Category Archives: first doctor

The Five Doctors

Following on from the 20th season is this remarkable anniversary special, originally broadcast to celebrate the show’s 20th year on the air. To replicate the original experience, I would have preferred to have seen the originally broadcast version, but circumstances led me unwittingly to the special edition released much later, with some of the visual and audio effects updated, so I can only comment on this version.

The Doctors meet!

The Doctors meet!

Much like The Three Doctors, the story is little more than an excuse to get the previous incarnations of the Doctor together, plucked out of time and placed inside an elaborate ancient war game. It’s a shame that Tom Baker decided to opt out and that William Hartnell was no longer alive, as this special really ought to be called “The three and a Half Doctors (plus friends)”, but that’s not as catchy. Nevertheless, it’s a delight to see Patrick Troughton (does that man not age?!), and Jon Pertwee back again, while Richard Hurndall takes over as the first Doctor, and some previously unseen footage from Shada is used to explain the fourth Doctor’s absence. Clever!

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How's that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Trapped within a maze of mirrors, the first Doctor and his granddaughter Susan are reunited. How’s that non-existent pocket of 22nd century post Dalek-invaded Earth been keeping you, Sue?

Despite the absentees, The Five Doctors is a glorious celebration of the show’s history, using every available cast member, reference and villain it can reasonably squeeze into its 100 minute runtime. I genuinely had no idea that a 20-year older Carole Ann Ford would return to play Susan, nor the cameos by Jamie, Zoe, Liz and Yates. And that’s on top of a bright yellow Bessie, Lethbridge-Stewart, The Master, Yetis, Cybermen and a Dalek all running around the battlefield (there’s even time to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow!). It’s a smorgasbord of nostalgia, a who’s who of Who, and it’s quite amazing that it all works so well.

Turlough doesn't have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Turlough doesn’t have much to do in this story, but Tegan accompanies the first Doctor into the tower, while Susan remains in the Tardis.

Essentially, the story splits and jumps back and forth to follow each Doctor and a companion as they each take a different route up to the tower of Rassilon. This allows them some breathing space (as well as time to reminisce with old friends), but it does make the story a little scattershot, never settling in one place for very long, until a satisfying culmination towards the end. The lack of arbitrarily dramatic cliffhangers is a blessing; this is just one epic feature without cuts.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

Sarah Jane is still Sarah Jane, panicked and often hyperventilating. The third Doctor is still the third Doctor, determined and confident. I swear he cops a feel of her boob at one point.

The fifth Doctor is the anchoring point, but he spends much of the story on Gallifrey, outside of the Death Zone, where he uncovers the President’s secret plans for immortality. Yes, sadly, there is corruption on Gallifrey yet again. This is becoming an embarrassing cliché and I can’t blame the Doctor for not wanting to stick around as President. He does get a brief moment to meet his past selves, which is nicely done. You can get a good sense of how the different versions of the Doctor vary. Davison is definitely the least eccentric of the bunch, a normal and level-headed type by comparison. Pertwee and Troughton play their roles much as they ever did, despite the years in between, and Richard Hurndall does a reasonable job of approximating some of Hartnell’s performance, although it would have been more authentic if he’d fluffed his lines a few times and ended all his sentences with “hmm?”.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

Lord President Borusa gets more than he bargained for when Rassilon grants him immortality.

The Five Doctors is hardly a masterpiece of imagination, then, but it’s nevertheless well made and a lovely tribute to the history of the show. The sort of silly-but-fun “why the hell not” exercise I can easily get behind. As it’s a one-off special, the budget would appear to have allowed for better production and visuals. One scene in particular is genuinely great, as a robot ninja busts up a legion of cybermen, teleporting around and lobbing arrows at them, causing them to explode and fall to pieces, arms and heads everywhere. Earlier, a rogue Dalek shoots itself in a hall of mirrors and within its exploded remains is its rarely-sighted grotesque embryo. Marvelous!

Total carnage.  I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan

Total carnage. I bet Hideo Kojima was a fan.

