This story takes
place BETWEEN THE
EVENTS OF THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO BOOK
"THE PRISONER OF
PELADON" AND THE
RADIO DRAMA "THE
PARADISE OF DEATH."
EITHER 'THE TIME
WARRIOR' DVD (BBC
DVD2334) RELEASED IN
OR 'BRED FOR WAR' DVD
BOX SET (BBCDVD2617)
RELEASED IN MAY 2008.
THE DOCTOR IS CALLED
IN BY UNIT TO
INVESTIGATE WHEN A
NUMBER OF SCIENTISTS
GO MISSING FROM A TOP
KIDNAPPINGS BACK IN
TIME TO THE MIDDLE
AGES, HE IS UNAWARE
JANE HAS STOWED
ABOARD THE TARDIS.
AS EVENTS UNFOLD, THE
ON ALTERING THE FUTURE
The Time Warrior
15TH DECEMBER 1973 - 5TH JANUARY 1974
I am confident that the first of September 2007’s ‘classic’ Doctor Who DVD releases will be a big hit amongst fans. For starters, “The Time Warrior” is one of just a handful of Doctor Who serials that has never been made commercially available in its original episodic format - the 1989 VHS release consisted solely of a 90-minute movie compilation. Furthermore,
as the gigantic sticker slapped across the cellophane proudly boasts, this serial also saw Sarah Jane Smith make her very first appearance in the show. Shrewd timing, bearing in mind that the first series of The Sarah Jane Adventures will be hitting our television screens later this month. And last but certainly not least, the DVD’s flagship 30-minute featurette - “Beginning the End” - will doubtless be of great interest to even those like myself who are not necessarily huge fans of “The Time Warrior” itself, but do still have a soft spot for the third Doctor / UNIT era.
As the title of the aforementioned featurette suggests, this serial saw the winding up of Jon Pertwee’s reign begin in earnest. After three solid years of constancy, Doctor Who’s eleventh season truly rang in the changes. The most immediately apparent divergence was Bernard Lodge’s new slit-scan title sequence that depicted a full-length Doctor set against a predominantly blue time vortex. This style of title sequence, albeit slightly amended, would ultimately become synonymous with Tom Baker’s tenure. The more anally retentive amongst us will also note that the first episode of this story is referred to as a ‘part’ rather than an ‘episode’, something else that would become the norm from hereon in.
More fundamentally though, the first ‘part’ of the story began the gradual phasing out of UNIT, with the Brigadier and a small selection of troops making only the most fleeting of appearances. Jo Grant’s departure at the end of the tenth season had also left something of a gaping hole that Barry Letts and Terran Cedicks urgently needed to fill; Katy Manning’s character had wormed her way into the hearts of Doctor Who fans far more so than any companion that had preceded her. More than that though, Jo and the Doctor had a certain chemistry between them that just worked. Manning and Pertwee gelled so very well that, much like the seventh Doctor and Ace or the second Doctor and Jamie that it is hard to imagine the third Doctor being teamed up with anyone else. Suffice it to say that Jo was not an easy act to follow, but thankfully fortune was smiling on Letts and Dicks. After what I gather was quite the casting saga, young Liverpudlian actress Elisabeth Sladen was cast in the role that she was born to play: freelance journalist Sarah Jane Smith, a feisty and wilful women’s lib crusader who would turn out to be, without exception, the Doctor’s single most identifiable travelling companion.
It had never struck me until I bought this DVD that “The Time Warrior” was Doctor Who’s
first ‘pseudo-historical’, as well as the third Doctor’s first televised journey back in time. I think the reason that this detail had eluded me previously is that, despite what the special features on the DVD would have you believe, old Sontaran Field Marshal Hol Mes did not invent the so-called ‘pseudo-historical’ sub-genre – Barry Letts and Robert Sloman snuck in a couple of season’s earlier with “The Time Monster” which saw the third Doctor and Jo journey back in time to visit the ancient city of Atlantis. Even so, I must concede that “The Time Warrior” does stand out like a sore thumb, lost as it is amongst the third Doctor’s adventures set either on contemporary Earth or on distant planets in the future. Moreover, whilst this story’s period setting is still charmingly vague, I think it is fair to say that the world
of medieval England – knights and castles and bows and arrows etc – has a much more solid grounding in established history than the third Doctor’s last foray back in time and so I can (begrudgingly) see why this serial is so often hailed as the first of its kind.
