Friday, March 18, 2016

Whovian Chatter: The Hartnell Years Season One

Ghost here, thanks for joining.

I'm going to be examining Doctor Who... every single episode.  I'm going to take you on a journey through the 50+ years worth of this show, showcasing the good and the bad along the way.  For each episode I'm going to give you a very brief rundown of the plot, how good/bad the story is, and anything interesting about the episode.  Basically I'll just talk about whatever comes to mind for each of them.  These will be a more in-depth overview of the series as a whole so you can see which stories or episodes (if any) you want to check out for yourself.  Today I'm going to be talking about

The First Doctor
William Hartnell
Season One

Season One ran from November 23 1963 to September 12 1964.  It had 42 episodes spread out over 8 stories.  There are a few things noteworthy before we start talking about the individual stories.  For most of the first three seasons, each episode had it's own title rather than just being "Title" Part 1 as later classic who would do, meaning they would have to go back later to pick the best episode title for the story overall from the episodes present.  Secondly the show was originally intended to be semi-educational.  The stories that happen in the past were supposed to teach history and the stories that happen in the future were supposed to teach a scientific principle.  But if you're here for entertainment then you shouldn't worry too much as generally the semi educational angle was ignored or bungled up so badly that you're not really going to learn anything anyway.

Although many of the First and Second Doctor's episodes were lost, Season One was lucky enough to have most of them intact.  Thanks to reconstruction attempts and animation there is a way to at least see a portion of what each story this season had to offer.

Story 1
An Unearthly Child

The first story is An Unearthly Child and it's four episodes long.  The Doctor and his first companion Susan have landed on earth in the 1960's because Susan wanted to experience actual schooling.  Susan is supposedly the Doctor's granddaughter though other works from the novels and even the modern show itself can be sort of vague if she actually is or not.  Susan has two teachers, the history teacher named Barbara, and a science teacher named Ian, who are concerned about Susan because of how strange she is.  They follow her home one evening to a junkyard where they discover the TARDIS.  The Doctor's reaction to his time vessel being discovered is that he kidnaps them and plunges the TARDIS into Earth's ancient history where they spend the next three episodes interacting with and being imprisoned by cave people who are trying to make sacred fire.

The first episode is good... very good even.  It doesn't have much excitement in it but what it does have is atmosphere and mystery.  It's the perfect set up for the show.  Unfortunately the next three episodes aren't that good as it's difficult to do anything interesting with cave people.  Had this been done later on when sci-fi elements began showing up in historical settings it might have been decent but here it's just not.  It's also important to know that at this point the Doctor doesn't know how to pilot the TARDIS and they end up in random places.  So when he kidnaps Barbara and Ian there's absolutely no guarantee that they will ever get back to their own time and place.  As I said in my introduction post, the First Doctor is a bit of a scoundrel.

Story 2
The Daleks

The second story is The Daleks and it's seven episodes long.  While there are many reasons for the show's success throughout the years, the Daleks are one of the biggest reasons as they were and still are a massive hit with the audience.  After escaping from the cave people, the TARDIS lands outside of a city on the planet of Skaro.  The Doctor and his companions explore the city and end up not only getting radiation poisoning but get captured by the Daleks.  With some help from the friendly Thal race, the Doctor and his companions are cured from their poisoning and learn about the war between the Thals and the Dals who became the Daleks.  Together they infiltrate the Dalek city and save the day.

The Daleks is a good solid set of episodes that introduce the true science fiction elements of the show and bring about the most iconic villains in the show's history.  While the scenes in the caves tend to drag just a bit the rest of the story doesn't seem nearly as long as it is.  Check this one out!  The most notable thing about this episode is the whole reason everyone got caught up in the shenanigans on Skaro.  The Doctor wanted to go exploring and lied to his companions about a broken fluid circuit.  Everyone else just wanted to leave as the terrain was creeping them out.

Story 3
The Edge of Destruction

The third story is The Edge of Destruction and it's two episodes long.  The Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian are stuck on the TARDIS and everything has gone wrong.  The TARDIS console starts electrocuting people, the machines are malfunctioning, clocks are melting, Susan begins to stab the furniture, and the Doctor almost tosses Ian and Barbara out the TARDIS doors mid-flight.  However when the power starts to fail, the Doctor realizes they have only minutes to figure out what's gone wrong.  The solution... is incredibly stupid.

Please don't get me wrong.  These two episodes aren't bad at all; I quite enjoy them.  There's a fairly creepy atmosphere to the entire thing and a sense of urgency about figuring out what's wrong.  It's incredibly atmospheric and I love it.  It's just that the problem literally boiled down to a spring on the TARDIS console being stuck.  I don't even have an analogy to explain the disappointment I even have in the resolution.  So I'll just move on.

Story 4
Marco Polo

The fourth story is Marco Polo and it's seven episodes long.  It's the first currently still missing story.  However for the DVD release of the first three stories together, the BBC put together audio, image stills and some existing footage together to add this story as a 45 minute single episode in the special features.  So we get to see a version of it that is a little choppy but has far better pacing than the majority of the Hartnell era combined.  With the TARDIS having been damaged so badly in the previous episode, the Doctor makes an emergency landing where they run across Marco Polo in his journey to Kublai Khan.  Marco Polo decides to give the magic blue caravan to the Khan in exchange for his freedom and drag the TARDIS crew along for the jouney.  Along the way there is sabotage in Polo's camp, and Susan befriending a young woman being forced to marry the 80 year old emperor.  Eventually the Doctor meets with the Khan who lets them go.

