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More Who notched up, as follows:

First Doctor: The Daleks
Continuing sequentially onwards from An Unearthly Child, my next stop was The Daleks (watched partly with big_daz, and partly at home after he lent me the video). This is a whopping seven-parter, meaning that the story as a whole clocks in at nearly three hours long - but I thought it carried it pretty well. Apart from anything else, the series is still so new at this stage that it's useful to have the spare time available for getting to know the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS better, to say nothing of the new planet and alien races they're encountering.

The story is, of course, the very first to feature the Daleks: here seen on their home planet, five hundred years after it's been all but destroyed in a nuclear holocaust as a result of a war between them and the Thals. The Daleks are mutant survivors, and the Thals are so traumatised by what has happened that they would prefer to die than ever fight again - all very relevant themes for late '63 / early '64. There's even quite a protracted debate between Ian and his fellow travellers about whether it is or isn't right to try to persuade the Thals to help them fight against the Daleks. It's muddied a bit by the fact that the travellers are only really motivated by their need to retrieve a vital part of the TARDIS in order to escape, but gets points for at least trying to explore the issue of pacifism nonetheless.

The Daleks are rather different in this story from their later incarnations. In fact, early on, they come across as quite reasonable beings, who have simply been driven to hostile behaviour by centuries of war. It's only later in the story that they start deliberately double-crossing the Thals, and their ambitions at this stage have certainly not extended beyond Skaro into the total megalomania they develop later. They're also physically more vulnerable in this story than they became later. They can only move around on metal floors, from which they pick up static electricity; they need a high level of atmospheric radiation to survive; they can be blinded with a lump of mud; and they can be over-powered and immobilised by two or three human beings grabbing them from behind. There is no way this lot could levitate, travel in time, remain impervious to bullets, or any of the many other things we've seen them doing lately in New Who. But that's fine, because the Daleks are near the beginnings of their own history at this stage, so it's perfectly logical that they would enhance their capabilities and defences later on.

Our Fab Four undergo plenty of continuing character development as the story unfolds. The Doctor's nasty streak, seen in the previous story when he was ready to smash in an injured caveman's skull so that the four of them could escape, surfaces once or twice - for example, when he tries to persuade the rest of the team to scarper rather than endangering themselves by hanging around the warn the Thals that the Daleks are luring them into a trap. This Doctor is definitely no hero, and indeed his behaviour could be seen as closer to the Gallifreyan ideal of observing alien species while remaining uninvolved than that of any of his later incarnations. Actually, that's a retcon, since Who writers included no details at all about the Time Lords or their values until long after Hartnell's day, so they probably didn't have any such ideals in mind. But it works rather nicely, given that he does seem to be only a recent exile, and so would quite plausibly still be behaving more like a typical Time Lord at this stage than later on. Even if getting too involved with other species was the reason for his exile, it still works, on the grounds that he got too involved by Time Lord standards, but still doesn't want to get as involved as his human companions do.

As for the companions, interestingly Ian spends quite a lot of this story in a 'leader' role, to the extent that he's even going round successfully telling the Doctor what to do. I'm not sure I can imagine any of the later Doctors putting up with this, but it does fit quite well with One's non-heroic, recent exile persona. He just hasn't formulated the basic assumption that he should always be in control yet - although of course he's still perfectly capable of taking the lead when it suits him. Barbara and Susan, meanwhile, certainly follow quite defined gender roles, as would be expected for the time. But in Susan's case, quite a lot of stress is placed on her being a 'child', so that it is hard to tell whether she is portrayed as scared and uncertain because she is female or because she is young. And I was pleasantly surprised to see Barbara getting a couple of moments of serious awesomeness in this story! It's her idea, for example, to scrape mud off everyone's shoes to blind their Dalek captor, and she also insists on going on a dangerous mission led by Ian, during which she shows herself far more game to jump over a dangerous chasm than one of the male Thals. Good for her.

