My Doctor Who marathon has brought me to the end of Doctor Who in the 1960’s. Before this marathon, I had barely seen any Doctor Who from the 60’s. Now, I wish I had started earlier. In a year when the latest episode is still over three months away, Classic Who is my way of coping.
My favourite aspect of this era of Doctor Who is the sheer imagination at play. It puts the new series to shame. Most of 60’s Who is the definition of high concept sci fi, which is what I think is what the show should be. I don’t want convoluted plots, bland drama with no tension or lazy villains. I want science fiction. Stories like The Space Museum, The Ark, The Edge of Destruction, The Web Planet, The Enemy of the World and The Mind Robber are just so imaginative and clever. That’s not forgetting the awesome Cybermen stories. Sure, not all of them are great, but the imagination and storytelling is prevalent. Alien planets, messing about with time, detailed worlds and clever plots are all present in 60’s Who. Sure, they happen in the rest of the Classic Series and the New Series, but the black and white limitations of the 60’s means that they could go nuts with silly costumes and sets and it just felt so genuine.
A story entirely set in the TARDIS? Sure. A planet with giant ants? OK. A land where fictional characters come alive? Why not? A politician who looks like the Doctor tries to destroy the world with volcanoes and the Australian government try to stop him? See what I mean? The imagination and ambition is simply brilliant. Quite why the New Series can’t reach these heights is beyond me. I grew up with David Tennant and Matt Smith so obviously I love the New Series. It’s fantastic and in terms of emotion, character development and production values, it’s in some ways superior (not saying there wasn’t any in Classic Who). But I feel like the storytelling was more risky and brave in the Classic Series, especially the 60’s.
Now why the New Series don’t have the ambition baffles me. It’s not the budget problems, as the show has a big budget to create alien worlds and fascinating concepts. The audience is smart enough to have high concepts thrown at them. Examples of high concept storytelling in the new series include The Beast two-parter, 42, Silence in the Library, Midnight, Turn Left, The Beast Below, Amy’s Choice, The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited (is it too late for me to have a complete change of heart over this story?), Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, Listen, Flatline, Before the Flood, Sleep No More and Heaven Sent. All these episodes either have imaginative premises, clever time travel or risky ideas. Whether they’re any good is a matter of opinion, but these are the type of episodes I’m looking for.
So anyway, back to 60’s Who. Watching the entire show from 1963-1969 is difficult because of the amount of lost stories, meaning many companions such as Ben (the companion with my name has two surviving stories- urgh), Polly and Steven barely have any stories, making it hard to judge them. Fortunately, the original companions Susan, Ian and Barbara are awesome. OK, mainly Ian, although Barbara did destroy Daleks with a truck. The missing stories are legendary in the Who fandom, and the discovery of the Enemy of the World and Web of Fear recently brings back hope that the 12 part epic The Dalek’s Master Plan (they could do an epic universe spanning threat in the 60’s, why can’t they do it now?) Fury from the Deep, Patrick Troughton’s first story The Power of the Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks and many more can be discovered.
So, what about the Doctor himself? Well, before watching all the remaining 60’s stories, neither Hartnell nor Troughton were particularly high on my favourite Doctors list because I hadn’t seen much of them. While William Hartnell still isn’t among my favourites, despite the fact he is an awesome Doctor for being THE Doctor, Patrick Troughton has risen to my favourite Doctors list alongside Matt Smith, Jon Pertwee, David Tennant and Sylvester McCoy. Watching the Second Doctor, it’s clear that most of the Doctors that followed took something from Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. He is easily the most important actor to play the Doctor, as without his performance the show would have struggled to continue after William Hartnell left due to his poor health. The Second Doctor’s mannerisms are shown in future incarnations. Tom Baker has the eccentric side, Peter Davison has the caring side, Sylvester McCoy has the cunning side, Paul McGann has the optimistic side. Matt Smith in particular took most of his Doctor from watching Tomb of the Cybermen, and it shows, as both the Second and Eleventh Doctors are like that really strange but cool uncle or imaginary friend.
Now I’m going to discuss my favourite stories from the First and Second Doctor eras. Some of the stories here have become some of my favourites-
- The Edge of Destruction- This story is one of the aforementioned high concept stories that I love. The basic story is that a mysterious force has taken over the Tardis and the Tardis crew are slowly losing their minds over it. This is a fascinating story as it is purely a character piece- except it’s a character piece done really, really well as their is no contrived monster or heavy handed plot. The character arcs from the past two stories come full circle here as the four Tardis members blame each other for the scenario. It also has one of my favourite monologues from the show-
- The Aztecs- This is my favourite William Hartnell story. It’s a pure historical, so it might put people off who are used to the semi historicals of the New Series where history is combined with an alien threat, but in the First Doctor’s era pure historicals were combined with high concept sci fi. The Aztecs establishes a rule that has stuck with history- time can’t be rewritten. The drama from this story comes from Barbara, a history teacher, trying to change the Aztec’s ruthless ways. There’s also some really good comedy in this one, like this brilliant moment-
- The Dalek Invasion of Earth- This is one of the most iconic Doctor Who stories of all time, thanks mainly to the promotional photo of Daleks on Westminister Bridge.
