Classic Doctor Who back on air in USA


I’ve had a TiVo for a long time (14 years), and one of the cooler features is that the service learns what you like, and will record other programs besides the ones you tell it to, thinking you’ll like them. So tonight I’m looking through the recorded shows, I found an episode of “Doctor Who”. Which immediately got me thinking, well, what is this? So I played the thing. Much to my shock it was black and white! And then I discovered it originally aired on Nov 23, 1963.

HOLY CRAP! Classic Doctor Who was on TV here – local to me, and on free over the air TV, too. Not a national network like SyFy (what a dumb name), but a local channel. So I looked at the guide listing, and indeed, they’re showing classic Doctor Who.

In a 30 minute time slot, twice at night in prime time in my Time Zone – one at 7PM and one at 7:30PM (and again on weekends). It is US commercial television, so there are commercial breaks. In Unearthly Child 1, they had a commercial break right at the point where Ian & Barbara went into 76 Totters Lane. There was a second break right after the Tardis took off near the end of the episode.

But hell, I was absolutely flabbergasted that not only was classic Doctor Who on TV here, but on free over the air TV on a (very) local TV station here.  I didn’t even know Classic Doctor Who was being sold in the United States.

4947528The station it is being shown on here is Channel 31 in Dallas, who goes by the odd call sign of K31GL-D. They’re what’s known as a “low power station“. The specific digita subchannel (31-4) is part of a national network called “Retro Television Network“, that shows various old TV shows. But it’s usually things like Dragnet, Bonanza, Starsky & Hutch, etc..  But they had bloody Doctor Who, and 60’s era classic Doctor Who as well!  I’m absolutely stunned.

So I looked around, and apparently this has been in the works for a bit now, but I didn’t discover it until today – found it quite by accident when, as I said, my TiVo recorded the first episode as a suggestion.

Even though I own virtually all of this on DVD, I’ll likely record all of it anyway, because TiVo recordings count in ratings, and besides, one could always use another excuse to watch classic Doctor Who.  I’ll support this being on the air as best I can.

Huzzah to the Retro TV network for the first real, honest to God return of classic Doctor Who to US television since the show returned in 2005.

You can view a page that shows you all of the Retro TV affiliates around the United States on this page.

Geeky stuff:

There is no proper guide info for the episodes, so all the episodes say “Doctor Who”, and have this as a description:

“Tue 08/05/14 07:30 PM on 31-4=K31GLD4, Duration = 30 mins, originalAirdate: 1963-11-23
A mysterious traveler can visit any point in space and time.”

So if you have a digital service like a TiVo, or rely on guide information, it won’t tell you what episode is airing, unfortunately. I might try and contact the network about that.

Anyway, they have a trailer out, and have some discussion about this on their Facebook group.  Check it out.

Press Release

Chattanooga, Tenn. (July 10, 2014) – Luken Communications is excited to announce the highly-anticipated debut of Doctor Who on Retro TV on Monday, August 4th. Beginning with the very first episode of the series, “An Unearthly Child,” fans of the science fiction classic can find two episodes of Doctor Who back-to-back every weeknight at 8:00 PM ET/PT on Retro TV.

Doctor Who follows the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord who faces a variety of foes while travelling through time and space in the TARDIS, his iconic blue police box. Retro TV will be showcasing the series’ classic run, featuring the first seven incarnations of the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy.

“We’re excited to set a fixed point in time for the arrival of classic episodes of Doctor Who on Retro TV,” said Matthew Golden, Luken’s Vice President of Production. “These meticulously restored episodes will bring the history of the Doctor to the U.S. in a way that viewers have never seen before.”

In addition to the weeknight schedule, a two hour encore block will air on Saturday evenings as part of Retro TV’s new Sci-Fi Saturday. Starting at 6:00 PM ET/PT, viewers can enjoy the supernatural anthology One Step Beyond, Doctor Who andMystery Science Theater 3000.

Now in its 51st year, Doctor Who, a BBC production distributed by BBC Worldwide North America, holds the Guinness Book of World Records title as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world. Doctor Who has received an institutional Peabody® Award for “evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe”, was nominated for multiple BAFTAs, garnered awards from the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain and the Royal Television Society, and was recently named Entertainment Weekly’s #1 Best Cult TV Show Ever.

About Luken Communications:
Luken Communications is a Chattanooga, TN-based broadcast group with networks including Retro TV, The Heartland Network, The Family Channel, PBJ, Frost Great Outdoors and TUFF TV.  Luken Communications offers diverse, family-friendly programming on its networks reaching approximately 80 percent of all U.S. households via a blend of over-the-air, cable and satellite television.  For more information about Retro TV, please visit

Doctor Who Length of Service

This is text I wrote to go with an infographic I did that appeared in an article on Kasterborous regarding length of service time for each of the 11 Doctors.  Here is my full, overlay anal text to go with the infographic. [Read more…]

The Sensorites Review

My Review (01×07)

The Sensorites is a story that for the longest time I used to skip.  In my earlier days of Doctor Who fandom, I was into the 80’s stuff, and didn’t get a chance to see the Hartnell and Troughton era material until 1986.  When I finally did, there was a lot of it at once (given the realities of lost stories at that time).  When I did get to see the Hartnell stuff, for some reason, I always blew off the Sensorites – I don’t know why.  I did watch it, but my teenage self probably felt bored with this story.   When came to rewatch it for this review series, I found a much better story than my memory remembered.

Now, I’m not going to claim it’s one of the greatest stories, because it’s not.  But it has a lot of points I wish I had paid attention to earlier.   This story has elements that we see many a time later on in Doctor Who, one of which is the society that doesn’t seem too bad, has a nice ruler, but has a subordinate that is power mad, and wants to kill the Doctor and his crew.   In fact, even at this point in the show’s history (7th overall story, 31st overall episode), it’s been repeated.   It’s a much used plot point.

Anyway, the Doctor and his crew land on a spaceship they think is adrift – they find the crew dead, only they turn out not to be.  They’re under the power of a race called “The Sensorites”.    They are a race with a very odd look.  That’s probably down to practical matters of 1964 television, but their face is an odd look, perhaps why I never liked the story in the past.  Still, they had some interesting characteristics.   They were very sensitive to loud noises, and they were totally blind in the dark – and when that happened, they were also frightened.  Kind of like a reverse weeping angel.  heh.  Anyway, they mostly looked the same, and they were distinguished (to us anyway) by insignia and sashes on their clothing.  It marked their rank in their society.   Eventually, it’s discovered that a council of elders is on the planet below the ship was orbiting.   The Doctor is compelled to help, because the Sensorites have stolen the lock to the Tardis door, and the Doctor can’t get in.

This is a bone of contention over the years – the Tardis lock, keys, and whatnot have changed appearance both visually and with function.  It’s been told at times that only certain people can open the doors, and the key has looked more “Gallifreyan” at times, other times it’s a plain old key like you and I would have on our keychains.  In this story, the Sensorites just burnt the lock out, preventing the Tardis doors from opening.  Granted, it’s very early on in the show’s run, so the future history hadn’t been invented yet.  Can’t fault them for that, but it is the first story where the door lock is messed around with.

The story moves down to the planet where the Doctor discovers that there’s a sickness, and Ian succumbs to it.  The Doctor thinks he was poisoned, and set about trying to save Ian, and also the Sensorites at the same time.   It’s during this that the aforementioned “power mad subordinate” comes into play.   There’s also a side plot where the Doctor has to go to an aqueduct to look for the source of the poison.    Eventually things are sorted out, and the proper bad people are sorted out, the Doctor gets his Tardis lock back..

I know I’m glossing over a lot here, but if this story does have a fault, it’s that it didn’t really need to be six episodes.  Watching them it doesn’t drag too much (Well, a little), but it probably could have been tightened up a lot with two less episodes.   Still, as I said above, there’s a lot of bits I like in this story..

First and foremost, is the Susan Foreman character.  As we all know, Susan’s original character design was that not of just a teenage girl, but one with a more fleshed out character.  That the development didn’t happen is what led Carole Anne Ford to leave the show early on in the second series.  This story, however, is one that shows what the character could have been like if they didn’t quickly de-evolve the character into a screaming young girl.   Susan in this story showed mental capabilities that she didn’t show before.   I never DISLIKED the character of Susan, but generally, she was there to be captured, rescued, etc.  She wasn’t like that in this story, so I’d say this is probably her best overall story, except possibly the first episode of Unearthly Child.

