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2 May 2012

Manufacturer: BBC Worldwide Consumer Products

Written By: Ian Briggs & Graeme Curry

RRP: £30.63

Release Date: 7th May 2012

Reviewed By: Dale Who for Doctor Who Online

Disc One: Dragonfire

We're off to the dark side of the planet Svartos with The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) on this single story release as part of the Ace Adventures set. Sophie Aldred's inaugural story pits the seventh incarnation of the Time Lord reuniting with Glitz (Tony Selby) to fight against the cold hearted Kane (Edward Peel) and his deep frozen band of mercenaries, and the somewhat violent staff of an intergalactic branch of Iceland...

This story from 1987, is spectacular and memorable for many reasons, and the wonderful Belazs (Patricia Quinn, of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) steals every scene she's in with effortless ease. Ace is the wonderfully explosive-obsessed teenage tearaway who joins the TARDIS crew, Mel gets a really amazing leaving scene, and Kane gets possibly the most gloriously gruesome and gory death scene in the history of Classic Doctor Who... and an extra ten points if you can spot the cameo by Batman!

Special Features:

Commentary - Toby Hadoke presides over a full house of commentators: Sophie Aldred (Ace), Edward Peel (Kane), Ian Briggs (writer), Andrew Cartmel (script editor), and Mark Ayres (musical genius!). The pace is calm and quite informative, and it's very evident that Aldred and Peel enjoyed this story and the making of it. Good humoured and entertaining, it doesn't drag or have to try too hard, as the people assembled all know their trade and craft very well indeed. There's also an isolated score feature in the audio options section, if you like the music.

Fire And Ice - The obligatory retrospective of Dragonfire. Like the recent Nightmare Of Eden release, it's all filmed against a stark white background - and again it's too harsh to have as a background. Unlike the previous release, this is a great, positive look back at the show, with contributions from most of the cast and crew, including Sylvester McCoy (archive footage culled from The Story of Doctor Who), director Chris Clough, and Sophie Aldred who seems to have a thing for red and snoods.

There's a great look at Mel's departure and how that scene came together, which has some great footage of McCoy's audition for the role of The Doctor. Like the commentary, the pace and feel of the look back at the story is very calm and sedate, but no less enjoyable for that; in fact it lends a very confident and positive air to the extra. Great stuff!

Deleted & Extended Scenes - A "does what it says on the tin" reasonably short extra; including a great alternative to Belazs' first run in with Glitz, and various trims and edits from the story. Including some fun one liners, and some truly dreadful polystyrene ice shards threatening Tony Selby... a rather entertaining collection of clips that sometimes puts an entirely different spin on the scenes they were culled from.

The Doctor's Strange Love - Oh Lord, it's them again! Simon Guerrier, Josie Long and Joe Lidster on camping chairs, sitting in the current TARDIS control room to discuss Dragonfire. Complete with dreadful "comedy" moment of Sylvester McCoy falling off the titles, this trio witter on aimlessly, much like they did in their previous outing on the Nightmare of Eden release, although thankfully this time they're a lot less sneering about the show. Josie comes to the somewhat astounding conclusion that she's based her life on Ace, and again the scenery is much more entertaining than this 'talking heads' trio's aimless witterings.

The Big Bang Theory - Our whole Universe was in a hot dense state, then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started... wait... hold on half a millisecond (as Glitz would say), that's the other Big Bang Theory! In one of those extras that will have you wondering why someone thought this was a good idea for a DVD extra, Doctor Who special (physical) effects pyrotechnics expert Danny Hargreaves sits in the TARDIS looking at some Classic Series explosions and big bangs on a laptop and talks about them.

Odd thing is, Hargreaves is so wonderfully unassuming and genial he manages to hold the attention very well, and it's very easy to get engrossed in this short extra. From The Daleks in 1964 to The Parting of the Ways in 2005, Danny shows he's a master of his profession, and there's a wonderful nod of respect to Jack Kine, BBC FX supremo in the the early days of Doctor Who. Utilising a lot of clips from old and new Who, this piece holds the attention effortlessly and turns out to be highly entertaining.

Coming Soon Trailer - "Doctor, should that red light be flashing?" - no, it's just the TARDIS playing up again. Sarah and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) come up against some overly silver cranky dustbins on the planet Exxilon; that is, if he can get past hostile natives and weird snaky robotic roots that kill. Death To The Daleks is out soon!

The sound and picture quality, as usual with the Classic series releases, is optimal, and the disc has the usual standard included special features: a Photo Gallery of publicity and behind the scenes shots, the Radio Times PDF segments for the serial, and the on-screen Info Text, which in this story seems to be all about cut lines and rearranged scenes. There's also Audio Navigation and Subtitles as standard for those who may want or need them.  

