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Doctor Who Dalek War: Frontier in Space & Planet of the Daleks

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // March 2, 2010
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 23, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
Jon Pertwee was the first Doctor I ever saw, catching parts of Inferno and The Daemons on public TV on Saturday afternoons when I remembered that it was on.  (Hey, Saturday afternoon is a hard time to tune into PBS if you're 14 as I was at the time.)  Though I don't recall catching a complete Pertwee story back then, I was able to impress my friends a couple of years later by the fact that I had seen pre-Tom Baker episodes.  Because of that, I've always considered Pertwee 'my' Doctor.  I eagerly snap up any releases that feature him (okay, or any of the other Doctors... I'm a fan, so sue me) and a double story set is quite the treat.  The latest Pertwee release on this side of the Pond is The Dalek War, a title that only makes sense at the end of the first adventure.  It only contains two adventures, but they include the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master (he died soon after filming) and a nice Dalek story.  How can you go wrong?

Frontier in Space (Story 67, 6 episodes):  This first adventure has Jo Grant and the Doctor materializing inside of a cargo ship from Earth.  They soon discover that tensions are high between Draconia and Earth, because each side has been accusing the other of raiding their cargo ships.  Of course, right on cue, the ship they are on come under attack.  As strange high-pitched noise is broadcast to the space vessel and then what appear to be Draconian soldiers board and steal both the cargo and the TARDIS.
They weren't Draconians however but Ogrons, dim-witted though fierce mercenaries.  The Doctor quickly deduces what has been happening:  Someone has been using a sonic device that works on the fear centers of brains to make the spaceship crews see what they fear most.  By attacking both Draconian and Earth ships, this mysterious behind-the-scenes person has brought the two civilizations to the brink of war. 

The problem is convincing anyone of this.  Once they're rescued and returned to Earth, the Doctor gets an audience with the President of Earth, but without proof she can't believe what he's been telling her.  Even the mind probe fails to convince the military that he's not a Draconian spy.  When The Master, masquerading as an emissary from an Earth colony arrives to take the Doctor and his companion back to another planet to stand trial for fictitious crimes, he finally knows who is behind the whole plan.
The one word that jumps to mind when thinking back on this adventure is "talky".  It seems like most of the first half contains the Doctor explaining, or rather avoiding explanations.  Who he is, where he's from, why he's there, why it wasn't Draconians that attacked the ship, the first episodes are just filled with the Doctor talking and talking and talking.  The story really starts to drag early on, though it does pick up speed at the end.

There was a lot that seemed like padding too.  The Draconians break The Doctor out of the Earth prison so they can question him (yeah, right.  Like that's going to happen.) Then after he's done talking even more, he's recaptured and returned to Human custody.  Then the Ogrons come to break him out, which they do, but then he's recaptured once again.  Come on... did we really need this much involving the Doctor NOT escaping?
After the Master makes his appearance, the story does pick up and gets much better.  The Doctor gets sent to the Moon, visits Draconia, and has a bit of a shoot out with the Master, not to mention discovering just what's going on and why the Master is trying to start a war.  It wraps up on a high note, it just takes slogging through a couple of episodes to get to the good stuff.
Planet of the Daleks (Story 68, 6 episodes):
The Doctor is wounded at the end of Frontier in Space, but he and Jo manage to climb into the TARDIS and dematerialize.  Once in space, the Doctor uses his vehicle to send a telepathic message to the Time Lords, informing them of the secrets he's discovered.  He warns Jo that he'll fall into a deep coma while his body is repairing itself, and then passes out.
Jo starts to worry when the Doctor's breathing grows very shallow and ice crystals start forming on his face.  The TARDIS land on the planet Spiridon, guided by the Time Lords.  Fearful for her friend's life, Jo leaves the ship to look for help and discovers a planet filled with deadly plant life.  She soon runs into a group of Thal soldiers who crash-landed on the planet while trying to discover what their ancient enemies, the Daleks, are up to.

As a defense against the dangerous plants, the natives of Spiridon have evolved to be invisible, and the Daleks have invaded to learn that secret.  It appears that there's only a small research facility with about a dozen Daleks on the planet, but the Doctor, once he's recovered and joined up with the others, finds out that there are tens of thousands of Daleks in suspended animation deep under the surface of the planet.  Once the scientists have discovered the secret of invisibility, they plan to give that power to the waiting army making them virtually unstoppable.  But how can the Doctor, Jo, and a small contingent of Thal defeat the larges Dalek army ever assembled?
I enjoyed this story a lot more.  The action starts right away with the Doctor passing out and just keeps rolling along at a good pace from there on out.  It was nice to see the Thals once again too, though you would have thought that the Daleks would have 'exterminated' them by now, seeing as they both inhabit the same planet.
One of the things I enjoyed about this story, penned by Terry Nation who always creates interesting episodes, is that he filled the plot with creative other-worldly creatures and devices and used them nicely to move the story.  The ice volcano that poured out frozen water in a gelatinous state was cool, and the plants that sprayed their spores out and covered the TARDIS were also a nice invention.

