Friday, April 18, 2014

Back to the Beginning: The very start of Doctor Who

After my dance around parts of Doctor Who, I decided to go back to the beginning, and have plotted a course through fifty years of TV. The list is an interesting mix of recommendations – either quality or lore based I don't know going in – plus the regenerations and the coming and going of companions. One of my Whovian experts said that last one wasn't needed except for those that fell into the examples of lore based, such as Earthshock, but I figured it'd make for easier viewing seeing how these people come and go from the Doctor's life.

And when I say I'm going back to the beginning, I mean the actual beginning. The very first Hartnell story, An Unearthly Child. And yes, I'm including the 10,000BC episodes as part of that.

Going into An Unearthly Child was an interesting one. Even having watched The Daleks and War Games seven months ago, it's amazing to see just how much of Doctor Who wasn't there in the beginning but established as it progressed. The broken Chameleon circuit, which is just a given for so much of Doctor Who, actually breaks in the second episode. The Doctor leaves the TARDIS and is amazed to find it still looking like a 1960's London Police Box. Of course this means the programme never showed it working, and it's a throwaway line by Hartnell. But it's pure genius.

Then in the third storyline, what we would now consider a bottle episode, the Doctor and Susan just regard the TARDIS as a machine. It's the out of the box thinking of new-to-the-TARDIS Barbara that realises it's quite possibly alive. This episode also marks the Doctor's attitude shifting from Ian and Barbara being annoyances on-board his ship, to actual full blown companions, a concept I don't think he'd even thought about until the TARDIS nearly destroys itself.

Either way, going back to Hartnell was interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed his Doctor back in Daleks, but it's a little harder to here. In An Unearthly Child he's a first class dick to Barbara and Ian, and even worse in Edge of Destruction, where he's practically the villain, wanting to throw the two of them out of the TARDIS there and then, despite the fact they're stuck in a time tunnel. Susan doesn't fair much better. One of the weakest pieces in The Daleks, she's the same for most of the episodes. In particular Edge of Destruction where I couldn't figure out her characterisation at all, going from trusting the two humans, to having a bit of a mental breakdown and taking a pair of scissors to a mattress.

The only exception is actually the first episode of An Unearthly Child. The episode is basically Barbara and Ian trying to figure out this strange girl in their school. A girl who is perhaps more knowledgeable about some subject, yet a moron in others (being that she's either not au fait with 60s London, or they're understanding is slightly wrong and will be proved so in a few years. There's one brilliant scene where she predicts the shift to decimalised currency,a total shot in the dark by the writers since we wouldn't get round to it for eight more years.) It's in this episode that the otherworldly-ness of Susan really comes across, and it's a shame that it quickly disappeared to be replaced by a hysterical screamer monkey.

And then I hit against the problem the Hartnell and Troughton eras are plagued by. The missing episodes. Unfortunately, back in the late 60s the BBC decided it didn't need to keep old episodes of programmes because repeats and home video were future concepts no one could even dream of back then, so tapes got wiped. Over the years a few have been found – and it's actually a discovery last year that lead me to watching Enemy of the World and Web of Fear – but not all, obviously.

Troughton's era has been more affected by this problem than Hartnell's, but the next serial, Marco Polo, is the first that's missing in the sequence. It's not even missing an odd episode, but the entire thing. It's also one of those that a lot of fans recommend, but I'm not doing reconstructions. Which is a shame as I really want to see how the Doctor now treats Ian and Barbara with his new attitude towards them. In fact, looking at my list I've got a lot of problems coming up, with companion coming and goings taking place in missing serials, including the introduction of my current favourite companion ever, Jamie McGrimmon. Hopefully we get lucky and there are still more Doctor Who episodes out there to be found. Or the BBC gets really generous and animates Marco Polo or The Highlanders, something they've currently said they'll only do if a serial is missing one or two episodes.

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