Sometimes logic has to fly out of the window, though. For instance, the second Doctor tricks the illusion of Jamie and Zoe by recalling that they shouldn’t know who he is, since their memories were wiped when they were returned to their time zones. But by the same reasoning, how would the Doctor have remembered that, as it happened almost immediately prior to his regeneration and exile on Earth. He would have had to have been pulled from the past moments before this, but there’s no indication this is the case when he turns up to visit the Brigadier. Similarly, why exactly is K-9 with Sarah Jane? Mk.I was left on Gallifrey with Leela and Mk.II was left with Romana (in a black-and-white photograph). I suppose it doesn’t matter, really; some questions are best left unanswered for the sake of a bit of fun, and this was a lot of fun. Job done.

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The Three Doctors

So, ten years. I’ve managed to watch nearly ten years’ worth of Doctor Who in under ten months. This calls for an anniversary special…

When the very universe itself is threatened by an antimatter-spewing blackhole controlled by an ancient ex-Time Lord called Omega, who can the council of Time Lords turn to to save the day (and every other day)? By breaking the laws of time itself, they pull the Doctors of the past into the present. When one Doctor isn’t enough, it’s time for the power of three!

Omega, the man with no face.

Omega, the man with no face.

This is a very silly premise, purely an excuse to get William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton back for a special event… but I can’t help finding it a lot of fun. Frankly, any excuse to get Patrick Troughton back is fine with me, and he’s absolutely the highlight of this particular serial. He plays it perhaps a tad more jovial than he used to, exaggerated for effect I suppose, but he’s superb.

The Doctor's recorder quite literally saves the universe.

The Doctor’s recorder quite literally saves the universe.

William Hartnell is another matter. In 1972/73, he was very ill, and whatever role they had planned for his character was downsized to some pre-recorded segments, the idea being that he was trapped outside in a vortex and couldn’t join the other two in person. But this does suit his character well enough, as he is able to offer his wisdom and advice from afar. His eccentricities are largely absent here, understandably so – he gives quite a sober performance. I was sad to learn that this was the last bit of acting he did, and he sadly passed away a couple of years later. Quite remarkable that he managed this role one last time.

Trapped outside while in transit, the first Doctor can only offer advice through the Tardis monitor.

Trapped outside while in transit, the first Doctor can only offer advice through the Tardis monitor.

Still, it’s Pertwee’s Doctor that does most of the heroics, but he plays off of Troughton well, and their little arguments are amusing to watch – Troughton obsessing over his lost recorder and Pertwee losing his temper, it really shows the difference between the two of them. Naturally, the Brigadier is mightily confused by the whole ordeal, refusing to believe to reality of the situation happening before his very eyes. But meeting the Doctor he recognises from years ago, and trying to explain to headquarters, is fun. I hadn’t realised, but none of the UNIT lot had been inside the Tardis before this… and presumably, this is the last time they will.

The Brigadier is confused, often. He's great, though.

The Brigadier is confused, often. He’s great, though.

Having put their collective heads together, Omega is tricked into releasing them all and destroying his blackhole. Having saved the Time Lords, they grant the Doctor his freedom, ending his exile, and the Doctors of the past are returned to their time zones. Omega is a tragic character, revered for his work in making time travel possible, but abandoned by the very people he helped, and trapped forever in a world he created but cannot leave. It’s the sad side to this rather fun coin.

And it was fun. I got a kick out seeing these three versions of the character together, as I’m sure fans did back in the day as well. For once, I would have actually liked the story to be longer!

[The First Doctor: Summary + Best Episodes]

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.

Episode highlights

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)

The Tenth Planet

So, finally, I reach the last William Hartnell story. I have now officially seen every single episode with him as the Doctor (including the reconstructions).

Not only is this the last Hartnell story, I didn’t realise it’s also the first Cybermen story. The place is a space probe monitoring station in the Antarctic; the time is twenty years in the future (1986!!!!), and the appearance of a strange new planet in the sky, an upside-down duplicate of Earth that has drifted back into the solar system after millions of years. Apparently, the Doctor explains, Earth originally had a twin, Mondas, and now it has returned.

The original Cybermen. More like Balaclavamen.

