This week I have finished my watching of the first Doctor’s DVD releases. Excepting stories with missing episodes or even completely missing stories I have finished watching this entire character’s journey and I have thoughts.
The series very much falls into three distinct phases which mostly coincides with the different seasons, each showing either different sides of the Doctor, or differing styles in direction and production.
Stories : An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Edge of Destruction, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs, The Sensorites and The Reign of Terror.
Starting with the Unearthly Child, this season was about two unwelcome travellers trapped in the time/space ship of a strange and unfriendly soul who didn’t want them there. The heroes of the story were often the teachers Ian Chesterton & Barbara Wright who were teaching Susan Foreman and tried to investigate her living situation. Then they travel to prehistoric Earth, far future Skaro, the hostile planet Marinus, pre-columbian South America, another alien planet and revolutionary era France. This is not what you think of as Doctor Who, despite most of the perennial elements of Who being there. We have the companions pulled from their regular life, we have the Doctor and his blue box. But here the Doctor is not particularly heroic, to the extent that he considers killing his prisoner to give him and his granddaughter time to get back to his Tardis. Often it’s Ian Chesterton being the hero and dragging the Doctor into it, often quite reluctantly. Most of this season’s plot is the vain attempt to return Ian and Barbara to their original time in the 1960s. By the time the season comes to an end in the French Revolution, this is now more of a ‘traditional’ Doctor Who programme and the formula for how this show could be done is established.
High points include the first episode of An Unearthly Child, the Daleks and the Keys of Marius, which showcases the versatility of the show and the cast by being several mini-stories in service to a larger arc.
Season 2: Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Space Museum, The Chase, and The Time Meddler.
This is the for me William Hartnell’s best season, It is also the season that shows more variety in story type, length and even tone. We get a return of the Daleks to the show, but an earlier version of the Daleks who are still trying to conquer the galaxy. We get a look at the Earth’s bleak future and the first loss in the cast. We say goodbye to Susan who remains on Earth in 2150 to help rebuild. Then we get Vicky, who is a girl from the further future who the crew rescue from an alien world and reinforces the Doctor’s paternal and nurturing side as he pretty much adopts this teenage girl. We get a comedy story with the Romans as the Tardis crashlands in Nero’s Rome and the crew decide to take a month off. We then get kidnapping, slavery, political assassination and the burning of Rome. After that the Tardis leaves again and we get a couple of more spacey stories before we get the Chase. I think the Chase cements the Daleks as the arch-enemy of the Doctor and ups their threat as they crack time travel and are able to go after the Doctor, no matter where he goes. The Chase has it’s ups, downs and comedy moments before we get to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara who use the Daleks’ time machine to go back to Earth. They miss by a couple of years, landing in 1965, but since they’d been on the show for 2 years, that sort of makes sense. They destroy the Dalek’s time machine and go back to the regular lives, but the story also introduces Steven Taylor, a space pilot who survived alone on an alien world for years and accidentally hitches a ride on the Tardis. The Time Meddler then pits these three relative strangers against the Monk, who is a member of the same race as the Doctor, proved by his owning his own Tardis and trying to alter things as he sees it, not putting things right, but accelerating the development of Great Britain’s history. The Doctor defeats him and we get to see how different a person with the Doctor’s talent and equipment could be. The season ends on a high and to be honest, all of these stories (with the possible exception of the Web Planet) are highlights in my eyes and it solidified that this rewatch was a good idea and encouraged me to carry on with it.
Season 3: Galaxy 4, Mission to the Unknown, The Ark, The Gunfighters, The War Machines and the Tenth Planet.
If season two was the zenith, then 3 is the nadir. Galaxy 4 is an interesting idea that suffers from being reconstructed and very poorly paced making the whole thing a bit boring. Mission to the Unknown did not involve the main cast as was a set up to a story that isn’t all there, the big problem with season 3 is the sheer number of missing stories and the version of Mission to the Unknown I watched was a reconstruction by some University students uploaded to YouTube. The Ark is a good idea that struggles to keep it’s pacing on point and in a missing story we have lost Vicky to ancient Troy and now have Dodo Chaplet a teen girl from the mid 1960’s who is a bit of a shot in the arm for the show as her and Steven bounce off one another well and Steven increases his bristling against the Doctor’s authority. Behind the scenes, things weren’t going well, the who production staff had changed and William Hartnell’s health had begun to decline and whilst he was often difficult, now he was struggling to maintain the schedule and remember his lines. More and more the companions had to do more of the heavy lifting and relegate the Doctor to second fiddle in his own show, which made the actor more irascible. After the amusing Gunfighters, Steven left the show and halfway through the War Machines, so did Dodo, who never really fulfilled the promise she showed in the Ark. The team would try again to inject youth and more of it’s time characters with Ben and Polly who started in the War Machines and left with the Doctor for his final adventure.
The Tenth Planet was memorable for two important reasons, one was the introduction of the Cybermen who did the whole dehumanising cyborg thing 20+ years before Star Trek gave us the Borg. As bargain basement as they looked, they were a body horror delightad in what they represented, a humanity devoid of everything we think of as humanity and only interested in consumption and survival. There’s a reason that they have survived each iteration of the Doctor. The other reason it’s important is that it’s where Hartnell left the show. Health and personal issues were wreaking havoc with the show and it could survive as long as someone else took the starring role. Being an alien, they could just come up with a reason to change the actor, which they did. The Doctor’s body wore out and it changed into the new guy, same name new face, well new everything.
Patrick Troughton came in and he had big shoes to fill and a lot of work to do, but the character and the show had regenerated and possibly the best was yet to come.