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TME > Video
Incorporating 8mm, VHS & Betamax, Laserdisc, VCD, DVD, mobile media, UMD and
In 1983, BBC Enterprises tested the water of the growing homevideo market by
releasing Revenge of the Cybermen to the viewing public at a cost of just £40
(equivalent to around 'just' £95 today), allowing them to watch it again and
again and again...
And the world hasn't looked back since.
Click on the sections below to expand details for each format, or
jump directly to the releases.
The Doctor Who
home video market had in fact already been attacked prior to
the 1983 release of Tom Baker's Cyberman story, when Walton Sound and Film
Services released the Peter Cushing movies at £133 (around £553 today). 8mm film
works by passing a series of images past a light-projector at high speed.
format was standard the world over, but was highly costly and too delicate to
ever be a major player in the home video world.
VHS & Betamax
By the late 70s, two formats had emerged, promising durable home
re-recording ability, and low cost duplication for professional releases: VHS
(pictured left) and Betamax (pictured right). They
battled it out over several years, and eventually VHS (lower quality but also
substantially cheaper) won out.
The format was based around the varying TV standards that had developed over the
past several decades around the world:
Although VHS tapes all looked similar – a reel of magnetic tape being passed by
a series of "heads" which read off the audio and video information separately
the NTSC/PAL/SECAM divide ensured that the speed (and therefore the number of
frames per second) and the amount of pixels (ie the resolution) differed -
making it impossible to play back videos manufactured in certain countries on
another country's machinary, without the extra expense of built-in converters
(which, certainly in PAL and SECAM countries, became the norm by the 1990s).
Releases in the UK were handled directly by BBC
Worldwide (previously known as BBC Enterprises). Starting with a simultaneous
release in 1983 of Revenge of the Cybermen on VHS (right), Betamax and Laserdisc in
omnibus format with a fairly basic photomontage cover, these were quickly cut
down to just VHS and Betamax after the release of The Brain of Morbius in 1985
(oddly in a heavily-cut repeat version). After another 11 releases (during which
time the Betamax format was dropped) the releases became unedited (apart from
the final cliffhangers on the final episodes of many Hartnell stories), and
beginning with The War Games (left) gained beautiful cover illustrations by Alistair Pearson, Colin Howard and
Andrew Skilleter (and one or two other guest artists). Most of the 80s omnibus
releases were also reissued during 1993-4 in uncut format, although The Seeds of
Death, The Time Warrior and The Talons of Weng-Chiang would have to wait for
their DVD releases to be seen episodically.
The VHS releases
took a break during 1996 in order to push the TV Movie (right), and were relaunched with
The Leisure Hive (right) in
1997 with a redesigned cover format (initially with art by Colin Howard, but
later more photomontages by design company Black Sheep), baring the infamous Industria font and an altered version of the TVM
logo, and continued apace until the final release in 2003. The first few videos
featured a specially made advert (below-left).
Until 1994, Australian distribution was handled by Polygram (and, for the
first few releases, Kerridge Odeon who were subcontracted to distribute to New
Zealand). With a few exceptions these generally tailed the UK releases by just a
few months. In 1994, they elected not to reissue the omnibus versions as BBC
Worldwide were doing, and by the end of 1996 the rights were transferred to Roadshow. Following a flurry of releases, Roadshow caught up once more with the
British releases in early 1999, and finished in 2004. Covers were usually copied
from the UK versions, but Australia elected to stick with the diamond logo when
the UK switched to the TVM version in 1996.
In 1986, CBS/Fox gained the rights from BBC Worldwide Americas to distribute
NTSC versions of the videos. Catching up quickly with the UK videos, they then
followed around half a year behind the releases. Initially considering Doctor
Who to be a children's series, they were released under the 'Playhouse' banner,
and like PolyGram, Fox chose not to reissue the early omnibus releases.
Hollywood Online joined forces with Fox to offer a free floppy disc with
purchases of The Aztecs, Terminus, Robot, City of Death,
Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of the Spiders – this promotional item is available to
download here (2.25mb).
2000 the rights were lost, and by the end of the year Warner Home Video took
over. Over the next few years, they slowly cleared the backlog created over the
year, and also continued distribution (with their own catalogue numbers) of new
runs of all the old CBS/Fox releases. By 2004 they too had completed the range.
