live Transmissions

 

I became a fan at the age of eight, in 1988, halfway through Remembrance Of The Daleks - so, although I didn’t know it at the time, opportunities to watch new episodes as they went out live were shortly to be subjected to something of a hiatus… We did have a video recorder by this point, but no one knew how to work the timer - someone had to be there to press ‘record’ as each episode went out, or it was lost to the time vortex forever. At that time Doctor Who was transmitted on a Wednesday evening, which clashed with the local cub scout pack meetings that I attended, so the sacred duty of capturing each week’s instalment was entrusted to my parents. Something went wrong with the taping of Part Three of The Happiness Patrol, however - they somehow managed to record the wrong channel, and I was inconsolable to find that all I had was a tape of northern people going about their everyday lives. I had to wait NINE years to see it - when the commercial VHS release finally came out in 1997. Naturally, this incident prompted me to quit the cub scouts for good. To this day I can’t make a fire or tie a knot, but I did manage to see all of Silver Nemesis, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, makes me the winner in this story. 

 

VHS Tapes

 

I’d already begun to collect the VHS releases by the time the TV show came to an abrupt end in 1989. Those early tapes, such as Pyramids Of Mars, Day Of The Daleks, and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang, were so indelibly impressed upon my young mind that I can still recite them word for word. And watching the fuzzy, unrestored, VHS quality was like looking through a time-window to a thousand years ago - I felt like a noble historian, carefully collecting and preserving these impossibly old artefacts - most of which were in reality not much older than myself. Our family home was burgled once, when I was about eleven, and I was utterly distraught to see that my collection had gone. Never mind the priceless heirlooms and family silver - I insisted upon giving the police a detailed description of each and every Doctor Who video that I owned. (It later turned out that I’d actually just not left them where I thought I had, and they hadn’t been stolen at all. Some burglars have no taste.) 

 

UK Gold

 

As with many technological innovations - satellite television was something that I only became interested in when it offered an opportunity to see more Doctor Who. My parents surprised me with a satellite dish one Christmas, when I was thirteen. This was too good to be true - they were showing my favourite show on UK Gold EVERY DAY! And the truly dedicated fan could get up at some ungodly hour on a Sunday morning and catch an omnibus of a complete story - every week! The first story I caught on this space-age medium was The Ark - I loved it so much. The following September, however, I was packed off to boarding school - where there were definitely no satellite dishes, and putting up a poster of a Sea Devil in one’s dorm room was, in retrospect, not the best way to make friends and influence people. So they were short lived, those heady satellite days, but they were UK Golden. 

 

DVD

 

I was in my first year of drama school by the time Doctor Who started to be released on DVD. Again - it was this development that prompted me to invest in the technology required to play the shiny futuristic discs. My first acquisition was The Robots Of Death. The picture was so sharp and clear! And there were extra features and menu screens - we truly were living in the promised times! (Admittedly, the main extra feature on that first disc was a copy of the studio floor plans - but I remember thinking at the time that they were a valuable and fascinating resource. I have never looked at them since.) The DVD range went on to spoil us with vast arrays of bonus content and VidFIRE restorations. For years it felt like getting a monthly video magazine, packed with making-of features and interviews - and the occasional documentary on black pudding. Truly, we thought - this is the definitive collection… 

 

Back to the present day…

 

Now, of course, there are more ways than ever to pipe Doctor Who into our homes, with the likes of Twitch marathons and iPlayer streaming. And the aforementioned blu-ray box-set, which surely is the ‘ultimate’ collection of these stories that we’ve carried with us throughout our lives. There’s a special feature devoted to a compilation of studio clocks. And half an hour of silent footage of the Season twelve cast chain-smoking. (As well as my absolute favourite extra bit - Janet Fielding, Louise Jameson, and Sarah Sutton doing a ‘Gogglebox’ style viewing of episodes that they weren’t in - I could happily watch this trio chewing the fat for hours, on any topic at all. Lots more of this please, blu-ray elves.) So, finally, we can be sure that we’re buying these episodes for the last time, can’t we…?

 

Yeah, right. See you in 2028 for the 3D brain-implant of Spearhead from Space - featuring an artificially intelligent and fully-restored Terrance Dicks. I can’t wait. 

 

Richard Unwin

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