I did not buy the original 2002 Key to Time set; I figured that I would wait until the UK came out with its own version of the set, which would, in keeping with all Doctor Who DVD releases, be fully remastered and jammed to the gills with quality bonus features. So, over a year after the UK got the Key to Time in a fully remastered box set, North America receives the upgraded set.
I'll break this review down into two questions.
Firstly, is the new edition worth buying for those who've already bought the original?
Yes, it is. The picture is fully remastered and quite good-looking and sounding for late 70's videotape. The Pirate Planet's film sequences have also been remastered and look much improved. The special features are bound to keep even the most hardcore fan occupied for days, with everything from the continuity announcements for the original broadcasts (relatively insignificant, but I enjoy them) to the obligatory audio commentaries (while the commentaries from the 2002 edition are reused, there are a couple of new ones as well), as well as some documentaries on the production and an easter egg reconstructing a technical breakdown that occurred on the original broadcast of part five of The Armageddon Factor. All in all, the usual stuffed package we've come to expect from the BBC.
If you didn't buy the original set and are interested in the episodes, how good is it?
Well, this set comprises the entire sixteenth season of the show. I'll break it down, story by story:
The Ribos Operation is a great opener to the season, written by the majestic Robert Holmes. It boasts some great dialogue and surprisingly good production values for a studio-bound story, and is a promising start.
The Pirate Planet, written by Douglas Adams, is even better, overflowing with wit and humour. The aforementioned location filming is quite effective in creating atmosphere (particularly the cave sequences from parts two and three), and the story is also one of many in this season to mesh drama and humour effortlessly.
The Stones of Blood starts interesting and gradually gets better as we get into part two, held up by some of the greatest acting ever seen in the show. Unfortunately, once we reach the last episode and the "twinkle twinkle little star" judge and jury beings show up, it completely falls to pieces.
The Androids of Tara is a great costume drama, compounded by a really well done sword fight in the final episode. The cliffhanger to part two is also brilliantly shocking and suspenseful.
The Power of Kroll... oh dear God. I still can't believe Robert Holmes wrote this (yeah, the same Robert Holmes who wrote Ribos). It's incredibly dull (not helped by the fact that I watched it at 1 in the morning), there isn't any good dialogue, the visual effect shots of Kroll, while improved slightly for this re-release, are laughable, and it suffers from the age old end-of-season "OMG we're out of money" effect, not helped by poor acting and unlikeable characters.
The Armageddon Factor, while not a particularly good story and a lacklustre end to the season, is at least better than what preceded it. I do admit, though, that sequence in part six where the Doctor has assembled the Key and flutters his eyelids while ranting about having power over everything made me laugh quite hard. Speaking of which, the villain in this story has a stereotypical "mad" laugh that even Mojo Jojo would probably find a bit too extreme.
All in all, a pretty good season of the show wrapped up nicely in an excellent DVD set. A must buy, in any case.