Sometimes the extras on the Doctor Who classic series DVDs are side-splitting as well as fascinating, like Terrance Dicks explaining that the alien Alpha Centauri looked like a big penis. Three old-school Doctor Who stories just came out on DVD.
I'll spare you the standard rant about how annoying it is that the Doctor Who classic series is being released in dribs and drabs, instead of proper season box sets like almost every other TV series of the era. The short version is that collecting old-school Who on DVD is an expensive proposition, since the individual stories put together wind up costing more than a whole season would. And the extras are of variable quality, and sometimes only seem to be included to make a stand-alone story seem more attractive. At the same time, these discs are a labor of love by the Restoration Team, who work miracles on behalf of their favorite show.
That said, the three new releases on DVD are "The Curse Of Peladon," "The Monster Of Peladon" and "The Masque Of Mandragora." And two of these stories really are classics, in my book.
First, the "Peladon" duology. Both of these stories come from Jon Pertwee's early 1970s tenure in the role, and they both take place on the mock-medieval world of Peladon. "Curse" is one of the finest Pertwee stories, and if you've never seen any of his era before, this is a really good one to start with. The plot is sort of the Star Trek episode "Journey To Babel," mashed up with some medieval cliches. Peladon is just emerging from barbarism and superstition, and is a candidate to join a galactic Federation — but some people decide they liked the barbarism and superstition just fine. There are mysterious murders, conspiracies, a tormented king, trial by combat, and a mythical beast lurking in the catacombs. In short, it has everything.
The whole thing zips along at a nice pace, and the Doctor is at his most mercurial and charming, convincing everybody that he's the delegate from Earth. The other aliens really are quite alien — and as a nice bonus, the Ice Warriors, villains of two previous stories, appear to be honorable and decent this time around. Getting a greater insight into how the Ice Warriors think is a major plus, and you're left wondering if they could have become Doctor Who's answer to the Klingons if they'd had more exposure.
The second Peladon story, "Monster," feels like a boring retread in a lot of ways. There are a couple of nifty new ideas grafted on: First, Peladon's now ruled by a queen instead of a king, and she needs to be taught to be more assertive. And second, it turns out that joining the Federation really wasn't such a great idea, because now the Peladonians are being exploited for their mineral resources. At six episodes, though, the whole thing is just dragged out far too much. As usual with a Pertwee six-parter, the plot doesn't really even get going until episode four.
So if you're new to the Pertwee era and wanting to sample it, "Curse" is a great choice, but "Monster" is eminently skippable.
The extras are sort of nice, although this is a case where "Monster" could have been a single disc and all of the extras could have been included with "Curse." There are the usual jovial, joky audio commentaries, with production team Barry Letts and Dicks having fun remembering the making of both stories. (With Letts now sadly passed on, any chance to hear his thoughts on the program he helped to reshape is greatly appreciated.)