Saturday, May 17, 2014

Doctor Who - The Beginning Collection

Many, many years ago, as a child, I would watch Doctor Who on PBS. Eventually, I stopped watching. However, I recently got back into it with the new series. I wanted to see more of how the show started, so I decided to buy and/or rent as much of the older series as possible.

Not many episodes survive, as no one had yet imagined VCRs, reruns and season sets back in 1963. Fortunately, I was able to get the first three story arcs on DVD from I’m going to stick mostly with the actual episodes and story line, as the features seem to vary a little.

For those that don’t know, the show’s main character is The Doctor, played here by William Hartnell. The Doctor is a Time Lord, which is a race from a planet called Gallifrey. Many of them travel time and space in a device called a TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions in Space.

When the Sci-Fi channel started airing the BBC’s new series in the United States, I looked around and found Doctor Who: In The Beginning on It contains the first three story arcs and was selling for only $24.95. How could I resist?

The first four episodes make up An Unearthly Child. (Each episode is about 25 minutes in length.) In it, we meet Susan, The Doctor, Ian and Barbara. Ian and Barbara are teachers who notice that Susan isn’t your typical student. She doesn’t know things that a typical British teenager would know and seems to make unusual mistakes about other things.

One night, they follow her to an old junkyard and see her enter a police call box. It seems that there’s another voice coming from the big blue box. They’re taken inside by Carol’s grandfather, The Doctor. They’re told that they can’t be released back into normal society because they’ve found out about the Doctor and Carol, who are both not what they seem. From there, they go back in time to meet cavemen and get caught up in a power struggle.

The Daleks is the second story, lasting seven episodes. The Doctor travels to Skaro, where he meets the aforementioned Daleks. (Imagine a big salt shaker with a plunger for an arm.) The planet has been laid waste to by a nuclear holocaust. There are some humanoid survivors, who have managed to find a treatment that the Daleks want. The Daleks have only one thing on their mind, and that’s their own survival whatever the cost.

The final two episodes on the set are The Edge of Destruction. It’s essentially a bottle episode, meant to save money The four main characters are trapped on the TARDIS and are suffering from amnesia. Since it’s meant to save money, there’s not much of a story line to it. It does, however, seem to reveal a lot about the characters and the TARDIS.

Of the three stories, the second I would think is the strongest. As I’ve said with other TV series, the first few episodes usually serve the purpose of setting up the series and/or the characters. The first and third story arcs do this. While the second story arc will have the most impact on the rest of the series, I don’t think it was meant to. It’s the first real story line.

One thing the writers did stay away from is revealing everything about The Doctor at once. The information is given out a little bit at a time. Here, we learn that he and his granddaughter come from a far distant future and that they’re renegades in exile. (What they’ve been exiled for isn’t mentioned here.)

In fact, The Doctor’s name is never mentioned. Susan’s name seems to be taken from the junk yard where the TARDIS first appeared, so it’s probable that that’s not even her real name. We also learn that the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside than the outside due to its ability to change shape. (Due to budget constraints, the circuit that does this had to malfunction. They just couldn‘t afford to build a new TARDIS every month or two.)

I’d like to watch every episode in order, but that’s not possible. Doctor Who was first made way before anyone had any concept of DVD boxed sets and reruns. Many of them were wiped from the main archives. Some survive as novels or audio recordings. I even had to download the fourth story, Marco Polo, from iTunes because it doesn’t seem to be available on any sort of video format.

The original series ran for 26 years. It was cancelled in December of 1989, but a new series was promised when the time was right. For those that have seen just the new series, you’re going to be in for a surprise. These episodes are in black and white and are serialized.

The version I got didn’t have a whole lot in the way of extras. It had the Marco Polo serial in a condensed audio version, but I would rather have the whole thing from iTunes. There is a longer cut of the pilot episode and an Arabic translation of one of the episodes, but I didn’t really watch either. Maybe I’ll go back one day and have a look.
I’d definitely recommend this to any Doctor Who fan. The video and audio have survived well despite being about 45 years old. It’s worth it at least for the historical value. (My mother pointed out how little the theme had changed.)

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