Doctor Who - The William Hartnell Years re-examined (spoilers in tags)

35541m

Active Member
On this thread I will post my observations on the William Hartnell Doctor Who years in chronological order. Threads will contain plot spoilers through so don't read this if you don't want to know plots etc. Please feel free to comment.
 

Garrett

Moderator
On this thread I will post my observations on the William Hartnell Doctor Who years in chronological order. Threads will contain plot spoilers through so don't read this if you don't want to know plots etc. Please feel free to comment.
Sorry but threads with open spoilers are not allowed, they still have to be spoiler tagged.
 

35541m

Active Member
An Unearthly Child (1+3 episodes) - SPOILERS

A couple of teachers discover the Doctor and his granddaughter in a scrapyard and they go off in the TARDIS and invent fire for some cavemen.

* This consists of an introductory episode , ending with everyone blundering into the TARDIS and emerging on a strange planet, followed by 3 episodes in which the time travellers explore the new world (Earth back in the caveman period) and, in true Doctor Who style, spend the time being captured and escaping and being recaptured etc. It is not very good (but it will get a lot better). The entire story is filmed on studio sets - it took some time before we ever saw some location work.

* The caveman story was added late in to the production as the opener. It had originally been intended to do a story in which the Tardis' occupants were shrunk to miniature size. That concept proved too difficult to do in time but eventually cropped up a year later as Planet of Giants.

* The main characters for the audience are clearly Ian (William Russell) and Barbara (Jacqueline Hill). In this, the Doctor is a character who just gets them into an impossible situation from which they cannot escape. The Doctor explains to them that he and his granddaughter, Susan (Carol Foreman) are fugitives from another time and space. Those two sentences are all we get from the scriptwriters for about 2 years regarding who the Doctor is. Susan is supposed to be his granddaughter but has the surname Foreman. It is never 100% clear whether Susan really is his grandaughter or not. I am surprised the current series hasn't returned to the subject of the Doctor's offspring. Susan's parents (one of whom must be the doctor's own child??) are never referred to. Ever. Susan is supposed to be 14-15 years old - although Foreman was in her early 20s - but since she is an alien this might be a 'blind' to get her into the school.

* Hartnell's Who is really horrible and obnoxious compared to the Who we now know. One extremely controversial episode has him being caught by the others possibly about to batter to death with a rock a wounded caveman who is slowing down their escape. The incident is ambiguous enough for this to have alternate explanations but with this doctor you are never sure. He resents Ian and Barbara coming along and is very grumpy.

* The first episode had to be entirely re-filmed at the insistence of the head of BBC serials (who had originally commissioned the series). He was unhappy with the camerawork and felt some of the dialogue and plot points should be made clearer. The DVD contains this original unbroadcast episode ('pilot' although that's not what it was) as well as the broadcast (revised) version. In the DVD documentary, the director explains that he had plotted all kinds of fancy camera movements which unfortunately proved a little difficult to do in the cramped studio confines. There is little difference in content between pilot and broadcast version but the latter looks less amateurish.

* Doctor Who was originally broadcast on the day after the Kennedy assassination. The BBC then repeated it again the following week because they thought that it had gone largely unnoticed due to current events.

* For the first few years there were only individual episode titles and not story titles. Contemporary audiences therefore had no idea how long a particular story thread was going to last. In the first series, excluding the first episode, the stories lasted between 2 and 7 episodes. If you skipped a week you wouldn't know whether you missed the climax to a story thread or not. The ending of episode 4 sees the travellers arrive on a new barren planet which leads into the next story thread. Forty episodes were produced in the first year which is an awful lot (down to about 26 by the Pertwee years).
 
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krish

Distinguished Member
Doctor Who was originally broadcast on the day of the Kennedy assassination.
Correction ...
JFK was assassinated the day before (22nd Nov), but clearly it was major news which overshadowed everything else on TV for a few days, furthermore several areas of the country experienced power failures.
 

35541m

Active Member
Yes - you are correct. My error. Have corrected. Kennedy was shot about 12.30pm CST which is 18.30pm GMT.
 

brian s

Distinguished Member
A major factor in the "filming" of Hartnell's Who episodes was that they were shot on videotape in a single evening. Videotape editing was very expensive and time consuming back then so there would only be two or three edits in each episode. This meant the shows were recorded almost as live and many mistakes were left in. I think many of the viewers thought they were going out live.

