April Bonus Review: The First Doctor

Doctor Who has been a staple of Science fiction since the early 60s. There have been comics, novels, audio dramas, video games and a whole lot of merchandise. Obviously, I can’t review the whole franchise in one go. Not only is it impractical, but the various runs have had vastly different qualities. So, I’m going to look at the first Doctor’s television run. I even watched the reconstructions of those episodes which have been lost due to stupidity within the BBC. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it used to be common practice at the BBC to cull old archived shows to save space. a a result, a bunch of the first and second Doctors’ runs were destroyed. Leaving only some still images and the audio. 

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Story:

We open with two teachers, Ian and Barbara, discussing a strange student, Susan. They ultimately decide to go to her supposed address, which leads to a junk yard, to investigate what’s happening with her. They end up in a conversation with an elderly man outside of a police box. This eventually leads to them entering and finding Susan inside. Strangely, the inside is larger than the outside. After an argument, the old man uses the control console to take them all to the past. Thus begins their adventures through time and space. 

the first issue that comes up is that it does take the series a couple serials to settle into an aesthetic. The early episodes are a bit off in that regard. Even after it settles, the serials do vary in quality. You get some, like Planet of the Giants or The Gunfighters, that aren’t very good. Gunfighters is outright boring, actually. You also get serials, most notably The Daleks’ Master Plan, that meander and drag. 

That being said, there are a lot of clever and/or creative ideas on display and there are certainly more strong serials than bad or weak ones. Basically every serial featuring Vicki is really good, particularly The Space Museum. 

Characters:

Here’s an area where the First Doctor’s run falls a bit short. While he is an interesting character (once they get past the early stage and settle on a character for him), most of his companion characters are pretty flat and dull. He also has Katarina, possibly the most pointless character in the franchise. She shows up, takes a short ride on the TARDIS and basically dies immediately. There are really only two companions who aren’t just inoffensive and boring.

The first is Susan. She’s a really annoying character. Honestly, part of the problem with her is just that they didn’t think her through. Here’s a girl who’s loomed from the same genetic cloth as the Doctor (because people from Gallifrey aren’t born, they’re loomed). She’s travelled with him for a while. Supposedly, she’s been on quite a few adventures. Really, she should be the most seasoned of the companions during her time in the group. So, why is she absolutely terrified of absolutely everything even slightly unusual? I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this girl screams all the bloody time and with little provocation. See a plant move? Scream. See something odd looking at you? Scream. See a tiny black and white dog in a bunny costume? Scream.

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How did she manage to travel with the Doctor at all? You’d think that she’d have had a heart attack or mental breakdown long ago given how high strung she is. 

The other exception is Vicki, the first great companion in the franchise. Not only is she a breath of fresh air after dealing with Susan, being plucky and adventurous, but she’s also pretty badass. She can use her cleverness to not only get herself out of bad situations, but the others as well. A trait which is highlighted in the aforementioned Space Museum serial. Honestly, it’s no surprise that the serials with her tend to be the best. She’s got more personality than most of the companions and she’s a delight. 

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Visuals:

By today’s standards, this series is pretty dated. They’re very much at that mid 60s level. A lot of the alien designs are goofy by today’s standards and there are definite times when the sets look cheap. But, in all fairness, the effects were pretty good for their time and they don’t really spoil the series. 

Acting and Music:

The acting is largely competent. The best performances come from William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien. Probably because they’re playing the most interesting characters. The other companion actors, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane and even Carole Ann Ford are decent enough. The music is largely good. The theme tune in particular. There are occasional exceptions, however. The song that they keep playing during The Gunfighters is boring the first time they play it and gets grating when they play it the next fifty times. 

Final Thoughts:

All in all, the First Doctor’s run holds up pretty well. While it does suffer from Susan, early episodes not knowing where they’re going, Susan, the occasional weak serial, Susan & dated effects it also has quite a bit going for it. It has creative, interesting ideas. Vicki is amazing. The Doctor quickly becomes a great character and it’s just a solid start for the franchise. All in all, I give it a 7/10.

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