While we are on the subject of history, in the “Beginning the End” documentary Letts makes a very interesting point about the Doctor’s refusal to interfere with ‘history’. Now this is something that has always bothered me – surely, to a Time Lord, everything within the web of time is history, whether it is in the past, present or future from the viewers’ perspective? Nevertheless, whenever the Doctor travels back into what the audience considers to be ‘history’, he is either unwilling or unable to intervene. I thought that Letts was going to give some fascinating explanation for this… but then he did not.
He did, however, most vociferously denounce Alan Bromly’s efficient but distinctly drab
direction. As I have seen most Doctor Who serials more times than is generally considered to be healthy, a lot of the fun for me in watching these jazzed-up DVD releases is watching the plethora of bonus material and learning about things that I never knew beforehand. And the fact that Bromly ran such a tight but bland ship that, for the first time ever in the history of
the series, on one night in the studio filming was finished by – can you believe it – 9.30pm was news to me, for example. Unfortunately this fact is quite evident when watching the
story - Bromly’s direction is clinical and concise, yet devoid of any passion or flair – heck,
the man used stock footage of some bricks exploding to represent Irongron’s castle blowing up! Mercifully this DVD spares us this as well as no less than fifteen other appalling effects as the Restoration Team have given us the option of viewing the story with replacement CG effects. Now I will not lie to you, the CGI on show here is hardly state-of-the-art, but it is about a million per cent improvement on the original serial. And for the purists who think that CGI tinkering is heresy, you can still watch the original 1973/74 version as broadcast.
Above: The serial's new CG effects
The four episodes themselves have never looked better. Despite their dramatically increased workload – I make the “The Time Warrior” the eighth classic serial to see DVD release in 2007 thus far, and we still have as many again to look forward to before Christmas! – the Restoration Team are still giving every single story just as much TLC;
some of the outdoor film sequences in this story could have been shot yesterday they look
so good. Regrettably though, despite its evident popularity, I do not rate the story itself all
that highly. It is certainly not a dreadful serial by any means, but I have watched it a few times now over the years and it still does not quite grab me the way that it should - a rarity for a Robert Holmes script. Perhaps his reluctance to enter the Middle Ages shows…
That said, the one facet that I have always admired about “The Time Warrior” is just how well Holmes manages to establish the Sontaran race through just one character and in less than four episodes. Wonderful ideas like the Sontarans being a clone race, their eternal war against the Rutans, and their complete lack of any redeeming features are all set up terrifically here in a very short space of time. Holmes can only take part of the credit, though -much of the Sontarans’ success comes from their exceptional appearance that, even by today’s soaring standards, still cuts the mustard.
There are a few other bits and bobs that I liked about the story too. Sarah Jane enjoys a tremendously strong first outing; I especially liked how she suspects the Doctor of
everything. Her pig-headed refusal to accept that she has travelled back in time, even after having seen the magic of the TARDIS interior, is perhaps a little bit implausible though. Both David Daker’s villainous Irongron and his comical lapdog Bloodaxe (John J Carney) are a joy to watch on screen, each imbuing their characters with a certain histrionic charisma. And on top of all that Boba Fett rears his head, disguised as Hal the Archer!
Most important of all though, the Doctor’s homeworld is finally given a name – Gallifrey. It is also quite remarkable that in his vague ramblings about his heredity, the Doctor concedes that he is not from Earth but he does not totally divorce himself from humanity - perhaps this is what gave Matthew Jacobs the idea for his ‘half-human’ TV Movie angle.
Aside from the “Beginning the End” feature, there are not really any other special features of note. There is a discerning commentary featuring Elizabeth Sladen, Barry Letts, and Terrance Dicks and a short compilation of continuities that I have to say are a cut above the usual standard – the Restoration Team have put together a lovely and nostalgic little Radio Times montage. I was also pleased to see that Clayton Hickman was brought back on
board to design the cover art – there was not an outline to be seen!
And so despite having to prepare more stories for release than ever before, “The Time Warrior” demonstrates that the Restoration Team’s standards are just as high as they have always been. As is mentioned somewhere on this DVD (though I forget where), Terrance Dicks once famously quipped “Doctor Who is the only prison where time gets added on for good behaviour”, referring to his desire to leave the show at the end of the ninth season. If Dicks’ words were indeed true, then the Restoration Team are going to be doing hard time for the foreseeable future...
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007
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