Happy 52nd Birthday Doctor Who!!!

It was on this day, fifty-two years ago, that the very first ever episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, was broadcast by BBC One, on the evening of Saturday, 23rd November, 1963. The world of television sci-fi would never be the same again.

This story introduces us for the very first time to a strange, mysterious young girl Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford) and her even stranger grandfather (played by William Hartnell), who both turn out to be aliens, from somewhere else in time and space. This strange old man would later become known to all of us as the very first Doctor, albeit a much more abrasive, alien, and less cuddly Doctor than most of his successors. We also get to meet the two unwilling new human companions, Ian Chesterton (played by William Russell) and Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill), who are to become not only the eyes and ears of the audience on the adventures with the Doctor and Susan, but also the very close friends of the two alien central characters.

The first episode of this four-parter is an excellent piece of television, and very different in tone to everything that comes afterward. To a viewer back in 1963, it would’ve been a strange story indeed, as they would’ve had absolutely no idea who the old man and his granddaughter were, what they were doing living in a police telephone box in an old junkyard, or what the hell was going on in general. The new viewer would’ve been just as curious and mystified as Ian and Barbara, as they stepped onto the TARDIS for the first time, taking a huge leap sideways into the twilight zone (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun).

We’d all have been just as shocked and confused as both frightened schoolteachers are at the end of the first episode, as they are whisked off (kidnapped is nearer the truth) into time and space on their very first adventure with the Doctor and Susan. To the jaded modern audience, all of this is probably no big deal nowadays, but back then, there was absolutely nothing like it on British television. What must it have been like watching that for the very first time? It must’ve been an incredible experience.

I didn’t get to see An Unearthly Child until almost twenty years after it was first televised, when it was first repeated on BBC Two, in November 1981. I was much too young to have seen it back in 1963, only a little nipper, really – the third episode, “The Forest of Fear”, was aired on my third birthday, 7th December 1963. It would be another two or three years after that before I would be old enough to start noticing Doctor Who on television, and my very earliest vague memories of the series come from about 1965-66. Ever since then, the show has been a life-long obsession of mine, and today I could never conceive how my life would ever have been without Doctor Who in it. But I’m so envious of those old codgers who do remember watching the very first ever episode way back on that cold November evening in 1963.

So I’d like to finish off by wishing my very favourite sci-fi series of all time a VERY Happy 52nd Birthday. And long may it continue.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOCTOR WHO!!!!.

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Doctor Who – The Beginning (DVD Box Set)

The Beginning UK DVD

Recently, I decided to conduct an interesting experiment in total immersion in classic Doctor Who, go right back to where it all started, and start watching my Doctor Who DVDs in order, starting with the earliest episodes first.

Well, you can’t get any earlier than The Beginning three-disk DVD Box Set, which contains the first three Doctor Who adventures, starring (of course) William Hartnell as the First Doctor, his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), and the very first companions, Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill).

The Beginning is an excellent box set, and the three stories it contains – the first thirteen episodes of the classic series – are, fortunately, complete, with no episodes missing. It’s the fourth Doctor Who adventure, Marco Polo, before we run up against the first of the Missing Episodes. Unfortunately this classic Doctor Who historical adventure is entirely missing from the BBC Archives, although it still exists in audio format.

The Beginning US DVD

The three stories in the box set – An Unearthly Child, The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction – lay the foundations of everything that came afterwards, from the first appearance of the mysterious Doctor and his granddaughter, to the first appearance of his most iconic adversaries, the Daleks. There are also quite a few fascinating featurettes on the three DVDs, a few of them oriented around the behind-the-scenes developments during those dim and distant days when the series was first created. Fascinating stuff!

I will be posting my thoughts here in this blog about each individual story as I watch the DVDs. I would also recommend that anyone who considers themselves a serious Doctor Who fan should do the same as I’m doing, and watch these earliest episodes, in sequence, maybe one a day to get more of the feel of their original appearance on television. Sure, these old stories can be a bit slow and are radically different from modern frenetically-paced Doctor Who, but they’re also the well from which all modern Doctor Who springs.

I find these early classics absolutely fascinating, both as television and as historical artifacts, and I strongly believe that they are required viewing for all true Doctor Who fans.

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Four)

Last time out, I mentioned having a nice evening in watching a couple of classic Doctor Who DVDs, namely the first and third stories from Season 16’s Key to Time sequence, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ve already given my views on The Ribos Operation, So, on now to The Stones of Blood.

The Stones of Blood has always been, by far, my favourite story from the Key to Time sequence, and is one of my Top 3 from the Graham Williams era. It features an excellent script by David Fisher, and a great cast, with particularly strong performances not only by the regular cast, but by fantastic supporting characters Professor Emilia Rumford (played by Beatrix Lehmann) and Vivien Fay/Cessair of Diplos (played by Susan Engel).

