Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Doctor Who: The Snowmen

Back when it was announced that Steven Moffat was taking over for Russell T. Davies, he made a comment in an early interview about how his take on Doctor Who would be like a series of “dark fairy tales.” Likely realizing that phrase wasn’t the most conducive to garnering sci-fi fan support, he recanted the statement not long after, saying he’d misspoke, or whatever kind of jive doublespeak a showrunner uses when he has to cover his ass. In any case, while Moffat’s version of the series proper doesn’t warrant the label, his Christmas specials are most certainly dark fairy tales, and “The Snowmen” continues the tradition, although it centers around a Doctor in a decidedly less-than-festive mood.

The episode stops short of transforming the Doctor into a Grinch, which is a shame, because it would’ve been a bold move to showcase a Doctor with no patience for the holidays whatsoever — a harsh contrast to his attitude in all the Christmas specials that have come before. This is also one of the least Christmas-y Christmas specials yet, with only a couple throwaway lines referencing the season; drawing attention to the holiday would have been akin to throwing it in the Doctor’s face, and he’d then have had to demonstrate some annoyance with it. Variations on the rally cry “He should’ve done it this way … ” are commonplace now, seemingly with each new episode, so it’s probably better to not focus on what wasn’t but rather what was, otherwise I could be here for hours.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Separated at Birth?

Snow Miser (voiced by Dick Shawn), from the 1970 Rankin Bass holiday special, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Doctor Who: Series Seven, Part One Blu-ray Review

Having recapped/reviewed all five of these episodes for Vulture back in September, I’m not going to talk specifically about each of them, but since the folks at BBC America were kind enough to slide me a review copy of this set, it seemed like the decent thing to do would be to write a few words about it.

Aside from the stellar audio and video quality, I was most taken with the extras on the second disc. The entirety of the web series “Pond Life” is available on here with a “play all” feature, effectively turning it into a seven-minute short film, which now makes for quite the nice preamble to the mini-season which saw the exit of the Ponds. Likewise, the prequel for “Asylum of the Daleks” should also be viewed prior to watching the episode itself. Really, this stuff should’ve been placed on the first disc, but that minor gripe aside, it’s all a welcome inclusion. However, a second prequel, entitled “The Making of the Gunslinger,” is best viewed after watching “A Town Called Mercy,” otherwise it robs the story of some of its dramatic heft.

Beyond those narrative-enhancing bonuses, the set also offers up one of the four 45-minute specials – “The Science of Doctor Who” - presented by BBC America in the weeks leading up to the premiere of “Asylum”; the other three specials are available on their own disc in the massive and probably now hard to find Doctor Who gift set that was released last month. Lastly, there’s a ten minute piece with Smith, Gillan, Darvill and Moffat fawning and being fawned over at Comic Con.

All in all, this is a fine set and an excellent stocking stuffer for the Whovian in your life. Sure, most of what’s on here will be duplicated on the inevitable Season Seven box set, but this Blu-ray makes a lovely placeholder for those who don’t want to wait another six months to see these final adventures of the Doctor and the Ponds in full, uncompressed 1080i glory.

P.S. Asylum of the Daleks gets better with each viewing; best Dalek story since 2005's “Dalek from Rob Shearman, by a mile.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Doctor Who: The Claws of Axos Special Edition DVD review

“Look, Lois, ever since marijuana was legalized, crime has gone down, productivity is up, and the ratings for Doctor Who are through the roof!” - Brian, Family Guy, “Episode 420”

For no less than three different reasons, that remains some of my favorite Family Guy dialogue ever written. It’s anyone’s guess how many Doctor Who fans watch the show in altered states of mind, but now, here in the States, folks in Washington can at least do so openly and without fear of persecution. They can hold massive, marijuana-fueled Who marathons, and any such festival will most surely want to include “The Claws of Axos,” which is not necessarily one of classic Who’s greatest stories, but it’s certainly one of the trippiest.

The plot is no great shakes. It’s a standard alien invasion yarn, that’s hook is “they appear to come in peace, but actually have ulterior, sinister motives.” This is the sort of sci-fi tale that’s been told thousands of times, and by that measure, “The Claws of Axos” will not rock your world. However, Roger Ebert’s old rule – one by which I live and never pass up the opportunity to quote - is, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” And it’s the “how” of “Axos” that makes it such a classic. Just recently one of my Whovian brethren, Lee Hurtado, of The Hurtado Street Theater, was telling me how he got into Who, and explained that even though he’d seen several stories prior, it was “Axos” that eventually sold him on the series. The serial is so damn committed to its own weirdness, that you really cannot take your eyes off of it, and it does sort of beg the question, for the uninitiated at least, “What the fuck is this!?!?”

The first ten minutes of the first episode alone declare, like Laverne and Shirley, “We’re gonna do it our way,” due in no small part to the character Pigbin Josh, a filthy, disgusting, seemingly homeless man (played by stuntman Derek Ware), whose sole function in the story is to be the first victim of the claws of Axos, so that the viewer knows right off the bat that the golden Axons are hostile, despite their benign presentational ruse later on in the tale. Anyway, during this first ten minutes, the action cuts back and forth from the arrival of the Axons, to the Doctor and UNIT, to this character, Pigbin Josh, wandering around in the snow, doing an awful lot of talking to himself, and none of it intelligible. Thankfully, somebody has transcribed some Pigbin speak and put it on the official BBC classic Who website for all to attempt to decipher:  

“Furge thangering muck witchellers rock throbblin' this time o' day Ur bin oughta gone put thickery blarmdasted zones about, gordangun, diddenum? Havver froggin' law onnum, shouldnum? Eh? Eh? Arn I?”

Ahem. Ah, well, yes. If youre an American fan raised on the Peanuts, you’ll quickly begin referring to him as Pigpen Josh, because that makes more sense to a Yank. Now if only Josh were the end of The Weirdness of Axos, which would’ve been a wholly appropriate name for this tale. The Axon ship, years before Farscape’s Moya, is a living ship. Its organic interior is the sort of thing to be hallucinated in the most unsettling of LSD trips, and even as I sit here trying to think of how to describe it, I’m resigning myself to falling back on some sort of clichéd “it defies description” type of line. Really it does, much of which is due to Who’s low budget. Had millions been pumped into this, we may have had a place from which to start talking, but as is, it’s just weird a hodgepodge of bizarre soft angles, vaginal doorways and the occasional crab claw. Oh, and plenty of acid slides. 