I was never in doubt about the relationship between the Doctor and Susan. I just accepted what we were told. I see no reason to think otherwise.
When Matt's Doctor was dying I'd hoped that Capaldi would turn out to be his son who would take on the mantle of the Doctor. Instead we got the more predictable route of him getting a new regeneration cycle from the Time Lords.
Bri
 

35541m

Active Member
The Daleks (7 episodes)

Exterminate, exterminate, exterminate.

(story review - plot spoilers)


The TARDIS crew land on the desolate, nuclear-war ravaged, planet of Skaro. A futuristic city is inhabited by strange creatures living inside a metal transportation cubicle – Daleks. It transpires that the Daleks are less than friendly…

* This 7-parter was what really made the series and is actually very impressive for 1963 British TV which was filmed virtually as live in 5m recording chunks and with negligible filmed inserts. One can see why it made such an impact. There had really been nothing like it before. The Daleks, clearly intended as quasi-Nazis, are great monsters and it is never dull when they are screen. We never get to see the little creatures inside them other than a single tentacle. Terry Nation's story forms the structure for most subsequent Who stories - a plot device is invented to stop the time travellers getting back to the TARDIS, the time travellers are separated for much of the story and then keep getting captured and recaptured again.

* The Doctor is again pretty obnoxious; smug and drawing attention to himself by holding his waistcoat everytime he does something clever. The Doctor pretends that the Tardis is damaged in order to explore the futuristic city but then wants to leave the planet immediately they come across the Daleks. The Doctor doesn't care about the Thals at all. The Doctor is also very frail and suffers badly from radiation exposure, more quickly than his companions. There is not much evidence of the superhuman doctor we now know and which really seems to date from the Troughton period.

* Ian (William Russell) manages to wear a tie (still) on this alien planet for the first 4 episodes and then it disappears. Throughout, however, he still keeps on his cardigan, even when scaling rocks etc. The cardigan survives the story intact. Russell looks very 1950s although Jacqueline Hill wears a blouse and leather trousers and seems to be more contemporary. Susan starts to become a screaming ninny.

* First attempt of Doctor Who to frighten small children. Episode 1 ends with a Dalek eye-scope appearing in camera and advancing on a terrified Barbara; the first really good 'scare' episode ending. Throughout the Daleks threaten to kill everyone including the threat of biological warface (a recurrent theme of Terry Nation Dalek stories). A lot of this is very grim stuff for what was intended to be primarily a children's programme. The ending does try and generate some sympathy for the Daleks as the last Dalek dying pleads for help on behalf of himself and his race.
The Doctor gives the Daleks no quarter and looks smug about it too.

* We get the first semi-romance between one of Who's companions and an alien; here between Barbara and one of the Thals. The initial story had hedged its bets as to whether Barbara and Ian were a couple but this confirms that they are not. Barbara gives the Thal a nice kiss on the cheek before they leave the planet.

* The worst acting by far comes from Marcus Hammond who is best known for his role as the brother who gets turned into a zombie in Plague of the Zombies. Future horror starlet Virginia Wetherall (and later wife of Ralph Bates) also crops up in a nicely revealing costume as a Thal and looks gorgeous.

* The daleks are clearly supposed to be Nazis but what is interesting (and ironic) is that their opponents, the Thals, are the ones who have mutated into the perfect race and, being all blonde and Ayran-looking, actually resemble the ideal mythical Nazi superman.

* The subsequent 1965 Peter Cushing film, although only half the length, follows this very faithfully even down to re-creating a lot of individual shots (from which I infer that they started with a copy of the TV shooting script)
 
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brian s

Distinguished Member
You really need to use spoiler tags. Surround the word spoiler within the brackets [ ] at either end of the plot details. The re ording chunks would have longer than 5 minutes as there would have only been 2 or 3 edits.

Bri
 

brian s

Distinguished Member
The way it works on my gear is you use [ followed by the word Spoiler and then type ] immediately after. Then type your review and comments and then type Spoiler within the brackets again at the end. Hopefully that work on your gear too.

Bri
 

brian s

Distinguished Member
The way it works on my gear is you use [ followed by the word Spoiler and then type ] immediately after. Then type your review and comments and then type Spoiler within the brackets again at the end. Hopefully that work on your gear too.

