Tom Baker’s first season as the Doctor in Doctor Who has been released as a Blu-ray box set. Season 12 comprises 5 stories made up of 20 episodes. Rather than trying to review the whole thing all at once, I’m dividing things up over a number of reviews. Having written an Overview, it’s now time to look at the first story, “Robot”.
“You may be a doctor, but I am the Doctor. The definite article you might say.”
The Doctor has changed! Jon Pertwee fades into Tom Baker and a new era begins. He is immediately drafted by the Brigadier to investigate a case of murdered politicians and stolen scientific equipment. This links up with the robot that investigative journalist Sarah Jane Smith has discovered. And soon we have an adventure that is part King Kong, part social commentary, and part exploration of artificial intelligence.
It a rollicking great story. Pacy. Fun. Intelligent. Full of interesting characters and thoughtful ideas. The only things that really hold it back are some of the special effects. The toy tank at the end of ep 3 is just a bit laughable, and the Sarah doll in the climactic scenes isn’t great. The robot has a wonderful visual design, but is obviously a cumbersome and ungainly costume. The poor actor almost trips over in one scene.
Baker seizes his new role with wide-eyed wonder and runs with it. This Doctor is much more alien and unpredictable, yet still charismatic and mostly likeable. The only character moment which doesn’t sit well with me is the Doctor’s lack of compassion for the obviously suffering robot as it is attacked by the metal virus. And yet there is an infectious playfulness to his character with the brilliant jump rope scene, the over-the-top costume trials and dialogue like this…
“There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.”
Elisabeth Sladen is, as always, quite brilliant as Sarah Jane Smith, providing a continuity from the previous era. Nicolas Courtney is also in fine form, bringing his unique form of stern but likeable military presence. And Ian Marter is added into the mix as Dr Harry Sullivan. I had forgotten just how good he is in that role. I really wish they had kept his character on the show longer.
The guest cast is great. Edward Burnham as the clichéd scientist who creates the Robot, is not actually as clichéd as he first appears. It’s a nice performance. Patricia Maynard as Think Tank leader Miss Winters is a standout, particularly when her character interacts with Sladen’s Sarah Jane.
The extras are plentiful and wonderful. We get most of those from the DVD release (including a fun commentary with Baker, Sladen and writer Terrance Dicks; and the “Are Friends Electric?” doco), with the exception of the DVD-ROM literature (not something that I was ever interested in anyway). And then there’s the new stuff! “Behind the Sofa” sees various people watching and reacting to clips from the story. There are two groups of people intercut (Group 1: Tom Baker, Philip Hinchcliffe and Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter Sadie Miller; Group 2: Louise Jameson, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton), and while their comments are interesting and some of their reactions are entertaining, the whole thing is too slow — lots of time spent just showing the footage or close-ups of their faces as they watch in silence. The standout extra for me is “On Target”, a doco about the Target novelisations of Terrance Dicks. But this was previously released on the DVD of “The Monster of Peladon”.
So all up, it’s a BIG round of applause for this first disc in the collection. I’ll be back soon with the next review.
Doctor Who, The Collection: Season 12 is released on Blu-ray in Australia by Roadshow Entertainment.
Catch ya later, George
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