Chrisno1's Retrospective of Classic Doctor Who

chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent
edited June 2021 in Off Topic Chat

Following akashicseer’s topic regarding the similarities between the James Bond movies and the 1979 Dr Who story The Horns of Nimon, I was reminded of the long trawl I made re-watching the Classic Series back in my days as a store manager for Blockbusters. My store held all the newly released DVDs and I was able to hire others through the postal rental service. There wasn’t the facility to view stories online like you can now, so this was an unexpected treat. I managed to view almost all the then available stories from seasons 1 to 26. I’d barely seen a serial from Hartnell or Troughton’s era, a few repeats aside, and I was a little young for Jon Pertwee, although I had some memories through repeats when the BBC showed them. Tom Baker was the Doctor I grew up with so I was very familiar with his era visually.    

As a youngster I collected almost every Target paperback released up to 1984, I read the comic, avidly watched the show, especially the repeats of older episodes, as these came around so rarely in the days before video. Now there is an enormous fan industry built up around Dr Who. I’m not cynical about it; it was always there; it simply feels more pious these days.

So, I wouldn’t ever call myself a Dr Who fan or an expert – ‘interested observer’ perhaps? – and I won’t have anything to do with the reboot. I enjoyed Christopher Eccleston’s opening series, but quickly lost interest. In my opinion, the show is seriously compromised by the fifty-minute format and cramming about a half-dozen companions into the TARDIS – at least that’s what it looks like to me. [I should clarify this by saying I stopped watching after Eccleston, so it’s only an impression.]

There are, I expect, good reasons for this (export sales primarily, transmission slots secondary) but there was something quaintly familiarly comforting about tuning in every weekend for a half-hour dose of dodgy sci-fi. I enjoyed the cliff-hangers and the tension and it was easy to identify with one or two main characters. As I became an older teenager, the episode structure was used as an excuse to not watch a story if I thought it started badly. This happened a lot after Peter Davison’s tenure.

I hold the Classic Series with much affection. It was part of my growing up. It had the same impact on me as James Bond. I used to discuss it as school with my mates: “Did you see… How about… What if...” You know the kind of thing. It was still seen by most people, even my peers, primarily as a kids show and I watched less and less in the eighties. I also got a Saturday job and wasn’t at home when it aired. I think the pub came into it too at some point. I never forgot the show, mind, so when I realised I could watch old episodes in clandestine isolation – just me, a bottle of wine and some cheese – and watch them all the way through, breaks for coffee and the toilet excepted, it felt like a return to a youth once passed. I particularly enjoyed all the extras provided on the DVDs.

Dr Who made a come-back in 2005 and I was just about through my re-watch by then. A new James Bond was on the horizon. I’d just started to write poetry and short stories. It was around this time I joined AJB and jubilantly reignited another affection.

But, in the continued extended absence of Bond, and after akashicseer’s thread and now wishing I’d thought of this at the start of Covid – all that wasted lockdown time! – I’ve started to watch Dr Who on line, including all the ‘lost’ episodes reimagined by stitching together production stills or devising shuffling animation. This perhaps is the real delight as not only am I watching the classics I could never see as a child, but I’m watching stories believed ‘lost’ from the BBC archives. Reproducing these episodes is due to sterling work by animation companies both employed by the BBC, like Cosgrove, or unofficial fan content, like Loose Cannon. There is also a huge debt to the conscientious early fans who recorded the transmissions at home on reel-to-reel audio tape. 

I am seriously enjoying this Classic Series once more!

NOTE: This topic isn’t an appreciation thread. Anyone can get enough of that on the specialised sites. I’ll just be putting out my extended thoughts about the series, season by season, story by story, and if anyone wants to chip in with a bit of banter, all well and good. It will be a long thread, 26 years worth of episodes, but I understand there is some secret love for Classic Who on AJB. I will, of course, point out anything which reminds me of James Bond.

So, I bring you Chrisno1’s Retrospective of Classic Dr Who…    


  1. I obviously want members to contribute to the thread. Although I would prefer that comments be specific to the serials I have already reviewed, I do appreciate this may sometimes be difficult. Some discussion of future stories is fine as long as it's relevant. I'm trying not to venture too far ahead in my own comparisons as I write the reviews, so a similar discretion would be appreciated. Let's remember this is NOT a general Dr Who APPRECIATION THREAD - as I stated above this is a REVIEW THREAD.
  2. I would also prefer that COMMENTS are COMMENTS, not REVIEWS. I know that's harsh, but the title does state whose reviews are meant to be on here: mine !!! Of course, good analysis of a story I've reviewed - or analysis of my review - is perfectly acceptable.



  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    The opening episode of Dr Who takes place primarily in a school room and in the mysterious larger-on-the-inside TARDIS. What it does well, and with economy, is introduce the audience to the main characters of the show: teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, their teenage pupil Susan Foreman and her grandfather, known as the Doctor. “Doctor Who?” asks a puzzled Ian.

    It opens in a fog bound London and the camera follows a policemen on the beat, before dovetailing into I. M. Foreman’s scrap yard of 76 Totter’s Lane, where we, the audience, discover a police box standing among the clutter. These opening shots, of policeman, scrap yard and the TARDIS are performed in a dumb-show to the accompaniment of Ron Grainer’s famous whining theme, the ninety-second version, setting us up for the almost inexplicable program which follows. The ordinariness of the box – which would have been a regular sight in Britain at the time – is reassuring, but the question we ask and need the answer to is: what’s a police box doing in a junk yard?

    From here we’re taken to Coal Hill High School where a genius student is rousing the interest of two teachers. In a quick series of vignettes, we learn Susan Foreman likes pop music, can speed-read, doesn’t understand Imperial measures and can’t calculate formulae with less than five dimensions. This final scene ends on a particularly striking close up of the actress Carole Ann Ford as she tries to expand on the theory of relative dimensions in “space and time.” Her confusion, desperation almost, to be taken seriously, while recognising how odd she is compared to her contemporaries both sums up an adolescent mind and reinforces her other-worldliness. We too are fascinated. Ian and Barbara decide to follow Susan, worried about her welfare, and accidentally gain access to the TARDIS.

    [It’s interesting to note that at this point the time machine was called TARDIS, with no ‘the’. That came later. Apparently Susan named the machine TARDIS after its initials: Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. That too changed later as everyone on the Doctor’s home planet also calls their time machine a TARDIS. Unless of course Susan named them all. I digress.]

    Upon entering the TARDIS, the two school teachers are amazed at the enormous interior. I wasn’t of course, having seen the show oodles of times. I can’t imagine what viewers in 1963 must have thought. Bemusement, possibly. I love the idea. It immediately launches us into a world of science where the impossible begins to feel possible. The juxtaposition of the mundane dull police box with the bright gaudy glowing interior of the control room is a shock to the eyes and the mind. The TARDIS is occupied by an irritable silver-haired old man. He eventually introduces himself as the Doctor [Doctor Foreman?]. Apparently he really is Susan’s grandfather.

    [Well, let’s hope so as there’s never any mention of what happened to the girl’s parents or the Doctor’s children or his wife / partner. This is never explained. Anywhere. Ever.]

    The Doctor resents the intrusion of the two teachers. As portrayed by William Hartnell, he’s a right old so-and-so. Arrogant, rude, angry, judgemental, violent even. The disagreements between the old man and his uninvited guests escalate to the point the Doctor, in a fit of pique, allows Ian to manipulate the controls and launches his time vessel on a journey into outer space and into a different time period. The opening episode finishes with an exterior shot of the TARDIS perched on a rocky outcrop, somewhere, sometime, but clearly not Coal Hill, 1963.

    This was a fantastic piece of television drama. The characters are easily identifiable and I enjoyed the mystery surrounding the pixie-like Susan and her grandfather, exemplified by the odd camera angles and Norman Kay’s edgy music. The interior design of the TARDIS was just alien enough to suggest it, and earth-like enough to reassure us. It’s enormous, with antiques and ornaments scattered randomly around the central throbbing control column. Plaudits to Peter Brachacki for his work here. When the TARDIS enters flight, it’s a painful, spectacular affair: lights flash, the machine shivers, the mechanics grumble, groan and screech. Both teachers faint. The journey through the stars is superimposed over the faces of the Doctor and Susan – a longer version of the opening credit sequence. This feels suitably, realistically eerie. In fact, everything about the debut episode is unnerving, especially the Doctor and this young charge, who appear human yet reluctantly admit to having origins on another world: “Have you ever thought what it is like to be an exile?” Hartnell says in vivid close-up.

    What disappointed was the following three episodes, an adventure set during the Neolithic age, which rehashes all manner of clichés about early man and the coming of fire and domestication. Lots of arguments and confusion and fist fighting throughout. Unusually, Hartnell’s Doctor does his utmost to make the audience dislike him. And he’s very good at it! Our sympathies definitely lie with Ian and Barbara [William Russell and Jacqueline Hill] – exasperated by the old man’s shenanigans. Poor Susan is constantly caught in between the warring threesome. To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less about the Tribe of Gum.

