The Hartnell Era: 101

“I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the gentle art of fisticuffs.”  That quote, from “The Romans,” pretty much sums up the attitude and behavior of the First Doctor.  William Hartnell’s Doctor had no doubts as to his superiority to everyone and was generally going to outwit his opponents and leave the fighting and heavy lifting for his male companion to handle (although he liked a good fight now and then).  Now that I’ve seen all of the episodes of the First Doctor, I feel that I can reflect a bit on the era as a whole.

The Doctor

doctor-who-william-hartnell

I have to admit that I didn’t really take to Hartnell’s Doctor right away. The Doctor that we first meet in “An Unearthly Child” bears little resemblance to the Doctor we see today.  At the start of the series, despite being the title character, the Doctor is most definitely not the hero of the show.  That role clearly falls to Ian, while the Doctor is basically an obstacle blocking Ian’s path back home. Hartnell’s Doctor begins as a cantankerous, rather anti-social old man who cares little for anyone except himself (and a bit for his granddaughter).  In the second story, he is even willing to leave Barbara behind when the Daleks capture her.  However, more than any other Doctor, Hartnell’s Doctor grew and developed as the series progressed. In “The Aztecs” we see him care about someone he meets on his travels for the first time.  He also develops a fondness for his companions, and is upset when Barbara and Ian leave.  When Vicki joins the travelers, his grandfatherly side really emerges.

By the end of the first season, the Doctor is starting to become more heroic.  By the time Ian and Barbara leave, the Doctor is finally ready to become the hero of the show.  He always needs a male companion to handle any of the physical demands placed on him (hence the need for Steven, and, later, Ben), but he starts to outwit his opponents with greater regularity (just look at “Reign of Terror” or “The Rescue”). He always remains a bit short-tempered and seems to criticize people more than is necessary, but he takes a more active interest in the concerns of others.  By the time we reach “The Savages,” we see the Doctor become much more like the one we know today; he is concerned with the way a society is functioning and deliberately gets involved to correct the situation.

His Companions

Susan, Barbara, and Ian

Barbara, Susan, and Ian before their travels together

In my opinion, Hartnell had the best companions of any Doctor in Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton.  Although, I do have to admit that I didn’t love them immediately.  In the early episodes, I found Ian to be a bit of a know-it-all and Barbara just seemed to panic and do whatever Ian said.  However, it didn’t take long for the relationship between the characters to develop into a more equal partnership.  Ian and Barbara do some pretty amazing things while with the Doctor.  They are companions who don’t need to rely on the Doctor to get them out of tough situations.  They have a great deal of knowledge from their teaching backgrounds, Ian of science and Barbara of history.  Ian also is a remarkable fighter, although I’m not sure where he developed that skill, unless teaching was a very dangerous career in the 1960’s!  They also have one of the best exits of any companion, as we get to see them joyfully celebrating their return home as they romp around London.

While Ian gradually becomes less of a know-it-all, it is Barbara who really transforms.  After a few episodes, she begins to step out of Ian’s shadow and starts thinking for herself.  The woman who started out constantly looking to Ian for guidance argues for the opposing side in “Reign of Terror.”  And just look at how easily she takes to being a god in “The Aztecs.”  She tries to change the beliefs of an entire civilization.  There’s also a moment in “The Web Planet” where Barbara is basically in the role of a general, planning a military strategy for the rebels.  Who’d have thought the somewhat mousey schoolteacher from the first adventure would develop into a brave woman who could handle any challenge thrown at her?

My second favorite companion was Vicki.  She had a great relationship with the Doctor, and was able to bring out his more caring side.  He was far more grandfatherly with her than he was with Susan, his actual granddaughter. The Doctor was always trying to protect her from any danger, although she was never helpless, like some of the other companions. Vicki was always enthusiastic and loved to be in the middle of the action.  She was another companion who knew how to handle herself and didn’t wait around for someone to come and save her from trouble.  While not quite as independent as Barbara and Ian, she was brave and took initiative when faced with a challenge.

At first I found Steven rather nondescript as a companion. He was clearly there to fill the action hero role left open with Ian’s departure, but I had a hard time getting a handle on his personality. Since he was a space pilot, he was supposed to be someone who could challenge the Doctor with his knowledge, but he just came across as a bit stubborn and as someone who should listen more to the Doctor instead of arguing with him. However, I grew to like Steven more after listening to the audio for “The Massacre.” I started to see Steven as a character who had a very black and white moral code.  He didn’t always see the big picture, but he cared very deeply for the people who he met in his travels and had a hard time accepting that they couldn’t all be saved.  It’s no wonder Steven challenged the Doctor so much when you look at how many people died in “The Dalek’s Master Plan” and “The Massacre.”  He also gets a great exit in “The Savages.”  How many other companions were given a planet to rule?

Susan had the potential to be an interesting character, but she was never really developed by the writers.  Unfortunately, her character spent most of her time being either hysterical or whiny. She was more of a hindrance to her companions than a help.  She was used in a more interesting way in “The Sensorites,” discovering that she was the only one who could communicate in the telepathic manner of the Sensorites, but, sadly, that was the only time a writer seemed to have any clue what to do with her other than have her scream and/or cry.

I never felt like I got a good handle on Ben and Polly during their time with the first Doctor.  They are only in three Hartnell stories, but they seem to be rather generic characters so far.  They are definitely very much young people of the late 60’s, and in that respect are a bit different from the other young companions, who always seemed to be loners with nowhere to belong.  Polly apparently knows all the London hotspots and is attractive and fashionably dressed.  Unfortunately, Polly seemed to be simply the damsel in distress, constantly needing rescue.  Ben is in the Royal Navy, but his personality is not developed very much.  Ben cares about people and is always quick to get in a fight to defend others, but basically he is the new male companion there to do anything physical that needs to be done.

