I’m sure I can’t be the only one who, faced with months of waiting for a new Doctor Who episode, and having seen those tantalising glimpses of other Doctors in The Name Of The Doctor, went off in search of an alternative Doctor Who fix.
There are many theories as to how best to get into ‘classic’ Who; I used a combination of receommended viewing lists found on the internet, half remembered episodes from my youth, and what was cheap on amazon that day to start my own collection of Doctor Who DVDs. One obvious choice for me though, was the three volume The Beginning box set, which brought the first three serials from 1963 together for anyone wanting a real history lesson. And so that is where we shall start: at the beginning.
Now, I have absolutely no frame of reference for what TV was like in 1963; by modern standards the pacing, the effects, and some of the acting looks pretty amateurish, but for the most part, once I got into the story, none of that mattered. I was able to sit back and enjoy it for what it is: escapist television fantasy from 50 years ago.
Eh? Doctor who? What’s he talking about…?
On which subject, my observation was that it didn’t look 50 years old – at least in terms of picture quality. The remastering process has presumably come into its own in making these early episodes available to a new generation.
The first episode, An Unearthly Child, sets out the stall for the series to come. The title comes from Susan Foreman, an unusually gifted 15 year old who has some fairly obvious gaps in her knowledge. In an effort to find out why this might be, two of her teachers from Coal Hill School pay a visit to her home. Which, it turns out, is a scrap yard, within which they find a police call box… and the rest, as they say, is wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.
Which brings me to an important observation. In the beginning, the Doctor is… well, less fun than his later incarnations. This is a Doctor with a dark side; in the first episode he basically kidnaps the curious teachers (Ian Chesterton and Barabra Wright) when they make their way into the Tardis. He is superior to them, and my gosh don’t he know it. Human morals appear to mean nothing to him, and although that might change as the Doctor matures and regenerates, his tendency to make his own rules up is there from the outset.
This pilot episode also gives us our first clue who the Doctor and Susan are: exiles, wanderers in the fourth dimension, cut off from their planet and their civilisation. Why, we don’t know; maybe even the Doctor’s own people think he’s a miserable old git.
We are also introduced to the ‘bigger on the inside’ concept of the Tardis; it seems to me that this incarnation of the control room – complete with food (well, near-food) replicator – is a lot bigger than those I remember from Four to Seven. Susan reveals that she came up with the name ‘Tardis’; that, for me, is going to take quite some timey-wimey stuff to make happen, but, well, this is Doctor Who.
Now, unless you are a Time Lord too, I’ve probably taken up enough of your time. I’ll share some more thoughts about these episodes another time.