Doctor Who (Classic Series): An Unearthly Child

Overview

Despite having already covered the classic era of Doctor Who, I have wanted to dive back in using this new review format. I used the classic era to jumpstart a regular writing/posting habit many years ago, and I hope to do so again. The format, then, is to review complete stories. Once I finish a serial, I will post a review. My goal is one review per week until I get caught up. And yes, caught up means the new series, which will likely be well in to the Chris Chibnall era.

One more thing to clarify: I’m approaching An Unearthly Child as a stand-alone episode. While there are character conflicts that continue throughout the 4-part story, An Unearthly Child works well as its own story. It introduces all the main characters and concepts in a mere 25 minutes. The episode doesn’t wait around, and just hits the ground running. It’s a bit impressive.

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Image from Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child. Dir. Waris Hussein. BBC 1963.

Story

An Unearthly Child starts with Barbara and Ian, the history and science teachers at Coal Hill School, discussing Susan Foreman, a mysterious student. She is a gifted student, but she also has some strange gaps in her knowledge of present-day England. She doesn’t fit in. Oddly, she it sounds like she is the type of genius that just can’t be bothered with ordinary, mundane things. But she doesn’t fit in to this proper British school and Barbara wants to know more about her. Barbara follows Susan home one night. Susan, apparently, lives with her grandfather in a junk yard. Enlisting Ian’s help, Barbara sets out to confront this situation. The two teachers follow the young girl into the junk yard, and immediately lose track of her. They find an old police telephone box that seems to be connected to some sort of power source. They are discovered by an old man, who turns out to be Susan’s grandfather. Then, they hear Susan call out from inside the police box. Thinking Susan is being held against her will, Barbara forces her way in. The police box is bigger on the inside, and the inside is full of high-tech gadgetry side-by-side with antique furniture and a clock. Susan’s grandfather refuses to let the teachers go, hits a switch, and propels the police box through space and/or time. The episode leaves their destination in question.

It is no surprise that successful “reboots” of Doctor Who model themselves on this episode. The companions are introduced. We get a feel for who they are. The companions face a mystery. Through that mystery, they come to meet the Doctor and encounter the TARDIS. Each episode of the new series that introduces a new companion (a soft reboot, in a way) uses this pattern. Where this episode differs, however, is the mystery of the Doctor and Susan. They were introduced without 50+ years of lore and fan-baggage. As a result, there is no attempt to explain who the Doctor and Susan are beyond “exiles in the 4th dimension.” In a way, it’s fun to adopt this mindset and let the show provide its own answers. (Sometimes these answers are very different from what the show has become.)

This episode sets up a mystery, and as Ian and Barbara investigate the mystery, they find more questions. They are forced into a larger world, not by choice, but through kidnapping. It’s an interesting starting point.

Characters

BARBARA: I feel frightened, as if we are about to interfere in something that is best left alone. Don’t you feel it?

IAN: I take things as they come.

There is surprising depth to these characters. The quotes above give a concise encapsulation of who they are. Barbara is curious but has a sense of right and wrong. Ian is more relaxed in his approach.

Susan enjoys the world she is in, despite her struggles, but feels very close to her grandfather. She will do what he says, regardless of what she wants. In a way, she is trapped by his over-protection. The Doctor is suspicious, calm, and calculating. He seems dangerous and untrustworthy and at this point. This is especially true after he kidnaps the two teachers.

Personally, I think the episode stumbles a bit when Barbara tries to explain to Susan that the TARDIS is an illusion. She rejects what she has seen. Ian has difficulty with this as well, explaining that he doesn’t expect the mysteries of time travel to be solved in a junk yard. While I think this is a lapse of character, it does reinforce the idea that adherence to the status-quo is a strong desire. Susan’s inability to fit in started this adventure, and now the teachers must stare it directly in the face. They reject it.

Themes

Decades of stories that portray a call to adventure (Luke in Star Wars, Harry in Harry Potter, Bilbo and Frodo in Tolkien’s novels) always start with a realization that the status quo doesn’t work any longer. The characters often take a first step into adventure, but then reject it. However, the first step cannot be undone, and so they are forced out against their will. Luke wanted to leave home, met Obi Wan, started gaining knowledge, but then refused the call. He returned home to find his aunt and uncle killed. He then returned to Obi Wan. (Okay, it doesn’t quite work with Harry Potter, but his pre-called life was tangibly unpleasant as opposed to existentially unpleasant.)