I also enjoyed the human character of “John”.   I thought his acting of someone whose mind had gone and was on a slow road to recovery was well realized.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “Strangers in Space” – June 20, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Unwilling Warriors” – June 27, 1964
  • Episode 3: “Hidden Danger” – July 11, 1964
  • Episode 4: “A Race Against Death” – July 18, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Kidnap” – July 25, 1964
  • Episode 6: “A Desperate Venture” – August 1, 1964
  • Director:  Mervyn Pinfield (Episodes 1-4)
  • Director: Frank Cox (Episodes 5-6)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: Peter R. Newman
  • Production Code: G

Story Notes

  • This is the first story to show a continuous camera shot that started inside the Tardis console room, and followed the characters out the door and into the scene to be played.   Given the practical production issues in 1964, it meant constructing the spaceship set right outside the Tardis set.  But this was the first to do that.  The flip side of this is the first ever Doctor Who story to go the other way, have characters talking outside the Tardis, go in the door, and continue inside the Tardis set was MUCH later – first happed in “The Snowmen”, on Dec 25, 2012.   There was a third angle, a sideways shot that tracked the Doctor from the console room out the door into an exterior scene (“The End of Time Pt 1”), but that was just the Doctor, and there was no dialogue.
  • The first story where the past television adventures are recalled.  The first scene of episode 1 recalls how “it all started out as a mild curiosity in a junk yard”.   mentioned the prehistoric caveman stuff form Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Marco Polo, Marinus, & the Aztecs.
  • The Doctor refers to himself as human in Episode 2.
  • This story refers to his “heart” (as in not having two).  Although, the idea of the Doctor having two hearts didn’t come up until 1970 during Jon Pertwee’s first story, “Spearhead from Space”, anyway.
  • Russell T Davies said in a Doctor Who confidential episode for “The Impossible Planet” that he wanted the Ood to resemble the Sensorites in a “neighboring cousin” kind of way (my words, not his).
  • Episodes 4 & 5 of this story were Jacqueline Hill’s “vacation” time, although Barbara does appear via some inserted footage filmed during other episodes.
  • This story was originally called “Mind Control”.
  • The actor Stephen Dartnell appears in this story as “John”.  He was previously Yartek in “Keys of Marinus”.
  • John Bailey played the Commander in this story – he later appeared as Edward Waterfield in “The Evil of the Daleks”, and again as Sezom in “The Horns of Nimon”.

Future References

  • This story is referenced in the 2009 episode, “Planet of the Ood” when the 10th Doctor is looking at a star chart for the galaxy the Ood-sphere was in, and he said “I’ve been to this solar system before.  Years ago – ages!  It’s close to the planet Sense-Sphere”.  Sense-Sphere is the planet from the Sensorites.
  • Susan describes Gallifrey (then just called “our home”) with almost the same dialogue that is used in the 2007 episode, “Gridlock” when the 10th Doctor describes Gallifrey to Martha Jones.

In Summary

This is a story that I overlooked early on in my “career” of being a Doctor Who fan.   While I’d be lying if I said it’s one of the best, it’s better than I remembered, and is definitely worthy of being checked out, if for no other reason than to watch the performances of Carole Anne Ford (Susan) & Stephen Dartnell (John).  I thought the sets were well done given it’s 1964, and there was a wide variety of them – it wasn’t just the spaceship.  The Sensorites themselves were interesting if not a “great” alien race. Overall, I give it a 7 out of 10.

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The Aztecs Review

My Review (01×06)

For Doctor Who story #6, we come to one that’s in my opinion one of the strongest of the entire First Doctor era.   The Aztecs was when I first started watching Hartnell era Doctor Who the earliest “perfect” story.  In my mind back then (1986), it was perfect.  Obviously, as I’ve had some years to digest it, it’s not “perfect” perfect, but back then, it was far superior in my eyes to any other Hartnell story I had seen.    This is an opinion I still share today.  The Aztecs is spectacular.

In fact, I sat down tonight to watch it on DVD, prepared to do what I did for the other stories before this in the series.  That’s “take notes”.  I did that, so I wouldn’t forget various parts to talk about.  Halfway through Episode 3, I realized I never took any.  I was engrossed right from the start.   I’m going to sound like a broken record with this one, but for the William Hartnell era, this is as good as it gets.  If you will watch one first Doctor story in your time, make it this one.

The first time I ever watched this, was immediately brought in.  That the Tardis crew appeared from the inside of an Aztec tomb was fascinating.  Why Doctor Who never took that kind of angle with historical pieces – where the crew was made out to be some sort of God because of their mere appearance was something I thought has always been a possibility ripe for picking.  It’s done here, and first Barbara & Susan appear, and start talking about the Aztec culture.   Barbara is quick to point out that this kind of thing was her speciality in school.   Much has been made over the years of how Susan was rather quickly reduced to a screaming teenager very quickly in the show’s run.  Not a lot is said about Barbara being a teacher too often, either.  This is a story where she gets to play to what the original character’s design was (much like the next story, The Sensorites was for Susan).   Anyway, Barbara is captured when she wanders out of the tomb, but is placed on high as a reincarnation of their God merely because she’s wearing a bracelet that she picked up from inside the tomb.

That’s a bit of a flimsy excuse to believe in someone, that they’re wearing a bracelet, but it’s quickly forgotten about.  Barbara decides to try and change history by trying to convince the Aztecs that their concept of human sacrifice should be abolished.  This is where we get Hartnell’s famous “You can’t rewrite history – NOT ONE LINE!”.   Wonder what the First Doctor would think about all the mucking about with “time can be rewritten” in the modern show.  :)

After Barbara tries to stop the sacrifice, the chief priest of sacrifice, Tlotoxl immediately calls her a false god, and tries to depose/kill her.  She’s backed by the high priest of knowledge for awhile, and from there is the drama of the rest of the story.  Barbara and the other characters have gotten themselves into a situation and they can’t get out, because the tomb is locked from the outside – you can’t get back in there.  So they are mucking about until they can find a way to get back inside the tomb and to the Tardis and escape.   In the meantime, all four characters get involved in various individual stories, and while they’re mostly separate from each other physically (but not all the time), all the plotlines intertwine very nicely.   It’s not like all four lead actors don’t interact, they do.  But they all have their own paths and trails to follow.   Initially, the “Servants of Yetaxa” (What the Tardis crew are called by the Aztecs) are allowed to roam freely around the Aztec village, hence their getting involved with other characters. It’s a very well constructed, very well intertwined story in my eyes.   Here’s a few remarks about the individual characters.

  • Susan – I’ll mention her first, because she IS the most separate.  Carole Anne Ford had her “vacation” from the show here, and was gone for two episodes.  She does appear in those episodes via small filmed bits that she presumably did during Episode 1 filming (which she’s in fully).  Susan spends most of her time in a “seminary” of sorts, to prepare her for Aztec culture.   She’s the most disconnected from everything, although her seminary stuff is brought into play in Episode 4 when she refuses to marry the Aztec human sacrifice.  As she broke their law, she’s to be punished.
  • Ian – Ian ends up the target of Tlotoxl, and he is set up as a great warrior, and to combat Ixta, their chosen leader of their armies.  The two are supposed to battle to find out who is stronger to lead the armies.  Ian uses an interesting trick where he defeats Ixta with just his thumb in front of the High Priest of knowledge, and they’re all amazed he could defeat a warrior with just his thumb.   Ian mostly spends his time around with Ixta, and has a few battles.
  • The Doctor – The Doctor is considered an “old man”, so he’s treated with reverence.  He spends most of his time talking with folks in a “Garden of Peace”.  His best moments are with an older woman from the tribe, called Cameca.  The Doctor is being just nice to her, but accidentally ends up getting engaged to her.  He actually plays that engagement for their benefit a little.  He initially I think saw it as funny, but when he had to mine that relationship for his own benefit, I got the impression he felt bad about that.  Not quite as in your face with the emotional stuff as say, something more recent like the 10th Doctor being turned human, and having to break the heart of a human woman.  It was like that, only more tame.   Still, there was some wonderful acting by William Hartnell in this story.
  • Barbara – Well, she’s the focal point of the story, and spends the overwhelming majority of the time in the temple, and the area right around it.  She actually is rarely seen going anywhere else except the temple sitting room, and the area right outside it.  She does make one appearance in the village at one point, but is a pretty immobile character in this story.   Her character’s arc is basically to keep from being discovered as a false god, and not be killed.  Barbara was never my favorite character, but I thought Jacqueline Hill did quite well in this one with emotional range, and anger, and disgust and all that.

The physical battles are a weak point in the story – the big combat pieces don’t seem like terribly good fighting segments.  They’re OK I suppose, given it’s 1964 here, but it’s the one letdown for me.