    Waris Hussein, an experienced director, helmed the show and Anthony Coburn wrote it with C.E. Webber. I first watched this story back in 1983 during a series of Friday evening repeats entitled The Five Faces of Doctor Who which anticipated the twenty year anniversary. My repeat viewing made me less fond of the story. The opening gambit is brilliant, both in conception and execution. The rest is fairly standard fare, although it may have been much more startling in the early sixties. Just on the strength of episode one I’d rate this a healthy:

    4 from 5.  

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,490MI6 Agent

    I remember this as a 7-year old, chrisno1. The first episode was shown the day after the assassination of JFK. We were in Bristol on a day visit to one of my mother’s aunts and I was mesmerised by that first episode. It was repeated the following Saturday, along with episode 2, as a combination of the extensive coverage of the assassination and a power cut that had occurred in a large part of the country, meant that a big proportion of the country had missed out on seeing the episode.

    As a youngster, I was hooked on the programme from the onset and can remember feeling very tense during the caveman scenes. The fact that they were speaking modern day English didn’t occur to me at the time!

    I rewatched it last year on BritBox (they have every remaining episode on there), and still thought it was a powerful beginning to the series.

    Thanks for the review, chrisno1, excellent as usual.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,999MI6 Agent

    excellent work @chrisno1 , this project oughta keep you out of mischief for a while. Are you going to do it as an episode-by-episode thread right up to the final days of Sylvester McCoy and Ace?

    and good to see your input too @CoolHandBond , always curious how this stuff was perceived the first time round, amazing you saw the very first episode two weeks in a row! I'm a newcomer, only went back and watched some of these after the 21st show was a thing, and as there's so damn many only cherrypicked a few key storylines. I have seen most of the first season with the original cast, probably more stories from this season than the remainder of Hartnell's run combined.

    for purpose of posterity, I reported on the Unearthly Child here in the 21st Century Doctor Who thead. Not so good as Chris's report of course, but I agree the very first episode is essential viewing and all all Doctor Who fans should set aside a half hour of their lives to see where it all began. Remaining three episodes can be skipped, except we see the explanation for why the TARDIS cannot change shape anymore.

    Chris and CoolHand have you seen the alternate unaired pilot where Susan has a different origin story and is not the Doctor's granddaughter?

    Why start with a boring caveman story? I think some behind-the-scenes might be worthy of discussion. The show was originally intended to teach children about history and science, thus Barbara and Ian are professors of those very subjects. The first season alternated between "Historicals" and science fiction plots, and the historicals had no science fiction elements except for the presence of the TARDIS. More interesting Historicals would come, covering the Aztecs, Marco Polo (sadly lost) and the French Revolution (foreshadowing: Susan is reading about this topic in the first episode and says the textbook gets it wrong!). But if the original goal of the show is to teach kiddies history, caveman days is a logical place to start. I think by the time they were done the next storyline, the concept of the show started to change. (was the Time Meddler the first Historical to also have a sci-fi plot?)

    Chris this is your thread and you probably want to progress sequentially. If we wish to discuss a later classic Doctor Who story, should we continue to post those discussions in the other thread so as to not complicate your sequence? You probably don't want folks talking about Genesis of the Daleks for example when the TARDIS has only just materialised on Skaro and they haven't even stepped outside yet...

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    @caractacus potts @CoolHandBond

    Thanks for your enthusiasm and comments, guys.

    To answer your questions, caractacus, and you made a few points I hadn't considered, so thank you:

    1. I have already watched and written reviews for Seasons 1 to 6.
    2. Seasons 7 - 26 will follow all in good time
    3. I do intend to post reviews regularly (every 2 - 3 days) and each review will be of the next specific chronological serial.
    4. I will provide a summary at the end of each Season, to indicate how I felt that block of stories progressed the series.
    5. I obviously want members to contribute to the thread. Although I would prefer that comments be specific to the serials I have already reviewed, I do appreciate this may sometimes be difficult. Some discussion of future stories is fine as long as it's relevant. I'm trying not to venture too far ahead in my own comparisons as I write the reviews, so a similar discretion would be appreciated. Let's remember this is not a general Dr Who APPRECIATION THREAD - as I stated above this is a REVIEW THREAD.
    6. I would also prefer that COMMENTS are COMMENTS, not REVIEWS. I know that's harsh, but the title does state whose reviews are meant to be on here: mine !!! Of course, good analysis of a story I've reviewed - or analysis of my review - is perfectly acceptable.

    I've reproduced the last three points in an edit to my original post above.

    Hope that clears things up.


  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent
    edited June 2021

    AN UNEARTHLY CHILD (postscript)

    It has recently come to my attention – and quite how I missed this I don’t know and can only apologise – that available online is the actual filmed footage of the original pilot episode of Dr Who. This would have been viewed by the BBC’s top brass, who would have red or green lit the show based on what they saw. It was good enough to be given a commission, initially for a short run, later extended and then continued as we know for the best part of twenty-six years. I watched it recently.

    The basic narrative is exactly as I described above with a few minor alterations in dialogue and action. The most significant change is in Susan Foreman, whose character is toned down quite dramatically. Let me explain.

    It is mentioned early on by Ian Chesterton that Susan is fifteen. She clearly doesn’t act it. Her knowledge far outstrips that of her peers, as does her behaviour. We first encounter her listening to a Mersey Beat pop group on a transistor radio. She’s dancing, but it isn’t any kind of dance we would recognise. It’s a sensual cavorting hybrid, composed mostly of stretching hands and swaying hip movements. The sequence in the original is far longer and more erotic – yes, erotic – than the transmitted version. During the early, school based scenes, Susan is presented as far more womanly in her mannerisms and speech, even her dress extenuates her figure. The transmitted version avoids this connotation, the camera doesn’t linger on her in the way it had before. Additionally, when left alone, she idles her time making a sketch of… well, what? Initially mere blotches of ink, Jackson Pollock style, she sees something in it and draws a hexagon, joining the dots. This clearly was meant to have relevance to her character, but was removed from the storyline. Instead she speed reads a book on the French Revolution and declares: “That isn’t right!”

    The story has a few minor dialogue differences at this point. In the transmitted version, the Doctor begins to display his fussy, distracted demeanour, ignoring the two teachers, musing on antiques, appearing forgetful and doddery. This aspect of the Doctor’s behaviour is often cited as being due to Hartnell’s ongoing health issues and / or drinking. However in the original, this facet of his character is completely absent. He is much more focussed and forthright. He also declares openly that he is of another race and from another planet. Obviously a decision was made to make him a little less of an alien threat to the teachers and the audience for in the transmitted version, he merely states he comes from “my civilisation” and “our planet.” The inference being that he is human, just not human from Earth in the twentieth century. In both episodes, he does specifically refer to himself as being an exile, although this detail will change as the show progresses.  

    Susan has changed too. The transmitted version has her wearing slacks and a striped sweater inside the TARDIS, but the original features a PVC smock and leggings. She looks and acts eerily unhuman and claims to have been born in the 49th century. Her relationship with the Doctor isn’t as clear. This was tidied up in the transmission by having her constantly refer to him as “Grandfather.” The 49th century line is omitted altogether.

    Lastly, the unconventional impossible interior of the TARDIS is not explained at all in the original. The transmitted version has the Doctor comparing its dimensional capabilities as like having a television, bringing the whole world into a sitting room.

    Watching the pilot doesn’t add or subtract anything intrinsically from the series as we know it. It is interesting to note the differences, most notably around Susan, who was clearly deigned for a much more significant role than genius granddaughter. Carole Ann Ford plays her essentially as a young woman, not a child, and I think this is exceedingly important in understanding how some of the early stories develop her character and her role. Caractacus Potts mentions above that Susan was supposedly an alien princess and this sheds light both on Ford’s playing [here and later] and how subsequent early serials provided her character with a more prominent position [she’s particularly worldly in Marco Polo, more on that later.] It is true, as I explain above, that the Doctor’s character was significantly altered too. This change seems to add to the calibre of Dr Who, making its lead character a more intriguing and occasionally sympathetic person, while Susan’s changes take away from the show’s potential, making her the first of the teenage, dependant companions rather than a mature individual in her own right.

    This pilot is available to view on this link: Uncle Earl's Classic TV Channel (

    I’d like to thank @caractacus potts for pointing this link out.    

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,490MI6 Agent

    I have seen the pilot episode and I’m glad it was altered to the version they showed.

    I’ve been rewatching the whole series on BritBox over the past few months and am into the second Doctor run now. I dislike binge watching as I quickly get bored, so it takes me ages to get through a series! I will post any observations that I remember as a child if they seem relevant.