There is a similar, though rearranged, call here. Barbara and Ian are firmly in the status quo, but their call comes from their observation that Susan is not of the status quo. They actually want to mold her giftedness into something that would work for the world as they see it, but Susan either can’t (because of her grandfather) or won’t (if she has any choice, which she probably doesn’t). And so, the teachers investigate. They are soon forced to stare the call directly in the face as they enter the TARDIS. But the Doctor won’t let them leave, and now they are trapped—for better or for worse.

And so, it would seem, the deeper theme of the episode is that once you take steps to investigate this mystery, this call, this place where the status-quo breaks down, you have altered your fate.

Presentation

I’m grading this one on a curve. This is 1960s British television. Decades of film and television innovation have not yet happened, and most of the framing for the episode is done similar to stage productions. It’s actually fun to watch for shots that attempt to frame all the characters in a shot. It’s fun to see how director Waris Hussein works with depth.

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Image Source: Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child. Dir. Waris Hussein. BBC 1963.

And I’m particularly impressed with the shot of Ian and Barbara in the car.

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Image Source: Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child. Dir. Waris Hussein. BBC 1963.

It is difficult, however, to watch some of the camera movements. The cameras used at the time didn’t have lenses that could zoom, so the cameras had to be physically moved. This causes problems with focus and framing. We often lose sight of the characters in the shot. Sadly, these moments haven’t aged well, though they were standard at the time. But I don’t want to detract from evaluating presentation due to the technical limitations. Instead, I want to see how they used what they had, and I think that An Unearthly Child did quite well. It’s a solidly shot episode.

Personal Enjoyment

Sadly, I wasn’t really engaged with the episode on this viewing. I’ve seen it many times, so there aren’t a lot of surprises. I still enjoy it because Ian and Barbara are some of my favorite Doctor Who companions, but at this point, we are still just putting pieces into place. I know what the pieces are, and so I’m ready for the adventure. But still, An Unearthly Child is immensely watchable and, technical considerations aside, holds up well for the era.

Final Rating: 7/10

An Adventure in Space and Time

Written by

Mark Gatiss

What’s It About?

BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman has hired Verity Lambert to produce a family-oriented sci-fi drama called Doctor Who. Actor William Harnell, hoping this part would break him out of type-casting and put him on the road to more legitimate artistic work, is cast in the title role. This is the origin of Doctor Who before it was a world-wide phenomenon, when it was just a tiny show fighting against the odds to become a success.

I Don’t Want to Go

Doctor_Who_-_An_Adventure_in_Space_and_Time_PosterThat was the point where I lost it completely. These words which caused inward groaning when uttered by the incumbent Doctor in 2010 caused out-and-out bawling when uttered by David Bradley as William Hartnell in 2013. “I don’t want to go.” And the emotion still floats behind my eyes.

This wasn’t the only tear-inducing moment for me. I estimate that I cried by varying degrees every ten minutes or so. I blame this blog for that. If I had never set out to watch and write about every Doctor Who serial, I would have never spent the time to go beyond passively viewing Doctor Who. I never would have tried to understand context. I never would have searched for information about the people behind the characters. In short, I never would have developed an appreciation for the Hartnell Era of Doctor Who. I love this era, particularly the years Verity Lambert ran the show. The stories produced during her tenure were diverse, ambitious, and surprising. They were intelligent and compelling. They succeeded beyond any expectation when one learns what they were working with. And if An Adventure in Space and Time is accurate in this capacity, they were successful because they were industry outsiders fighting to prove themselves. Lambert was a woman fighting for respect and success in a male-dominated BBC. Waris Hussein was of Middle Eastern descent fighting for respect in a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant [although I cannot entirely verify the “Protestant” aspect in this case]) culture. William Hartnell was fighting to show he, and elderly actor, could be successful despite being type-cast as grumpy, humorless sergeant majors or gangsters in an industry that would be increasingly driven by youth (although that may not have been as much of a hindrance in 1963). The struggle of the outsider is encoded into Doctor Who’s DNA, and it started here, in 1963, driven by a group of creative people who needed to prove themselves to the insiders.

And this is what became clear in Gatiss’s telling of this story. Doctor Who became the success story whereby the outsiders won and gained victory.