Between 1983 and 1986, three releases ("Saibaman-no Gyakushyuu", "Kasei-no
Piramiddo" and "Shi-no Robotto") of Tom Baker stories appeared on the Pony Video
label in Japan (using the NTSC video format, compatible with US releases), with
added subtitles. These were apparently released in order to help sell the show
to major Japanese TV station NHK. No releases followed until NHK ran a subtitled
version of the TV Movie in 1997, which was subsequently released by CiC on VHS
and Laserdisc. The TV Movie and the 60s Cushing movies have also been released
in a variety of countries and languages, and Pyramids of Mars has also received
a Finnish release. Details are on the individual pages.
Also emerging in the late 70s and early 80s was the infamous laserdisc
format. With quality slightly better than that of VHS and Betamax, and at a much
cheaper price (Revenge
was released at £10 – around £23 today), the format came
just a little too late, after many home users and duplication companies had
already invested in either VHS or Betamax. Although it trundled along quite
successfully with AV enthusiasts throughout the 80s and 90s, it was eventually
declared dead in the late 90s with the release of DVD.
Laserdiscs were 12" discs (the same size as vinyl albums at the time) and the
information was picked up by spinning the disc past a laser, which slowly moved
from the outside-in. Because of the manufacturing method, they were relatively
durable and could be cleaned easily, but could not be recorded onto at home.
BBC Video released two Laserdiscs (Revenge
and The Brain of Morbius
) in 1983/4,
CBS Fox released The Five Doctors
and Day of the Daleks
in 1991/2 in the US,
Encore Entertainment released Day of the Daleks
, The Ark in Space
between 1996 and 1998 in the UK, and in 1997 Kuraray issued the TV
Movie in China. As with video, these were all subject to the PAL/NTSC divide.
In the late 80s, a number of similar formats (ultimately all under the VCD
banner) cropped up, in an attempt to revitalise the flagging disc-based home
video format, which Laserdisc was lazily dominating. This was based on exactly
the same concept as the Laserdisc format, except the discs were just 5" (as were
CDs, allowing for easy duplication in existing CD factories, and home recording
using the growing CDR format that allowed "burning" in home PCs) and a new
compression method – MPEG1 – allowed for near-Laserdisc quality on a much
smaller disc. MPEG1 automatically examined areas of the screen on each frame
that were similar, and grouped together the picture information, allowing for
entire frames of images to be represented by a much smaller amount of data. As
with VHS and Laserdisc, VCD too followed the PAL/SECAM/NTSC separation. As VHS
was really in its stride by the time of VCDs launch, it never got a grip on the
market and only lasted a couple of years, with even Laserdisc lasting longer.
Doctor Who was never officially released on VCD, although a couple of promo
discs were released far after the official death of the format, when DVD was in
its early stages.
The major format of the late 20th and early 21st century. Once more using 5"
discs, but this time with brand new technology that allowed smaller "grooves" in
the disc, and two "layers" (with the laser refocussing after it had got to the
end of one layer and starting to work its way backwards through the second). It
also supported the MPEG2 format, which took MPEG1 to the next level by
introducing temporal compression – each frame would be compared to the previous
one, to see what information could be copied across. Where VCD very badly fitted
a film into 650mb, a dual layer DVD could fit a film onto 9gb with ease – often
alternate audio tracks would be used not for foreign soundtracks, but for those
originally involved to provide a full-length commentary, and subtitles would be
used to provide a technical commentary, usually written by a fan. Bonus features
could also be included on the discs – some of these would take the form of
Easter Eggs, where a complex series of button pushes on the menu would reveal a
dden area to be clicked on, leading the user to further
bonus features. Doctor Who
was finally able to be presented in a way that
matched the quality of the master tapes – no further enhancements in technology
would be able to improve on the quality of the 1963-89 series, and this is
strongly expected to be the last release of these episodes.
As with previous home formats, PAL/NTSC/SECAM is still an issue, but also all
discs are coded with a region number. This was intended to cut down on imports,
although almost all DVD players would eventually be easily hackable to be region
free. Nonetheless, those with locked DVD players are not able to import across
the region borders...
The UK range was initially produced and released
by BBC Worldwide. Their first batch of six DVD releases in November 1999 included
the special edition version of The Five Doctors
(left), and beginning in November 2000,
the range itself (with a new cover style – initially featuring a basic image of
the enemy in the centre, but later including photomontages by Clayton Hickman,
later joined by Lee Binding)
started with The Robots of Death
. Shortly before 2005's release of Revelation of
, BBCWW merged with rival VCI and began releasing discs under the
banner of 2Entertain.