    I'm looking forward to your reviews, chrisno1.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent
    edited June 2021

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    I don’t really need to explain very much about the Daleks, the word is even in the Oxford English Dictionary. Terry Nation wrote this epic seven-part adventure and created the war-like creatures who became the Doctor’s arch nemesis. He’s a fine television writer and penned whole series and episodes across many genres throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties. His crowning achievement was probably Blake’s Seven. Here, his mutant aliens are brilliantly realised by designer Raymond Cusick, whose famous pepper-pot design has gone on to become as recognisable as the police box.

    The audience is already getting used to the idea of the large interior, the battling, irritable rivalries of the time travellers and the malfunctioning chameleon circuit. The latter, I’m sure, was a fine excuse to reduce production costs! What audiences are given this time, which they didn’t initially, is a chilling science fiction adventure set on an alien world with strange creatures and a horrific genocidal plot.

    The TARDIS materialises in a petrified forest. The Doctor is still being an ass and actually sabotages his own time machine to ensure the travellers must remain on this strange planet while he fixes it. A good excuse to explore the nearby deserted city. This gets everyone into a whole heap of trouble. Top of the list of complications are the metal-clad Daleks, extremists of the most vicious sort. There isn’t one shred of humanity to these unseen monsters – why would there be: they aren’t human, right? This makes them both terrifying and curiously understandable. There is no doubt surrounding a Dalek. They don’t need any explanation. They are logical. They are emotionless. They are cunning. They are killing machines. As the series developed, the Daleks became less and less of a threat to the Doctor and his companions. Their shortcomings were obvious. Nostalgia has played a part in their enduring success. This first appearance works so well because the story is constructed around their shortcomings.

    Following a generations-long nuclear war, the Daleks have mutated to the point they can no longer exist outside their metal casings. Nor can they leave the city as their casings are powered by its electricity. However, they are scientists and innovators and have the technology to aid the peace loving indigenous Thal population because the city’s mechanised factories can produce food and supplies the Thal’s cannot, living as they do in a wasteland. Far in the past, the Daleks and Thals almost destroyed each other in a neutronic war and the arrival of the travellers reignites that conflict.

    It’s fair to say, from a modern perspective, that the Daleks shouldn’t be successful adversaries. They are slow and awkward. They’re rather short. As a monster, they are not physically intimidating. They seem easily bested when opponents get close enough. The screechy voices are more scary than their appearance. This may well not have been the case in 1963. Director Christopher Barry introduces them brilliantly. Barbara is trapped in a corridor, something approaches. All we see is a plunger waving at the bottom of the screen, but Jacqueline Hill’s face is contorted in fear and we are stunned as the credits roll. What on earth – on Skaro – can she see? Barry teases us. We don’t see a Dalek full on until the Doctor meets a whole tribe of them, eyestalks and ray guns at the ready, lining a corridor. The director pans back and – because the travellers are at the end of the passage – the Daleks appear enormous. It’s a great introduction. Barry must also take some credit for increasing their impact by restricting their screen time and movements to the minimum. He’s careful too, although possibly not by design, to suggest the Daleks are not perfect. There’s a moment of dumb farce when a Dalek realises an electronically controlled door has been locked: the eyestalk nods up and down then pauses, the Dalek half-turns in complete bemusement.

    This tiny tiff of hilarity adds to our knowledge that the Daleks are living beings inside their casings: at the end of episode three a mutant is unceremoniously tossed to the floor and we see its withered claw-like hand scrabbling in death agonies; this reveals for the first time an organic Dalek shape. We know they are not robots. It is that revelation which still startles most. An evil robot can be accepted as a such – a programming fault, for instance. The lack of conscience in the Daleks, that the audience recognises they are physical beings yet have no morals except destruction, is shocking and thought provoking. It makes us reflect on humankind’s own occasional evil intransigence. Where could humanity's development end? we ask. Nonetheless, we love the Daleks. I can’t put my finger on it. Ironically, it must be their unremitting nature: exterminate, exterminate, exterminate.

    There is plenty of suspense throughout the opening four episodes. The atmosphere is chilly, shadowy in the woods; crisp and bright at the city. Sound man Tristram Cary provides strange, wiry audio effects which increase the sense of menace. The scenes where the travellers suffer radiation poisoning are particularly gripping. The last three episodes suffer from being a more stereotypical ‘revolution’ story. This is one we will see played out again and again during the series’ lifespan. The Doctor persuades the Thals they must fight for their freedom, but only after Ian threatens to forcibly escort Alydon’s woman to the Dalek City – a fate as sure as death. To protect her, to protect what he loves, Alydon fights. This is a fairly crude moral message, but it provides the foundation for survival and the rest of the adventure is a tension filled trek through the dangerous swamplands and up the ventilation pipes to invade the city.

    The acting of the main cast goes up a notch. William Hartnell is settling nicely into being the antihero. He’s as jumpy and callous and unforgiving, as curious and funny and gentle as you’d expect a grandfather to be. Contradictions are in evidence and this both repels and intrigues. The early scenes return us to the beginning of An Unearthly Child. Petty squabbles abound. Carole Anne Ford’s Susan really comes into her own, displaying fortitude and inquisitiveness and just the right amount of womanliness to make us believe in her late adolescence while retaining the solid intensity of a genius and an ingenue. It helps Susan is heavily involved in proceedings, especially in the first half. It is Susan who meets the Thals; Susan who retrieves the life-saving drugs; Susan who the Daleks use to entrap the Thals; she’s vivid and vital and tremendously successful. Susan’s one of my favourite all-time companions because she is caught between science and emotion, human and [unknown then] Time Lord, loyalty and practicality, youth and experience. She represents the audience the show was originally being pitched too better than any future crew member.

    Perhaps where the adventure succeeds best is in its design. The petrified forest is wan, spiky and cold looking. It looks uninhabitable and more dangerous than the glistening silver city of the Daleks, with its straight lines and cool efficiency. While the Daleks are excellently effective as unrepentant villains, the Thals are provided with just enough tantalising facets of humanity to make us side with them. There are a couple of charismatic leaders in Alan Wheatley’s Themosus and Jon Lee’s reserved Alydon. Their makeup and costumes could have been a bit more innovative, mind. The contrast between the two sets of aliens and their environments are highlighted vividly in the early scenes, but are almost irrelevant in the latter more moribund stages. Indeed, I’m not sure the Daleks featured much in episodes 5 and 6.

    Despite this, and chiefly because of those stunning first four segments, I’d rate this:

    5 from 5.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,490MI6 Agent

    This was the story that started the Doctor Who craze. I can remember loads of kids in the playground pretending to be daleks, and saying “ex-ter-min-ate” in that dalek voice manner. We would eagerly chat about the Saturday episode on a Monday morning at school. This is, without doubt, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, DW tale of all time.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,999MI6 Agent

    My understanding is they always intended the second storyline to be more science fiction, but they did not intend this. Series creator Sydney Newman wanted the show to avoid anything so common as "bug-eyed monsters", it was all meant to be educational. But this is the script that they had ready, so they filmed it, and it was so popular that it defined the show in spite of Newman's own priorities,

    I'm not sure how much else Terry Nation wrote for the show over the years, but they always brought him back for the Dalek episodes for decades to come. So nice to see they recognised and rewarded the writer who came up with the great idea even if it deviated from their original plans. I see his name on a lot of Avengers and Saint episodes, usually the good ones, more so than I ever notice his name on nonDalek related Doctor Who episodes.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    This is a short two-episode story set entirely within the TARDIS as it spirals out of control back through time towards the creation of a new star.  

    This serial made an effort to familiarise viewers with the TARDIS. We learn it has several extra rooms, beds, a medicine chest, a water machine, and a whole host of switches and consoles in addition to the central column. We learn it can think for itself. We also learn that the Doctor is a nasty little runt when he wants to be. He still intuitively distrusts the two ‘intruders’ and accuses them of sabotage – a bit rich considering he’d already damaged the poor police box in the previous adventure. Still…

    Barbara won’t take any nonsense from the Doctor and stands up to his petulant attitude. Ian, tired, angry and confused, is alternatively mediator and antagonist. Poor Susan’s still caught in the middle. The first episode was nonsense. Strange things are happening to the travellers and the time machine. Writer David Whitaker uses these random occurrences to highlight the tensions, suspicions and antagonisms which inhabit the group. There are a few splendid verbal stand-offs, but the plot doesn’t so much creak as crash. There’s an awful lot of pretend staggering about. It’s disappointing the Doctor doesn’t seem to understand how his own vehicle works and needs Barbara’s intuition to discover a simple mechanical error. The adventure is stage bound and slight. It doesn’t really teach me anything about the TARDIS, except there’s more than a malfunctioning chameleon circuit needing to be fixed and the switches are annotated in felt-tip pen. Oh, and there’s a huge wardrobe of clothes including some natty night-wear.

    William Hartnell gabbles his lines a few times, but towards the denouement, he delivers a brilliant soliloquy: “We are at the very beginning… Outside the atoms are rushing towards each other, fusing, coagulating, until miniature little collections of matter are created and so the process goes on and on until dust is formed, dust which then becomes a solid entity, a new birth of a sun and its planets!”

