❉ The eagerly anticipated Blu-ray release of Doctor Who’s Season 12 was publicised with a screening of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ at the BFI Southbank.
No doubt about it, the BFI Southbank has become a second home for Doctor Who. Ever since the monthly celebrations of each Doctor in 2013, the spiritual flame of the BBC’s favourite time travel series has burned brightly there. In recent years, the BFI has hosted Peter Capaldi’s debut ‘Deep Breath’, followed by screenings of ‘The Power of the Daleks’ and ‘Shada’ animations. Fittingly, it’s now on hand to celebrate the first Blu-ray release of an entire series, Tom Baker’s first – Season 12 (according to the packaging).
This time, garrulous host Justin Johnson was performing “without Dick [Fiddy],” but rose to the challenge, chairing the customary quiz and commending the audience for “fancy dress”, particularly the punter who had taken the trouble to “come as engineer Perkins” (i.e. Frank Skinner). Equally amusingly, Justin himself revealed he was impersonating “the planet Skaro.”
My goodness, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ – shown here in the seen-only-once-before omnibus edition that went out over Christmas 1975 – is grim. Not just in the much-discussed adult house style of the 1975-77 Hinchcliffe years, but conceptually, ethically and in terms of how the performances work. For a Doctor so associated with humour as Tom Baker’s was/is, there’s very little; companion Harry Sullivan’s quip about “rock music” is about the funniest and, like the rest, it’s really underplayed. With the emphasis on heightened, intense characters – Severin, Davros, Nyder, Gharman – and the serious themes of eugenics, fascism and megalomania, in places you feel like you’re watching an Out of the Unknown or a Play for Today. It’s that good. Sadly, ‘Genesis’ is also arguably more relevant now than it was in 1975.
Taking the stage after the screening, the still young and vital looking Philip Hinchcliffe was on fine, astute form (as ever). He remains by turns proud and humble of what he achieved with Doctor Who but, refreshingly, can also see the funny side. Concerned that the parallels with Davros’s Elite and the Third Reich were too obvious, on seeing Nyder’s Iron Cross he admitted that the whole thing had become “Super Nazi”. Revealingly, Philip acknowledged that he wouldn’t have wanted to cast a new Doctor, as the responsibility was too great, and, at the time, he wouldn’t have been experienced enough to choose the right actor.
Excerpts from the Blu-ray set’s new extras were tantalising. The Goggle Box-style observations of Louise Jameson (formerly Leela), Janet Fielding (formerly Tegan Jovanka) and Sarah Sutton (formerly Nyssa of Traken) were as funny and engaging as you’d expect from such knowledgeable actresses. The best thing though – for me – was the edited clip from broadcaster Matthew Sweet’s new interview with Tom Baker. In that, you’ll see a Tom very different from the one who hid behind the ‘Tom Baker performance’ of several years ago. His detailed recollections of the week in 1974 when he went from being a desperate, unemployed actor working on a building site to the new Doctor Who were spellbinding, inspiring and moving. After such a confessional interview, there was a real feeling in the auditorium that Tom’s personal stock had risen even higher.
Paul Vanezis, the producer of the interview, sat next to me. When it finished, I leaned over and told him how brilliant I thought it was. “You really think so?” he enquired, a little bit anxiously. Totally. I never thought the team behind the BBC releases would surpass nearly thirty years of work on the VHS/DVD/Blu-ray range, but in the Doctor Who – The Collection: Season 12 Blu-ray set, they really, really have.
❉ Doctor Who The Complete Collection Season 12 Blu-ray released by BBC Studios, 2nd July, RRP £51.05 + VAT. Extras include: existing bonus material from the original DVDs as well as brand new features such as a one-hour interview with the Fourth Doctor and new “making-of” documentaries.
❉ Robert Fairclough is a film and TV journalist and blogger and a regular contributor to ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ and ‘SFX’. He is the author of books on the iconic TV series ‘The Prisoner’, and co-author (with Mike Kenwood) of definitive guides to the classic TV dramas ‘The Sweeney’ and ‘Callan’. His biography of the actor Ian Carmichael was one of ‘The Independent’s Top 10 Film Books of the Year for 2011.