Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nilbog Watches The First Doctor

So I've made it through the abridged First Doctor of the Original Doctor Who.

So these were the episodes, or rather stories, I watched in William Hartnell's original tenure:
1. An Unearthly Child
2. The Daleks
3. Aztecs
4. Dalek Invasion of Earth
5. The Mythmakers
6. The Tenth Planet

I say "Stories" because, much to my surprise, each "episode" is really four to six parts.

Overall, the one thing that really strikes me about the First Doctor in the stories I watched is how...well...how to put this delicately....how much of an utter douche he is. He doesn't seem to care about anyone but himself at first. Granted, by the end of his time, he's softened and shown a kinder heart, but he's still very much of an obtuse old man. That being said, there is a kind of charm in his insufferableness that draws me in, and I think that's part of the reason the show took off.

It's also interesting to me to see some insight into the Doctor's family, which is always barely hinted at in the modern series. While Susan strikes me as very much of a stereotypically annoying teenage
girl, the fact that the series started with not one but TWO Time Lords is something of a revelation to me. Which is why I'm thankful that "Dalek Invasion of Earth" was part of the recommendations.

One of the drawbacks to watching the series this way, despite the relief of not having to sift through 50 years worth of stories, is that the Companions are coming and going with little for me to latch on to and recognize; as this run progressed and now as I move into the Second Doctor and beyond, I'm starting each episode saying "who the hell are THESE clowns? What happened to the last people?" At least with "DIoE" I can see where it was that Susan broke from her grandfather.

Another thing I noticed is that at this point, much like series such as Classic Star Trek and Dark Shadows, that there's very little intentional comedy. Oh, it's funny because the effects are ridiculous, but it still takes itself very seriously and tries so adorably hard to pass itself off as a serious drama piece. While I doubt I would have gotten into the series had I started here, I do see why it became so popular and do see a lot of things I like here.

Highlights include:
1. Seeing the genesis of the Daleks and how surprisingly consistent they've been over the years.
2. Tlotoxl, the antagonist of the "Aztecs" storyline, is just a great character and one of my favorites of the series so far. Smarmy, slimy, the kind of character I'd play in something like this (and not dissimilar-looking either).
3. While it was sadly an audio-only so I couldn't get the full scope (though I watched a reconstruction using stills), the "Mythmakers" arc was a fantastic story and a fun alternate look at the fabled battle of Troy. Also seeing Barrie "Basil of Baker Street" Ingham as Paris was a delightful surprise.
4. In the first regeneration arc "The Tenth Planet", we also see the first appearance of the Cybermen. While aesthetically they're absolutely horrible (think Galactus cosplayers with socks on their heads), I actually prefer their speech patterns here than what I'm used to. Rather than a deep monotone, their voices are almost melodic, like someone dialing a touch-tone telephone. It gives them a lot more character, I think, and separates them more from the Daleks.

While the final episode was also a reconstruction, true footage of the regeneration itself at least survives. And it's sad and confusing, and Hartnell doesn't really get any memorable last words to speak of.

Now on to number 2....


  1. I think what's important to understand about the First Doctor as a character is that as originally intended he was not the main character (that was supposed to be Ian, the science teacher) and was initially supposed to be a dangerous and often volatile part of the crew (the original backstory was that he came from a future time and was trying to change time to wipe out his own race).

    Obviously they abandoned this pretty early on, and by the third serial or so they've softened him up quite a bit- I think an intentional part of his arc was that he was essentially humanized by Barbara and Ian, and by "Dalek Invasion of Earth" turned into the hero we know him as today.

    Honestly, I think the douchiness of his Doctor tends to get overrated because of how much more we're familiar with his first season rather than later one, where he's much more paternal, lighthearted, and even jovial than he is in those first few stories. He always has a bit of an edge to him (but most Doctors do anyways), but I always think of him much more as kindly grandfather than jerky ahole.

    As for comedy, there's actually quite a bit more of it than you'd think, but it's concentrated in specific stories. I should've thought to recommend "The Romans" which is pretty much a farce all the way through. "Myth Makers" is also an intentional comedy (when I first listened to it it struck me as a proto-Douglas Adams), and if you're interested in checking more of that out you should probably see "The Time Meddler", "The Gunfighters", stuff like that. There's even an episode in "Dalek's Master Plan" where they get stuck in Hollywood and it starts to imitate an old silent comedy.

    1. I can see that the initial idea was vastly different than what it turned into, and even by "Aztecs" he was softening up. But he still had somewhat of a cowardly streak.

  2. Also: Disagree re: Cybermen, I *love* that design. It's clunky and slightly off-kilter, but I argue intentionally so- these are supposed to be people who switched out their body parts for insane contraptions, and the design as it ends up is almost nightmarish at points. That blank, expressionless face coupled with that creepy sing-songy voice...oooh.

    The Cybermen were never as good as they were in Tenth Planet, IMO- partly because of the design, but also the concept here is far more interesting than later generic robot conceptions- here, the Cybermen don't want to convert people just because they're evil and stuff, they want to convert people because they *legitimately believe this is a better way of life*, and they can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to be converted.

    If you want to check out more with this conception of the Cybermen, I highly recommend Big Finish's "Spare Parts"- an audio story with the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa about the creation of the Cybermen. It's a wonderfully creepy story dripping with depth and weirdness and just an all-around fascinating story.

    Also, I simply have to recommend Phil Sandifer's essay on "The Tenth Planet"- it's a wonderful look at the Cybermen in the story as well as the regeneration itself, and brings a lot of interesting viewpoints to the story (his Hartnell essays in general are almost required reading for the show because they really bring a historical context to the stories that we often miss, and he'll often talk about the differences in how we percieve stories now to how we would've seen them then. I simply cannot recommend his writings more):

    1. I didn't mean the design was horrible, merely the execution (except, again, for the voices).

      And I've always gotten that sense from the Cybermen, that they legit think it's better and they think they're doing someone a favor by converting them. It's just the immediateness of that threat is played up in later appearences where they're also less likely to suffer those who are "unworthy". Though I do agree with the basic sentiment - I've never been particularly fond of the cybermen in general except here (and possibly "Nightmare in Silver"...and Handles was cute).

      I also had a revelation: the Cybermen are really a prototype for the Borg.

    2. Yeah, the writers of Next Generation were active fans of the classic series, so the Borg are very much inspired from that idea (though they serve different metaphors- the Borg have typically been metaphors for capitalism whereas the Cybermen represent a twisted form of enlightenment).

      And yeah, I'd agree it's at least an underlying part of the new series Cybermen (fun fact- "Age of Steel/Rise of the Cybermen" was actually inspired by "Spare Parts"), but the classic series ditches it by their next appearance such that they basically become evil robots. And man...you haven't even begun to see the horrors of "Attack of the Cybermen", which takes basically everything interesting about them and throws it away in favor of 'grittiness' and cynicism. Ech. 80s Cybermen had some great designs but conceptually were pretty bland.