Actors: Tom Baker, Mary Tamm
Format: Box set, Collector’s Edition, Color, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Original recording remastered, Special Edition, Subtitled, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 7
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: BBC Warner
DVD Release Date: March 3, 2009
Run Time: 627 minutes
“Doctor Who: The Key To Time” can be purchased at Amazon
A special edition that earns is truly special. Worth the upgrade
Released in the infancy of the North American “Doctor Who” DVD line, the original “Key To Time” box set was a hastily released exclusive for the United States to increase sales for the range and to showcase the (at the time) most well-known Doctor in the United States. Naturally, fans in the U.K. were outraged at not getting a release of the set, but they got their revenge years later when the BBC released a special edition box-set of the sixteenth season of “Doctor Who” complete with a full set of bells and whistles. (It also led to a decision not to release any stories on DVD in North America BEFORE they were released in the U.K. due to licensing issues).
So, the big question facing many North American fans when it comes to this set will be–is it worth the double dip? And the answer is an emphatic yes.
The original release received only a minor pass by the restoration team, resulting in the DVDs having washed out colors, low video quality and lots of grain during the stories. Extras were minimal–pretty much a commentary on the story and a few isolated bits on certain discs. Certainly nothing to write home about and they paled in comparison to even the “vanilla” releases of the current range. Now with the release of the Special Edition, Tom Baker’s fifth season as the Doctor looks and sounds better than ever and the extras are truly worth your time and attention.
“The Key to Time” is a six-story arc that finds the Doctor and his new companion, Romana, sent on a quest through space and time to assemble the all-powerful Key to Time. At stake is the future of the universe and the balance of power between good and evil. Each segment of the key is disguised on whatever planet it’s been hidden with our heroes having a tracer to guide the TARDIS to the segment’s position in time and space. Once on the planet in question, the tracer can lead the Doctor and Romana to the segment and convert it back to its original form.
If you read this and salivate over the idea of an arc story for “Doctor Who,” don’t get your hopes too far up. Produced in the 1970’s, the Key storyline is present but not quite as driving as the arc story lines produced on the more modern “Who” or other genre shows of our time like “24” and “Battlestar Galactica.” Some of the stories are very reliant on the quest for the current segments while others the quest is there as a bookend to the story and it will feel like more of an afterthought to the story. Season sixteen sees the series at a crossroads–shedding the final vestiges of the dark, gothic era of Phillip Hinchcliffe and slowly evolving into the silliness that will overwhelm much of the next season.
The stories are a bit all over the map. The highlights are the first two stories, “The Ribos Operation” and “The Pirate Planet.” “Planet” is from the pen of writer Douglas Adams (yes, that Douglas Adams) and it has all the hallmarks of an Adams’ story withn the confines of the “Doctor Who” universe. Both it and “Ribos” function well because the quest for the Key is still fresh enough that the search for each segment drives the narrative and the segment itself is vital to resolution of the plot.
The same can’t be said of some of the other stories. The quest is an afterthought at best in “Androids of Tara” and while the first two episodes of “Stones of Blood” work well, the final two episodes may have you reaching for the fast forward button. Then there’s the much maligned “Power of Kroll” which isn’t as bad as everyone says it is. It’s a lot better than most people give it credit. It’s essentially the same plot that writer Robert Holmes will use years later in “Caves of Androzani” only without the directoral flourishes, the atmosphere and the incredible performances. Finally we have “The Armageddon Factor,” the six-part wrap up to the season that starts well before it descends into the classic “Who” cliche of lots of running about corridors.
But as I said before, it’s the extras that sell this set. Whereas the initial release only had a few paltry extras, this seven disc set (the stories are available individually as well) is packed with the usual wealth of great behind the scenes looks that set the “Doctor Who” DVD line head and shoulders above most other TV on DVD releases. The set does recycle the original commentaries but adds two new ones into the mix. Each story gets a detailed look at the production and creation and the entire season and era is treated to a fascinating overview. The set also addresses the Graham Williams era, one of the more divisive among “Doctor Who” fans. It’s the extras that really push this set over the top and make it worth the double dip.
If you’re looking for a way to stave off “Doctor Who” withdrawal during the wait for the next special, this set is a nice entry point. It’s got Tom Baker as the best-known classic Doctor, it’s got some good examples of classic Who and it’s got some great extras.