‘Doctor Who: The Beginnings’ DVD Review
So here’s my personal history with Doctor Who. In spite of it appearing out of the corner of my eye throughout childhood I never gave it much heed, finding the nifty opening sequence to be the most interesting part. All I knew about the series was that there were multiple Doctors and they traveled through space in a phone box. With the increased interest in the series since the re-launch of the series with the Ninth Doctor the fandom surrounding it to the point that my curiosity needed to be addressed. Jumping in the Christopher Eccleston series last year I quickly found myself up to date and out of episodes. With the looming thought of not having any new Doctor Who, River Song or the Ponds to keep me entertained, I did the only thing I could: I went back to the beginning.
I’ve been working my way through the early years, one DVD set at a time. Given how much the effects have dated and how much of the early seasons are lost to time (ironically) it has held up pretty well. As I work my way through the history of the Timelord expect to see plenty of reviews. If you’ve ever wondered how it started and if it’s worth the time of tracking them down, I will answer that question for you.
(Cue TARDIS sound effects.)
The Beginnings is comprised of three DVD sets, each containing one serial apiece, which we’ll address in turn.
An Unearthly Child (4 Episodes)
Even with almost fifty years of episodes to make himself well known to the television watching public the original introduction to the Doctor can still be appreciated as a clever sleight of hand. The show opens with Ian and Barbara, a pair of school teachers, discussing the oddities of a student named Susan Foreman. Susan has a brilliant mind for science, maths and history but lacks knowledge about every day life in London, including referring to things that haven’t happened yet. Wanting to investigate Ian and Barbara head to Susan’s given address only to find a junkyard. Eventually they overhear her voice coming from a police box and in doing so discover the TARDIS and the Doctor, Susan’s grandfather.
Initially the Doctor comes across as a little hostile. Actually that’s putting it mildly. He’s, as previously discussed on this website, a total dick cheese sandwich. When he becomes concerned that Ian and Barbara may prove a threat to his secrecy he kidnaps them in the TARDIS and take them 100,000 years into the past. The rest of the story revolves around the foursome getting involved in a conflict between tribes of cavemen which was sparked (preemptive apology for the pun) by losing the secret of fire. What follows is pretty generic adventuring for this era of film-making as the gang get captured, escape and yadda yadda yadda.
The business of the caveman is difficult to take seriously (especially with names like Zal, Hur and Horg) but it is fascinating to see how far the Doctor has come over the years. The dickish behaviour escalates until you’re faced with the unusual sight of the Doctor wanting to murder someone, by encouraging a mob to stone them to death no less. It is also the only time you’re going to see the Doctor smoking. The companions at this stage are pretty forgettable, this being one of the episodes intended to ‘educate’ young viewers, a gimmick that the show writers eventually come to see as less fun than the sci-fi episodes. It’s an enjoyable episode, but sluggish and tacky. Only worth watching for the novelty of it.
Daleks (7 Episodes)
aka ‘The Dead Planet’ or ‘The Mutants’
If there’s one aspect of Doctor Who more recognizable than the TARDIS is the Daleks. Most pleps would be able to identify them quicker than they could identify William Hartnell. In this serial the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara find themselves on a planet that appears to be dead, landing in a petrified forest. Although everyone wants to bail, the Doctor tricks them (dick) into heading to a distant city that turns out to be occupied by the infamous Daleks.
The accompanying backstory to go with the Daleks is an interesting one, making this the first episode to show the potential for great story telling the series is now known for. After the first encounter with the armored, mutated aliens the Doctor and his companions team up with the more human looking members of the planets populace in order to invade the Dalek city. The lead up to this event sees many perils and even a body count, ending in a pretty exciting battle. Although what we learn about the Daleks in this initial story doesn’t match up to modern continuity (I’m pretty sure you can’t pop open their lid, remove the Dalek and climb inside for a spot of espionage) it adds up to a good story overall.
Being the first purely science fiction story in the series is holds up to be a bit more interesting than the first. Well worth checking out.
The Edge of Destruction (2 Episodes)
aka Inside the Spaceship
Out of the three stories included in this box set this brief story is by far the most interesting. Beginning with faulty navigation equipment that leads to an explosion and the four crew members getting knocked out, the entire story takes place inside the TARDIS with the characters turning against each other. With people suffering amnesia and strange happenings nobody trusts each other, least of all the Doctor. With such limitations placed on the script writers it winds up being the smartest story yet, building on intrigue and mistrust and closing with a satisfying pay-off.
In terms of the series history this is the first indication that the TARDIS is sentient to a degree. If you are only watching one disc from the box set, make it this one.
Also included on the third disc is the serial Marco Polo, an episode that was lost decades ago. Recreated here using still images and the original soundtrack it’s put together remarkably well and allows viewers to experience quite a good story in an audio/visual fashion.
Check in sometime in the future for reviews of Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs and The Sensorites.