Of course this adventure has the Daleks, a race I've always had a love-hate relationship with.  I love the fact that the Doctor has a menace that is staggering in power and nearly a match (eventually) for the Time Lords themselves.  Great characters deserve great foes, and the Daleks have peen painted as such throughout the series.  There's only one problem... they aren't that menacing.  Yeah, so their encased in armor, big deal.  Throwing a blanket over them is an easy way to render them nearly helpless, as happens once or twice in this story.  They look silly too, with that toilet plunger sticking out of their shells and they can't even climb a flight of stairs.  I always thought the Cybermen were much more intimidating, and the fact that captured prisoners are surgically altered, without anesthesia, and turned into new Cyberman was more more creepy than a garbage can that has to repeat everything three times.  "Exterminate! Exterminate!  Exterminate!"
Okay, enough of my rant about Daleks.  Even with this menace that's not nearly as indestructible as they're made out to be (I lost count at how many were destroyed in this story, but at least 7 or 8) featured in this tale, it's still a lot of fun and worth watching.
The DVD:

These two adventures each come in their own standard keepase.  Each is a two-disc feature, with one disc containing the story and another for the extensive special features.   The two cases are housed in a nice slipcase.
The mono soundtrack has been cleaned up and is very good.  It is nice and clear with no hiss or background noise to take away from the story.  Being a mono track, there's really not much more to say about it.
The full frame video has been cleaned up by the Restoration Team and looks very good too.  I actually like the image quality on this story a bit more than the Black Guardian Saga which was recently released.   In general the picture is fairly sharp, though some scenes are a bit soft, and the image is clean and the colors are fine.  If you've seen the other restored Pertwee era stories, then you'll know what to expect.

It should be noted that the third episode of Planet of the Daleks is presented for the first time in color on home video.  While the (color) video tapes for the other episodes were preserved, only a 16mm B&W copy of episode three survived.  The Restoration Team performed their magic and it looks beautiful.  I screened this story with my 17 year old son, and told him at the start of the disc and just before episode three that there was something different about the picture for that episode.  Even though he was looking, he couldn't tell that it had been colorized.  I wouldn't have been able to tell either, if I hadn't know in advance. The screen cap above is taken from epiosde three.

The one thing I really, really enjoy about these BBC Doctor Who releases is that they come with a comprehensive collection of extras.  These double disc features have a lot of nice bonuses that will tell you just about everything you'd like to know about the story and its filming. 
First off, every episode (for both stories) comes with a commentary track.  The first adventure has actor Katy Manning, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks discussing the show along with moderator Clayton Hickman.  The second adds actors Prentice Hancock and Tim Preece to the above group.  These are interesting and fun.  There's not so many people that it turns into a party track (like many anime commentaries) but there's enough people that the entire time is filled with comments.  The moderator does a good job of keeping everyone on task and limiting digressions.
Each story also includes half of a two part story The Perfect Scenario.  Each half hour long episode includes interviews and discussions about the stories placed inside an SF story frame.  The larger story revolves around a novice dream programmer who used 70's Doctor Who adventures to give his dreamers an interesting time.  These were okay, but the gimmick only worked part way and by the second half of the second episode, I was ready for it to be over.
Both adventures come with a making-of featurette (about 17 minutes each) where the cast and crew talk about the story and its creation.  I enjoy these because enough time has passed that the people interviewed can generally speak their mind and admit what worked and what didn't. 
There is also an 'info-text' option for each story.  This is something that the other Who releases have and I'm a big fan of them.  This pop-up text options allows viewers to read about the shooting schedule, changes between various story incarnations and the final version and learn about the history of the supporting actors.  It's well worth watching, though it can be distracting so watch the story without it once.
Frontier in Space also includes Roger Delgado: The Master which is a great biography of the actor.  Running over half an hour it includes interviews with his widow and friends, and there are a good number of clips from various shows he worked on.  It is a great tribute to an actor whose life was tragically cut short.
That set is rounded out with Stripped for Action: The Third Doctor which looks at Jon Pertwee's Doctor adventures in comic strips and the usual Radio Times listings.
The Planet of the Daleks bonus disc has a ten minute look at the colorization process used for episode three which is very interesting if you're into the nuts-and-bolts of restoration.  There's a Stripped for Action featurette on the Daleks, and excerpts from a pair of Blue Peter shows that include an appeal for the return of a pair of stolen Daleks as well as where they were eventually found.
Final Thoughts:
Once again the BBC has released a great pair of Doctor Who stories.  I can't get enough of these classic Who adventures and these two are both very good.  Yeah, the beginning of Frontier in Space is a little slow, but once it starts going it's a cracking tale and Planet of the Daleks is great from the first frames.  Both of these stories, and this boxed set, come Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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