This brings me to my least favorite companion: Dodo Chaplet.  Aside from the fact that she has a terrible, yet appropriate, name (who really wants to be called Dodo?), she was a horribly inconsistent character. When she first joins the Doctor, she has a strong cockney accent that disappears after the first episode of “The Ark.”  She doesn’t contribute much during adventures except spreading her cold virus and nearly wiping out all remaining humans (“The Ark”), being duped by ridiculous tricks (“The Celestial Toymaker”), or falling under the control of WOTON and then disappearing, never to be seen again (“The War Machines”). I know she was supposed to allow the Doctor to have a grandfatherly relationship again, but I don’t ever feel a connection between her and the Doctor. She’s just dead weight that the Doctor has to carry around with him.

The stories:

The Aztecs

Barbara and the Doctor in “The Aztecs”

During Hartnell’s time, there was a particular type of story that often got repeated. The travelers would arrive in a place where one group was oppressing another. They would, of course, always be on the side of the rebels, helping them stage a rebellion that would allow the travelers to return to the TARDIS and be on their way (see: “The Daleks,” “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” “The Space Museum,” “The Ark,”…).  However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t a lot of great stories during the Hartnell era.  In terms of the writers of the era, I really don’t think you can go wrong with anything written by John Lucarotti or Dennis Spooner.

Many of my favorite stories are the historicals, with “The Aztecs” being my favorite story of the era, and one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all time.  “Reign of Terror” was another interesting historical.  Although “The Crusade” and “The Massacre” are partially and completely lost respectively, they are both compelling stories as well.  One thing that is often done well in the historicals is that since the Doctor and his companions cannot affect the way events will play out, they are surrounded by very interesting characters and often end up in very interesting ethical dilemmas.

When it comes to the more traditional science fiction stories, “The Time Meddler” really stands out. (but I’ll talk more about it in the next section).  “Planet of Giants” is quite enjoyable as well. I know the “Keys of Marinus” seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it story among fans, but I quite enjoyed it.  The idea that each episode takes place in a different location keeps the story moving along. I know many people wouldn’t agree with me, but I think it’s the best of Terry Nation’s stories during the Hartnell era.  I’ve always found Terry Nation’s Dalek stories for Hartnell to have too much filler in them.  They all feel overlong and drag at points, although “The Daleks” is pretty good.  Aside from the fact that Dodo is in it, “The Ark” is underrated and is one of the rare stories that really makes use of the concept of time travel in its plot. One of the most interesting stories in this category is the completely lost “The Savages” which looks at a dystopian world and should be regarded as one of the possible lost classics.

Where to begin:

The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven find a Viking helmet (or is it a helmet for a cow?) in "The Time Meddler."

The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven find a Viking helmet (or is it a helmet for a cow?) in “The Time Meddler.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the Hartnell era and looking for an episode to start with, there are several options.   Obviously, you can’t go wrong with starting at the beginning.  The first episode of “An Unearthly Child” is a perfect start to the show, you just need to be prepared to see a different kind of Doctor than you’re used to seeing. Some people, however, are put off by the remaining three episodes which send the Doctor and his companions back to the days of the cavemen. If you like the historicals, “The Aztecs” is, in my opinion one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time, but if you’re looking for a more traditional sci-fi story you might be disappointed. “The Daleks” is also a good place to start, if you want to see the first appearance of the Doctor’s most iconic enemy, although the story itself is a bit too long, in my opinion.

My choice for the best introductory episode, however, would be “The Time Meddler.”  It’s a great story, and the first to use the now familiar formula of the Doctor meeting an alien trying to interfere in Earth’s past.  The Doctor has had plenty of time to mellow, since this episode is in the third season, so he’s more recognizable as the Doctor as we now know him.  The companions are Vicki and Steven, who have a great chemistry and the Meddling Monk is an interesting opponent for the Doctor.

The Doctor with Ben and Polly in "The Tenth Planet"

The Doctor with Ben and Polly in “The Tenth Planet”

When I started watching the Hartnell era, I wasn’t sure I could ever grow to really like his Doctor; he seemed so mean and selfish.  However, Hartnell’s Doctor is the Doctor who grows and changes the most.  Through the influence of his companions, he becomes a much more compassionate individual, although he remains rather cantankerous until the end. By the time I had reached “The Tenth Planet,” I was genuinely sad to see him go.  Despite the differences, his Doctor put into place many of the characteristics that have come to define the Doctor: his curiosity, his intelligence, his loneliness, even his sense of humor.  Now I guess it’s time for me to move into Hartnell’s replacements, “a dandy and a clown,” as the First Doctor himself so memorably said.

Lost Hartnell Stories: Marco Polo

“If you’re half as aggressive with this [sword] as you are with your tongue, Doctor, we can’t lose!” This rather humorous line is spoken by Marco Polo to the Doctor when their caravan is under attack.  Given that his encounter is with the First Doctor, Marco has been on the receiving end of quite a tongue lashing for several episodes now.  It’s too bad we can’t send the Doctor back in time to deliver the same such scolding to whoever decided it was a good idea to get rid of old Doctor Who episodes from the BBC archives.  All seven episodes of Marco Polo, the fourth episode of the first season, are missing.  What would the Doctor have to say about that?  The Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Susan’s first encounter with a famous historical figure can only be listened to, although there are, at least, many photos from the set that can provide a pretty good idea of how the story may have looked.

Tegana stands between Marco Polo and the Doctor.

