With Doctor Who’s Christmas episode signaling the start of a new era for the show I decided the best way to prepare for a new Doctor and to show my appreciation for everyone who, over the last 50 years, worked so hard to keep Doctor Who going was to watch as much of classic Doctor Who, the original 26 season run of the series, as I could stand and/or easily get my hands on.
Even with this resolve, as a person who’s only seen the new Doctor Who, I had worries; what I knew of the original run is what I read from comments and articles. I was expecting a show that bore little resemblance to the new Doctor Who based on the vehemence of comparisons made between the two by fans of the old. I was expecting a show with such truly horrible production values that it would impact the enjoyment of the show. I was expecting padded, questionable writing to be the standard with only a couple serials good enough to compete with the new series.
In short, I wasn’t expecting to particularly enjoy the task I’d set out to accomplish.
Read on to see how I fared or infer the results from the pile of current airing anime I’ve let accumulate from the last couple of weeks.
For a post like this, I think I’m going to try a different format out to better organize my thoughts.
What did you watch?
Between Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming this is what I watched:
|The Aztecs||First Doctor||Susan, Barbara, Ian|
|The Tomb of the Cybermen||Second Doctor||Jamie, Victoria|
|The Mind Robber||Second Doctor||Jamie, Zoe|
|Spearhead from Space||Third Doctor||Liz|
|The Three Doctors||The First 3||Jo, the Brig, Benton|
|Carnival of Monsters||Third Doctor||Jo|
|The Green Death||Third Doctor||Jo|
|The Ark in Space||Fourth Doctor||Sarah, Harry|
|Pyramids of Mars||Fourth Doctor||Sarah|
|The Robots of Death||Fourth Doctor||Leela|
|The Talons of Weng-Chiang||Fourth Doctor||Leela|
|Horror of Fang Rock||Fourth Doctor||Leela|
|The Ribos Operation||Fourth Doctor||Romana, K9|
|The Pirate Planet||Fourth Doctor||Romana, K9|
|The Androids of Tara||Fourth Doctor||Romana, K9|
|The Power of Kroll||Fourth Doctor||Romana|
|The Armageddon Factor||Fourth Doctor||Romana, K9|
|City of Death||Fourth Doctor||Romana II|
|The Leisure Hive||Fourth Doctor||Romana II|
|The Visitation||Fifth Doctor||Adric, Nyssa, Tegan|
|Earthshock||Fifth Doctor||Adric, Nyssa, Tegan|
|The Caves of Androzani||Fifth Doctor/Sixth||Peri|
|Vengeance of Varos||Sixth Doctor||Peri|
|Ghost Light||Seventh Doctor||Ace|
|The Curse of Fenric||Seventh Doctor||Ace|
Any general conclusions?
The supposed problems of classic Doctor Who were widely exaggerated. Even from the very first serial, The Aztecs, from the very first season, what I watched was Doctor Who. Yes, some of sets and props were a bit dodgy but no worse then the dodgy CG of the new series. Yes, some of the writing was questionable but no more so then the new series. And yes, some of the writing was truly inspired but no more so then the new series.
So you liked Classic Doctor Who?
Generally speaking, yes. It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, though. There were a couple incarnations of the Doctor I didn’t particularly like, ditto the companions, and wow, where do I begin with K9. Fans of new Doctor Who know this drill, though, because it’s essentially the same thing with new Doctor Who; it’s near impossible to enjoy every part of the show all the time. Sometimes the companions annoy, the plot of an episode is bland, the Doctor acts like a jerk and you want to throw something at the TV as a result. So to sum it up, if a fan of new Doctor Who loves the show, warts and all, then there’s no reason not to watch classic Doctor Who.
Wait. You didn’t like a couple incarnations of the Doctor Who, which ones?
Numbers 5 and 6.
The Doctor is (almost) always the smartest one in the room but these two crossed the line and seemed to revel in their smug superiority. I didn’t like it and I could see myself drift away from the series as a result if I had been old enough to catch these seasons of Doctor Who as they aired.
What did you think of the episodes offered?
I was extremely happy to get the chance to watch several of the top classic Doctor Who serials, according to this; however, there were serious gaps from what I’d expect – there was only one regeneration covered, Fifth to Sixth; there was no episodes of persons becoming the new companions; there were only two episodes of companions making their exits from the show; and, of the iconic alien species only the Cybermen make an appearance. For Doctor Who, where these linkages provide the narrative backbone of the series, I’m truly surprised more attention wasn’t focused on these episodes. I’d also would have liked more episodes featuring Gallifrey and it’s people because of where new Doctor Who might be heading, story wise.
What were your favorite serials?