    His glee and fascination with space and science and the far reaches of the unexplored universe solidifies Hartnell’s personification of Doctor Who: a wanderer, lost and in love with the galaxies he travels through.

    A perfunctory:

    2 from 5

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    This seven part historical story is one of the famous lost recordings. It takes place during the thirteenth century along the Silk Road. The Doctor and his companions meet Marco Polo and Kublai Khan and thwart the intentions of Tegana, a scheming Warlord.

    The DVD for Edge of Destruction featured a half hour summary of the story using photos from rehearsals, sound clips from the archives and narrative subtitles. I watched it years ago and was very impressed. I went one further here and viewed Bob Smithe’s colourised production stills to accompany the complete home audio recordings. It’s cheeky to judge a show without properly watching it – and watching in colour, not original monochrome – and it is hard to judge acting without seeing movement, facial expressions, etc – but the overall look of this adventure, its sweeping epic nature, Daphne Dare’s costumes, Barry Newbury’s stunning sets and backgrounds, Tristram Cary’s authentically created music score, the sound effects, the poetic dialogue and the suspenseful incidents suggest to me that it is much better than many of the First Doctor’s early adventures.

    When Dr Who began transmitting, the show was funded through the Education Department of the BBC and for that reason the series guidelines insisted stories should retain a dramatic narrative, yet also educate. Hence, Verity Lambert, the show’s initial producer decreed the series would feature a futuristic story alternating with a historical one. This particular adventure had lots of opportunities to teach science-stuff, cultural-stuff and history-stuff. Writer John Lucarotti, a classics lecturer in another career who had presented a BBC show about the life of Marco Polo, certainly packs in the detail, as well as the prerequisite palace and caravan intrigues. Over the years this story developed a bad reputation, for being overlong and dull. I definitely disagree. It has recently been subject to reassessment and Lucarotti’s own novel adaptation did much to correct the earlier demonisation. [Smithe intersperses his Fan Version with imagined monologues from Marco Polo’s diaries, which may do similar appeasement here.]

    Waris Hussain directs – his second history play after the season’s opener – and does so with much control and occasional spurts of vim and vigour. It does drag a little in the middle and the perils of the beautiful handmaiden Ping-Cho are less interesting than the travellers cut-and-thrust with Marco Polo. Despite this, the acting is first class [vocally at least]. All the regulars are given moments to shine. Hartnell is at his irascible best; no patience, disdain for primitive minds, some neat verbal jousting with the Great Khan. It is perhaps Carole Anne Ford who gives the most accomplished turn, as she befriends Ping-Cho [Zienia Merton] and the two girls form a protective bond, discussing their future lives and aspirations. Mark Eden’s Marco Polo has authority, while Derren Nesbitt goes all James Mason on us as he and his rogues-gallery of accomplices try to steal the TARDIS.

    In fact if one actor does disappoint it is probably Martin Miller as Kublai Khan. The Great Khan was almost 80 when this episode is set, so there is nothing to suggest Miller is wrong to play the role as an aged, troubled Emperor, plagued with gout, beset by idiots in his entourage, and quite happy to gamble away his empire. The interplay between Hartnell and Miller is fine, but the latter’s voice is a terrible creaky thing. He almost spoils all that’s gone before. Despite seven episodes and a narrative which spans several weeks, the adventure resolves itself with the minimum of fuss in a mere fifteen minutes. We deserved more, I think.

    I know I haven’t seen it properly, but I’m going to challenge my preconceptions and give Marco Polo a very positive:

    4 from 5.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,999MI6 Agent

    excellent @chrisno1 ! I was wondering how you would handle all these missing episodes. This one is particularly frustrating as the subject is of interest to all us history and geography geeks. Marco Polo's writings supposedly gave Europeans their greatest knowledge of the outside world until the sea voyages of Vasco de Gama and Columbus, and are a bit analogous to the journeys through Time and Space our heroes are making in the show. Looking up Marco Polo in wikipedia just now led me to this 1450 world map (100 years before Mercator) that synthesised the information about the outside world brought back by Marco Polo and other Venetian travellers of the day.

    and I definitely remember that magic marker label from the previous storyline! something like "This is the button" with an arrow. I know video tape edits and second takes were expensive, but still how did that get left in? Maybe not that important at the time? despite all the talk of History, they didn't predict future generations'd be overanalysing a childrens' show on the internet nearly 60 years later!

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    Thanks @caractacus potts

    When I wrote that review - a lot of the early serials in fact - I didn't go into as much detail as I do later on. I wasn't planning on publishing my reviews at that point so they were more a guide for me to remember what I had watched.

    I do better in future.

    Marco Polo is a great loss to those of us who enjoy Dr Who. I honestly think it is a superb story, very epic and full of incident. It only lapsed a little in the episode where the travellers - all of them, Polo's retinue included - have to sit through Ping-Cho giving a song recital. The scenes in the caravan are really good, giving an indication of how people may have travelled the Silk Road in the 15th C. They use tents of course, but also the caravanserai stations. The characters are developed really well. After the early excitement, Dr Who needed a slightly more reflective show to allow the companions space to breathe, and this does it excellently.

    When I went to Venice, I saw Marco Polo's house. I tried to find my picture of it, but I think it was on my old phone. The story as I recall was when he first returned from travelling, he'd been away so long his family didn't recognise him. In this picture, I believe it's the house on the left although a lot of people mistake the right hand one because it has a prominent door way.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    Terry Nation’s second contribution to Dr Who is a quest story set on an alien world. Initially it feels like a bit of a re-run of The Daleks. In place of the forest and swamps we have an acid sea and a glass island, in the distance is a city, nearby a series of mysterious pods. In these early days, each individual episode was given a unique chapter title, so it was never entirely clear how long an adventure lasted; the end of one tale would run seamlessly into the beginning of another. This didn’t happen with The Keys of Marinus. The story begins with a dodgy model TARDIS landing on a deserted beach and it ends with the same TARDIS vanishing back into space. The story is completely self-contained. However, all these elements – sea, city, sand, pod – set up the intriguing opening questions: where are we, who lives here and why? These will become recurring features of Dr Who opening episodes, some better presented than others.

    The travellers reach the city – whose exterior resembles the Daleks’ metropolis – and meet Arbitan, who controls the Conscience of Marinus, an all-powerful justice machine which is under threat from the rebel Voord. Thanks to the Conscience all evil had been eradicated on the planet, but Yartek, the Voord leader, has built an Immuniser and sown chaos among Marinus’ regions. Over many years Arbitan has been modifying the machine to make it even more powerful. While he did so, he hid the control keys to prevent a coup. Now needing to retrieve the keys, Arbitan has dispatched all his envoys, including his own daughter, but none have returned. The Voord are on the march and time is short. Arbitan traps the TARDIS in an effort to blackmail the travellers into helping him. George Coulouris is suitably noble as Arbitan even when he uses extortion. His is the first of many ‘guest star’ appearances by well-renowned actors over the decades. Some not as well renowned as others.

    The opening episode happens at a breakneck speed. Unfortunately too much detail is packed into this chapter. It confuses and confounds. The pace remains a problem throughout, as each key is hidden in a different environment – a jungle, an ice world, etc – and each needs explaining before the mini-adventure can be resolved. It’s an over-ambitious, repetitive tale. It’s enough to say that after six long winded episodes, Yartek is defeated and the travellers hot-foot it out of there.

    Jacqueline Hill’s Barbara seems to take the prime role again, resolving conflict and solving mysteries, she even avoids an amorous assault – about as close to rape as you’d get on kids TV. Very near the knuckle, I thought. She also has time to mother Susan, whose actions and dialogue are irritatingly written as if she was child. William Hartnell’s good in a neat Perry Mason style courtroom confrontation, where the Doctor proves Ian’s innocence in a theft case. This society has instigated ‘backward’ justice: guilty until proven innocent, for instance. I didn’t understand why they needed courts and judges if all evil had been eliminated from the planet. In fact, it’s perfectly obvious that evil is alive and flourishing across all Marinus’ regions. The Voord Immuniser has clearly done more damage than Arbitan feared.

    I was very disappointed with this story, which, having read Philip Hinchcliffe’s novelisation several times as a kid, I thought would have the epic sweep and design I can envisage for Marco Polo. This was poor all round. Bad dialogue, bad acting, rickety sets, dud special effects, silly wet-suit clad monsters, etc, etc; the Doctor doesn’t even appear for a couple of episodes [William Hartnell was on holiday, so they simply wrote scenes around him].

    Two points of interest stand out. Initially, the Doctor refuses to help the oppressed Keeper of the Keys and the travellers are seen attempting to leave Marinus, feeling unable to assist Arbitan. This is unusual in the series as the Doctor is often at pains to help the inflicted. Also, as in his debut story The Daleks, Terry Nation develops the notion that planets have different races living upon them and these races, or species, develop individually from each other. This goes against the normal perception of alien planets, where the populations are usually united and as one. Dr Who steals a march on many other sci-fi franchises [most notably Star Trek] in suggesting this. Nation should receive worthy credit.