There were a few production realities of 1964 that crept in here.  The extreme smallness of the recording studios played into things more than once.  At least twice by my account the camera that is being used to film a closeup ran into part of the set, and there was some pretty bad shaking of the cameras.  Once was a closeup on the High Priest of Sacrifice, and the camera hits the scenery pretty bad. Also in the village when Tlotoxl tries to frame Ian by making it seem he attacked the High Priest of Knowledge, the same thing happened again.   There’s also a shot in Episode 4 during one of the battles where you can see the edge of the set floor.  :)   These don’t detract from the strength of the story, but they are pretty noticeable technical blunders from 1964.  I only point them out because you’ll probably see them too.  They don’t bother me at all though.  Minor chuckle on the camera wobbles, but hey – 1964 BBC Sci-Fi.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Temple of Evil” – May 23, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Warriors of Death” – May 30, 1964
  • Episode 3: “The Bride of Sacrifice” – June 6, 1964
  • Episode 4: “The Day of Darkness” – June 13, 1964
  • Director:  John Crockett
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: John Lucarotti
  • Production Code: F

Story Notes

  • This story re-used the final shot from Episode 6 of “The Keys of Marinus” when the Tardis departs Marinus.
  • The Doctor ended up keeping the brooch given to him by Cameca.  He initially was going to leave it in the tomb, but picked it up and took it with him when he entered the Tardis to leave.  Not a real “fact”, but a note I liked.  :)
  • Early on in Episode 1 after Barbara was crowned , William Hartnell walked to the wrong spot on the floor, causing himself to deliver his dialogue from behind Barbara’s Aztec headdress.  The camera man had to move the camera unscheduled to pick up Hartnell for the remainder of the scene.

Future References

  • This story was not directly referenced on screen in televised Doctor Who, however…  in a Big Finish audio play (Relative Dimensions) with Paul McGann as the Doctor, he and Susan got together, and the Doctor gave Susan a bracelet from this story.
  • The actor who played Tlotoxl (John Ringham) would appear twice later in Doctor Who in another Hartnell story “The Smugglers” as Josiah Blake, and in a Pertwee story “Colony in Space” as Robert Ashe.
  • The actress who played Cameca (Margot Van der Burgh) would turn up in the Tom Baker story, “The Keeper of Traken” as Katura.

In Summary

The author of this story (John Lucarotti) apparently put a lot of research into the Aztecs to get things right.  Apparently their clothing had men with not a whole lot more than loincloths, and women were topless.  They took a bit of liberty with clothing, given the programme’s audience, but apparently a lot of effort was put into getting things right with this. It shows in my opinion.  The characters are strong, it’s a well constructed story, and it looks good (save for the technical realities of 1964 TV).   The art design is quite well done, I loved the way this looked and felt.   As I said earlier, it’s the strongest William Hartnell era story there is, and I’m quite QUITE pleased we have it in full (*COUGH*Marco Polo*COUGH*).

10 out of 10.  Best Hartnell story there is, front to back.

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The Keys of Marinus Review

My Review (01×05)

For Doctor Who story #5, we come to a story that I always had memories of liking, but upon recent viewing, I didn’t like it nearly as much.  That’s “The Keys of Marinus”.   As this story started, it was the fifth overall story, and the 21st episode of the series.  Marinus was the first repeat for a writer.  Terry Nation of Dalek fame, also wrote Marinus, and that actually brings me to my first point.

Episode 1 of this story has a feel much like his previous story, “The Daleks”.  Not exactly the same, but somewhat similar feel in ways.  For example, both stories start out with the Tardis crew landing somewhere desolate, and exploring the area, finding some building/structure, and setting off to explore it.  Something happens, they get separated, and so begins the adventure.  That’s mostly the end of the comparisons, as the stories have much different structures overall, but I felt the opening part of Marinus before we meet any of the characters of the story bore a resemblance to Episode 1 of “The Daleks”.

Once the Tardis crew gets inside the large building, we have some corridor sulking until they meet up with each other again.  Although Ian was the last.  Ian’s prowling around results in one of the more unintentionally funny moments here – in what might be one of the least convincing special effects the show has done.  At 13:50 into Episode 1, Ian is having a fight with a Voord (more on them later), and ends up knocking him through the wall.  The DVD commentary says that it was felt that wasn’t a satisfying ending to the fight, so it was decided to have the Voord fall down a hidden panel into a large drop down into the sea of acid that the Tardis crew found earlier in the episode.  That’s all well and good, but they didn’t want to send a stunt man down a long drop like that, so they basically threw a cardboard cutout of some sort down a hole and filmed it.  Thing is, the dummy looks like a piece of paper when it turns sideways, and you can see it’s only two dimensional.  Arms and legs all stick out – it makes me laugh every time.  Presumably wasn’t meant to be funny.

Anyway, all the crew finally gets together and meet up with a man named “Arbitan”.  He is the sole keeper of a machine inside the large building, which is used as a mind control device (called “The Consience”).  It’s explained that it was originally used for law and order purpses, but evolved into something else akin to a mind control device.  To keep it from falling into the hands of the Voord, five “Keys” were scattered around the world, hidden well, so that the machine couldn’t be used.  It apparently has been fixed to keep the Voord under control, but any attempts to retrieve the keys have resulted in no luck, people have died, or just not been heard from, and Arbitan being the last one can’t go, so he tricks the Tardis crew into going for him.  That’s the key of the adventure.  It’s what I latched onto early on as a strength of the story, but now I feel it does the story a disservice.   The reason for that is Episodes 2, 3, & 4 all are self contained stories.  I initially liked the variety of that, but upon recent viewings felt it was a problem, because the episodes WERE so short.  You couldn’t develop much of anything.  Episodes 5 & 6 were tied together, with the last 10 minutes or so of Episode 6 dealing with closing out the Arbitan parts from Episode 1.  The various stories had some good ideas, I just felt the lack of screen time kept them from being all good on their own.

Here’s the various Key stories…

Key 1:  Arbitan had that key, so that was already there.

Key/Episode 2:  The crew were in a place where they appeared to be in opulent luxury, but it was in fact a place of squalor, and everyone was controlled by these “minds in a jar” (that looked somewhat like the Gamesters of Triskelion from Star Trek).  They got away simply because the mind control device used on them fell off of Barbara’s head while she slept.  Odd that anyone was kept under control given how easily it fell off in the episode.

Key/Episode 3:  I liked this idea the best, because it was a forest where the plants were the villian, and they were attacking people, and destroying buildings.  I liked this concept the best of all the individual ones.   It was well produced, and some of the terror seemed legitimate, as opposed to fake acted terror.

Key/Episode 4: This one took place in a snowbound hut, and the Tardis crew (minus the Doctor, more on that later) had to outwit a local who wanted to steal their valuables, and uh.. “Have his way” with Barbara..  Liked this one the least.   Part of it is the wristbands the crew wore to go from key to key took them very far away from where the key actually was in this segment.  When they found it, the cave it was in was randomly discovered, you never got the feel that they intended to go there, so it felt like they should have never found this key.  There was however, one piece I liked.  The key itself was locked in a block of ice, and to melt the ice and get the key would also mean melting and waking up four frozen guards who were guarding the key.  I thought this was a nice puzzle to be solved.

Key 5/ Episodes 5/6: This one took the form of a trial, where Ian was accused of someone who stole the key.  In fact, we see the key immediately right away in the episode, and then spend all of Episode 5, and half of Episode 6 on a trial to clear Ian of a charge of murder.  The Doctor acted as his defense attorney.  This one was a bit stronger than the others, but that’s mostly due to the additional screen time, they could do more with this one.

Once all the keys were finally retrieved, the Tardis crew went back to Arbitan only to find out that the Voord had taken over, and killed Arbitan.   Ian tricks a Voord who was masquerading as Arbitan, and the crew eventually get away, saying goodbye to a few of Arbitan’s helpers they picked up along the adventure.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Sea of Death” – Apr 11, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Velvet Web” – Apr 18, 1964
  • Episode 3: “The Screaming Jungle” – Apr 25, 1964
  • Episode 4:  “The Snows of Terror” – May 2, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Sentence of Death” – May 9, 1964
  • Episode 6: “The Keys of Marinus” – May 16, 1964
  • Director:  John Gorrie
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert / Mervyn Pinfield
  • Writer: Terry Nation
  • Production Code: E

Story Notes

  • This was the first story that we saw the Tardis materalize anywhere from the outside.  All previous Tardis landings to this point were shown (if they were shown at all) from the inside of the Tardis.
  • Terry Nation has written a lot of Doctor Who.  Only two stories didn’t have Daleks in them.  This was one – The Android Invasion for the Fourth Doctor was the other.
  • In Episode 4, some stock footage of wolves is shown in the snowy areas.  This footage of wolves comes from the 1956 Russian Film, “The Grey Robber” by Boris Dolin.
  • Ian is still wearing his outfit from Marco Polo.
  • The Voords were yet another attempt to create a popular villain like the Daleks.   They also had very little screen time, and never returned, so what motivated them or anything like that is pretty much a mystery.
  • The cover art for the Target novel has some errors.  The Tardis is grey, not blue, and the light on top is red, not white.

