The fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who is coming up, and the BBC is pulling out all the stops. There have been a couple of high profile golden anniversaries recently, including those of The Beach Boys and Rolling Stones. There is no television show in the world that is even close to that mark other than Who though. The fact that they made it is incredible, given the history of the show. It is a journey worthy of an eleven-part serial of its own.
I say eleven parts because there have been eleven Doctors. Telling the story of the show from the angle of the various Doctors is the idea behind the new four-DVD set The Doctors Revisited. The BBC have just released this special collection, which could also be titled “The First Four.” Each DVD is devoted to one of the first four Doctors, and contains a half-hour appreciation of him, a four-part classic serial, plus an introduction from current series executive producer Stephen Moffat. The serials are presented in two ways, as individual episodes, and as a feature, with all of the recaps and redundant credits edited out.
The First Doctor was William Hartnell (1963-66). Hartnell was the original, the one that all future Doctors would be measured against. Of course when he began the children’s show in 1963, nobody had any illusions about a 50th anniversary in 2013. I am sure they would have though you mad if you had suggested such a thing. There was no concept of the Doctor regenerating either. When a major character leaves a show, it is usually the end. Sometimes they will limp along for a season or two, before the network pulls the plug, but it is almost always a fatal blow.
I would have thought that would be the situation with Hartnell’s departure. He so perfectly defined the Doctor that replacing him would seem ludicrous. Well, we would not be here if that had been the case, but it was not in the original DNA of the program.
The Aztecs is the featured serial. This was the sixth Doctor Who story, first broadcast from May 23, 1964 to June 13, 1964, in the inaugural season. The first family was well-established, with the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carol Ann Ford), and nosy schoolteachers Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) in the TARDIS. As you may have deduced from the title, they have landed during the time of the Aztecs on Earth. The problem is that the TARDIS landed inside of a sacred tomb. Our heroes were able to exit the tomb, but getting back in, and getting to the TARDIS is a problem. A big problem as a matter of fact. The Doctor finds love, and actually gets engaged in this one, which is pretty great. The Aztecs Special Edition DVD was reviewed by Mat Brewster.
The Second Doctor was Patrick Troughton (1966-69). He had some big shoes to fill, and there was no guarantee that fans would accept him. The Tomb of the Cybermen is story number 37, first broadcast from September 2 - 23, 1967, as the fifth-season opener. The Cybermen were introduced on The Tenth Planet, which was also Hartnell’s final serial as the First Doctor.
The TARDIS lands on the planet Telos, with the Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines), and Victoria Warfield (Deborah Watling). I am sure that one reason The Tomb of the Cybermen is included is that it is the earliest intact four-part Second Doctor serial. It is also really good. The Cybermen are scary beings, and the discovery of a whole honeycomb tomb of them will definitely give you pause. This was one of the first restored Doctor Who serials I saw, and I was hooked straight away. Quite good. The Tomb of the Cybermen Special Edition DVD was reviewed by Shawn Bourdo.
The Third Doctor was Jon Pertwee (1970 -74). You can call me a “newb” to the world of Doctor Who, although I have been into it for a couple of years now. I mention this because of the ubiquitous Who-question, “Who’s your favorite Doctor?” The First Doctor was mine, until recently. Then I really “got” Pertwee. I just love his imperial style, and according to Elisabeth Sladen in her autobiography, he was that way off-screen as well. I can well imagine, he has “Master Thespian” written all over him.
Spearhead From Space is story number 51, and first aired January 3 - 24, 1970, as the seventh-season opener. It was the first in color and also Pertwee’s first serial as the Third Doctor. Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) has not yet arrived, so the Doctor’s companion is Liz Shaw (Caroline John). As fans are well aware, the early ‘70s saw the already miniscule Doctor Who budgets shrunk even further. As a cost-cutting measure, many of the serials took place on Earth. This opened the door for Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) to join the Doctor.
The Doctor has been officially exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, who have disabled the TARDIS. This is a good thing for us though, as the Nestene Consciousness are attempting to colonize our planet. They are not physical beings, so to move around they create Autons, which are basically plastic people. I actually found the adventures of the Doctor on Earth to be kind of refreshing at first. It is fun to see him cavorting around familiar sights, but I am sure this got old after a while, especially when the exile was forced, and everything had to happen here. The Spearhead From Space Special Edition DVD was reviewed by Greg Barbrick and the Blu-ray reviewed by Mat Brewster.
The Fourth Doctor was Tom Baker (1974 to 1981). Since PBS began broadcasting Doctor Who in the U.S. during Baker’s reign, it stands to reason that the Fourth Doctor is a favorite of many American fans. That, and the fact that he was so good. Pyramids of Mars is story 82, first broadcast from October 25 to November 15, 1975. Sarah Jane was on board; Sladen would stay with the show for another year. Pyramids of Mars is the only serial in the set that I had not previously seen. It is a great one, and concerns an Egyptologist who has been taken over by the god-like Sutekh, and needs the Doctor’s help.
The Doctor specials that precede each serial include interviews with Doctor Who associates past and present including Tom Baker, David Tennant, John Barrowman, Frazer Hines, Louise Jameson, Neil Gaiman, and many others. The specials also profile classic villains such as The Daleks and The Cybermen. I had to laugh at the extra special items that are included. They are magnets, one for each Doctor. I wasn’t laughing at the magnets, they are really cool. In fact, I put mine on the refrigerator immediately.
What made me laugh was that I bet I am the one and only fan who will actually violate the sanctity of the plastic, and open the pack. You know how nerds are, “New In Package” is a religion. Doctor Who is a bit of a religion as well, but not a crazy one. Perhaps William Shatner will live three more years, and can participate in 50 years of Star Trek. But it still will not be the same, because unless they get busy quick, Trek will not actually be on the air, as Doctor Who is.
Comparing Doctor Who to Star Trek is not really right, even though it is the closest thing we Yanks have to it. There is nothing in the world that can be compared to Who. I find the idea of regenerating the Doctor, and the amazing story of the series over the course of 50 years now to be as fascinating as the serials themselves. The Doctors Revisited covers the first 18 years of the show, which were definitive. It offers a great taste of each era, plus all four of the stories are really good.
I used to think that I had missed the boat on Doctor Who, by not getting into it when it was first being shown on PBS. But that is not the case at all. I am a little late, but at least I am in time to celebrate 50 years in November. The Doctors Revisited is a perfect shortcut for people who are curious about the early years, but do not know where to start. In fact, it was made to order for them. Long live Doctor Who!
The Doctors Revisited: Fifth to Eighth has been reviewed by Gordon S. Miller