Previously available only in non-episodic form with apparently some footage cut, Doctor Who - The Time Warrior has been further enhanced by the addition of a smattering of new, and optional, CGI effects. Unlike the major restorations and enhanced editions done on other Doctor Who stories, the work here hardly seems worth the effort while the extra features, though plentiful, are similarly uninspired and not all that interesting. Fortunately this four-part story, which first aired December 1973-January 1974 and features "Third Doctor" Jon Pertwee, boasts some clever writing and is something of a landmark for several reasons.
This 11th season, 70th Doctor Who story introduces the Sontarans, a warrior race comparable to Star Trek's Romulans, though stranded Sontaran warrior Linx (Kevin Lindsay) looks more like a suntanned Humpty Dumpty, a big Egg Man well past his expiration date. The story is also notable for introducing the most enduring of the Doctor's many "companions," plucky journalist Sarah Jane Smith (played to this day by Elisabeth Sladen).
His rogue time-traveling spaceship stranded in the Middle Ages, Linx uses an Osmic Projector to kidnap 20th century scientists, pulling them back into the distant past, forcing them through hypnosis to repair his ship. All this takes place in the bowels of a castle occupied by brigand Irongron (David Daker); believing Linx to be some sort of wizard, Irongron makes a pact with Linx. He provides the alien shelter in exchange for magical weapons: anachronistic rifles and robot knights.
Investigating all this is The Doctor, shocked by Linx's reckless manipulation of time and his premature introduction of advanced weaponry. After a quick briefing by UNIT's Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), the Doctor is off in his T.A.R.D.I.S., unaware that Sarah Jane Smith, pretending to be her scientist-aunt, has snuck aboard.
When Doctor Who first began airing in 1963, the idea was to do an equal number of historical stories, with early episodes about Marco Polo, the Aztecs, and the French Revolution. Many of these early shows were just marvelous, but ratings were low for these episodes compared to those featuring aliens terrorizing present-day Earth and shows set on other planets. "The Time Warrior," the first "historical" in a long time, cleverly solves this problem by pairing an alien warrior with advanced technology with Middle Age warrior-bandits.
Even better, teleplay writer Robert Holmes has a marvelous ear for period dialogue. Indeed, the best thing about "The Time Warrior" is the bemused reactions of characters like Irongron to these strange visitors from other planets and times. Current Doctor Who producer-writer Russell T. Davies counts himself among the later writer's fans: "Take 'The Talons of Weng Chiang,' for example. Watch episode one. It's the best dialogue ever written. It's up there with Dennis Potter. By a man called Robert Holmes. When the history of television drama comes to be written, Robert Holmes won't be remembered at all because he only wrote genre stuff."
David Daker's performance especially puts over Holmes' dialogue. As rightly pointed out by others in the DVD's making-of documentary, Daker really commits to the character: he plays it completely straight without any eye-winking at the audience and as such comes off as completely believable. The role was originally offered to Bob Hoskins who couldn't accept it but recommended Daker; it's difficult to imagine even as great an actor as Hoskins doing it any better. June Brown and Jeremy Bulloch - as Lady Eleanor (whose nearby castle is threatened by Irongron) and her trusted archer Hal - likewise give fine performances.
Similarly, Sladen comes off well in her debut outing as Sarah Jane Smith. The show's producers were looking for a more assertive female character, and Sladen acclimates herself well to the role while Sarah Jane does same thrust into a strange new environment.
Video & Audio
"The Time Warrior" is presented in its original full-frame format, the usual mix of videotape (for studio interiors) and 16mm color film (for location exteriors), all on a single-sided DVD9. I'm told the Doctor Who Restoration Team did a lot of work on this title; I suppose the best compliment I can make is that I found nothing in it distracting - no negative dirt, visible splices, etc. Some British 16mm film jobs can get awfully grainy while others almost make you forget your looking at a much smaller film gauge than we Americans are used to; "The Time Warrior" looks like 16mm, but good 16. The transitions between the film and video are likewise less jarring than is sometimes the case.
The mono sound on all four shows is adequate. Optional English subtitles are available, including on all the extra features.
Beginning of the End is a behind-the-scenes featurette looking at the story's production and placing it into the context of the long-running series, particularly as the start of Pertwee's final season as The Doctor, concurrent with the departure of several other key personnel. Producers Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts, designer Keith Cheetham, and actors Elisabeth Sladen, Donald Pelmear, and Jeremy Bulloch are among the interviewees. It's an okay piece though much of this ground was covered better before, such as the featurette accompanying The Sontaran Experient.
Sladen, Letts, and Dicks are on hand for the usual fun if exhaustive audio commentary, which can be listened to in conjunction with Information Text which appear like subtitles and provide gobs of background on both the series and this particular episode.
Continuity Compilation are basically BBC announcements for episode airings, while the optional CGI effects, 16 in all, are accessible only through a relatively complex route through to the special features section. It would seem to make more sense to author this option as one selects to play a particular episode.
Additional extras include an extensive photo gallery and PDF DVD-ROM features: a Doctor Who Annual and Radio Times Listings.
"The Time Warrior" is a strong episode from the show's own Middle Ages, a simpler time both in terms of its setting and the charming comparative simplicity of the production coupled with some fine writing and performances. Unlike other recent Doctor Who DVDs, the extras aren't as much of a selling point, but as a story it's just fine. Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's most recent essays appear in Criterion's new three-disc Seven Samurai DVD and BCI Eclipse's The Quiet Duel. His audio commentary for Invasion of Astro Monster is now available.