There’s a question I would think about from time to time for the past twenty years (right about the time I started going to fan conventions): How does someone start watching Doctor Who?
You see, I have always been of the mentality that if I am going to watch a television series that I should “start at the beginning” and go forward. I did this when I met my wife and she thought I should watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I invested in each box set and we watched the series from beginning to end. I’ve learned that watching a show this way makes it more enjoyable for me because 1.) I can watch the evolution of the characters as the story progresses in order and 2.) it makes it easier to deal with cliffhangers… except for season finales which, if I don’t have the next season box set on hand, can cause a (gasp!) twenty four hour delay before watching it since I have to run out to the store. The Buffy box sets have been well worth the money spent since they have now been passed from friend to friend who are all doing the same thing we did. We’ve watch the complete series (in order) of Angel, Arrested Development, Battlestar Galactica (new), Gilmore Girls, Stargate, Stargate: Atlantis, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., and Veronica Mars on DVD.
We are currently watching but have not completed our box set collections of: 30 Rock (still on the air), Bones (still on the air), Knight Rider, Mad Men (still on the air), Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, Star Trek (the original series, on blu-ray), The Muppet Show and The X-Files.
The problem with Doctor Who, though, is that there is no beginning. Or, least, it doesn’t exist anymore. From Wikipedia:
Between about 1964 and 1973, large amounts of older material stored in the BBC’s various video tape and film libraries were either destroyed, wiped or suffered from poor storage which led to severe deterioration from broadcast quality. This included many old episodes of Doctor Who, mostly stories featuring the first three Doctors—William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee. Following consolidations and recoveries the archives are complete from the programme’s move to colour television (starting from Jon Pertwee’s time as the Doctor), although a few Pertwee episodes have required substantial restoration; a handful have been recovered only as black and white films, and several survive in colour only as NTSC copies recovered from North America (a few of which are domestic, off-air Betamax tape recordings, not transmission quality). In all, 108 of 253 episodes produced during the first six years (most notably series 3, 4, & 5, from which 90 episodes are missing) of the programme are not held in the BBC’s archives. It has been reported that in 1972 almost all episodes then made were known to exist at the BBC, whilst by 1978 the practice of wiping tapes and destroying ‘spare’ film copies had ended.
So you see, for someone like me who enjoys a good “complete” series, Doctor Who poses something of a problem.
Recently, though, I found a workable answer in the oddest of places: my local gym. I’ve been on a bit of a health kick lately with an impending trip to Cancun on the horizon, so I’ve spent at least six days a week going to my local gym and putting in my time to drop some unneeded weight. I discovered, one day, that the exercise bikes at my gym are built so that you can plug an iPod into it and watch video while biking. Go Steve Jobs!
With the pieces in place (and a $25 iTunes gift card in hand) I decided to finally dedicate some time, and sweat, to the good Doctor.
The oldest episodes iTunes had to offer were from May of 1963 and feature The 1st Doctor: William Hartnell.
Doctor Who: The Aztecs (from iTunes): The Tardis takes the Doctor and his companions back in time to fifteenth century Mexico where Barbara is swiftly made a High Priestess. But for the others life isn’t so good. And as human sacrifices become the need of the day, have the travellers finally meddled once too often?
First off, I had heard that the Doctor always has a companion – but three of them? Also, from what I can gather, two of them are school teachers and one of them (Susan) is his granddaughter. It’s all a bit confusing compared to the hubbub I read on the web about the Doctor’s companions. Thankfully, Wikipedia comes through again explaining that the show was originally designed to be infotainment for the children of England. The Doctor never left Earth in the beginning and the show was similar to the concept of the eighties time travel series Voyagers… showing historical moments for entertainment and education. Instead of the Omni (a handheld device in Voyagers) the Doctor uses a TARDIS. Instead of an orphan boy (Voyagers) the Doctor is galavanting around with his school age granddaughter. And so on.
Since this is the only 1st Doctor serials available, I can only guess the others are similar. There is a charm in watching shows from the golden age of television – even more so with science fiction. There is no CGI, and the props are made based on assumptions of what technology will look like. Also, since the series was on such a limited budget, the show is forced to use film takes “as is” including the occasional mistake. There are some great memorable moments when OBVIOUS line mistakes occur and the actors just go with it.
As simple and as dated as The Aztecs is, you can already see the charm of Doctor Who’s sly cunning of character and (sometimes) clever English dialog.
Next up: The 2nd Doctor: Patrick Toughton in The Krotons.