I’ve been away for a long time. For various reasons, it’s been hard to write lately; and since I’m not driving myself toward publication at this time, I chose to stop for a while instead of agonizing over it. It’s still difficult, and you’ll see that this post and the ones that follow in the near future are not fiction. I’ll get back to it at some point, but I’m not sure when that will be.
In the meantime, here’s something new; or rather, in a sense, something very old. Older than me, in fact. For the sake of keeping my mind and my writing “muscles” in tune, I’m starting a series of review posts for–and if you know me, you should have guessed–Doctor Who. I’ve started a rewatch of the classic series (1963-1989), and I want to share my thoughts on it as I go along, season by season. I realize this may not be everyone’s area of interest; feel free to check out of this experience if you like, as I’m doing it for myself anyway. But I hope you’ll stick around, and I hope–I really hope–you may find something interesting here. And soon, if all goes as planned, I’ll return to the short stories and the posts on writing as in the past.
I’m a fan of Doctor Who. A Whovian, if you will. There, I admitted it! And that’s the first step to recovery, right? Admitting you have a problem? Well, I hope not, because I LIKE this problem. It may be an addiction, but it costs less than heroin, and has yet to destroy my life, so…I think I’ll keep it.
Recently I began…well, what should I call it? A rewatch? Not exactly, because my experience to this point includes only a smattering of episodes, at least from the earlier seasons. At the same time, I’ve seen considerable portions of the Fourth and Fifth Doctors’ runs, and so I can’t really say I’m seeing this for the first time, either. But, for lack of a better word, I’ll go with “rewatch”; and I began at the very beginning, 11/23/63, with the First Doctor’s first adventure.
My intention here is to make a post for each season as I complete it. I considered just making a post for each Doctor, as some others have done; but then it occurred to me that some Doctors have seasons that are very thematically distinct from their surroundings (The Key To Time and Trial Of A Time Lord come to mind at once). Those story arcs will deserve separate treatment; and I don’t know at this point if I may find anything else like that along the way. Therefore, every season it is!
Easily the most famous episode of Classic Who—by merit of being the one that started it all—An Unearthly Child was an exciting watch for me. I had seen it before, a few years ago, on Youtube; I’m not sure if it’s still available there. For a program that was intended to be educational, it was a wise choice. The prehistoric setting of the TARDIS crew’s first destination would have captivated me as a child, and though I was watching it late at night, after my own children had gone to bed, I have a feeling it would have done the same with them (once they got over the black-and-white, that is). With Ian, Barbara, and Susan, we have something for everyone—audience surrogates for man, woman, and child. And then there’s the Doctor.
Many people have commented over the years on the Doctor’s overall development as a character—even the Doctor himself (as Ten) says it in the Time Crash short:
“Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.”
What I didn’t anticipate was just how young the Doctor comes across (especially given William Hartnell’s age at the time!). He’s both pompous and petty, embodying the idea that a little knowledge is dangerous—and he clearly only has a little knowledge at this point; far more than we mere mortals, but only a little by the standards that the series later establishes. He makes mistakes, not of the “this was a miscalculation” variety, but of the “this was really stupid” variety. Of course I’m looking at this through the eyes of a modern viewer, knowing that the Doctor is in fact very young by Time Lord standards; I see these things in him now, but had I been watching it in the 60’s, I probably would have just considered him to be a capricious and arrogant old man. Still, with either interpretation, those qualities are evident all the way back to An Unearthly Child, in the way the Doctor treats Ian and Barbara—he kidnapped them, let’s not forget!—and even Susan.
It didn’t take any time at all to introduce the series’ most iconic villains, the Daleks (in a serial named, shockingly, The Daleks). I thought the serial was a well-rounded, fair introduction to the Daleks; all the basics are in place, and none of the weirdness we get in later appearances. I was surprised to see that Davros didn’t appear; for some reason I had it in my head that his character appeared this far back, and I never thought to question it, even though the correct information is easy to find. I’ll come back to it in a later post, but after watching The Daleks, I made a point of watching the Fourth Doctor serial, Genesis of the Daleks, just to get my history straight. All in all, this introductory series was fair, but unremarkable; it’s noteworthy for introducing a science-fiction focus to the show, after the first serial’s historical emphasis.
I should note that, while I’m watching these classic seasons, I’m also in the middle of a rewatch of New Who with my girlfriend. She’s not interested in the classic series, except where it intersects with the new and requires some explanation, so I’m going it alone on the classic series. Still, it’s interesting to see the parallels between the two, even as far back as season one. The third serial, The Edge of Destruction, introduces the idea of a “bottle episode”, where the cast never leave the TARDIS; this appears again in New Who Series 5’s Amy’s Choice, although with some clever variation. I suppose that when a series has been around this long, new episode concepts are hard to come by; still, it was exciting to see this one being done so long ago.
Skipping ahead (for the sake of brevity, not because of any commentary on the quality of the episodes), I noticed the first appearance of another New Who concept: Fixed points in time. In the season’s partially-reconstructed final serial, The Reign of Terror (my personal favorite this season), Ian attempts to stop the imprisonment of Robespierre; Barbara comments on the futility of this attempt to change time, a theme which the Doctor has drilled into his companions at this point. However, this is the first time that a particular event is portrayed as not subject to change; in earlier scenes—most notably in The Aztecs, where Barbara is the recipient of the lecture—the Doctor implies that the general course of history cannot be altered. While the term “fixed point” is not used here, it seems that Robespierre’s imprisonment (and subsequent death) is such a point.
One more: The Ood. Those aliens from the Tenth Doctor’s run don’t appear here, but their neighbors do; The Sensorites takes place on a planet in the same solar system, and its inhabitants bear some similarities with the Ood (with less hindbrain). I like finding these references in New Who; it’s an easter egg hunt, I suppose, and I never get tired of it. Other than the obvious—the major characters, the TARDIS, the Daleks, Skaro—this is the earliest example I’ve yet found. Or rather, it was, until Clara Oswald went to work at Coal Hill School.
Overall, I liked the first season. Occasionally I found it hard to follow, not because its plots were difficult, but because I’m immersed in modern television, which of course is much flashier. Still, Doctor Who had to begin somewhere, and I’m glad it was here. If only its creators had known what lay ahead! But no one ever does. Nevertheless, I’m supremely happy that it’s still going.
On to Season Two!
All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below. Due to the BBC’s early policy of junking tapes, some episodes exist only as reconstructions.