The Start of Something Wonderful

Review of The Doctors Revisited - First Doctor

In honor of Doctor Who's fiftieth anniversary this year (23 November, to be exact), BBC America has committed to running eleven half-hour (including commercials) specials, each one summarizing the era of a different Doctor. There will be one each month, finishing on or near the actual anniversary of first transmission.

This first month, obviously, we begin with William Hartnell as the First Doctor. Alternating clips of his episodes and interviews with production team members and actors from now and then - including Steven Moffat (current showrunner), Caro Skinner (current producer), Neil Gaiman (writer), David Tennant (Tenth Doctor), John Barrowman (Capt. Jack Harkness), William Russell (Ian Chesterton), and Peter Purves (Steven Taylor) - gives a broad overview of the show's impact both then and now.

Fans already familiar with Hartnell and his stories will find little-to-nothing new or particularly insightful here. Primarily, this special (and presumably the rest in the series) is aimed at neowhovians - those really only familiar with Doctor Who in its modern incarnation. Much is made of how different Hartnell's One is from the Doctor we have come to know and love now, almost to the point of un-recognizability. But he set the stage for everything that has come since.

The are three main segments ("Who's Who," "TARDIS Team," and "Famous Foes"), the first of which explores how Hartnell's Doctor brought a sense of gravitas and mystery to the table, and how this fledgeling show had to establish the rules of time travel, the way time mustn't be meddled with lightly.

Moving on to the Companions, we see how the Doctor is initially merely an "eccentric scientist," while it is original Companion Ian who is the "heroic leading man." When the cast changed, we ended up with a similar dynamic from Steven, who was never afraid to challenge the Doctor's authority (even though he was always proved wrong in the end). But once Steven was gone and Polly & Ben joined the crew, we saw the dawn of the more "traditional" Companion - modern, young, and definitely deferring to the Doctor's authority when it counted.

Finally, the segment on monsters focuses almost entirely on Daleks. Their humble origins (as Moffat put it, they were intended to be another "one-off monster") did not prevent them from becoming either an utterly iconic threat or a catalyst to change the Doctor's attitude toward his role in protecting Earth and her inhabitants. It's a weirdly symbiotic relationship, when couched in that light.

After this lovely (if merely nostalgic, for paleowhovians) retrospective, BBCA aired one of my favorite Hartnell stories, The Aztecs. Putting it in perspective for newer fans, Moffat himself gives an introduction providing a little historical context for what it would have been like to see this story as it went out in 1964.

I have no idea what fans who were, for all intents and purposes, completely unfamiliar with Hartnell's Doctor would have thought after the special and The Aztecs, but I have high hopes that they would come out of the experience with a certain level of appreciation for he who started it all. One really is pretty wonderful when you get right down to it, and deserves more love than he usually gets. Maybe this will get more recent fans to give him a closer look.

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Comments

I watched this when it was on a week and a half ago. I enjoyed the documentary and although I own "The Aztecs," it was the first time I had seen it all the way through (when I started it last year I became sick and was interrupted by a stay in the hospital, so felt I should start from the beginning again).

I have seen a good deal of Classic Who by now, but I did call my brother when it was airing. He has not seen any Classic Who. He was at work, but had set up his DVR to record the documentary and the serial. I have not asked him what he thought yet, but will. It will be very interesting to see what he thinks. I was the one who got him started on the current shows, and he has watched all of the post-Hiatus ones many times. He even got his girlfriend started on them, and she loves them now, too. I feel like my job is done with current Who, but more remains to be done with Classic Who. :-)

Incidentally, today is the first day I see your 2012 book is out. Will order straightaway on my Kindle!!!

By Tree (not verified)

I see I have to order it as a book; that's fine! Looking forward to it! :-)

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

There will be a Kindle edition eventually, but we haven't got it formatted and ready for sale yet. With Gally coming up, we wanted to get the physical version ready to go in time for that, but when things calm down afterward, we'll work on getting the eBook out there, too. :)

By mrfranklin

Well, the cover looks smashing! Gally is in Chicago, right? I have not had the luck of ever going to a convention. They have always been quite far from me. I know Gally is soon, but when does it run, exactly?

Would love to go!

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Yes, the artist who's done all the work for the site is wonderful! His name is Rich Morris. You should totally check out his stuff.

Gally is actually in LA (its sister con, Chicago TARDIS, is in Chicago; it runs over Thanksgiving weekend). It runs annually over Presidents Day weekend, which means this year it's 15-17 Feb. Only a week to go! :)

By mrfranklin

Have a great time! I'll have to wait for one on the East Coast, I guess. I'm less than two hours from New York City, but honestly, I'd rather one in a different city in the east.

I'll be thinking of everyone there! :-)

By Tree (not verified)
mrfranklin's picture

Thanks. :)

By mrfranklin
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