Tegana stands between Marco Polo and the Doctor.

While the plot of “Marco Polo” is a bit sprawling, it can basically be boiled down to a few main threads.  The year is 1289.  The Doctor and his companions end up stranded high in the mountains in Central Asia with a broken TARDIS.  They run the risk of freezing to death until their fortuitous rescue by Marco Polo and his caravan.  Marco has long desired to return to Venice and leave the service of Kublai Khan, but the Khan will not grant him permission to leave.  When he learns of the Doctor’s “flying caravan,”   he decides to give the TARDIS to the Khan, because such a spectacular gift will ensure that the Khan has to grant his request.  Therefore, the travelers are forced to accompany Marco to the Khan’s summer palace, all the while trying to regain control of the TARDIS.

The caravan has two other members of note.  The first is the warlord Tegana.  He is an emissary of the recently defeated Khan Noghai, sent to work out the details of the Noghai’s surrender.  It becomes increasingly clear to the travelers throughout the journey that Tegana’s motives are not, in fact, to negotiate a surrender but to ensure that Noghai will take Kublai Khan’s throne.  The travelers are in a dangerous position, as they are often in the way of Tegana’s schemes, and he will let no one stop him from completing his mission.

The second important member of Marco’s party is the lady Ping-Cho.  She is a sixteen year old girl whose  husband-to-be is a man old enough to be her grandfather (he is in his 70s).  She and Susan become confidantes, and she helps the travelers in their struggles.  She remains the one member of the caravan who never questions the motives of the travelers, perhaps because she understands the feeling of being far away from home and wanting to return.

It was a bit difficult for me to obtain the full reconstruction of this story, so I was initially exposed to it by the 30 minute reconstruction from “The Beginning” DVD set.  I really enjoyed the story in its condensed version.  The story itself is a solid one , featuring a clever way to force the travelers to become involved with Marco Polo and the intrigues of the court of Kublai Khan.  The idea of the TARDIS being central to the plot sets it apart from many other early Doctor Who adventures.  The typical early Hartnell story featured the travelers being separated from the TARDIS, and all of their adventures happened until they could find a way to return.  With this story coming on the heels of the rather unusual “Edge of Destruction,” the show is still experimenting a bit with what exactly a Doctor Who story is, and these two stories feature the TARDIS  more prominently than usual.

The Doctor and Susan share a rare affectionate moment while watching Ping-Cho's (rather unnecessary) performance.

The Doctor and Susan share a rare affectionate moment while watching Ping-Cho’s (rather unnecessary) performance.

After seeing the full reconstruction, however, my admiration for “Marco Polo” was diminished a bit.  I still found the story to be a good one and it entertained, but, at seven episodes, it is at least one episode too long (a common problem of the early Hartnell stories).  It felt repetitive in the middle of the story, when almost every episode consists of a failed attempt to steal the TARDIS back from Marco Polo.  Other than that, I think it’s a pretty solid story. The idea of having both Marco and Tegana vying for the TARDIS keeps the story interesting.  Marco keeps the TARDIS from the Doctor and his companion, but Tegana makes things even more complicated, as he schemes to steal the TARDIS for Noghai.  While it is Marco who keeps the travelers stranded, and ultimately is the main antagonist of the story, Tegana is the central villain of the piece. Marco is unaware of the consequences of his actions on the travelers, while Tegana is ruthless in the service of his quest, which he decides would be aided by gaining possession of the TARDIS.  Ultimately, his attempts to kill Marco and the travelers are only foiled by the travelers’ attempts to escape. When his plans to murder the caravan fail, he resorts to planting seeds of doubt in Marco as to the trustworthiness of the Doctor and his companions, ensuring that they cannot get anywhere near the TARDIS.

What makes the story work is the engaging characters with which the travelers find themselves.  It is vital that the viewer become involved with the characters because, while the travelers are still very much a part of the story, it is not really their story. Their struggle to regain control of the TARDIS is a major issue in the story, but it is, perhaps, the least interesting aspect of it.  The intrigues of Tegana, Marco Polo’s desire to return home (which is blinding him to everything else), and even the fate of Ping-Cho dominate the plot.  The travelers are a bit on the sidelines of the action, witnessing as events play out around them.  The TARDIS is central to two of the storylines (Marco thinks it is the key to his return to Venice and Tegana thinks it will ensure Noghai’s victory over Kublai Khan) ensuring that there are two people who will do anything to keep the travelers from the TARDIS.  This keeps the travelers involved in the events, but, as was true of some of the early Hartnell historicals, they are mostly on the sidelines, watching the course of history unfold.  The main contribution of the travelers to the main storyline is the information they inadvertently gather (through their own sneaking around) about Tegana’s plan to overthrow and assassinate the Khan, but ultimately it is Marco who acts on the information and saves the Khan’s life.

As far as the character development of the regulars, it is early in the show’s run, so the Doctor has very little interest in the affairs of others.  His attempt to win the caravan from Kublai Khan fails, although he is able to save the group in the desert by gathering the condensation from inside the TARDIS (but it’s a happy accident that he discovers it).  He is definitely not the hero of the story, and neither is Ian, the usual hero at this point.  Ian does his share of fighting, but he does not save the life of Kublai Khan, nor does he ever get the travelers back to the TARDIS.  Barbara is not yet the strong, independent woman that she is in her later stories.  She still very much looks to Ian for guidance, although we start to see glimmers of her development in moments like when she decides to follow Tegana to the Cave of 500 Eyes.  Barbara and Ian are also in full teacher mode, with Barbara full of facts about the time period and Ian giving lessons about how the altitude affects boiling points and how condensation forms.  Susan has a bit more to do in this story than in some others, due to  her friendship with Ping-Cho, but she doesn’t really contribute much to the plot and is actually responsible for ruining one of their attempted escapes.

