Classic Doctor Who Viewing Notes, Part 1


Because iTunes, my main source for new episodes of the sixth season of Doctor Who, has decided not to put The Rebel Flesh up for purchase in time for me to post regularly, I will write and post as soon as I find that they have done so. In the meantime, I figured I might post some small updates on the other Doctor Who episodes I’ve been watching. I’ve been catching up on the classic run, slowly but surely, making good use of Netlflix.

I took a look at many different lists of “must see” or “essential” lists of Classic Doctor Who episodes and went on from there. I’ll tell you right now that you must be a die-hard fan to give this a chance. It took me awhile to get used to the camp and poor (and that’s being kind…) special effects budget; however, I think that growing up on Star Trek‘s original series gave me a leg up. I did not watch everything, partially due to limited availability, and sticking close to the lists for the First, Second, and Third Doctors. I’m in the middle of the Tom Baker years now, and I’m really loving it so much that I’m being quite liberal with the episodes I’m including. At some point, I’ll go back to fill in the gaps.

Effects, good or bad, aside, the writing stands out for the most part. Much of it is comparable to the current series–it is witty, intelligent, containing a hefty dose of techno-babble that Star Trek would be proud of. Many of the Doctor’s mannerisms and personality traits have been passed on to the contemporary incarnations. The stories are often compelling, while some are slightly absurd.

I’m not going to provide a comprehensive history of Doctor Who. I’ll leave that to the excellent people at the Doctor Who Wiki, with excellent commentary from The AV Club’s “Doctor Who Primer” by Christopher Bahn.

We’ll start here with the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell.

I’ve only watched a few of his stories, as they are quite different from anything I was used to with regards to the show. I will certainly go back to fill it out, but as it is rather technically rough, I was content to move on, while skeptical about my desire to explore Doctor Who‘s past.

Doctor Who premiered on November 23, 1963 (the date of JFK’s assassination), predating Star Trek by nearly three years, and was intended to be a children’s educational program. It remained child-appropriate, while appealing to adults as well.

Season 1, serial 1: “An Unearthly Child

Curious about an unusual pupil, Susan Foreman, two school teachers [Barbara and Ian] follow her home to a junkyard. This leads to an encounter with the mysterious Doctor and his police box which turns out to be a craft capable of travel in time and space. (DW Wiki)

This is the first adventure with the Doctor. Susan Foreman is his grand-daughter, and she is quite an unearthly child–and a wretched over-acting actress. They, along with her two concerned teachers, travel to the stone age to do research, and become embroiled in overcomplicated stone age politics. It’s really not a great episode, but it establishes the basis of the show for the next 40+ years: a Time Lord travels with companions through space and time in his TARDIS which is disguised as a police box.

Hartnell is rather crotchety, and not very pleasant to watch. However, he is a delight in comparison to his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who is so overdramatic and horrid. This might as well be a soap opera in space, for the way she treats her role. Barbara (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian (William Russell) are interesting, playing the role of the typical companion–humans with whom we identify. They become rather more interesting as the series moves forward.

Season 1, serial 2: “The Daleks

The TARDIS arrives on the planet Skaro, ruined by an age-old atomic war. The Doctor and crew become caught in the struggle between the mutated survivors: the Daleks, ruthless xenophobes dependant on robotic travel machines, and the physically perfect pacifist Thals. When a vital component of the TARDIS is left behind in the Dalek city and facing annihilation from a Dalek neutron bomb, the Thals must be persuaded to fight both for our heroes and for their own survival. (DW Wiki)

This is probably the most important episode in Doctor Who‘s series. It features the introduction of the Doctor’s career-long nemeses: The Daleks. They are robots with creatures inside to control them. They are hell-bent on instituting perfection throughout the galaxy. They return, much like cockroaches, time and time again despite the Doctor’s victories over them. They form the basis for much of the emotional turmoil throughout the new series, as the Doctor has been forced to commit double-xenocide in order to stop their advancement.

Season 2, serial 2: “The Dalek Invasion of Earth

The TARDIS materialises in London sometime after the year 2164. Dalek invaders are now ruling the Earth with the aid of humans converted into zombie-like Robomen, but they are opposed by a group of resistance fighters led by the wheelchair-bound Dortmun.

The travellers discover that the Daleks have established a huge mine in Bedfordshire, their aim being to remove the Earth’s core using a huge bomb and replace it with a powerful drive system so that they can pilot the planet around the galaxy. Ian manages to create a barrier in the shaft in order to intercept the bomb. The resulting explosion destroys the Daleks and their mine and creates a huge volcanic eruption.

Susan has fallen in love with resistance fighter David Campbell, and the Doctor decides to leave her on Earth to find a new life with him, while he continues on his travels with Ian and Barbara.

While this was a long serial (10 25-minute episodes), it’s very good overall, despite some of the rather unbelievable plot points. This brings the Daleks to the Earth, and it begins their apparent obsession with its destruction–mirroring the Doctor’s continual persistence regarding its preservation. The Daleks are more menacing here than in their first appearance–they really are a threat to be reckoned with.

Susan’s departure also had me cheering. Seriously. Like crazy.

I did a bit more research (after moving on from the Hartnell years), and I came across a few more episodes that do look appealing. I’ll look them up when I go back.

Next time…The Second Doctor‘s era with Patrick Troughton.

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