Future References

  • Several actors from this story reappeared in Doctor Who later on.  The Voord leader Yartek was played by Stephen Dartnell.  He was in The Sensorites as the troubled John.  Fiona Walker (Kala), was later Lady Peinforte in Sylvester McCoy’s “Silver Nemesis”.  Donald Pickering (Eyesen) was later Capt Blade in Troughton’s “The Faceless Ones”, and Beyus in Sylvester McCoy’s first story, “Time & The Rani”.
  • If anyone knows of a more direct reference to a future story, please let me know.

In Summary

I feel if this had say just four keys to find, and not five, perhaps dropping the plot of the “Snows of Terror” episode, this would have been a lot stronger.  I like the “variety in the story” concept here a lot.  Just felt the individual bits weren’t served as strongly due to the lack of screen time.

Still, it’s worth a view.  It’s not like it’s awful, despite the laughable effect in Episode 1.   I’d check it out, I just don’t expect it to be on many fans’ lists of Top 10 Episodes.


I give it an 7 out of 10.   If I had written this review some years ago, it might have been an 8, or even a 9.  But it hasn’t aged as well for me in my Summer 2012 viewing of the story.

External Links

Purchase Links

This was released on DVD in late 2009/early 2010, depending on where you live.  Below are some ordering links:


New to Who

As Doctor Who approaches it’s 50th anniversary next year, BBC America has put out the call for people to write their “New to Who” stories – basically what got you into the show originally.   Given BBC America is running just the modern show, I suspect the majority of the people’s responses will be about the revived series.  Hope to see some classic series stuff in there.  Decided to write mine, but there’s zero chance it will fit on Twitter, so it’s here.

Back when I was in High School in Philadelphia (1979-1983), I used to hang out at a friend’s house on the next street over a lot.  Given the time, we used to play a LOT of Atari 2600 games.  I bring that up, because his mother used to be into Doctor Who.  I never ever stopped and watched, because I wasn’t interested in hanging out with my buddy’s mom at all, so I have no idea what stories those were (but for some reason Seeds of Doom comes to mind).  However, on occasion, I’d stop and watch the title sequence to Doctor Who on the way back to the videogame area.  From what I remember, it was mostly Jon Pertwee & Tom Baker, because in the early 80’s, that’s all we’d get in the US.  Hartnell & Troughton didn’t start over here till 1986 (on NJN), and while I think Davison was over here, most PBS stations at the time ran them in order.  Started at Spearhead, ran through what was out there, and then recycled back to Spearhead.  If there was something new, it’d get tacked onto the end for when they’d get through the cycle again.   But given the time I usually got there after school, Doctor Who would be starting, and I always got a kick out of the theme song, so I’d watch that, and then head upstairs.  Never watched the show.

After I graduated High School (in Jun 1983), I stopped hanging out with this friend, and later on in the year, I recalled the Doctor Who thing.   I have a vague memory of an announcement by my local PBS station about an anniversary special coming up, as this was the 20th anniversary.  So I decided to watch the anniversary show as my “first episode”. Watched it by myself, cold – no “mentor”.  That’s right – my FIRST Doctor Who story was the Five Doctors.  Quite confusing as heck for a first timer, but that’s where I got onboard.  It was a strange story as your first, since it had a ton of characters, and your enjoyment of the story was based mostly around what you might have recalled about these characters from their past appearances.  Not so much the story in front of you, as it was just there to serve all the cameos, for the most part.   But I did enjoy the confusion of all that, so I decided to look into the show’s past.

Given there was no World Wide Web in late 1983 that I could use, you had to go to the physical library to look things up.  In late 1983 in Philadelphia, there wasn’t a ton of books out there on Doctor Who – so it was slim pickings.  That’s why the Peter Haining books were such a godsend back in those days – especially to this new fan.   I LOVED those books, because they were my main source of researching and reading the past.  When the show came back in 2005, there was a book that came out (and then got one update), and I have to say, it really reminded me of the old 80’s Haining books.  It was called “Doctor Who: The Legend” by Justin Richards.  That had a great feel for me back to a time when I was “New to Who”.

I pretty voraciously consumed what I could find back then in terms of available stories.  That’s why I loved the old Creation Conventions so much.  Back in those days, it would take upwards of TWO YEARS for any new Doctor Who stories to make it onto one of the three PBS stations I could get in Philadelphia.   They’d usually bring a new story or two with them to a convention, so you’d watch it there.   There wasn’t pirate video on the Internet like there is today, but I was one of the guys who used to import PAL videotapes from England, and have them converted to NTSC format, so you could watch them in the US earlier than PBS would show them.  Took those tapes to several Doctor Who fan club meetings, where everyone would watch them.  It was far more enjoyable when a “new story viewing” was a communal experience like those were.   If you were a person who was into Doctor Who like this back in the 80’s, then you MUST MUST MUST seek out the extra on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD called “Cheques Lies & Videotape”.  It’s all about being a fan back then, and  it talks about importing videotapes from other countries – it’s simply a MUST SEE if you were a US Doctor Who fan back in the early mid 80’s.

I dated a couple of girls in the 80’s around/after high school who were into Doctor Who.  My eventual wife also got tortured by my 1980’s Doctor Who obsession back in the day, but she put up with it, she didn’t actively enjoy it.  Although, she does thoroughly enjoy the revived show.  She will run screaming from the living room if I put on the 60’s stuff, however.   Doctor Who remains to this day my all time favorite TV show (The second was Dallas, which also relaunched itself in 2012).   I don’t recall ever being frightened by it truly, but that’s because I started watching it when I was about 18.  I’m 47 now, so I’ve been with the show for awhile.  I was pained when it ended in 1989.  Teased in 1996 when it almost came back, and was quite ecstatic when it returned for good in 2005.

Current TV show head writer and producer Stephen Moffatt relayed his introduction to Doctor Who, and I rather enjoyed his story.  Check it out:

Marco Polo Review

My Review (01×04)

For Doctor Who story #4, we come to a story that both surprises me, and pisses me off.

Marco Polo is the first of the “lost” stories of the 60’s era of Doctor Who. Lost as in the BBC erased the tapes of it in the early 70’s, due to their thought at the time that they’d never need it again.   Much has been made of the junking of Doctor Who episodes, so I won’t go into a ton of detail on it.  However, if you want an excellent read on that subject, look up the book “Wiped!” – it’s entire tome is dedicated to every angle you can think of regarding lost Doctor Who stories.  OK, perhaps it’s not long enough for the proper usage of tome, but it’s a great read.  Of all the stories that were lost, this one is particularly annoying, because records show it was sold overseas more than any other, and yet no episodes survive.  It’s also one of three stories where not a frame of episode footage exists.  For most of the other lost stories there’s small clips, and fragments of video you can see.  Not this one (also Mission to the Unknown & The Massacre) – nothing exists.   Still, I digress…

Marco Polo was a surprise to me, because for this series of reviews, I finally sat down and “watched” the whole story, all seven episodes.  I say “watched”, because this brings up another thing, “Doctor Who Reconstructions“.  When I say I have every Doctor Who episode, it’s subjective.  For the lost stories, what fans have done is taken the existing audio (which is retained for every episode), and married it with photos taken from the episode(s).  Watching those are only for the hardcore fans.  It’s OK, but definitely not for everyone.  Still, it is the only way to see lost stories like “Marco Polo”.  OK, I’m done digressing…

So I watched the reconstruction of Marco Polo, and I have to say, I was surprised at how well this story was.  I always knew of it’s legendary status, but to “watch it” (the best you can in 2012), brought a surprising amount of joy.  A lot of long stories from the 60’s suffered from pacing problems.  This one most certainly did not.   This story had proper pacing much in the way that “The Daleks” did not.  While this was seven episodes, it never felt stretched, padded, or sagged too much.  Every story sags somewhere, even the best of them, but you hardly noticed it with this one.   That brings me to the “pissed me off” part.  That the story was THAT good annoyed the heck out of me, because you can’t see it properly.   What makes this interesting to me as one of the Doctor Who historicals is that it doesn’t merge very much science fiction into the historical stuff.  It’s pretty much devoid of time travel, and the usual trappings of Sci-Fi.  For the most part, the Doctor Who historical stories never did much for me.  I’m not the only one, as they stopped for a very long time after Hartnell left.  They did I believe one in Troughton’s era, and then no more until one short one in Davison’s era.  But this one worked, despite the huge handicap of being missing, and having to watch basically seven episodes of still pictures as a replacement.

