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[sticky post] Doctor Who and Me

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My mother was 12 years old in 1963, when Doctor Who aired for the very first time. She watched the show, enjoyed it, and became a lifelong fan – maybe not the kind of fan who obsesses and writes fanfiction and memorises every detail, but the kind of fan who has now been watching the show for 50 years and counting, rarely missing an episode, so that Doctor Who was part of my consciousness from my earliest babyhood, because it was always on in our house. When Doctor Who stories began to be released on VHS, Mum invested in them – not many, because they were expensive and money was scarce, but over the years we built up a bank of maybe two dozen adventures, which were my introduction to the earlier Doctors, the ones who'd already ended their run before I was even born. Rather more affordable were the Target novelisations, and we built up a huge library of over 100 books, which I read over and over as a child. The videos gave me a voice and character for each Doctor, but the novelisations were my window to their adventures, and I loved them.

Introduction continued behind the cutCollapse )

The Review ProjectCollapse )

archive of older reviewsCollapse )

Coming soon - The Myth Makers, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Massacre!

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3.02 Mission to the Unknown aka Dalek Cutaway

Tardis in space
First Doctor Era
Follows on from Season One, Season Two and Galaxy Four

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CORY: There's something very big going on here, and if the Daleks are involved you can bet your life our whole galaxy is in danger.

Overview

Mission to the Unknown is unique in Doctor Who, by both classic and modern standards: a single, standalone episode in which neither the Doctor nor his companions play any part whatsoever, unconnected to the episodes and adventures on either side of it, yet serving as the prologue or teaser to a larger, longer story later in the season. It also no longer exists, the master-tape wiped as per standard industry practice at the time with no copies currently known to survive. As with all missing episodes of Doctor Who, however, the soundtrack still exists, which means that the story can still be experienced either as an audio or visual reconstruction – or, for the fortunate few able to acquire a copy, as an animation privately commissioned by Ian Levine.

The plot, in a nutshell, is this: space security agent Marc Cory and his crew have crash-landed on the planet Kembel, where they uncover evidence of a Dalek plot to conquer the universe. Can any of them survive to get their warning back to Earth?

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3.01 Galaxy 4

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First Doctor with Vicki and Steven
Follows on from Season One and Season Two

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DOCTOR: I never kill anything. Neither do my friends.

Overview

Galaxy 4 marks a turning point in any First Doctor marathon. After two full seasons of complete or near complete adventures, Marco Polo aside, Galaxy 4 – with only one of its four episodes currently known to exist, and that one only re-discovered in 2011 – marks the beginning of a very long stretch of serials that are either mostly or entirely missing, the beginning of a long stretch of stories that can be experienced only as audio or reconstruction. Like Marco Polo before it, there are two reconstruction possibilities. For those daunted by the prospect of numerous reconstructed episodes in a row, a cut-down version of the story was made available on the special edition of The Aztecs, incorporating telesnaps, CGI, surviving footage and that single extant episode into a single streamlined production. For completists who would rather experience the entire story, however, full reconstructions of all four episodes, put together by fans – no mean feat, considering how little visual information exists for this story – are available online. Nothing can make up for not being able to see the actors' performances, of course, and the recovery of that one episode drives that point home loud and clear, but it's better than nothing.

Additionally, this was the last full serial to be overseen by the show's pioneering first producer, Verity Lambert, and the impact of that change will be felt throughout the season to come, which is very much a transitional, experimental period in the show's history.

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The Verdict

Unrelentingly pulp science fiction in nature and handicapped by the loss of most of its episodes, Galaxy 4 isn't the strongest outing for the First Doctor and his latest set of companions, but there are nonetheless some really interesting ideas and themes at play here. This is a story about prejudice and preconception, and the importance of not judging a book by its cover – or an alien by first impressions! The story is high concept, over-ambitious, lacking zest in the execution yet imbued with a certain charm nonetheless – fairly typical First Doctor era then!

Doctor Who Season 2 - in review

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Season 1

Doctor Who's second season was a time of both consolidation and change for the show, which by 1965 was firmly cemented in the Saturday teatime viewing schedule – a new episode every week for 10 months of the year. During nine adventures told over 39 episodes, season two saw the start of what has since become a well established tradition of cast change, as the Doctor's beloved granddaughter Susan left to start a new life with David Campbell on 22nd century Earth, while schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright later returned to their home in London 1965, their places aboard the TARDIS taken by futuristic orphan Vicki and space pilot Steven Taylor.

This is a lovely era of the show, it really is. The cast, writers and production team were now well settled in, telling wonderfully varied stories – still early enough in the show's run to feel fresh and ambitious rather than formulaic. With each adventure written to follow on from the last as one long ongoing story, a story more focused on character than on plot, there is a sense of continuity and development that feels almost modern, albeit distinctly 1960s in style and delivery, and I've tried to capture that in these reviews, delving into the characters, their experiences and evolving dynamics.

