Season 22 has been described as the last ‘full-blooded’ series of Doctor Who’s original run, before the show’s unceremonious cancellation – and later, imposed hiatus – by BBC bosses. Still riding high after the success of the 20th anniversary, it would’ve been easy for Who to rest on its laurels, yet Season 22 presents a plethora of exciting stories for its new lead actor, Colin Baker. From the ice tombs of Telos to the sunny streets of Seville, from Davros to Sil, this is a run of Doctor Who that truly showcases the programme’s variety of storytelling possibilities – even if perhaps the quality of the episodes varies somewhat.
Colin Baker is a brilliant Doctor, throwing himself into the role with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm, elevating the material given. Even if the writing can sometimes make ‘Old Sixie’ seem a little too pompous and mean, it’s refreshing to see such a flawed incarnation of the Doctor. Even then, the Sixth Doctor never loses sight of his morals, and is always ready to face-off against evil when it threatens. And besides, who else could pull-off that ridiculous outfit? Joining him is Nicola Bryant as Peri, who had been introduced mid-way through the previous season and is here given the task transitioning in the new Doctor, both for him and for the audience. Alas, the scripts don’t often give Bryant much to do beyond the archetypal companion tropes – including standing still and screaming at silly monsters, rather than simply running away, or fighting back. She does have terrific on-screen chemistry with Baker, and I do find them both a very endearing TARDIS team, albeit one better served in Big Finish’s audio dramas.
The season opens with Attack of the Cybermen: a serial bogged down in various continuity references and fan service that don’t exactly aid the plot, yet still manages to be entertaining; easily the worst aspect is the awful incidental music. The following story, Vengeance on Varos, represents the best of this era of the show: a satire of reality television, not to mention a commentary on contemporary ‘video nasties’, Philip Martin’s two-part tale puts its main characters through the ringer, resulting in a very dark and violent adventure that remains relevant decades later. Mark of the Rani introduces Kate O’Mara’s malevolent Time Lady – a character I’ve never felt has been particularly well-realised on television – but is otherwise a fairly lacklustre historical story complimented by some nice location filming.
Speaking of location filming, The Two Doctors takes the TARDIS to Seville, Spain for a rather curious multi-Doctor adventure. It’s always nice to see Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines return as the Second Doctor and Jamie, not to mention the welcome return of the Sontarans, but Robert Holmes’ scripts are unnecessarily padded and lacking in stakes. Perhaps the greatest disappointment of this three-part story is that Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton barely share any screen-time together, although Jamie does become a temporary second companion for the Sixth Doctor (and one who surprisingly compliments the TARDIS dynamic very well). Timelash is often cited as one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever (ironically broadcast after the show was cancelled), and I can’t exactly argue against that. The scripts are baffling, the performances even more so (Paul Darrow as Laurence Olivier as Richard III as baddie Tekker is the sort of over-the-top acting one has to see to believe), the pacing is poor, and the production values are awful. Ending the season on a high note is Revelation of the Daleks, an atmospheric black comedy that may not make a huge amount of sense, but does feature some memorable dialogue, creepy music, and excellent direction from Graeme Harper. Even if Doctor Who’s future was uncertain at the end of Season 22, Revelation makes a good case for its longevity.
This new Blu-ray Collection set from BBC Studios presents all thirteen, forty-five-minute episodes with new remasters alongside a whole TARDIS-worth of special features. The episodes themselves have no doubt been presented in as high quality as possible, but the picture does vary quite a bit and isn’t a huge upgrade over the DVDs (the film sequences in Mark of the Rani look particularly soft for a Blu-ray release). Attack of the Cybermen, Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks all feature 5.1 surround sound mixes, which really do enhance the viewing experience. There are also extended edits of both parts of Vengeance, Part One of The Two Doctors and Part One of Revelation, although Vengeance’s new material is obvious as the quality dips considerably; no 5.1 sound mixes are available to for any of the extended edits either, which is particularly annoying considering that this wasn’t the case with earlier collection sets. Timelash also now has optional replacement CGI effects, which look good but don’t exactly improve the story (a number of effects shots have also been left unaltered, perhaps for the worse). There are also optional updated effects for Revelation of the Daleks, taken from the 2005 DVD release, which could have probably done with some minor improvements for this Blu-ray.
Location Location Location follows Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant as they return to key filming locations for Season 22 (with one notable exception); it’s a lot of fun, with some lovely moments, and a nice showcase of the scope of this season. La Fiesta del Mal documents the making of The Two Doctors in a simple but effective talking-heads format. It’s well-paced and does feature some great interviews from various contributors, even if it would have been nice to see the cast return to the Spanish locations (similar to the recent making-of’s for Fury from the Deep and Castrovalva). Fans will also be pleased to find that there’s a new audio commentary on Revelation of the Daleks with Colin Baker (strangely absent on the DVD release), alongside Nicola Bryant, Alexei Sayle (the DJ) and Terry Molloy (Davros), as well as a commentary on the infamous A Fix with the Sontarans (understandably edited for this release), with Baker, Janet Fielding and Gareth Jenkins. The customary Behind the Sofa features are also present, featuring Baker, Bryant, Molloy, Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) reacting to key sequences from the season. Padbury seems particularly shocked by the violence, while everyone takes great delight in taking the mickey out of Paul Darrow’s performance in Timelash.
Also included are not one but three In Conversation films with Matthew Sweet, featuring Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Doctor Who’s arch nemesis, former BBC One controller Michael Grade. These are all excellent: Baker’s makes for a nice overview of his life and career, to the point that Doctor Who doesn’t get mentioned until a whole hour in, while Bryant discusses the different attitudes at the BBC in the 1980’s, which seems quite concerning in hindsight. The Michael Grade interview is perhaps a controversial one; it’s a bit too repetitive for a nearly-hour-long piece, but he does provide some interesting insight into the way the BBC was run at the time. Matthew Sweet is, as ever, a very good interviewer, clearly engaged with the discussion but able to keep everything on track. Additional special features include The Eternal Mystery mini-episode, studio footage, convention footage, The Colin Baker Years documentary, radio serial Slipback, PDF scripts, a variety of clips from the BBC Archive and all of the extras previously released on DVD.
Overall, Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 22 is another strong release from BBC Studios. The episodes themselves are, as to be expected, a bit of a mixed bag (although the same can be said for any run of the show), and while the remasters aren’t huge improvements, the extended edits, surround-sound mixes and various special features do make up for this. If you haven’t seen this season before, I highly recommend this set, and if you have, this new release should have something new to offer. A must-have for Doctor Who fans everywhere.