The original Cybermen. More like Balaclavamen.

The people of Mondas experimented with combining technology with biology, and purged emotion in an effort to improve their race. The result, cybernetic men (and women, presumably). Unlike the Daleks, whose design is basically identical fifty years later, the Cybermen look a lot different from how I know them. They’re not exactly armour-plated – instead their costumes are mostly fabric, with big chunks of machinery attached to them, and their faces look like they’re covered with a balaclava, only eye and mouth holes remaining. Combined with their disjointed monotone speech (in decidedly British accents, of course), it’s somewhat freaky.

Cybermen in the control room.

Cybermen in the control room.

Totally impassionate, they attempt to destroy the Earth once they’ve “recharged” Mondas with its “energy”. The base’s commanding officer gets a bit crazy and attempts to launch an atomic weapon at Mondas, which would not only destroy it, but probably irradiate the Earth too. As luck would have it, the Cybermen seem to miscalculate, and their world overloads with excess energy and melts away into space, safely. The Doctor, Ben and Polly’s part in the whole thing is little more than stalling for time, but it seems to work.

Ben and Polly watch helplessly as the Doctor collapses.

Ben and Polly watch helplessly as the Doctor collapses.

Unfortunately, the whole ordeal is too much for the Doctor, whose body is growing weak and weary from age and exertion. In fact, in part 3 (of 4), he’s almost completely absent, having collapsed. I suspect this was Hartnell’s body double and Hartnell himself wasn’t available for whatever reason. I admit, I’m not aware of the reason he left the show. He returns for his last performance in episode 4, which is a good reconstruction, and the final regeneration scene is intact.

After a blinding white light, the Doctor regenerates a new body.

After a blinding white light, the Doctor regenerates a new body.

Hartnell gives probably his best performance when minutes from death, his ‘giggling old man’ persona slips away, replaced with a more sober performance, a vague realisation of what is about to happen to him, accepting his fate and finishing what needs to be done. As the Tardis dematerialises from the South Pole, the Doctor collapses inside, and Ben and Polly observe a bright light covering his face, which begins to change… into that of another man.

The Smugglers

Four-parters seem to be the “in” thing now. Despite this being the start of a new ‘season’ (buh?), nothing has changed, and this is unfortunately as frightfully dull as any other Doctor Who “historical” serial so far.

Really, Doctor Who + Pirates can be interesting, if there’s a sci-fi twist, but so many of these early stories are just about the characters getting into trouble in historical settings. It desperately needs some aliens or other time travellers or something. That’s why I liked The Time Meddler but not this.

The Doctor, Ben and Polly dress for the occasion.

The Doctor, Ben and Polly dress for the occasion.

This time, the Doctor, Ben and Polly are in the 17th Century and get mixed up with some pirates smuggling some gold or something. The Doctor is captured, Ben and Polly are arrested, it all ends with a big old fight, before they get away again. I would have been bored pretty much throughout even if the video wasn’t missing – as a total reconstruction, it was just snoreworthy.

Y'arrrr!! Not so smug now.

Y’arrrr!! Not so smug now.

The only interesting thing about it was Ben and Polly trying to figure out where they were, being new to this time travel lark. Oh, and the pirates thinking Polly was a boy, and calling the Doctor “Sawbones”. I liked that. Otherwise, snoooooze.

The War Machines

Wikipedia says this was the end of ‘season 3’… whatever a season was back then. It’s an appropriate enough ending, as the Doctor and Dodo return to late 60s London to discover a new advanced computer is trying to take over the world by brainwashing people and sending out robotic tanks across the country.

In the WOTAN control room at the top of the BT tower, the Doctor puts the computer's intelligence to the test.

In the WOTAN control room at the top of the BT tower, the Doctor puts the computer’s intelligence to the test.

‘Present day’ Earth stories may become an easy way out, but they’ve been fairly infrequent in this series so far, and I rather like them. Not only do we get a look at 1960s culture and references, but the production can be comparatively lavish, with outdoor filming, a large human cast and no need for pokey little wooden sets. Even the British army gets involved!

WOTAN brainwashes people and has them build war machines.