The story starts out with the Tardis crew landing near where Marco Polo is, and finding their caravan, which was going to see Kublai Khan across the Gobi desert.  Marco extends hospitality to the crew, and they even tag along the Tardis with them on the back of a wagon.  All seems well, until Polo decides to use the Doctor’s caravan (the Tardis) as a gift to Khan, and refuses to return it.  That pretty much sets up the rest of the story, where the Doctor and crew were trying to get back to the Tardis and leave.   Because of them being unable to, they’re trapped into the drama that is Marco Polo and his chief, Tegana (Jovanka? Har Har Har).   Their conflict lasts the entire story, and doesn’t seem paced.  Tegana hides his desires well, and isn’t suspected for quite some time.

About halfway through the story, the Tardis crew could have escaped, but Susan blew it, by wanting to say goodbye to her friend in the story, Ping-Cho.   The crew are caught, where if Susan had just went when she should have, they would have extricated themselves from the story.  But no, this being television drama, that wasn’t about to happen, and we got a few more episodes until they finally left in the end.   Actually, Susan had something to do in this story.  She had her own “Companion” (Ping-Cho), and she actually was fairly integral to parts of the story, and wasn’t just standing around or screaming, which was nice.

One of the more interesting bits I liked are the Doctor creating water from condensation inside the Tardis.  Real science in play there.   Not “The Doctor looking like a magician”, real science.

There’s plenty of characters in the couple of locations the story stops in, and they all look well dressed – I have to say, this was a very good looking story.   Again with the “Arrrgh” in not being able to see it.   That is pretty consistent, I really liked the look and feel of the story.  From the drama about water storage, to finding where Tegana’s accomplices are hiding out, to finding where Polo hid the Tardis keys, to the kidnapping of Barbara, meeting Khan, palace battles, there’s a ton of different subplots that all weave together quite nicely.

I know I’m not going into a ton of detail on the individual episodes here.  Part of that is because I’m writing this about 6 weeks after watching it, but even if I wrote it the next day, I’d kind of mesh it together, because this is one of those stories that works for me when I think about it as a whole piece, not individual parts as such.  I know that sounds weird, but I’m having a hard time relaying my thoughts about this concept from my head to the keyboard.  But I will say this.  It was very enjoyable, as the first time I had ever “watched” it all the way through was on reconstruction, I probably couldn’t fully appreciate it, but I definitely did not consider it an “Oh God, I have to force myself to watch this”.  I really enjoyed the story.   You might too, provided you can put up with watching a reconstruction.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Roof of the World” – Feb 22, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Singing Sands” – Feb 29, 1964
  • Episode 3: “Five Hundred Eyes” – Mar 7, 1964
  • Episode 4: The Wall of Lies” – Mar 14, 1964
  • Episode 5: “Rider From Shang-Tu” – Mar 21, 1964
  • Episode 6: “Mighty Kublai Khan” – Mar 28, 1964
  • Episode 7: “Assassin at Peking” – Apr 4, 1964
  • Director:  Waris Hussein
  • Director: John Crockett (Episode 4 only)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer: John Lucarotti
  • Production Code: D

Story Notes

  • This story was unique (I believe) in that all of the individual episode titles were mentioned somewhere in dialogue in their respective episode.
  • This was the first Doctor Who “historical” story.
  • This was the second of two Doctor Who stories directed by Waris Hussein.  His first was “An Unearthly Child”.  He never returned to the series.
  • Several actors from this story appeared in later Doctor Who episodes.  But the most recent one is Zienia Merton, who played Ping-Cho (shown to the right).  She later on appeared in the Sarah Jane Adventures episode, “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” as a character named “The Registrar”, and she had several scenes with Doctor #10, David Tennant.
  • The DVD box set called ‘The Beginning” that also contains the first three Stories, contains a condensed reconstruction of Marco Polo.   That reconstruction is just 30 minutes total.  It’s an interesting way of condensing the story, as the original version was 7 episodes of 25 minutes each.  30 minutes is very condensed.
  • This story was originally considered as the source material for the Peter Cushing Doctor Who theatrical movies, but the Daleks were eventually chosen.
  • The story has an on screen narrator, who talks overtop of a map showing the journey of the characters.  This is otherwise unheard of in Doctor Who.
  • This story was supposed to appear third, but delays forced “The Edge of Destruction” into production in that slot.

Future References

  • The Doctor gets a walking stick from Kublai Khan, which gets used in a few future stories after Marco Polo.   If I’m not mistaken, it’s the same walking stick we see in this famous screenshot from “The Aztecs” a few episodes down the line.
  • This story is loosely referenced in the 11th Doctor story, “The Big Bang”.   Marco Polo is said in the Big Bang to have brought the Pandorica to the Vatican.  Given the Pandorica flew, and therefore was a “flying box”, it’s a loose reference in that Polo was fascinated with flying boxes in both stories (although it’s not known if he knew the Pandorica could fly).
  • In the Fourth Doctor story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, the Doctor says he had not been to China in about four hundred years.
  • In the Second Doctor story, “The Power of the Daleks”, the newly regenerated Second Doctor tells Ben & Polly that Marco Polo was a friend of his, and that he had visited China in the past.

In Summary

I very much enjoyed this one.  It’s a crime that it is missing, and if the modern show ever wants to go after it’s own past, I’d love to see them remake this with Matt Smith.  They won’t, I’m sure, but it’s a great story, and I’d love to see it updated.   It is hard to take somewhat because of it’s status as a reconstruction, but if you can bring yourself to get through it, I think you’ll find a lost gem from the earliest years of Doctor Who.


I give it an 8 out of 10.  I would have given it a higher grade, but the fact that you can only see it as a recon is a strike against it, and had it been six episodes, it probably would have been a perfect length.  I did enjoy it at 7, but what one less episode might have removed what little “story sag” there is, for perfection.

External Links

Purchase Links

You can’t actually buy this one as such, because of it’s lost status.  You can, however, pick it up as an extra on the “Beginnings” Box set, of which you can get some links below.

It was also released on CD some years ago, both on it’s own, and then later on in a box set with several of these missing stories in it.

You can also get it as a reconstruction, see the Recons page in the links section above.


The Edge of Destruction Review

NOTE: This review originally appeared on Kasterborous here on May 27, 2010.

My Review (01×03)

A Doctor Who adventure that takes place in the TARDIS? The travellers unsure what is going on? No, it’s not Amy’s Choice – it’s The Edge of Destruction, from 1964…

When I was a little kid, I loved the original Star Trek (I was 1 when it started). My favorite stories were ones that showed other parts of the ship, and particularly ones treat took place completely inside the ship. Modern TV calls something like that a “bottle show”; a story that saves money. But for me as a kid, I just wanted to see other bits of the Enterprise. I loved shows like that. So when I got into Doctor Who, I scanned the back catalogue of episodes, and found a distinct lack of that kind of story. One episode in Tom Baker’s era was like this (Episode 6 of Invasion of Time), and just one full story, an old William Hartnell story. That was it. So that was a bit disappointing. But when Hartnell’s stories started airing in the US around 1986 or so, I looked forward to The Edge of Destruction for this reason – it was an “all on the ship” show, which lends to one of this story’s names, Inside the Spaceship (although I prefer the more common The Edge of Destruction).

This story was the third story overall, following directly from the wildly successful original Dalek story. It was designed to explore the characters interactions with each other. The Doctor at this point was a rather cantankerous fellow, even for the First Doctor. It starts off innocently enough with the travelers around the TARDIS console, and for some reason unknown, at the time, they’re knocked unconscious and lay on the floor of the TARDIS, which was kind of an odd start to the episode. As they start to come around, they obviously wonder what happened to them to be knocked unconscious. On top of that, they don’t seem to recognize their current situation, or all of each other. The Doctor is the worst off, with his head being cut in the fall and spending a decent percentage of time of the episode unconscious. Something that seems to happen a lot to Hartnell as his time in the role went on.

The early part of this episode seems to feature Barbara a lot in a mothering role to the other characters. I point this out, as it seemed well, I don’t know. I start to say weird, and then it isn’t, and I start to say “in character”, and it isn’t either. Not entirely sure how I feel about that.