Nothing will prepare you for the arrival of the eyeball of Axos, which dangles in exactly the same way a limp penis might, and issues commands and orders in a creepy, hollow voice. Then there are the golden Axons themselves, who are such a striking creation that even in a story that’s as visually whacked as this one, they’ve sort of become the thing “Axos” is most well known for. Or are they? Because later in the story, the Axons reveal another form, which is a hulking, red mess of tentacles - a look which is almost as iconic as the golden versions of Axos. It is debatable, I suppose, which Axon form is the more iconic; the tentacled version has actually been turned into an action figure, while the golden has not (updated 01/06/2014 - now it has), which could be part of the debate. In any case, the fact that the production team achieved two entirely different looks for this race that are both iconic to such degrees is high praise indeed.

So, I’ve pretty much gotten to the point where I’m realizing exactly how balls out crazy I’ve made “Axos” sound, which was sort of the point, because you’ll see things here you can’t unsee, or see in any other Doctor Who story. Should you, as Dazed and Confused advised upon its release, “See it with a bud!”? Most certainly, if and only if that’s your sort of thing. The story works just fine, however, if you’re sober. For a more coherent breakdown, and one mired in actual criticism, I turned to the aforementioned Lee Hurtado, who, to the best of my knowledge, does not engage in the sorts of activities spoken of here. He laid it out thusly:
“There was alchemy at work in the story, something that brought its disparate elements together in a way that shouldn't have worked as it did. The limited production values, the garish visual aesthetic of the Axons, a plot that's at once simple and well over the top, and (of course) the marvelous performances of [Jon] Pertwee and [Roger] Delgado - all combined to create something I recognized as truly alien, and therefore truly original. From then on, my fate was sealed. I was, and am, the Doctor's.”

On a completely different, and in my opinion far less interesting level, anyone who owned the original DVD of “Axos” no doubt knows that the quality of Episodes Two and Three was dodgy at best. New tech has emerged since then, bringing both eps up to a quality comparable to Episodes One and Four, and therefore totally justifying this special edition. For the hardcore Who nut, this isn’t just double-dipping for double-dipping’s sake, it’s quite possibly an essential.

DVD Extras: Almost everything that was on the original DVD (including the commentary with Katy Manning, Richard Franklin, and Barry Letts) has been ported over onto this new double-disc set, except for a ten-minute documentary entitled “Reverse Standards Conversion: The Axon Legacy,” which was a look at the restoration given to the story for the original DVD release; that information is not applicable to this new release, so it has been excised. No new doc, detailing the recent restoration work, was produced to take its place, however there is a fresh, new article up at the Restoration Team’s website detailing the work that went into this special edition.

New to the table is a 26-minute making of doc entitled “Axon Stations!,” which, amusingly, goes into detail about the sheer drugginess of this story, and also spends time discussing the story’s writers, Bob Baker and Dave Martin (the former went on to write Wallace and Gromit). Quite possibly the best extra, however, is “Living with Levene,” in which Toby Hadoke spends the weekend with John Levene (Sgt. Benton), who comes across as a fascinating eccentric, and quite possibly Doctor Who’s most uncelebrated MVP. Finally, partially new to the table is 73 minutes worth of rare “Axos” studio recording, some of which appeared on the old disc in a much shorter version (inexplicably duplicated here as well on Disc One). The Radio Times listings are also presented in PDF form. Additionally, there’s a coming soon trailer for the long awaited release of the unfinished story “Shada,” which will be hitting DVD in January, in a box set along with the 1993 documentary “More Than Thirty Years in TARDIS.”

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Binder's Full of Women: The Evolving Art of the Classic James Bond Title Sequence

Over the years James Bonds came and went. Directors and writers shifted and changed. Vocalists were routinely swapped out. Though not the only constant in the Bond franchise, Maurice Binder, as the primary designer of the instantly recognizable title sequence, was certainly one of the most noticeable ones. For the bulk of Bond’s first 27 years, Binder brought us a cavalcade of swirling colors and curvaceous ladies, typically set to the tune of a current pop sensation. His job was to help set the tone for the film to come by presenting elements and themes from the movie in an abstract, artistic fashion. For many, these title sequences became an important, even necessary part of the Bond movie-going experience, and remain so today, over 20 years after Binder’s passing. Here we take an entirely subjective look at his ongoing contributions to cinema’s longest-running movie franchise.

The first thing ever seen in a Bond movie is the opening gun barrel sequence, and no amount of praise can be too effusive for Maurice Binder’s creation of it. James Bond emerges in profile from the right, caught in the movie viewer’s cross hairs. He then spins around, shoots, and the gun sight fills with, presumably, the viewer’s blood.

It’s become part and parcel of the Bond films ever since, though only in Dr. No is it part of the title sequence proper; afterwards, it would be separated from the titles by the now also iconic pre-credits sequence. Coupled with the infamous Monty Norman-composed Bond theme song, the gun barrel sequence is that instantaneous moment when everyone simultaneously acknowledges they’re watching a Bond film.

After the gun barrel sequence, flashing colored lights set to the Bond theme reveal the title “Dr. No” as well as the cast, followed by the silhouettes of people dancing a sort of Jamaican mambo, and, finally, a calypso version of “Three Blind Mice” dovetails nicely into the movie itself. The Dr. No titles are a lot fun and unique in the Bond film series; the only real element of them that would come to feature heavily in the future is Binder’s inventive, energetic use of silhouette.

Read and watch the rest of this piece by clicking here and visiting the Bullz-Eye Blog.

Friday, October 05, 2012

October 5th, 1962

Oct. 5th, 1962: The first James Bond film, Dr. No, is released in U.K. theatres. On the very same day, the Beatles released their first single, "Love Me Do."

So somewhere in London, somebody walked out of a screening of Dr. No, dazzled by Ursula Andress, and then headed over to the record shop and picked up a new single, by a then unheard of band.

Little did that person know that these two pieces of art would be benchmarks by which so much other pop culture is measured 50 years later.

