There is a new series of Doctor Who starting on Saturday. You have no idea how excited I am about this. Doctor Who is my favourite TV show and my absolute number #1 fandom (followed closely by Marvel Comics). Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi series in the world, with over 800 individual episodes spanning 54 years marking it as the BBC’s longest running drama.
The show focuses on The Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, who chooses to flee the conformity of Time Lord society in a stolen Time Machine come spaceship (The Tardis) and sets out to see a universe that he has only read about. The Time Lords of Gallifrey are imbued with a unique gift, that when they are approaching death, they are able to regenerate, taking on a new body and personality to match.
The First Doctor
When the series opens we find the Doctor aged in his 600’s an old man still in his first incarnation (portrayed by the redoubtable William Hartnell), on the run from his own people and travelling with his granddaughter Susan, the Doctor is hiding in 1960’s London, where is Granddaughter is enrolled at the local comprehensive, Coal Hill School. It is here where the Tardis (designed to blend with its environment) malfunctions and is stuck as police public call box after landing in the totters lane junkyard. After garnering concern from her teachers, Susan is followed back to the Tardis, where his secret discovered, the Doctor and Susan run again, taking her teachers with them, thus beginning this adventure in space and time. Encountering things such as cave men, moth people, romans, space miners, and Marco Polo, not to mention the villainous Daleks, a cyborg race hell bent on spreading racial purity throughout the universe, the Doctor loses friends, and gains new companions, leaving his granddaughter to start a family in a Dalek destroyed future London, it is when he encounters the Cybermen for the first time, that he absorbs a lethal amount of radiation, but instead of dying he regenerates in the 2nd doctor.
William Harntell stared as the doctor in 133 episodes (29 serialised stories) from November 1963 and October 1966, with a few cameo appearances after the role was taken over by other actors (it is a time travel show after all). This whole era was characterised as Hartnell’s grumpy old man demeanour (in spite of only being in his 50’s at the time), and what marks Hartnell as my favourite Doctor is that he played the role with such a brash, insulting, almost arrogant nature that you want to hate him, until you see that little mischievous glint in his eye, and you realise, that he is playing a time lord (said to arrogance and pomposity personified), but one that would definitely be a bit of a pariah or outcast among his people.
Stand Out Serials
- The Unearthly Child: The first serial which sets up the whole adventure of Tardis, Time Lord and Teachers. This sees The Doctor And Susan’s secret discovered, and at the risk of being found by their own people flee into the past and wind up in prehistoric earth and the middle of powerplay over the creation of fire.
- The Romans: This story sees the doctor and companions taking a holiday in the ancient roman empire, While the Doctor and new companion Vikki wind up in the court of Nero, with the doctor mistaken for a famous musician. Other companions Ian and Barbera are sold into slavery, with the two parallel stories culminating in the great fire of Rome.
- The Time Meddler: This is one of my favourites as it introduces us to the character of the Monk, another renegade of the Doctors race, and its this first glimpse that we get into the doctors past that makes is fascinating, as throughout the series the Doctor is shrouded in mystery, at this point we assumed that the Doctor created the Tardis, but to discover another (with working camouflage) in the hands of someone trying to manipulate time for their own benefit left a great deal of unanswered questions for audiences to ponder.
- The Daleks Masterplan: I’ve only actually heard the audio recordings from this serial, as only 3 episodes still exist on film, but it is one of the longest serials and is the fourth to feature the Doctors arch enemies the Daleks, and the second to feature The Monk. This serial is where large scale space opera was conceived, with a complex plot and multitudes of characters, set on earth, set on space, set in the past and the future, I would go as far as to say that without this serial we wouldn’t have things like Star Wars, because it was the first to really go all out.
- The Aztecs: This one makes the list because it is the first time that it’s really brought home in the series that you cant change the past. The Aztecs butchered thousands in the name of their religion, and nothing the Doctor’s companions did made one bit of difference to the whole thing, and it sets up one of the key tropes in science fiction, which is that trying to change the past will not work, the universe doesn’t want it to (the best way to avoid alternate reality fiction, is the line used in later series, “The Universe Compensates”).
- The Web Planet: This has to have a mention, because I’ve seen it about five times from beginning to end, and I still have no idea what was happening. There are moth people and giant beetles and a lot of prancing about. My initial thoughts about the serial is that the producers must have been smoking something pretty powerful, and then my second thought was that it was the 60’s so my thought was probably right.
Join again soon for more on the wonderful worlds of The BBC’s Doctor Who.
This is the first in a series of posts relating to the BBC’s long running show Doctor Who.