    Partial redemption, I suppose, but sadly The Keys of Marinus almost scrapes the barrel’s bottom:

    2 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent
    edited June 2021

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    We can see some of what we may have missed in Marco Polo by watching John Lucarotti’s The Aztecs, a historical story which challenges the informed wisdom of modern western society, one founded on essentially Christian beliefs.

    The TARDIS materialises inside an Aztec tomb. Barbara puts on some discarded jewellery and is mistaken for a reincarnated goddess. Initially this turns out to be quite good fun for everybody. Barbara enjoys the sudden status: the good life she can bestow on her friends and on the local population. It isn’t clear how long the travellers are treated as deities, but it’s long enough for the Doctor to get engaged to Cameca, a cheerful crone who takes him under her wing. This is one of the delights of the story. The Doctor announces to Ian “I seem to be engaged” and appears to be looking forward to the impending nuptials! The old devil! Another is the challenge to accepted belief systems. Barbara halts a human sacrifice and incurs the wrath and suspicion of the High Priest. While this may be a good decision measured against her principles, it’s a disaster for the Aztecs and puts her and her companions in danger. The lesson: trying to bring a more humane society to an established order has consequences.

    Unlike almost all other Dr Who stories, this tale ends not on a triumphal note, but on one of panic, fear and desperation. The travellers barely escape with their lives. The curious and gentle Autloc, a humanist, is exiled from the kingdom leaving the rampaging, vicious High Priest to assert his violent authority. Barbara’s ‘humane’ experiment has failed. The Doctor is at pains to insist she controls her urge to offer twentieth century solutions to past or future peoples as this can disturb the cosmological nature of things. ‘Time Meddling,’ if you like. It is enough to say that while the Doctor perfects the escape of himself and his companions, he is prepared to let history and civilisations be. By demonstration, Lucarotti leaves the Aztecs in awe of a solar eclipse and their Perfect Victim is left awaiting ritual sacrifice atop the temple.

    Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder covered similar ground, using the death of a single butterfly as its springboard. John Lucarotti is no less subtle. His time travellers never witness the eventual full consequences of their mistakes, but his screenplay does ask the appropriate questions, hinting at western Europe’s culpability in destroying whole structured societies in vainglorious attempts to civilise the Americas.

    A well-acted, thoughtful, robust and brilliantly-scripted adventure. Good incidental music. Excellent costumes and design, including some remarkable painted landscapes. Excellent performances from Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill. The supporting cast proves both wily and effective. It’s disappointing the writer hasn’t found much for Carole Anne Ford’s Susan to get her teeth into as she was well represented in Lucarotti’s other historical epic. The climatic episode is full of action and ends in a similar vein to Marco Polo with a sword fight between two warring antagonists.

    This adventure demonstrates the best and worst of William Russell. He’s very good in the physical moments, but struggles to express himself with any élan. Everything’s very monotone, even when he’s in a panic or being strident. Of the three initial companions, I find Russell’s portrayal consistently borderline average. Too often he sounds just like a teacher, which would be fine if the role didn’t demand he be so much more than that. Given Russell’s very active role in The Aztecs, he ought to display more emotional vivacity, but I can just about forgive it given the top quality of everything else on show.

    The Aztecs garners a well-deserved set of full marks:

    5 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    The penultimate story of the first season is very slow. You can almost feel the length. Everything happens at such a ponderous speed you wonder if anything happened at all. The Sensorites does however introduce some recurring themes and aspects of narrative which will become very familiar to viewers over the next couple of decades. It isn’t all bad.

    The creepy opening has the TARDIS materialise on a space ship orbiting the planet Sense-Sphere. The space ship’s crew are in a state of semi-hypnosis; their actions zombie-like. They are petrified of the planet’s inhabitants, the alien Sensorites, whose phenomenal mental powers have maintained the ship in its orbit and its crew in stasis. The Sensorites fear the humans because an earlier advance party brought an incurable disease to the Sense-Sphere and the population has been dying out. When Ian falls ill with the same symptoms, the Doctor realises someone has poisoned the water supply.

    The villains of the piece are not the titular aliens but eager, money-grabbing commercial space warriors, humans out to plunder a planet of its rare minerals. Driven mad by the Sensorites mind-control, they have hid among the underground aqueducts to wage guerrilla war, their sole purpose to purloin the minerals abundant on the planet. Like The Aztecs, this theme drops anti-colonial hints. The appearance of humans has brought conflict to the Sense-Sphere and, having repelled two potential industrial invasions, poison now not only creeps through the water supply, but also through the minds of some of the hierarchy, who wish to plunder power. These two themes will occur time and again in Dr Who.

    This story also allows us a first impression of a potential future for human existence. The TARDIS materialises on a spaceship on the edges of the explored universe in the 2900s – that’s only another 900 years or so from today, guys! Despite being technologically advanced – doors open and lock in the same manner as they do on the Dalek city – the spaceship crew all sound tremendously Kensington-creche-posh. Some of them, however, have lost none of primitive man’s desire to possess and conquer, to gain wealth and power. This neatly refers us back to the opening prehistorical story, whose central dilemma revolves around the possession of fire and who wields the power to create it. Here, the aliens possess a ‘fire’ and the humans want to snatch it away. The conflict between the Sensorites’ First Elder and the Administrator neatly reflects this same power struggle.

    Regrettably the action isn’t dynamic enough to support these grand themes. Six episodes seems too long and the sub-plot of internal revolution seems unnecessary, the moral dimension is more than interesting, particularly as it still has a contemporary relevance. This is very much 1950s sci-fi, where writers and filmmakers tried to look beyond the scary alien lifeform and seek the truth in man’s own complex moral and ethical DNA, the call of the hunter-gatherer, the man who wants to be king. Sadly, this adventure doesn’t address those observations until the last episode.

    It is, though, a good contrast to the rattle-and-hum of The Daleks and The Keys of Marinus, proving if nothing else that aliens do not need to be terrifying – or at least terrifyingly loud. In fact, the Sensorites are not particularly malicious, although they do want a solution on their terms. Curiously for such powerful beings they have very little common sense or scientific alacrity. Their trusting nature has left them open to abuse by the humans (and each other) – rather like the dodo birds when faced with the Portuguese. Ultimately it is the Doctor and Susan, who are not human, who bring both sides together.

    The Sensorites are a much better invention than the first season’s other humanoid monster, the wet-suited Voord. With their bulbous heads and crawling, plant-like beards, these tadpole-like creatures appear facially very alien. Sadly the actors wear crinkly Lycra-looking onesies when some form of body paint would have been more effective. The suckers on their feet are a misstep too (ha!ha!) and one of them nearly fell over, I seem to recall. No worse than the actors, who are slumming it a bit. Almost everyone miscues a line. Carole Anne Ford as Susan takes centre stage again, brilliant when reminiscing wistfully about her home planet and its gorgeous orange skies or using her telepathic abilities to speak to the aliens and gain their confidence. Unfortunately, like the mineral exploitation angle, this latter aspect of temporal sci-fi is side-lined. William Hartnell is on fine form too.    

    I may be marking on missed opportunities, but I’m in a generous mood:

    3 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    For years the Season One finale was roundly ridiculed as a long winded, dull and disappointing historical adventure. With the aid of those nifty animators at The Last Time Master and the audio recordings of private archivists, the BBC has been able to coddle together the whole story – more or less – and it can be appropriately assessed.

    Part of this adventure’s poor standing surely must rest in the fact it hadn’t been viewed by anyone for a number of decades. I was pleasantly surprised. Dismissed as a stilted traipse through the last days of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror during the fall of the French Revolution, the story takes time to touch on themes far beyond the spies and traitors affair it’s been generally painted. The piece holds its own in the production stakes too. Costumes are above average. The sets nicely period. The Beeb always does costume drama well and The Reign of Terror falls easily into that category. The action, for what it’s worth, is repetitive, but unlike The Keys of Marinus, it held my attention throughout, chiefly because the performances are so good and the dialogue – from writer Dennis Spooner – so exceptional.

    As expected, the production team have taken great care to introduce the story effectively and with some humour. There is an excellent scene in the TARDIS where the Doctor, peeved at Ian’s reluctance to believe they really have landed on Earth 1963, reverts back to type and barks irritably at “my boy Chesterton” virtually shoving the young teachers out the door. He’s calmed by Ian’s suggestion of exploration – just to be certain – and the possibility of a drink to celebrate. This is a little inappropriate in-joke, as Hartnell was known for being fond of a tipple. His expression does seem to light up at the prospect.

    Carole Anne Ford’s Susan is all agog at the prospect of another trip outside the confines of the time machine and soon our foursome discover they are in fact in France. Hartnell muses to himself that a couple of hundred miles off course is fairly accurate given the distance they’ve travelled since The Sensorites. The idea the Doctor himself can’t control his own mode of transport has recurred constantly during these opening salvos and it is treated with the delight it deserves.