What a thoroughly amazing day Oct. 5th, 1962 was!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

It would be easy to pull “The Angels Take Manhattan” apart for one little thing after another, and many people no doubt will. Even if they do, that doesn’t make it a bad or a weak episode, but it does point to how complicated this series has gotten over the years, much of it due to the heavy injection of romance. “Angels” isall about romance, though it wants to be about plot, too. Here’s where Steven Moffat has a tendency to trip up in his writing, because his aim is to deliver a big twisty-turny story alongside gushy-wushy emotions, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to do both, especially where long term arcs are concerned. Classic Doctor Who didn’t have this problem, as it wasn’t cluttered with complicated feelings between its characters (or extended story arcs, for that matter). If the Doctor said he couldn’t go back and save Adric from being blown to smithereens, we believed him. There were certain laws of time that couldn’t or shouldn’t be broken, and it made perfect sense.

Now we have a Doctor Who that not only features a godlike central character who appears to be governed by nobody outside of himself, but who’s also an extremely clingy, emotional being, desperate to hang on to his companion, possibly even at the expense of her own husband. So when the script puts him into the position of claiming to be unable to do anything about the situation Amy and Rory find themselves in at the close of this episode, it’s an almost impossible notion to swallow, because in any other episode besides this one, it would’ve been quickly remedied, probably with the wave of the sonic screwdriver.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials DVD review

A few years ago, in a review of the complete series box set of Absolutely Fabulous, I wrote, “Even though the name of this set is ‘Absolutely Everything,’ I wouldn’t put it past Jennifer Saunders to revisit Edina Monsoon at some point in the future. She’s seemingly ended Absolutely Fabulous so many times and then come back to it that it’s hard to believe that it’ll ever truly be over.”

If it weren’t such a no-brainer that Saunders would've again charted the Ab Fab waters, I’d be tempted to gloat. The 20th Anniversary Specials are three, 30-minute episodes, and they’re every bit as funny as the reams of bawdy, satirical nonsense that preceded them. I’m not sure I have a whole lot more to say about this show that I didn’t say in the last review, other than Saunders is more than welcome to continually drop in on these characters time and again, forever, because the joke never gets old (at least not in these tiny increments), and even 20 years after it all began, Jennifer, Joanna, Julia, Jane, and June still have the ability to make me fling my arms around, and cackle at the ceiling.

The first episode, “Identity,” sees Saffy returning home after having done a couple years in prison for creating fraudulent passports. She invites a fellow inmate, Baron (Lucy Montgomery), to come and stay at the flat. Turns out, Baron and Patsy have a sordid history together, and suddenly the inmate’s stay takes a potentially dangerous (but still funny) turn. In this one, Edina has a brief dream sequence that’s the result of her watching the Danish version of The Killing, and the star of that series, Sofie Gråbøl, makes a brief cameo.

“Job” sees Edina and Patsy attempting to resurrect the career of fictional faded 60s film icon Jeanne Durand (Lindsay Duncan), who’s sort of a version of Catherine Deneuve, I guess, if Deneuve had quit working 20 or 30 years ago. Only problem is, she cannot sing, literally – no sounds comes out of her mouth, and Edina and Patsy have booked the Royal Albert Hall! This episode features appearances from Emma Bunton, Lulu and La Roux.

The third and final installment is probably the one to beat. “Olympics” guest-stars Stella McCartney, as well as Olympians Kelly Holmes and Tanni Grey-Thompson, yet the plot is threadbare, but involves lots of sight gags and physical humor, and is chock full of the sort of stuff Ab Fab does best.

Additionally, classic guest characters Justin, Sarah, Bo, Marshall, and Patsy’s co-workers Fleur and Catriona, each get a few minutes here and there, but once again, as has so often been the case, Jane Horrocks steals every scene she’s in as Bubble (and she’s in all three episodes). This is a fine celebration of 20 years of Ab Fab, that never goes overboard, or feels pathetic or dreary like so many such celebrations. It’s just more, good Ab Fab, plain and simple, and this disc would make a great birthday gift or stocking stuffer for the Ab Fab fan in your life, or indeed, for you sweetie dahling!

DVD Extras: A quick Comic Relief sketch, “Ab Fab Does Sports Relief,” also featuring Bunton and McCartney, is best viewed in between “Job” and “Olympics.” There’s also a behind the scenes bit on the sketch.   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Doctor Who: The Power of Three

If you didn’t find yourself humming the tune (and theme song to Weeds) “Little Boxes,” after watching this week’s episode of Doctor Who, you’re made of much stronger (or are at least less pop culturally obsessed) stuff than I. Too bad that isn’t the worst thing that can be said “The Power of Three,” which was a mighty letdown after the last three installments, and only one week before the big Pond finale.

"It’s Doctor Who from Amy and Rory's point of view. We're in the last days of the Ponds as everybody keeps saying, and it was really a chance to see where they've got to in their lives since “The Eleventh Hour,” and to see what it’s like to be them. And I think what’s interesting is that the companion/Doctor relationship in this series is very different to any we’ve seen before because really, they're part-time travellers. They’re living at home, and the Doctor pops in and goes, "Shall we go somewhere?", and they're off. That's very new, because they're not permanently with him, and I wanted to see what that would mean. I think it's very different to pretty much any other episode of Doctor Who ever, which is both wonderful and terrifying." - Chris Chibnall, writer of “The Power of Three”

Let’s start by addressing the “it’s different than any other episode” claim, which is simply not true. “The Power of Three” is all but a carbon copy of the Gareth Roberts penned episodes, guest starring James Corden, of the last two seasons, except that instead of the Doctor hanging out with Craig, or Craig and his baby, he’s hanging out with Amy and Rory. That formula was novel the first time in the form of “The Lodger,” but had the serious stench of been there, done that surrounding it once “Closing Time” came around, and by now it just smacks of desperation, and the need to make an episode which will save the season some money. That last part is perfectly understandable, but couldn’t something better than this have been devised?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doctor Who: Vengeance on Varos Special Edition DVD review

A couple years ago, upon the release of “The Twin Dilemma” - which despite being the first story of the Sixth Doctor, was the final tale of Colin Baker’s to get a DVD release – it felt like the last time I’d be writing about this most divisive era of the classic series for a good long while. But then came the special edition double-dip craze, and a question was posed to fans, “Would you like to see a special edition of ‘Vengeance on Varos’?” And the answer was an enthusiastic yes. But since this is a double dip, rather than talk about “Varos” exclusively, I’d like to use this space to discuss Season 22 as a whole.

“Varos” in many ways exemplifies and is emblematic of the season, given its dark and violent satirical nature. Many claim the story the high point of Baker’s entire stint, something I probably wouldn’t argue, though it’s never been a big favorite of mine. From his era I prefer “The Two Doctors,” “Revelation of the Daleks,” and even “Mindwarp,” which was a sequel (of sorts) to “Varos” from the “Trial” season. Yet through this DVD I gained a considerable appreciation for “Varos” that I didn’t have before, or at least the first half of it, as the second half never quite delivers on the promise of the setup, though your mileage may vary.

There’s a bigger picture here, though, and for better and/or worse, Season 22 is unique in the history of the series. Though the previous season had toyed with a 45-minute episode format via “Resurrection of the Daleks,” that story wasn’t envisioned, scripted or shot to be screened as two 45-minute episodes. But the screening was judged a success, and so when Season 22 was commissioned, the plan was to move ahead with an entire season of 13 45-minute episodes. Sound familiar? It should, because that's essentially the format for a season of the new series. Unfortunately, Season 22 was such a departure on so many levels from the Doctor Who BBC audiences had come to know and love over the previous 21 years, that it was ultimately deemed a failure, and the show was put on hiatus, and ended up going back to the 25-minute format a year and a half later. But as a result of the format change, these six stories have a much different feel than other tales of the classic series. They do not move in quite the same way as the 25-minute format, and it’s typical for the Doctor and Peri to become involved in their adventures at a much more leisurely pace, for instance. They are closer to the tempo of two-parters of the new series, than they are to the four-parters of the classic.

Season 22 has a pretty bad reputation, mostly for all the wrong reasons, and there’s only one truly poor story (“Timelash”) in the half dozen, with the other five ranging from watchable (“The Mark of the Rani”) to good (“The Two Doctors”) to arguably excellent (“Revelation of the Daleks”). There’d certainly been plenty of Doctor Who seasons past with far worse good to bad ratios, though as with so much TV, ratings played a part, and the ratings for Season 22 were less than stellar. But the content was the real killer, and one wonders what might’ve been if Season 22 hadn’t felt like such an upheaval.

The new Doctor was considered by most to be unlikable. There’s surely no Doctor in the history of the series that was and is less liked en masse than the Sixth…though personally I’ve an enormous appreciation for him, and even many fans have grown to love Colin Baker and Doctor #6 through his work on the Big Finish audios. But it’s easy to look at his performance from the time, and see why it was so unpopular. This Doctor didn’t feel like a hero, and the Doctor, no matter how diverse his personality may become, must always be portrayed as a hero, even if it’s a flawed one. Perhaps the Sixth Doctor was a flawed hero, but his boastful, obnoxious manner wasn’t the right complement for viewers adjusting to the loss of Peter Davison. Yet from the vantage point of today, the Sixth Doctor is arguably a fascinating slice of Who, and one that’s much easier to digest as a small part of the now much larger whole.

Nicolas Chagrin as Quillam and Forbes Collins the Chief Officer

Perhaps even more controversial than the abrasive Doctor, was the show’s violent content, which appears to be a logical extension of the violence in the preceding season’s “Resurrection of the Daleks,” as well as “The Caves of Androzani,” both of which were considered successful serials. But whereas the violence in those stories was mostly justified, there are too many times in Season 22 in which the show feels as though it’s engaging in mayhem just for the sake of it. Random acts of brutality occur around and sometimes even because of the Doctor, which he’s uninterested in addressing (or if he does, it's with a tasteless pun). As a teenager, it didn’t occur to me that Baker’s era was necessarily harsher than the material that came before it, but as an adult I’m able to see what all the fuss was about. Thing is, I really don’t mind it, because the violence here remains child’s play compared to the endless displays of cruelty I’ve seen in all manner of TV and film over the years, and because it hardly defines the series as a whole, and just happens to be where the series was at this particular point. 

Martin Jarvis as the Governor
It’s the satire, probably, that really kills this season for so many people. There’s often a wry undercurrent of sadistic humor that pervades these stories (which, when presented alongside the violence and the snotty Doctor, can feel weirdly oppressive) and never more so than in “Vengeance on Varos,” which thrives on it. The story revolves around the class and political structure of the titular planet, which is a dreary sort of place that can most easily be described as Orwellian. On Varos, the populace seemingly works all day at the mines (the planet’s most valuable resource is an ore called Zeiton-7), and spends all night viewing the cruel displays of torture of political prisoners on their big screen TVs. Meanwhile, the actions of their leader, the Governor (Martin Jarvis), must be voted on from within individual households. Basically, everyone has access to their very own “yes” and “no” buttons, and if enough nays are pressed, what appears to be a beam of radiation comes cascading down onto the Governor for all his constituents to see. So it’s only a matter of time until a new Governor must be put into place, because the system is set up so that its leaders must ultimately fail and die.

Nabil Shaban as Sil
If you’ve not seen “Varos,” you can already pretty much glean whether or not it’s your cup of tea, and it’s hardly light entertainment. It boasts an early performance from the 21-year old Jason Connery, as the rebel Jondar, but what “Varos” is probably best known for is the reptilian villain Sil (Nabil Shaban), who’s sort of the breakout creature of the second Baker’s era. Again, I’d take some issue with that, as I’ve never been a giant Sil fan, yet it’s easy to see why many folks are. He’s a sleazy, slimy creepy little thing, that’s something of a triumph of the makeup and/or effects departments of the time. And he’s got a fair share of decent lines, assuming you can understand him.

“Vengeance on Varos” is tough to recommend for, well, for all the reasons I’ve written here. For someone who’s never seen it, it’s a fair representation of this era of the series, and - my overall opinion of it notwithstanding - there’s no question that it’s the most original story of the season, and probably of the entire Colin Baker era. And here in the States there can be no better time to view it than now, given that the political season is upon us, and there’s nothing in “Varos” uglier than what we’re often seeing on TV right now, or reading on the internet every day. You may even find it a sort of release from the frequent mockery of the American political system you’re forced to endure from one day to the next, and you’ll very likely come away from it wishing you had “yes” and “no” buttons of your very own.