Doctor Who fans often tell new viewers to pick and choose which serials to watch, blithely claiming that it is okay to jump in anywhere and to skip around at random, and to be sure that is one way of becoming familiar with the show and getting a taste for the different eras...but any show is best experienced in order, and classic Doctor Who is no different, the First Doctor era in particular. Watching these early seasons in order is the only way to truly get to know these characters and the ongoing story of their adventures together, and my shift in focus on this review project reflects that. When I began this project I was content to skip from era to era as the fancy struck me, but my relationship with the show and its characters has changed a lot since then, and now that I know them so well and have grown to love them so much, I want to really do them justice. The only way to do that is to do a proper review job, start to finish, in order - two seasons down, only a couple of dozen still to go...

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2.01 Planet of Giants
2.02 The Dalek Invasion of Earth
2.03 The Rescue
2.04 The Romans
2.05 The Web Planet
2.06 The Crusade
2.07 The Space Museum
2.08 The Chase
2.09 The Time Meddler

2.09 The Time Meddler

Doctor1
First Doctor with Vicki and Steven
Follows on from Season One, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Crusade, The Space Museum and The Chase

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DOCTOR: You know as well as I do the golden rule about space and time travelling: never, never interfere with the course of history.

Overview

This is the first adventure in a whole new era of the show, following the departure in The Chase of Ian and Barbara, the Doctor's first human companions. Reaching The Time Meddler in an ongoing First Doctor marathon, by rights I should be in mourning for the loss of that pair, who I adored, and I certainly do miss them…but not too much, though, because, as the first instalment of that new era, The Time Meddler is a real treat with which to end the second season of the show. It is adorable, it really is: very cleverly written and chock-full of humour and cheeky wit. Everyone is on. With Ian and Barbara gone, the Doctor (with Hartnell the last man standing of the original cast) steps up to truly become the primary hero of the show, having started out more as the catalyst for their heroics, Vicki graduates from being the child of the team to the seasoned old hand opposite Steven Taylor's newbie, while Steven himself immediately settles into a somewhat combative and tremendously fun dynamic with them both.

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The Verdict

The Time Meddler is a game changer, in many ways, the start of a whole new era of the show. A new TARDIS team, with the last of the original companions having departed, a new style of historical storytelling, and a new approach to the impact of time travel on history, not to mention the introduction of the idea that the Doctor is not unique, our first glimpse at another rogue Time Lord (although not yet given that name), and our first glimpse of another TARDIS. It's all really huge stuff, woven into a beautifully put-together story full of humour and heart.

As previously seen in The Romans, writer Dennis Spooner's style of historical storytelling tended to be very tongue-in-cheek, in stark contrast to the writing of David Whitaker or John Lucarotti, and his witty, ironic approach is in full force here, resulting in a wonderfully comic adventure which is, at its heart, all about the characters, their personalities and dynamics. Is it flawed? Yes, of course it is, in the same way that all television is flawed in some way or another. But that doesn't matter, it really doesn't, because it is such a lovely story and so beautifully put together, full of sparkling performances and great fun to watch.

2.08 The Chase - Part One

Tardis in space
First Doctor with Ian, Barbara and Vicki
Follows on from Season One, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Crusade and The Space Museum

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DOCTOR: "I shall miss them. Yes, I shall miss them, silly old fusspots."

Overview

The Chase is the end of an era – in many ways, the end proper of the first era of Doctor Who. Susan's departure earlier in the season saw the first companion change for the show, but it was a fairly direct swap, Susan for Vicki, and while the personalities were very different, the basic group dynamic of the show wasn't altered by the change. The Chase, however, sees the departure of both Ian and Barbara, the Doctor's first ever human companions, and nothing will ever be quite the same again.

I love The Chase. I really do. Sad though I am to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara, I just love watching this adventure, all six episodes. Never mind the plot, I love the humour of this very comical story – the first and only time the Daleks have ever been used for comedy! I love the banter among the characters. I love how much time we get to spend with the Doctor and his companions just hanging out, living their lives aboard the TARDIS, teasing each other and enjoying one another's company – and I especially love how those very domestic scenes bring Ian and Barbara's sudden decision to return home to Earth into sharp relief. We need those lengthy scenes of everyday life aboard the TARDIS to underscore just how much these people have become a family, to remind us that they aren't just travelling around having adventures, they are living together, they've built a life and a family together, and they've come so very far since the acrimony of the day Ian and Barbara first met the Doctor. It adds so much weight to the emotional impact of their decision to return home, now that they finally have the opportunity – the culmination of their character arcs over almost two seasons and 70 episodes of the show.

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On to Part Two
(apologies for length!)

2.08 The Chase - Part Two

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(continued from Part One)

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The Verdict

Overall and taken as a whole, The Chase has flaws abundant. Of course it does. This story was made in 1965 and it shows, so if you're looking for a sophisticated and emotive, tightly plotted and well-structured drama made to the modern style, you are going to be disappointed. The Chase was never trying to be any of those things, however. It is a piece of 1965 children's telly constructed as a six-part serial that was only ever intended to be funny, zany and exciting, the build-up to Ian and Barbara's departure, and in that it succeeds brilliantly. Overall, it is super fun, moves at a brisk pace, has some wonderful character interaction, and builds up to one of the best companion departures ever. What's not to love?

