Archive for the 'General Adventure Commentary' Category


William Hartnell: Reflections and Rankings

William Hartnell lasted for 29 stories, just over 3 seasons. At this point, I have no one to compare him to, so I guess I’ll go ahead and say he’s my favorite Doctor. For now.

I almost liked Hartnell’s Doctor more at the beginning of the show than at the end. His grumpiness and mysterious nature was interesting and had potential for some good character exploration. But, as often happens with television shows, they start to determine the direction of the show and characters change. This was even more evident with Susan, originally strange and precocious and eventually just whiny and annoying. The Doctor fared better, though, as is evident by the fact that the show continued.

Hartnell showed some pretty decent range, handling his grumpiness, his sensitive side, his adventurous nature and his intelligence with ease. He easily moved between story structures, fitting into all of them. His comic timing was almost always spot on.

The Hartnell era did suffer, though, from some incidents of poor story telling. Even worse was the slow pace of a lot of the stories. This is likely just a side effect of television in the 1960s, but Hartnell’s age made it a bit worse. While in my reviews I try to give the show credit where credit is due, the truth is many of the stories are incredibly dated. While the sci-fi conventions may have been new and/or unique at the time, a lot of them have become rather tired (such as computers taking over the world). I ignored that fact for the sake of my reviews, but many other reviews I have read complain about the cliched nature of many of the Hartnell stories. While I don’t believe that is fair (many weren’t cliched at the time), it does affect our opinions of them. And that characteristic of being dated is not helped by William Hartnell being so old. It can sometimes make a lot of the stories seem older than they are.

Additionally, there is a decided lack of action in many of the stories. While that doesn’t bother me too much, it made some of the longer stories, especially in Seasons 1 and 2, drag. The missing and reconstructed episodes didn’t help much.

Overall, I enjoyed William Hartnell’s Doctor. Obviously, or I wouldn’t still be watching. I enjoyed his clever wit and thought he gave the character a nice depth. Depth, of course, is something lacking in many of the companions. Here are my rankings of the companions from the Hartnell Era:

1. Vicki – Cute, endearing, adventurous, and a good relationship with Hartnell’s Doctor.
2. Barbara – A bit uneven, but strong when she needed to be and not afraid to keep the boys in line.
3. Susan – Intriguing, but her character was unable to deliver. Not sure if it was Carol Anne Ford’s or the writers’ fault.
4. Polly – Hot, strong, and smart. Would be higher than Susan if she played more of a role.
5. Dodo – Could have been higher on the list, but was really a background player.
6. Katarina – Dumb as rocks and only around for a couple episodes. Great death, though.

1. Ben – I like his attitude. Very no-nonsense-let-me-at-em. I like the cut of his jib, you might say.
2. Ian – While I didn’t buy Sir Ian the warrior, he kept the Doctor in line and approached problems thoughtfully.
3. Steven – Started so strong, but faded fast. Had no real role of his own. Again, not sure if it was the actor or the writers.

Overall Top 5
1. Vicki
2. Ben
3. Ian
4. Barbara
5. Susan

Now, for some story rankings. I’ll do 5 favorite and 5 least favorite. That should not be confused with “Best” and “Worst” which might not be the same.

1. The Time Meddler – Great comic interaction between the Doctor and the Monk, a glimpse into the Doctor’s world, a strong performance from both Vicki and Steven.
2. The Daleks’ Master Plan – This would be number 1 if it weren’t for the Chase and Egypt episodes. Chen was a great villain, the Time Destructor conclusion was intense.
3. The Myth Makers – Very clever and funny, generally a treat. It also features a good (if unexpected) departure for Vicki.
4. The Daleks – Take away the cave jumping, and this story is a great introduction to a great race of villains. I wonder whatever happened to the lame Thals…
5. The Sensorites – This story gets a bad rap, but I liked it.

