Thursday, October 16, 2014

Doctor Who Re-Watch - The First Doctor 1963-1966

 Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary and 800th episode of Doctor Who.  This year, I have decided to watch the entirity of the show in order from the beginning.  Although I have seen (as much as you can see the episodes, since currently 97 of them are missing) nearly every episode of Doctor Who, I had never watched them in the order they were first shown in.  I just finished with all three plus seasons of the First Doctor.

We start out with William Hartnell in the role of the Doctor.  In the very first story he basically kidnaps two school teachers who burst in on him and his granddaughter (who happen to be aliens from another planet and time).
Grandfather and I don't come from Earth.  Oh, it's ages since we've seen our planet.  It's quite like Earth, but at night the sky is a burned orange, and the leaves on the trees are bright silver.  -  Susan (The Sensorites)

Ian and Barbara (the school teachers, both from Coal Hill School, which is where current companion Clara also teaches) and Susan (the Doctor's granddaughter) are the first companions we meet in the show and travel with the Doctor throughout the first season into the second.

As I rewatch these episodes in order, I will go through and point out some of the interesting things throughout each Doctor's runs.

best story:

The Romans 

For me, this was a hard decision.  There were so many stories I love from the first Doctor's era.  I ultimately chose to go with The Romans because I felt that it was the best of the historicals, a genre that basically only occurred in seasons of the First Doctor.  The historicals were stories that took place in the past, and apart from the Doctor, his ship, and his companions, featured no science fiction elements.  All of the historicals are, in my opinion, great stories, but this one is my favorite (and we have the whole thing, unlike many of the historicals which are either all missing or are missing episodes).  This was the first episode that intentionally attempted out and out farcical humor, and it completely succeeded.  At the same time, there were some harrowing and dark moments in Ian's storyline, and the four episode story wove them together masterfully.  This is a great example of early Doctor Who and a ton of fun to watch!

worst story:

The Web Planet

This one was not at all hard for me to choose.  This was the only story that I actively dislike from the first Doctor's run.  While others may complain about The Sensorites and The Gunslingers, I found many admirable qualities in those stories.  I can't say the same about The Web Planet.  A nonsensical story with the most ridiculously cheesy aliens a show about cheesy aliens has ever had, The Web Planet borders on un-watchability.  The sound that the giant ant aliens (Zarbi) make reminds me of a car alarm going off relentlessly for hours at a time.  And the butterfly/bee aliens fight them by yelling the name of the Zarbi in a high-pitched tone for no discernible reason (ZAAAAAAAAR-BI!).  The Doctor's ring gains magical powers, never seen or heard of again, and at six episodes long, the story drags on much longer than it probably needs to.  I wouldn't hate you if you skipped over this story on your watch of the First Doctor.

best TARDIS crew:

Ian, Barbara, and Vicki

This might be a bit of a controversial opinion, but this is when I think that the show really began to work.  Susan is one of my favorite characters conceptually, but I don't think the writers really knew what they were doing with her, so too often she became the damsel in distress, limited to screaming for Ian or her grandfather to save her.  The moments when she actually did something (the reason I love the Sensorites is that Susan actually has something to do!), she shined, but the writers couldn't seem to make it work until they replaced her with Vicki.  Vicki was often what Susan should have been.

Let me get this straight.  A thing that looks like a Police Box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space? - Ian (An Unearthly Child)

The Doctor's curious, that means we stay.  -  Barbara (The Space Museum)

Why have I got to keep pretending I'm a boy?  Why can't I be a girl again!? - Vicki (The Crusades)

best companion departure:


Although Ian and Barbara's was probably more emotional of an exit for me (as I've said, I don't think Susan was properly utilized in the show), I still have to go with the first companion departure here.  I'm sure it was a shock for first time audiences to realize that these people wouldn't travel with the Doctor for the duration of the show (but there would be much larger shocks to come!).  Susan's departure led to one of the best moments of the show, as an emotional Doctor made the decision to allow his granddaughter to have a life outside of the constant traveling in the TARDIS (which for the duration of the First Doctor had no way for the Doctor to know where they would end up each time they dematerialized, the travels, from the Doctor's perspective at least, were completely random).

During all the years I've been taking care of you, you in return have been taking care of me. You are still my grandchild and always will be. But now, you're a woman too. I want you to belong somewhere, to have roots of your own. With David you will be able to find those roots and live normally like any woman should do. Believe me, my dear, your future lies with David and not with a silly old buffer like me. One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear. - The Doctor (Dalek Invasion of Earth).

most surprising moment:

companion deaths/the doctor regenerates

I have to split this one, because I think the most surprising moment for modern watchers (especially those who have primarily only watched since the regeneration of the series in 2005) is the death of two companions in The Daleks' Master Plan (and yes, I totally consider Sara Kingdom a companion).