Isn't it a shame that with costumes as vibrant as these, the serial was being filmed in black and white?

Isn’t it a shame that with costumes as vibrant as these, the serial was filmed in black and white?

Even though the execution of the story is not quite as strong as the story itself, “Marco Polo” is still worthwhile viewing.  It introduces a richly developed world, full of interesting characters.  Judging by the production photos, this story was quite a lavish production.  For a Doctor Who episode of this era, they appear to have gone all out with many elaborate sets and colorful costumes. In fact, it seems a shame that Doctor Who was filmed in black and white, because the viewer would never know how colorful everything was.  Perhaps the strangest part of the story of “Marco Polo” is that this serial was sold to more countries than any other, yet no copies remain of it.  It would be nice to see at least one episode of this story returned to the BBC archives, however unlikely that is at this point.  It appears that it was a very cinematic serial and it would be interesting to see if the finished product lives up to the promise of the stills.  Has everybody checked their attics and basements?

Lost Hartnell Stories: The Mythmakers

The third season of Doctor Who is full of a great deal more death and bloodshed than you would expect from a children’s show.  It starts out innocently enough; in “Galaxy 4,” only the four Drahvins die (and they were clearly evil people).  However, starting with the next serial, “The Mythmakers,” and continuing through “The Daleks’ Master Plan” and “The Massacre,” the body count quickly rises.  “The Mythmakers,” the second story of the season, sees the Doctor and his companions, Vicki and Steven, land in the midst of the Trojan War.  No episodes survive of this story, and the only footage is a few 8mm home movie clips, but the complete audio is available.

Troilus and "Cressida" embrace

Troilus and “Cressida” embrace

As always, it is difficult to truly judge the merits of a story that was meant to be viewed, but now can only be heard. There are a great many supporting characters in this story, and I’ll confess it took me a little while to finally get them all straight. There are almost no images from this story either, so I have very little idea of what the visuals were for the story. Obviously, I’m judging it based on the merit of the story alone.

The TARDIS materializes right where Achilles and Hector are engaged in a lengthy fight.  They are so involved in their struggle that they fail to notice the TARDIS until the Doctor walks out of it.  His sudden apperance distracts Hector, and he is slain by Achilles.  Achilles believes that the Doctor is Zeus,who has appeared to grant him victory.  The Doctor tries to go back to his “blue temple,” but Odysseus arrives and the Doctor is forced to accompany him to see Agamemnon. Vicki has a wounded ankle from their escape in “Galaxy 4,” so she stays behind in the TARDIS, while Steven follows the Doctor to the Greek camp.

Once at the camp, the Doctor’s divinity is under suspicion, but Agamemnon is unsure of what course to take until Steven is captured.  The Doctor agrees to sacrifice him in his “blue temple,” thinking that  this will allow them both to escape.  Unfortunately, the Trojans have discovered the TARDIS and taken it into Troy, with Vicki still inside. The Doctor is forced to admit his true identity, and he is given two days to come up with a plan to help the Greeks win the war.

Meanwhile, Vicki has been discovered by the Trojans, who have named her Cressida.  King Priam takes a liking to her and believes her to be a prophet, which angers Cassandra (who actually is one!). The Trojans, however, become suspicious of Vicki when they capture Steven, who they think is Diomedes, friend of Odysseus, and the two recognize each other.  Vicki is then given one day to help Priam win the war, putting her and the Doctor on opposing sides of the struggle.

While this would not be one of the top stories from William Hartnell’s time, it is a good one.  Unlike the previous story, “Galaxy 4,” there is a great conflict built into this story.  It was an interesting idea to have the Doctor and Vicki tied to opposing sides in the war.  It added suspense to a story for which many viewers already knew the outcome.  Having the Doctor and Vicki on opposing sides limited what they could do to get out of their respective predicaments.  For instance, even though Vicki knew that there would be soldiers hidden inside the Trojan horse, she couldn’t reveal the truth about it because she didn’t want anything to happen to the Doctor.

This story featured good roles for all of the regulars: there was a rather large supporting cast, yet the regular cast members all had important parts to play in the adventure.  In particular, the story gave William Hartnell a chance to show off some of his comedic skills again. Who could resist watching the Doctor playing Zeus in the first episode? It seems to be a role that suits him well: the Doctor takes to playing the king of the gods almost immediately.  Hartnell also got to show off the Doctor’s resourcefulness, as well as how he reacts to having his clever ideas fail.  All of his attempts to fool Odysseus are thwarted, and eventually he is forced to actually hide in the Trojan horse with Odysseus and his men. It’s unusual for the Doctor to meet someone he can’t fool.

The suspicious Cassandra watches Priam and Vicki

The suspicious Cassandra watches Priam and Vicki

Additionally, Vicki once again shows off her own resourcefulness in this story.  She is separated from the Doctor and Steven, yet she is able to manipulate the situation to become favored by the royal family.  Vicki was the last female assistant for a while who was capable of taking care of herself.  Her situation is actually worsened by Steven’s attempt to rescue her.

This story has more interactions between Vicki and Steven than the previous one, which is a good thing. The interactions between Steven and Vicki are always fun.  They generally follow this pattern: Steven always thinks that he knows best, yet Vicki is usually right. Vicki is never obnoxious with Steven, but she does have the ability to good naturedly put him in his place when he gets too bossy, resulting in some funny moments.  In this case, there is a very funny exchange between the two after they have been locked up in the dungeon.  This is after Steven has come to “rescue” Vicki, but instead he has made things worse for both of them.