Least Favorite
1. The Chase – The Daleks were bumbling disasters, the comedy was unfunny, the plot was unimaginative.
2. The Edge of Destruction – Why was this story even made? Nothing happened and this was the point at which Susan’s character began to devolve. And the explanation of the melting clock and the stabbing made no sense.
3. The Crusade – Boring!
4. The Reign of Terror – Boring!
5. The Smugglers – Boring!

I’ve already watched most of The Power of the Daleks, Troughton’s first story. I can’t decide whether I’m enjoying it or not, which probably isn’t a good sign. At any rate, I’m looking forward to the next era of Doctor Who!


Season 03: Reflections

Season 3 was the most consistent in terms of quality so far. The subject matter, on the other hand, varied widely giving us a taste of aliens and humans, past, present, and future, and a companion carousel that didn’t exactly lend itself to depth of character.

Generally, the stories were good, but unremarkable. In fact, as I look back over the list, it’s difficult to decide which ones I think are worth mentioning, beyond The Daleks’ Master Plan. All of them are better than much of Season 2, but there really aren’t any standouts, good or bad. Part of this may have to do with the large number of missing episodes. It’s difficult to get a good feel for a story when it can’t be watched in its entirety. I mean, sure you can have an idea of the quality of the plot, but the scenery and the photography and the acting are difficult to gauge.

The companions, on the other hand are easy to gauge: generally crappy. Vicki, who stuck around for only two stories in season 3, was the stand out. She is probably my favorite companion so far. However, Steven suffered from a steady decline of characterization and Dodo never really had any characterization to decline. Neither of them developed much of a personality, although Steven shined on his own in The Massacre and Dodo had some bright spots here and there. So they could act, they just weren’t really given the chance to. We never got to know Dodo at all and her departure was, quite simply, awfully done. I have a feeling they just didn’t know what to do with her. She was supposed to be so young that had to keep her kind of naive (to a fault, some might say). But this also ruined Steven’s character because they apparently felt they had to lower his maturity level as well (see the Celestial Toymaker). The introduction of Polly and Ben at the end of the season seems promising. Ben seems to have a backbone and at least Polly’s good-looking.

By the end of the season, William Hartnell was clearly beginning to tire. The season was ridiculously long (44 episodes, running from September 1965 to July 1966). And the role he was playing was starting to tire as well. He was increasingly out of place amongst the youthful companions, and it’s not surprising that he only lasts a couple of stories with the hip Londoners Polly and Ben. The grandfather role he played with Susan and Vicki disappeared almost immediately. Dodo’s lack of development may have been in part due to this change in the Doctor. Overall, I have enjoyed Hartnell. Of course, I have no other Doctors to compare him to, but his wry wit and strong general acting have been worth continuing this journey. We’ll see how his forthcoming departure goes.

The upcoming fourth season includes 9 stories, 2 of which are Dalek stories. It may be sacrilege to say this, but that might be overdoing the Daleks a bit. Remember what happened when they put both the Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Chase in the same season? There are no completely in-tact stories from Season 4, and unfortunately the Doctor Switch-Over is one of the missing.

Favorite Story: The Daleks’ Master Plan

Least Favorite Story: The Celestial Toymaker

Best Villain: The Daleks (or maybe Chen from the same story….)

Worst Villain: Wotan was groundbreaking, but not exactly engaging.


Season 02: Reflections

Season 2 was rather uneven. It ranged from the excellent (The Time Meddler) to the experimental (The Web Planet) to the slapstick (The Romans) to the positively awful (The Chase). It’s clear the Doctor Who is still searching for its identity. It’s still clinging to what I think they were trying to be educational. This season I learned about the burning of Rome, Richard the Lionheart, the Viking invasion, the dangers of pesticides, not to mention a couple of somewhat harsh assessments of imperialism (The Web Planet, The Space Museum).

