The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who is a powerhouse legend in television. It initially ran almost continuously from 1963 - 1989. That's 26 years! After a lengthy hiatus (filled by a plethora of novels and Big Finish full-cast audio productions), the series recently returned to production with great success. David Tennant is a splendid Doctor. It can be seen on the Sci-Fi Channel here in the States, and, of course, on DVD.
My first experience with Doctor Who came in the 1980s, when WVIZ, channel 25, a PBS station in Cleveland, aired the show each Saturday night. I grew up with the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors, and the program remains close to me as it was an important component to my childhood imagination.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of an alien Time Lord named the Doctor as he travels through time and space in a cavernous vehicle called the TARDIS. Typically, he goes on adventures with companions - often from Earth. His ability to regenerate when facing death allows for a new actor to assume the role, perhaps in part explaining why the series has been able to last for 45 years. Thus, each new actor becomes a numbered Doctor. David Tennant is the tenth actor to assume the role, for example, so he is the Tenth Doctor.
The Stones of Blood is the third storyline of The Key to Time: a season-long epic in the middle of Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor)'s tenure in the role. With his curly hair and lengthy scarf, Baker played the Doctor for seven years and became one of the most popular actors to appear in the role. The basic premise of The Key to Time sees the Doctor called into duty by the White Guardian to assemble the Key to Time, a cube object whose purpose is to maintain the equilibrium of all time and space. This cube has been split into six pieces and hidden across the universe, and the White Guardian needs the Key in order to keep the universe aright. Assisting the Doctor in his quest for these pieces are Romana, an intelligent Time Lord, and his robotic dog, K-9.
The Key to Time series had been released several years ago on DVD. For some reason, despite the number of classic Doctor Who stories still awaiting a DVD treatment, BBC Video has seen fit to double dip on this season with new "special editions."
In any case, The Stones of Blood is a rather noteworthy serial in that it aired on Doctor Who's fifteenth anniversary and represented the program's 100th storyline. David Fisher's script did a nice job of synthesizing several elements of Doctor Who during this time period. The first two episodes have a decidedly supernatural bent while the final two episodes have strong science fiction leanings. Both genres, of course, are traditional cornerstones of this television show. Throw in a thoroughly British setting, cheesy special effects, and silly monsters, and you've got a fun Doctor Who romp.
As this is the third serial in the Key to Time storyline, of course the Doctor and Romana are after the third chunk of the titular key. They arrive on present day earth, Cornwall to be more precise, and meet feminist professor Amelia Rumford and her assistant Vivien Fay. They also stumble upon a Druid cult, giant moving stones that feed on blood called Ogri, and a spaceship hiding in a hyperspatial dimension.
And yes, the story is every bit as contrived as these elements would suggest - and that's what makes this serial especially fun for Doctor Who fans. Tom Baker and Mary Tamm finally demonstrate consistent chemistry in this third adventure together as the Doctor and Romana. Beatrix Lehmann is a great secondary foil as Amelia. The horrific elements are offset by effective humor. Baker is great, as always, when he falls into his trickster routine in the final episode. He's put on trial by the alien judge, jury, and executioners Megara and produces an old-style wig from out of nowhere to don as he gives his defense.
The Ogri, arguably the best part of this serial, are a hysterically fun group of monsters. A particularly memorable scene has them creeping up on a pair of hapless campers at night to feed on their blood. The scene feels like a bizarre parody of a bad slasher movie.
While I highly recommend this new edition of The Stones of Blood, Doctor Who fans would do well to seek out the concurrently released Key to Time box set that collects the entire season.
By the way, Big Finish Productions recently finished an audio story arc sequel to this season - titled Key 2 Time starring the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. I'd also like to recommend an early Doctor Who Big Finish production to fans of The Stones of Blood titled The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, which has a similar setting and storyline.
The four episodes of Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood are presented in a full frame 4:3 aspect ratio that reflects their original television broadcast. The image looks as good as I've ever seen it with solid colors and okay detail - don't expect stellar blu-ray visual quality here, however, given the show's late-1970s video production roots.
Each episode of Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood arrives with an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track. Dialogue is always clear, and though the track is obviously limited by the television program's production values, the sound is fine throughout.
Subtitles are available in English for the hard of hearing.
DVD releases of episodes from the classic Doctor Who series have traditionally been generous with extras, and this special edition of Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood is no exception.
To begin with, two audio commentaries are available that each run through all four episodes. Actress Mary Tamm and director Darrol Blake provide one commentary, and Mary Tamm returns with actor Tom Baker, actress Susan Engel, and writer David Fisher for a second commentary. A random sampling suggests that both tracks are lively and informal. In addition, there is an optional text information track for each episode.
Getting Blood from the Stones (26:33), Hammer Horror (13:06), and Stones Free (9:02) are three featurettes that are clearly new, and the trio arrive in anamorphic widescreen. The first of these extras is the typical in-depth documentary on the making of this Doctor Who serial. The last has actress Mary Tamm returning to the Rollright Stones for some history on the long-standing stone circle. The middle of these featurettes, for me, was the most interesting, however. It explores the connection between certain Tom Baker episodes of Doctor Who with the horror movies produced from England's Hammer Studios. Maybe it's because I'm a horror film fan, but there were some interesting tidbits to be picked up from this documentary. Tom Baker's comment, for instance, that he felt the horror in Doctor Who was never pushed far enough is surprising. And I've never heard that horror icon Peter Cushing was suggested for The Brain of Morbius serial. Trivial, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless.
Additional extras include Continuities (2:24), a collection of vintage ads for the show, and Deleted Scenes (2:12). Other extras offer vintage material on Doctor Who: Blue Peter (6:05) is a news story on the history of Doctor Who during its 15th anniversary; Nationwide (8:51) is a similar news short with Tom Baker and Mary Tamm interviewed; and The Model World of Robert Symes (2:42) is a look at the model work for this serial that originally aired on BBC2 in 1979. A Photo Gallery (8:01) offers a slideshow of stills accompanied by sound effects and music from the program.
Finally, a trailer for the fourth season of the new Doctor Who series precedes the main menu. Also, a PDF file is included of the Radio Times billings.
With its plentiful extras, this newly-released special edition of Doctor Who: The Stones of Blood comes highly recommended. However, fans of the series will likely want to get the concurrently released special edition of Doctor Who: The Key To Time that collects all 6 stories in one multi-disc collection, rather than getting them piecemeal like this.