Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Classic Doctor Who — where to begin?

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Back in the summer of 2010 I was at a party, discussing Dr Who with a friend who was really getting into the new series. Turned out he hadn’t really watched the classic series at all and was curious as to where he should start. My gut reaction was to suggest ‘start at the beginning!’ but I realized that might be bad, so I told him I’d give it a think and get back to him.

Here’s what I sent him a couple of days later. These are not necessarily considered by all and sundry to be the most iconic, most pivotal, best stories or best performances for each of the Doctors, but they’re the ones I liked for this. Keep in mind, these were my thoughts in 2010…

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Okay, had a think about it, and here’s what you should watch, in my opinion.

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William Hartnell (1963–1966)
An easily-irritated grandfather type, above everyone else around him. There’s a bunch missing that you may never see, but of what’s available I’d recommend:
  • An Unearthly Child — This was our introduction, and was done so well.
  • The Daleks — If only for the introduction to the ultimate baddies!
Plus:
  • The Aztecs — Great historical.
  • The Romans — Ditto.
  • I would suggest The Tenth Planet, for the introduction to the Cybermen and our first regeneration, but the last episode is missing! That said, the Dr Who Restoration Team has done a good job of piecing it together from surviving audio, video and still images, so maybe you should see if you can find it...

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Patrick Troughton (1966–1969)
Doctor number 2 was generally clownish, quite a contrast to the first. As with Hartnell, there’s a lot missing, maybe more (*shakes fist*) — but I’d recommend:
  • The Invasion — It’s a long one, with a couple of episodes missing, but the DWRT has done a FANTASTIC job of putting it back together, using an animation technique that ROCKS. I wish they could do this with all of the ones that are missing! Anyway, great Cyberman story.
  • Edit Nov 2013: The Enemy of the World — It’s been found! And it’s better than I could have possibly imagined. Troughton plays double, well, triple duty in this story about a possible dictator. And the Doctor’s in his long johns!
  • Edit Nov 2013: Web of Fear — Another new find! One episode is still in telesnap format, but it’s totally worth it. Yeti! The Great Intelligence! And wait - is that the Brigadier?!
Plus:
  • Tomb of the Cybermen — Creepy, especially with them breaking out! This is one that was missing for a long time and rediscovered.
  • Wargames — Also a long one. Our first encounter with other Time Lords (their first mention in fact).

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Jon Pertwee (1970–1974)
Doctor number 3 was my first — definitely a dandy, a charming devil, if somewhat pompous. Spends a lot of time stuck on earth in exile by the Time Lords, so there’s a lot of UNIT-centric stories. I recommend:
  • Inferno — Long-ish story (seven episodes) complete with mirror-universe earth, The Brigadier with an eye patch, slimy guys and drilling to the centre of the earth. Very cool.
  • Planet of the Spiders — Pertwee’s last story, and one I remember very strongly from my childhood — he’ll get in trouble for his last trip to Metebelis Three!
Plus:
  • Spearhead from Space — Colour! Autons! Jon Pertwee’s first story! Is that a tattoo?! Okay, maybe that’s not a draw for the story, but still...
  • The Green Death — Scary mining tunnels, omnipotent computers, giant maggots and Metebelis Three!

Tom Baker (1974–1981)
Number 4, lasted for a long time. Endless pockets. Most people’s favourite, all teeth and eyes and curls. My faves:
  • Pyramids of Mars — The baddie is menacing, without even having to stand up. Great reactions on all sides.
  • Hand of Fear — I love Sarah Jane in this one, great performance. Eldrad Must Live! Hey, that’d be a great name for a band...
  • Robots of Death — Simply the coolest robot faces ever.
Plus:
  • Robot — Baker’s first, short and sweet story.
  • Face of Evil — Introducing everyone’s favourite savage, Leela!
  • Talons of Weng-Chiang — Bad racial stereotyping but excellent story.
  • Image of the Fendahl — Made me think of Triffids a bit.
  • The Key To Time series — A whole season about a search for pieces to a key. Cool. Stones of Blood and Armageddon Factor are the better stories.

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Peter Davison (1982–1984)
Doctor number 5 — he was my favourite for a long time. Sensitive and vulnerable, you never knew if he’d survive. Watch:
  • Black Orchid — Yep, no aliens, just a great short story. Most people don’t like this one. Me, I love it. Very Hercule Poirot.
  • Caves of Androzani — This one’s got everything: excellent performances, scary caves and a regeneration!
Plus:
  • Earthshock — Cybermen and a doomed Earth — and I won’t tell you how it ends.
  • Timeflight — Land the Concord on a rocky plain without noticing? Sure, I can do that...

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Colin Baker (no relation) (1984–1986)
Sixth Doctor, kind of an ass. Me personally, I’m not a fan, but The Boy will tell you he’s amazing. It’s all to do with who you think he should be I suppose. A lot of shorter stories in his first season. Watch:
  • Vengeance on Varos — Reality TV!
  • Trial of a Time Lord — Again, a whole season with one story. Well, several stories woven together — Mindwarp is the best one I think.
Note: only watch Timelash if you want to laugh for the whole story. The Borad looked great, but this was a RIDICULOUS story with BAD sets and HUGE overacting by Paul Darrow and Baker. Thoroughly enjoyable on that front!

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Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989)
7th Doctor — kind of a clown, but sinister underneath (they explored that more in the novels), I liked him but a lot of people REALLY don’t. Uneven writing during his tenure, but there were some standouts:
  • Remembrance of the Daleks — WHAT? They can FLY? AAAAAH!
  • Ghostlight — What’s going on with Ace and that scary house?
Also:
  • Dragonfire — A bit of fun on Iceworld, with dragons and evil security forces. This one’s my not-so-secret shame.
  • Paradise Towers — Death by highrise! Pex will put the world of Paradise Towers to rights!
  • Battlefield — Arthurian legend, plus Jean Marsh as Morgaine, can’t go wrong!

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Paul McGann (1996)
My favourite. Let’s face it, you can only see him in the 1996 TV movie. [Edit Nov 2013: and also in Night of the Doctor, the new Anniversary special minisode – go now! Watch it! WATCH IT!!!] Watch it. Ignore the terrible script and the screen-chewing of Eric Roberts — McGann’s great and the TARDIS console room is AMAZING. Read some of the BBC 8th Doctor novels instead (Seeing I, Interference Books I & II, The Ancestor Cell and The Adventuress of Henrietta Street are particular standouts) or listen to some of the audio plays starring McGann (especially The Chimes of Midnight, Seasons of Fear and Neverland).

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Now, I’m quite behind on the Audio adventures (several years, in fact C’rizz was still a Companion in the last one I listened to) so there may be more awesomeness to come. Also, I believe there are more classic stories available than there were when I first sent this to my friend (can’t think what they might be just now, sorry). In any case, these are my picks for where to start in the classic series. What do you think?