It has been a ten long months since the last release in the Doctor Who: The Collection range. (Made even longer by a missed postman and delayed redelivery.) Season 14 was another triumph headlined by the tear-jerking documentary ‘Our Sarah Jane‘. So can Season 8 compete with the previous releases particularly when hampered by a global pandemic?
Season 8 is the second release from the Jon Pertwee era to be featured in The Collection range. It now also becomes the earliest Season of Doctor Who to be given the Blu Ray treatment. Season 10, released in July 2019, concluded with the departure of Jo Grant. Now we can see where it all began.
First and foremost ‘Terror of the Autons‘ has never looked better. Frankly it must be witchcraft, because unless four colour copies have suddenly materialised, then these recolourised episodes, with even more work on them, look in pristine condition. There is also the option to watch the story with new FX and also CSO clean-up.
One of Barry Letts’ favourite inventions was CSO (Colour Separation Overlay). It was a very useful tool in order to stretch the budget on Doctor Who a little further. However, as we look back on it now it is tough not to notice the flaring around the edges. So imagine if the brilliant people in charge of The Collection range went to the time and effort to tidy up these images. Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Additionally, the sequences with the troll doll are absolutely incredible. Surely they have been created specifically for this release but they blend in so beautifully you may not notice. Then there’s the dramatic finale and a cephalopod you might not have been expecting! The results of all this work speak for themselves. They are simply incredible.
‘Terror of the Autons‘ is a wonderfully macabre tale with a returning villain, a new arch nemesis and a new companion. It is Doctor Who at it’s very best, where the mundane becomes murderous. Stacked full of memorable moments it is the perfect way to kick off Season 8 with a bang!
The Other Stories
Continuing the remainder of Season 8 is ‘The Mind of Evil‘, which I’ve always rather enjoyed. Yes it is too long at six episodes but there’s plenty to like and be intrigued by. The homage to A Clockwork Orange is a bit obvious but the convicted villains add a sense of gritty realness to an otherwise fantastical tale.
Next up is ‘The Claws of Axos‘. A colourful adventure with some hideous monstrosities, both alien and the Whitehall “England for the English” types. There is also an opportunity to watch an extended version of Episode 1. The additional scenes don’t particularly add much to the story but they are nice to have reinstalled. If you are so inclined then the full studio recording session is also available to watch at your leisure.
I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘Colony in Space‘. It’s a depressing story, set on a depressing planet which is again drawn out across two episodes more than it needed to be. Watching it in high definition doesn’t make it much better. On the plus side the previously cut shot of a violent blow to the head of a primitive can now be seen within the context of an earlier edit of Episode Two.
Fortunately we end on a high with ‘The Dæmons‘. A consistently popular story, it provided a suitably dramatic finale for Season 8. Viewers also have the option of watching a 90 minute omnibus edition which gives the whole story a rapid pace.
New for this box set are some brand new features to support those which accompanied the DVD releases. Top of the list was Terrance and Me which sees Frank Skinner meeting family, friends and colleagues of the late and much-missed writer Terrance Dicks. It is a beautiful piece. For anyone such as myself who grew up reading Target novelisations and watching Doctor Who then it is difficult to quantify his significant impact. Despite this, Terrance and Me does an admirable job at conveying his enormous influence.
Another new feature is Devil’s Weekend which takes actors Katy Manning and John Levene back to the village of Aldbourne, location for The Dæmons 50 years after it was recorded. Whilst it is obvious to compare this film to the Reeltime Pictures video Return to Devil’s End, the contributors are entirely different. Devil’s Weekend provides a lovely companion piece to that film. It has some particularly beautiful shots taken by skilled drone operator Topher McGrillis. There are also some lovely recollections from the residents of Aldbourne. We’ve heard the stories from the actors about the filming before but to hear from those who were just there to watch the filming is quite special. There is also an astonishingly emotional moment with Manning and Levene on the top of the barrow which is simply breathtaking.
Another new but hopefully regular feature is The Direct Route which sees Doctor Who directors, in this case Michael Briant, Graeme Harper and Tim Combe, on a road trip around the filming locations from Season 8. The trio discuss directing the show, how the locations have been used whilst seeing how they have changed over the last 50 years. It makes for a fascinating watch.
Returning Bonus Features
Two regular bonus features provided on The Collection range also return. Behind the Sofa has new episodes featuring Katy Manning, Stewart Bevan, Janet Fielding, and Sarah Sutton, as well as Sacha Dhawan and Anjli Mohindra watching the stories of Season 8. Although it seems like an odd selection of viewers they offer such differing perspectives on what they see on screen. Sacha Dhawan for instance offers up insights and makes comparisons regarding his own performance as the Master when presented with the original portrayal. Meanwhile Janet Fielding still remains hilariously bitter at her lack of costume changes.
Once again Matthew Sweet sits down with companion Katy Manning but this time from a more in depth, In Conversation discussion. The two spoke as a part of the ‘Doctor Who and the Third Man‘ feature on the Season 10 box set. However this is more about Katy Manning than being Doctor Who-centric. She is wonderfully effervescent as usual but it is an astonishing life story that has never really been delved into in such depth. Of course Doctor Who is covered and those moments provide some wonderful recollections.
Also included on the box set is the specially shot Return of the Autons trailer to promote this box set starring Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan. Additionally there 5.1 Surround Sound is available for Terror of the Autons and The Dæmons. Over the whopping EIGHT discs there is a wealth of additional features; studio footage, treats from the archive including BBC production files, convention footage, photo galleries, scripts, costume designs and even more.
The stories are a wonderful mix of horror, science fiction and drama. We are treated to a new companion and the cementing of the UNIT family opposite a new arch-villain. This is peak Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who. Huge congratulations have to go to everyone involved in this box set. The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic are occasionally noticeable, plastic screens during the Behind the Sofa filming for instance, but in that context it is an incredible achievement to have delivered these features at all.