I wish this story were still around so that I could see it in it's full glory.  The recreation we do have is a fair representation of what seemed like an excellently written story.  The costumes and production value also appeared to be breathtaking from what I could tell.  If you can track down this shortened version then I would suggest giving it a watch.

Story 5
The Keys of Marinus

The fifth story is The Keys of Marinus and it's six episodes long.  The TARDIS lands on the planet of Marinus where the keeper of a weapon intended to destroy all evil on the planet holds the TARDIS hostage in exchange for the Doctor's help in tracking down the keys of Marinus.  The keys unlock the power of the weapon but if input in a different way it will either explode or wipe out all good on the planet.  Lately the area has been invaded by the evil Voords on a near constant basis so the keeper cannot go himself.  The keys are spread out across the entire planet in different areas including a city of mind control, an overgrown jungle of live plants, a snowy wasteland, and the capitol city where Ian gets framed for murder.

This story is one that most people dislike but I absolutely adore.  The set designs aren't great and the villains of the story, the Voords, are literally just men in wet suits with weird helmets.  However there are several things to like about this story.  The first area where everyone is being mentally controlled is quite good as everyone but Barbara is believing an illusion.  Secondly, while most six episode stories take place in a single location, with this story we get to see many different settings so it doesn't feel like we're just wasting time in the same old place.  Even the court case I found exciting.  You may not enjoy this story but I love it!

Story 6
The Aztecs

The sixth story is The Aztecs and it's four episodes long.  When the TARDIS crew land in an Aztec temple, Barbara gets mistaken for a god in human form.  With her knowledge of all he good things to come from the Aztec people, she takes this opportunity to try and stop their ritualistic sacrifices so that only the good about them can be remembered.  The Doctor tries to explain that this is impossible and the sacrifices are part of a fixed point in time but then gets sidetracked by accidentally being engaged to an Aztec woman.  Ian is meanwhile being trained as a warrior for Barbara's sake and Susan is sent off to school for constantly breaking Aztec law.  To top things off the TARDIS is sealed off behind a wall and the Doctor must find a way to get back to it.

This one is a classic and a must watch.  The fight choreography is a bit laughable but that's honestly the only bad thing I can say about it.  If you enjoy history and the dilemma of wanting to change history but not being able to then you will certainly enjoy this.  It's one of the best.

Story 7
The Sensorites

The seventh story is The Sensorites and it's six episodes long.  When the TARDIS lands on a space ship to find that the people are being telepathically put to sleep on a constant basis, they run across a species of aliens known as the Sensorites.  There has been a conflict between militaristic human astronauts and the usually peaceful psychic Sensorites.  Many Sensorites are dying from a poison and Ian accidentally gets poisoned as well.  It's up to the Doctor to cure the poison and find out the source of all their woes while trying to avoid a rogue evil Sensorite planning to take over the planet and destroy the TARDIS crew.

This story is fairly decent.  It doesn't have anything particularly wrong with it but it also isn't particularly astounding either.  There are three very interesting parts about this story.  It was written by Peter R. Newman, a man who had precious few contributions to the entertainment world and of whom so little was known that for the DVD release they actually included a special feature of trying to track down any information they could about the man.  Secondly, the Sensorites are pretty much the basis for the Ood in the modern series to the point that the Tenth Doctor in Season 4  of New Who mentioned that they originated in the same solar system.  Last, in this story Susan talks about their home planet as having silver trees and the sky was a burnt orange color.  This is quoted almost fully by the Tenth Doctor in Season 3.

Story 8
The Reign of Terror

The last story of the season is the Reign of Terror and it's six episodes long.  The TARDIS lands in what is stated to be the Doctor's favorite part of history, the French Revolution.  As such the story involves a lot of off-screen killings.  Ian, Barbara, and Susan end up in the middle of secrets involving an English spy.  Barbara and Susan end up in jail for most of the episodes, and the Doctor marches around in period appropriate attire pretending to be someone important.  It's up to the TARDIS crew to help out this English spy and assist with the revolution.

This story is just OK.  I'm fairly certain it relies on you to have a greater understanding of the French Revolution than I have so most of this didn't make much sense to me.  Two of the episodes were lost and were animated for the DVD release so we didn't have to just look at still images which is a nice touch!  The best part of this story is the scene where the Doctor gets roped in to doing road work because he has no papers of identification and ends up duping the guy by planting a coin where they were digging and drawing his attention to it.  Check it out if you want to.


That concludes season one.  It was a fairly great start to the show.  Very few episodes were truly bad, but there were a fair amount of stories and episodes that were just ok.  Season one introduced an iconic alien race as well as one of the absolute great classic stories.  Please join me again as we continue to examine all of Doctor Who.

This is Ghost, fading into the darkness
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You can click here if you wish to see my introduction to Doctor Who
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