Jarvis, Jason Connery and Baker

DVD Extras: All the extras from the original disc seem to have been ported over, including the commentary track featuring Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nabil Shaban, so if you’re a “Varos” fan, you can safely pass your old disc on to a newbie. And if you are a “Varos” fan, I’m pretty confident in predicting you’ll want to make the double dip for this double-disc set. There’s a 32-minute making-of called “Nice or Nasty” that’s appropriately over the top in its exploration and presentation. (Sadly, no Jason Connery, though!) “The Idiot’s Lantern” is a fine, but short piece on the show’s relationship with television over the years (as in how TV is portrayed within the series itself). There’s a 17-minute selection of deleted and extended scenes, which is more than what was on the original disc I think, as well as three minutes of outtakes. The infamous acid bath scene is presented with alternate music in the extras as well. “Tomorrow’s Times – The Sixth Doctor” was reason enough for this double dip; the DVD range would’ve had a big hole without it!

There is also a news item on Colin’s casting, and some Colin talk show appearances from Breakfast Time and Saturday Superstore (the latter also features Bryant, and a phone-in from the Master!). I guess these haven’t been on DVD before, but honestly it’s hard to keep track. There’s a rare French & Saunders sketch with the ladies playing Silurians on the set of a fictitious Who taping that’s great fun, and the opposite of the Jim Broadbent bit I recently trashed. There are the usual Radio Times listings in PDF form, as well as a trailer for the eagerly anticipated “The Ambassadors of Death,” which is due out in October. Finally, the disc features a half a dozen different audio track options, which must surely be a Who DVD record: Aside from the commentary, there’s the original mono mix, a 5.1 Surround mix (that I personally found exceptional), an isolated music score, and the isolated music score in 5.1, and finally a clean production track with no sound effects or music! Go figure. Even better, go and enjoy!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Doctor Who: A Town Called Mercy

The modern western is a fertile ground for writers to play around with morally ambiguous characters, and it was refreshing to see how deep “A Town Called Mercy” was willing to go in its exploration of morality, given that Doctor Who remains family viewing. What was touted to viewers as some kind of shoot ‘em up romp, ended up a thoughtful riff on maybe a half a dozen concepts of different shapes and sizes: High Noon, Leone’s spaghetti westerns, High Plains Drifter, Blade Runner, Frankenstein,The Terminator, and Westworld all leaped to mind while taking in this clever amalgam of ideas. Yet for all its inspirations, “Mercy” was mostly just some excellent, thought-provoking Doctor Who.

Rory: “The sign does say ‘Keep Out.’”

The Doctor: “I see ‘Keep Out’ signs as suggestions more than actual orders. Like ‘Dry Clean Only’!”

“Mercy” writer Toby Whithouse penned the second season Who tale “School Reunion,” in which Lis Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith came back to us. It was early days still, and he was working with an iconic figure, so it was easy to forgive some of that story’s weaknesses, particularly in regards to the batlike, shape-shifting Krillitane, who weren’t especially memorable villains. A couple years later, he unleashed what he’s perhaps best known for, the supernatural vampire/werewolf/ghost series, Being Human.

Whithouse finally returned to the Who fold during the last two seasons with “The God Complex,” a script that felt like it was maybe trying too hard, and the year before that, with “The Vampires of Venice,” a script that felt like it wasn’t trying quite hard enough. Aspects all of his Who scripts share, however, are complex, sympathetic villains next to complex, flawed portrayals of the Doctor. With “A Town Called Mercy,” Whithouse has done it again, and this time better than ever before.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Doctor Who: The Gunfighters DVD review

With “A Town Called Mercy” debuting this weekend, it seemed like a good time to go back and take a look at the DVD of the last Doctor Who story that tackled the western, which was a long time ago - like, 46 years. Yes, we’ll have to travel all the way back to 1966, the third season, when William Hartnell was still the Doctor – the first Doctor…

The TARDIS arrives in Tombstone, Arizona, in a stable near the O.K. Corral. Predictably, it’s just days before the infamous shootout, but the Doctor hasn’t chosen the time and place on purpose. No, the TARDIS has randomly chosen Tombstone, while the Doctor has a serious toothache, and is in need of a dentist. Bizarrely, the fact that the American Old West may not be an ideal place to seek medical attention only becomes an issue when it's too late. The Doctor heads out into the town, along with Steven (Peter Purves) and Dodo (Jackie Lane) - collectively one of the least effective TARDIS teams, perhaps never more so than here – in search of a dentist. He finds one in the form of Doc Holliday (Anthony Jacobs), who’s just set up practice, and the Doctor is his first customer.

Post surgery, our Doc is mistaken for the other, and the first couple episodes mostly revolve around the time travelers being threatened and intimidated by the Clantons. But then Johnny Ringo (Laurence Payne[1]) shows up in episode three (aptly titled “Johnny Ringo”; “The Gunfighters” is in fact the final story to give individual episodes their own title), and events escalate towards the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, around which the final episode is set.

“The Gunfighters,” back when I was a teenager, had one of the worst reputations of the entire series. People don’t say quite as many bad things about the “The Gunfighters” these days, but then again people don’t really say much about it at all. According to Wikipedia, back in ’66 it wasn’t the ratings that were a disaster, but rather the Audience Appreciation scores, which were among the lowest Doctor Who has ever received. It’s sort of easy to see why, too, for much of “The Gunfighters” is intentionally played for laughs, yet the jokes exist side by side with a fair amount of ruthless bloodshed.

So, “The Gunfighters” is funny and violent, and neither thing, at that time anyway, was Doctor Who necessarily well known for, never mind mixing them together. Add into that mix some frequently dodgy accents (though they’re not nearly as bad as reputation suggests), and the song The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon[2], which plays ad nauseum throughout the entire four episodes, essentially narrating the story in a Greek chorus kind of way, and you’ve got a recipe for potentially one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever.

Except that it isn’t. Not quite. Looking at “The Gunfighters” through the eyes of today, it holds up well enough, all things considered, and kudos should be given to something that dared to be so bold and different during what was a fairly turbulent time for the series. Its moody lighting and the direction from Rex Tucker are also rather impressive. 

