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"It's the end, but the moment has been prepared for."
In an odd moment of irony, as this latest Doctor Who DVD comes to the market, ominous word has leaked from England that the new series headed by Russell T. Davies could be cancelled after its fourth season. (It's currently airing its Third Season across the pond.) With the joy of this "New Beginnings" boxset, we have to wonder why anyone would consider axing the new series at its prime. It's doing well, pulling in a solid audience, has won fan and critical fame. People simply love the show and want it to continue as its predecessor did. So what's going on? Why can the original go on for decades and the new one dematerialize so soon? Let's just hope that "The Sun" has jumped the gun on this report and we'll have many more decades to relish the travels of the Doctor.
Rewinding the clock to the classic era, I consider myself a Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison, All Creatures Great and Small) guy. Though I came on board during the infamous Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker, teeth, curls, and a scarf) era, I wasn't completely pulled into the series until I saw my first regeneration. With Tom morphing into Peter, I was hooked. This twist galvanized my love for the show, and I've watched it ever since. Well, as long as PBS would allow it.
What I didn't immediately realize at the time, or, honestly, until this release, was that something else was going on. At the forefront was the historic transition from one Doctor to the next, but there was also the Doctor's best enemy doing the same thing; hence, the genesis of the "New Beginnings" boxset. Though not truly named this in official canon, this well-named release of three stories is a welcome addition to the DVD family.
Facts of the Case
"I'm going to stop him if it's the last thing I do."
The "New Beginnings" set marks a dual transition. While the primary focus of the story marks the end of a successful seven-year run for the Fourth Doctor, it also gives a rebirth to the Doctor's greatest foe. The three stories that comprise this set are "The Keeper of Traken," "Logopolis," and "Castrovalva."
"The Keeper of Traken":
As it's well known already, Tom Baker was an awfully popular Doctor for his seven years. During that time the show took its ounce of flesh and by the end, he was decidedly tired. In Cincinnati, I am fortunate enough to have classic Who still airing on my PBS station, and we're up to Tom's "The Face of Evil." Watching him progress from "Robot" to "The Face of Evil" to "Logopolis" you can easily see the years have taken their toll. He went from vigorous and vibrant to cantankerous and winded. Tom was "ready" to retire and take some time to relax. Coming in was fresh-faced and excruciatingly young Peter Davison. All bright-eyed and blonde-haired, Peter had a lot of work to do to come close to living up to the enormous legacy handed down to him. I believe he did a great job, and consider Peter to be "my" Doctor—not necessarily my favorite, just "mine."
That regeneration, that unique twist in the series, is such a great concept that it's amazing it hasn't been exploited more. Whatever its magical effects upon me, I've always found "Logopolis" and "Castrovalva" as must-see, favorite episodes. And here we have this release: one big set with those two great stories and a third. "The Keeper of Traken" hadn't particularly stood out in my mind, so it was a delight to see this episode and learn how good it was.
All three of these episodes are excellent stories, standing the test of time, and rising to the top of decades of materials in the Whoniverse. As mentioned, I didn't quite realize that we had an arc, a trilogy, going on. For me, it was all regeneration. But I love now learning about the arc, seeing it, and having a better view of the series. Because not only do we have that regeneration, we have the rebirth of the Master. Originally played by Roger Delgado, the Master was a suave Time Lord who gave the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) all sorts of trouble. Then the Master disappeared for a while, and it wasn't until Tom's "The Deadly Assassin" that he made a brief reappearance. But in this historic episode, a story that changed the foundation of Who lore, it put the Master on the cusp of death. He was a skeletal figure, with mere shreds of flesh clinging to his dying body. But again the Master disappeared, and four seasons later he finally emerges in "The Keeper of Traken," desperate to live. Anthony Ainley (bearing an uncanny resemblance to Delgado) now plays the part, and the Master went on to torment the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors in the classic series. In fact, the Master fought the Doctor in the last Sylvester McCoy (classic) episode, and he came back as the antagonist in the blasphemous Eighth Doctor movie.
So as the Doctor had a new body, so did the Master. It was a glorious new beginning for both characters, allowing energetic changes to the old series.
The strongest of the lot is, contrary to my memory, "The Keeper of Traken," which laid the foundation for a fantastic and well-deserved sendoff for Tom Baker. In this story everything clicks just about perfectly. There's fun acting, nice splashes of humor, a great concept, and solid execution. It quickly washes away the weaker stories from the E-Space trilogy—even though we're still stuck with Adric.
