Monday, June 18, 2007


Who Review

Today I started a strange project, definitely quixotic and most likely ill-advised. I've been thinking quite a lot about Doctor Who the last few weeks, largely inspired by Paul Cornell's splendid two parter "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood" and Steven Moffat's equally splendid "Blink." I was watching the companion documentary series last week, Doctor Who Confidential, this episode of which was all about the influence Who had on people now working in British television. The documentary, like most of its ilk, featured loads of clips of old Who episodes, intercut with people talking about when they first started watching. One of the guests mentioned something I've discussed with people in conversation before, the notion that one's "first Doctor" is their favorite; that is, the one they're first introduced to is the one they most identify with. For me it was Tom Baker. A corollary I've discovered is that people tend to have fond memories of their second Doctors, as well. Sean Williams started watching Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor, and has some affection for Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor, but doesn't care for Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor. While sharing Sean's tastes in most things Who, though, I started watching with Tom Baker's first episode, and consequently prefer the Fourth and Fifth Doctor, while not having much patience for the Third.

In any event, I've been thinking about how my first exposure to the character colored my perceptions, and also about all of these great clips from old episodes that I haven't seen. I've sampled bits and pieces of all seven original Doctors, seeing serials from the beginning to end of the 26 year original run of the show. But there's still a great deal of Who I've never seen.

Which leads me to my quixotic project. I work at home, and eat most meals as quickly as possible, but need something to do while chowing down, so usually watch a half-hour episode of something while I eat. Lately it's been the audio commentary on the second season of The Venture Bros, but I'm just about done with that. So I was already looking for something that ran between twenty and twenty-five minutes that I could run while I ate. For most of its twenty-six year run, Doctor Who was aired in twenty-five minute episodes.

You see where this is going.

Starting today, I am committed to watching all of Who from the beginning, an episode at a time, straight through to the end. For those episodes that have been lost I'll be taking in reconstructions using the extant audio and still photos. I'm not sure how many individual episodes of Who there are, but there are something just short of 160 serials, if I'm remembering correctly, which average four twenty-four episodes apiece. Even if I watch an episode a day for five days a week, every week (which is vanishingly unlikely, since I usually only eat lunch in front of the television about four times a week at best), then I estimate it'll take me something like two and a half years to finish. I may be watching more episodes than that on evenings that Allison is out of town on business (suffice it to say, she won't be going me on this particular mad quest; she quite likes the new series, but has not a bit of patience for the original show), so I may make up time here and there, but I can't imagine this taking less than a couple of years. Which, of course, I didn't really realize when I made this decision last week, thinking it would take a matter of months, but now I'm committed.

Today I watched "An Unearthly Child," the first episode of the serial with the same name. I'll be providing irregular updates as to my progress, but I don't expect I'll have time to offer anything in the way of reviews. Perhaps every few serials I'll sum up my reactions, or once a series, or once a Doctor, or what-have-you. Or in the course of the next two and a half years I'll do all three.

In any case, there you have it. Doctor Who from beginning to end, one episode at a time. So you tell me: quixotic, ill-advised, or both?

Every Who fan has to do this at least once in their lives. I did it several years ago. It really changes one's perceptions. I marveled at how terrible a lot of Troughton is. I was amazed anyone thought Celestial Toymaker was ready to go on television. I grew to love Season Ten. I found Williams a chore by the end and loved JNT's freshness at the start. The TV movie is like a bucket of murky water in the face. But it has to be one a day. Try to do more and you'll find yourself fast forwarding and skipping episodes. And especially at the start, do use audios or reconstructions to bridge the gaps. The first season is a much, much richer experience that way. And you need to hear The Massacre.
Awesome. And what a start - 'The Unearthly Child' is a fab little piece of TV. Enjoy!

I admire your dedication. One day I would hope to have enough time and/or money to do that, but I have no idea where to find most of the audios/reconstructions (if you do, then I'd love to know).

Now... I do have something to say about people's favorite doctors: I started with Baker, and I loved him, but he's not my favorite. Davidson was my second doctor, and I didn't care for him much. Pertwee really caught my imagination though (he was also a spledid guy in real life). He really had a sense of style. He is (and remains) my favorite doctor.