- City of Death
- The Talons of Weng-Chiang
- Vengeance of Varos
- The Curse of Fenric
- The Caves of Androzani
- Horror of Fang Rock
- Pyramids of Mars
- The Mind Robber
Of the serials I watched, these were my favorite.
I notice there’s a strong preference towards stories set on Earth on this list. In general, if asked, I’d say I love seeing the Doctor explore alien planets more then hanging out on Earth. I wonder, then, if using the Earth with it’s familiar backdrop gives the world-building of these serials a deeper context and emotional weight which the one-off alien worlds often lack.
Where there any serials you did not like?
Not really. The biggest disappointment was with the interconnected storyline of season 16. The Doctor, along with a female Time Lord (called a Time Lady) companion, had to track down the six parts to the “Key of Time” before the Black Guardian did. There was nothing wrong with the individual serials; however, the climax and conclusion of the overarching storyline was rather underwhelming.
Now that you’ve seen every Doctor in action, which one was the best Doctor?
Everyone has their Doctor, the one that defines who and what the Doctor is, and this imprinting is almost always permanent. For me, Matt Smith is my Doctor. I’d seen a couple episodes of Christopher Eccleston as number 9 but there were other series on the SciFi Channel that drew my attention away. I’d caught a handful of episodes featuring David Tennant as number 10 but I still didn’t bite. A little later I saw Matt Smith as number 11 and it was like the planets aligned, something clicked, and I fell hard for the show. Matt Smith’s Doctor will always be the one I first think of when I think of the Doctor. I become a blubbering mess every time I rewatch Matt Smith’s regeneration scene; I feel like I’m losing a very good friend and will never get the chance to seem him again. (Hopefully, the series is still running in 10 years time and I get the chance to see Matt Smith return.)
So, on a personal level, number 11 is my Doctor but, after watching these classic Doctor Who episodes, I have to say there was a better Doctor.
If you distill down what makes the Doctor, the Doctor, Tom Baker’s Doctor just flat out exceeds everyone else. He has the face and personality that could quickly earn the trust and respect, no matter the circumstances, of the people he encountered on his travels, even the villains. He was always the smartest one in the room and always knew how to get out of a jam; however, instead of being pretentious about it, he solved problems in a relaxed, semi-whimsical manner that felt respectful of the people around him. If I had to sum the fourth Doctor up, I’d call him an eccentric imp.
You mentioned earlier about disliking some of the companions. Which ones and, on the flip side, who was your favorite companion?
Companions I disliked include Ace, Peri, Adric, and a couple of the early female companions who seemed to be there only to scream in horror a few times an episode. Of those, I think the one I most disliked was Peri because her function seemed limited to being eye candy in an attempt to raise ratings. As for companions I liked, they include Sarah, Leela, and Romana I/II. Of those, I think Leela was my favorite classic companion (Rory’s my overall favorite).
Did you gain any insight into Doctor Who from watching the Classic episodes?
Some of the ideas I had about what I’d like to see in the new Doctor Who were already tried in the classic episodes and the results were not, necessarily, what I’d expect. For instance, after loving every moment of young Amelia Pond with the Doctor, I was convinced having a kid/teenager as a companion was a good idea. Turns out this was done already and I disliked the result; neither Adric or Ace made good companions.
I generally like having multiple companions because it opens up the show. There’s different types of dialogue, not just the Doctor educating the companion which is prevalent when there’s only one companion. Multiple companions can be used to increase the complexity of a storyline. It also cuts down on the fannish impulse of matchmaking the female companions with the Doctor. (I’m not necessarily against romance in the show but having the Doctor become a couple with every female companion makes him come off as a playboy perv who enjoys tooling around the universe picking up chicks from less advanced civilizations that will fall for him because he promises them all of space and time.)
Also, the success or failure of a serial/story of Doctor Who relies heavily on how interesting and well-acted that serial’s one time only characters and villains are. All of the serials on my favorites list are there not because the Doctor or the companions were so much better in those episodes; but, because they encountered a deliciously evil villain or memorable compatriot.
And finally, how would you suggest watching Classic Doctor Who?
I watched classic Doctor Who in chronological order and this is how I’d suggest other potential viewers to do as well. The near constant abrupt changes of the Doctor and companions between serials destroys a lot of the continuity of the show and chronological order does the best towards preserving what little sense of continuity there is. It’s also interesting to see the show mature over the years. However, if this is too much of an initial commitment and an trial run is first needed, then watch the serial City of Death. There’s no better advertisement for classic Doctor Who and Doctor Who in general then this serial.
Comments are appreciated, particularly about other classic Doctor Who serials I should watch. And, I’m really going to try to publish my next post is a slightly quicker manner, these month long pauses are really too much. 🙂