The First Doctor, Part 1

The Daleks

The intention of the show’s creators was that they would alternate between historical stories and futuristic science stories, so following the historical story of the cavemen they wanted some science fiction. This ended up being the Daleks, even though Sydney Newman had said he didn’t want any “bug-eyes monsters” in the show. But as it happened, they didn’t have another script ready to go. This happened more frequently than you might imagine in the early days of the show. The weekly schedule was generally to rehearse the episode Monday through Thursday, videotape it on Friday, and broadcast it on Saturday. Then the following week do it again with the next episode. And they were on a relentless schedule since the first season was comprised of 42 weekly episodes. They did not have the luxury of a backlog of scripts that were ready to go, let alone a chance to get ahead in shooting the shows. In fact, this was extremely close to live television. It was videotaped the day before it was broadcast, but the idea was that the cameras would roll without stopping because a stop would just cost more money. If an actor desperately wanted to stop and redo a scene, the trick was to use an obscenity because then the director would be forced to stop shooting.

The script that was available and ready was called The Daleks, and was written by Terry Nation. He based the Daleks on the Nazis and their obsession with exterminating other races, but he had nothing to do with the look of the Daleks. This was originally going to be done by a designer named Ridley Scott (who went on to be a famous director), but when he had a schedule conflict the job went to Raymond Cusick. The way the copyrights worked at this point in the BBC, Nation retained the copyright to the Daleks, and he became very wealthy as a result. Cusick, on the other hand, got his weekly paycheck from the BBC. To this day no one, not even the BBC, can use the Daleks without buying a license from the Estate of Terry Nation.

As to the plot of the story, 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. 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 pacifistic, which is an odd choice when facing the Daleks who are out to exterminate you. The TARDIS crew gets the Thals to fight back against the danger of the Daleks, and then escape in their TARDIS. This story plays out over 7 episodes, which is at least one too many. There is a long sequence of the Thals being led by Ian through a cave system to attack the Daleks that is seriously plodding. In any case, the story ends with the Daleks supposedly exterminated themselves, but the characters were so popular they had to be brought back. And ever since then, they have been supposedly wiped out many times, and always manage to come back as a horde.

The Edge of Destruction

Following the science fiction story of the Daleks, the next story should have been an historical one, but it was a sprawling 7-part story that was not quite ready. So the script editor, David Whitaker whipped up a quick two-parter to fill the gap while the historical story was made ready. In this story, there is a small explosion which knocks people out, and then when they come to they have slight amnesia and start acting strangely. Eventually Barbara gathers enough clues to force the Doctor to find the problem, which is a broken spring in the Fast Return mechanism, which instead of taking them back to Earth kept going and took them back to the beginning of time. The strange things happening to them are explained as the TARDIS trying to warn. The Doctor fixes the switch and everything goes back to normal. In terms of story, this is completely skipable, but is worth watching for seeing Susan turn violent and paranoid.

Marco Polo

This was the historical story that needed more time, and the plot is that 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, Hong Kong, 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. From that I can see that it was gorgeous, and to this day I think it ranks as the number one story fans want to recover. And some missing episodes of other stories have been replaced by animations from Planet 55 Studios. What has enabled all of these alternatives is the many fans recorded the sound tracks of the episodes when they were first broadcast, and those soundtracks are the basis for animations and reconstructions. This problem has seriously affected the stories of the first 2 Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Starting with Doctor #3, Jon Pertwee, we have all episodes.

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.

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 the 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.

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?

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

This brings us to the end of the first season of Doctor Who. Like any TV show, it is a mixed bag. There were some very good stories, and a few not so good. But this is where it all began.

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