It’s been a while since I wrote about Doctor Who, almost a million years and I greatly apologize for it. I didn’t plan for my break to be this long, things got in the way and I just… didn’t get things done. But having finished watching Jon Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, it’s time.
By 1966, Doctor Who was a well known program and drew millions of viewers on a regular basis. Its success seemed to be confirmed but behind the scenes, trouble loomed overheard. In 1965, the show went through a turbulent year with many rapid changes to the production team and a feeling of discontent permeated the team. Many in the team found it troublesome to work with the aging Hartnell and Hartnell himself found the heavy workload increasingly difficult to cope with. And so, in 1966, following the introduction of Shaun Sutton as the new Head of Serials at BBC, the cry for change was finally heard and it was decided that William Hartnell had to be let go. Unbeknown to everyone at the time, a change that stemmed from necessity would end up becoming the series’ biggest boon.
Chances are you already know of this series but go back ten years and it was a show that languished in global anonymity, a cultural phenomena mostly limited to the British isles. Though I had heard of it it was mostly through thinly veiled mockery and silliness. I didn’t watch it and no-one I knew had ever seen it. In fact, I think my first exposure to the Doctor came by way of Rowan Atkinson. But the interest in Doctor Who had been waning in the eighties and when they pulled the plug in 89, it really was on its last legs. Though they tried to revive it with a 1996 film, ironically its regeneration wouldn’t happen and it passed into memories for most people though it has always had a hardcore following.
But then 2005 happened.
I don’t think anyone really expected it. Sure, the British people were all excited about it but I still hadn’t ever seen an episode at that point and I wouldn’t for another two years. The only reason I got interested in it was that I had heard Anthony Head was in it and when a British friend of mine came by to stay a few days, turned out that he had that particular episode on his computer. So we watched it…
… and I was hooked. Yes, quiver as Anthony Head stares at you menacingly. I’d like to say that Head’s performance was what drew me in, fan of Buffy that I am, but it was the Doctor himself, played by David Tennant, that really sealed the deal. Never before had I question my sexuality as much as when I saw David Tennant take to the screen not just handsome and dashing but dark and menacing when he needed to be.
I finished that season then I backtracked to watch the first season from 2005 and I never really left the show since. It still airs to this day with Peter Capaldi leading the show now though I have yet to see that show due to… well, watching many other things.
So why am I writing this then? Well, I decided it was time to start watching Doctor Who again but by now, if there’s one thing you need to understand about me, you should know that I have a nasty tendency to go over the top with my commitments. So rather than being pleased with another season of modern Doctor Who, I decided it was time to go back to the roots.
Yes, that’s right, I am watching the entire series, starting in 1963 and all the way up to… well, here. Today. Or the future, whenever I finish all 26 seasons preceding the modern revival. For your information I have already made some headway, I just finished up the fourth season today so I figured it was time I actually make something of it and writing a blog post in a vain attempt to gain followers, I mean, to give you something interesting to read.
But at the same time, suddenly writing a post called “Doctor Who – The William Hartnell Years” might come as a bit of a surprise. Especially to the people who don’t watch Doctor Who. In a somewhat funny twist, I think you might actually be the minority these days.
So who is the Doctor? Well, he’s an alien being who travels through time and space in his time machine/space ship called TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which takes the form of a blue police box. If you’re not British, chances are you don’t have a clue what a police box is but that doesn’t matter ’cause it doesn’t really matter to the show either. Just know that it fits in everywhere.
Now it’s been running for 30 seasons or so, had its start in 1963 and we’re currently on our… thirteenth actor playing the part and you’re thinking; how the hell does that work? Well, you see, when the first actor was getting too old for the part, they needed to come up with an excuse to change actors. This ended up being one of the most important aspects of what would one be dubbed “Regeneration” and was what partly made the Doctor and his race of people, the Time Lords, so unique, allowing them to live on for a great long time. Of course, back then they hadn’t really thought all of this out yet and it was called a renewal but the concept was established and it allowed the show to survive another 23 years before being canceled.
Normally the Doctor takes on a companion or two for his travels though there has been times when he went at it alone. Together they travel where ever the TARDIS feels like putting them, going on whatever big adventure they come across. Adventures filled to the brim with excitement, terror, death and sorrow. Oh, did I forget to mention fun? Loads and loads of fun.
Needless to say, the show has since its revival become a huge, international success which in turn has sparked a lot of interest in the old series as well. Although the new series started out keeping the references to a minimum and in a cute sort of way, eventually the fandom got to yet again take part of the old, classic enemies of the Doctor such as the Daleks, Cybermen, Autons and many, many more. And the answers to all of the question you might have can only be found… in the series of old… and Wikipedia.
At first I absolutely refused to watch anything from before the 2005 revival. It looked and felt hokey, cheap and… terribly outdated. And don’t get me wrong, it really is. But again, it’s been fifty years since the series first aired and it was made on a shoestring budget, one step up from radio, so if you have a bad time watching it you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself. It’s not like it’s unexpected.
And then there’s the junkings to contend with.
In the seventies, the BBC decided to clean out their archives and a lot of black and white stuff was the first to go, among them a lot of Doctor Who. About one third of all the episodes from the six first season were discovered to be missing, season 3, 4 and 5 being the ones hit the hardest. In many cases, short clips cut due to censoring and photographs and various other materials have been discovered but in some cases, such as “Marco Polo”, “Mission to the Unknown” and “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve”, there’s virtually no material left.
The only saving grace is that the audio of all episodes are still intact, thanks to fans back in the day recording the audio straight off their TV. These audio recordings have been cleaned up and later released by the BBC so while it’s not the whole experience, it’s surprisingly effective to just listen to them. Like I said earlier, they’re only a step up from radio and that’s exactly what it feels like, listening to an old radio adventure show. To be noted, fans and the BBC alike have tried to reconstruct many episodes from surviving photographs and censored clips to go along with the audio so if you absolutely must have visual stuff to go along with the audio, it’s perfectly acceptable. They’ve also started animating some of the missing episodes to fill the gaps.
And of further note, if you do have an episode of Doctor Who that’s reported missing, Blue Peter, a British children’s show, offers a reward for its return: a full-scale Dalek to have in your very home.
So in future postings, I’m gonna talk a little about the various eras as I go along and explain in further detail what went on, what happened and what I thought of various aspects of the show, starting at the very beginning with William Hartnell.
I hope you look forward to it as much as I look forward to writing it.