Monday, October 4, 2010

"I'm the Doctor."

So last week a request was relayed to me via Anna from one of her coworkers who has been watching the new Doctor Who series and now wants to get into the original series.


This makes me happy. I am an old-school fan; the very first episode I can remember seeing I was too young to remember the year or to understand what was going on but it was Planet of the Giants (a rerun, obviously, from 1960-some-odd) and it scared the hell out of me. My dad tried again with Robots of Death in...ooh, the late 1980s sometime? and that was all she wrote. Been hooked ever since. At my peak fandom, I could recite all the companions -- 1963-1989 -- forward and backward, character names, occupations, and actors; all the Doctors, ditto (naturally; that's easy! There are fewer of them!); main villains; and a good whack of episode titles, even those I hadn't seen because, of course, I owned nearly all the companion books. So I could also recite all kinds of miscellaneous facts like that K-9 was largely held together with sello-tape and hatred because, apparently, the dog "puppet" was such a pain in the neck.

I can't -- quite -- do all that any more: if nothing else, I almost always forget Paul McGann and elide the space between Sylvester McCoy and Christopher Eccleston, making Eccleston 8 and Tennant 9 and then I get very confused about Matt Smith. Anyway, my point is that I'm still good enough to remember enough titles to come up with a pretty good "intro fan's guide" and that's what this is.

In no particular order -- certainly not chronological or "best to worst"...and, sadly, may include things that are a little tricky to find. And I discovered while making my list that I had far too many recommendations for one post, so we're going to have a rather Whovian week here, folks, and enjoy, Tracy; you have some sweet viewing in front of you!

Tom Baker and Mary Tamm
contemplate the Key
in The Armageddon Factor
The Key to Time series, made up of The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, Stones of Blood, Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll (my personal favorite), and The Armageddon Factor (1978-1979 -- the whole season). The last may be one of the weakest in the series, sadly. The writers and director wanted to make a big splashy season ender, forgetting that DW -- at the time -- wasn't a big splashy kinda show. It did better with small and solid as exemplified here in the excellent Ribos Operation, an absolutely unarguable "stop the crime" story-line with a great introduction for Mary Tamm's Romanadvoratnalundar. Last I checked, all of these shows are available on Netflix insty; barring that, they're all on DVD so should be available through regular ol' snail mail Netflix.

Jacqueline Hill, William Russell,
William Hartnell, and Carole Ann Ford
in the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child.
An Unearthly Child. The first episode. November 23, 1963 at 5.20 p.m., thank you very much. (I've heard different ideas about the time, but I'm fairly sure I'm right; I checked with my father and he's reasonably sure he watched it at the time. :)) If anyone wants the explanation for why the new series Doctors -- particularly Eccleston -- aren't "nice" all the time, here's your answer. William Hartnell's Doctor was short-tempered, irascible, selfish, snarky, and prone to emotional blackmail and manipulation. Sounds like fun, yeah? Well, it is. If that isn't enough to excite your interest, there's also Jacqueline Hill's Barbara, William Russell's Ian, and Carole Ann Ford's Susan -- the Doctor's granddaughter, one of my favorite companions. The story isn't anything to write home about -- a simple trip back in time to prehistoric earth -- but watching the roots of the show emerge is worth the clunky -- even for Doctor Who! -- effects and occasionally dull dialogue of the cavemen: "Za will make fire!" "I say Za will not make fire!" "Za will do what he says!" I think this is available on DVD?

William Hartnell and William Russell
threatened by the Daleks on Skaro.
The Dead Planet (1963-1964). Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate! They were at it right from the beginning -- everyone's favorite thing to hide from behind the couch. And the Daleks were there from the start, too, appearing as the main villains in the second show (I'm going by joined-up episodes here; technically, the shows in the original series were divided into multiple parts that aired over a number of weeks.) Planet is long, I won't hide it from you; it goes on a bit, but it sustains interest through having good solid characters -- the Thals who are the "nice" native tribe on the planet that the Doctor, Ian, Susan, and Barbara end up trying to help -- and there's some good debate about whether or not the Doctor and his companions should help: is it right for them just to land on the planet, have a cursory understanding of what's going on, and plunge right in up to the elbows? just because the Daleks attacked them, sort of, should they leap in on the side of the Thals? I think this one also is on DVD...or coming soon?

Sylvester McCoy and Anthony Ainley
face off.
Survival (1989). *sigh* The last episode of the old series. Features one of my other favorite companions, Ace, and a great "villain" in the form of the Cheetah People. There's also the Master -- the second one, Anthony Ainley -- and some creepy ideas about environment forming personality. There's also a very new series-style moment with the Doctor forced to choose whether or not to employ a violent solution. If he does -- well, bad things happen including, possibly the end of the world -- would work. And he really wants to. May be one of the first DW episodes to deal overtly with a real-world problem -- episodes like The Sunmakers before dealt with actual events in a kind of backhanded manner -- but Survival, in so many words, takes on youth violence which still seems to paralyse and stun Britain in a weird way. And John Simm can probably thank the writers of Survival for the fact that he had the opportunity to create his magnificent turn as the Master in The End of Time. On DVD.

Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen
discover the secrets of
the Wirrn.
Robot, Ark in Space, Sontaran Experiment, Genesis of the Daleks, Revenge of the Cybermen (1974-1975). Another whole Tom Baker season but is there a better way to spend your time? It could be argued that the answer is yes, by watching whole Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, or Jon Pertwee season, but it'd be a close call. This is Baker's first season and it's amazing. He takes control of the role from the start, making a complete, clean break from Pertwee's action-happy dandy with his opera cloak and velvet smoking jacket and turning the Doctor into a thoughtful Bohemian -- with an occasionally nasty temper. He looks silly -- but isn't. There's a lot of David Tennant's performance in here, one way or another.

Tune back in for Part 2 on Wednesday!

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