Finally, this story also included a couple of marvellous fansquee moments. Turns out, it's not just Five and Ten who like wearing Smart Specs - One fishes them out at least twice in this episode, too. Also, the final episode includes Who's first ever screen kiss. Although Barbara and Ian have been quite friendly throughout the story (seizing opportunities to grab each other in terror, etc.), it is with one of the Thal men that she develops a more explicit chemistry. As Barbara prepares to leave in the TARDIS, they have a little romantic parting scene, in which he gives her some Thal fabric for a dress, before taking her hand and kissing it - to which her response is to kiss him back right on the mouth. Chastely and briefly, yes - but it's there all right. Barbara / Thal, OTP!


First Doctor: The Edge of Destruction
The first few minutes of this next story were at the very end of Daz's videotape, and by the time it ran out, I was hooked enough to track down the rest on YouTube. According to Wikipedia, its format was almost entirely determined by production issues: there were two spare episodes left after The Daleks in the 13-episode run that had originally been granted to the show, and most of the money had already been spent, so they needed to shoot something on a very low budget. The result is a two-parter set entirely on the TARDIS, which is hurtling back in time to the creation of the solar system.

There is a lot to be said in favour of this, though, whatever the reasons. Firstly, it results in what I usually call a 'cabin fever' story - i.e. one in which a small number of protagonists are trapped facing extreme peril in close quarters, bringing their personality clashes into sharp relief. No-one knows quite what's going on at first - in fact, they all begin the story unconscious. Once they wake up, and begin piecing their circumstances together, suspicions and accusations start flying around on all sides. The Doctor drugs Ian and Barbara, Susan goes crazy and starts trying to stab people, Ian tries to strangle the Doctor, Barbara screams at the Doctor and calls him a 'stupid old man' - in short, it's all total chaos. By the end of the story, though, this has all resolved nicely into reconciliation, and a better understanding of one another. In spite of the Doctor's hostility, Barbara's intuition about all the strange things happening around them allowed her to figure out what was going on - and he acknowledges this, apologises, and concludes that he has under-estimated her. The second episode ends with jokes, laughter, and excitement about their next adventure - all clear signs that they have grown closer as a team as a result of their experience.

The second good thing about the one-set format is that it provides an excellent opportunity to get better acquainted with the TARDIS. I wondered after watching An Unearthly Child when in Who history the TARDIS had first been shown as sentient, rather than just a machine, and the answer is in this story. As Barbara notices all the odd ways the TARDIS is behaving, she begins to personify it, asking what 'it' is doing. The Doctor's response to this is unequivocal - "'It'? 'It'? What do you mean? My machine can't think!" Gradually, though, they all realise that it is actively trying to communicate with them, in order to draw their attention to the fact that one of the controls is stuck in 'fast return' mode (the reason why they are plummeting backwards through time). It's another sign that the Doctor knows very little about his TARDIS at this stage. (Well - or, of course, that the writers don't, because they're making it up as though go along. But I prefer to interpret these things in story terms, rather than authorial terms).

Only two rooms have been shown in this or previous episodes - the main control room, and a living area, which includes a food / water / medicine machine and couches that can be pulled down for sleeping. Interestingly, Susan, Barbara and Ian all go to or are put to 'bed' at various times in this episode, granting the viewer a glimpse of TARDIS night-wear - black shroud-like robes for the women, and a dressing-gown for Ian (a model for Arthur Dent, perhaps?). The TARDIS' 'extensive wardrobe' is mentioned at the end of the story, too.

There are also a few more clues as to how long the Doctor and Susan had been travelling before they met Ian and Barbara. The TARDIS tries to communicate with the crew by showing them pictures on a scanner screen, and Susan recognises one as a planet she and the Doctor had visited 'four or five journeys back'. Of course, some of those journeys could have been made while they were still able to return to Gallifrey in between, but it certainly means they've been travelling together for a bit longer than Ian and Barbara have been involved - which is only two journeys, really, or three if you count the current one. Come to think of it, Susan was also surprised in An Unearthly Child that the TARDIS had not changed shape when they arrived on prehistoric Earth, and commented that it had previously been an Ionic column and a sedan chair - again pointing to previous journeys, probably into the Earth's past. And for that matter, the Doctor claims that he acquired a coat which he lends to Ian at the end of the story from Gilbert and Sullivan (what, both of them?), which suggests the same thing. So, I guess he's not quite as fresh to the travelling life as I thought when I saw An Unearthly Child - but still, pretty fresh to it, as his ignorance of the TARDIS, his initial hostility to Ian and Barbara, and his general uncertainty about what he's actually doing all show.

