01/02/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
region 2 DVD: pub: BBC BBSDVD 1814. Price: about GBP 5.00 (UK) if you know where to look. 1 DVD 94 minutes 4 episodes with extras). stars: Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Prentis Hancock, Frederick Jaeger and Ewen Solon.
check out website: www.bbcshop.com
Answering an emergency signal to Zeta Minor, the Doctor (actor Tom Baker) and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (actress Elisabeth Sladen) find the desiccated remains of an exploration team. In the meantime, a rescue ship also arrives and teleport the TARDIS aboard and capture the Doctor and Sarah Jane, seeing them as responsible for the deaths. This is re-enforced by the remaining survivor, Dr. Sorenson (actor Frederick Jaeger) who doesn’t realise what he is playing with. Zeta Minor in on the edge of the known universe and is on the nexus between positive and anti-matter realities which can be upset when anything is removed. Sorenson wants some crystals as a new power source for the depleted supply of his people and doesn’t see the dangers involved.
The Doctor visits the anti-matter reality to negotiate a safe retrieval although is severely stunned when he gets back. Fortunately, Vishinsky (actor Ewen Solon), the second-in-command of the spaceship, over-rules his captain, Salamar (actor Prentis Hancock), and rescues both the Doctor and Sarah Jane. There are numerous struggles trying to convince Salamar that the Doctor isn’t the problem finally comes to a head when Sorenson is discovered to be the culprit. That isn’t really a spoiler as there aren’t many choices to choose from.
It’s hard not to avoid the comparisons to the film ‘Forbidden Planet’, which itself was based on William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, right down to the negative monster which looks a little ID-like. If there is a problem with the story then it’s who is the negative creature and even that doesn’t come out in the audio commentary. Is it Sorenson throughout or the creature from the pit which is obviously much larger. There’s a definite grey area there not to mention the desiccation of the crew. You would have thought their encounter with anti-matter would have disintegrated them completely and left a hole in the ground but then, this is a world on the nexus between two realities.
This is a rather snug four-part story which you have to love the jungle setting part of the story is set in. The spaceship setting is almost too spacious in comparison. The transformation of a lead character into a beast is actually an old trope for ‘Doctor Who’ stories with a parallel to the Pertwee-driven story ‘Inferno’ but then again it’s a standard idea that was even done in ‘Alien’. It’s also an early demonstration of the Doctor having spatial control of the TARDIS as you will see when watching the story.
One thing I like about the audio commentary is the way various actors are pointed out. If you’ve never spotted actor Michael Wisher, who is known with make-up on as the first Davros, make-up free then this is your opportunity. I watched the story first without making the connection but both actors Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen point out certain mannerisms that could be seen between the two roles. Very interestingly, actor Prentis Hancock points out that he’d been in ‘Doctor Who’ four times, three times of which I’ve actually reviewed here there past few months and here, he is allowed to talk a lot more. I liked the audio commentary with episode three where Sladen and Baker discuss people’s reaction to seeing them which still goes on today. Sladen’s observation that SF fans see themselves akin to the Doctor, who like them, is a loner rings true for a lot of characters but probably explains the longevity.
Of the extras, the 25 minute ‘A Darker Side’ gives one of the best insights in the series I’ve seen so far, not to mention showing the budget for the jungle made at Ealing Studios coming to GBP 500, although this didn’t include the man-hours putting it together or designer Roger Murray-Leach swiping any pillars he could lay his hands on from BBC scenery.
If there’s anything to be critical of then in the sleeve-notes, it shows a picture of Frederick Jaeger next to Prentis Hancock’s notes. The story is Elisabeth Sladen’s favourite so you’re better watch it.
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