Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Hartnell Years - An Overview

The 50th Anniversary has prompted me to want to revisit some of the older Doctors that I haven't seen as often. Back when I first found Doctor Who, I watched and became familiar with all of the 3rd, 4th and 7th, but the 1st and 2nd were incomplete and I kept missing the 5th and 6th doctors between the Five Doctors and the Trial of a Timelord. I began my revisit of the 1st Doctor with the pilot, added in the two Cushing theatrial Dalek movies, and ended with An Adventure in space and Time, with all the episodes in between, the Loose Canon reconstructions standing in for the missing ones.

The only thing I will say about the two Custhing Dalek movies is that they are poor (but in color) remakes of two very fine episodes.It was fun to see Bernard Cribbins (Wilfred from series 4 and the 2009 specials) in his first Doctor Who appearance in The Dalek Invasion of Earth movie.

In my reading on Doctor Who for the 50th, and in learning a good deal of the origins of the show, I came to the conclusion that the first story, An Unearthly Child is not one story, but two. I've adopted one of the alternate titles, The Tribe of Gum, for the remaining story and split the first episode off as its own story. What follows is a brief review of each story.

The Pilot - This is a raw first draft of what turned into a fine story. A few too many details about the Doctor and Susan, and the Doctor has none of the inner amusement that characterizes the Doctor as we know him. That and the production gaffs, with cameras bumping into things and the Tardis doors not staying closed, really make this more of peek into the history and development than a story worth watching on its own.

An Unearthly Child - The premier episode, and the first to ever repeat due to the unfortunate timing its first broadcast. The mystery, the twinkle, the hard edge. This is the beginning of the Doctor. He is very much the Timelord. Not sure if it was planned or just happened that way, but the later portrayals of Timelords harken back to these first Hartnell stories. The Doctor does not want to get involved. I love this episode as so much of what the show became come from here. This story was not originally written by Anthony Coburn, but was adapted by him when the original story was canned, but they kept this introductory episode mostly intact.

The Tribe of Gum - Ian and Barbara's first adventure sees them back in 100,000 BC where they encounter a tribe in search of fire. There is a tribal power struggle over the strangers ability to make fire that lands the Tardis crew in hot water. While the concept seems silly, the execution shows the brilliance of the writers, actors, and producers of the show.

The Daleks - An excellent story that totally goes against the grain of what robots or aliens should be. Given the cramped studio it was made in, it is incredibly done.

The Edge of Destruction - Short, sweet, and rife with strife. This is the first time the Tardis shows that it has a mind of its own. Not my favorite story, but good none the less.

Marco Polo - Sadly no episodes or even clips survive, but the reconstruction shows a powerful story. One of many to have getting back to the Tardis (or in this case getting the Tardis back) drives the Doctor and his companions. This is probably the most epic of all the historical stories.

The Keys of Marinus - This story is very much an adventure a week rather than a single story line. It works, but it gets off to a rocky start.

The Aztecs - A fantastic tale of the dual edged nature of time travel. There are things you can't change, as Barbara finds out. The Doctor shares a bit of his twinkle as he flirts with Cameca and ends up engaged to her. I never tire of watching it.

The Sensorites - Strange aliens, mistrust, intrigue, and mystery mark this story. Everything should work, but something seemed off. Wonderful twist at the end and the Doctor was brilliant as always.

The Reign of Terror - The finale to the first season is much more enjoyable to watch now that the two missing episodes have been animated. They are able to convey the story much better. It is a little long, but it does hold your interest with new developments in the later episodes. Lots of deaths, but then the title would lead to that outcome.

Planet of Giants - An interesting concept, one that was supposed to follow An Unearthly Child, works on this attempt, but isn't one of the best stories.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth - The Daleks are back and have invaded Earth 200 years from now. The Doctor had been pretty passive up to this point, trying not to get involved. This time he gets involved and sets out to defeat the Daleks. During the story, Susan and David Campbell fall in love and the Doctor forces her to remain, so she can have a normal life. She is the first companion to leave. Every part of the story is well handled.

The Rescue - The Doctor often encounters mentally unstable people. Here it is someone who has committed mass murder and a vast deception to cover it. Very well done and introduced Vicki nicely.

The Romans - A vacation in a vacant villa and the Doctor getting wanderlust starts out this story that leads them all to Nero's palace in Rome. A few comic moments, but very well done.

The Web Planet - Low budget costumes and effects mar this story that grows in the telling. This one could be excellent with modern effects, but was a bit too much of a stretch for 60's Doctor Who. Good story at the heart of it.

The Crusade - Julian Glover shines as Richard as does Jean Marsh as his sister. Both would go on to appear in later stories. The characters are well rounded and there is no sense of racism in the story. Very nice for the 60's. It is a good story and a good candidate for animation if the 2 missing episodes aren't found.