Alas, the next First Doctor story, Marco Polo, exists only in soundtrack form, so I can't carry the continuity I've maintained throughout his first three adventures any further. It's a pity, because I've really enjoyed these stories - there's far more to them than I'd ever realised before, and although they certainly show their age, they're definitely worth watching all the same. Still, there are plenty more First Doctor stories which do survive, and now I've got the hang of his era, I'm keen to watch them. Next stop - The Rescue followed by The Romans.


Fourth Doctor: The Sontaran Experiment
Finally, this week's UKTV Drama offering was The Sontaran Experiment. Like The Edge of Destruction, this is a two-parter, but I'm afraid I found it pretty weak by comparison with the above. The plot consisted mainly of the Doctor, Sarah and Harry running around on a supposedly-deserted Earth, getting lost, captured and occasionally tortured or beaten up by the stranded astronauts and hostile Sontaran who are inevitably there. It was OK, but felt like filler material, there to plug an awkward gap before they could get back to the space-station they'd come from and on to the next story. I never expected to find myself saying this, because I'm a big Four fan - but of the three stories I've written about here, I definitely enjoyed the Hartnell ones far more than this. That said, it was interesting to meet a Sontaran properly, given their impending reappearance in New Who series 4. I'm sure it isn't their most impressive appearance, but at least I'll have a clear point of reference now.

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
a_d_medievalist
Jan. 19th, 2008 05:29 am (UTC)
I watched those over Christmas -- wait till you see The Aztecs!
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 10:42 am (UTC)
Yep, I gather it's one of the most popular Hartnell stories. The Romans first, though... :-)
a_d_medievalist
Jan. 19th, 2008 02:02 pm (UTC)
strangely, Netflix doesn't seem to have those, so I'm moving on to the Second Doctor next week. I really do like Barbara, though. I think part of the attraction is that it's nice to have a female character who isn't going to default to unrequited/unfulfilled Doctor love. Wait till you see the new Ian details in The Aztecs -- I can't wait to see what you think.

Edited at 2008-01-19 02:03 pm (UTC)
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 02:11 pm (UTC)
Argh, there's important stuff about Ian in The Aztecs? Gah, that's annoying, because I just started watching The Rescue this morning, and intend to follow with The Romans - but they both come after The Aztecs! Will not knowing about it spoil my enjoyment of later stories?

*hops up and down in agitated fashion*
(Anonymous)
Jan. 19th, 2008 10:08 am (UTC)
The original idea was for Ian and Barbara to humanise the Doctor - it's very much an interplay of characters at this point rather than hero and sidekick. I tend to think of Barbara as quite a strong character, certainly not as helpless as later female companions (the worst of whom didn't come along until the Pertwee era). The Dalek Invasion of Earth does explain some of the changes in the Daleks - their ability to move outside the city, for example, although static electricity was still being mentioned in the Troughton era. Again The Daleks was something of an afterthought as a story - Verity Lambert hated the idea of a story with 'bug eyed monsters.'

I think The Sontaran Experiment makes a little more sense in context alongside Genesis of the Daleks and Ark In Space, all of which are concerned with ruined civilisations. Otherwise, as you say, it does look like filler.

- K
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC)
it's very much an interplay of characters at this point rather than hero and sidekick

Oh yes, definitely - I'm really enjoying the dynamics between all of them. And you're right, Barbara is indeed strong. I was surprised to find this, because I've watched relatively little from this era, and had assumed that the earliest female companions must have been much more of the stand-and-scream school than later ones. But now I've found out that this isn't so, I've really warmed to the actual character of Barbara.

As for The Sontaran Experiment - I did watch it directly after The Ark In Space, so I understand how it relates to that story. But it just didn't really seem to add anything much to it for me. We already knew from The Ark In Space that the Earth was deserted and needed repopulating, and a bit of toing and froing on its surface coupled with a putative Sontaran invasion that never did seem to manage to appear very threatening almost detracted from that scenario rather than adding to it.