I found the aliens in this story to be pretty interesting. I loved the idea that the Ogri (the Stones in the title of the story) were a silicon-based lifeform that fed on blood. A pretty good variation on the vampire theme. I really wish the Ogri had made a reappearance in the series, rather than being “one-hit wonders”. Likewise the alien justice machines, the Megara. And the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess who is actually 3,000 year-old alien escaped prisoner Cessair of Diplos, who carries the Great Seal of Diplos, which is actually the next section of the Key to Time, and who also controls the Ogri. And the alien prison ship itself, which is in hyperspace, but which also happens to occupy the exact same space in our world as that between the stones. Entertaining and fascinating sci-fi concepts – this story is positively overflowing with them.

There’s even the almost-compulsory cult, led by their crazy High Priest (de Vries), who worship and serve the Cailleach. Doctor Who seems to have an obsession with taking pokes at cults and religions, which is all fine by me, as I tend to share those views. As a matter of fact, there are TWO stories featuring cults in the Key to Time sequence, the other one being the hilarious Swampies in The Power of Kroll. The scene where the cult are about to sacrifice the Doctor also gives us one of the best lines in the series, as Tom Baker looks up at de Vries, who has a knife raised in the air, and says “I hope that knife has been properly sterilised”. Cracking line! 🙂

Overall, The Stones of Blood is a fantastic story, full of inventive ideas, good acting, and which moves along at a cracking pace. It’s one of the very few Doctor Who stories from the Graham Williams era that I’d argue holds its own against the classic Hinchcliffe era of the series. Great stuff!

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Three)

Last night I had another Doctor Who DVD-watching session, swinging back to the Tom Baker Doctor again. I watched a couple of Graham Williams-produced stories from his second season, this time concentrating on two of the tales from the Season 16 Key to Time sequence, the first and third stories respectively, The Ribos Operation and The Stones of Blood. I’ll give my views on The Ribos Operation this time out, and leave The Stones of Blood for the next post.

The Ribos Operation is a pretty decent story, if a little slow and lacking in excitement. The main plus points are the strong script and excellent cast. There is a new main supporting character and companion joining the Doctor and K-9 Mark II (voiced by John Leeson), in the form of the elegant and gorgeous Mary Tamm as Time Lady Romana. We also have the first appearance of an occasional recurring character, the White Guardian (played by Cyril Luckham). The rest of the supporting cast was also very capable, with particularly strong performances from the two lovable rogues Garron and Unstoffe (played by Iain Cuthbertson and Nigel Plaskitt), the main bad guy’s right-hand man Sholakh (played by Robert Keegan), and the old hermit Binro (played by Timothy Bateson). I really liked the exchanges between Unstoffe and Binro.

The negative cast performances stem mostly from the almost compulsory late-Tom Baker/Williams era failing of overly-melodramatic and ham acting from some actors. The Spam Awards for this story go, in particular, to The Seeker (played by Anne Tirard) and the annoyingly exaggerated cartoon villain/insane galactic ex-tyrant ruler the Graff Vynda-K (played by Paul Seed). This type of pantomime acting has always been one of the things that I find really irritating in Doctor Who, and I really do consider it the bane of the classic series.

And then there’s Prentis Hancock, playing the Shrieve Captain. Prentis is a lovely bloke, but every time I’ve seen him in any television role (and I’ve seen him in quite a few), he seems to play the same brooding, angry, unsociable stereotype. I dunno whether he’s just been typecast in that role, or it’s simply because he’s lazy and is comfortable playing the same part over and over again, but I don’t recall ever seeing him do any other character than the same stereotype that he’s played so many times in Doctor Who and elsewhere. Even as a regular cast member on Space: 1999, most of the time he seemed to be playing a barely slightly more mellow version of the same grumpy, permanently angry character.

Last but not least, let’s not forget this story’s scary monster, the Shrievenzale, which was about as scary as Kermit the Frog, if you ask me. In other words, complete crap. The Shrievenzale is one of those Doctor Who monsters which is very dodgy-looking and barely any better than the infamous Myrka from Warriors of the Deep.

Still, aside from those few small quibbles, I quite enjoyed The Ribos Operation. Next time out, I’ll be giving my views on The Stones of Blood.

Another Doctor Who Night In (Part Two)

In my last post I detailed my latest recent DVD-watching binge of Doctor Who stories, the recent choices all being Tom Baker stories. Last night I watched a couple more Doctor Who stories, switching this time to Jon Pertwee and the two Auton classics, Spearhead from Space (Special Edition) and Terror of the Autons, as featured on the Mannequin Mania DVD box set.

Spearhead from Space is one of my favourite Pertwee stories. When Jon Pertwee fell out of the TARDIS, almost exactly one month after my ninth birthday, I wasn’t too pleased. I’d been a Pat Troughton fan since I first started really paying attention to Doctor Who back in 1966 or so, at the young age of five-going-six years old. Up until that point in my life, he was the only Doctor I’d known, as I’d been too young to really remember Hartnell, although I’d doubtless seen a few of his as well, and had a view brief flashes and memory fragments of several stories.

