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[sticky post] Doctor Who and Me

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.

Doctor Who was always on in our house, so I was aware of it from my very earliest days. The earliest Doctor Who story I have any memory of from its original airing is Logopolis, the Fourth Doctor's last adventure – not that I knew that, for many years. It was only much later, when I'd started to rediscover the show on DVD, that I was able to pin down those fragments of memory and identify them. I'd have been four years old, just, when that serial aired in 1981. On through the Fifth and Sixth Doctors, the show was part of the fabric of my life. The Seventh Doctor, though, is the one I remember best from my childhood, the one who came along when I was just the right age to really fall for the show properly, for myself, and be captivated by his adventures. I was 10 when he took over, 12 when the show ended, and have vivid memories of his adventures with Ace, the companion who jumped through windows and beat up Daleks with a baseball bat. How could any 11 year old resist that?

The wilderness years followed, with no new Show to enjoy. We still had our videos and novelisations, there were reruns on UK Gold to enjoy, and the 1996 TV Movie brought with it a brief but delightful resurgence of love for the show…but with no new adventures to enjoy, Doctor Who in general drifted into the background as new shows came along for me to watch and love. It was always there, though, at the back of my consciousness. As an adult, living alone for the first time, a handful of the Seventh Doctor's adventures, so dearly beloved in my childhood, were among the first DVDs I ever invested in. Harder to watch, perhaps, than I remembered, now that televisual fashions and narrative structures had changed so much, changing viewer expectations along with them, but the wave of nostalgia those old stories brought always packed a powerful punch.

Then, in 2005, the show came back, in a new format – filmed right here, in my home town – and I fell in love all over again. This renewed love for the new show prompted me to revisit the classic show of my childhood, and I began to delve into those older stories, which over the years had all blended together into something of an amorphous blur in my mind. I had such a varied experience of those old adventures. Some I'd watched as a child, whether on TV or VHS, others I'd seen bits of (but rarely a complete serial) in UK Gold reruns, others I knew only from their novelisations – and others I knew nothing of at all. What I'd never really experienced was a structured viewing of the show, taking a Doctor or companion and watching their episodes through in order, to follow the progression (or lack thereof) of their story. So I began to explore the show's back catalogue, starting out with some of the stories I remembered best, or those with strong reputations, and then branching on from there.

It was hard going, at first, because it had been so long since I'd watched the old show and TV has changed so much since those days – and of course when most of what we watch conforms to much the same structure/style, we train our brains to expect nothing else, so in order to fully appreciate something so very different a lot of habits and preconceptions had to be unlearnt. It was well worth persevering, though, and it didn't take long for the click to happen – that moment when everything clicks into place and it becomes possible to view the old show on its own terms instead of always holding it up against the new, and from there…well, there's no going back.

Classic Doctor Who was a product of its time and there is no denying that. The show was conceived as a low budget drama aimed primarily at children and was made through the 1960s-80s, in a time when the kind of CGI special effects and post-production techniques we take for granted today could not even have been dreamed of. Structure, format, production values, acting styles…they all appear very dated to the modern viewer and not everyone can see past that. But for those of us who can, for those of us able to look beyond the sound stages, rubber monster costumes and theatrical acting to the ideas and characters that lie at the heart of those stories, the show is nothing but a delight.

I love TV and I love writing about TV, so writing about my rediscovery of Doctor Who came naturally – and this is the journal of that voyage of re-discovery.

My writing for and relationship with the show has changed enormously since this project began. I had no intention, in the beginning, of even attempting a full-series review marathon. No, this was to be occasional reviews only, cataloguing my first impressions, and I was content to jump around from era to era, cherry-picking stories here and there with which to re-familiarise myself with the show and learn a little about each Doctor and his companions. After all, Doctor Who fans repeat so often that continuity doesn't matter in the classic era, that you can jump in anywhere, that we've all come to believe it to be true – forgetting, or perhaps never recognising, just how much continuity there actually was through that 26-year run, and that any story, no matter when it was made or what its focus was, is always best experienced in the correct order.

Classic Doctor Who went through many changes over the years– so many varied eras of the show, each one drawing on the past while also reinventing itself completely – but it was, at its core, one long ongoing story, following the life and experiences of the Doctor, always the same man and yet always so different, as he travelled through space and time with his friends. That story is much more meaningful if watched in order, experiencing the development of the show and the progression of the characters and their stories, as originally intended.

So at last I gave into the inevitable, went back to the beginning and started again, slowly but steadily working my way through the First Doctor era, in order, with a particular focus on characterisation, character dynamics and continuity, the evolving relationships between the characters and the ongoing development of their stories.

The hodge-podge of initial reviews, in the order they were written, are archived, but the focus of this project has changed and I am now working my way through the show from the beginning.

