For the first time, a complete season of Doctor Who is available on Blu-ray and it’s one of the best seasons of the show’s original run – with its most popular Doctor to boot.
Tom Baker had a hard act to follow in Jon Pertwee’s action hero Third Doctor and in his first season (the show’s 12th), he got off to a quick start following his regeneration by trying on a number of get ups from the TARDIS’ closets (a barbarian and sad clown Pagliacci being two standouts), but the mix of a greatcoat, 12-foot scarf and slouch hat gave a look that combined intergalactic Harpo Marx with a certain swashbuckling flair.
The Baker Doctor’s first foe was a robot that had been programmed to eliminate the earth’s worst parasite. The four-part serial was titled, not surprisingly, Robot – and found UNIT commander Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), UNIT physician Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) dealing with a newly regenerated Doctor and a plot to destroy humanity.
While the serial was mostly delightful, the Doctor was working his way through post-regeneration trauma or it might have a two-parter (seriously, like all Doctors to date, the first post-regeneration adventure is always a bit wonky – which is why those adventures are fun in the unexpected ways).
The now settled in Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry found themselves on an Ark In Space – its precious cargo, the cream of what was left of humanity, heading for a new home after earth was destroyed.
The featured monster of the four-part serial was constructed of a brand new material – bubble wrap (painted green) – and was unlike anything seen on the show before (nobody even knew it existed yet – let alone hat it was called!).
The two-parter The Sontaran Experiment found the Doctor and his companions attempting to thwart a Sontaran called Styre’s experiments on humans – to find their weaknesses as part of the Sontaran plan to dominate the galaxy.
In the six-part serial Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor and his companions wind up on Skaro – following orders from the Timelords. Their mission: to prevent the creation of the Daleks.
Here, the Doctor ponders whether it’s right to commit genocide – even if the species is the Daleks.
The first Tom Baker season concludes with the four-part serial Revenge of the Cybermen – in which the Doctor, Harry and Sarah Jane must prevent a planet of gold, Voga, from being destroyed by the Cybermen (gold is their sole weakness – if it gets into their respirators, it effectively smothers them to death).
Writers for the season include Terrance Dicks, Robert Holmes, Bob Baker, Dave Martin, Dalek creator Terry Nation and Gerry Davis – all of whom are regarded as being among the show’s best writers.
Considering the budgetary constraints of the show (even in the early seventies, the effects make the original Star Trek series look expensive), the show’s effects team frequently turned in original and inspirational work (trust me, the green bubble wrap monster was not as bad as it sounds).
What kept the show must-see TV was the writing. Despite the low budgets and time constraints, Doctor Who – especially in the Tom Baker years – used characterization, charm and wit to offset inexpensive sets.
Baker also played into the Doctor’s alien by giving unexpected readings on straightforward lines and adding bits of improv.
Despite the show’s limited resources, you could count on it to be funny, scary and different – Baker was capable of playing nuance or over the top and everywhere in between.
Baker’s first season of Doctor Who looks great on Blu-ray – the sets and costumes pop with rich colors (yet another way to get around the budget) and the blacks are actually black.
Doctor Who – Tom Baker: Complete First Season comes with all the bonus material from the DVD releases: audio commentaries on every episode; making of documentaries for almost every episode; interviews with key cast and crew, and much, much more.
New features include: Behind the Sofa – six Who alums watch and kibbutz a number of episodes (two sets of three: first: Tom Baker, Sadie Smith [Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter] and Philip Hinchcliffe a producer for the season; second: Louise Jameson [Leela]; Janet fielding [Tegan] and Sarah Sutton [Nyssa]); new making of documentaries for The Sontaran Experiment and Revenge of the Cybermen; immersive 5.1 surround sound for The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks; optimal updated effects for Revenge of the Cybermen; Genesis of the Daleks – TV Movie Version; the two=part special The Tom Baker Years (originally only available on VHS); PDF production material from the BBC Archives, and Tom Baker in Conversation (recorded for this release).
Grade: Doctor Who – Tom Baker: Complete First Season – A
Grade: Bonus Features -A+
Final Grade: A+