As they come around, strange things start to happen. Susan goes to get a glass of water from some sort of food/drink machine, and is told the machine is empty when it was not. The doors of the TARDIS open and close on their own when people walk towards them. Another was the fault locator saying every single thing was wrong with the TARDIS simultaneously. All of these things are later on shown to be clues towards the final resolution of the story. One of the more notorious bits was Susan trying to attack Ian with a pair of scissors, which she freaks out over and stabs the bed a ton of times. If you watch the extras on the DVD for this story, Verity Lambert admits the scissor stab bits were something that were probably better left out. This goes on until the characters all suspect each other of sabotaging the ship, or being under alien control or just outright mutiny. Even up until the point where the Doctor threatens to put Ian & Barbara off the ship. At which point Barbara loses it, and yells at the Doctor, calling him a “stupid old man”. Other strangeness was Ian trying to strangle the Doctor. This all carries on for awhile – pretty much through most of Episode 2 as well. The crew mistrusts, threatens, and says a bunch of rude things to each other.

One of the better moments in this story is a dialogue by Hartnell towards the end of part two. Hartnell is known for his frequent muffing of his lines. Due to the production values of the time, a lot of these are left in. However, there’s a couple minute speech by the Doctor where he pulls it off well, and is one of the better moments of the Hartnell era in terms of his own acting. Shortly after said speech, the overall plot is resolved, and everything is made well again. I won’t divulge exactly what it was, but look out for some handwritten words on the TARDIS console, which were allegedly there to help Hartnell locate specific spots on the console during filming.

There’s also some strange contradictions to other established bits of Who lore in this story, however, since it’s just the third overall, and the 12th & 13th overall episodes, that can be forgiven, I suppose. Ian mentions “his heart”, implying that he has just one. I forget where exactly it was established for sure that the Doctor had two hearts – I think it was Pertwee’s first story. Susan also says “the ship can’t crash, it’s impossible”. This has been shown to be false, as it has crashed a few times over the years, most recently in Matt Smith’s debut The Eleventh Hour.

As I said earlier, this story served to galvanize the TARDIS crew as friends. They were more companions by situation up until this point. After the problems were resolved, there’s a rather nice scene or two at the end where the Doctor makes up with Barbara, and there’s some fun with throwing snowballs and whatnot, which is a direct lead-in to the next story, Marco Polo.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Edge of Destruction” – Feb 8, 1964
  • Episode 2: “The Brink of Disaster” – Feb 15, 1964
  • Director: Richard Martin (Episode 1) & Frank Cox (Episode 2)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer: David Whitaker
  • Production Code: C

Story Notes

  • The Doctor namedrops Gilbert & Sullivan as someone who gave him the coat that Ian wears at the end of the story.
  • The Tardis is supposed to have a “memory” of all previous adventures, something loosely referred to in the 11th Doctor story, “The Doctor’s Wife” when the Tardis (in human form, aka “Sexy”) says that she can archive console rooms both past and future.

Future References

  • Parts of this story have been used in other stories further down the line – way down the line in the series. The biggest one of which is that the TARDIS itself is seemingly alive – or at least can think for itself. It is eventually revealed that the ship itself was the cause of all the strange happenings to try and hint the crew as to the real reason behind all the strange happenings. This was used later on many times in the show’s future. A specific TARDIS “feature” from this story was that the power of the TARDIS is under the console, something that was used later on in Eccleston’s run a few times. One of these times was in Boom Town where the TARDIS itself manipulates time to turn Margaret into a Slitheen egg. You could also extrapolate this into perhaps the TARDIS turning back time and reviving Grace & Chang Lee from death in the Eighth Doctor movie. There’s also the time in Eccleston’s final episode where Rose looks into the TARDIS console and get the power of time and space inside her, too. The Confidential episode for that story references “The Edge of Destruction” and this concept too as inspirations for these specific plot points.
  • This story is also one of only two times that I’m aware of we see a bed in the TARDIS console room. The other time was when Pertwee was knocked unconscious at the end of Frontier in Space going into Planet of the Daleks. Oddly enough, both beds come out of walls – “oooh, so modern looking!”

In Summary

In all, this story is a somewhat overlooked story from what I can gather, but it was important in establishing character relationships, and somewhat unintentionally (I gather) responsible for putting forth a few show concepts that are still in use now in 2010. When I reach for an early series DVD or whatnot, this isn’t the first one chosen, but there are some great points here to see. Give The Edge of Destruction (or Inside the Spaceship, or whatever you want to call it) a shot. You might enjoy this long ago small scale bottle story as much as I did.

I give it 9 out of 10, as I’m a sucker for “all on the ship” stories like this.  It’s not perfect, so it doesn’t get 10.

External Links

Purchase Links

  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)
  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)



The Daleks Review

NOTE: An abridged version of this review appears on Kasterborous here.

My Review (01×02)

The Daleks. Something almost as old as Doctor Who itself. As Doctor Who is approaching it’s 50th anniversary, so are the Daleks themselves. They’ve appeared with every incarnation of the Doctor in all these years (although the McGann one is a bit spurious). They’ve been loved, mocked, made fun of, remounted, turned into color coded kids merchandise options, they have also been known to get you tea from time to time.

Legend has it that one of the original series “bullet points” from creator Sydney Newman was that he didn’t want any bug eyed monsters, and when he saw what Verity Lambert was doing with the Daleks, he objected, until he found out how popular they were. Despite still being a valid character into 2012, and they’ll be the lead enemy in Series 33 when it starts later this year, most of their original design spec continues to this day. Which is odd, as the character has evolved somewhat. You wouldn’t think the Daleks would evolve (Dalek Sek aside), but they have – especially after a recent viewing of this story.

Now I know comparing a 50 year old programme against it’s modern counterparts isn’t exactly FAIR, but it’s impossible to go back and watch the beginning of the Daleks without comparing them to what comes today. However, it’s with all this in mind that I cast an eye back on the original Dalek serial from 1963, simply called “The Daleks”.

The first thing you notice when watching the show is the PACE of the program. The complete story comprises 7 25 minute episodes, the equivalent of roughly 3.5 modern day stories. There’s entire sequences in this whole story that span an episode and a half that on the modern show would take up 10 minutes. Pacing and story telling is wildly different, and this also extends to the Daleks themselves. I would think if they made this serial today, they’d probably do it as a two parter.

The story starts off slowly with the Tardis crew still inside the Tardis, where we get some more explanation of the Tardis itself. We see a food synthesizer, which dispenses food in the “futuristic idea” from the 60’s of food being in capsules and tasting like what we want it to. The Doctor explains food as being like component parts and colors, yyou mix them together to achieve the desired result – in this case J62L6 (Bacon & Eggs). Susan also says that the computer on the ship can direct them wherever they want if they’re fed the right kind of information, but does not elaborate on what it is. Some of this setup is forgiveable, as Unearthly Child spends about 80% of it’s time outside the Tardis, so some of what it is and can do needed to be dealt with. So once they’ve done some of this exposition, they wander out and view the suurounding area, which is the petrified forest (hence the name of the first episode, “The Dead Planet”).

An early example of the Doctor’s attitude pops up quickly, where he lies to the crew to get a view of the Dalek city below that they spotted earlier. Hartnell’s Doctor early on was portrayed as a bit of a frump, and this was a good example. “Fine – you don’t want to go? Well, we’ll go anyway, I’ll just make you think it’s the only way to go”. He eventually confesses to the “crime” in a latter episode, and there wasn’t much repercussion to that, oddly enough. But the acharacter of the Doctor is in full display here, from the cranky old guy, to the caring soul that permeates all the incarnations, to the alien who wonders why people don’t want to do things his way. It’s actually well handled by Hartnell.

The first episode closes on what was at the time an epic cliffhanger. Not so much now, because we all know what the Daleks look like, but back then, Episode 1 ended with Barbara being menaced by a Dalek, but all we could see on screen was the plunger. That probably works well if you’ve never seen a Dalek before, but in 2012, I find it unlikely someone has never seen a Dalek before, much less watched THIS episode first over any other. The resolution of the cliffhanger actually prolonged the drama a bit further, since you didn’t find out what was behind the plunger until about five minutes into the episode.

