Doctor Who 101: A Viewer's Guide To The Classic Series - Part 1

Hartnell2 The most jarring aspect of Doctor Who€™s first few seasons, for fans of the current series, will probably not be the lower production value, the serialized 25 minute episodes, or even the fact that it€™s shot in black and white. What will be most unsettling (and hopefully intriguing) is the character of the Doctor, himself. Not only is William Hartnell€™s First Doctor significantly older in appearance than Eccleston, Tennant or Smith, there is also precious little about him, initially, that is in any way endearing or heroic. Cold, gruff, impatient, condescending, and even callous, the First Doctor can make Eccleston€™s battle-scarred Ninth seem warm and cuddly by comparison. And yet€ If one looks closely, the Doctor€™s fundamental character is already there: Every Doctor, after all, has his moments of impatience, arrogance, and insensitivity. But while these traits may have been more pronounced in Hartnell€™s Doctor, they, in no way, obscure the eccentricity, the analytical brilliance or the gleam of childlike mischief in the eyes that have become the Doctor€™s most consistent and recognizable traits. And as Doctor Who evolved, Hartnell and the series writers allowed the Doctor to evolve with it: learning, softening, growing into a warmer, whimsical, grandfatherly figure, more reminiscent of the Time Lord we know today. Of course, back then, no one knew anything of Time Lords, regenerations, or other Doctors. Hartnell was The Doctor. The only Doctor. And, even more so than today, his true identity was shrouded in mystery€

The Essentials:

An Unearthly Child (Season 1, Episode 1)unearthly child It€™s hard to imagine what it must been like. Fifty years ago, TV audiences followed schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright as they pursued an unpleasant and eccentric old man into what appeared to be an ordinary police box, only to find themselves in the console room of an alien craft. Though the impact of that moment will be unavoidably diminished for anyone already familiar with Doctor Who, Unearthly Child still possesses moments of magic and mystery that, back in 1963, let first-time viewers know that this show was going to be something unique. Something special. This is where it all started. The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (Season 2, Episode 2) The-Dalek-Invasion-of-Earth-1 The second appearance of the Daleks in Doctor Who, one can skip their Season 1 debut, appropriately titled The Daleks, in favor of this all-time classic. Recasting the post-war, Skaro-bound mutants of that serial as aggressive interplanetary dominators who have seized control of 22nd Century Earth, The Dalek Invasion of Earth is an epic Doctor Who story that, at its best, often feels less like a TV show than a thoroughly entertaining 1960€™s sci-fi B movie. Buoyed by extensive location shooting (there€™s something genuinely chilling about seeing the Daleks roaming the streets of post-apocalyptic London), and featuring some of the Hartnell era€™s best writing, it also marks the first departure of a companion in the series: a heartbreaking, beautiful moment that has become iconic in Doctor Who history. A landmark episode for more reasons than one, it€™s the perfect reintroduction to these menacing monsters that have become almost as integral to Doctor Who as the Doctor, himself.

The Exceptional

The Time Meddler (Season 2, Episode 9)time meddler A trifle of a story, but a thoroughly enjoyable one, The Time Meddler cements its place in the Doctor Who pantheon by being the first episode of the series to feature another Time Lord (Susan, notwithstanding). Slyly setting the viewer up to expect another straight historical serial, when the TARDIS arrives on the coast of England in 1066, it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it should be. Though neither the Doctor€™s race, nor his planet of origin are ever mentioned by name (that was a ways off, yet), the titular time meddler€™s true nature becomes unquestionably clear when companions Steven and Vicky stumble their way into another TARDIS. Light comedy and clever banter abound, keeping the episode€™s energy afloat and allowing Hartnell to display his Doctor€™s comic side. Not really essential viewing, but definitely worth your time€

The Expository

The Tenth Planet (Season 4, Episode 2)10th planet The episode that changed everything. And it would be nice to say that The Tenth Planet, which introduced both the Cybermen and, more importantly, the concept of regeneration to Doctor Who, was a riveting adventure that built to a heartrending climax. But it isn€™t. Truth be told, it€™s as sterile as the Antarctic wasteland in which it is set, as monotonous as the robotic voices of its antagonists. It doesn€™t much help that Hartnell, weary with age and illness, was frequently absent during production, meaning the Doctor spends much of his time sleeping it off in a bunk. Even worse, the fourth and final episode €“ i.e. the one that really makes this serial significant €“ exists only in telesnap form (a series of stills with full audio accompaniment). Only the short few minutes that make up the series€™ historical first regeneration scene, as William Hartnell€™s First Doctor transforms into Patrick Troughton€™s Second, exist on shabby film stock. If you find yourself wanting to just skip ahead to the end, nobody would blame you€

The Execrable

The Gunfighters (Season 3, Episode 7)doctor who the gunfighter Unless you€™ve got a hankering for wobbly American accents, embarrassing costumes, and quite literally show-stopping performances of awe-inspiringly bad Western ballads, you can leave Doctor Who€™s cringe worthy take on the American Western collecting dust€ €œA Town Called Mercy€ it ain€™t€ A Few Extras For those interested in exploring the Hartnell era a little further, you can also check out The Romans, which is good comedic fun, and The War Machines, which €“ embarrassing narrative oversights aside €“ really set up what would become the formula for the classic series. The Crusade and the epic Dalek Masterplan are both considered high watermarks, but the majority of episodes exist only in telesnap form.

Matt J. Popham is an erratic, unreliable writer, an unapologetic intellectual snob, an opinionated political loudmouth, a passionate cinephile, and a near obsessive fan of Doctor Who and punk rock. I also tend to overuse commas and ellipses... If you're on Facebook and a fan of Doctor Who, go here: This is my blog that I almost never keep up with: