Judge Kristin Munson would like to sneak inside a big blue box bound for adventure, and she's pretty sure that's not a euphemism.
Sarah Jane: You're serious, aren't you?
Doctor Who began as an educational children's show that has enjoyed cult status for over 40 years and a steady stream of comprehensive DVD episode releases. Broadcast in 1973, "The Time Warrior" marked the beginning of season 10, along with a laundry list of "firsts" for the series, but the story's most appealing can be summed up in three words: Sarah Jane Smith.
Facts of the Case
Irongron is an unscrupulous knight living in a stolen castle when a star falls from the skies one night and onto his land. That star is actually a spaceship containing an alien warrior named Linx, who agrees to create weapons for the dastardly Irongron in exchange for a workshop in his castle. When Linx begins to steal scientists from Earth's future to repair the ship trapped in the past, it doesn't escape the notice of The Doctor. What the Doctor doesn't see before hopping into his TARDIS and heading back in time is that there's a stowaway on board.
I'm relatively new to the Who scene. Before the newest incarnation premiered stateside in 2006, all I knew about Doctor Who came from snippets posted on message boards. Consequently, I've always pictured classic Whoas being made for £7.50 and filmed in a quarry, and the few DVDs I've been able to rent haven't proven me wrong.
Luckily, The Time Warrior had room in the budget for location filming at a real castle and an alien make-up that puts the usual face paint and inflexible rubber masks to shame, along with a truly excellent effort from the costume and set departments
The episode is a fun blend of historical and sci-fi stories that feels like Robin Hood with robots and guns. There are sword fights, commando raids, and castle sieges along with spaceships and hypno-lasers, and scriptwriter Robert Holmes piles on the action. There are definitely some plot holes, and a repetitive storyline has characters running back and forth between two castles for most of the piece, but the flaws are covered by the genuinely enjoyable dialogue.
The medieval setting could easily have led to silly Ren Faire shenanigans, but Holmes doesn't take the lazy way out. The speech is not too modern and not too "yay, verily," and The Time Warrior has a cast that's up to the challenge of delivering it. Kevin Lindsay and David Dakar chew the scenery as Linx and Irongron, and sci-fi fans will be happy to see Jermey Bulloch (Boba Fett, Return of the Jedi) in a pivotal role. This is my first time out with Jon Pertwee's third incarnation as the Doctor, and I loved the sardonic temperament and physicality he brings to the role.
Of course, this episode really belongs to Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah is introduced as a feisty woman's libber who follows the typical companion formula of getting into trouble the moment she steps out of the TARDIS. However, not once during the four-part episode does she need to be rescued, even saving the Doctor's skin a few time, and driving most of the plot's action. Holmes writes Sarah as strong, fierce, and smart, although a little prone to drawing the wrong conclusions.
One of the things that irritates me about new Who is its tendency to bog down the pacing by introducing all the show's important concepts to the new companion in giant, repetitive chunks. Here, they come up in pieces and are better integrated into the overall story.
Like all the other Doctor Who DVDs, The Time Warrior has a newly restored Mono track and full screen transfer and is brimming with bonus features. Things like the photo gallery, print listings, and promo announcements are only going to appeal to the hardest of hardcore Whovians, but the rest is going to be as entertaining for casual fans as it is for newbies (Who-bies?). Two Easter eggs can be found by using the left button of your remote and you can access a PDF of a contemporary Doctor Who comic from your computer.
One of the major flaws of the episode (acknowledged even by the producer) is the cheap, workmanlike way director Alan Bromly handled the effects shots, including using stock footage for the episode's biggest visual moment. The option to watch with enhanced CGI effects provides a nice fix to the story's one glaring problem, while still allowing the original version to take center stage.
A commentary track reunites Elizabeth Sladen, Barry Letts, and Terrance Dicks and input from an actor, a producer, and a script editor means loads of info from all spheres of production. I was impressed with everyone's willingness to point out the bad along with the good, but the trio also tends to talk over the more interesting moments with unrelated stories, and by part four, the chatter has dwindled so there are large gaps between comments. The three also appear on "Beginning the End," an episode-specific retrospective, filmed on the same castle ground where Time Warrior was shot. Along with set designer Keith Cheetham, and actors Donald Pelmear and Jeremy Bulloch, they rehash some of the same stories from the commentary, along with discussing the start of what would be the final season for Pertwee, Dicks, and Letts. The one quibble I had with the feature is that nowhere is Kevin Lindsay shown out of his Sontaran costume. Lindsay died shortly after filming another Who episode two years later, and it would have been nice to have seen the man behind the monster.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The production subtitles, usually my favorite special feature on any Who release, are decidedly lacking on this installment. While there's always some overlap of info between commentary, featurette, and subtitles, this time around it's virtually all overlap. With so little trivia to work with, the four parts are padded out with a line-by-line comparison between the script and the finished product that's just plain boring.
Dr. Who: The Time Warrior is a timely release, since it ties in with the American debut of The Sarah Jane Adventures and the re-introduction of the Sontarans on the upcoming season of Who. It's solid disc, even for the casual Who fan, but with a $25 suggested retail price, it's not going to entice new blood.
That's the unfortunate catch-22 of these classic Doctor Who releases: if seasons were put out in sets rather than piecemeal, they'd be cheaper and more appealing, but then episodes wouldn't get half the love, attention, and extras that they do now.
Not Guilty. Sarah Jane, people!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Commentary by Elizabeht Sladen, Terrance Dicks, and Barry Letts
Review content copyright © 2008 Kristin Munson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.