Monday, 7 October 2019

Season 23 Blu-ray Box Set - Reviewed

Have just spent the weekend watching the Season 23 Blu-ray box set - the Trial of a Time Lord season - which arrived Saturday morning.
Beautiful packaging as always with these box sets, looking better than the episodes themselves at times.
For what was at the time the shortest ever season of Doctor Who, the DVD release of Trial of a Time Lord had an abundance of Value Added Material with making-of documentaries for each of the sub-stories which make up the season, an in-depth look at Colin Baker's tenure as the Doctor, with specific weight given to the hiatus and then the resignation / sacking crisis, plus numerous excerpts from publicity appearances on various TV shows to promote the season.
All of these items are present and correct on the Blu-ray set as well, plus a whole load of new stuff - resulting in a 6 disc set for a grand total of 14 episodes screen time.
Before we look at the Extras, a word or two about the story itself, and how it is presented here.
Discs 1 - 4 feature the individual "stories" that comprise the trial, with 5 & 6 containing only bonus material. Disc 5 features the first 8 episodes, back to back, in extended edits. Some episodes have new material inserted which had been cut for timing, whilst other sequences derive from alternative takes - so not every episode is necessarily longer. The very first episode clearly has more trial room material, and you can see why it was excised. You'll recall that the Valeyard states that the Matrix contains all known knowledge, just before he starts showing his evidence for the prosecution. In its extended version, the Doctor challenges this assertion, pointing out that the Matrix only contains all known knowledge as known to the Time Lords, and they have a bit of an argument about semantics, before the Inquisitor shuts them up and tells them to get on with it.
The remaining 6 extended episodes are on Disc 6. The final episode clocks in at 34 minutes long.
I'm afraid to say that the inclusion of additional scenes has led to us being subjected to one of the worst VFX shots ever (not) seen on Doctor Who. Once we have the opening trial room sequence at the start of Part 9, we then see a model shot of the Hyperion in orbit above Mogar. A number of shuttle craft are seen flying around it, and the model work is truly appalling. They're recorded on video rather than film, as was the (bad) habit at this time and it all looks terrible. Blue Peter made better spaceships out of washing-up liquid bottles.
I had read in advance that this part of the story - the bit we usually call Terror of the Vervoids - was going to get updated CGI effects. I naturally assumed that these would go with the extended version of the story - but this is not the case. The updated version is an extra on Disc 3, alongside the broadcast version, and it has had all the trial scenes edited out, making it a supposedly stand alone version. This means that we actually have three different versions of what is hardly a great story to begin with on this one box set. The update involves a new set of opening titles, and just the shots of the spaceship (plus one shot of the TARDIS in space). Nothing else has been touched - including the Black Hole of Tartarus, which I assumed would get the CGI treatment. As it has now been divorced from the courtroom context, it is unlikely that I will ever revisit it. According to this version, genocide is just all in a day's work for the Doctor.
Has my opinion changed after re-watching Season 23 on Blu-ray? Actually it has - but only just. It's still my second least favourite season ever, but I did enjoy it better for having watched the Disc 5 - 6 extended version all in one sitting. I think this is the first time that I've ever watched it all in one go. It flows better, and the courtroom stuff builds in a more satisfying way.
On to the new Extras. I didn't think I'd like the Doctor Who Cookbook - Revisited piece, but it was actually very entertaining. Toby Hadoke visits Sarah Sutton (who has Janet Fielding as a house guest), Nicola Bryant (who has Colin Baker on hand), Fraser Hines and Terry Molloy, and gets them to recreate the recipes they contributed to Gary Downie's 1985 book. I wouldn't necessarily try their recipes myself - too much seafood for my liking, though I might have a go at Patrick Troughton's vegetable soup.
I thought that I might enjoy The Doctor's Table better - only to find that I didn't. There's some funny conversation, but watching other people enjoy themselves from the sidelines isn't good entertainment as far as I'm concerned. It was like going to the pub when you are on antibiotics and can't drink yourself.
The usually great Behind the Sofa sections were a little bit of a let down as well. The line-ups weren't so funny, and they didn't actually say all that much. There was too much clips and not enough comment. I complained before that Janet Fielding can usually be relied upon to dominate these, but we could have done with her here. Some of the other new material actually dates from the 2013 50th Anniversary period, but we do get a brand new interview with Bonnie Langford, conducted by Matthew Sweet. His interviews on each of these releases so far have been a highlight. Anyone who still sees Bonnie as the precocious child performer should watch this and see just how nice a person she really is, and she turned out to be a very good straight actor as well.
One thing which did alarm me, watching the newer items, is the state of Colin Baker's health. He was clearly showing the signs of Parkinson's Disease, or some similar condition, with very noticeable head shaking. Very sad to see him looking unwell.
Lastly, I do think it is a pity that they chose to release Season 23 before Season 22 (which we will have to wait at least a couple more years for at the rate they are releasing these). It's the lesser of Colin's two seasons and, even if what we see on screen has an upbeat ending, everything else about it was a bit of a downer.

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