Doctor Who: The Collection continues with the latest release Season 26. This is the final season of the so-called ‘classic era’ of the show. The last episodes of Doctor Who broadcast during the 1980’s and with the exception of one night in 1996, the last until 2005. So if viewers had turned away from it on broadcast is it any good?
Bold statement time. I think Season 26 is the best Season of Doctor Who. I adore ‘Battlefield‘ although it would’ve been better as a 3-parter. ‘Ghost Light‘ is so intricate that the televised version really didn’t do it justice. ‘The Curse of Fenric‘ is Doctor Who at it’s very best, with terrifying monsters and a historical setting, plus the relationship between Doctor and companion has never been more gripping. Finally, ‘Survival‘ is a properly adult story which would set the template not only for the Virgin New Adventures novels but also the returning series in 2005. Season 26 might’ve been a swansong for Doctor Who but it delivered fascinating and creative stories that proved the show had a future. It might’ve been the end but in many respects it was also the beginning.
For a fan of Season 26 the first port of call is to watch these four stories. But which version? One of the more exciting elements of this release is the multiple versions of particular stories available. For instance, there are three versions of ‘Battlefield‘ and three versions of ‘The Curse of Fenric‘ to watch and enjoy. This includes VHS versions of both stories, both very popular by those who purchased them at the time.
Best of all there is also a new extended ‘workprint’ version of ‘Ghost Light‘ to be enjoyed. This has been specially assembled for this release and presents a previously unseen edit of the story. All versions of these tremendous stories have been fully restored and are presented at their very best. Applause must be directed for the picture restoration by Peter Crocker/SVS and sound restored by Mark Ayres who’s also been responsible for the 5.1 surround sound mixes for those who enjoy such things.
The Box Set
Once again the physical product is another delight to behold. Design and illustration on the set comes from the impeccable Lee Binding. I particularly like the eerie green accompanying the monsters and villains on the front cover. Sylvester also looks the part as the darker Seventh Doctor of Season 26, yet with a hint of that mischievous smile. Inside the box are also some wonderful scene re-imaginings. Firstly, the TARDIS interior from ‘Battlefield‘, which wasn’t properly seen onscreen due to the poor condition of the TARDIS walls. Then there is powerful imagery for ‘The Curse of Fenric‘ and ‘Survival‘. Those seven discs are therefore housed in a delightful item.
Top of the list of special features to watch in this release is a brand-new documentary covering the life of Doctor Who’s longest serving Producer. Showman: The Life of John Nathan-Turner is a poignant and beautifully pieced together documentary. Archive interviews with JNT are combined with some fresh insights from friends and colleagues, plus some lovely camera work around BBC Television Centre and other locations to deliver a truly special piece. Admittedly the story presented is far more sanitised than Richard Marson’s extraordinary biography and also failed to acknowledge how devoted JNT was to his mother who passed away shortly before he did. However, Showman manages to skilfully capture the highest high of the 20th Anniversary year to the devastating lows. The finale is brutally sad but appropriately so.
Additionally, Matthew Sweet returns to interview one of the key cast, this time with Sophie Aldred sat opposite him. Some of the stories have been told elsewhere before. Probably many times over. Even so the detail has rarely been so forensic and therefore feels entirely fresh. Revelations about her relationship with JNT for instance were explored in far more detail than I had heard previously.
‘Behind the Sofa‘ also returns with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, Anneke Wills, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton, Joy Wilkinson and Peter McTighe all enjoying the thrills and chills of Season 26. McTighe also provides the booklet notes, an item which proves vital to find which disk you need to watch what you want, further demonstrating his impressive knowledge showcased during ‘Behind the Sofa‘. Additionally, there is all the original bonus material from the DVD releases, PDFs, commentaries and so much more to enjoy.
As with some of the previous releases for Doctor Who: The Collection there has been a little delay in receiving the final product. However, it was unquestionably worth the wait. Huge credit must go to the creative team involved. Rather than rush out the box set they pushed back the release to ensure the material was given the justice it deserves. The final result is possibly the best release in The Collection so far. There is so much material over the seven discs that it will provide hours and hours of entertainment. Multiple versions of superb Doctor Who stories, brilliant new special features and a wonderful physical product.
Season 26 might’ve been the end of Doctor Who on television for a while but you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than this box set. Highly recommended.