Bri
 

35541m

Active Member
Edge of Destruction (2 episodes)

The Doctor and his companions bicker in the TARDIS for a while.

STORY REVIEW - PLOT SPOILER
* This two part story is confined entirely to the TARDIS interiors and appears to have been commissioned for costs reasons, as a filler to pad out the series because the initial commissioning run was only 13 episodes (4+7+2 = 13) and also possibly because the next story, Marco Polo, was taking longer than expected to sort out. The plot consists of the protagonists arguing and failing to realise that they are endangered because of a fault in the TARDIS. At the end, they resolve their differences and decide to travel on. I should explain that Ian and Barbara travelled with the Doctor and Susan by mistake and want him to return him to 1963 Earth but he is unable to control where the TARDIS goes. This is the recurring story theme throughout the first two years of Who. Viewers watching these episodes after the 'high' of The Daleks story are likely to be disappointed and the lack of story titles for the episodes - each episode had an individual title for the first two and a half years - meant that the viewer had no clue how long this 'story' would continue (2 episodes or 7?).

* Some interesting 'firsts' here. We now see several interior rooms in the Tardis thus revealing to the viewer how mammoth it is including rooms with couches that serve as beds. An interesting device that dispenses food in the form of tablets was shown in The Daleks and this is seen again (for the last time I think). Susan mentions that she and the doctor have visited an alien planet called Quinnex. The Doctor also name drops for the first time (of many) by referring to an encounter with Gilbert and Sullivan. Thus, it is now clear that Doctor & Susan have done a fair bit of time and space travelling before landing in 1963 London.

* The main story development in this episode is the introduction of concept that the TARDIS has an intelligence of its own. This has been developed a lot in the recent series revival. Most of the events of the two episodes consist of the Tardis trying to warm the occupants that they are in danger. The faulty control on the Tardis that has caused all the problems is helpfully identified by writing in felt-tip just above it. According to the making-of DVD documentary, this felt-tip marker has been done in rehearsal to help William Hartnell know which instrument to look at but no-one had remembered to rub the felt-tip off for the actual recording!!

*Again, the doctor is pretty horrible and Ian and Barbara are the heroes. At one point, the Doctor threatens to throw Ian and Barbara out of the Tardis in the middle of 'space'. The Doctor is possibly unbalanced at this point due to the effects of the Tardis on him although this is far from clear and the fact that he apologises to Barbara at the end indicates that he probably wasn't (unbalanced).

* There are several notable gaffs in this episode and these were to get worse. Back in 1963, the BBC still shot its productions on video tape in sequential order in long 5m plus sections with the cast moving around the set to get in position for the next camera shot with 4-5 cameras being used at the same time. The production team shot an episode a week of which 4 days (Mon-Thurs) were for rehearsals and then the entire 25m episode was shot in about a 90m session on the Friday evening. There was a reluctance to cut the tape for fluffs unless they were very serious. The budget for one of these 25m episodes averaged about £2.5k - in contrast the first series of The Avengers had a budget of about £10k (although those episodes were double the length). Hartnell fluffs his lines on several occasions but the takes are left in and he has to stumble through and finish. Hartnell continually mispronounces Ian's surname (Chesterton). It is unclear whether this is scripted or Hartnell is doing it deliberately or inadvertently. William Russell corrects him more than once on-screen and, again, who knows if this is improvisional or not.
*
 

brian s

Distinguished Member
The Tardis console and the opening credits/music were very expensive. The production crew were willing to fork out the money as they expected the show to be on for at least 30+ weeks. The huge expense wouldn't have been that bad when averaged out over that number of episodes. In the short term, though, it looked like Who's budget was wildly out of control and some of the BBC hierarchy were very concerned. Their first reaction was to pull the plug after the first 4 episodes but a deal was worked out for it to go to 13. If the production team could bring them within the overall average budget the show would be allowed to continue. Hence the 2 cheap episodes within limited sets and with only the 4 regular actors.

Funnily enough the cost of the reshoot of the first episode came from a contingency fund the BBC had for such issues. It didn't come out of Who's budget.

Bri
 

35541m

Active Member
Marco Polo (7 episodes)

* No episodes survive for this story although the audio tapes survive. As is well known, the BBC had a policy of junking old recordings to save on storage space. However, this is the only story missing from Hartnell's first year and, due to discoveries in the past 10 years, the missing episodes really only start to bite in Hartnell's third year.