It is funny to me that when it comes to his Doctor Who stories, Mark Gatiss is very hit or miss for me. But I have seen stories he has done for Marple and Sherlock and I have loved them. An Adventure in Space and Time is at once a Doctor Who story and not a Doctor Who story. Symbolically, there is a struggle, albeit a real-world struggle. The Doctor, as represented by the show rather than the character, helps them to succeed and overcome. But it is also a docu-drama, part documentary, part fiction. And Gatiss masterfully teases out the insider/outsider story to great effect. At its core, An Adventure in Space and Time is William Hartnell’s story, but it intersects with Verity Lambert’s story and Waris Hussein’s story. And while I would have liked to see David Whitaker (my favorite of the early writers and a down-right influential script editor), I understand the need to focus on the people who best bring out the theme of the story. Gatiss does this beautifully. This is probably my favorite of his work.

I can’t say enough about David Bradley. This man is amazing. In recent performances he has played grumpy or down-right villainous characters (Red Wedding anyone?). In Adventure he performs wonderfully as William Hartnell, showing the cantankerousness of the man, but also the sensitivity, the brokenness, the spark of hope, and the humanity. By all accounts Hartnell could be difficult to work with, but he could also be sensitive and caring. Humans are hard to peg down; we are contradictions. Hartnell was no different, and while he may have been polished up a bit nicer in Adventure (depending on which accounts you read), the complexity of the man comes through. I love that they portrayed the story of Hartnell’s apology to Carol Ann Ford after chastising her.

While it was never likely to happen, I wish William Hartnell could have seen his legacy. In a way, he saw a glimpse of it. He died in 1975, at which time Tom Baker was at the beginning of his tenure. But to me, a fifty-year celebration needs to acknowledge the role of this man who became the first embodiment of the Doctor. William Hartnell founded this character. He provided the grumpiness. He played the trickster. He out-smarted the villains. He struggled with the loss of companions. Every Doctor since him has been an exaggeration of one or more of the traits established in this first era of the show. And while visiting past Doctors is fun, I wish we could see him one last time, providing the voice of authority on what it means to be the Doctor.

Thanks to Mark Gatiss and David Bradley for recognizing and sounding that voice.

My Rating

5/5

bradley-hartnell

Doctor Who: A Big Hand for the Doctor

Cover image for A Big Hand for The Doctor.
Source: Eoin Colfer web site. Copyright 2013 by Puffin.

Who Wrote It: Eoin Colfer

Official Blurb (from Amazon): Eleven Doctors, eleven stories: a year-long celebration of Doctor Who! The most exciting names in children’s fiction each create their own unique adventure about the time-travelling Time Lord.

London, 1900. The First Doctor is missing both his hand and his granddaughter, Susan. Faced with the search for Susan, a strange beam of soporific light, and a host of marauding Soul Pirates intent on harvesting human limbs, the Doctor is promised a dangerous journey into a land he may never forget . . . .

First Line: “The Doctor was not happy with his new bio-hybrid hand.”

A Big Hand for The Doctor isn’t so much a book as a short story with chapters. It draws heavily from Peter Pan and even drives that point home in the epilogue. And while I don’t know that I would say Colfer captured the feel and tone of the First Doctor era, I do think he captured a quasi-Target novelization feel. In fact, Colfer admits that he came to Doctor Who through the Target books. So it is actually quite fitting that he write a Doctor Who book for younger readers.

The Hartnell Doctor is one of my favorites. I’m actually quite critical of portrayals. I don’t know that Colfer completely nails it, but at the same time, I can just about imagine the Doctor of this story hasn’t yet become the darker, more suspicious figure that we meet in An Unearthly Child. Colfer’s Doctor is one who is safer for the kids—maybe The Doctor from the third season rather than the first–but still a bit grumpy.

Typically, I don’t enjoy stories that are set prior to An Unearthly Child. These stories tend to have too much awareness that they are pre-series. The only one I have enjoyed is Quinnis, but then Marc Platt writes the First Doctor and Susan quite well. But with A Big Hand for The Doctor, I’m actually willing to cut Colfer some slack because he isn’t making a big deal about the pre-series setting. We aren’t in 1960s England, tied to Foreman’s Yard and Coal Hill. We are in the early 1900s, and The Doctor is fighting space pirates who steal the souls of children. And I can just about see the First Doctor risking his neck to protect children from evil creatures such as these because I think William Hartnell would improve.

And that’s the bottom line for me. A Big Hand for the Doctor may not reflect the 1960s stories as they aired, but it reflects something I think William Hartnell would have liked: a protective, time-travelling grandfather. Isn’t that kinda what the First Doctor is, after all?

Final Verdict: Unpretentious and not weighed down with gravitas. A Big Hand for the Doctor is a quick read and a nice little tribute to Doctor Who as seen through the Target books. At just under $3, it is well worth the price.