That said, the new doctors are incredible. I can't really compare them to the old ones. I think they're both brilliant. I wish Eccleston would've had more episodes, though. He had a real depth, range, and verisimilitude that was refreshing to see.
Have you seen An Unearthly Child before? I've watched the first episode dozens of times, but the rest of the sequence only once. However, when you get to the rock, let me know. Really says a LOT about who the Doctor was before they called him the Doctor. And can you imagine an American "children's show" having their lead do that?
You are wonderfully OCD about the goofiest of shit. But go for it, man. Journal it all out, and make it a huge honking essay that you can publish.

This is why I'm glad I know you.
I've tried to do this several times, but ended up skipping episodes and jumping ahead to ones that were my childhood favorites, just to see if they stand the test of time.

Started again recently with Meggan (a new Who convert) just to show her the depth and history of the season. It was interesting to watch the two versions of "An Unearthly Child" after several years.

I never realized how strangely basic yet at the time highly effective the introduction of The Daleks was - just a sink plunger poked in from screen right and a classic villain is born.

As I re-watch a lot of Who I find myself being drawn back more to the Pertwee era more than any other. While Troughton was my "first" Doctor, the Pertwee era was when I started to make a point of hiding behind the sofa every Saturday night.

Good luck, and have fun. I look forward to chatting about your Who experiences at some point.
Thanks for the input, all!

Responding to your comments in no particular order:

I watched a big sampling of Who about six years ago, including "An Unearthly Child", "The Daleks", "The Time Meddler", and "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," to cite just the Hartnell serials. Found them surprisingly effective, especially the Dalek invasion stuff shot on location in London.

I watched "War Games," which may be the only Troughton I've seen so far, and then a number of Pertwee. I only rewatched a couple of Tom Baker episodes, having seen them all as a kid, as well as one or two Davison's for the same reason. Made it through a couple of Colin Baker and a handful of Sylvester McCoy. Suffered through the TV movie when it aired, and don't look forward to watching it again.

As for where to find the fan reconstructions, I don't think they're commercially available, but I've seen discussions of them online, so they shouldn't be that difficult to find. And George Mann suggests trying the official audio versions that the BBC has released of the missing episodes, complete with commentary, so that might be worth checking out.

And yes, Mark, I am completely OCD about the goofiest of shit. In the last few years I've rewatched virtually every episode of every genre show I like, and quite a few episodes of shows I didn't like at all. Pity Allison, though, who came along with me on most of them (though she wouldn't go near Adromeda with a ten-foot pole); she's sitting this one out, though, as I say. Though, that said, she watched part of "An Unearthly Child" with me yesterday and quite liked it.
I know where you're coming from. I just watched the first two seasons of Robin of Sherwood. I would've watched the last season, but I couldn't find it anywhere.
Sam, have you tried some of the torrent sites? They can be really useful for older shows that aren't commercially available.
The Tom Baker WHO was airing in the states when I was ripe for the series--but alas, I could never find it on TV. Whenever it was listed in TV Guide, something else was inevitably preempting it.

So, my first Doctor, who I ever really and truly got to see in action, was Peter Cushing. I still think that's pretty nifty (back-to-back with Quartemass and the Pit. How's that for a double-bill?).

Speaking of all things WHO, is Abducted By Daleks in your to-watch pile? How does it fit in with series continuity, one wonders?
I have fond memories of the Cushing flicks, though I haven't seen them since I was in single digits. (Quatermass and the Pit, though, I've rewatched several times over the years, most recently just last year.)

Excellent question about Abducted by Daleks, though. I love that one fan's quote at the end of the article about Daleks never, ever touching a naked woman. Heh.
How about things like Downtime and some of the Bill Baggs films that feature Sontarans and other Who monsters?
Do you mean have I watched them already, or do I plan to watch them after I finish with the Sylvester McCoy stuff? I have watched a few of the fan films and the like, including some of The Stranger ones and some of the UNIT stuff with Mark Gatiss. As to whether I'll continue with "noncanonical" fan stuff after finishing the original series, as me again in two years...
Michael and I have done it, the way that you're doing it, several times over the course of our partnership [entering our twenty-second year together]. It does take just about two and a half years to go through the cycle.

It formed the basis for our courtship, as a matter of fact. And now the good Doctor provides most of our bread-and-butter [with occasional jam].
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