I knew this was going to be rubbish. Television has come a long way in 50 years, and Doctor Who was really at the start of it all. I knew I would have to take all this into account. I knew I’d have to forgive the shabby sets, the bad costumes, the dodgy camera angles, the poor production value. I just didn’t realize how bloody difficult it would be.
There is a reason we parody old TV shows today; skits on comedy shows with overly dramatic music and sketchy acting that everyone laughs at. This is where that shit comes from. Classic Doctor Who is the kind of show we make fun of these days, but it can be bloody difficult to remember to see the funny side when you’re watching it.
It took me a while to be able to appreciate Classic Who for what it is (and even now I’ll come across an episode that’s so bad I just can’t), but I’m still coming into it as a lover of the modern series. And this very much relates to how I see the old episodes, so it’s impossible to objectively judge a series. Especially when it’s so different to anything I’m used to…
I started watching Classic Who before the dawning of the age of Capaldi, so I had never seen a mean Doctor. From my perspective I was going from the whimsy and charm of Matt Smith to the quite severe and, I’ll be honest here, bit-of-a-dick William Hartnell.
Don’t worry, he totally grew on me, but it was tough going for a while. The Doctor only becomes less of a dick when he gets used to his new companions, Coal Hill teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton (who the Doctor kidnapped by the way). Seeing as he didn’t really want Barbara and Ian on the TARDIS, the Doctor is cold towards them, very quick to dismiss and insult them. It’s not like the Doctor never does this is Modern Who, but at least these days it’s portrayed as comic effect.
And here’s something amazing: The Doctor is not so incredible in series 1. I’m not joking: his companions are more heroic than he is. I lost count of the amount of times Ian completely saved the day, or the Doctor tried to take credit or made a mistake! That’s right folks, the Doctor makes mistakes and his companions have to fix them. And I have some amazing respect for early companions now. They save the Doctor and fix his mistakes. At one point the Doctor gets trapped in a house on fire and is saved by a child. I’m sorry Hartnell but you’re rude and pretty ineffectual. As much as I kinda love your grandfatherly charm mixed with a sense of moody teenage self-importance, you need to step it up. You are the Doctor, I don’t care how much your face and personality changes with each regeneration, you’re still supposed to be brilliant.
The series 1 companions are the Doctor’s actual granddaughter Susan Foreman (yes, she is also Gallifreyan) and Susan’s teachers Ian and Barbara. Let me just say right now that I have a bit of a crush on Ian because it’s hard not to when he is the hero of the entirety of the season. Seriously, he is so proactive, fearless, caring and clever. He’ll do things the Doctor doesn’t dare, he’ll think of answers no one else can find, and clearly has more common sense than anyone else on the TARDIS.
Same with Barbara, though I’m not mad about her I know she’s good. She’s compassionate, she’s smart, she’ll have her episodes where she figures out key plot points, and she learns a lot during the course of the season. The companion I have a hard time liking is Susan. She is so annoying. A complete drama queen, she can hardly do anything without screaming or fainting. And when coming across a lot of enemies, as tends to happen what travelling with the Doctor, that’s not something you want to be doing. I’ll give her props, she’s as intelligent as the Doctor, and she does always face her fears, but incessant screaming and fainting is just fucking atrocious. It’s a good thing she gets braver towards the end of the series.
It’s a well-known fact in the UK that children used to hide behind the sofa when watching Classic Who. It was just that terrifying. I know that, being of my generation, I’m probably desensitized to a lot of shit, but I’m seriously wondering if any of the Classic monsters will ever scare me. It’s mainly because of the production: the masks on the Sensorites were so hypnotically terrible I can’t imagine anything being scary. Even the Daleks, who look exactly the same in series 1 as they do these days, are made to be hilarious:
The villain in “The Aztecs” was a very good actor so he was nice and creepy, but that’s seriously as far as this season got.
Production and Stories
There are some really good stories in this season, and I’m really only thinking of “The Keys of Marinus” and “The Sensories” here, but still. Unfortunately even if the story is good, it’s let down by the unignorably bad production. And if the story is bad, the production only makes the whole thing worse.
I know it was the sixties. I know the BBC didn’t have the budget to spend on making things look decent. They didn’t even have the money to buy new tapes, hence the 90-odd missing episodes, and the high number of continuous takes. And seriously BBC, if an actor mucks up a line, just do another take. It makes a difference, it’s worth it. Please. Ugh, everything was just so much to take. There were costumes that actually offended me. There were times when the set would move. Part of my degree was film and television, this shit bugs the hell out of me.
This kind of stuff made the series hard to watch. It took me months to finish this season, mainly because it was so cringe. And it’s not as if the stories are incredibly thrilling; it’s not all about the running in Classic Who, it’s entirely passive. Most “action” scenes are handled so badly I could have seriously slapped a bitch. And I would have done it more convincingly than Classic Who’s stage combat.
There were elements I enjoyed from this season, but that was all they were: elements. Overall I found it a pain to watch, though I slogged through, I did it begrudgingly. I hope in season 2 the Doctor gets more likable, Susan pulls her knickers up, and Ian and Barbara continue being awesome. I hope to see some new enemies, but I don’t have high hopes for the production yet. Let’s see what series 2 has in store!