The Three Doctors (Doctor Who)

A photo of the three actors who have played The Doctor
Image copyright by BBC.

Seeing as how it took me a month or so to watch this story, I’ll go ahead and review it by itself. Besides, it was an anniversary special, so it was rather important.

The Three Doctors

Who Wrote It: Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About: Mysterious antimatter creatures appear on Earth and start abducting whatever they touch. The Time Lords realize this is connected to a power drain in their own systems. Left with no other Time Lord to solve the mystery, they call on The Doctor—ALL of them!

The Three Doctors is a great story for two reasons. First, it involves all three of the actors who had played The Doctor up to this point, and second, the TARDIS is finally repaired and The Doctor has his memory of time/space travel restored. The Doctor finishes this episode a free man. He is no longer imprisoned on Earth.

It was wonderful to see Patrick Troughton and William Hartnell again. Sadly, the latter was in ill health, so his involvement was somewhat minimal. Troughton, however, was on top of his game. Watching this story made me realize how much I missed both actors. It also reminded me why I enjoy the character that the Seventh Doctor (skipping ahead a bit) became: a wise and manipulative figure who often disguised himself as a fool. The moments where the Second Doctor began prattling on about his recorder just to test the limits of Omega’s emotional control were classic misdirection. I was reminded of Tomb of the Cybermen, when The Doctor followed Klieg along the control panel and covertly fixed his miscalculations.

This is also the heaviest Time Lord mythology episode so far. We learn that the power used by the Time Lords is from a black hole, and this black hole was created at the expense of Omega’s life (Omega being one of the great Time Lords of the past). The mythology is being filled in, and the Time Lords are becoming less mysterious. They are becoming beings that can be quantified and known, which can serve to strip away their mysterious and godlike qualities. Of course, we have yet to see the story in which Robert Holmes deals the final deathblow to the enigmatic Time Lords.

By the end of the story, we learn that Omega doesn’t quite exist any longer. For centuries he was kept alive by sheer will, and it was this will that allowed him to survive in a universe of antimatter. His will kept him sustained as he ached for revenge against the Time Lords. By the time the Doctors met him, Omega’s physical body had been so destroyed by the technology he developed to bridge the matter and antimatter universes that his will was all that remained. This actually reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s book The Great Divorce. This book takes on the concept of the afterlife and posits that the actions and attitudes we take in life make us into who we are. The Christian concept of sin, therefore, becomes the impulses we give in to which change us, making us less human and more impulse. If we allow our anger to rule us, we eventually become anger. If we allow our addictions to rule us, we become that addiction. In the case of The Three Doctors, Omega ceased being a physical creature and became a disembodied spirit of the will for revenge.

With the end of this story comes the end of The Doctor’s exile. Jon Pertwee’s tenth season has begun, and I’m excited to see where we go from here.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Planet of Giants with Restored Footage!

The Tea-Lady Design for the DVD release. (Source: Doctor Who News web site. Copyright 2012 by BBC.)

I’m not sure how I missed this news. Life has been super busy. That’s the excuse, anyway.

According to the Doctor Who News web site, the DVD release of Planet of Giants will have four episodes for the serial rather than the three that were originally broadcast. Planet of Giants was commissioned as a four part story, but Verity Lambert had the serial recut as three episodes. For the DVD, 2Entertain has used the original scripts to recreate episodes three and four. We are getting an entirely new episode from the Hartnell era!

Presumably, the DVD will also have the broadcast version. Still, this is exciting news and I can’t wait to revisit this story . . . and to fill a gap in my Hartnell DVD collection.

Planet of Giants can be pre-ordered via Amazon UK. No word yet on a USA release date.

Time and Relative: A Review of the Novella by Kim Newman

Source: Good Reads website. Copyright 2001 by Telos Publishing Ltd.

From The Reference Guide: The harsh British winter of 1963 brings a big freeze that extends into April with no sign of letting up. And with it comes a new, far greater menace: terrifying icy creatures are stalking the streets, bringing death and destruction.

The First Doctor and Susan, trapped on Earth until the faulty TARDIS can be repaired, are caught up in the crisis. The Doctor seems to know what is going on, but is uncharacteristically detached and furtive, almost as if he is losing his memory…

Susan, isolated from her grandfather and finding it hard to fit in with the human teenagers at Coal Hill School, tries to cope by recording her thoughts in a diary. But she too feels her memory slipping away and her past unraveling. Is she even sure who she is any more…?