Not as strong is "Logopolis," which has excellent ideas that don't completely gel. It's quite ambitious in its tale with dimensional instabilities of a TARDIS within a TARDIS and the Master causing universal havoc. But something is missing. Is it Ainley's campy cackling? Is it too many companions? Is it the weak set design? It's hard to pin down what's missing. Luckily, while the story is soft, the actual regeneration scene is absolutely perfect. From the music to the cinematography to the acting (actually just Tom's acting), it's a simple and wonderfully touching goodbye to the Fourth Doctor.
Then we have "Castrovalva," a story that is perhaps even more confusing than "Logopolis" yet it still captivates me twenty-five years later. Is it simply because we have a new Doctor that I'm riveted, or is it because of the Master's latest convoluted plan to destroy him? It's that and more. Again, everything comes together in the story from acting to script to direction to create a great start for Peter. What gives this story is an edge are the supporting characters in this one: Shardovan, Mergrave, and Ruther. Not only do they wonderfully portray their parts, their vocal inflections are rich and melodious. (I've always enjoyed good voice work.)
Put it together and you have an excellent set of historical significance.
But you already knew all this. You also probably already know of the great work done by the Restoration Team in putting these releases together, but you're curious if they've maintained their standards? Of course they did. This set is another excellent release from our dedicated friends, and you have another must-have for your collection. And I do mean must-have.
The audio and video work done by the Team makes these episodes look and sound better than they have in decades. With the full frame video, the increase in detail, contrast, and sharpness combined with more accurate colors and blacks is remarkable. Check out the Restoration's site (link to the right) for an astounding before and after comparison of a scene from "Castrovalva." Their work is, as always, impressive. I did not detect any significant errors on the transfers and found them very pleasing. For the Dolby mono track, all of the audio is within acceptable tolerances, with usually clear dialogue from the center. The other speakers are, due to the source material, used barely if at all. I did have some concerns with some scenes in "Logopolis," specifically a hollow, hard to hear section or two. But in reading the site, they detail the problems they had with these scenes and mention it's the best they could do. So any problems one does find in the transfers is not a problem with the transfer but simply a limitation of what could be fixed.
The delicious frosting on these releases is the wonderful bounty of bonus materials. This set is no exception. Filled with lots and lots of good stuff, you'll see material you've never seen before and learn all sorts of new things. With this set, I made a grand revelation. In the other Tom Baker releases, I had this odd sense of Tom as an "old man." He just wasn't…the Doctor. On his commentaries he seemed grouchier than and just not as happy as I would think. In the bonus material on "New Beginnings," I finally learned what an ass Tom is and was. I simply had no idea what a prima donna control freak he was during his tenure, and how that's still carried on all these years. Oh, he certainly realizes that and accepts what he was, but me, the Whovian who never really delved that deeply into the info behind the series, was certainly surprised.
Because of the amount of bonus material, I am simply going to list it without going into detail on every item. Most are self-explanatory but do look for a few basic notes on some items. More importantly, I wish to point out the crème de la crème of the goodies; ones you may wish to do first. At the top are the commentaries, both audio and text. Having the actors who played the Doctors available for two out of three make them the better ones to listen to. Again, I'm still partial to Peter and "Castrovalva," so that is my favorite. The text commentaries are overflowing with tons of wonderful nuggets of trivia. "Being Nice to Each Other" is the best choice on "The Keeper of Traken," with an entertaining and thorough look at the making of that story. "A New Body at Last" is the best item on "Logopolis" and the best featurette of them all. It's a wonderfully candid look at the regeneration and Tom's tenure. Great stuff, too bad it's only fifty minutes long. "Castrovalva's" disc doesn't have the best material so, surprisingly, the Swap Shop bit is the most interesting.
Here's the disc-by-disc breakdown of the bonus items:
"The Keeper of Traken":
I could only find one egg across the three discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Perhaps the only quibble—and it is quite a minor one—is that the bonus material gets excessively repetitive. I know every detail of the regeneration scene by heart, know Peter was twelve when he started watching Doctor Who, his favorite Doctor is Troughton, and—well, you get the idea. It's all good stuff, but some of the duplication should have been trimmed.
"A new body…at last!"
Whether you examine the stories or the DVDs, the "New Beginnings" boxset is an absolute winner. Three great stories, treated with love and care by the Restoration Team, making them as clean, crisp, and vibrant as possible, and flooding the release with a wonderful assortment of bonus material combine into a set worth every penny. If you're a fan of Doctor Who, odds are you're a fan of Tom Baker, so you know the quality of this material. Tie into that the regeneration and a fine start by Peter, and it's something you must add to your collection. Buy this set and you'll be very happy indeed.
Doctor Who: New Beginnings is hereby found not guilty of entropy.
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