The Space Museum - An odd concept of the Tardis slipping on landing starts the story. They see a possible future and then try to avoid it. Pretty well done, but not one of the best Hartnell stories.

The Chase - This story is very episodic. A few new locations each week, some of them more serious and some more amusing. The first of three appearance of Queen Elizabeth I. The final episode introduces Steven and says goodbye to Ian and Barbara.

The Time Meddler - One of my all time favorites, ever since I first watched it. It is the first history plus SF story that would become the norm for visits to the past for later Doctors.

Galaxy 4 - Interesting story of good vs. bad compared to attractive vs. evil. Much of it is missing, so its unclear how the visuals would impact the story. They can only improve it.

Mission to the Unknown - The prequel to the Daleks' Master Plan is much like many setup scenes in Doctor Who, it is just longer.

The Myth Makers - Surprisingly witty and funny. An interesting take on the final days of the Trojan war. Vicki remains behind in the past.

The Daleks' Master Plan - This is an overlong tale with several extra episodes that could have been cut. There's nothing wrong with them, they just aren't really needed. This story is reminiscent of The Chase without that story's charm. Very good non-the-less.

The Massacre - While Hartnell plays a big role in these episodes, it is not as the Doctor. A good secondary part for him to shine in and a good story for Steven as the first solo companion. The story ends back in the 20th century (not Steven's time so he doesn't leave) where they pick up Dodo.

The Ark - Ah, what the common cold might do to aliens or our descendants. This is actually a double story, set in two time periods with different problems, but they share the same setting. This is a good, enjoyable story.

The Celestial Toymaker - The Toymaker himself is fun. He and the Doctor have met before. some of the story falls flat with the gams Steven and Dodo must play in each episode while the invisible Doctor plays a different game. This is the first story where Hartnell's poor heath is worked into the story, giving him some time off.

The Gunfighters - Many deride this story, but I love it. It is what you would expect for 60's Brits making an American western story. It isn't very true to history, but it is very in keeping with 60's American TV westerns. The story is good, with Doc Holiday getting the Doctor into trouble and Steven having to do some singing.

The Savages - This story is a surprise. Very good for 60's SF. This is almost a Star Trek quality story in some ways. The end solution for peace is for Steve to remain as their new leader.

The War Machines - One of my least favorite episodes. Right off we meet the new companions, Ben and Polly, and Dodo has an interesting part as she is taken over by Wotan, but when the Doctor cures her, Dodo vanishes never to be seen again, only a relayed goodbye in the final episode delivered by Ben and Polly, which is how they end up on the Tardis. This is the prototype for every Unit story that would follow, but here there is no explanation for how the doctor is so connected. Not very consisted with the previous stories.

The Smugglers - An interesting, but yet forgettable, story set in 17th century Cornwall. A man in possession of a secret is murdered. Ben and Polly are wanted by the authorities for the murder and the Doctor is wanted by pirates for the secrets of the murdered man.

The Tenth Planet - The Doctor meets his second mortal enemy, the Cybermen. While it is often best not to look too closely at the science of things made back in the 60's, this story still is good. Set in 1986, it features a general who does not like the Doctor, Ben, and Polly. Very fine performances in a good story make this one memorable. The regeneration (not named at the time) happens much as it would later on, but with effects closer to the bright lights of the revived series. The Doctor acts odd at the end of the story and says his body is wearing a bit thin. He barely thinks to open the doors to let Ben and Polly in.

Just about everyone who knew William Hartnell said that the Doctor was him. Just as the Doctor was grumpy, funny, moody, and highly skilled, so was William Hartnell. When you compare the pilot to what followed, that is the difference in the raw part and what William Hartnell filled the part with. Every characterization since has carried a bit of that on and in that William Hartnell lives on in all 800 of the broadcast episodes.

What many don't see is that from An Unearthly Child through The Tenth Planet, there is some huge character development. And it does not stop there. It is not until later Troughton stories, or even into the Pertwee era that we get a character that is pretty much as he has remained every since. But most of that happened with the 1st Doctor, but the one thing lacking was the physical participation in the action. William Hartnell's heath wouldn't allow it.

But that, and other things like the lack of two hearts, brings me to a conclusion about the first Doctor. Perhaps even a reason he left Gallifrey. He was not well. Perhaps a debilitating heart issue and one heart was not functioning or functioning properly. Plus in The Daleks' Master Plan and The Savages, the Doctor is exposed to events that would have zapped his strength and taken years off his life. As Hartnell's health deteriorated, so did the Doctor's.

I concluded my exploration of the Hartnell years with the docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time. It is a fantastic story that centers around William Hartnell, Sydney Newman, and Verity Lambert. These three made Doctor Who what it is. Terry Nation and his Daleks gave Doctor Who popularity and an enduring adversary. I highly recommend this story and the cameos are fantastic, if you can catch them.

Next up, the 2nd Doctor, followed by the 5th and 6th... maybe the 7th just for fun.