If it fails to engage, it’s not because its tone shifts all over the place, but rather because the leads are so ineffectual and unimportant to the storyline. The Doctor is utterly ill-equipped to deal with these ruthless sorts of folk. He’s out of his element here, and Hartnell seems to grasp that, and in turn does a remarkable job of doing almost nothing, aside from being a flustered old man. He’s hardly the hero of the tale, which makes for a much different dynamic, as one character after the next has no patience for this seemingly doddering geriatric and his goofy companions. It’s as if the story happens around them, and they have little effect on the outcome of events. On the other hand, it could be argued that this is a strength of “The Gunfighters”; that the Doctor cannot stride into every situation and have influence on the outcome. Indeed, the events of the O.K. Corral may very well be a fixed point in time, of the type that was outlined in “The Waters of Mars.”

It’s tough to recommend “The Gunfighters” to anyone but completists and the like, but at the very least, it’s certainly a more entertaining viewing than something like, say, “The Ark.” By premature comparison, “A Town Called Mercy” likely has nowhere to go but up. Last but not least, I would personally love to someday see the Doctor’s extracted tooth come back into play ala the Tenth Doctor’s severed hand. Silly fanboy wish; nothing more.

[1] Laurence Payne would go on to play major roles in the 80’s Doctor Who stories “The Leisure Hive” and “The Two Doctors.  

[2] The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon was sung by Lynda Baron, who 17 years later played Captain Wrack in “Enlightenment,” and then 28 years after that, played Val, the department store clerk in “Closing Time.”

DVD Extras: Easy enough to recommend is the fascinating 43-minute documentary on this disc entitled “The End of the Line,” which details all the behind the scenes turmoil of the show’s third season. It’s worth checking out this disc for the doc alone. Beyond that, there’s a commentary track featuring actors Peter Purves, Shane Rimmer (Seth Harper), David Graham (Charlie), Richard Beale (Bat Masterson), and production assistant Tristan de Vere Cole, all moderated by the mighty Toby Hadoke. “Tomorrow’s Times – The First Doctor” is a featurette which looks at press coverage of the series during the Hartnell era. There’s also a photo gallery, production notes subtitle option, Radio Times listings in PDF form, and a coming soon trailer for “Paradise Towers.” 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship

Thankfully, writer Chris Chibnall did not riff on Sam Jackson’s infamously profane line of Snakes on a Plane dialogue, which, going into this episode, was the most unsettlingly awkward prospect imaginable, especially if it had been in the form of a PG-rated tongue twister coming from Matt Smith. Since that didn’t happen, though, the only direction for estimation to go was up, and that’s mostly because, with a title like “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” expectations were low to begin with, since, well, we’re not 10-year olds anymore.

The Doctor: “Well, there’s so much to discover. Think how much wiser we’ll be by the end of all this.”

In this digital age of creating dinosaurs with ease, it’s almost amazing that it’s taken Doctor Who seven seasons to get around to doing it, yet for much of the time the revival’s been on the air, one of its chief competitors, creatively speaking, has been the ITV series Primeval. With that show currently in a production limbo, it was probably seen as a good time to go find out what might be done with the Doctor meeting dinos. As it turns out, the prehistoric creatures were only slightly more pivotal to the goings-on than the Führer was to “Let’s Kill Hitler.”

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Doctor Who: The Greatest Show in the Galaxy DVD review

With the release of “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” the Sylvester McCoy era draws to its DVD close, and the final tale of Season 25 is a fine enough series of notes to go out on. Like “The Happiness Patrol” before it, “Galaxy” is (sometimes) a satire, only the satirical elements here aren’t as prominent as the story’s emphasis on surrealism. This is the sort of material that the McCoy era seemed hell bent on exploring, yet came away from with mixed results. “Galaxy,” to my mind, never quite scales the perfection of the story that brought us Helen A and the Kandy Man, but then it’s not going for as political a statement, either. At its core, “Galaxy” is about not following your dreams by selling out, and the horror and hurt that results from inaction.

That such ideas should be wrapped around a story set at a circus makes “Galaxy” a possibly appealing proposition, and it is a worthy story, even if flawed, due to a somewhat unsatisfying final act. (Similarly, writer Stephen Wyatt’s previous Doctor Who script, “Paradise Towers,” resulted in much the same ratio, though this is still superior to that offering.) 

The Doctor (McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) receive a piece of intergalactic junk mail inviting them to the Psychic Circus, currently operating on the planet Segonax. The Circus, which was once quite the draw for young and old alike, has fallen on hard times. The staff is in shambles and at odds with one another, while visitors go in and don’t come out. Seemingly unaware of what the Circus has devolved into, and despite Ace’s fear of clowns, the Doctor heads for Segonax, and naturally the pair find themselves in loads of trouble and danger, yet always surrounded by an extremely colorful cast of characters.

Christopher Guard's Bellboy menaced by Ian Reddington's Chief Clown
It’s the clowns, though, that elevate “Galaxy” from intriguing to well worth a look. The Chief Clown was brought to life by a guy named Ian Reddington, who was so good in his role, that in a Doctor Who Magazine poll, he won best villain of the season – in a year that had already featured villainy in the forms of Daleks, Davros, Cybermen, Nazis, a time-traveling witch, as well as the aforementioned tyrannical dictator, and her sweet-toothed psychotic servant. Yes, even through the lens of today, the Chief Clown (and to a lesser degree, his silent, robotic minions) makes an impression, and if you’ve a fear of clowns, as many seem to, you can’t say you weren’t warned. Reddington gets a great deal of mileage from never playing the part even remotely for laughs, yet his clown has an unsettling welcoming quality, but doesn’t necessarily give off a sinister vibe until the camera captures him in just the right moments. It’s a tough act to describe, and better imbibed; one helluva performance, which might’ve made Pennywise weep with envy.

Sophie Aldred & Sylvester McCoy
The rest of the cast shines as well, featuring an array of talented Brits - mostly unknown here in the States - who inhabit all the various carnies and fans of the circus. Aldred is in as fine a form as usual, and McCoy acquits himself nicely, turning in a subdued performance that only falls apart in the final act when he’s forced to do a bunch cheap parlor tricks that are more at home on a vaudevillian stage than on Doctor Who (though keep an eye out for the hanging man tarot card introduced in episode two, that’s paid off in episode four). Further, this is a tale in which it’s never made specifically clear whether or not the Doctor is manipulating events in his favor; might be, might not. The revelations of the true enemy in the final act indicate that maybe he “knew all along,” yet it’s in no way ever spelled out. Frankly, I prefer McCoy’s Doctor a little more ambiguous, such as he is here, but the lack of narrative clarity may have some viewers calling foul.

