The final season of Doctor Who’s original 1963-1989 run arrives on Blu-ray this month with remastered versions of all four stories (Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival), each with 5.1 sound, plus a host of brand-new extras.
The release also includes the extended episodic VHS versions of Battlefield and The Curse of Fenric, plus the previously released feature-length special editions of both stories.
New for this release is an ‘extended workprint’ version of Ghost Light which combines the original episodes with deleted footage, offering fans a new way to experience the story.
At the time of this season’s original broadcast it felt like the show, troubled by falling quality in earlier seasons and an obvious disdain for it on the part of BBC management, had turned a corner and was finally on course to return to its previous highs.
Obviously such optimism proved ill-founded as the BBC axed the series shortly after the season aired, but 31 years later these final four stories still hold up well and, as has been widely observed over the years, there’s a clear foreshadowing in them of what Russell T Davies would do with the show when his triumphant revival blasted on to screens 16 years later.
This is most notable in how Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric and Survival are built entirely around The Doctor’s companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) and her story arc. While pretty standard in the current version of the show, this was a significant departure from the norm in the series’ original run and marked a new maturity in its storytelling.
Yes, it’s as easy to mock Survival’s Cheetah People today as it was three decades ago, – though it’s worth noting even Hollywood budgets couldn’t save the big screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats from derision for its terrible CGI felines – but look behind the iffy faux fur costumes and there’s a solid enough story about Ace’s transition into adulthood, setting up her departure in the never to be seen next season.
It’s far closer to how Davies and Steve Moffat built up to the departures of companions such as Billie Piper’s Rose or Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond than it is the rapid ‘falling in love’ departure bestowed on Leela (Louise Jameson) at the end of The Invasion of Time, a story which aired far closer to Survival’s original broadcast than those companions’ exits did.
And while Sylvester McCoy may not be many fans’ favourite actor to ever pilot the Tardis, this season gives him far more opportunity for depth than his previous two did.
His delivery of the Doctor’s monologue acquainting Jean Marsh’s Morgaine with the horrors of nuclear war in the Arthurian-themed Battlefield and the soulful listing of his pet hates in Marc Platt’s play-like Ghost Light are a world away from the goofy, half-wink to the audience performances of his earliest stories.
Accompanying the episodes themselves are an impressive haul of extras, including a brand-new ‘Making of’ feature for Fenric, easily the finest of the McCoy era stories and also one of the best stories across both the original and revived series.
This hour-long documentary takes McCoy, Aldred and story guest star Tomek Bork back to the main filming locations for a funny, insightful and sometimes emotional talk about the adventure’s production.
Also featuring contributions from writer Ian Briggs, script editor Andrew Cartmel plus, rather splendidly, Nicholas Parsons who also guest starred in the story, this really is a treat to watch and serves up enough fresh anecdotes and recollections that even the most knowledgeable of fans will learn something new.
The feature stands in stark contrast to the meagre three-minute generic chats to camera or snippets of footage taken from a convention panel that serve as extras on so many current TV DVD and Blu-ray releases.
However the treats don’t end there – the seven discs in this boxset contain a host of other extras including The Writers’ Room in which Cartmel speaks to season writers Ben Aaronovitch (Battlefield), Marc Platt (Ghost Light), Briggs and Rona Munro (Survival), a look at how Battlefield’s Destroyer was realised, rare archive footage and the fan-pleasing boxset trailer in which Aldred reprises the role of Ace.
In addition to all these new features, there’s also the various extras which accompanied previous releases of these stories.
This all adds up to a fantastically lavish, and probably definitive, celebration of a key moment in the show’s history which easily justifies shelling out the £39 asking price rather than simply watching them on Britbox.
Doctor Who – The Collection: Season 26 Blu-ray boxset is released by BBC Studios on January 27, 2020. Pre-order from Amazon.co.uk*