2.07 The Space Museum

Tardis in space
First Doctor with Ian, Barbara and Vicki
Follows on from Season One, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans, The Web Planet and The Crusade

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IAN: "Doctor, why do you always show the greatest interest in the least important things?"
DOCTOR: "The least important things sometimes, my dear boy, lead to the greatest discoveries."

Overview

The Space Museum is rather an odd one. It isn't widely loved among the fandom, generally regarded as slow-moving and clunky, both of which it certainly is, while William Hartnell's health problems and memory lapses are particularly apparent – I sometimes wonder how much of the First Doctor's dottiness was always intended to be part of the character, and how much it was written into the scripts because of and as a cover for Hartnell's own failing memory. Yet when watched as originally intended, one episode at a time, there is a charm to the story that is unique to this period of the show, and this is very much a light-hearted, humorous offering to follow on from the gritty period drama that was The Crusade. While the guest cast and the clunky writing might leave something to be desired, the regulars are absolutely delightful here, running a whole gamut of emotion: fear, anger, confusion, playfulness, fun, rebellion, stoicism, despair, bravery and endurance. They always give their all to the material and sell it absolutely straight, delivering convincing performances no matter what.

This story is also significant as it marks the first time the show ever attempted to deal with what we would now call 'wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey' themes, and without faltering first efforts like this to feel out the boundaries of such concepts and lay groundwork for future writers to build on, we might not have some of the more complex storytelling we take for granted today.

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The Verdict

Overall and taken as a whole, The Space Museum might not be among my favourites, but I enjoy it nonetheless for its humour and character dynamics, as well as for the eerie atmosphere it achieves early on and for its intriguing timey-wimey themes.

2.06 The Crusade

Barbara and Ian
First Doctor with Ian, Barbara and Vicki
Follows on from Season One, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Rescue, The Romans and The Web Planet
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Overview

Here's a thing that makes me happy. Inside the Lost in Time DVD boxset, released in 2004, is a little booklet explaining the contents. The first line of this booklet reads thus: 'Thousands of television programmes made during the 1960s, including 108 episodes of Doctor Who, no longer exist'. As I write this, ten years later in 2014, that number is now down to 97 missing episodes of Doctor Who, and who knows, maybe more will be found and made available in the future. We can only hope. As things stand, the sixth adventure of Doctor Who's second season, The Crusade, is currently not available as a DVD release in its own right, because only two of its four episodes still exist. Those two episodes – the first and third of the serial – are available to watch on the Lost in Time boxset, while the remaining two episodes may be experienced either as soundtrack only (also available on the boxset) or as an unofficial reconstruction put together by fans and available online, the soundtrack matched to still images – usually set photos and telesnaps taken during recording.

After the extreme science fiction of The Web Planet, The Crusade sees a return to one of the iconic genres of the First Doctor era, the pure historical, set in the Holy Land at the height of the conflict between Richard the Lionheart of England and Sultan Saladin, leader of the Saracens. I am not going to get into any discussion here of the more politically contentious elements of this serial, namely the 'blacking up' of white actors to portray Saracens; unacceptable today, in 1965 this would have been seen as a perfectly normal thing to do, no different from actors dressing up as Zarbi and Menoptra in the previous serial. Times change and the material is what it is; alongside the 'blackface', this story also features non-white actors for the first time in the show's history. Progress takes small steps. I'm also not going to concern myself with the historical accuracy of the story. My interest is in the story itself and what it tells us about the characters and this is a character-centric adventure of the kind I always enjoy – not character-focused in the modern sense of delving into the psyche and backstory of a particular character, but in that the story focuses on following the experiences of the characters. The story isn't about what happens; it's about what the characters do.

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The Verdict

I really enjoy this serial, even if only half of it still exists – more to the point, I enjoy it enough not to care in the slightest about plot holes, implausible timelines or 1960s production values. The story is so well told, almost Shakespearean in parts, that you can get all the way to the end before you realise how little actually happened. If your interest lies in event plotting, in which the story revolves around a clear-cut set-up, investigation and resolution, then this probably won't be to your taste. Early Doctor Who adventures very often didn't tell that kind of story, however; as often as not, plots weren't so much about an event as they were experience. The point of this story isn't to get from plot point to plot point to dramatic conclusion as fast as possible, but to spend time with our heroes in the context of this historical landscape, watching them meet new people, face new challenges and experience life in another culture. King Richard and his court, Sultan Saladin and his court, merchants, traders, and bandits – this story boasts a wide repertoire of memorable characters that our protagonists meet along the way, the story a snapshot of those lives and that culture, that time in history, as experienced by the Doctor and his companions, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

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