First Doctor
1.01 An Unearthly Child
The Daleks, part 1 and part 2
1.03 Edge of Destruction
1.04 Marco Polo
1.05 The Keys of Marinus
1.06 The Aztecs
1.07 The Sensorites
1.08 The Reign of Terror
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, part 1 and part 2
2.09 The Time Meddler
3.01 Galaxy 4
3.02 Mission to the Unknown
3.03 The Myth Makers
3.04 The Daleks' Master Plan, part 1, part 2 and part 3
3.05 The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve
3.06 The Ark
3.07 The Celestial Toymaker
3.08 The Gunfighters
3.09 The Savages
3.10 The War Machines
4.01 The Smugglers
4.0 The Tenth Planet

Archived entries, in order of posting (newest at the bottom of the list):
1. 1.01 An Unearthly Child
2. 12.01 Robot
3. 10.02 Carnival of Monsters
4. 1.02 The Daleks
5. 6.02 The Mind Robber
6. 12.02 The Ark In Space
7. 21.06 The Caves of Androzani
8. 1.03 Edge of Destruction
9. 6.03 The Invasion
10. 12.03 The Sontaran Experiment
11. 18.06 The Keeper of Traken
12. 6.07 The War Games
13. 7.01 Spearhead from Space
14. 18.07 Logopolis
15. 5.01 Tomb of the Cybermen
16. 12.04 Genesis of the Daleks
17. 19.01 Castrovalva
18. 1.05 The Keys of Marinus
19. 7.02 Doctor Who and the Silurians
20. 5.03 The Ice Warriors
21. 17.01 Destiny of the Daleks
22. 1.06 The Aztecs
23. 25.01 Remembrance of the Daleks
24. 19.02 Four to Doomsday
25. 12.05 Revenge of the Cybermen
26. 7.03 The Ambassadors of Death
27. 1.07 The Sensorites
28. 19.03 Kinda
29. 8.01 Terror of the Autons
30. 22.01 Attack of the Cybermen
31. 6.01 The Dominators
32. 1.08 The Reign of Terror
33. 6.05 The Seeds of Death
34. 13.01 Terror of the Zygons
35. 19.04 The Visitation
36. 2.01 Planet of Giants
37. 25.02 The Happiness Patrol
38. 8.02 The Mind of Evil
39. 13.02 Planet of Evil
40. 19.05 Black Orchid
41. 2.02 The Dalek Invasion of Earth
42. 26.01 Battlefield
43. 13.03 Pyramids of Mars
44. 2.03 The Rescue
45. 8.03 The Claws of Axos
46. 6.04 The Krotons
47. 13.04 The Android Invasion
48. 2.04 The Romans
49. 1.01 An Unearthly Child (re-post)
50. 25.03 Silver Nemesis
51. 1.02 The Daleks, part 1 and part 2 (re-post)
52. 1.04 Marco Polo
53. 8.04 Colony in Space
54. 2.05 The Web Planet
55. 2.06 The Crusade
56. 2.07 The Space Museum
57. 2.08 The Chase, part 1 and part 2
58. 2.09 The Time Meddler
59. 3.01 Galaxy 4
60. 3.02 Mission to the Unknown
61. 3.03 The Myth Makers
62. 3.04 The Daleks' Master Plan, part 1, part 2 and part 3
63. 3.05 The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve
64. 3.06 The Ark
65. 3.07 The Celestial Toymaker
66. 3.08 The Gunfighters
67. 3.09 The Savages
68. 3.10 The War Machines
69. 4.01 The Smugglers
70. 4.02 The Tenth Planet

A timeline of the Doctor, his companions and their adventures

And a random essay: The Evolution of the Doctor

NB: Any screencaps posted in these reviews were made by me. Any other images and gifs used have been acquired in haphazard fashion from around the interwebs; all credit goes to the original image owners and artists.

Coming soon - Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders, The Underwater Menace!

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
blogger_who
Feb. 8th, 2014 12:35 am (UTC)
Interesting that you feel that classic Who is more about plot than character. I'd say that it varies. Ian and Barbara are probably two of the best and well thought out characters that the show ever gets.

Edited at 2014-02-08 12:37 am (UTC)
whatinthewho
Feb. 9th, 2014 07:17 am (UTC)
I do really need to re-write this blurb - it dates back from the very start of this project, when I was just beginning to re-familiarise myself with the show after years of allowing it to gather dust in the back of my mind. I totally agree that the First Doctor era is wonderfully character-centric - but I'm sure you'd agree that the show did become far more formulaic and plot-driven for quite a long spell thereafter.
blogger_who
Feb. 9th, 2014 08:55 am (UTC)
Oh yes and now that I've read many of your other reviews I see that you revised your opinion as you were watching.

Totally random question, do you have any familiarity with Blake's 7?

Edited at 2014-02-09 09:22 pm (UTC)
whatinthewho
Feb. 10th, 2014 10:01 am (UTC)
I'm familiar with Blake's 7 but don't know it well - I remember seeing bits of it here and there on UK Gold as a teen, and have seen part of the first season on DVD rental last year, but haven't watched it all the way through. It's on my 'to watch' list - but it's a looooooong list!
blogger_who
Feb. 10th, 2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
The interplay between late 70's Who and Blake's 7 is so big that Ive been wondering if I shouldn't rewatch Blake's 7 when I get up there and intersperse it with watching Doctor Who seasons. Now I'm easily a year or more away from getting up that far in Who but it was something that I was reminded of while I was reading your reply yesterday which is why I thought that I'd ask. In the states Blake's 7 is even less well known than Doctor Who pre-new series and I've only ever known one other person whose seen it, but it's really good or I should say, it has some really excellent characters. The plots are sometimes...not so great, but hey you're a classic Who fan so you can get past that.
llywela13
Feb. 10th, 2014 09:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've enjoyed what I've seen of Blake's 7 - and even the best shows have their ups and downs, so that doesn't bother me. I've just not had the opportunity for a full run through yet. One day.

So many shows, so little time!

(still the wrong account, sorry)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )