‘Back, Doctor! Back to your beginnings!’

Here’s a question. Whose were those faces in the mind-bending battle in The Brain of Morbius? Were they the Doctor’s, Morbius’, or some red herring thingy that either the Doctor or Morbius or both were introducing into that battle of Time Lorderyness?*

Anyway… I really like the Beginnings boxset** and felt like writing a blog about it. Just because I love it so. I think it’s a treasure trove of truly awesome telly, and that everyone should see it.

But first a bit of background. I was always of the school of thought that suggests black & white Doctor Who is not all that rewarding to watch. It’s black and white for goodness sake. And doesn’t have a stereo option. There’re no effects beyond wibbly split-screen or positive-negative gun-rays. The music was played in live and, when a scene ends, often stops wherever it’s got to. Time itself sloooowwwws down meaning that each twenty five minute episode actually takes a day or so to sit through. Spaceships clearly started life as Fairy liquid bottles*** and the sink plungers really were sink plungers. But what do I know? I used to assume that Masque of Mandragora was dull and tedious, and Carnival of Monsters was a daft run-around. Having found myself to be quite wrong about both of these I decided to have a go at watching the Beginning boxset. At the time I had just finished some studying that had eaten up loads of my spare time and left me wanting to chill out with some decent telly for a weekend. Hmmm, reading back this paragraph makes me wonder quite why I bought the boxset. I think it’s because there was nothing else that I wanted in HMV that day, and … it was on offer at a frankly staggering knockdown price. I think I just thought, yeh, let’s just try…

So what did I make of it all…? Well, my preconceptions were dashed.

I’d seen An Unearthly Child before but, blow me down with a feather, it’s good. It’s actually bullet proof in all regards, and still achieves the staggering feat of shifting without effort from a tale that could have been something like Cathy Come Home into something utterly extraordinary. Ordinary folk finding themselves hurtling through the space-time vortex with aliens in a police box! The suddenness and panic in the TARDIS scene and the first dematerialisation will always be an utterly breathtaking sequence. The only comparison I can think of is the equally wonderful opening episode of Life on Mars.

Then we go to the meet the cave folks, and while it might drag here and there it’s still a striking, memorable adventure. Politics, battle of wills,  survival, fear and hope. It’s memorable rather than dull. Here’s one thing I definitely picked up – it doesn’t feel safe. Doctor Who’s opening adventures each exude a sense of ‘maybe they won’t get out of this alive – the scenario is so far removed from everyday life that it actually wouldn’t surprise me. The Doctor can’t be trusted – look, he nearly killed a caveman. There is no safety net here. Yikes.’

Amazing. Next! Now before you all say ‘what do you mean you’d never seen The Daleks before??’ let me just say I’m actually glad I hadn’t seen The Daleks before. It was a revelation to my now rather set-in-my-ways view of telly. It’s very long, but it’s never dull. It’s a superb piece of writing, production and acting. Oh, and a shout out for Tristram Carey’s music – it’s incredibly evocative, and it sounds like he used some bits from the Torchwood theme. No. Hold on. That’ll be other way round won’t it. The alien planet scenes are superb, it just seems so… alien. And I had to remind myself that nothing like this had been seen on Saturday teatime telly before. Epic, scary, and pretty thought provoking. I’m not really a fan of the daleks, but in this one they are totally dalek-y.

Edge of Destruction is the first of Who’s occasional ‘woah, what’s going on?’ stories. It’s unsettling and weird, and leaves you thinking it through – and the revelation at the end takes the viewer even further into the realm of wondering ‘who are these strange alien people, what is their ship capable of, and are our heroes (Ian and Barbara) ever going to be safe with them?’

All through these adventures I got reminded of the initial coldness of the ninth Doctor as the first Doctor mellows in the companionship of Ian and Barbara. I wonder if he and Susan used to get into such scrapes before An Unearthly Child and had the Doctor always been such a selfish maverick up till then? We meet him on the run, a scared man ‘cut off from his own people’ and terrified of losing Susan, which makes me wonder how much truth there is in his later protestations that he ran away from Gallifrey because he was bored. Fascinating questions, which the series has never explored.

Doctor Who began with such fearlessness in its story lines and characterisations and in the sheer scope of what it set out to achieve that this was a golden era of ‘Anywhere in time and space, where d’ya wanna start’? I wish we could see Marco Polo


*Answering ‘Members of the production team’ doesn’t count.

**Note to self: work on one’s segues.

***Other detergents were available. Actually, I don’t know if there were other detergent brands in the 1960s?

Comments 6

  1. It is difficult to appreciate how amazing the early stuff is. Speaking as someone who has a 15 year head start on you I can say that my generation has been amazed at colour tv, more than 3 channels, walkmans, video, computers, lap tops, the internet dvds and mp3. The speed with which these have been absorbed is quite amazing, but for many born since 1990, these are all simply part of life. Consequently it can be difficult to appreciate ‘newness’ because it surrounds us. When they did the 100 scariest movies for C4, one of the first in that list was a movie of a train pulling out of a station which when it was first shown caused panic in the cinema. I’m not suggesting that we should go back, but sometimes it’s a shame when we can’t appreciate the novelty of something. I watched Blade Runner again the oher night; a film which still seems advanced, even now. I watched all of the Tom Baker dvds recently and if you can suspend your notiton of sfx then they still hold huge value for the story telling and the characterisation.

  2. Post

    I think you are so right, Roger. I remember the amazement involved in sending a fax, (‘You mean they get a copy of this coming out of their phoneline? No way! But….how??’) and the sense of excitement of video recorders. The idea that we could watch and re-watch telly whenever we wanted was so revolutionary. The novelty of these things was such a huge thing back then. And that’s what I felt when I watched the Beginning boxset. The novelty of those stories must have been boggling when they were first shown.

  3. There’s also a touch of nostalgia for a simpler time. I love some of the TV from the 70s but because that was when I was growing up and everything was new. Now I’m older novelty is harder to find. having said which I have loved the most recent series of DW and think Matt Smith and Moffatt between them have produced a diamond. Shelock was also an example fo ‘new’ working really well.

  4. i was listening to jean-michelle jarre in the car today and remembered how amazing synthesisers sounded the first time i heard them

  5. yeah, those old Hartnells are amazing.
    Once you actually sit down and put them on, they draw you in and really transcend their stagey-ness.

    anyway, when is the Oodcast coming back?

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    Hopefully not long now! Once our various summer-time activities come to an end (and judging by the weather, that may be really soon!) we’ll be firing off emails to each other to see what and when, and dusting off the mixing desk. We’re looking forward to it 🙂

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