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Thinking Inside the Box

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"Doctor Who," the British sci-fi series that sprouted from a police phone booth in 1963, became a cult classic and a hot seller on the DVD market. Here's a look at what's available, and what episodes are coming up.

Before "Star Trek" beamed anybody up or "Star Wars" jumped to lightspeed, a small, low-budget British science fiction show became the template for cult genre fiction: "Doctor Who."

Debuting in 1963 on the BBC just a few days after the assassination of President John E Kennedy, "Doctor Who" ran mostly uninterrupted until 1989. The stories were about a man known only as the Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan. One day, Susan's suspicious high school teachers, Ian and Barbara, follow her home to discover that she lives in a police box — a sort of special British phone booth used by police officers.

It turns out the police box is actually a time machine called the TARDIS (which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space). Bullheaded Ian accidentally sets the machine in motion, beginning more than 26 seasons of episodic sci-fi adventure that eventually made its way to the United States through PBS stations.

The Doctor, it turned out, was an alien on the lam from his people, the Time Lords, a race that could travel in time. These people liked only to observe, not to interfere, which was the Doctor's modus operandi.

The Time Lords lived extraordinarily long lives. When they became sick or badly injured, they could regenerate, which enabled different men to take the lead role. Along the way, the Doctor crossed paths with the evil Daleks (a race of Nazi-like robots that look a bit like giant, angry salt shakers), the Cybermen (humans who forsook flesh to become mechanical terrors) and the Master, another renegade Time Lord with more nefarious intentions, such as, of course, ruling the universe.

The show remains a beloved cult classic — and a hot seller on the DVD market, with more than 1 million "Who" DVDs sold.

Here's a look at some of what is available by "Doctor Who," and what's coming soon (ratings are on a four-star scale):

The Doctor Who Collection (Anchor Bay Entertainment, $39.99, ★★) — This three-disc set features the two 1960s theatrical releases of "Doctor Who," "Dr. Who and the Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD" and "Dr. Who and the Daleks," coupling them with a middle-of-the-road documentary "Dalekmania." The films star Peter Cushing as the Doctor. The production values are better than all but the final years of the series, but the stories are not. Still, the films are perfect examples of the matinee classics from the B-movies of the '60s.

Remembrance of the Daleks (Warner Home Video, $24.99, ★★★1/2 — The last televised Dalek story is one of the best. The seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) battles his old enemies near 76 Totters Lane, the same street on which the show started in 1963. The Daleks return to the status as frightening monsters and, for the first time in their history, they conquer stairs!

Tomb of the Cybermen (Warner Home Video, $24.99, ★★★) — Slow and plodding at times, this '60s tale featuring the second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is genuinely scary at moments and perhaps the best story featuring the Cybermen villains.

Carnival of Monsters (Warner Home Video, $24.99, ★★★1/2

One of the best stories from third Doctor Jon Pertwee's run in the early 1970s. The Doctor and companion Jo (Katy Manning) get stuck in a device that contains a missing British cruise ship, a horrible worm-like monster and all manner of horrible creatures collected for this sort of traveling circus in a box.

Spearhead from Space (Warner Home Video, $24.99, ★★★) — This is the first story in the third Doctor (Pertwee) and also the first "Doctor Who" in color. For his interference with history, the Doctor is banished to Earth and unable to travel in the TARDIS. So, of course, trouble

Dalek Invasion of Earth Warner Home Video, $34.99 ★★★★

The first Doctor (William Hartnell) and companions arrive in a future London ruled by the terrible Daleks. The group tries to rally the rebels to free humanity from slavery. This 1960s classic from the first season of "Who" is the best Da-lek story. This double-disc set includes a ton of fun special features.

The Five Doctors Warner Home Video, $24.99 ★★★

This 20th anniversary special from 1983 features the four surviving Doctors (Troughton, Pertwee, Tom Baker and Peter Davidson) and actor Richard Hurndall filling in for the late Hartnell. A good story that, amazingly, gives all the Doctors and several of their favorite assistants enough to do and keep them all interesting. This special edition includes souped-up special effects and deleted scenes.

Ark in Space Warner Home Video, $24.99 ★★★★

Giant insect monsters, human treachery and a space station orbiting Earth with the last survivors of the human race. What more can you ask from a "Who" story? The fourth, and best, Doctor (Baker) stars in what was the highest-rated "Doctor Who" story.

Talons of Weng-Chang Warner Home Video, $34.99 ★★★★

A fourth Doctor (Baker) story told in the style of a classic Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, Brilliant costumes and period drama make this one of the true "Who" gems.

Key To Time — The Complete Adventure Warner Home Video, $124.99 ★★1/2

The 1975 season included a season-long story arc in which the fourth Doctor (Baker) had to collect the six sections of the Key to Time to stop the Black Guardian from destroying the universe. The Key to Time plot device wears thin over six stories, and the series has its highs ("The Pirate Planet") and lows ("Power of Kroll"). The story line introduces companion Romana (Mary Tamm), the smartest and best foil for the sometimes sexist Doctor.

"Doctor Who" coming to DVD on June 1: "The Two Doctors," "Curse of the Fenric," "Seeds of Death" and "The Three Doctors."

Spelling correction: Peter Davison

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  • APA 6th ed.: Finney, Daniel P. (2004-02-24). Thinking Inside the Box. St. Louis Post-Dispatch p. E1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Finney, Daniel P.. "Thinking Inside the Box." St. Louis Post-Dispatch [add city] 2004-02-24, E1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Finney, Daniel P.. "Thinking Inside the Box." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, edition, sec., 2004-02-24
  • Turabian: Finney, Daniel P.. "Thinking Inside the Box." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 2004-02-24, section, E1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Thinking Inside the Box | url= | work=St. Louis Post-Dispatch | pages=E1 | date=2004-02-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Thinking Inside the Box | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 June 2024}}</ref>