Tailing the UK releases by a few months, Roadshow makes new pressings of the UK
discs, along with slightly altered covers to allow for the Australian censor
Around a year after the UK releases, Warner Home Video creates NTSC masters of
the UK releases and sometimes adds their own bonus features. The covers are
entirely redesigned and The Five Doctors: Special Edition
was released with the
same cover layout as part of their first block of 3 Doctor Who
UK DVD (1999-Sep 2004)
UK DVD (Nov 2004-date)
By the early 2000s, mobile phones and PDAs were gaining in technology to the
point where they could handle lengthy videos. A number of competing formats are
still battling it out, but The Five Doctors has already been released by Rok on
a mobile platform.
For their 2005-released handheld gaming platform, the PSP, Sony created a
special cartridge format entitled "UMD", to release both games and movies onto.
These are a 1.5" silver DVD-type disc held in a protective caddy (left), that
shares the region encoding that DVD does, but uses the newer MPEG4 compression
method. 2Entertain released the 2005 and 2006 seasons onto this format
(mirroring the content of the "vanilla" releases), although flagging sales
across the UMD range have made 2Entertain discontinue the Doctor Who range in
A new high-definition format (briefly competing with HD-DVD, which died out in
early 2008) enabling around five times the picture quality of traditional DVD
and uncompressed audio. Regular DVD does, however, get all the information
possible out of PAL video, so the only Doctor Who releases likely
to benefit would be of the film-sourced Peter Cushing movies, or Torchwood,
which was taped using HD cameras and as such was never aired in its full
resolution (HD cameras, and Blu-Ray discs, support 1080 lines of resolution -
the Torchwood broadcasts on BBC-HD display 'just' 720 lines).
With the rise of iTunes and other legal mp3 download stores, the world is
beginning to develop towards a culture of downloadable media and TV-on-demand,
removing the necessity for physical media entirely. TME will never fully cover
's availability like this, as it will simply be a matter of what
services have the right contracts in place with the BBC at any given time.
However it should be noted that the first people to manage it were Amazon US,
who launched their 'Unbox' service on 9th September 2006. Along with numerous
films and American TV shows, the service initially offered The Aztecs
, The Tomb
of the Cybermen
(Parts 1 and 3-4 only), The Mind Robber
, The Seeds of Death
Spearhead from Space
, The Three Doctors
, The Ark in Space
Pyramids of Mars
Robots of Death
, The Talons of Weng-Chiang
, Horror of Fang Rock
(Parts 1 and 3-4
only), The Pirate Planet
, The Power of Kroll
(Parts 1-3 only), The Visitation
The Caves of Androzani
, Vengeance on Varos
, Ghost Light
The Curse of Fenric
All of these were available on DVD in the US by this point.
The following grabs help to illustrate the subtle differences between the
original DVD releases and the Unbox wmvs, which are of a distinctly bluer hue
and framed slightly differently.
The example specs here, for the first episode of The Robots of Death, give a
more detailed insight:
This guide includes details of
every viewing made by the British Board of Film Classification when considering
what certificates to grant Doctor Who
videos and DVDs.
There are also five other ratings
(E, Uc, 15, 18 and R18, but these have yet to be used on a BBC Doctor Who
release - a number of Reeltime and BBV's documentary DVDs have made use of the
'E', exempt from classification, rating).
Some interesting notes are as follows: Firstly, that if a DVD spine falls
below 2cm, it need not display the certificate. Until Clayton Hickman's designs
(see above), this clause was not made use of. Audio commentaries do not need to
be submitted, but the BBFC recommends to its clients that they do so if they
believe it might alter the classification (the Restoration Team have so far been
careful to ensure that the commentaries do not). During August 2001, the BBFC
suggested to all its clients that should a bonus or menu increase the rating (as
it did on the November 2000 release The Robots Of Death
) they add the
suggested phrase "Overall category raised to  due to additional material
being classified at a higher certificate than the main feature ." The images
used for the certificates were redesigned by the BBFC in late 2002, with
releases from The Seeds Of Death
onwards sporting new logos.
America does indeed have a classification system, it only applies to cinema
releases of films, and so all Doctor Who
videos are unclassified.
