Saturday, August 03, 2013

Doctor Who turns 50 part 1

Doctor Who has been one of those franchises that I've always been interested in but never dived properly into. Hell, I only started watching it properly with Russell T Davies and Christopher Ecclestone's revitalisation of the show. Before that, I'd got the odd episode and I think I'd only watched one full serial, with Third Doctor Jon Pertwee, who I vaguely remember liking and the TV movie with Paul McGann. Oh, and the animated Shada with McGann too, which I realise is a bit weird.

Every now and again I'd feel a pang to maybe go back and try out some of the old stuff, usually at the end of a current series had properly thrilled me, or an episode that brought back an old bad guy or reference. But not having a clue where to start and it looking like a momentous task, I never bothered. Until this year when I visited a mate and he had Genesis of the Daleks on DVD. We sat down, we watched it, I wasn't impressed. Any interest in going back was dead.

Yes, I didn't like what many consider the greatest old Who story ever. You can see why I was hesitant to watch any more. While the general notion of Genesis, and the obvious equating the Kaled's military to Nazis was all good with me, there were two major plot points that rubbed me the wrong way. There were two major cities at war, but these two cities are within easy walking distance? The Doctor, Sarah-Jane and Davros all seem to travel between them without any great time or peril. It just seemed a bit too convenient.

Secondly, Davros basically wipes out the Kaleds by turning to the Thals, then double crosses them by sending Daleks to wipe them out. Yet back at Kaled science command, no one really seems to react that the population has been basically wiped out and they're the only ones left. Instead they keep going on about their reservations about the direction of the Dalek programming. At that point I just lost all interest, it was too much of a disconnect for me.

Well, it seems my interest was almost dead. I've been a member of a forum for well over ten years, and one of the posters there recently discovered Doctor Who and she's hooked. Properly hooked, with ideas like contemplating watching River Song's story in her order rather than the Doctor's. And of course, she wanted to know more. One flippant comment from me about the 50th Anniversary and maybe watching one serial per Doctor had her and our resident Whovian figuring out just which serials should be watched. So here we are. I'm not even going to talk about the bad effects, wobbly sets or slightly stilted acting. This was this 60s, that was par for the course, and a hallmark of old Who.

First stop - First Doctor – The Daleks
Actually, they were quite clever here with the effects, they don't try and go too far with anything, and I think that's why it works so well. Except for the Dalek's movement clearly being someone in the shell shuffling his feet, but that's funny. The story's pretty decent and the only thing making it slightly schlocky sci-fi is the dress sense of the Thals.

Watching Genesis actually helped this serial a great deal too, as I had some context and it added an extra layer for me, and I'm a sucker for that sort of stuff. It has left my thoroughly confused about the Daleks though. I'm not sure how this meshes with what I know from the revival, and obviously Genesis was a prequel to this for them. Having seen what is chronologically their first two appearances, their place as the evil counterpart to the Time Lords is a little disparate. Now I really want to know more about them.

As for the passengers aboard the TARDIS, Susan's an annoying child that gets way too high pitched and histrionic when things go wrong What's more annoying is that she seems like she could be quite interesting, she has these moments of ingenuity that could develop into something quite interesting, and looking back she's likely to be another Time Lord. I'm surprised we never went back and met a regenerated Susan, and the current stance of the Doctor being the only Timelord, and he's quite explicitly had his family die, completes removes it as a possibility now.

Barbara seems like a right old moan and just wants to go home and live the quiet life. Which fits considering her place on the TARDIS was an accident, but all she does is drone on. Meanwhile, Ian seems to be the person that gets most of the work done, and seems a decent character. In fact, doing a direct comparison to this and modern Who, Ian and the Doctor basically merge to become the Doctor we know today. I don't know if this is just this serial or symptomatic of the whole Hartnell-era.

Which brings us nicely to the Doctor himself, and that's really interesting. Even in Genesis he was all about saving who he could from Davros and the Daleks. William Hartnell's Doctor couldn't really give a toss about that. He's out to satisfy his scientific curiosity and that's about it. Things are looking dicey, time to cut and run. It's hard to imagine any other Doctor I've ever seen do that. Especially when he talks about setting the Thals against the Daleks just to get what he wants.

He's also way more of a curmudgeon then most modern Doctors, constantly moaning at people. In some ways it's more of a childish behaviour, he flies into a fit if he doesn't get his way, and he cheekily sabotages the TARDIS so everyone has to do what he wants. He is pretty damn interesting to watch. What is also rather brilliant is the little things that later go on to become characteristics that some Doctors carry on, while other don't, like the glasses that he whips off as he has a realisation.

For what was the second serial ever, I can certainly see why it's endured and become such a grand franchise. And to think I was worried about the early Doctors being a problem.

Coming soon (but I'm in no way guarantee these will be the weekly content)- Part 2/Second Doctor: War Games
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