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.


A Dimensional Analysis


Review of Planet of Giants (#9)
DVD Release Date: 11 Sep 12
Original Air Date: 31 Oct - 14 Nov 1964
Doctor/Companion: One, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, Susan Foreman
Stars: William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford
Preceding Story: The Reign of Terror (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)
Succeeding Story: The Dalek Invasion of Earth (One, Ian, Barbara, Susan)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this story. It's not one that shows up on the common Best Of or Worst Of lists, so I didn't really have much in the way of preconceived notions, but I guess I was prepared to be underwhelmed. It was quite a nice surprise, then, that I found it so engaging.

Let me start with a bit of history. Apparently, the idea that eventually became Planet of Giants - that is, that the crew would be miniaturized, but on present-day Earth - was at one point intended to be the series pilot, rather than An Unearthly Child. Further, it was scripted - and shot - in four parts, but the Head of Serials didn't like it as a four-parter, and so the final two episodes were edited together into one, which is how it was transmitted (this all becomes particularly relevant when we come to the extras).

As a result, there are pieces that don't quite make perfect sense, but overall it hangs together quite well, and manages to combine early environmentalism with murder/intrigue and a science fiction twist (since our heroes are roughly the size of "an inch"). I suspect that when it first went out, the audiences would have been pleasantly surprised by the revelation that a mishap on landing had shrunk the TARDIS and all its occupants that way. It plays pretty well, even when you know what's coming. In retrospect, though, I think it's better that it got shunted to the second season, so the audience was familiar with the TARDIS's usual workings before throwing in this new dimension.


Nu-View #9: Less Ant-i Than Ant-icipated


The Web Planet (Story #13, 1965)
Viewed 05, 19 Jun 2012

Doctor/Companion: One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki
Stars: William Hartnell, William Russel, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien
Preceding Story: The Romans (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki)
Succeeding Story: The Crusade (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki)

    The reactions of the uninitiated never cease to surprise me - and it's not that long ago since I was one of them! When jA declared after The Curse of Fenric that it was the weirdest thing she'd seen, I considered the gauntlet thrown down.

    I'd foolishly forgotten/not checked to see that Web Planet was six episodes long, so we ended up having to split it into two sessions. jA, jO and I were present for both, but jE missed the first time, and L missed the second. Once we got into it, though, the responses were, shall we say, rather varied.

    At first, it was fairly upbeat. The Zarbi were initially well-received ("I love 'em!" "I love how they make electronic noises."), and the exchange between Barbara and Vicki about the state of the art in medicine and schooling in their respective time zones intrigued all the Ladies. By Episode 2, though, things started to go a bit downhill.

    The Menoptera elicited giggles and a "what the hell?" as well as the observation that "those [wings] are made out of shower curtains." Vicki, though I think her personality went down pretty well, came across as "pretty helpless." Then there's the bit when a Zarbi runs into one of the cameras - "that was awesome!" I, for one, love how you can hear the Zarbi costumes creaking as they move (and just think about the poor saps who had to wear them - their backs must have been in absolute agony!).


    Retro-View #2: Change-Up


    The Romans (Story #12, 1965)
    The War Games (Story #50, 1969)
    Viewed 28 May 2012

    Doctor/Companion:   One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki / Two, Jamie, Zoë
    Stars:  William Hartnell, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien /
       Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Wendy Padbury
    Preceding Story:  The Rescue (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki) /
       The Space Pirates (Two, Jamie, Zoë)
    Succeeding Story:  The Web Planet (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki) /
       Spearhead from Space (Three, Liz Shaw)
    Notable Aspects:

    • Two's final story

    So far, G and I seem to be averaging about 3 episodes a session. That could make things "interesting" in the long term. For now, though, it just means we finished The Romans and barely scratched the surface of The War Games (the story that got the most votes in the what-should-we-watch poll). We also tossed in the surviving footage of the first regeneration (and the resolution of the Episode 1 cliffhanger - G's not one for too much suspense) for good measure.

    After a brief recap from last time, we jumped right back into the middle of The Romans. Right off the bat, we get Nero's first sight of Barbara. G's immediate reaction: "You old letch!" She proceeds to giggle at Nero's antics, chuckle at our heroes' repeated near misses, and chortle at the (very bad) stage fighting between a pair of gladiators. She's thoroughly enjoying herself, and I'm enjoying that. Then she proceeds to put her finger on one reason I like this story so much: "every cliché possible is in this thing!"

    Another thing I find so refreshing about watching with G is that she seems to adore the things that put off some folks, like the '60s production values. When she notes that "their set must've been about 10x10" during Ian's gladiator fight, it's said with glee and amusement rather than a roll of the eyes. Her bursts of "this is great!" are not infrequent, and give me that warm, fuzzy we've-hooked-another-one! feeling.


    Retro-View #1: Take It From the Top


    An Unearthly Child (Story #1, 1963)
    The Romans (Story #12, 1965)
    Viewed 30 Apr 2012

    Doctor/Companion:   One, Susan, Ian, Barbara / One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki
    Stars:  William Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Maureen O'Brien
    Preceding Story:  None / The Rescue (One, Ian, Barbara, Vicki)
    Succeeding Story:  The Daleks / The Web Planet (One, Susan, Ian, Barbara / Ian, Barbara, Vicki)
    Notable Aspects:

    • First ever episode

    I've got something a little different for you this time. I have a dear friend of a slightly different generation who remembers watching Doctor Who in its early days. She would have been within the target age range when it first graced the air waves in 1963, but - as an American - didn't really watch until college, and occasionally at that. From what she tells me, she watched off and on, but hasn't seen it in ages - probably since Four's tenure.

    Some time over the past year, we got to talking about Who, and she said she was really interested in seeing what they'd done with it (meaning post-Hiatus). Since then, our plan has gradually morphed into a sort of variation on a theme, similar to and yet different from both my regular Nu-Views and The Experiment of Adventures with the Wife in Space. G is not a novice viewer, but neither is she someone who has followed the show religiously for decades. I'll be showing her a sample of each Doctor and sharing with her what I love about each of them, and she'll be telling me what she remembers and how it strikes her now.

    So here we go!



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