This story is loosely based on the story of Troilus and Cressida (both the Shakespeare and Chaucer versions), however it takes many liberties with the characters.  From what I know about the Shakespearean version, this story also picked up a bit of the uneven tone of the  play.  While not as broadly comedic as “The Romans,” the story has many comedic moments, yet it ends in death for almost all involved.  Both sides are portrayed as wanting the war to end, yet I felt that you got to know the Torjans better.  This makes the ending even more disturbing, since I found myself sympathizing with the Trojans, yet they are the losing side; the likable King Priam and his son, Paris, both end up dead.  Still, Vicki and her prince get a happy ending, unlike the play, keeping this from being a true tragedy.

This story is Vicki’s final story, as she falls in love with Priam’s youngest son, Troilus, and decides to stay with him.  While I found this more believable than Susan’s romance in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” it is another rather whirlwind romance (and, curiously, they both leave in the aftermath of war, not exactly in ideal times).  My only complaint was the lack of a farewell scene for Vicki and her companions.  Her goodbye to the Doctor is off screen, and she never says goodbye to Steven. She and the Doctor had a great relationship; I think it would have been a very touching goodbye between them. I felt that not witnessing their goodbye left things feeling a bit unresolved at the end.

This episode also saw the introduction of the short lived companion Katarina.  She was one of Cassandra’s handmaidens, and she is responsible for bringing Steven to the TARDIS after he is wounded. She nobly sacrifices herself a few episodes into the next story, after it was decided that having a companion from the distant past posed too many problems for the show.

The Doctor's plans for the Trojan horse

The Doctor’s plans for the Trojan horse

Finally, this story brings up an interesting idea, that was touched upon (though a bit less directly)  in “The Romans,” when the Doctor inadvertently gives Nero the idea to burn Rome.  This story is the first to give the Doctor a very direct role in shaping a major historical event. In previous episodes, the Doctor has been very clear that you can’t rewrite history, “not one line,” yet without him, the Trojan horse would not have been built.  It could be argued that the Greeks would have found another way to win, but at this point, they would not have won the war without the Doctor’s help. In stories like the “Reign of Terror,” the travelers discuss how events in the past cannot be altered by their presence (what is going to happen will always happen whether they are there or not).  Does this mean that the Doctor was meant to be in Troy at this particular time?  And, according to the Doctor’s own statements (from earlier historicals), does this mean that someone else would have suggested the idea if the Doctor had not been there? Of course, this also opens up the paradox that the Doctor only suggests the Trojan horse because he has read about it, so where did the idea really come from?

Overall, this story is a good one, even if it does bring up many unanswerable questions.  It’s a fitting farewell to Vicki and an enjoyable story.  I am glad that they did away with the jokey episode titles that were originally considered, as they would have made the tone of the final episode even more jarringly out of place.  Is anyone prepared for terrible bloodshed after an episode entitled “Is There a Doctor in the Horse?”

The Reign of Terror

According to Susan, the first Doctor’s favorite period in human history is the French Revolution.  It’s an odd choice, but, yet, coming from Hartnell’s Doctor, this doesn’t surprise me.  This is, after all, the man who acted like a giddy schoolboy because he had the privilege of being present at the burning of Rome.  He seems to love important historical moments, even bloody ones (or, at least he does in the stories written by Dennis Spooner).  “The Reign of Terror” features William Hartnell’s Doctor visiting the French Revolution with Barbara, Ian, and Susan in the final episode of Doctor Who‘s first season.

The Doctor masquerading as a Regional Officer of the Provinces.

The Doctor masquerading as a Regional Officer of the Provinces.

The story picks up right where “The Sensorites” left off.  The Doctor is still angry at Ian for commenting on the fact that the Doctor has no idea where the TARDIS is going each time he pilots it.  It’s true, but that probably annoys the Doctor all the more.  In a fit of pique, the Doctor declares that Ian and Barbara must leave the TARDIS, wherever it lands.  When he orders them out, he is convinced that he has successfully brought them home.  Barbara and Ian are not convinced; therefore, they gently nudge the Doctor into deciding to step outside of the TARDIS with them, just to be sure.

Once they leave the TARDIS, they discover that they are on Earth, but in France, not England.  They find a seemingly abandoned house and enter it, looking for clues as to what time period they have landed in.  Aided by Barbara’s remarkable ability to date clothing, and the fact that they find some papers signed by Robespierre, they soon realize that they have arrived in the middle of the French Revolution. They change into the clothing, so they will be less conspicuous as they head back to the TARDIS, but Barbara, Ian, and Susan are soon being held at gunpoint by two men, who have  knocked the Doctor unconscious.  Just as they appear to make headway with the strangers, the revolutionary guard shows up.  The two men were counter revolutionaries, who the guard promptly shoots.  The guards assume that Barbara, Ian, and Susan are  fellow counter revolutionaries and are taken prisoner, but, before they leave, they guards burn the house down, with the Doctor still inside.

Of course, the Doctor manages to escape.  He learns of the arrest of his companions, so he sets off for Paris to find them. The rest of the story consists of various members of the quartet being separated from each other and trying to find each other again, all while going in and out of prison (and trying to keep their heads!).

Barbara and Ian cajoling the Doctor into exiting the TARDIS with them

Barbara and Ian cajoling the Doctor into exiting the TARDIS with them

Although the premise is simple, “The Reign of Terror” is an engaging story.  The story is six episodes long, but it never gets dull. Problems that could be solved in moments in the new series are huge obstacles at this point.  The Doctor has no psychic paper to magically produce false papers, nor does he have a sonic screwdriver to simply unlock the prison cells.  Instead, he, Barbara, and Ian must think their way out of trouble.  When asked, rather sarcastically, if he thinks he’s clever, the Doctor very matter-of-factly replies, “With no undue modesty, yes!” And in this story, he’s absolutely justified in saying that because the Doctor really starts to demonstrate the cleverness that we associate with his many incarnations.

