When I started watching classic Doctor Who episodes, it was minor curiosity more than anything, but once I’d started, I felt compelled to continue watching, and then decided that I would watch every single episode in order. Part of this compulsion was probably due to how serialised the episodes are. Pretty standard practise in TV shows these days, but I’m unaccustomed to it in shows from back in the 60s. The only other shows I’ve gotten into from back then are The Prisoner and Star Trek, and both of these feature very ‘standalone’ episodes. You can tune in every week and see a complete story, with no reliance on knowing what happened before. I was very surprised by the ongoing continuity in old Doctor Who episodes. Every episode carries on from the last (although the effect is diminished somewhat if you don’t see the ‘lost’ episodes) and although each story is separated from the next, the characters continue and change.
Thoughts on the first Doctor
William Hartnell’s Doctor is a strange old man with a time machine. He’s a mystery throughout the whole show, aside from learning that he and his granddaughter are from another planet. His character is brash, short-tempered, quick to criticise, but nonetheless a genius. His mean spirit and ruthlessness don’t last very long, and he quickly becomes a bit of a mad giggling nutter that finds every little thing amusing, chuckles to himself, talks to himself, and ALWAYS ends his sentences with “hmm?”.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan. The character is fine, but the performance is rarely convincing. Hartnell often fluffs his lines, which was amusing at first, but I always get the sense that he’s trying to remember the next one. He doesn’t speak convincingly. His “I’m thinking now” pose, where he looks down at the floor or holds a finger to his mouth, always seems like the thing he’s trying to think of is what his next line is. No-one else, even the guest stars, have this problem. When the main character on the show is arguably the worst at acting, we have a bit of a problem. I’ve never seen him in anything else so I don’t want to judge his ability entirely on Doctor Who. I will say that he does some things well and he did have a few excellent performances in some episodes. Saying goodbye to Susan at the end of The Dalek Invasion was one of them.
I would recommended the below serials as the best of William Hartnell’s Doctor Who. There are some other good episodes besides these, like the first Dalek story, but I haven’t included them in the list because they drag on too long. Some stories start well but end disappointingly, like The Space Museum, The Chase or the very first story, An Unearthly Child. I pretty much exclude any historical episode, as these were all much the same, terribly dull, and usually missing some or all of the video footage. As such, most of my picks are from the end of Hartnell’s run, and are complete serials.
The best of the reconstructions that I watched was The Daleks’ Master Plan, which I would still recommend as a good serial, but only if you skip a couple in the middle (the awful Xmas Special at least). Also a good reconstruction was and the final episode of The Tenth Planet, complete with the original regeneration footage. Worth a watch just for that, but it’s also a good serial in itself.
The Sensorites (6 parts, all complete)
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (6 parts, all complete)
The Rescue (2 parts, all complete)
The Time Meddler (4 parts, all complete)
The Ark (4 parts, all complete)
The War Machines (4 parts, all complete)
The Tenth Planet (4 parts, last episode reconstructed)