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Doctor Who Myths and Monsters DVD Review - -

Feature 5.0
Video 5.0
Audio 5.0
Special Features 5.0
Total 5.0
Distributor: Roadshow
Classification: PG
Minutes: 443 Minutes
Reviewer: Simon Black


Doctor Who Myths and Monsters

Dr Who – The Horns of Nimon 

Originally having aired in four parts in late 1979 and early 1980, The Horns of Nimon is one of Tom Baker’s most enjoyable later outings as the time-travelling Doctor, and though it could by no means be said to have aged well in a traditional sense it still has plenty to offer the present-day viewer. 

Borrowing loosely from Greek mythology, the Nimon serial finds the Doctor battling a fearsome horned beast, negotiating the labyrinth in which it dwells, piloting several spacecraft, exploring crystals as an alternate power source and, despite an array of pressing concerns, cracking wise and hamming it up at every available opportunity. 

The Horns of Nimon is one of the Time Lord’s more campy outings.  The special effects are amateurish to the point of being childlike, and footage of the various warships negotiating their way through space are the late-1970s equivalent of Ed Wood’s hubcap UFOs being dangled over miniature sets on a length of string.  Despite this and the occasional over the top performance the offering is still satisfying, and the principal villains, the Nimon, don’t look all that bad to modern sensibilities.  Lalla Ward is also effective as the Doctor’s assistant, despite her oddly taciturn demeanour, and overall this one has plenty to offer fans who grew up with the series as well as casual viewers of seventies sci-fi kitsch. 

The DVD release is also highly impressive.  Picture quality is strong throughout, coming across as fairly sharp despite the modest budget of the thirty year old series, and the special features are first rate.  Principally there is a lively and informative audio commentary with Lalla Ward, writer Anthony Read and actress Janet Ellis, and also on offer are an interview with Read, a 30-minute featurette, music demos, a photo gallery and more.  It’s a spirited outing and a solid package, and one that more than does justice to this lesser-known entry in the extensive Dr Who oeuvre.

Film:  6.5

Video:  6.5

Audio:  6.5

Special Features:  8.0

Overall:  7.0 

Dr Who – The Time Monster 

This six-parter was originally broadcast in mid-1972 and stars Jon Pertwee, the third incarnation of the Doctor.  Though not as well known as his successor Tom Baker, Pertwee still put in a number of well-regarded turns as the Time Lord in a run that lasted four years, though The Time Monster is perhaps not the high point of his tenure.  Dressed like a foppish seventeenth-century seafarer, a doddering Pertwee minces about in search of The Master, the renegade Time Lord who is the Doctor’s arch enemy.  His companion this time around is Jo Grant (Katy Manning), who puts in a more solid performance than she is given credit for and if nothing else provides a more aesthetically pleasing counter to the gnomish Pertwee.   

The storyline incorporates a jumble of varying mythologies, as was a common feature of the series at the time, but the modest budget means such themes aren’t always convincingly rendered.  Shots ostensibly taking place amongst the lost isles of Atlantis have production values on par with a kindergarten stage play, the already long story contains several superfluous dream sequences and a number of the supporting cast are stiffly unconvincing.  Furthermore at no point could the story be said to be really compelling, and even stalwart fans of Dr Who are disinclined to tout the merits of this silly outing. 

Despite having been systematically restored the picture quality is still exceedingly soft, but the 2-channel audio track is respectable and there are a couple of decent extras to boot.  Principle among these are a short featurette on the restoration process, a look at the ‘science’ of The Time Monster and an audio commentary with producer Barry Letts and production manager Marion McDougall, moderated by obscure British comedian and Dr Who fan Tobey Haddock.  I thought the most noteworthy bonus, however, was an optional subtitle track that flashed up interesting titbits about the script, background and filming process every few seconds.  I hadn’t come across anything like it before but it seems like an economical and efficient way to impart insider info to viewers. 

For my money this lengthy feature is not one of the pinnacles of the Doctor’s ninth season, but much effort has been made with both the restoration process and the bonus content.  The Time Monster itself is perhaps notable only for its campy schlock value, but the package overall is highly worthwhile and is far and away the best that this particular outing is ever likely to look. 

Film:  4.0

Video:  4.0

Audio:  6.0

Special Features:  7.5

Overall:  5.5

Dr Who – Underworld 

The final entry in the ABC’s new Dr Who – Myths trilogy is Underworld, a four-part serial that originally aired in early 1978. 

Starring Tom Baker in the title role and the comely Louise Jameson as his wildcat companion, Underworld revolves around the Doctor’s attempts to save the last remnants of the Minyan race.  A small group of Minyans have been travelling the cosmos for the past 100,000 years in search of the fragmentary race banks that will save their species from extinction.  They are running out of time, fuel and the ability to regenerate, but luckily the Doc and his crew board the Minyan vessel in the nick of time.  The tweed-clad Time Lord promptly connects his annoying metallic dog K-9 to the ship’s computer by means of two of those black bulldog clips (seriously) then settles into an armchair to laconically guide the vessel through an asteroid field with about as much urgency as a narcoleptic sloth nibbling a Cecropia leaf.  From there on the small group need only defeat myriad enemies who populate the core of a newly formed planet, rescue the Minyan  

With all its talk of quests and gods walking among men, not to mention its title, the links to Greek mythology are much more starkly laid out in Underworld.  Several of the characters even have named based on figures that featured prominently in the stories of antiquity.  As is the case with the other two films in this set the device works well, and Underworld, despite being glossed over by most long term fans, is actually one of the most enjoyable entries in the Baker-as-Who canon.  The ancient links between the Time Lords and the Minyans is explored here, and everything about the serial, from the plot to the costumes, positively reeks with ambition. 

Of course this is 1970s Dr Who, and budgetary constraints as ever ensure that the special effects are appalling.  The sets and props are the usual shoddy array of wobbly cardboard painted in various metallic hues, and the CSO effects are awful; shimmery and poorly choreographed.  In addition to being an irritant the mincing K-9 also looks like he was constructed by a blind third grader.  But the exterior shots of the ship travelling through space are a cut about by the standards of the era, many of the costumes are both imaginative and striking and the serial for the most part moves at a fairly brisk clip, clocking in at under 90 minutes.

A couple of interesting extras such as an audio commentary and featurettes are included, and both picture and audio quality are strong, especially when compared to some of the other Dr Who outings of the period.  One of the more underrated and underappreciated efforts of Baker’s reign, Underworld might not be a classic, but it’s certainly plenty of fun. 

Film:  5.5

Video:  6.0

Audio:  6.5

Special Features:  6.0

Overall:  6.0


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