The Doctor seems particularly cantankerous in this story, which is interesting because he was particularly difficult off-screen during this story as well, since he did not like the novice director, Henric Hirsch.  At one point, the Doctor ends up in a work gang simply because he couldn’t seem to pass up the opportunity to insult the overseer.  His attitude, however, perfectly suits the identity he assumes a bit later in the story, that of a Regional Officer of the Provinces.  He is just haughty and condescending enough to intimidate people (although some  of the more clever can see through his disguise). Plus, he gets to wear a showy hat with large feathers! He also hits two people over the head during the course of the story, attempting to knock them unconscious.  This is the most active (and aggressive) the Doctor has been up to this point.

Barbara and Ian are clever as well.  They are separated from the Doctor and must try to avoid ending up at the guillotine, so they must do a lot of thinking on their feet in this story.  Barbara also makes a great point about seeing the humanity in all people, no matter what side they are on, instead of just seeing someone as an enemy. Being a history teacher, she can see that while the reign of terror was not a good time, the ideas behind it were important. She is not as quick to take sides as Ian, who very quickly becomes loyal to their new friends, who fall more to the counter-revolutionary side, although they claim to be seeking a middle ground. She is horrified by the violence from the revolutionaries, but, ever the sensible one, she does not want either side to see murder as the answer.  This episode points out a lot of the grey areas that exist in the struggle, and acknowledges that choosing a side in the struggle was no a black and white decision. This is especially seen towards the end, when the group that had been completely against Robespierre has a change of heart when they learn that Napoleon is angling to take over.

Unfortunately, Barbara is saddled with Susan for much of this story, which limits what she can do.  For instance, never one to be the damsel in distress, Barbara is constantly thinking of ways that she and Susan can try to escape from the prison, only  to have Susan give up every time. In fact, Susan is really nothing but dead weight in this story.  She is always ill and borderline hysterical.  I can’t think of one productive thing that she did in this story.  Her character showed a bit of development in “The Sensorites,” but she regresses back to an irrational child in this story.  It’s as if Dennis Spooner, like most writers, didn’t know what to do with her, so he just kept her in a cell or made her ill for the entire story.

Susan, once again, foiling Barbara's escape plan by being whiny

Susan, once again, foiling Barbara’s escape plan by being whiny

The supporting cast of the story is also a plus.  All of the actors do a great job in their roles, creating memorable characters.  Although famous faces, such as Robespierre and Napoleon make appearances, it is the less important players who carry the story.  The audience gets as caught up in the events, as the travelers do.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that this episode once again discussed the impossibility of altering the past.  Barbara has learned her lesson from the Aztecs and knows that the events unfolding around them will take their course; there is nothing that they can do that will change them.  As much as their friends want to stop Napoleon’s rise to power, they know that it is inevitable.  They even discuss how they could attempt to change the future and how their interference could be corrected.

Overall, I enjoyed this story a great deal.  I’m glad that they decided to animate the two missing episodes (even though I preferred the animation in “The Invasion”), allowing viewers to experience the entire story.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love the historical episodes, and this one, while not quite as good as “The Aztecs” (which is one of my favorite stories in the history of the series) is a well-written story.  The Doctor and his companions are cleverly woven in to the events of the times, even if Dennis Spooner’s trademark humor isn’t quite as evident in this story as it would be in the next series. Still, it is fun to watch William Hartnell ordering people around in an imperial manner. I wonder if that hat is still sitting around somewhere in the TARDIS…

Thoughts on “Planet of Giants”

I was finally able to get ahold of one of few Hartnell stories I haven’t seen, “Planet of Giants.”  It is the first story of the second season (the ninth overall).It, of course, features William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions are Susan, Barbara, and Ian.

Susan and Ian encounter a gigantic ant.

Susan and Ian encounter a gigantic ant.

The story begins with the TARDIS having problems as it materializes.  At one point, the doors even begin to open and Susan, Barbara, and Ian must force them closed.  The Doctor feels that something is wrong, but he can find no evidence of anything, except that his scanner seems to explode when he tries to turn it on.

The travelers exit the TARDIS and find themselves in a strange world, surrounded by what appears to be concrete.  THey split up, with Barbara and the Doctor going in one direction and Ian and Susan going in the other.  Both groups figure out what has happened when they encounter dead insects of extremely large size (an earthworm for the Doctor and Barbara, ants for Ian and Susan). They are,in fact, on earth (and back to the modern-day, it would seem), but they have been miniaturized.

They have materialized just outside of a lab where a new pesticide is being tested, which accounts for all of the insects they find being dead.  Just as they arrived, there was a confrontation between the investor behind the insecticide and the government scientist working who has to decided if the insecticide will go into production.  The scientist has decided the insecticide is too deadly because it kills all insects, not just the pests. He tells this to the investor, who shoots the man before he can share his findings with the minister. The travelers now have two problems.  They must figure out how to become their old size again and they must find a way to stop the insecticide from being used.

A further problem that arises is that Barbara unwittingly touches a grain with the insecticide on it.  Due to her small size, it begins to affect her, although she tries to hide what has happened from her companions.  This makes it even more imperative that the travelers make it back to the TARDIS and find a way to reverse what has happened to them.