At the end of season 1 I liked both Ian and Barbara. By the time they left, I wasn’t much of a fan of Ian and not particularly interested in Barbara. I have a suspicion this may be partly to do with using multiple writers and directors. This may have created a slight unevenness in character, something that contributes to the uneven nature of the season in general. The pretty consistent bright is the Doctor. Hartnell delivers his witty, grumpy one liners with perfect comic timing. And his adventurous/curious nature truly drives the show. Vicki has turned into a great replacement for Susan. Her character, which had such potential, became very flat. At first I thought it was odd that they ditched her so quickly, but seeing the way Vicki was able to fill the granddaughter-esque role and still be a meaningful contributor to the adventures, she’s a much better companion. She has a wittiness that Susan never could have pulled off. Not to mention her apparent chemistry with Steven. Steven himself seems like a good enough companion, but I haven’t seen enough to make a good evaluation.

In reading some other reviews, mostly at the Dr. Who Ratings guide, it seems that I tend to disagree with other Who fans. One example is The Chase. Quite a few reviewers enjoyed the campiness. Another difference is The Crusade. I found it incredibly boring, others evaluated it as the best of the season. I’m not sure where the difference lies. Perhaps I’m looking at different elements of the show than they are. Perhaps hindsight and a larger comparison sample changes one’s opinions.

Lastly, there seems to be an increase in readership lately. That’s awesome. Thanks to those who are reading regularly, especially those whom (who?) have this blog on their Google Reader. It’s nice that others are interested. Please keep reading, I’ll keep watching. I’ve also added a couple of other blog links off to the side there, a movie/television review blog and another, more intense, Classic Who blog.

Favorite Story: The Time Meddler

Least Favorite Story: The Chase

Best Villain: The Monk, maybe Nero

Worst Villain: The Daleks in The Chase — stuttering, ridiculous fools

Biggest Question: How many others are out there TARDISing from the Doctor’s Planet?


Break in the Action

As I watched the reconstructed episodes of The Crusade and looked forward to the large number of missing episodes in the near future, I found myself discouraged. It’s kind of painful to watch them and difficult to stay motivated. How much Dr. Who can a person watch? Especially when it’s just audio over 5 or 6 repeated still images…

In short, I started to realize the enormity of this task. And I knew there would be times when I really didn’t want to continue. But, dammit, I’m committed. If I can’t complete a mission to watch 30 years of a television show, what can I do? I am still really looking forward to the rest of the show. This portion of it is just particularly difficult to plow through.

With that in mind, I am taking a short Dr. Who hiatus. I will get back to the action in a couple of weeks after the semester has ended, my brain is rested, and the TARDIS no longer feels like huge weight I’ve tied to my own ankle.


Season 01: Reflections

After completing the first season of Doctor Who, I am excited to continue on. I really enjoy most of the stories, although a few of them are a bit long. I can understand why the show continued, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know what made the show stick around for 25 more seasons. I’m sure the show’s mythology is not entirely developed (in fact, I know it hasn’t), and as it does I may start to understand the show’s longevity a little bit more. One thing I can’t comment on is the level of the show’s popularity. Is/was Doctor Who a much-loved British show? Was it something that millions watched every week and was an event? Like, say, Cheers in the United States, which was of course a comedy that lasted 11 years. I’m not even sure I can think of anything that is similar here, other than perhaps a soap opera. Those are much-loved by those who watch them and some last decades. But it still isn’t the same.

What I like best about the show is that it doesn’t take itself very seriously. They were clearly working to create a show that was to be taken seriously, but it did not necessarily take itself seriously. The line flubs throughout the season seemed evidence to me that they enjoyed the show. It wasn’t so much like work for them. While at times it was a little annoying that the lines were messed up, most of the flubs were not major.

If it were not for the incessant screaming coming from Susan, I found the cast rather likable on the whole.  Later in the seaso, Barbara started to step up and come into her own. Ian manages to keep the Doctor sane, which is important. The Doctor is definitey my favorite character, however. His cantankerousness is priceless and his sense of curiousity, if slightly trying when it comes to needlessly endangering his friends and family, drives a lot of the show’s drama. If he hadn’t wanted to see their city, the Daleks wouldn’t exist. If he didn’t insist on looking around even after meeting the dirty little boy, no one would have been arrested. And then Susan. She has so much potential to be an intriguing character that could probably drive a few stories dedicated to her in some way. But instead she’s left to be wimpy and screamy. Hopefully her character is refined a little more in the second season.

