Bigger On The Inside: A Quick Start Guide To… The First Doctor
It can’t have escaped your attention that Doctor Who is about to celebrate its landmark 50th anniversary. The world’s longest running sci-fi show began in 1963, and has run on and off to this day. After thirty-three seasons, its 800th episode or so will be simulcast to 75 countries and hundreds of cinemas nationwide on November 23rd. Clearly, there’s a lot going for it, but the sheer size and scope of the show can make it impenetrable for first time viewers.
So if you’ve never seen an episode, or you only started watching it because David Tennant was a bit dishy, here’s the first in a twelve part series giving you a quick over-view of each Doctor, each companion, big name monsters and stories to snog, marry and avoid. We’ll even throw in the spin-offs that ran (mostly) in recent years, to let you know if they’re worth a look. So get your sonic screwdriver at the ready, and delve into articles which we hope… are bigger on the inside…
THE FIRST DOCTOR: WILLIAM HARTNELL 1963-1966
The length and breadth of Doctor Who is so phenomenal, the majority of its fans came to the show late. That might have occurred in the 1970s, when Tom Baker’s floppy scarf ruled the airwaves, or more recently, when Matt Smith’s fringe was doing all the flopping instead.
Returning to the early days of the show can present something of a culture shock, especially as Doctor Who in 2013 is so far removed from the way it was made in 1963, it’s almost ridiculous. The first seasons don’t feature thirteen sumptuous high-definition blockbuster episodes with movie quality special-effects from The Mill. Instead they’re black and white, 405-line resolution, studio-bound ‘as live’ plays, airing for over 40 weeks a year and with as few fancy edits as possible. Stories would last for weeks on end, and any fluffs in dialogue had to be patched over and ignored, rather than screaming ‘cut’ and getting another chance.
What hasn’t changed, however, is the essential DNA of Doctor Who: that it can take audiences to any time, any place, and hop between genres with comparative ease. In its earliest incarnation, there was a determined effort to alternate science-fiction tales of alien worlds and the distant future, with historical tales (usually with an educational element), in which the only trappings of sci-fi are the cast of time travellers.
Said time travellers are led by The Doctor, here far more mercurial than we have grown accustomed to. Played by William Hartnell, he is erratic, cold and calculating, and precious little is revealed about his origins, only that he and a young girl he calls his grand-daughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) are exiles from their home planet, “wanderers in the fourth dimension”. The real heroes of early Doctor Who are curious school-teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and it’s no real surprise that they teach science and history respectively.
It is Ian & Barbara, who introduce the humanistic element to The Doctor’s persona, and over time, he begins to soften up and grow fond of his new companions, eager to replace them when he inevitably leaves them behind. Susan gets dropped off on a future Earth, quickly to be replaced by the very similar young genius, Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), and when Ian & Barbara leave, The Doctor quickly meets dashing young space pilot Steven Taylor (Peter Purves of Blue Peter fame).
As the production team behind the scenes lost its initial stability, with a fast turnover of producers and script-editors, so too, were companions exchanged in quick succession. The latter half of William Hartnell’s reign saw him team up with Troy hand-maiden Katarina (Adrienne Hill), space agent Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh), and the show’s first working class contemporary female companion, Dodo (Jackie Laine), who suffers the unfortunate honour of being dumped off-screen
mid-story because the actresses contract was not renewed. Finally, he travels with 60s sailor Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) and his friend Polly (Anneke Wills), but Hartnell’s ill health was taking its toll, and the producers decided he had to go, and an idea popped into their heads that would see the show handed the technique by which it would last for five decades…
Hartnell’s era was, like all periods in Doctor Who’s history, filled with classic serials, with a smattering of truly awful episodes that are a chore to sit through. It is his Doctor who first met the Daleks and the Cybermen. He had adventures with Marco Polo, accidentally burnt down Rome, and got mistaken for Doc Holliday in the Wild West. The show in his tenure was noticeably a different beast to that it would later become, but accept you’re watching archive television made in another time entirely, and there’s a lot of fun to be had from his adventures. The saddest part is that 36 of his episodes no longer exist as anything more than audio recordings, due to archive purges in the 1970s, but what we do have is the stuff of legends, and long may it continue to be so.
STORIES TO START WITH:
The Dalek Invasion Of Earth: Lots of action, Daleks meandering about London landmarks, and a few iconic speeches from Hartnell.
The Time Meddler: Carry On… veteran Peter Butterworth as a time traveller causing havoc in Saxon England.
The Aztecs: A glorious study in morality as Barbara is mistaken for the goddess Yetaxa and tries to rewrite history.
Marco Polo: Only surviving as audio, this is still a delight, as The Doctor and friends traverse the Himalayas with the famous explorer.
The Chase: Absolutely bonkers comic-book mayhem made at the peak of Dalekmania, taking in alien planets, the Mary Celeste, the Empire State Building and both Frankenstein and Count Dracula. No, really.
STORIES TO AVOID:
Dull as dishwater trio The Web Planet, The Savages and The Sensorites have precious little going for them. Avoid these snooze fests like the plague.