WOTAN brainwashes people and has them build war machines.

This four-part story also features the “brand spanking new” post office tower (BT tower), the top of which is the home of the computer-gone-evil WOTAN. Both the computer and the war machines are very dated now, with their whirring motorised parts, paper print-outs and typewriter noises, but since it’s set in the 60s, they can rather get away with it. It’s still kind of creepy even now.

A war machine runs amok in the streets of London.

A war machine runs amok in the streets of London.

Dodo all but disappears after episode 2. She briefly enjoys the nightclub life with the two new people they meet, Ben and Polly, before being taken over by the WOTAN computer, but after the disaster, she relays a message of thanks and tells the Doctor she’s staying behind. She’s safe and apparently happy to stay, so fair enough.

Having saved the country (and the world?) from the machines, the Doctor leaves, but not before his new companions (cockney sailor boy Ben, and posh blonde Polly) enter the Tardis unaware of what it truly is. Two young Londoners, Ben is a sailor in the Navy, temporarily on leave, and Polly worked with the WOTAN computer. Ben has a bit of a crush on Polly, calling her ‘Dutchess’, and has a cockerny accent. They both seem nice enough.

Ben and Polly meet shortly before joining the Doctor.

Ben and Polly meet shortly before joining the Doctor.

As Dodo departs, I will summarise and comment on her role.
She could have been a constant annoyance, with her way of talking and her disregard for common sense, but she became bearable by the end. Her accent seemed to become more posh over time, and she stopped doing such stupid things. At first, she didn’t mind being whisked away through time and space, as she explained she didn’t have any family to miss her. She went along with it all quite willingly, really – although it did take her a while to realise she had travelled through time and space. She actually thought the Ark ship they first land within was a zoo! Though she improved, on the whole I wasn’t keen on her. By sheer chance, Dodo ends up more or less where she left, in 1960s London.

The Savages

Another four-part reconstruction. ‘The Savages’ is the first Doctor Who serial to not have individually named episodes (instead calling them Part 1, Part 2, etc.).

It’s a shame the footage was lost as it’s one of the better stories. Again, a classic sci-fi trope, an advanced civilization that has come about by exploiting supposedly “lower” life forms. The savages outside in the wastelands, and the more “evolved” scholars and leaders in their vast and impressive city. They drain their life force to feed their intellect, but it turns out that the savages are no less evolved and have merely been exploited all these years, much to the ignorance of the general population.

The savages. Grrr, so savage!

The savages. Grrr, so savage!

The Doctor gets a bit of heavy discussion with the the city’s ruler, who raises the interesting point that all advances in society must be built on exploitation one way or another. I would have liked to have seen his idea expanded on, but ultimately the story comes to end through the Doctor’s apparently strong moral compass being passed into the leader through an energy transference, and changing his mind about the whole thing.

The Doctor and the leader Jano talk about their perfect society for a while.

The Doctor and the leader Jano talk about their perfect society for a while.

The equipment gets trashed and Steven stays behind to unite the two people as one. Given Steven’s origins (settling a new world), I suppose this is a fitting end to his story, leaving the Doctor and Dodo to travel onwards. I had grown to like Steven’s character, so I hope there is a worthy replacement soon!

As an aside, Dodo’s accent has become posher and posher. I’m chalking that up to the effect of the Tardis – it makes every living thing in the Universe a posh British person.

The Doctor gets some of his life force extracted. He's fine, though.

The Doctor gets some of his life force extracted. He’s fine, though.

As Steven departs, I will summarise and comment on his role.
A plucky young spaceman, Steven took over the role occupied by Ian. I must say, I grew to like the character. He handled most of the roles pretty well. He’s just not as entertaining, sarcastic or curious as Ian was. He doesn’t have the same rapport with the Doctor. He’s fun to watch, though. I was sorry to see him leave.
He ends up on an alien planet, helping its wealthy city-dwellers and underclass population function together as equals. Considering Steven was originally en-route to colonise some other planet, he was up the job and it seems like a suitable enough end. He had no ties or place to be, so he didn’t mind staying behind.