This story is unusual in that it is only three episodes long.  It was recorded as a four-part story, but in the editing room, parts three and four were combined into one.  It is also unusual in that it is a very science oriented episode.  The story focuses on the dangers of killing all insect life and the negative effect the insecticide will have on the planet. The writer of this episode, Louis Marks, said that the inspiration behind this story was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.  This episode also gave Ian a chance to show off more of his science knowledge.

Ants seemed to be a big theme in the second season.  The travelers encounter what they think are giant ants in this story, then meet the Zarbi on  “The Web Planet” who are essentially giant ants.  Finally, Ian is almost devoured by ants in “The Crusade.”  Barbara and Ian must’ve grown tired of being menaced by ants.

In terms of character development, this story is right before Susan’s final story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth.” She is much more adult in this story then she was in some of the previous stories.  She doesn’t get hysterical and is a contributing member of the group.  This being fairly early in Hartnell’s tenure, he is not the one with all the answers, but he does have most of them at this point.  He does, however, manage to figure out how to change the group back to their normal sizes, and he is far more active in this story than in most (the travelers are constantly having to climb objects, although there are often clever cuts when it is the Doctor’s turn to climb). Still it is Ian who figures out how to start the fire that ultimately stops the investor from killing again.

The story gives Barbara an interesting subplot as she tries to hide her weakening condition from her companions.  She continues to push herself physically and doesn’t want anyone to worry about her when they have bigger problems with which to deal (no pun intended). Jacqueline Hill does a great job of portraying both Barbara’s strength and her fear as she feels the effects of the insecticide.

Barbara meets a gigantic fly.

Barbara meets a gigantic fly.

This episode was also very clever in the way it handled the miniaturization.  By having all of the insect life killed by the insecticide, they only needed a few models of insects that didn’t have to move.  The sets are very sparse, with just a few oversized objects to convey where they are and show how small they are.  The travelers never actually interact with the normal sized people, there only direct encounter with another living creature being the cat who watches them for a short time.  It was a great way to convey that the travelers were dealing with enormous objects without having to have big budget special effects.

Overall, in case you hadn’t already figured it out, I quite enjoyed this story.  I found the story to be engaging and clever. Even though it was teaching a bit of ecology, I never felt that it got preachy (like some later episodes did).  I’d love to see the cut footage, but it was discarded.  I’m not sure if it would’ve added to the story though, since it felt to me like the perfect length for the story.  I guess I’ll have to read the novelization to see what I think.

Thoughts on “The Sensorites”

I’m writing about “The Sensorites” after a bit of a delay, so I hope I remember everything I wanted to say about it.  It’s the seventh story of the first season.  It’s also the first story in Doctor Who to explicitly state that it takes place in the future.

Susan discovers that she has a talent for telepathy

Susan discovers that she has a talent for telepathy

The story picks up directly where The Aztecs left off.  The fact that the instruments on the TARDIS control panel are contradicting themselves is perplexing the Doctor: they have landed, yet they are still moving.  The confusion is soon settled by the fact that they have landed on another ship.  At first, the people on the other ship appear to be dead, but they soon show signs of life, and, by using a special device, Ian is able to help the two people revive.

The travelers learn that this ship is from 28th century earth, and that the crew is trapped in an endless orbit around the Sense-Sphere, home to the Sensorites.  The Sensorites have the power to control the minds of the crew, and will not let them leave their orbit around the planet, yet they have shown no desire to kill them.  The Doctor wants to leave (of course), but the travelers themselves become trapped on the ship when a mysterious being steals the lock from the TARDIS, preventing anyone from being able to get back in.

The Sensorites start to influence the crew of the ship (Maitland and Carol), but they do not seem to control either the Doctor, Ian , Barbara, or Susan.  Eventually, Barbara and Susan go through the wrong door when they are trying to find some water, and they end up trapped with the third member of the crew, the mineralogist, John.  John has been more affected by the Sensorites than the others because he discovered a valuable mineral on the planet.  At first he seems like he might attack Barbara and Susan, but he doesn’t.  The Sensorites want him to scare them away, but he resists.  It’s Susan who comes up with the idea of using their own mental powers to disrupt the Sensorites telepathy, which leaves the Sensorites temporarily crippled.

Eventually, the Sensorites begin communicating with the group through Susan, and Susan volunteers to go down to the Sense-Sphere, which leads to an argument between Susan and the Doctor on whether or not Susan is old enough to make her own decisions. Eventually, everyone except Maitland and Barbara (it was time for Jacqueline Hill’s vacation) go down to the planet to speak to the Sensorite Elder (from whom they learn that ever since a ship from earth came to their planet and crashed, a mysterious disease has been killing the Sensorites) and the Sensorites promise that they can cure John. The third part ends with the realization that Ian has contracted the disease that has been killing the Sensorites.

From there, the story continues with intrigue between the Sensorite leader and the ambitious Administrator, and the Doctor finally helping the Sensorites by discovering that the disease is a poison and finding out who is poisoning the Sensorites’ water and why (as well as creating an antidote to save Ian).

It was nice to see the character of Susan develop a bit more in the story.  Instead of being helpless, she is the one who first figures out how to stop the Sensorites from completely controlling John.  She is also the one who is able to communicate with the Sensorites, due to her telepathic abilities.

The Doctor and the Sensorites

The Doctor and the Sensorites

Over all, I enjoyed “The Sensorites,” but it felt to me like it could have been a seven parter instead of only six. I found the Sensorites to be an interesting race, and the story kept me interested, but it seemed as if everything was wrapped up a bit too quickly at the end.  The Sensorites have been poisoned by the earlier group of humans whose ship crashed when they tried to leave the planet.  These humans, who appear to have gone mad, think that they are at war with the Sensorites and were poisoning them to win the war.  They are brought out of the cave and then sent home with the crew of the space ship to earth.  This all happens rather quickly and nobody has any problems sending the insane murderous group back with the others.  There does not seem to be any consequence for poisoning the Sensorites, and there is no mention of the Sensorites being able to “cure” their insanity.  I felt that perhaps another episode would have allowed for a more rational wrap up.