To sum up my feelings on Season One: Very good, but not great. It made me look forward to Season Two, but mostly to see the mythology mature, not necessarily because I can’t wait for more stories. The stories all follow pretty much the same plot, and I don’t expect that to change much (at least not for a while). I’m interested to learn more about the Doctor’s home planet. I’m also curious as to why he and Susan are travelling around, why they left home to begin with and why they haven’t gone back. Is the TARDIS totally broken or does the Doctor just not know how to control it? Do Ian and Barbara make it home?

I’d like to thank those of you who have read this blog. I’m not sure if anyone is reading regularly or coming back now and then or if it’s once and done, but thank you anyway. I am looking forward to Season Two and will be here to share it with you.

Favorite Story: The Sensorites

Least Favorite Story: The Edge of Destruction

Best Villain: Tegana

Worst Villain: Rubber Suit Guys in the Keys of Marinus

Biggest Question: What’s the deal with the TARDIS?


An Unearthly Undertaking

I, perhaps somewhat foolishly, have decided to embark upon a science fiction adventure that I would imagine only a relative few have attempted before and even fewer have completed. I’m not sure that I will be able to complete it. Nonetheless, I plan to watch every episode of the BBC classic Dr. Who from creepy beginning (1963) right through the current incarnation (2009). Although it will no longer be 2009 when I finish, and there is no guarantee that the current incarnation will still be current. The show began on November 23, 1963 and ran continuously through 1989, for a total of 26 seasons, plus a few specials and TV movies here and there. Then it reappeared in the current decade, presumably as a continuation of the original series. I have no idea how many episodes this is, but it’s a lot.

Perhaps unique to my particular version of this undertaking is the fact that before starting on my journey I had never watched a single episode of Dr. Who. In fact, I was only vaguely aware of its existence. I’m not British, after all, and PBS was never my favorite channel. But a couple of years ago I became involved in an ill-fated Alternate Reality Game known as the Wyoming Incident. The game involved what was supposed to be a television signal hijacking. Research the hijacking of television signals,  learned the only real one that ever occurred happened in Chicago in 1987 during an episode of Dr. Who. I then learned that Dr. Who was a corny, low budget British sci-fi show and dismissed it.

Then, while watching the BBC more recently, I saw an ad for the new version. Wondering if it was an update to the old series, I did some research and learned that it was a continuation of a series that began in the sixties. Intrigued by the show’s ability to remain popular and/or relevant for over 40 years, I decided I wanted to see what it was all about. I hit up Netflix and the Wikipedia and discovered this page and instantly became overwhelmed, especially by the missing serials. So, I thought I’d watch an old serial or two (the show is divided into 4-7 episode serial stories). And they were awesome. And, so, my quest began.

Because of some odd disc numbering choices for the first three serials, I watched “The Daleks” first, followed by “An Unearthly Child,” the actual opening serial. I was hooked and went in search of the others…some are available on DVD via Netflix, some will have to be downloaded from a torrent. Yes, you can download a single torrent including all 26 seasons. It’s 200 GB.

I have already watched most of Season 1, but was inspired by these guys to document my adventure. What separates me from them is I have never before seen any of these episodes, nor am I able to compare them to future Dr. Who. I will be experiencing and learning about the show’s mythology and quirks and delights as I go along. It should be quite entertaining, I hope others will join me.

About These Adventures

This blog exists to document my trip through over 30 seasons of the British science fiction television show Dr. Who. Prior to beginning, I had never seen a single episode of Dr. Who and will be learning the show's mythology and experiencing it all for the first time. I began sometime in July of 2009. Hopefully it doesn't take me over 30 years to reach the end.

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