First Season – William Hartnell

An Unearthly Child

This is where it all started. A producer from Canada named Sydney Newman had an idea for a children’s show that would be science fiction but also contain historical information. The scenario that kicks it all off has a teenager “Susan” (played by Carole Ann Ford) who is puzzling to a couple of her teachers: Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill), and Ian Chesterton (played by William Russell. Barbara was a history teacher, and Ian a science teacher, and that is no accident, as the show tried to mix science and history in a story about a machine that can travel through time and space. And you may want to note that the school where Susan was a student and where Ian and Barbara were teachers is the Coal Hill School. This school reappears regularly in the history of Doctor Who and is a kind of “Easter Egg” for long-time fans. The teachers are puzzled because Susan seems to know more than other kids her age in some areas, but be completely ignorant of other things that are common knowledge. So the teachers follow her home, and there meet her grandfather, The Doctor. They force their way into the police call box, and are astonished that it is much bigger on the inside. The Doctor is angry, and kidnaps the two teachers. They end up in the Stone Age, and help the Tribe of Gum to discover fire.

There are some stumbles along the way. The Stone Age humans are a bit cardboard, and at one point The Doctor attempts to kill one of them to assure his escape. That is something The Doctor simply doesn’t do. But a new show frequently needs some time to find itself.

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The Daleks

After escaping from the Stone Age, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which is the name of that Police Call Box they travel in, takes them to the far future, where they meet The Daleks. This is the origin story for the most famous and beloved of all the Doctor Who enemies. It seems that the TARDIS has landed on the planet Skaro, where two opposed races have waged nuclear war, and one of those races has mutated into the Daleks, who live inside mechanical boxes. The other race, the Thals, are essentially blond beauties who have become very peaceful. The TARDIS crew gets the Thals to fight back against the danger of the Daleks, and then escape in their TARDIS

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The Edge of Destruction

This little two-parter was a filler written because the filming of Marco Polo was behind schedule. Everyone in the TARDIS starts acting strangely paranoid, before discovering that a bad setting of the TARDIS mechanism had placed them on The Edge of Destruction. This is somewhat forgettable so if you never watch it you won’t miss a whole lot. For completists only, in my view.

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Marco Polo

If you leave out The Edge of Destruction, the first season of Doctor Who alternated between historical and science fictional stories. The first story was historical (Stone Age), the second science fictional (the planet Skaro), and then this is again historical. The Doctor is supposed to be trying to get everyone back to 1963 London, but it seems he is not entirely capable of navigating the TARDIS, so they bounce around a lot. In this case, they end up in the 13th century in Central Asia, where they meet up with Marco Polo. Polo has been entrusted with a mission for the Great Khan, but political infighting is the backdrop. A difference in this story is that it takes place over a number of weeks, whereas most Doctor Who stories are no more than a few days.

This is one the stories that no longer exists in video form. At one point the BBC thought it would be a good idea to reuse the videotapes, and a number of shows have been lost from the early days. Fortunately, since Doctor Who was shown in a number of foreign markets, from time to time one of these missing shows turns up in a dusty storeroom in Nigeria, or wherever. Sadly this is not one of those rescued shows. But there is team that was working on recovery (primarily Loose Cannon) that used production stills and audio recordings of the programs to put out reconstructed versions, which is how I watched this program. And some missing episodes of other stories have been replaced by animations from Planet 55 Studios.

Related

“Doctor Who: The Missing Episodes” Documentary – Omnibus

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The Keys of Marinus

This is a rather confused jumble. Set on the planet Marinus, you have a peaceful race, who have developed a conscience machine that erases all of the baser human emotions like greed, hatred, and violence, but they are opposed by an evil race, the Voord, who are devoting themselves to taking over, but first they need to control the conscience machine. 5 keys are necessary to operate it, and the 5 keys are dispersed. Our travelers have to regain all 5, which means a travelogue adventure where each episode is set in a different environment. You might notice that the Doctor seems to be missing for a couple of episodes here, and when that happens it means a vacation break for the actor. When these stories were done it was a full year-round schedule for the filming. Fortunately Ian and Barbara carry things just fine. The one with the brains in jars is not bad, but doesn’t the “bad race out to destroy good race” remind you a bit of The Daleks? (Story #2). And wouldn’t you know, Terry Nation is also the author of this one. Coming between two outstanding historical stories (Marco Polo and The Aztecs) does not improve the rank of this story. Pleasant enough, but not one of the milestones in Doctor Who history. Again, note the alternation in this season between SF stories and historical stories.

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The Aztecs

This is another very good historical story that has the TARDIS materialize in Aztec Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest, when the Aztecs were at their height of power. It is interesting that they directly tackle the issue of human sacrifice, which of course both the Aztecs and the Maya were known to do. Barbara finds an ornate bracelet and puts it on, only to discover that it is for the Goddess, and she is now taken for being this Goddess. She tries to use the power this gives her to stop the practice of human sacrifice, but discovers that to social inertia of this society is too powerful. The practice of human sacrifice would not stop until the Aztecs were basically wiped out by a combination of disease and conquest. This is a story well worth watching. Carole Ann Ford is mostly missing (vacation time), but the other three all deliver great performances. This is the exemplar of a great Doctor Who historical.

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The Sensorites

Again, after the previous historical story, we get an SF story set on an alien planet with an alien race, the Sensorites. It starts with the TARDIS materializing on a spaceship from Earth, with two people who are apparently dead, but it shortly develops that they have been placed in a catatonic state by the Sensorites. Then the door lock to the TARDIS is removed, stranding the travelers until they can get it back. It turns out the Sensorites have mental powers, and they communicate through Susan, who also now seems to have some unusual powers. Had the producers gone further with this, Carole Ann Ford might well have stayed with the show longer! The costumes are little hokey, but honestly that is the case throughout classic Doctor Who. But the basic plot is good, revolving around a people who are mostly transparently honest and trustworthy, but who have some evil appearing in their midst. But is the greater evil among the Sensorites, or among the humans?

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The Reign of Terror

After the previous SF story, another historical one, this time set in revolutionary France during the ascendance of Robespierre. There is the first small appearance of outside location shooting, though there would be much more next season in The Dalek Invasion of Earth. This is another good story, with the ever-present threat of the Guillotine hanging over everyone, which is pretty accurate for Robespierre’s rule. Hartnell in particular shines in this story.

This is a story with a couple of missing episodes (4-5), which I saw reconstructed using production stills and the soundtrack

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Bonus Special – An Adventure in Space and Time

In 2013, the 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who, this dramatization of the very beginning was produced.

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