Thoughts on “The Aztecs”

Lately real life has gotten in the way of my blogging (how dare there be things like job interviews when I’ve got a blog to write!), but I’m trying to get caught up now.  I’m finally writing about “The Aztecs.”  It is the sixth story of the first season of Doctor Who and, of course, features William Hartnell as the Doctor, and his companions remain Susan, Ian, and Barbara.

Barbara as Yetaxa

Barbara as Yetaxa

The TARDIS lands in 15th century Mexico, right in the most sacred area of an Aztec pyramid.  Barbara and Susan are the first out and they begin to explore.  Barbara is quite the expert on the Aztecs (she is able to give a very precise date to the objects they find), and she puts on a bracelet she finds as she is going through the objects in the tomb.  They soon find a door that leads out of the tomb and Barbara goes through it, while Susan returns to the TARDIS to get the others.  On the other side of the door, Barbara encounters the high priest of knowledge.  He stops Barbara as an intruder because no one is allowed in the tomb, but when the man sees the bracelet on her arm, he believes that she is the reincarnation of Yetaxa and must be worshipped as a god.

When the others come out of the tomb, Barbara is gone.  The door to the tomb closes behind them, separating them from the TARDIS.  They realize that the door was made to allow the gods out, but to keep people from going in.  They will need to find a new way of getting into the tomb.  Soon the travelers meet Autloc, the high priest of knowledge, who takes them to meet Yetaxa.  They are surprised to discover that Yetaxa is Barbara.  Thanks to Barbara’s new position of authority, she is able make sure that her “servants” have the right to walk around freely.  They also meet the high priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl, who insists the Ian become the leader of their army.  This creates a conflict between Ian and Itxa, the man who expected to be the leader.

While Ian is being taken to challenge Itxa, the Doctor is taken to the Garden of Peace, which is where the older members of the Aztec civilization spend their time.  He meets a woman, Cameca, who is very wise and takes a liking to the Doctor.  He quickly uses his new-found friend to arrange a meeting with the son of the builder of the pyramid, in the hopes of discovering a way into the tomb.

Ian learns that one of his new duties is to present the sacrifice to the god of rain to end the drought.  He is unwilling and tells the Doctor this. However, the Doctor tells him he must go along with it, so as not to make the Aztecs suspicious of them and Ian reluctantly agrees.  The sacrifice is to happen at the same time that Barbara is presented to the people as the reincarnation of Yetaxa, so the Doctor warns her not to interfere.

However, Barbara refuses to go along with the sacrifice.  She believes that she can use her influence as a god to stop the Aztecs from continuing the practice of human sacrifice, thus allowing their civilization to survive.  When the time comes for the sacrifice, Susan becomes upset and Barbara does intervene.  However, the sacrifice is so upset at not being given the chance to prove himself that he throws himself of the pyramid, sacrificing his own life just before it starts to rain.

The incident leads to Tlotoxl losing his belief that Barbara is the true reincarnation of Yetaxa, and Susan is sent away for tutoring, since her actions were against the Aztec practices (in reality Carol Ann Ford was on vacation).

The Doctor and Ian

The Doctor and Ian

One interesting thing that I noticed in these early episodes is that the travelers truly go into the past.  There are no aliens in this story, they are simply dealing with the problems the face from the Aztecs themselves, and the problem of being separated from the TARDIS.  Episodes like these remind me of why the Doctor is traveling with Barbara, a history teacher.  She is able to provide the group with incredibly detailed information about the society they are visiting.

This episode is also interesting in that the idea of whether or not the travelers can alter history is discussed for the first time. The Doctor tells Barbara in no uncertain terms, “You can’t rewrite history! Not one line!”  Barbara does not listen, but the group ends up leaving the society basically unchanged.  The one man who was influenced by Barbara leaves the group and goes off on his own.

This episode also contains a flirtation between the Doctor and Cameca.  This episode really gives William Hartnell a chance to develop the character of the Doctor.  Instead of simply being cranky and physically frail, he shows himself to have a great deal of knowledge and gets to demonstrate a lighter side in his flirtations with Cameca.  In a rather comical scene, Cameca hopes to get the Doctor to offer he cocoa because to the Aztecs sharing a cup of cocoa is a way of asking someone to marry you.  She brings her cocoa near the Doctor and he tells her that he familiar with cocoa and they should share a cup.  Of course, he is not aware of the Aztec tradition and is surprised to learn that they are now engaged!

Ultimately, Cameca helps the group escape and gives the Doctor her seal, to remind him of her.  The Doctor almost leaves the seal behind in the tomb, but instead decides to take it, betraying that he has grown fond of Cameca.  This is the Doctor’s first love interest on the show.

The Doctor "proposes" to Cameca

The Doctor “proposes” to Cameca

Overall, I greatly enjoyed this story; it is definitely my favorite story of the first season.  It is remarkable how the show manages to keep the suspense going over the four episode story with no alien opponent, something they would never do now.  The story is clever and manages to mix the dramatic moments with some humor.  It also really allowed Barbara to grow as a character.  It was nice to see her in a position of authority and possessing great confidence, instead of simply following Ian’s lead.  The different Aztecs are also allowed to develop strong personalities, which keeps the story interesting as well.