So when Troughton left, and this new guy, Pertwee, took over, I was not a happy camper. But that mood didn’t last for long. By the end of the first episode of Spearhead, I’d completely forgotten about Troughton, and Pertwee was now most definitely The Doctor in my eyes. The sheer excellence of the story itself greatly eased the transition, and at that tender age, I found the concept of the Nestene Consciousness, and in particular the Autons, very scary and unnerving. For years afterwards, I was extremely nervous whenever I walked past any department store window. My young imagination already had the shop front dummies ready to smash through the windows and grab me. 🙂

Terror of the Autons is also a good story, but it never quite had the same impact on me as Spearhead from Space, although to this day, I still hate plastic flowers, plastic chairs and telephone cables. 🙂 The Autons in this one (except for the cops) weren’t quite as frightening as those in Spearhead. With their massive heads and their circus background, they looked faintly silly and ridiculous, although the fight sequences with the UNIT troops were excellent.

However, this was the story that first introduced The Master, played by the late, great Roger Delgado, who quickly became a great favourite of mine. For that reason alone Terror of the Autons will always hold a fond spot in my heart. The story also introduced the new companion, cute and cuddly Jo Grant, played by Katy Manning, who joined Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Captain Yates, Corporal Benton and the rest of the UNIT cast, and who was to be at Pertwee’s side for the next three years of his run on the show. The classic and much-lauded “UNIT family” was now well and truly in place to usher in a new and one of the most fondly-remembered periods in the show’s history.

Overall, another cracking night’s viewing on the Doctor Who front.

Another Doctor Who Night In

We had another nice Doctor Who night last night at our place, watching several classic Who DVDs. Again, like last time out, they’re all Tom Baker stories, two from the Philip Hinchcliffe era and the third from the Graham Williams era.

We started off with The Seeds of Doom, one of my favourite stories from the Philip Hinchcliffe “Gothic Horror” era of the classic series, a four-year period that remains, to this day, my favourite-ever era in the history of Doctor Who, either Classic or New series. This is quite a scary one, with the Krynoid very reminiscent of the plant creature in the first 1953 Quatermass serial. Doctor Who, especially the classic series, was very heavily influenced by Quatermass. Always copy the best, that’s what I say! 🙂

This was followed by The Deadly Assassin, the rather controversial story which showcased the “reinvention” of the Time Lords. This one got some of the more purist fans of the original, near-omnipotent Time Lords in a bit of a tizzy, and I have to admit that I found myself sometimes wondering how this bunch of incompetent bureaucrats could ever have been the lords of time and space. The story also featured the first reappearance of The Master since the Pertwee era, a welcome return. The Deadly Assassin is an excellent tale, always rated among one of the greatest of the classic series, although I wouldn’t rate it as one of my own personal biggest favourites (I do like it, however).

To wrap up the evening, we finished off with another highly-rated classic, City of Death, which I also quite like, although, again, I wouldn’t rate it in my own personal Top Ten Classic Who stories. I was never as fond of the Graham Williams era as I was of the Hinchcliffe era. Tom Baker was allowed to do his own thing far too much, and often hammed it up a lot, with the humour getting a bit silly and slapstick at times. I much preferred the more scary and serious feel of the Hinchcliffe era, when Baker’s humour was much more subdued and subtle, and he played the role totally straight. That said, City of Death was definitely one of the best stories of the Williams era. Scaroth was one of the better villains that the fourth Doctor faced, and I’ve always found the concept of the Jagaroth, a ruthless alien race which terrorized the galaxy half a billion years ago, to be something that I’d love to see revisited again. Maybe in the new series. The TARDIS can go anywhere, after all.

Anyway, that was another really enjoyable evening. Here’s looking forward to watching some more Doctor Who soon.

Doctor Who DVD Marathon Session

I’m having a bit of a quiet night in tonight, watching a few Doctor Who DVDs with a couple of mates. We have four DVDs on the menu tonight, and they’re all Tom Baker stories, among them three of my all-time favourite DW classics from the Hinchcliffe era.

We’re starting of with Image of the Fendahl (just finishing now), followed by Terror of the Zygons, Genesis of the Daleks, and finally Destiny of the Daleks. The first three stories are all in my Top Ten classic Doctor Who Stories list. Destiny is pretty decent too, if not quite up to the standard of the first three.

Tom Baker has always been my favourite Doctor, and the Hinchcliffe era by far my favourite era ever of Doctor Who. The underlying horror, more subdued Baker humour, excellent acting and extremely high quality of the scripts in Baker’s first three seasons have never been equalled, let alone surpassed, either in the classic or the new series.

I haven’t seen any of these in quite a long time now, so it’ll be really nice to revisit these old classics again. We’re in for a very enjoyable evening. 🙂