Doctor Who – The Beginning

Hmmmm. Compare and contrast, and all that. Now the dust has settled on the DVD set of the first “new” Doctor Who series, the BBC have issued this rather nice set of the earliest stories in the “classic” series. First broadcast in 1963[1], and restored to probably better than pristine condition by the technology of the Restoration Team, this set is a Good Thing on several levels.

For a start, it’s a joy to see the first three stories with William Hartnell as the Doctor, Carole Ann Ford as Susan, his Granddaughter, and William Russell and Jacqueline Hill as Ian and Barbara, two teachers who find themselves dragged into the Doctor’s adventures. Then there’s the whole geeky fan thing. Documentaries! Interviews! Stuff! And it’s three DVDs in a nice slipcase!

In the early years of Doctor Who, each episode had its own title, and stories led straight from one to the next, with no overall titles as was the case in later years. The BBC had internal codes for each serial, and informal titles became attached to them over the years. The titles used for this set are the ones that were generally in use when the stories were issued on video some years back. So, let’s get down to the main content.

An Unearthly Child

How it all began. Teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright think there’s something very strange about Susan Foreman. She seems to know far too much about some things (science, for instance), and yet lacks basic knowledge that anyone should have (thinking that Britain was already using decimal currency). They decide to make a home visit. Only the address the school has on file is a junk yard. So they wait in Ian’s car, then follow Susan into the yard, where they find a police telephone box which turns out to be much bigger on the inside than on the outside. Susan’s grandfather tells them that he and Susan are exiles, wanderers in time and space. When Ian and Barbara express disbelief, he takes them on a little trip. They encounter a group of stone age people who are having trouble making fire. Much peril and excitement follows.

For something made over forty years ago, this stands up remarkably well. Yes, the pace is a lot slower than would pass these days, but the characters are all interesting, and the basic principles of Doctor Who are there. But it was the next story that really made it happen.

The Daleks

Yes! The first appearance of the definitive Doctor Who adversary. The Tardis materialises in a dead forest on a strange planet. They’re just about to leave when they see a large city some distance away. Ian and Barbara insist on going home, so the Doctor sabotages the Tardis, claiming that a component has broken and needs to be refilled with mercury, which should be found in the city.

In the city, they learn that they have been subjected to a potentially lethal dose of radiation, and that the occupants are the survivors of a terrible war. In order to survive, the Dalek people live inside machines. Yes, those machines. Lots of excitement follows. The Tardis crew meet survivors of the other side in the war – good looking humanoids called the Thals, who are in search of new sources of food.

Battle is joined, sides are taken, and fun is had by all. At the time it was first shown, it had a huge impact, and set the stage for Doctor Who to be hugely popular for years to come.

The Edge of Destruction

A bit of an oddity, this one. A two-part story created to fill a gap, but which served a useful purpose. There was much scepticism in the BBC when the series began, and its run was extended to 13 episodes after the first story. The trouble was that the stories the producers had wouldn’t fit, so a two-parter was needed.

It’s set entirely on the Tardis, and has no guest performers at all. Something strange is happening. People are behaving oddly (or more oddly in the Doctor’s case), and everyone is becoming suspicious of everyone else. Has some alien influence entered the ship, or is there a simpler explanation? It’s all a bit odd, and the explanation for the oddness is a bit weak, to be honest, but it does let the characters develop a bit, and grow closer together. Certainly worth watching at least once.

Special features

Ooooooh. Lots of them.

For a start, there’s the pilot episode. The first episode that was broadcast was the second attempt. The first version wasn’t quite what the BBC wanted, but was good enough for a second attempt to be authorised. Included here are two versions of that first pilot: the unedited studio recording session, and a nicely edited version to give a feel of how it might have looked.

Then there’s an excellent 55 minute documentary on the origins of the series, featuring an archive interview with creator Sydney Newman and new interviews with Verity Lambert (producer), Waris Hussein and Richard Martin (directors) and others. Fascinating stuff.

And there’s Creation of the Daleks, another documentary on everyone’s favourite legless loonies. And a 30 minute recreation of the long-lost[2] fourth story Marco Polo, using edited portions of the soundtrack and photos taken on set. Not something you’d watch again and again, but interesting.

Add in commentaries, and the usual excellent production subtitles, and you have a quite superb set.

All in glorious black and white, of course!
[1] When I was very young indeed, and most readers probably weren’t even born yet
[2] In those days, nobody considered repeating TV shows, never mind video and DVD releases, and video tape was expensive. So lots of old tapes were wiped and reused. There are many missing episodes from the 60s.

2 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Beginning

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who – Genesis of the Daleks : Losing it

  2. Pingback: Doctor Who – New Beginnings | Losing it

Comments are closed.