The Australian releases are all certified in a similar fashion by the Office of
Film and Literature Classification. Doctor Who
releases are all classified as
'G' (suitable for all ages) or 'PG' (parental guidance recommended for persons
under 15 years. Generally these follow the same pattern as the 'U' and 'PG'
certificates in the UK, but not always. Also, any video classified 'PG' also
comes with a reason for that certificate. The 1996 TV Movie is an exception in
that it received a 'M15+' category (recommended for mature audiences of 15 years
and over). More recently, the Office rolled 'M+15' into 'MA+15' and introduced
the newer 'M' classification. No release has yet gone beyond these ratings, although another
exist (R18+, X18+ and RC).
For further information on the classification systems in either country, we
refer you to the BBFC website (http://www.bbfc.co.uk
and the OFLC site (http://www.oflc.gov.au),
the latter of which has an excellent downloadable file regarding its stance on
The Region Two DVDs are also specially passed for Irish release, and include
their own logos on the discs themselves. In Ireland, they are then sold with
exactly the same covers, but with a sticker over the British certificate
displaying the ROI version. For further details visit: www.justice.ie.
The Irish government does not publicly list its certification decisions, so no
details appear here, but generally they are in line with the UK decisions.
Note that although not mentioned in each individual page, all the American
releases of the 1963-1989 series all have an exclusive extra "Who's Who"
section, showcasing the biographies of the talent behind the stories.
BBC PromosWalking with Dinosaurs (DVD)
Doctor Who DVD Range Sampler (VCD)
A Complete Episode of Doctor Who (VCD)
Classic Series Repacked (DVD)
The Sun DVD Collection (2006) (DVD)
The Complete First Series Promo (DVD)
The Sun DVD Collection (2008) (DVD)
Universal/Studio Canal+/Warner Home Video
Peter Cushing Dalek Movies
Between them, these 3 companies own current release rights to the two Doctor Who movies released by Amicus in the mid-60s. Universal also released the TV Movie in Australia and Sweden on video in 1996, details of which can be found in the BBC DVD guide above,
and WHV have the rights to the series 1963-1989 in the States.
Further DW-related releases from these companies are unlikely.
The page above includes details of the Dalekmania documentary, originally released in the UK by Lumiere.
(Section is work-in-progress. Info to be added shortly.)
VHS reissues, in order of DVD release:
Who's Who / Then and Now [see 'other releases']
An Englishman on Gallifrey / The Home Whovian
My Doctor Who Diary / ReUNITed
The Panopticon Tapes (3 discs)
Longleat 83 (Special Edition)
The Megeve Experiment / Doctor at Sea
Where on Earth is... Katy Manning? / Katy Manning's World Down Under
Lust in Space
Not yet released on DVD: War Time, Just Who on Earth is Tom Baker,
Return to Devil's
End, Downtime, Shakedown, I Was a Doctor Who Monster
New releases, 2003 onwards, direct to DVD:
Patrick Troughton in America (also released on VHS)
The Doctor Down Under
Reeltime Pictures produces professional, but unlicensed documentaries, and some
dramas, aimed at the Doctor Who market. They have recently been reissuing their
back-catalogue on DVD (often 2-per disc), and all recent releases have been
DVD-only. The DVDs are PAL-encoded but region free.
The Stranger (6 releases, 1991-1995) - still
PROBE (4 releases, 1993-1996)
The Airzone Solution? (1993)
The Doctors: 30 Years Of Time Travel And Beyond (1995)
Bidding Adieu (1996)
Auton (3 releases, 1997-1999)
Do You Have a License to Save This Planet? (2001)
BBV produces professional, but unlicensed dramas, and some documentaries, aimed at the
Doctor Who market.
They are slowly but surely reissuing their back catalogue on DVD. With the
exception of The Doctors and The Airzone Solution, these are all double-sided
region-free discs, with PAL on one side and NTSC on the other.
2005: Doctor Loo and the Phaleks
2005: Abducted by Daleks
2006/7: Doctor Screw
In 2005, two straight-to-DVD porn films were released by different companies.
They are detailed here - please note that while we have made every effort to
avoid details that might offend sensitive eyes, these are pornographic
productions and as such a certain amount of this is unavoidable. You have been
A year later, The Adult Channel in the UK screened a spoof series entitled
Doctor Screw, which is currently being released across a series of discs.
Other Spinoff videos and DVDs
We have set up this single page to detail videos produced by companies that only
have a small range of Doctor Who related releases. These releases are all aimed at the
Doctor Who fan market, but are not officially licensed by the BBC. Click
Includes information on:
New Jersey Network Productions
Dominitemporal Services Ltd
The Sci-Fi Sea Cruise
Big Finish Productions
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