First Line: “Hate, hate, hate! I hate Coal Hill School. I hate Year Four. I hate London. I hate pretending. I hate the cold.”

Source: The Doctor Who Reference Site. Copyright 2001 by Bryan Talbot.

Time and Relative chronicles an adventure of Susan Foreman during the winter of 1963, a few months before Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright started snooping around a certain junkyard. The novella is a pseudo-historical which involves an elemental monster called The Cold which, it turns out, is responsible for the Big Freeze of 1963. The Freeze was a particularly bad cold snap that took place in England. The Thames froze, as did parts of the sea surrounding the British Isles. In typical Doctor Who fashion, Time and Relative places the blame for this historical oddity on a prehistoric intelligence called The Cold. We learn that a combination of Communist Russian experiments and Alaskan drilling reawakened the dormant elemental which had evolved on Earth. As The Doctor says in the novella, The Cold is “one of Evolution’s first experiments with Intelligence.” It is only able to move and grow when temperatures drop below freezing, and the method it uses to dispatch humanity—which The Cold refuses to share the planet with—is an army of killer snowmen. I couldn’t help but envision Bad Mr. Frosty from the old Clay Fighter games, which rather killed the tension. There were a few places where Newman recaptured it, however, such as the snow rolling toward a military blockade, and the scene where Susan, John, Gillian, and company try to cross the Railway Bridge. The Cold proves to be a rather effective monster.

Less effective, however, were some of the secondary characters. The particular weaknesses were with Captain Brent and the Haighs, the former being a military captain and John’s father, the latter a religious husband and wife. It seemed these characters worked to espouse the idea that adults couldn’t handle the crisis, but children could. They insisted on pretending things were normal, while slowly going mad. I find this characterization hard to believe, especially having recently read Day of the Triffids, which created a nuanced and believable portrayal of humanity in a time of extreme crisis. The use of Brent and the Haighs in this way seems to be pandering to the idea that adults are uninteresting and boring and children are strong and resilient and superior because of their heightened imaginations. While I don’t have a problem with this idea, per se, it seems odd to include such an explicit child-empowerment message in a book that I believe was written for adults.

Source: Public Domain

Not all characters were poorly drawn. Susan and The Doctor fare extremely well, as do the supporting characters of John and Gillian (Newman is making a reference to the old TV comics here). I would argue, however, that Susan is portrayed too well. I find it difficult to believe that, having gone through this encounter with The Cold, the Susan of this novel would be the same Susan that would have an emotional crisis every other week once she and The Doctor left Earth. This Susan has more in common with the portrayal from The Sensorites and The Aztecs, which were some of the stronger performances from the show. In particular strength here is The Doctor, who debates whether or not to save the humans because The Cold has a stronger claim on the planet, and it is a more intelligent creature. Compared to The Cold, he says, humanity is like algae on a fish tank. When Gillian threatens to kill Susan if The Doctor refuses to help, The Doctor feels that his point has been made (about humanity’s barbarity), and is willing to allow Susan to die rather than interfere. His disregard for Susan in this instance is a bit at odds with The Doctor in the first season of Doctor Who, but his coldness (no pun intended) and disregard for humanity fits well.

I seem to be down on the book. I suppose I was disappointed. I had high hopes for the story, and even felt the beginning was strong. The book is narrated by Susan, using the conceit that she is writing in a diary in order to improve her grasp of English. This narrative device works quite well. Newman even has a few good observances/commentary about humanity. When discussing adult disdain for 1960s music, he writes, “It’s because adults are threatened. When music changes, it means we’re taking over. The young.” And elsewhere, when Susan is trying to remember her home planet and the Time Lords, she writes:

“This is standing outside a window, looking in, watching a child being beaten but not smashing through to do anything. Finding it interesting, but having no reason to change it, as if the whole universe were a big painting in a gallery, to be admired for its technique but which we should never think to add a brushstroke to, not even to repair damage or improve on a shoddy bit of work. Where we come from, all people are like that.”

These are some great moments in the narrative and some wonderful observations. It’s just a shame that the characters didn’t hold up consistently. This flaw hindered my enjoyment of the book.

Continuity? I mentioned the development of Susan in this book possibly being at odds with the Susan in An Unearthly Child. If I had to bet, I’d say Newman would respond with the following passage from The Doctor:

“‘Continuity, bah!’ Grandfather said yesterday or the day after. ‘Doesn’t exist, child. Except in the minds of the cretinously literal, like the singlehearts who clutter up this planet. Trying to sort it all out will only tie you up in useless knots forever. Get on with it and worry afterwards if you can be pinned to someone else’s entirely arbitrary idea of the day-to-day progression of events. Without contradictions, we’d be entirely too easy to track down. Have you ever thought about that? It’s important that we not be too consistent.”

Touché, Mr. Newman.

Final Verdict: This was a quick read and it had some great narrative moments. It is full of continuity jokes, which occasionally take one out of the story. If you are a fan of Kim Newman, you may have fun seeing how he plays in the Doctor Who universe. A lot of fans like this one, and it is one of the better novels. For me, however, it is average and I probably won’t revisit it.

Target Review 004 – Marco Polo

Written by John Lucarotti

Click on the picture to be transported to a magical world where you can purchase this book.

From the Back:  The young Venetian Marco Polo is on his way to the Emperor’s court in Peking when he meets the intrepid time-travellers, for the TARDIS has landed on Earth in the year 1289.
Marco Polo recognises in the TARDIS a means of winning favour with the Emperor. But in the end the Doctor has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his wondrous travelling machine – which he gambles away to Kublai Khan…

Opening Line: “‘It’s freezing cold outside,’ Susan said, looking at the external temperature thermometer in the TARDIS, ‘minus twenty.’”

I make no attempt to hide that I love the televised version of Marco Polo, well, the audio that exists of it.  So obviously, my standards were high going in to this novelization.  Thankfully, Lucarotti adapted his own material, and he did so exceptionally.

This novelization was written in 1985, a full 21 years after the final episode of the serial aired.  I’m not sure how much Lucarotti drew from his script or memory, but he does an excellent job of adapting it.  Yes, there are a few changes, in particular the ending in which Tegana is shot by arrow rather than engaging in combat with Polo.  Some of the changes work better than others and I think I prefer the combat from the serial to the quick dispatching of Tegana.  But the relationship between Ping-Cho and Ling-Tau is more believable and satisfying.  In fact, because many of these changes work well, I think I prefer the novel to the TV version.

This is yet another great historical adventure.  Lucarotti provides plenty of details and flavors of Cathay.  The novel flows quickly, as many of the TARGET books do, and is a wonderful way to enjoy this lost story.  In fact, it was this novel that really gave me a glimpse into how important the TARGET books were to children.  I felt like a child again as I read this.  I wonder if my nieces and nephew would be interested in a copy once they are old enough to read . . . .

Final Verdict: Do I really have to repeat it?  I loved it.  Recommended for a warm, sunny day.

A Misery Shared: “‘What a burden old age is,’ Kublai sighed.
‘A trial to be borne with dignity, Sire,’ the Doctor observed.
‘You are right, our friend.  With dignity,’ Kublai replied and with little ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘ouches’, the two of them hobbled out of the throne room.”

Target Review 014 – Doctor Who and the Crusaders

Written by David Whitaker

Note: This review is based on the AudioGo release Doctor Who and the Crusaders as read by William Russell.

From the Box: Back on Earth again, the TARDIS lands Doctor Who and his friends into the midst of the harsh, cruel world of the twelfth-century Crusades.  Soon the adventurers are embroiled in the conflict between Richard the Lionheart and the Sultan Saladin, ruler of the warlike Saracens.

Opening Line: “As swiftly and as silently as a shadow, Doctor Who’s Space and Time ship, Tardis, appeared on a succession of planets each as different as the pebbles on a beach, stayed awhile and then vanished, as mysteriously as it had come.”

Admittedly, I skipped ahead a bit.  I have had a lot to read lately and wasn’t able to sit down with the Target version of The Crusaders.  I did, however, have plenty of time for an audiobook while working some late hours of work or cleaning at home.  I was a bit apprehensive about launching into another First Doctor story, especially one that was a novelization rather than original, but now that I’m well in to the Troughton Era and watching Matt Smith again on the laptop, I figured a revisit of Hartnell could be managed, even if it is Wiliam Hartnell as written by David Whitaker and performed by William Russell.

The Crusaders follows the beats of the televised stories pretty well, but what I love about this version is that we get into the heads of the secondary characters more.  Saladin is fleshed out more as are El Akir and Haroun.  El Akir, in particular, is a nasty piece of work in this version of the story.  He is evidence that Doctor Who doesn’t always need aliens to be monsters because humans can suffice.  Additional character changes involve Ian and Barbara, who are undeniably in love, an element that is at odds with the televised version Doctor Who, but follows on from Whitaker’s adaptation of The Daleks.  Romance between the teachers may have been forbidden by the BBC when filming, but with no such restriction here, Whitaker seems to take delight in fleshing out Ian and Barbara’s predicament at being in exiles in time and space, and explores the natural attraction that two people might have in this situation.

