The Complete Series Four DVD Boxset

Chris Boucher, Ben Steed, Robert Holmes, Jim Follett, Allan Prior, Roger Parkes, Rod Beacham, Bill Lyons, Tanith Lee, Colin Davis and Simon Masters
Directors: Mary Ridge, David Sullivan Proudfoot, Vere Lorrimer, Vivienne Cozens, Brian Lighthill and Viktors Ritelis
Released: April 2006
Availability: Try

Okay, it's the season where it all comes crashing down. While I do defend season four and it has some first rate episodes in Sand, Orbit and Blake, the soul of the series seems to be missing for long periods, to say nothing of the quality control. In particular, while the season as a whole manages to just scrape an average rating, for the first seven episodes that mean average is just two stars, as misfiring story follows misfiring story. Yet in terms of DVD reproduction then the episodes are at least given a better presentation than ever before. The film stock still has far more scratches and dirt marks on it than I’d expect from a box set, but the comparative freshness of the material means its scrubbed up generally well for the discs.

I do have incredibly minor qualms about the presentation, but then if I didn't mention them, what kind of Anorak would I be? One is the insistence on using the original logo and theme tune for the presentation. Yes, I know both were superior versions, but surely what we have on the discs should reflect the content more closely? Also, the chic white backdrop to the DVD menus on the last disc has selected options turn to light grey, deselected options black, which does get a little confusing at first. These are minor quibbles, however.

The commentaries are the most disappointing of the whole range this time, in that only two episodes have them. Not only that, but the chance to have Stephen Pacey, Josette Simon or Glynis Barber has now passed, with none of the three getting involved. As it is, we have Gareth and Paul sitting with Chris Boucher for Blake, which is pleasant but not particularly memorable (don't I say that for all of them? Oh well, if it's true, it's true...) and an odd choice of Paul and Jacqueline Pearce for Assassin. I say "odd", because not only do the jocular Darrow and the ethereal Pearce lack a third voice to focus them, but there's nothing really that special about Assassin to warrant its commentary. However, nearly half an hour in and Jacquie is saved from the morass of her unfocussed "dahhhhhhlings" (of which she manages only nineteen) by the sight of Caroline Holdaway. If anyone can break someone out of their laid-back spell it's Holdaway, and Jacquie duly delivers, slating both her acting and her (lack of) sexuality. Even Paul begins to join in, and Pearce repeatedly calls the actress "irritating" and demands she "shut up!" It almost makes you feel sorry for Holdaway, though as the only commentary with a bit of real bite it makes it worth listening to. Only downside (depending on your politics, perhaps) is both of them discussing how they like to read the Daily Mail, though the real shame is why they never got Michael Keating in to do an Orbit commentary, or why Pearce and Pacey never did a (rumoured) Sand commentary. It smacks of missed opportunities…

While the commentaries may disappoint more than usual, in terms of extras then this set is by far the best.
Kevin Jon Davies puts together three well made documentaries on various aspects of the series, all three of which run to over half an hour each. If only this sort of care and attention had been given to the previous box collections. Probably the main highlight is Forever Avon (30'10m), an interview package with Paul Darrow from 2005, with his thoughts on the series, as well as the originally proposed mini-series sequel and his thoughts on Firefly, amongst other things. If it's a little self-congratulatory having an actor talking about his own part for half an hour, then it's deserved, and the structured focus is appreciated. Ken Ledsham's B7 Designs (31'08m) is a look at the design of the series, which is a lot more interesting than you might expect, and Special Sounds: Radiophonics (38’51m). This final documentary is hard to judge as it’s all so subjective. Personally I found it soporific, but others might enjoy it more, and I was glad it was on there. In addition, there’s some studio VT footage from the episodes Gambit and Gold (20'59m total), which shows the playfulness of the cast, a much happier picture than some interviews have suggested.
The extras on previous discs – particularly the Easter Eggs, of which none are present here – have been excerpts from Davies’s unused documentary on the series. With this in mind, many of the following were taken from his unedited cut of season four: Liz Parker on Pebble Mill (5'09m) is archive footage of the sound designer, fairly engaging; Blue Peter (8’51m) is of the standard for that programme, so your view of that will depend on how you perceive Janet Ellis showing you how to make a cardboard bracelet; and Clean Titles (0’59m) is a pretty pointless inclusion of the series titles without episode title credits over the top. Episode synopses are again not really warranted on a DVD that contains them, but a nice curio is a collection of archive Terry Nation interview snippets (2’18m) with him talking about the end of the series and his plans to resurrect it. Finally, there’s clip compilations for the characters of Soolin and Slave (2'32m and 1'52m respectively) and another Blake's Bloops (15'45m), which would be lucky to get a laugh out of a paralytic hyena, but is appreciated for its inclusion
Altogether that’s just a little under THREE HOURS of extras. Okay, some of the smaller features could have been cropped further, but the only real crying shame is why haven’t extras been like this all the way through?