Doctor Who: The Collection is almost halfway through its mission to release the whole of classic Doctor Who on Blu-ray. But with only one TV movie released during the so-called ‘Wilderness Years,’ what might we see on a 1990-2004 boxset?
The world of Doctor Who is an exciting place. And with its almost 60 year history, it’s not all about the here and the now. One of the most exciting developments of recent years was the launch of classic Doctor Who on Blu-ray for the first time. The gradual release of handsome limited edition boxsets that make up Doctor Who: The Collection has generated hours and hours of discussion, excitement, and above all, enjoyment of classic stories.
But Doctor Who: The Collection hasn’t just upscaled the show. Each Collection boxset has boasted a whole range of extras, with many hours of new material including exhaustive interviews, documentaries, and the reams of special features that were included on the original DVDs.
One recurring question, almost since the beginning of the range, has been exactly what they intend to do about the 1996 TV Movie. It’s already been released on Blu-ray, although the quality of that edition has been largely derided by fans. But it’s not a part of any season, either. Some people thought it might be included as an extra disc on the Season 26 boxset, but that release has come and gone and the movie wasn’t on it. Others thought that it would get a single Blu-ray release in new packaging to match The Collection but range.
The TV Movie wasn’t Doctor Who’s only visual return during the Wilderness Years, with webcast animations also ready for the Collection treatment
But the most popular speculation has been that it would form the jewel in the crown of a Doctor Who: The Collection boxset exploring ‘The Wilderness Years.’ Because despite the misleading name coined by fans, it’s a period crammed with some of the most exciting and imaginative experiments in the whole of Doctor Who, and an era when many familiar names of today, like Russell T Davies and Paul Cornell, first came to the forefront of fandom. But with only one actual episode of Doctor Who released during those years, albeit a feature length one, what could possibly fill a whole set?
The answer is: much more than you might think.
The main draw would of course be that Paul McGann movie, but McGann also returned in 2003 for animated adventure ‘Shada.’ It was one of the earliest attempts to resurrect the cancelled Season 17 six part story by reimagining it for the Eighth Doctor as a webcast animation. It followed the previous year’s ‘Real Time,’ featuring Colin Baker’s Doctor taking on the Cybermen in a story that was timey wimey before it was cool.
Richard E Grant takes up the Time Lord’s mantle as the Ninth Doctor in another animation ‘Scream of the Shalka‘ featuring future star Sophie Okonedo as his companion Alison and, years before ‘Utopia,’ Derek Jacobi as the Master. Released in 2003 as potentially just the first in a whole series of adventures for Grant’s Doctor, its thunder was stolen when plans for the return of live action Doctor Who was announced immediately afterward.
‘Death Comes to Time’ is another animated webcast from the Wilderness Years, this time starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor opposite Stephen Fry as the Minister of Chance. A bold reinvention of the show, it depicted the Time Lords at their most godlike ever, and in an era when it seemed Doctor Who would never return to TV it tried to point the way forward in the most extreme way possible – by killing off the Doctor!
With the webcast versions now reliant on obsolete software, they’re long overdue a revamped release.
In live action, there’s also Steven Moffat’s first onscreen Doctor Who credit with gentle spoof ‘The Curse of Fatal Death,’ starring Blackadder‘s Rowan Atkinson as yet another Ninth Doctor, alongside Jonathan Pryce as the Master, and Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Doctors (it was a busy day.)
30 Years in the TARDIS not only created a fitting tribute to Doctor Who, but included a selection of fun minisodes rarely seen since
For contractual reasons, it’s extremely unlikely that the 30th anniversary minisode ‘Dimensions in Time’ will form part of the set. It may also not have the best reputation with fans thanks to its somewhat wild and random script. But with it uniting Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in one adventure, plus a small army of former companions, it’s a huge shame that it probably won’t be included.
Although that shouldn’t be a problem with ‘Search Out Space’ – a 1990 episode of educational program Search Out Science presented by Sylvester McCoy in character as the Doctor.
One part of the BBC’s 30th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who that is far more likely to find its way onto a Wilderness Years boxset is the feature length documentary 30 Years in the TARDIS (or More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS to give the extended edition its full name.) Still fondly remembered today, 30 Years was a magical look back over the history of Doctor Who up until that point, and a key inspiration for the DVD and Blu-ray extras that followed. It’s also the first time we get to see the magical transition of entering the TARDIS from outside – in one shot!
30 Years in the TARDIS is also notable for the collection of minisodes spread across its runtime. These feature brief new interludes for the likes of the Third, Sixth and Seventh Doctors, and for companions like Ace, Jamie, Victoria, Susan and the Brigadier. (Even Susie Who from the 1960s Daleks movies appears!)
Meanwhile, 10 years later, another retrospective BBC documentary called The Story of Doctor Who marked the programme’s 40th anniversary, comprising many wide-ranging interviews that assembled a single narrative of the show’s history.