Behind the scenes of “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” things were a disaster, and, due to an asbestos scare at the BBC, the serial was this close to being scrapped entirely. All of its exterior location work had been completed when this was discovered, but the remainder of the production (roughly ¾ of it) was scheduled to be completed in studio at the BBC, which was now unavailable. Producer John Nathan-Turner knew the potential power of this tale, and wasn’t about to let it go. He fought tooth and nail to finish “Galaxy,” and in the end a giant tent (so perfect given that it largely takes place inside, wait for it…a giant tent!) was erected on the Elstree Film Studios parking lot, where the serial was completed. Kudos also to director Alan Wareing, who makes the most of everything at his disposal, imbuing the serial with proper chilly atmosphere, and casting a sense of dread over the entire piece.

John Nathan-Turner
But much credit must be given to Nathan-Turner. If it weren’t for his dedication, “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy” would barely exist today. We’d have about an episode’s worth of existing footage, and the serial would probably survive only in some sort of “Shada”-like limbo, with animated recreations, or audios, or books to attempt to show us what the serial might have been. The extras on this DVD go a long way toward giving him that much deserved credit, and those associated with the serial appear to have nothing but admiration for the man. People all too often talk a great deal of smack about Nathan-Turner, but not here. Not on this disc - which in addition to being generous towards JN-T, is also bursting at the seams with worthy bonus material.

T.P. McKenna as Captain Cook & Jessica Martin as Mags
DVD Extras: The Toby Hadoke-moderated commentary is a blast, loaded with fun, opinions and information. It features Aldred, alongside actors Jessica Martin (Mags) and Christopher Guard (Bellboy), as well as writer Wyatt, script editor Andrew Cartmel, and composer Mark Ayres. It’s something of a shame, given that it’s the last disc of his era to get a release, but McCoy is nowhere to be seen here, in any form or fashion (it seems unlikely that any of his other stories will get special edition treatment, but who knows?). The aptly-titled “The Show Must Go On” is a fine, 30-minute making-of which explores much of what’s been talked about here, including the behind-the-scenes complications. It also includes an on-camera interview with Ian Reddington, which is quite the bonus for fans of the Chief Clown.

There’s an 11-minute selection of extended and deleted scenes culled from the first and third episodes, alongside some intriguing model footage that was originally set to open the serial. “The Psychic Circus” is a mostly terrible music video for an even worse song that’s written by Christopher Guard, and features vox from Guard, Jessica Martin, and T.P. McKenna (who must surely have been drunk when he agreed to take part in the project). “‘Remembrance’ Demo” is a couple scenes from the Season 25 Dalek story, rescored by Ayres. “Tomorrow’s Times – The Seventh Doctor” is a look at the press reaction to the McCoy years. “Victoria Wood As Seen on TV is a mercifully short, howlingly awful piece of sketch comedy featuring none other than Jim Broadbent sending up a version of the Doctor. I can actually remember when this fiasco made the cover of Doctor Who Magazine; must've been a slow month for news. There’s also an isolated music score, the option to listen to the serial in 5.1 Surround, an unusually excellent photo gallery packed with great behind-the scenes shots, the production notes subtitle option, and Radio Times listings & some storyboards in PDF form. Finally, there’s an Easter Egg that flew entirely over my head, and a coming soon trailer for “Planet of Giants.”

Behind the scenes, at lunch

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Two types of Doctor Who episodes Steven Moffat has excelled at envisioning are Christmas episodes and season premieres. Once again, in the latter area, he has not failed. “Asylum of the Daleks” is a deliriously intense dramatic trip — a Hammer House of Dalek Horrors — that delivers on just about every count and expectation one could have from a 50-minute installment of this series. It’s probably Moffat’s finest season opener yet. (The list of requests I wrote earlier this week? Let’s just say I’m presently a satisfied Whovian.) After the bad taste left by so much of season six, this felt very much like a series getting itself back on track. Perhaps we shouldn’t get prematurely excited, though, lest we end up let down later? It is, after all, only the first installment of a season of 14 that’s going to stretch well into next year. Still, this was most reassuring.

Many aspects are worthy of discussion, but the one that was the most startling was the early appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman, here playing a character named Oswin Oswald, revealed in the climax to be a human converted into a Dalek. Moffat has insisted for months that Coleman’s new companion would be introduced at Christmas, to the point where this was an accepted fact; obviously a massive deception. Why keep it a secret, and is the “surprise” a surprise to the average viewer who doesn’t keep track of behind the scenes stuff such as casting? Even over in the U.K., where the public actually knows who Coleman is, won’t most viewers just shrug and say, “Oh yeah, I heard she was coming onto the show.” It’s a long way to go to keep a secret that didn’t necessarily need to be kept.

Read the rest of this recap by clicking here and visiting Vulture.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Five Things We Hope to See in Doctor Who’s Season Seven

As of this Saturday night’s season seven premiere, it will have been exactly eleven months to the day since Doctor Who was last regularly seen on our TV screens. Expectations for a new run of episodes are always high. But for some, this season’s hopes verge on borderline desperate. See, season six didn’t go over particularly well with many hardcore fans. Drunk on the success of his partial reinvention of the show the year prior, head writer and executive producer Steven Moffat went and made the series his own — arguably more so than any other producer before him.

On Moffat’s watch, Doctor Who became a celebration of the clever, rather than the intelligent. One-liners were traded back and forth in place of conversations. Sexual innuendo took the place of declarations of passion and love. All of this was reflected in his quartet of lead characters’ ongoing need to keep their emotions guarded, a departure from the exposed heartbeats often on display under former creative lead Russell T. Davies. When they weren’t engaging in snarky wordplay, Moffat often forced the Doctor and his best friends, the Ponds, to endure uncomfortable silences at odds with the Doctor Who we’ve come to know.

Read the rest of my first article for Vulture by clicking here and visiting their website.

Also, I'm returning to the world of Doctor Who recaps starting this weekend. Links to my Vulture pieces will be posted here on Sunday afternoons. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doctor Who: Spearhead from Space Special Edition DVD review

Looking for a review of the Spearhead from Space Blu-ray? Click here.