This was the first reappearance of the Daleks and the first story to be a classic Earth invasion type after the experimental nature of the earlier Hartnell stories. There’s a really epic feel to this story and while the plot is silly (the Daleks want to drill into the Earth to pilot it as a ship), the tone of the story and the threat of the Daleks make it worthwhile. There’s also the moment when Barbara rams into Daleks with a truck, which is so awesome it needs to be mentioned twice. This is also the first companion departure story, when the Doctor leaves his granddaughter Susan behind to live her own life in another one of the most famous scenes in the show’s history-
Doctor Who has a trend of using London’s new and fancy buildings as alien hideouts, from the Shard to Canary Wharf. The first use of this trend was in the War Machines, which used the BT Tower, at the time the tallest building in London. This story was unique to the First Doctor in that it was set on modern Earth and featured the First Doctor in an action type role continued by his successor. It served as the prototype to the UNIT stories of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. I also really like the monsters in this one, the titular War Machines. Not much to say about this one really, it was just a really fun story.
- The Tomb of the Cybermen- The story that inspired Matt Smith’s Doctor and probably the most iconic Second Doctor story. The image of Cybermen emerging from their tombs is simply unmatched by any subsequent story and the atmosphere in this one is fantastic. This is the earliest complete Second Doctor story and it is a great starting point, as it defines this incarnation as a playful, jokey type who acts like a bumbling cosmic hobo to trick his enemies into falling into his traps. Despite the Cybermen being a powerful presence here, the main villains are merely humans who want to use the Cybermen, without realising the Cybermen are too powerful for them. There’s also a really great scene between the Doctor and Victoria which shows the Classic Series had just as much character and emotion as the New Series-
Whoever found this story deserves a whole wad of jelly babies. This was an amazing story partly due to its unique nature. There are no aliens or monsters here and it’s basically a James Bond movie with the Doctor. Patrick Troughton plays two roles here really well- the Doctor and Salamander, the ruthless politician who is set on his diabolical schemes. There is a very cinematic scale to the story, which is surprising given that it’s nearly 50 years old. My favourite part is when the Doctor pretends to be Salamander, so it’s basically Patrick Troughton playing the Doctor playing Salamander. This story was in Season 5, and every other story in this season was the “base under siege” type which I love, and this one broke bonds to be truly unique and to this day there is no other story quite like it.
This is about as bonkers and high concept as Doctor Who gets. The Tardis finds itself in a strange reality where fictional characters such as Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels and Rapunzel are real. It’s not a particularly complex or thought provoking story but it’s so absurd and unique that it’s impossible to be bored. The amount of ideas here are fantastic and the Land of Fiction, despite being a world where there are no rules, is surprisingly well thought out. I would love to see a return to the Land of Fiction in the new series. The BBC have plenty of shows with their own versions of fictional characters such as Sherlock, and the setting of the Mind Robber allows for crossovers. Seriously, why hasn’t this happened?
Another iconic story with the image of Cybermen walking down St Paul’s being easily their most famous moment. That doesn’t happen until Episode 6 however, but the rest of the story is just as good. Once again the scope is epic and grand for the 60’s and the threat of global domination is ever present. It starts low key, with a simple trip to Earth and a mystery surrounding missiles on the Moon before escalating into full on war against the Cybermen. The human villain, Tobias Vaughn, is fantastic. He’s so delightfully and obviously evil and the Doctor’s interactions with him are a major highlight. The Cybermen in the sewers of London are also a highlight, and this is probably my favourite Cyberman story, alongside Earthshock.
I’m just going to come out and say it- The War Games is my favourite story in the whole of Classic Who, and is my second favourite of all time just under The God Complex. It is over 4 hours long yet never feels boring or padded, which is a feat considering how many single part episodes of the new series feel padded. The plot is perfectly paced- what starts off as a simple trip to what appears to be World War One turns into a massive conspiracy involving mysterious aliens kidnapping Earth soldiers to recreate famous wars for nefarious purposes. There are so many good parts to this story. I adore the villains in this story- the War Lord, the War Chief and the Security Chief, all with their own goals and motivations. However, the true brilliance comes in the final episodes. As the situation spirals out of control, the Doctor is forced to call on his own people for help, and the Time Lords make their perfect debut. The Doctor knows asking the Time Lords for help will result in his capture and punishment for stealing the Tardis and interfering in time and space, but he does it because it’s the right thing to do. It speaks so much about this character and why he has endured for so long. All this and more makes the War Games my favourite story in the entire Classic Series.
And that was my love letter to the Doctor Who of the 60’s. I’m currently on Jon Pertwee’s first series and when I’m done with him (I started with Planet of the Spiders) I will have finished all of Classic Who in time (hopefully) for Series 10.