Katarina joined the TARDIS crew after Vicki decided to stay behind and become a part of history (The Myth Makers).  As a Trojan servant, Katarina was completely unequipped to understand what she had become a part of by joining the Doctor and Steven.  She viewed the Doctor as a god (to be fair, so did most of the Greeks in The Myth Makers, who mistook the Doctor for Zeus) taking her to the Place of Perfection (or the afterlife, sometimes referred to as the Promised Land?  Is this a clue that the episodes of The Daleks' Master Plan have been found, Mr. Moffat?).  The difficulties of writing for a character who was so out of time (she didn't even know what a key was) caused the writers to decide to write her off.  They did so quite dramatically.  Taken prisoner in a ship by a stowaway, Katarina either accidentally hit the airlock button jettisoning herself and her captor or sacrificed herself in order to keep the kidnapper from using her to stop the Doctor, Steven, and Bret from working against the Daleks.

However, Katarina was not the only companion to die in this story.  After Katarina's death, Sara Kingdom, a space agent, gets caught up with our heroes, The Doctor and Steven, and although she thinks they are traitors at first, she quickly realizes that they are working to stop her boss, the master of the solar system, who is working with the Daleks to take over the universe.  Sara ends up joining the TARDIS crew and even travels throughout space and time before the Daleks are finally defeated.  (Although Sara is only in this one story, she has multiple trips inside the TARDIS and is in more episodes than many that are considered companions, so for me, she unquestionably deserves the title).  Once the Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom foil the Daleks, they are left with the doomsday device the Daleks had been attempting to use.  Sara refuses to leave the Doctor to deal with it alone, and that leads to her undoing.  Whereas the Doctor's physiology allows him to face exposure to the ravages of the Time Bomb, Sara is not so lucky.  She ages to death in just seconds, another casualty to the master plan of the Daleks that the Doctor thankfully thwarted, though at great cost.

As dangerous as traveling with the Doctor can sometimes be, very few companions have actually met their end while with the Doctor.  Two, however, did in season 3, and we have known ever since that your safety while adventuring in the TARDIS is not guarenteed.

However, I think for the audiences watching the show originally, especially in a time before spoilerific media coverage and things like Twitter, the most shocking moment was yet to come.  For the original audiences, there only was one Doctor.  Now, we're quite used to the convention that Time Lords have the ability to regenerate, but the original audiences had no idea that such a thing was possible, much less that it was about to happen.  Ben and Polly watched as the Doctor we had grown to love over the last three plus years slowly changed into someone completely alien from the sometimes grumpy, always arrogant, but still loving grandfather that had won the hearts of everyone who had watched the show.

misc thoughts:

Change had already been a large part of Doctor Who before the Doctor himself changed.  The fact that the producers were able to navigate the first few changes in companions plays a big part in why this show is still on today (with a few years off in between!).  Replacing Susan with Vicki and then Ian and Barbara with Steven, the show nailed the first companion changes.  Replacing Vicki would prove to be more difficult (as we would quickly go through Katarina and Sara Kingdom before spending some time with Dodo, which was the most disappointing companion entrance and exit in show history in my opinion*), but the fact that the show succeeded with the first replacements meant that it could do so again (and would before the First Doctor's time came to an end as Ben and Polly proved to be excellent companions both in their short time with the First Doctor and the rest of their time with the 2nd).

That is the dematerializing control, and that, over yonder, is the horizontal hold. Up there is the scanner; those are the doors; that is a chair with a panda on it. Sheer poetry, dear boy! Now please stop bothering me. - The Doctor (The Time Meddler).

Season 3 is probably my favorite of the First Doctor's seasons, despite the fact that so much of it is missing.  We owe the fans of the show a lot as we are still able to experience the show on some level due to the audio of every episode having been recorded by enterprising fans early on in the show's run before there were such a thing as VCRs, and the work of fans in using telesnaps and promotional photos as well as photoshop and CGI to piece together reconstructions of the missing episode.  The Loose Cannon reconstructions are incredibly watchable and serve as an enjoyable way to experience the episodes that we can't currently actually see.  Although I'm holding out hope that more of these missing episodes will be (or maybe have been) found and will be made available soon.

Until Next Time, I am already into my re-watch of the 2nd Doctor's run (which is going to include my first time seeing the recently recovered 2nd episode of The Underwater Menace!).  As soon as I get to the 3rd Doctor, I'll fill you in with my thoughts of Patrick Troughton and the 2nd Doctor!

*Dodo unceremoniously runs into the TARDIS believing it to be a real police box and is completely unconcerned by its true nature.  Then for her exit, she is hypnotized by the evil robot WOTAN and after being cured by the Doctor heads to the country to recuperate.  We never see her again.

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