While the story is well-written, engaging, and an exciting historical adventure, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this novelization is the prologue in which David Whitaker almost explicitly lays out his view of time travel and, by implication, how Doctor Who should work.  In the prologue, Ian and The Doctor engage in a philosophical discussion on the nature of time travel and the impact the adventurers have on the various worlds they visit.  Ian basically points out a major hole in the premise of the show.  “Why is it that when we land on earth, with all the pre-knowledge of history at our disposal, we can’t right one single wrong, make good the bad or change one tiny evil?  Why are we able to do these things on other planets and not on Earth?”  In response, The Doctor espouses a view that Time moves regardless of what the adventurers do.  He likens Earth history to a landslide and once the TARDIS lands, the adventurers are a part of the landslide, “roped completely to Time and must be led by it.”  Time would seem, in Whitaker’s view, to be a controlling force.  I’m not entirely sure this answers Ian’s question as to why Time invalidates their actions on Earth but not other planets, but it is an attempt.  It would seem, according to The Doctor, that the best thing to do is learn from history, to use pre-knowledge of events as a way to study the period and motivations of the players in history.  Only with this knowledge can the adventurers understand themselves and their place in humanity, only then can they learn to find an antidote to greed, selfish ambition, and war.

Final verdict: This is an excellent novelization of an excellent story.  Highly recommended.

Impeccable Logic (from Ibrahim, a thief who has subdued Ian):  “You arrive beside the water pool, and I can see you are a rich Lord, so I am tempted to knock you out and search your clothes.  The temptation was your fault, for you are obviously rich and I am obviously poor.  So I search through your clothes and I find nothing.  Again, My Lord, am I at fault?  I must earn my living and Allah has decided that my profession is to be a thief.  I can tell you I was very frustrated, My Lord, very frustrated indeed.”

Hartnell in Review and Where Do We Go From Here

Mysterious planets appearing in the sky.  The Earth being destroyed by the expanding Sun.  Daleks being rendered motionless and being kicked by an exuberant companion.  I’m not talking about the Russell T. Davies era, I’m talking about the Hartnell era.  It took a little longer than I anticipated, but I made it!  I thought that now would be a good time to look back on the 134 episodes and reminisce, then I will discuss what I will be doing for the Troughton era because I feel the need to change the format a bit.

Willian Hartnell was a great Doctor.  I think he worked hard to craft a wonderful character who had a distinct arc throughout his first few years.  The Doctor believably moved from paranoid exile to the explorer/meddler in time and space that we know today.  And this was due in no small part to his interactions with Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.  They were the first companions to stumble upon The Doctor and find themselves wrapped up in another life.  Forced into a life on the run together, spurred on primarily because The Doctor could not control The TARDIS, Ian, Barbara and The Doctor had to find a way to work together and get along.  Not only did they find a way, they grew to care for one another as a type of family.  It was a dynamic that I don’t think we have ever seen again.  I believe it is safe to say that Ian and Barbara softened The Doctor and helped him to find the spirit of adventure that has stuck with him to this day.  No wonder humans are his favorite species.

While not every story of the Hartnell era was great, every one of them did have something interesting, even if you have to dig a little.  I have mentioned before that the sheer unpredictability of this era is what I enjoy the most.  From episode to episode you truly don’t know what you are going to get.  The show hasn’t yet become formulaic.  This was even a time before every Doctor Who story had monsters (although I think an argument could be made for Tltoxl).  The Hartnell era was fresh, it was different, and it is truly a far cry from the show in its current incarnation.

Favorite Story.  There are so many great stories in this era.  It is hard to choose between The Massacre and Marco Polo.  I’ll probably go with The Massacre due to its brevity and the fact that I actually learned something from it.

Least Favorite Story.  The Celestial Toymaker without a doubt.  It is hindered from not being complete, I know, but I doubt that even the visuals would help the story be more interesting and engaging.  The Toymaker as a character is intriguing and there were concepts that were hinted at but never really explored.  As it is the story itself just feels like it didn’t come together and I found it all rather dull.

Favorite Companion.  Even though I am tempted to go with Ian, I think I’ll settle on Steven.  He was quite versatile and fun.  As for companion groupings, Steven and Vicki were a good team and they had a nice chemistry.  It seems odd that they were only in three whole stories together.  I would have swore they were together longer.