Having been critical of some of the recent classic Who Special Edition DVDs, it’s great to be in a position to bestow some kudos once again, as “Spearhead from Space” is a story absolutely deserving of some double dip love, especially given that, alongside “The Five Doctors” and “The Robots of Death,” it was one of the first three stories released on DVD back in September of 2001. First is a word that
’s used frequently when talking about “Spearhead.” It’s the first story of the 1970’s. It’s the first story in color. It’s the first tale of Season Seven. It’s the first story of Jon Pertwee’s era, as well as the first story with Caroline John’s Liz Shaw. It’s the first story to feature the Autons. It’s the first story to explore in some detail the process of regeneration, and the Doctor’s physiology (we’ve got your first mention of two hearts, right here!)

Now that’s a lot of firsts, and yet what to my mind overshadows them all is the fact that “Spearhead from Space” is the first - and only - story from the classic series shot entirely on film[1] and on location. If it weren’t the sole instance, that fact would likely be lumped in with all the other firsts, but since visually this tale is such an anomaly, its filmic aspects tower above almost everything else. Once one sees “Spearhead,” one cannot help but wonder what the rest of Doctor Who might’ve been like if everything that followed had been produced in this manner.

One major criticism that all too often gets lobbed in the direction of classic Who is that it frequently looks cheap, due to how much of it’s shot on videotape. One thing unlikely to ever be said about “Spearhead” is that it looks cheap; dated, perhaps, but not cheap. Shot entirely on 16mm, this thing looks like a coolly classic horror sci-fi flick from the early 70’s. It has such a different style that much of it is borderline unrecognizable as Doctor Who. (Obviously, your mileage may vary.) As for why this happened, and why it never happened again, well, let’s leave a few mysteries for you to discover via the DVD.

So, all these firsts tend to dominate any discussion of “Spearhead,” to the point where the story itself doesn’t get talked about nearly as much, but then again the story isn’t necessarily one of its strongest aspects. It’s a good, old-fashioned alien invasion yarn, sure, but it’s not exactly bathed in brilliance from a plot or character standpoint. What is its greatest strength, however, is in how perfectly Robert Holmes’s script reinvented Doctor Who from what it was before. In one fell swoop it became virtually a different TV series from the six seasons that preceded it, and laid down a new template that would be followed and/or experimented with over the next few years (though in fairness, credit also needs to be given to “The Web of Fear” and The Invasion.”)

Further, an argument could easily be mounted that it was here, within the confines of “Spearhead,” that the seeds for modern Doctor Who were laid. You’ll find inspiration from “Spearhead” in no less than “Doctor Who: The Movie,” “Rose,” and “The Christmas Invasion,” and what those stories all have in common is that each of them is a “starting over” point, and they all seemingly had the good sense to reach back to this tale as a means of doing just that.

There’s loads of talk and info on this DVD about how and why Doctor Who was very near the brink of cancellation at the end of the Troughton era, and that the only reason it was given another season is because the higher ups at the BBC couldn’t come up with a worthy replacement. In this instance, thank goodness for their uncreative minds, because if not for the greenlighting of another season with a new Doctor, and for Derrick Sherwin’s bold reinvention of the series, it’s highly unlikely we’d be talking about Doctor Who today. Sherwin’s a guy who doesn’t often get a lot of credit for his contributions to the series, but he did some really important stuff in regards to Who (or at least he claims to have). While “Spearhead” is a story of many firsts, in the case of Sherwin it was his last, for it was after the production of this serial that he was moved off of Who, and Barry Letts was brought in as his replacement. 

If there’s a star of “Spearhead,” it’s undoubtedly the Autons. Simply, the series had never seen anything like them before, and children raised on steady diets of Cybermen and Daleks must have been truly and genuinely terrified by the shop window mannequins coming to life, and going on a killing spree across London. These creatures didn’t feel like fiction from outer space, but seemingly a tangible threat kids could understand and relate to in a way that few Who monsters before them achieved. But alas, shop window dummies proved to be something of a one-trick pony, as the sequel to “Spearhead,” “Terror of the Autons,” proved by being considerably less effective than the original, and the Autons wouldn’t threaten the Doctor again until 2005, in the aforementioned “Rose.” (Due credit must also be given to Steven Moffat for his own reinvention of what an Auton can be via Rory the Roman.)

As far as double-dips go, “Spearhead” looks as clean and perfect as ever I’ve seen it (and boy have I seen some crappy looking versions of this over the years). I don’t know if it’s quite a night and day difference from the 2001 DVD. I attempted to do some screengrab comparisons for this piece, but ultimately decided to not go that route as I couldn’t see major, breathtaking differences via frame by frame comparisons. That said, this serial’s been cleaned up considerably in contrast to the old DVD, and the new extras more than make it worth returning to the well. Besides, the bit of the excised Fleetwood Mac song “Oh Well, Part 1” has been reinstated into the factory scene. (For purists, this is great news. For Mac freaks like me? A long overdue necessity.) My only complaint? If ever there was a classic Who story that begged for a Blu-ray release, it’s this one, and it sure would’ve been nice if a chance had been taken, as this would be a treasure in 1080p.

[1] The only other Doctor Who story shot entirely on film was the aforementioned TV movie from 1996, but this writer doesn’t consider that part of the classic series, because, well, it’s not. It stands on it own. I’m not saying it’s not part of continuity, just not part of the classic series.

DVD Extras: Aside from the now dated “Who’s Who” featurette, everything from the 2001 DVD, including the commentary with Nick Courtney and Caroline John, has been ported over for this release, so you can pass your old disc on to a Who newbie with confidence. New to this disc is a second commentary track featuring Sherwin and Terrance Dicks, which is lively, informative fun. Sherwin’s something of a blowhard, but that’s part of his charm. He reminds me far more of an American producer than a Brit. “Down to Earth” is a fine, proper making of doc, even if at 22 minutes it feels a little short. It includes bits from a vintage interview with Jon Pertwee, which is a nice bonus. “Regenerations: From Black and White to Color” feels as if it’s an extension of the first doc, and its title is fairly self-explanatory. Additionally, there’s a nice selection of Radio Times listings in PDF form, and a trailer for “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.”