Plus there’s the fun of the links and comedy sketches starring Mark Gatiss and David Walliams from the BBC’s Doctor Who Night in 1999, including ‘The Pitch of Fear’ (imagining the original 1963 pitch meeting for Doctor Who), ‘The Web of Caves’ (starring Gatiss as the Doctor and Walliams as the alien he encounters), and ‘The Kidnappers’ (in which some overzealous fans take Peter Davison home as the ultimate Doctor Who collectible.)
Anthony Ainley’s final performance as the Master, as the deliciously malign compere of the ‘Destiny of the Doctors’ game, would be another fun inclusion from the archive.
The Wilderness Years Audio Archive could include new 1990s BBC Radio adventures for the Third and Seventh Doctors
The Collection has already featured ‘Audio Archive’ features among the extras, including things like the cut-down hour long version of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ released on vinyl in 1979. So there’s no reason why a Wilderness Years set couldn’t include the two 1990s BBC radio adventures for the Third Doctor, Sarah Jane and the Brigadier – ‘The Paradise of Death’ and ‘The Ghosts of N-Space.’ Written by former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts, and reuniting the original Season 11 cast, they’re a unique chance to hear Pertwee’s sole Doctor Who audio stories.
It’s less likely that any Big Finish audios will be included, but it’s not impossible. Certainly it would be great to see a few key releases, like the very first story ‘Sirens of Time,’ or first Eighth Doctor story ‘Storm Warning.’ They’re a key part in the real story of the so-called Wilderness Years – the burst of creative energy that showed that Doctor Who was determined to survive.
The DVD range has already explored different aspects of the Wilderness Years, and a dedicated 1990-2004 set would be their natural new home
Meanwhile, the DVD range already featured a wealth of material about this period of Doctor Who, exploring the novels, merchandise, comic books and more in strands like dr. forever! Due to their nature, these did turn up in somewhat random places, like documentary ‘Being David Burton’ (about the strange case of the man who claimed in 1991 to have been cast as the new Doctor) being on the Special Edition of 1970 story ‘Inferno.’
Other dr. forever! pieces cover the rise of Big Finish to fill the Wilderness Years gap with new audio adventures, the novel ranges of the era, the failed attempt to bring 40th anniversary special ‘The Dark Dimension’ to the screen, and the eventual path that Russell T Davies took during the Wilderness Years to bring the show back to our screens.
Meanwhile, earlier releases of the TV Movie on DVD and Blu-ray were packed with interviews with the stars, behind-the-scenes featurettes about the Canadian filming, deleted scenes and more.
Many Collection regulars like ‘In Conversation,’ ‘Behind the Sofa,’ and ‘The Writers’ Room’ would provide exciting new extras for The Wilderness Years
There’s also huge scope for brand new extras in any Wilderness Years Collection boxset. Matthew Sweet has been providing skillful insight in his ‘In Conversation’ strand of interviews for the Collection, and a ‘Paul McGann in Conversation’ interview is a must. A similar interview discussing the wide career of Eric Roberts, the TV Movie’s Master, also has to be high on any wish list. Meanwhile, the driving force behind the project, Philip Seagal, could offer up a fascinating reappraisal in the light of the show’s return and success since.
‘Behind the Sofa’ is another of The Collection’s signature strands, with cast and crew from all eras of the show gathering to watch Doctor Who on camera and give their reactions. And what will they make of the 1996 movie, or the likes of ‘Scream of the Shalka’ and ‘Shada?’ After all, who wouldn’t want to hear the thoughts of someone like Russell T Davies on these resurrections that almost happened?
More important perspectives on the Wilderness Years could be included in a special edition of ‘The Writers’ Room,’ the strand of Collection extras that assemble teams of various writers to thrash out what worked and what didn’t. The thought of having Paul Cornell (‘Shalka’), Dan Freeman (‘Death Comes to Time’), Matthew Jacobs (the TV Movie), and Garry Russell (Big Finish’s original creative director) comparing notes on their own attempts to retool Doctor Who for the rapidly approaching 21st century is compelling.
And that’s just a sample of the most likely things to wind up on any Doctor Who: The Collection – The Wilderness Years set. With the depth of imagination and thought that goes into these sets, almost anything is possible; after all, the likes of Chris Chapman and Toby Hadoke have already dreamt up some of the Collection’s best-loved new documentaries. They must surely have mental check-lists brimming with fun and emotional ideas for Wilderness Years features.
If The Wilderness Years box set appears, it’s sure to be packed with a lot more than ‘just one TV movie!’
Who knows when we’ll get to see a Wilderness Years box set. After all, there are still 15 actual seasons to get through, and with the set possibly acting as an ‘appendix’ for the entire range, fitting in any odd bits and pieces that might not come up until after the relevant season has already been released, the Wilderness Years might well be saved to the very end. That being said, it promises to be one of the most exciting Collection releases of all time.
Would you pick up a Wilderness Years box set? And what would you like it to include? Let us know in the comments!
Seventh Doctor jumper – order now from the Lovarzi shop!
Shop on Amazon
- Doctor Who: Will the original Davros ever return?
- Will there always be 97 missing Doctor Who episodes?
- Looking back at the first Doctor Who companions
- New to Doctor Who? Here’s what you need to know
- Steven Moffat tops Doctor Who episodes poll