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Favorite Spin-off Hartnell Story.  I don’t even have to think about this.  Farewell Great Macedon is, to me, the best Hartnell story without Hartnell in it.  It faithfully reproduces the feel of the first season, Carol Ann Ford and William Russell do an excellent job with the script, and the story is quite compelling once you get in to it and can keep the characters straight.  It is worth the effort.

*****

I mentioned changes.  With the last few Hartnell episodes (well, since The Savages really) I have felt a struggle to find anything particularly compelling to write.  In part this is due to spending more time taking notes than watching and enjoying the episode.  But other times I feel as if Doctor Who has been written about and reviewed for decades and I am just one voice among many and there is no chance of coming up with anything that hasn’t already been said or noticed.  Not that I feel the need to be particularly innovative, but the quality of some of the posts recently has bothered me.  I need to enjoy the episodes if I can write about them properly.  Thus, I will not be reviewing individual episodes anymore.  Beginning with Power of the Daleks I will either do one or two posts per story, depending on the length of the story or the amount of material I am coming up with.  I still plan to watch one episode a day, I just won’t be posting a Doctor Who review every day.  I want to try this format for a bit and see what happens.  I don’t yet know if it will free me up to work on other projects, but if so, that would be great.  However, it is important for me to get through every episode, so I’m not abandoning the project yet.

When I say run . . . .

Doctor Who 134 – The Tenth Planet Part 4

Written Kit Pedler
Directed Derek Martinus

The Cybermen reveal their secondary objective: The destruction of Earth.

“This old body of mine is wearing a bit thin.”

This episode is rather fast-paced.  Ben’s sabotage of the rocket was successful and Cutler is furious.  No, furious is not the correct word.  He starts to go blind with rage.  The Doctor makes a glorious re-appearance and the battle of words commences.  Unfortunately, Cutler grabs a gun and makes to kill The Doctor, Ben, and Polly, which is when The Cybermen show up.  Cutler is quickly shot.

Mondas is starting to be overwhelmed by the energy it is absorbing.  The Cybermen are preparing their secondary objective, which is to destroy the Earth with the very z-bomb Cutler would have used to destroy Mondas.  Polly is taken back to the Cybership as a hostage while Ben, Barclay, and Dyson are put to work dismantling the z-bomb to The Cybermen’s specifications.  This is when Ben happens upon a useful theory.  The Cybermen have a fatal reaction to radiation.  This seems to work better than gold dust, in my opinion.  Having a new weapon to use against The Cybermen, Ben and Barclay make short work of them.

When Mondas finally breaks up we get a bit of a deus ex machina.  Without the energy of the planet to sustain them, The Cybermen disintegrate.  Granted, there was a quick line of dialogue about the Cybership drawing its energy from Mondas.  I suppose there are enough pieces to make this particular solution work, but I’m not entirely thrilled with it.  Regardless, it quickly resolves the world-wide Cybermen invasion.  Well, the first one, anyway.

“It’s all over.  Is that what you said?”

How much did audiences at the time know?  These days, if the actor who plays The Doctor even thinks about leaving, it makes the news, either in print or on the internet.  But back in the 1960s when William Hartnell fell to the floor of The TARDIS and while light engulfed his face, did anyone at home know what was happening?  I’m sure there were rumblings, I’m sure there were stories about some guy named Troughton, but how much of a surprise was it?

Hartnell has had many great moments, many that move me to tears.  And while his final moments as The Doctor didn’t make me cry, there was a catch in my throat.  It is hard for me to approach the death of The First Doctor without knowledge of William Hartnell and his absolute love of Doctor Who.  He was a man who had played countless roles, and felt none of them really showcased his expertise.  He felt as if he had not achieved the level of fame, or at the very least, respect, that was deserved of him.  Doctor Who was a role for which he was extremely passionate, and it delivered in spades.  He was beloved by children.  He got to play drama and humor.  And now, depending on the story you hear, he was forced out due to health considerations, due to antagonism with the new behind-the-scenes crew, or just because some felt the show should be taken in a new direction with a younger lead.  Regardless of the reason, regardless of how Hartnell felt, the show was changing.  And I, for one, am going to miss him.  He may not be my first Doctor.  He may not be my favorite.  But for me, he defined the role.  The would be no Doctor Who without William Hartnell.  He set the standard for every actor who followed.  He was The Doctor.

Next: Closing thoughts on the Hartnell Era and “Where do we go from here?”