I’m guessing part of what makes the original impact of Episode 2 was that we had never seen a Dalek before (at that time). As I started watching Doctor Who in 1983, I’m well versed in Daleks now, and the impact of that is lost on me. It doesn’t seem like such a dramatic entrance to me, but I’m looking at an almost 50 year old show with an enemy I had seen multiple times before I saw this episode. Still, it does show the Daleks as being calculating, as they stun Ian’s legs where he can’t walk – as opposed to just zapping him into non existance. I guess in retrospect, that probably made it quite dramatically entertaining, as you don’t know what these things were, and what they were capable of. Their look certainly fit the monochrome aspect of the show at the time. Given the show was in black & white, I always felt their look was set well for that enviornment. The set design was quite good, so it all fit together nicely to the combined themes of nuclear devasation and the “metallic” feel of the Daleks. Always enjoyed that part of the story. Some of that set design has made it forward into the modern series, as well. Some of the curved hallways have appeared in other Dalek serials – I really enjoyed seing the Dalek spaceships of Eccleston’s era have the same hallway shape taken from this 1963 serial.

In another pacing issue, the majority of Episode 2 was taken up with deciding who was going to go back to the Tardis to try and get the anti-radiation drugs that the Thals left behind for them (although we didn’t know that at the time). Susan eventually goes and gets back to the Tardis, finds the box of drugs, and the cliffhanger isn’t as good as the first, it ends with Susan looking into the jungle as a storm rages. In fact, the bulk of Episode 2 (and a decent amount of 3 as well) take place in just a couple of places. The cell where the Tardis crew are, the Dalek control room, and the jungle area. We meet the Thals pretty quickly in Episode 3, and we find out they’re not the “mutants” that the Daleks made them sounds like they were. They were normal looking humanoids. The Tardis crew eventually recover and escape from the Daleks by hijacking a Dalek and “emptying it”. In this era of the show, the Daleks were powered by electricity on the floor, much like bumper cars (or dodge em cars). They stopped a Dalek cold by pushing it onto a cloak lying on the floor. Ian got into the Dalek, and lead them to safety, although not before a short adventure in an elevator shaft. It’s around this time we get a shot of the Dalek creature inside the shell. It wasn’t until the modern series that we got a good and CLEAR view of that. We did get the odd peek here and there in the classic series, but this shot also influenced future design.

Episode 4 is the remainder of the Tardis crew escape, and they try and save the Thals from an ambush that the Daleks tricked Susan into. The Tardis crew extricate themselves from the Dalek city, and the crew meets up with the Thals again, and we get some exposition on the history of the Daleks and the Thals. In fact, the story could have quite easily ended here. The last parts of Episode 4 show the Tardis crew actually agreeing to leave (The Doctor even says that “we cannot jeopardize our lives and get involved in an affair that is none of our business”), but then we find out that the Daleks took the fluid link from Ian and it’s down in the city, so we have a second adventure to take to regain it, and that comprises Episodes 5-7. It’s almost, but not quite, like two stories meshed together, and the end of Episode 4 is the link between the two of them.

However, Episodes 5-7 felt a lot like padding to me. First we got most of an episode with Ian trying to convince the Thals to help them. Then the actual trek to the Dalek City through an ungarded (by Daleks) area of a swamp took the majority of Episode 6 to reach there, and for some of the expedition not even until Episode 7. It was REALLY a slow paced part of the story, and not my favorite. The Daleks at this point were mostly focused on how to spread more radiation in order for them to survive. The two bits were totally separate, the Daleks didn’t interact with anyone else until most of the way through Episode 6.

Funny moment in Episode 5, one that NEVER filled me with anything but laughter, but I expect it was never intended that way. It’s when the Daleks tried using the Thals medicine to heal themselves from radiation (it didn’t work). The resultant Dalek going “Help! Out of Control – AAAaaaaaaaa” (shown through the eyestalk) sounds like a bad drug trip and was seriously funny. This was the 60’s after all, so that perception might not be too far off, but it does speak to how different Daleks are portrayed at this point in the show’s history.

The final episode starts with the Doctor & Susan captured. The other party eventually makes it in, and the Dalek plan to spread radiation is averted at the last second. The odd thing about the big finale, is the Daleks were overpowered and destroyed rather easily – Some of them immobilized by what appears to be nothing more than just a fist punch to the dome.

The story ends with some nice dialogue between the characters, who seem to like each other. A nice short speech by Hartnell as well about the Doctor’s place and truth being in the stars was a highlight of the last scenes.


Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Anne Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “The Dead Planet” – Dec 21, 1963
  • Episode 2: “The Survivors” – Dec 28, 1963
  • Episode 3: “The Escape” – Jan 4, 1964
  • Episode 4: “The Ambush” – Jan 11, 1964
  • Episode 5: “The Expedition” – Jan 18, 1964
  • Episode 6: “The Ordeal” – Jan 25, 1964
  • Episode 7: “The Rescue” – Feb 1, 1964
  • Director: Christopher Barry (Episodes 1,2,4,5)
  • Director: Richard Martin (Episodes 3,6,7)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer: Terry Nation
  • Production Code: B

Random Story Remarks

  • Episode 7 at the end has some Daleks being pushed around, or just generally being abused which I always found hilarious.  This practice continued into the modern era.  Some notables along these lines are Pertwee mocking the Dalek being attacked by an eyestalk in “Death to the Daleks”, and one being beat with sticks and exploding in the same story.  Davison’s doctor pushed one out of a second or third story window, and it plummeted.  McCoy’s doctor talked a Dalek to death once, but my favorite scene like this was in Tennant’s “Journey’s End” story where Daleks were being pushed around by numerous companions while spinning in circles.  One of my favorite Dalek abuses was pushing one off the Mary Celeste in the Hartnell story “The Chase” ,even if it showed the Dalek shell was empty inside.  heh.  :)
  • This story has some better incidental music/sounds than a lot of shows of this era. 60’s British SCi-Fi has an odd quality to it, but this one feels more realistic than some of the others from the era.  In particular the sounds from Episode 4 when the Thals get ambushed I enjoyed a lot.
  • There’s also some decent split screen effects showing a Dalek trying to shoot Ian and missing.  The extermination effect of this era was just inverting the video, but they split the inverted video on just half the screen, I thought it worked well for 1963 sfx.
  • The overall “feel” of this story is smaller in scale.  The Dalek plots are usually a large drawn out plan or something, but all they wanted to do here was escape their city.
  • Got a kick out of the Daleks saying “What is this word – Su-SAN”?  Susan laughed at that, and the Dalek instantly said “STOP THAT NOISE!”  Made me chuckle.  Probably my favorite “funny” moment.

Story Notes

  • The first appearance of the Daleks ever.
  • The only story where they needed power coming from the floor.  They still needed external power, but how said power was delivered was changed in future stories.
  • The story was known collectively at the time as “The Mutants”.  However, when a story with that title was actually produced during Jon Pertwee’s era, this story needed a different name.  For awhile it was called “The Dead Planet”, due to the pattern of naming a story after its’ first episode, but the more accurate “The Daleks” came into use around 1980 or so.
  • This was the basis of the first of the two Dalek movies of the 60’s with Peter Cushing as “Doctor Who”.  That film came out in 1965, and was called “Dr. Who & The Daleks”.  It largely followed the plot of this story, although it was much better paced, given it was a 90 minute movie.
  • Episode 2 was recorded on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was killed, and the day before the show actually premiered originally.
  • Episode 1 was filmed twice, much like Episode 1 of Unearthly Child.  The original Episode 1 of The Daleks unlike it’s predecessor was pretty much the same story.  Allegedly the recording picked up a bunch of external noise, and had to be reshot.  The only existing footage from the original Episode 1 is in the recap at the beginning of Episode 2.
  • This was the first story to ever be adapted for a novel.
  • This story is a little hard to tie into the overall sequence of stories of the Daleks over time.  At this time, the Daleks weren’t a legendary character, it was supposed to be a oneoff, so they “killed them off” at the end of the story. I always found it interesting that the Doctor’s first meeting with the Daleks was supposed to be the Daleks’ last appearance in their own overall timeline.  An attempt was made some years later by Terry Nation to tie all the Dalek plotlines together into one cohesive story that made sense.
  • This story originated that “buh-bum” background noise you always got in a Dalek ship – it has survived into the most recent Dalek stories, as well.  It always felt “right” to hear that.  Reminded me a lot of the general background noise on the bridge of the Enterprise in the old Star Trek series.
  • The original designer of this story was Ridley Scott, who went on to much fame as a movie director.  His original work for the Dalek design can be seen as an extra on the DVD for this story.   His replacement was Ray Cusick.

Future References

  • The fluid link which is a main story point in this story is also referenced again in the Hartnell story, “The Web Planet”, the Troughton stories, “The Wheel in Space” & “The Mind Robber”, as well as some non canonical novels.
  • The events of this story are directly referenced in the Jon Pertwee story “Planet of the Daleks”.  The Doctor meets the Thals on the planet Spiridon, and they initially refused to believe he was the same person.  In the explanation to the Thals then, the Doctor also namechecks Ian, Susan, & Barbara.

  • The hallway design from this story was lifted and used as part of the Dalek ship design in the Christopher Eccleston story, “Bad Wolf”.

In Summary

This story shows the Daleks to be a much more primitive character than the Daleks we know now.  Daleks of this era are far more simplistic – even being apparently befuddled at one point by a small piece of metal that was keeping a door from closing.  Even extermination is barely mentioned in this story.  It’s not until Episode 4 that we get an extermination “order”, and one person actually killed by the Daleks.  This is all due to pacing, and the storytelling of the era. It was 50 years ago.  It’s hard to compare current Daleks to Daleks of this era, but it’s important to recognize where they came from.  This story, while much different in it’s pacing sets the groundwork for many Dalek stories to come – including the Daleks of the modern era.  So while the pace might be an issue for some people (the story could have moved much faster than 7 episodes), there is a lot worth seeing here, so give it a view if you’ve never done so.

Overall, I give the story an 8 out of 10.  It only loses the two points on pacing.  I was so put off by the slow pacing of the story, that huge sections (including all of Episode 6) are skippable, so it came down for that reason alone.

External Links

Purchase Links

  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)
  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)


An Unearthly Child Review

My Review (01×01)

And here we go.  The first in about 200+ Doctor Who reviews.  I’ve loved the show for a long time, and the 50th anniversary is coming up in about 19 months from the writing of this text, so I thought I’d have a go at writing something about all the stories.  I don’t expect to write like 1,000 words+ for each story, that’d take bloody forever.  But I will say something about them all.   Some remembrances of the past, and one of my favorites, the references to the old series from the modern Doctor Who (and backwards once I get there).   I do also intend on actually WATCHING the story before I write about it, so it’s not a collection of “Am I remembering this right?” thoughts.  I do not plan on recopying the story’s plot here.  There are numerous websites that you can go to read the story’s plot – in fact, I’m linking to them in each review.  When I’m done with the series, I might turn it into some sort of eBook or something.  Will have to see if I make it that far.  Heh.   I have no set schedule for these, I’ll post a new one when I have the time and the inkling to do one, but I plan on finishing by Nov 23, 2013.  Anyway…

General Thoughts

The first story of Doctor Who went out on November 23, 1963 on the BBC, and was the first in a seriously long lived Sci-Fi show.  The basic concept was gold, and has allowed it to remain strong 48 years later.  A mysterious man and his granddaughter are in London, and attract the attention of two school teachers, and they set off on a series of adventures, that in the beginning had a quite caustic relationship between the Time Lord and the humans.

This story has always been considered essential viewing for me.  Or at least Episode 1.  Every November 23rd for the last 10 years or so, I’ll rewatch the story again.  Kind of my own anniversary “thing”.  Kind of geeky, I admit, but hey.  There’s worse things to be stuck on in life.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Ann Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “An Unearthly Child” – Nov 23, 1963
  • Episode 2: “The Cave of Skulls” – Nov 30, 1963
  • Episode 3: “The Forest of Fear” – Dec 7, 1963
  • Episode 4: “The Firemaker” – Dec 14, 1963
  • Director: Waris Hussein, Douglas Camfield (uncredited)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer(s): Anthony Coburn, CE Webber (Ep 1, uncredited)
  • Production Code: A

Story Notes

  • This was the first thing ever aired on the BBC after coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination, which had happened the day before.
  • Likewise, due to the massive Kennedy coverage, this episode was repeated so people could have another shot at seeing it.
  • This story was repeated as part of the “Five Faces of Doctor Who” series of repeats in 1982, right before Peter Davison’s stories started airing.
  • There were a few versions of this story.  The known aired one, and the original “pilot” version.  The pilot was the actual attempt to film it, but due to several mistakes, and a desire to change the tone of Hartnell’s performance, it was reshot, and the reshoot is the public version.  This pilot has been released a few times over the years.  First on VHS in 1991, then again on VHS in 2000.  Was finally on DVD in 2006 as part of the DVD release of Unearthly Child.
  • Derek Newark (Za) later played Greg Sutton in the serial Inferno.  Alethea Charlton (Hur) later played Edith in the serial The Time Meddler. Eileen Way (Old Mother) later played Karela in the serial The Creature from the Pit, and appeared in the film Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.  Jeremy Young (Kal) later played Gordon Lowery in Mission to the Unknown.  Finally Jacqueline Hill returned in 1980 and played Lexa in Meglos.
  • There is a reference to the Tardis not changing it’s shape here – the implication is that thsi was the first time it didn’t change.  Granted, that’s from watching the show later on, and having 40+ years of history behind it.  The fact that the Tardis didn’t change shape here is referenced during many stories in the show’s future, and Attack of the Cyberman actually saw the Doctor fix this for a time, although the things the Tardis turned into were quite “not properly chosen”. :)

Future References

Given this was the first overall story, it was referenced several times, most strongly in 1988 for the 25th anniversary.

The series overall is referenced in Episode 2 of the story “Remembrance of the Daleks” from 1988.  In that story, Ace has a television on, and runs out of the building she was in.  As she is leaving, the TV narrator is heard to say “This is BBC Television.  The time is a quarter past five, and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new Science Fiction series, Doc…”    It’s probably the ultimate meta reference the show has ever had.

The school that Ian & Barbara from this story (Coal Hill School) also appeared again in “Remembrance of the Daleks”.   Also, in the first episode, Ian lends Susan a book on the French Revolution.  That book (albeit looking differently) is still in the lab when Ace and the Seventh Doctor show up there some years later.


This particular series was referenced a few times in the future.  In specific the Foreman scrapyard was shown again in the 1985 serial, “Attack of the Cybermen”, and again in 1988 in the aforementioned “Remembrance of the Daleks”.    As an extra bonus, when the sixth Doctor sees the “IM Foreman” sign, he calls Peri “Susan”.  When the Foreman scrapyard was shown in 1988, the name was misspelled as “IM Forman”.



My thoughts on Story

As I said above, Episode 1 is truly essential viewing.  It contains many of the basic show elements that would still continue on into 2012.  It has an atmosphere that was immediately lost in Episode 2, and the odd “feel” of Episode 1 was never really recaptured again.   Episode 10 of “The War Games” sort of has that feel, but not nearly as well executed.    Once they get into Episode 2, and we spend all of our times in the 100,000 BC part of the story, it’s not nearly as good to me.  It’s not like Episodes 2-4 are awful, they’re OK.  But given how outstanding Episode 1 was, the other three are a letdown.  For the longest time, I would watch the first episode, and then stop.  It was such a change, such a difference that it turned me off.  Later on, I realized that was part of the point – that we were supposed to be shocked at how different the “Tribe of Gum” stuff was.   Over time I softened on that stance, but still feel Episodes 2-4 aren’t nearly as good.

The Doctor’s general attitude towards his companions was one I liked.   This attitude of the Doctor towards his human companions changes a lot during this story, and the next two (The Daleks & The Edge of Destruction), and to some extent story 4 as well (Marco Polo).  By the time we get to the fifth story (Keys of Marinus), he seems to actively like his companions.  I felt the show tried to recapture this a bit with the caustic relationship between Doctor #6 & Peri, but that kind of attitude didn’t fly in 1985 as much.

Much of Episodes 2-4 is the Tardis crew trying to figure out how to get back to the Tardis.   A lot of the dialogue is stuff like “Za is leader!”.  It’s really banal dialogue, which fits the setting, but I could never get into it.  The Tardis crew spend a few episodes trying to trick the primitives, as well as show them how to make fire.  Not heady Sci-Fi adventure stuff, there.   I read somewhere that the entire budget for a single episode was about $4200 or so (depending on what currency conversion was in 1963).  Some of that shows on screen.  In specific, at the end of Episode 4, when the crew is being chased back to the Tardis by the primitives, the chase through the jungle was just the actors standing there with others brushing leaves and whatnot by their faces to make it seem like they were in the middle of the jungle.  The effect is odd, knowing that fact.  I wonder if I would have felt different about it, not knowing that.  Still, the overall effect comes off well, I just don’t like the plot/story for Episodes 2-4 terribly much.

Overall, I give the story a 7 out of 10.   Episode 1 is a 10 out of 10 (might be a “But this goes to 11”).  However, 2-4 are about a 5 or so, so I averaged it out to 7.

External Links

Purchase Links

  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)
  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)