Dragonfire is a great punchy three part story, and is happily backed up by a series of decent, positive extras that enhance the good memories the story leaves you with. Even the chronic witterering threesome are more positive. From iconic icemen to the argumentative Ace, this release has masses of appeal and is a great addition to the range.

Disc Two: The Happiness Patrol

What happens when you cross a time travelling television series about a killjoy Time Lord who battles evil, and a parody of the happy, lovely Margaret Thatcher led Conservative government? You get The Happiness Patrol, in which the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive on Terra Alpha on the trail of something sinister. Soon they're up to their necks in sweets, lies, fake Tories and Bertie Bassett's evil doppelganger. Helen A (Sheila Hancock) rules the roost in this single disc story from BBC Worldwide as part of the Ace Adventures Box-set; and we hope you're very happy about it.

An overlooked gem of a story, The Happiness Patrol is obviously political and satirical, and it's OTT performances and tacky sweetie sets simply add to the artificial feel of the story, an unsettling and creepy place where enforced happiness is the norm. The Kandy Man - often maligned - is perfectly wonderful as the needed maniacal villain, and then there's the infamous pink TARDIS that's caused many a fan debate! It's rare that a lack of budget actually works for a story, but the whole fake feel of the place seems to fit perfectly, I'm happy to say.

Special Features:

Commentary - Toby's talking over the credits again. Gathered round the table this time are Sophie Aldred (Ace), Graeme Curry (writer), Andrew Cartmel (script editor) and Dominic Glynn (composer). It's another sedate and pedestrian one, but again it's a welcome piece that builds up and promotes the story. There's also, in a terribly modern and technical move, the results of a Twitter competition! As with the other story in the Ace Adventures Box-set, there's also an isolated music option so you can listen to Dominic Glynn's glorious blues based score.

Happiness Will Prevail - That white background's back again for this retrospective of the story. Andrew Cartmel and Graeme Curry discuss the origins of this serial and how there's a lot of truth in the ideas in the tale. The whole "Thatcher" influence comes up again, and the design of The Kandy Man is explored. Sophie's back in the red snood and praise is heaped upon the wonderful portrayal of Helen A from Sheila Hancock.  

A somewhat neutral piece that seems to be happy (I'm glad you're happy) to stick to the details, but the surprise of the piece is actually seeing what David John Pope (The Kandy Man) actually looks like, and happily it's nothing like a giant liqorice allsort. Nicely understated, and although this featurette is remarkably neutral, there's a gentle positive vibe that lingers from it. 

Deleted & Extended Scenes - A plethora of extended and deleted snippets from the production, including some great scenes between the Doctor and Ace, and the wonderful Gilbert M upsets the Kandy Man yet again. Great stuff. Helen A's televised broadcast is uncut, and Evil Bertie Bassett cuts his thumb off. As with all the extras of this nature, it's got some real hidden gems that never made it to air, and holds the attention effortlessly. This collection, therefore, should be enough to keep you very happy.

When Worlds Collide - The politics of Doctor Who is explored, using archive footage from both Classic and New Who. Shaun Ley presents this featurette looking at The Doctor's battles with the status quo (that's the environment of the time, not the rock band you understand).

An interesting look at how politics seeps into all our lives, whether it happens through Doctor Who or not, with contributions from such Doctor Who luminaries as Terrance Dicks, Gareth Roberts, and of course Andrew Cartmel himself, whose mis-quote made the BBC news in 2010 and ended up with said writer on the BBC's flagship news programme "Newsnight".

A well thought out and very entertaining extra; interesting and enlightening, and the presentation and approach of the piece gives it a great deal of weight and a lot of credence.

Coming Soon Trailer - "Doctor, should that red light be flashing?" - no, it's just the TARDIS playing up again. Sarah and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) come up against some overly silver cranky dustbins on the planet Exxilon; that is, if he can get past hostile natives and weird snaky robotic roots that kill. Death To The Daleks is out soon!

As always with the Classic Series releases, the disc comes with the usual additions of a Photo Gallery of happy shots behind the scenes and jolly publicity stills. There's the info text, which of course is all positive, and the Radio Times joyous announcements of the story's airing, in PDF format. There's also Audio Navigation and Subtitles as standard for those who may want or need them.  

Overall the sound and vision are at their tweaked and superbly enhanced best, matched by the anarchic imagination that came up with the Kandy Man (possibly the most wonderfully eloquent and funny villain of eighties Doctor Who, and certainly better than dustbins with attitude problems), and for a team of "ratbags with guns", The Happiness Patrol really does have an enjoyable flavour - it's strawberry. Remember when you watch the DVD that above all else, happiness WILL prevail!

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