Sunday, March 17, 2013

Classic Doctor Who Season One

Well, folks.  It sure has been a while.  After the doodle-a-day project ended I kind of let the blog go for a bit.  I did this for several reasons.  First and foremost, this past semester at school was by far my busiest and most difficult.  In addition to classes and homework, I also had work, animation, and social responsibilities.  Finally, I had just grown kind of weary of blogging.  I always had it in my mind to write more here, but I decided not to sully the place with one of those "still alive and will post soon" messages, because I hate those.  I promised myself that the next time I updated I would have some honest to god content, and the drive to continue updating.

So here we are, almost seven months later.  I hope I haven't lost too many of you folks, but I understand if I am now once more typing into a void.  It's not like any of you actually commented anyway.  ;)

Alright then.  So.  Recently I discovered something about myself: I am immune to camp in television.  It's not that I don't see it (ridiculous costumes, bad special effects, and cheesy plots are just as noticeable to me as to anyone else), but rather that it genuinely doesn't bother me.  As a result of this power, I was recently able to watch the entire first season of Doctor Who - that's right, the classic 60s Black & White show - and enjoy it unironically.  Here follows my thoughts.

An Unearthly Show

I watched the first episode (An Unearthly Child) on a whim, out of simple curiosity.  Being a fan of the new series and having seen some episodes of the classic series I was interested in seeing how the whole thing started.  I did not anticipate going on to watch the entire season, but that first episode got me hooked.

And what a first episode.   I kept trying to imagine what it would have been like to be watching that show when that episode first aired, back in November of 1963.  How strange it must have seemed.  The show begins on a shot of the TARDIS, immediately recognizable to a modern viewer as The Doctor's timeship, but the viewers of that first episode would have no idea what its significance was, considering police boxes were common at the time.  The show then proceeds to the opening titles, filled with psychedelic visuals and the now-familiar synthesized theme music that must have seemed very strange at the time.

The greatest tragedy in watching the first episode today is that it is impossible to truly enjoy the mystery.  The show is structured to make us intensely curious about Susan - the Doctor's grandfather - and then the Doctor himself.  The answers are revealed slowly.  We don't even get inside the TARDIS until the final act.  Though I of course know more about the Doctor, his origins, and the TARDIS than the writers at the time even knew, it is still possible to appreciate the slow reveal of this enigmatic alien.

The episode ends with the Doctor kidnapping his first two human companions (they know too much), Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, and crashing the TARDIS - which for the first time has failed to change from its camouflaged police box form - in the wastelands of Earth 100,000 BC, as an ominous shadow approaches in the foreground: a strange ending to the first episode of a strange show.

The rest of the season continued to push the envelope on weirdness.  The Daleks - The Doctor's most famous enemies - made their first appearance in the second ever serial.  They go on several more sci-fi adventures, including a strangely video-game like series of gopher missions on the planet Marinus and tangling with the telepathic alien Sensorites.  They again returned to Earth's past several times, once to go on a months-long journey with Marco Polo, again to the height of the Aztec empire, and finally to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror (apparently the Doctor's favorite time period).

The thing I was most impressed with in the first season was the surprising amount of character development. I had been expecting a very different show, with more focus on suspense and sci-fi than on writing believable characters.  And while the character development was slow, it was definitely there and to a significant degree.

The Doctor 

The First Doctor (original work)

I was very interested in getting to know the first incarnation of the Doctor.  This is after all, the original form.  The one that grew up on Galifrey.  The one that stole a TARDIS to see the universe.  I was very curious as to how different he was from the Doctor as I knew him.

It turns out he is quite a bit different.  The Doctor was originally envisioned as a sort-of antagonist, who's mischeivious actions would cause trouble for the heroes of our story: Ian and Barbara.

The First Doctor is grumpy, obstinate, and sometimes downright villainous.  In the first serial, 100,000 B.C., The TARDIS crew are being chased by a caveman through the forest.  The caveman is attacked by some offscreen beast and the crew run back.  The Doctor argues with the humans that they should take this opportunity to escape, but Ian and Barbara believe it is their responsibility to save the man's life if they can.  The Doctor then quietly takes a stone and attempts to bash the man's head in before being stopped by Ian.  A far cry from the Doctor I've come to know!

In the second serial (The Daleks), The Doctor's selfishness once again brings disaster for the crew when he claims an important part of the ship is broken in order to convince the others to go down into the city that he wanted to explore.  Of course, the ship part was never broken at all and the crew ended up as prisoners of the Daleks.

The Doctor did have a few positive qualities at the outset, however.  From the first episode it was clear that he had a very strong relationship with his grandaughter, Susan, whom he protected fiercely.  His love for her was his saving grace in those first few episodes, when it became otherwise difficult to like him at all.  He also shows the Doctor's trademark love of the universe and its mysteries, and his most poetic moments are when he is describing the wonders of the cosmos.

The most amazing thing to me about this first season was the amount of character development they were able to achieve.  I had assumed, considering the silly nature of the classic series, that character development would be nonexistent.  How wrong I was.

The Doctor is a very different character by the end of the season.  Though initially disdainful of humans, he comes to like and respect Ian and Barbara by the end of the season, due in no small part to the sheer amount of time spent with them.  An important moment in this development came in the third serial (The Edge of Destruction) when The Doctor blames Ian and Barbara for sabotaging the TARDIS, when it ended up being the TARDIS itself that was to blame.  Feeling foolish for blaming them, the Doctor apologizes.  From then on  he shows them much more respect, though of course he never quite loses his haughty attitude.

The Doctor's visible softening is so great that, by the time of the 6th serial (The Aztecs), he even falls in love with an Aztec woman, whom he is very sad to leave.  By the time of the final serial of the season (The Reign of Terror), the Doctor, willingly and without hesitation, risks his own life to save Ian, Barbara, and Susan.  A far cry from the man who was willing to smash in a caveman's skull just to get to his ship faster.


Soon I shall write up another post discussing Susan, the Doctor's grandaughter, as well as his first human companions, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.  Then it's on to season 2!

As for other upcoming posts, I do plan on finally continuing my Buffy rewatch, doing some more drawings, and maybe a little bit of Veronica Mars.  Stay tuned, folks!

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