    The travellers find a deserted farmhouse, realise they are not in the twentieth century but the eighteenth and are suddenly caught up in a Scarlett Pimpernel style undertaking which threatens them with the guillotine and constant incarceration. The Doctor, initially left for dead, heads for Paris to hunt for his companions and has a fine time as a hobo tramping the countryside and the city, scrounging work and bartering for clothes. Hartnell is excellent, probably the best he’s been in the series so far. The suggestion with these meanderings is that a long time is passing: days, not hours. It certainly explains Susan’s sudden illness which side-lines her for a couple of episodes [another cast member holiday, no doubt; William Russell’s Ian is absent for a long time as well.]       

    The storyline is good for what it does, although it doesn’t do much aside from endless capture-escape-recapture. The supporting cast give it all as always, particularly Jacqueline Hill. I was also impressed with the bleakly comic Gaoler, played by Jack Cunningham, a drunken, bullying member of the proletariat, who believes he has a position of power, yet is subservient to everyone he meets. The scene where the Doctor persuades him to release the prisoners is priceless entertainment and brilliantly played. The Doctor’s verbal dexterity and mental cunning is to the fore time and again in this story. He escapes a ruthless gang master, bargains for clothes, negotiates with gaolers, he even out-smarts Robespierre. The two meet in a single scene where the Doctor, disguised as an official from Provence, persuades the dictator that Paris is full of traitors and spies. The reply delivered by Keith Anderson demonstrates the discord and paranoia which have taken hold of Robespierre, how power has planted suspicion on every face. Latterly, there is another splendid political scene where Napoleon Bonaparte is secretly offered the leadership of the country. Barbara, knowing her history, isn’t sure they should act in Bonaparte’s interest. The Doctor knows better and again reminds her of the responsibilities inherent in time travel.

    A sturdy:

    3 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season One


    The first season of Dr Who sets a high benchmark for its writing and innovation. Rarely can a television programme have started with such an amazing and original premise as a TARDIS, with all its associated gimmicks. Rarely can the idea of traveling in space and time have been so ably and fantastically realised. Rarely can the dynamic of a show’s major characters be so fraught with tension and suspicion. Rarely can the major protagonist appear to be less like a traditional hero. The show assumes its audience has a basic understanding of the rudiments of fiction [specifically science fiction] and then presents them in manner which unsettles us.

    We have the brilliant scientist; only here he is not only a genius but an awkward, rude, impetuous old man. We have the young child; only here it is an adolescent of curiously alien behaviour – although she clearly looks human. We have the unknowing [and unwelcome] visitors. We have a flying machine or transportation device; this one is famously dimensionally physically impossible. We have prime destinations – moments of the past, alien planets, possible futures – made exciting by the uncontrollability of the TARDIS. We are shown the resourcefulness of the travellers; this often comes hand in hand with bickering and discord. Perhaps best of all we are shown a series of alien environments and historical landscapes which appear palpably real, yet which all have pervasive fearsome atmospheres.

    The first season, perhaps more than any other, also demonstrates how the series creates drama and adventure, laced with humour and political or social comment, across both the historical and fantasy genres. Its cast started a little shaky, but improved and warmed to their characters as we, the audience did. Occasionally they slipped into one-dimensions. This is particularly true of Susan, who several times has to ‘play the child.’ This is balanced by opportunities provided by the writers to reveal a more rounded persona, especially in the stories Marco Polo and The Sensorites. Indeed, another notable factor in the show’s success is allowing each of the four main characters moments to shine: for instance, the Doctor delivering his soliloquy in The Edge of Destruction or making a hazardous journey through the French countryside in The Reign of Terror, Susan encountering the Thals in The Daleks, Barbara taking on the presence of an Aztec goddess, Ian constantly battling the Doctor’s intransigence. While I grew to identify with the situations imposed on the characters, I did find William Russell’s interpretation of Ian very static and tonally dull. This complements poorly against the other more nimble performers. The writers certainly do their utmost to inject personality and ensuing confrontation into these unlikely and uneven companions.

    The designers also must take a bow for the look, style and atmosphere of the series, which, even if it creaked at the edges, was never rarely less than satisfying and opportune. The look of the show probably gives it more gravitas than the stories initially deserve. Let’s remember again how it began: a mysterious police box in a junk yard and a sudden journey across the universe. Cleverly, the producers have inserted a short coda before the final credit roll and we listen to the Doctor’s voice expounding over a cascade of brightly lit planets: “Like the old adage, my boy, our destiny is in the stars – so let’s go and search them.” 

    And indeed we shall!

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season Two


    The TARDIS doors accidentally open mid-flight and pitch the crew unexpectedly into a vaguely familiar land of giants. The TARDIS has shrunk itself and its inhabitants to microscopic proportions as a defence mechanism against the space vacuum. The travellers explore this amazing world – one they initially don’t realise as being a scientist’s office – and foil a dastardly plot to perfect a poisonous fertilizer. 

    Quite what persuaded the producers of Dr Who to make this heavily effects-laden adventure is open to question. That it succeeds at all is more down to the merits of the central cast, who have a fun time pretending to be a couple of millimetres in height, than any of the production values.

    That’s being a tad unfair. Given this TV show was made on a paltry BBC budget and with none of the expertise and equipment afforded a big Hollywood studio – or even at Pinewood or a Shepperton – Raymond Cusick and his team do some amazing work creating larger than life sets and props to represent the perils of a modern scientist’s laboratory. It’s at least as good as some of the cruddy work in Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants, a show which succeeds primarily because it is in colour. Curiously this story benefits from being in black and white because the faults in its visual production design are not so immediately obvious.

    Where Planet of Giants really struggles is the industrial espionage plot enacted by the normal-sized humans. So tepid is the dialogue and action that the producers cut out a quarter of the running time in an effort to offer audiences a reasonably accessible and tense story. They clearly could not afford to waste the costly props. It doesn’t help. Even as a three part adventure, Planet of Giants falls far below the standard of the best of Dr Who, pitching in at the same level as The Keys of Marinus; points of occasional interest rescue an otherwise work-a-day story.

    Not much else to say really other than to mention this is the first adventure set in the modern era. Unlike many later modern-day stories, the science fiction element is provided by the accidental shrinking. The detective work is made difficult by the protagonists’ size, but the adventure is in essence a story more at home on Dixon of Dock Green. The villain’s scheme to sell toxic chemicals is the first time the Doctor involves himself in environmental matters, a theme the show would also return to several times in the future. 

    Just about:

    2 from 5

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season Two


    This serial has a big reputation to maintain. Some commentators consider it a high point of Classic Dr Who. Unfortunately I was less enamoured with the Daleks’ second appearance on the show.

    Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The exterior location filming, especially the scenes set around Chelsea’s docksides, add some essential reality to the proceedings. At times they have a slight newsreel atmosphere, which lends authority. The opening episode is a marvellously ‘bite-your-nails’, chillingly gory scuttle around a war ravaged London; the travellers encounter corpses, are menaced by the zombie-like Robo-Men, kidnapped by resistance fighters and, at the climax, a Dalek appears in spectacular fashion, emerging from the waters of the Thames. As a whole the serial features plenty of action and intrigue and pounds along with all the breathlessness of the fugitives we watch on screen. There are good supporting performance from Alan Judd as the wheelchair bound resistance leader Dortmund and Bernard Kay as his lieutenant, Tyler. The Daleks make another strong impression: they are now mobile on land; they run a military operation along autocratic, fascistic lines; their leader is the appropriately coloured Black Dalek; they’ve even developed a neat raised-plunger salute – which looks frighteningly familiar – to go along with their new-found freedoms. Their tactics in invading the Earth are plausible and suggest writer Terry Nation did some sci-fi homework before penning it.

    Sadly, he hasn’t given much thought to the rest of the story and the production team, buoyed by the series’ ongoing success and in particular the huge popularity of the titular monsters, let themselves off the leash and The Dalek Invasion of Earth turns into a sprawling, ridiculously B-moviesque and ultimately dull adventure.

    First lets deal with the general look of the thing. It’s a grimy, unspectacular piece. It should be – given the world has been laid waste by plague and war. Spencer Chapman’s London designs are suitably drab. However, the story is nominally set in 2164, yet there is no attempt to disguise and reimagine a London of the future. It may as well be 1964. Also Chapman’s alien imaginings are distinctly shoddy. The Dalek spaceship interiors – let’s breeze over the fact they travel in a cheap-looking disastrous special effect of a flying saucer – are clearly based on Cusick’s Dalek City. Ian remarks the saucer must have landed at Sloane Square. That’s a tiny location and the spaceship feels equally small. The same can be said of the supposedly enormous mine network. Here the miniature models of the exteriors and the nineteenth century looking tunnel-work are so poor and unimaginative they look implausible. The lack of scale and advanced future technology fails to intimidate. Unlike in The Daleks, the audience – and by definition the characters – are not cowed by their surroundings. This fatally undermines the alien presence.

    Even more obvious examples of weakening the titular villains abound. A roaming Dalek attempts to interrogate a mannequin. Someone refers to the self-titled Masters of Earth as “mobile dustbins.” There is a scene towards the climax where Barbara makes an attempt to radio-communicate with the Robo-Men, drawing on her knowledge of history to confuse the Daleks with a fake battleplan. The ploy doesn’t succeed. “It was a marvellous idea,” suggests resistance moll Jenny. Yes; and terribly executed because director Richard Martin chooses to play the scene for laughs. Martin surely had to be the one who suggested first Barbara and then the Doctor impersonate the Black Dalek, using screeching voices et al. These scenes are the first instances of our pitiless mutant psychopaths being ridiculed.  

    Having removed any sense of menace from the headline villains, the opportunity for malevolence presents itself in the brain-dead, radio-controlled Robo-Men. Sadly they also fail to succeed. These slow-moving, zero-witted, living-dead perform everything at such a snail’s pace you wonder why everyone’s so scared of them. They are always easily bested. It’s hard to see what possible help they are to the Daleks in this zombified state. Another special effects disaster comes with the Black Dalek’s pet beast, the Slyther. Quite why the leader of the master race should use a dodgy claw-handed, costumed monster to patrol the perimeter of the mine when dogs and Robo-Men are in evidence is a mystery. Oh, wait, no it isn’t: despite a cumbersome outfit, the Slyther actually moves faster than a Robo-Man.

    The adventure’s resolution is hopelessly elementary. The exploding of a Dalek bomb inside the earth should be a moment for high tension, that it isn’t is wholly the responsibility of the director, writers and designer who haven’t seemed to grasp what made the original Dalek story so fascinating – the differences between the Dalek world and the Thal world. Having the Daleks perform the role of invader doesn’t differentiate them from any other imaginary alien, such as those created by H.G. Wells. The purpose for conquest is inadequate for such an ambitious narrative. Most children can figure out the science is hogwash. This, coupled with the dreadful model work, adds up to a very unsatisfactory climax.

    In fact the last ten minutes of the story are not Dalek related at all. Carole Ann Ford departs the show after her character, Susan, falls in love with the rebel fighter David Campbell. Script editor David Whitaker gives her a long send off. Once again Ford has been excellent as the young ingenue torn between two worlds. The blossoming romance is hinted at, but it seems inappropriate among such a bleak story. I’m rather sorry to see her go. The Doctor, with some foreknowledge, closes the TARDIS’ doors on his granddaughter. He justifies his decision to leave Susan on earth by explaining she has always wanted a home and now she is a woman, she must find one. Which is a bit odd given in episode one he thinks she needs “a smacked bottom.” This kind of talk probably went down quite well in 1964 [a sixteen year old would be considered an adult; smacking wasn’t considered abuse] but feels very shallow and extremely callous in 2021. I wonder if the Doctor has really reconciled himself to having a mature granddaughter or if he’s abandoning her because Susan is actually part-human? It might explain the Doctor’s love-affair with all things Planet Earth. Despite promising to return, the Doctor never makes any attempt to contact her again. Ever. Not once. The loss of the TARDIS’ first companion seems unnecessary. The fact Susan is replaced by a similarly disposed elfin teenager suggests there was no need to write her out of the show at all. I’ll fondly yearn for Miss Ford’s enthusiasm and big expressive eyes.

    Finally, I need to mention Terrance ****’ novelisation. Like The Keys of Marinus, I read the adaptation so many times I expected a spectacular, thrilling, chilling, expansive and brutal battle-ride. I so wanted to be transported to ****’ wasted and invaded world, to physically see and hear the sights and sounds he imagined for me and wrote so brilliantly on the page. The transmitted story simply didn’t match my expectations. I’ve watched it twice now and it remains tremendously ineffective. Yes, it has some iconic images, but I want more than sweeping views of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge. I want tension and terror, shocks and surprises. The televised story came across as very ordinary and the presentation uneven. I struggled to believe in the world I was being shown. I like to think I can overcome preconceptions and offer candid views, but I simply can’t agree with those who laud this story.  

    Despite its reputation, The Dalek Invasion of Earth can’t hold a candle to the premier outing of the Doctor’s arch enemy:

    3 from 5.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season Two


    The producers decision to sever Carole Anne Ford’s contract after one year meant a replacement actress had to be found. This ensured the dynamic of irritable grandfather, querulous parents-by-default and curious child was maintained.

    The Rescue is a short two-part mystery set on the planet Dido where years ago an earth space ship crash landed leaving only two survivors, Bennet and his adolescent companion Vicki. The Doctor has already visited Dido and is shocked to discover their civilisation has been virtually wiped out. Bennet blames the creature Koquillion, but the Doctor uncovers the truth, realises Bennet is a serial killer who has been impersonating Koquillion. After exposing the villain, the Doctor invites Vicki to join the TARDIS crew.

    There isn’t much wrong with The Rescue. It’s a very slight story which needs to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt as it seems unlikely even an adolescent would be taken in by Bennet’s deception; after all, he’s never around when Koquillion puts in an appearance. Maureen O’Brien’s Vicki is both smartly truculent and shrilly annoying. The redeeming feature of the story is the climax set in an atmospheric Dido temple. The Doctor abrasively confronts Bennet and the villain is assaulted by two of Dido’s ghostly inhabitants. His taking is so spectral it highlights the planet’s otherworldliness, giving the audience a true sense of the unknown.

    Nonetheless, a fairly inauspicious:

    2 from 5

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,999MI6 Agent
    edited June 2021

    I just watched the Rescue a couple weeks back, for the first time. Reason I watched it: I can never tell apart the young lady companions between Susan and Zoe, and I suspect its because I've never seen the episodes in which they are introduced. I may only be these introductions that differentiate the characters, otherwise they're the "not me one, the asking questions one" (as the Twelfth Doctor once referred to his companion Clara). For exposition and occasional rescuing.

    Speaking of the Twelfth Doctor, I think Chris you said you never got that far? He kept a photo of Susan on his desk next to a photo of River Song, the closest any Doctor has got to acknowledging he once had a granddaughter.

    I generally think when the stories run longer than four episodes they lose structure and get repetitive. For some reason they did a lot of these six part, eight part, even ten part serials in the 60s and even through Pertwee's first season. Its interesting they also did these two part palette cleansers between the epics.

    EDIT: heres the two photos Capaldi's doctor kept on his desk

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    Not being a watcher of Reboot Dr Who - is that what we call it? I have no idea - I have not seen that, so thanks, @caractacus potts . It's rather touching. However, I am watching avidly these Classic shows and I have still found no reference to Susan and I'm up to 1973. Unfortunately IMO, what moments like this tell me is the lack of imagination modern producers have, a pandering need to satisfy fans instead of considering the overall picture of your achievement. I suffered the same trials with Brosnan's OO7 until Barbara and Michael G. did a proper reboot with Craig and told us, the audience, that we are no longer watching the same Bond we watched in the sixties and seventies. I do wish Russel T. Davies had taken this bolder step with Christopher Eccleston and Dr Who as 1) no need to kick up such a fuss about the 12th regeneration, you could have started from scratch all over again 2) no need to worry about any perceived time lines, you're starting the show and the story arc all over again. By example, when they recently rebooted Battlestar Galactica, they took the original series as a starting springboard and provided a fresh and modern take on a classic; ditto the recent Star Trek trilogy. Although I'd personally prefer a James Bond to be as Fleming wrote him, I don't have a problem with a black Bond, as this can be explained (eg. espionage pseudonym). I do though have a problem with a change of sex, which is all to do with satisfying a perceived gender imbalance and not actual character development. Ah I'm rambling on now.

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 3,999MI6 Agent

    wikipedia reminds me Susan reappeared in The Five Doctors (1983), but these multi-Doctor teamup stories require the old Doctors to be experiencing the adventure from their own time as the Doctor, hence from Susan's point of view this would be an Untold Story from the First Season , not the return of the character from after her departure.

    I've just cherrypicked Classic episodes but I believe you're right, aside from that one Special all memory of Susan just disappears. which is why I think that photo on Capaldi's desk is significant. That wikipedia article says the producers forbid any mention of genetic relationship in the Five Doctors script, as they had long since decided TimeLords don't have sex, so Susan is just another hitch-hiker on the TARDIS when we see her again!

    The first departure and replacement of a Companion is cause to step back and look at the grand scheme of things in this show. Especially when its a granddaughter who's never mentioned again. Hartnell is so cold as to lock his own granddaughter out of the TARDIS and abandon her on a Dalek-ravaged future Earth, then the very next episode he's all weepy and so sentimental he pro-actively invites a stranger to join the TARDIS crew just because she reminds him of Susan.

    We generally divide this show up into eras by the change on Doctors, which makes sense. But the change in Companions is a demarcation too, thus the departure and replacement of Susan ends the first era of the show.

    Your comments on perceived problems with 21st Century Who are tempting matter for debate! Shouldn't a show about time travel eventually deal with convoluted self-intersecting timelines? The Moffat produced shows in particular went all in on the implications of time travel, for better or worse (for example that other photo on Capaldi's desk). But we have another thread for that, I am enjoying this detailed focus on the original series and learning lots.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    Your point about Hartnell's rather ruthless expulsion of his granddaughter does hint at a possibility I had never considered: that of fostering.

    When we first meet the Doctor he appears to be an old man; we don't know his specific age but later on in Season Five the Second Doctor mentions he's over 400 years old. Gallifrey years of course. Now, given he's also been travelling about the universe and isn't adverse to picking up hitch-hikers, is it possible Susan is describing another planet altogether when she talks about her home world in The Sensorites. Perhaps the Doctor visited and stayed there for some time. It doesn't remove the alien nature of Susan and would explain why she has some telepathic mental powers that he does not possess. This theory of course harks back to the original intention of Susan to be an alien princess. Could she have escaped with the Doctor for some slight, or perhaps - like the Jedi twins in Lucas' Star Wars - to avoid a perceived assassination attempt? The Doctor has thus been her protector for many years and travelled to Earth in an attempt to try and reconcile her with people her own age and physiological make-up, to 'hide' her. Being her guardian was perhaps too difficult for him to explain to the young princess, so it was easier for him to call himself 'Grandfather.'

    I am hypothesising wildly, but perhaps that was the intention of the writers when they thought up the discarded princess theme. A background such as that - his lines at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth about searching for a home in the galaxy - would seem to fit the event much better.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent
    edited July 2021

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season Two


    Dennis Spooner was briefly the script editor for Dr Who. He wrote swiftly and cleverly and, as well as his contributions to Who, he wrote for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s SuperMarionation stable as well as The Avengers, Man in a Suitcase and many other ITC series. The Romans is the outstanding tale from the Second Season and probably the best purely historical adventure the show ever made. And I make no apologies for declaring that.

    At the end of The Rescue, the TARDIS had landed on its side in a hill forest. The story opens with the Doctor and his companions enjoying the fruits of leisure at a Roman villa. They appear to have been here for some time as all four travellers are kitted in period costume and appear exceedingly familiar with their surroundings and one another. Ian and Barbara even seem to share a moment of post-coital banter. We knew they were getting close, so it’s nice to have it subtly confirmed. The Doctor has taken Vicki under his wing and treats her as a surrogate granddaughter; their relationship too seems warm and affectionate. For once the Doctor has lost that grumpiness of which he always seems too pleased. This prelude to the main action is a welcome change of pace for the show. It’s refreshing to watch our heroes in a domestic situation – albeit one set during the days of the Roman Empire – and one senses their guard has dropped.

    And it has. While the Doctor and Vicki take a trip along the Appian Way, Ian and Barbara are kidnapped by slave traders. Barbara is prized for her beauty and sold as a slave to the Emperor’s court while Ian is packed off to a slave galley. They both share moments of complete despair as they realise they have lost each other as well as the Doctor and a possible route back home through the TARDIS. The reality of life zipping through the stars, of never possibly returning home, begins to dawn on them. It is also the moment they perhaps realise they truly are in love – even if they are separated. These short scenes reveal more of their characters’ romance than any of that furtive handholding Susan was involved in [see The Dalek Invasion of Earth, above]. It works because the audience has identified with Ian and Barbara and their predicament from the very first episode of the show; we have grown with them and experienced all the same confusion, hostility and joy. In fact, these early dramas demonstrate the show was less about seeing the galaxy through the eyes of the Doctor and more about witnessing it through Ian and Barbara’s, which is why they play such large roles in every story, sometimes relegating the Doctor and Susan [now Vicki] into the background.

    Spooner, though, is careful not to make that mistake here. As in his earlier epic The Reign of Terror, the writer utilises William Hartnell’s ability to play comedy and has the Doctor involved in a hilarious bit of pettifoggery. Having been mistaken for a famous lyre player, the Doctor is invited to Nero’s court to demonstrate his skill. The Doctor can’t play a note, so he flatters the Emperor and explains his playing is so God-given only those similarly blessed can hear it. Nero, of course, can’t admit he isn’t blessed by the gods, so he pretends to hear music even though the Doctor doesn’t touch a single string. This both mocks the fatuous Nero and provides the element of education the series was still required to offer. There are similar asides between the two characters, one whole sequence revolves around Nero suggesting the Doctor should play at the Coliseum while the Doctor satirises the gladiatorial Games with a series of double entendres; another climaxes with the Doctor’s spectacles setting fire to a street map of Rome, allowing Nero to muse on the possibilities of arson. These scenes, and others like them, are blackly comic. There isn’t really anything funny about lions biting Christians in the arena, but Hartnell and the excellent, pompous Derek Francis play it with just enough of a knowing wink to reassure us it’s all only make-believe.

    It isn’t a barrel of laughs for Ian. He’s having a terrible time of it with the vicious slave traders, escaping the galley only to be forced into the gladiatorial phalanx himself. Barbara meanwhile is pursued by an over amorous Nero – and amazingly during a scene of high farce at the palace evades him as well as the Doctor and Vicki. There are some moments of tension too: Ian’s gladiator battle, an assassination attempt foiled by the Doctor, Nero poisoning his poison taster, a courtier courageously announcing he is a Christian, Barbara menaced by the jealous Locusta.

    Like all the best comic operas, everything eventually sorts itself out and everyone – almost everyone – lives happily ever after. The companions make it back to the TARDIS after what must have been a good few months in ancient Rome and decide it’d be best to be on their way. Luckily by the time they make it back to the villa, the TARDIS is upright and fit for travel.

    The story doesn’t have a moral, it doesn’t even feature a central villain; its history is a little misleading; there are no monsters; but it works. The reason why it works is because Spooner’s witty screenplay allows us to invest time in all the characters. We see their preoccupations, their greed, their wretchedness, it is exposed and then left to blister in the sunlight. Spooner offers no solutions, he only shows us how life might have been for the ordinary man and woman in Rome compared to the extraordinary. Nobody tries to influence or alter the past or its people, in fact the Doctor in particular plays upon our expectations by ridiculing the buffoon-like Nero – who it turns out is not such a buffoon after all, but as scheming and unstable as the next monster. There is a great attention to detail in the production design and the costumes. Christopher Barry directs with aplomb. The cast enjoy ramping up the farcical elements, but keep our feet firmly on the ground when they need to be there. This isn’t a simple capture-and-escape historical story, it’s a thinly veiled Whitehall farce transported back to 64AD, with all the backstabbing, spurious love affairs and misunderstandings of that theatrical genre.

    Bloody excellent it is too:

    5 from 5

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    The First Doctor - William Hartnell

    Season Two


    From the sublime to the ridiculous. The Web Planet deservedly has an appalling reputation among Dr Who fans. It was almost unwatchable.

    The TARDIS lands on a planet where insect life has grown to enormous proportions and the ant-like Zarbi are terrorising the peace-loving, butterfly-like Menoptera. Sound familiar? Yep, you guessed it.

    The problem with the story isn’t just that it reruns The Daleks, but that the designers have too much to accomplish and fail to do so on many levels. Every monster in this adventure is borderline hysterically funny. The special effects are rubbish. The sound effects are annoying – there’s a loud ‘chirp-chirp’ noise flooding the soundtrack every time the Zarbi appear, whether they speak or not. The lens has been smeared with Vaseline trying to simulate mist or ozone in the atmosphere, yet all it does is make the show difficult to watch. The Menoptera speak in weak, whispery voices for which you can’t discern a single word. The script is terrible anyway, full of clichés and scientific nonsense. I had no idea what was happening from beginning to end.

    I couldn’t believe how dreadful the experience of watching this was. I remembered the book [by screenwriter Bill Strutton] and it was nowhere near as bad. It was clearly hiding sins.

    The Web Planet looks like a case of success going to someone’s head. The budget can’t support what needs to be achieved here and the whole production is a sorry, shoddy disaster.

    An over-generous:

    1 from 5

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,490MI6 Agent

    This is a great thread, chrisno1, I love reading your reviews. Going back to the second dalek adventure, I remember this well from its first TV showing and was enthralled by it, the dodgy special effects didn’t resonate at the time. I remember a letter in the Radio Times complaining about the first episode in that all they saw of the daleks was a brief scene at the end of a dripping wet robot! I enjoyed seeing it again recently, and rate it higher than you, I think the memories of childhood colour my judgement, somewhat. The movie version IS better though.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,490MI6 Agent

    The Web Planet is another one I have memories of. The Zarbi were keenly anticipated, as the story was leaked in the press before being broadcast, and the creatures were scary for a young viewer in those days. They were to be the new alien foe, rivalling the daleks, but it wasn’t to be. It definitely looked better through the eyes of an 8-year old, where sci-fi on TV was a rarity.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,373MI6 Agent

    @caractacus potts The Doctor does mention Susan in The Massacre, but not exactly how you'd expect. When I reach that review, I quote the line, so you'll see what I mean.

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