Meanwhile, UKTV Drama have for some reason skipped Genesis of the Daleks and gone straight on to Revenge of the Cybermen, which I'm really annoyed about, because Genesis of the Daleks is ace, and I was really looking forward to watching it in the light of my recent viewing of The Daleks (which I know it contradicts a bit - but I was interested in seeing how!). So the beginning of Revenge of the Cybermen was all rather confusing, and I can't say how The Sontaran Experiment might have set me up better for Genesis of the Daleks. :-(

Actually, I might have to see if YouTube can plug this little gap for me. I have seen Genesis of the Daleks before, but not for a loooong time, and certainly not in the context of the stories which came immediately before and after it.
big_daz
Jan. 19th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
UKTV Drama have for some reason skipped Genesis of the Daleks

Sounds like Terry Nation's Estate is b@ggering about over rights again- that means you won't be getting the Android Invasion in a few weeks either..
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
Gah, bunch of eejits! I don't understand why they don't realise that co-operating with the BBC is the best way to get exposure (and thus royalties) for Terry Nation's material. I can't remember who first pointed this out, but the fact is that the Daleks have pretty limited potential outside of Doctor Who (with the noble exception of this advert, of course).

Anyway, YouTube is indeed supplying where UKTV Drama do not - most of Genesis is up there, and I've just watched the first three episodes with great enjoyment.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 19th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC)
I think the worst point for female companions wasn't probably until Jon Pertwee - he wanted to play the Doctor as a dashing Bond style action figure with lots of fights and gadgets, and didn't much care for the idea of a companion who would upstage him.

-K
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 06:53 pm (UTC)
Hmm, that's a pity. A strong companion whom the Doctor really needs contributes a lot to the appeal, not just of the show, but of his character as well.

Which isn't to say I don't like Pertwee's Doctor - but then again I haven't really watched any of his stories for about 10 years or so, and maybe I'd find them less appealing now.
big_daz
Jan. 19th, 2008 10:54 am (UTC)
The original Sontaran story, The Time Warrior, is much better than the Sorntaran Experiment, plus its got Dot Cotton and Boba Fett in it. Bonus.
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
Yes, I could see The Sontaran Experiment wasn't their greatest moment as I was watching it. But it's better to have seen that than nowt, and I've still got time to watch The Time Warrior before series 4 starts.
steer
Jan. 19th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
I must say I actually found The Edge of Destruction quite hard work. I just really did not like the queasiness about the whole story. It also seemed a bit directionless at times.

I do agree with you that the Sontaran Experiment was just dreadful.
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
I think both the queasiness and the directionlessness worked for me, in that they were all part of the claustrophobic, confusing atmosphere that was serving to bring out the personality clashes between the TARDIS team - but I can certainly see that the story could have been made a bit shorter and more direct.

It's largely a matter of taste, really - as I say, this is a type of story I happen to particularly like. But I do also think that, even if it was all a bit serendipitous, it happens to have been a very good thing for the development of the series to include a story at this stage which focussed on the team dynamics of the central characters (including the TARDIS). It really completes the process of getting to know them all which the viewer has been going through since the first episode very nicely, and I feel very much set up with them now, and ready to experience further adventures along with them.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 19th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
Yep, Edge of Destruction is a definite favourite of mine too.

-K
chrisvenus
Jan. 19th, 2008 03:23 pm (UTC)
I've not got a lot to say apart from that its really interesting reading your write ups. Just thought I'd say that in case you were wondering how many people read them. If I had time I'd love to watch more old who but I don't think I do really so I have to just enjoy your writeups and observations on it. Thank you. :)
strange_complex
Jan. 19th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
Aw, bless, thank you - what a sweet comment! It's nice if people read and enjoy them, but don't worry - I intend to carry on whether people comment or not, because I'm really enjoying writing up my responses. I need to learn to make them shorter, because they're taking a lot of time (that I don't have!) to write up at the moment, but I'll definitely carry on recording something as I carry on watching. Hope you continue to enjoy it!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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