* One of the prime objectives of Dr Who was supposed to be educational and this took the form of history lessons for the kiddies. So, in the first few years there were usually alternating SF and history stories. The real problem is that all of the SF stories have some interest whereas a lot of the history stories simply don't and, with a couple of exceptions, are just costume melodramas with generic characters that could be set in any time period and which the BBC did much better 'straight'. In fact, many of them pointedly fail to provide a decent history lesson either. The SF stories are original and like nothing else terrestrial TV was doing at the time (Star Trek was not made until 1966 and not broadcast in the UK until 1969). The historical stories got binned once Patrick Troughton took over as doctor and I for one do not lament their loss.

* Back to Marco Polo. As this is a TV show review I have made a point of not listening to the full audio tapes of any of the missing stories as it is impossible to determine quality from sound alone. Many Whovians hugely praise some of these missing stories, especially Marco Polo, based on the audios.

(PLOT SPOILERS)

* The Edge of Destruction DVD has a 30m compressed version of the 7 episode tale using still pictures and the original audio. It is difficult to tell how much the 30m version is representative of the nearly 3 hour full length Marco Polo tale. Based on the abridged version, it seems a touch dull with the first half at least confined to intrigues in a caravan trek that could have been set anywhere. No great calamities for the Doctor to sort out or anything like that, just internecine intrigues. All the Chinese speaking characters are played by white actors wearing 'oriental' make-up as was standard for the period (so not even Burt Kwouk then which is likely to disappoint some). Darren Nesbitt clearly enjoys himself as an oily villain. Ian dispenses with his cardigan for a kimono and is still wearing it throughout the next story, Keys of Marinus.

* The costumes do look very nice in the colour stills shown on the Edge of Destruction DVD but as the story was filmed in black and white that is irrelevant.
 

35541m

Active Member
The Keys of Marinus (6 episodes)


The key to time only shorter, cheaper and with less keys.

STORY COMMENTS - PLOT SPOILERS
  • The time travellers land on the planet of Marinus – largely populated by separate humanoid races – and are forced to go on a quest to travel to four different lands within the planet to find 4 keys which will fit in a great device – the Conscience – that is capable of pacifying the minds of men. Also after the keys are a bunch of villains called Voords who are dressed in wet-suits and led by a supervillain called Yartek. Episode 1 sets up the premise with Episodes 2-5 being the quest and most of episode 6 being the conclusion. Fifteen years later, this was basically remade as an entire season, The Key to Time.

  • After the great success of The Daleks, wunderkind Terry Nation came up with this ambitious globe-trotting extravaganza. Unfortunately, no-one seems to have told Nation that the budget was about £2.5k per episode and a story with each episode set in a totally different locale (the various places seem to exist in different time periods and might even be different worlds, it is never clear - a device akin to a wristwatch is used to travel to them) required numerous different sets and props that the production simply could not afford. Consequently, the quality of f/x deteriorates as the episodes progress since, presumably, the budget was used up in the early episodes. Keys of Marinus therefore features probably the worst ever effects and props ever seen in Who, dodgy dinosaurs and pantomime horses notwithstanding. The DVD extras feature an interview with the production designer who confirms that there was no money to do things properly and admits he is embarrassed about the whole production. Examples include an outdoor ‘blizzard’ set which is basically a couple of actors standing in front of a cardboard backcloth whilst off-screen prop men chuck snow flakes (i.e. pieces of paper) across the frame, ‘ice statutes’ played by actors in costume who are visibly moving every time they are seen and a stone statute that has a real person’s arms that are also moving every time it is shown (mechanical arms were intended but proved too expensive).

  • The story itself in a mixed piece with some good ideas in parts but these ideas are often poorly realised. That said, I found the first three episodes quite inventive and entertaining. The best vignette has the Tardis crew enter what seems like a Roman villa where everything is sumptuous - but only if you have a disc placed on your head at night. Without a disc on your head, you see the horrible world as it really is. This world is ruled by some evil brains with eyes on stalks which look quite yucky and may well have frightened small children. There is also a creeping vine that attacks Barbara and Susan. After that, the poor effects really take over. The last 'key quest' features a futuristic-looking society where accused criminals are guilty until proved innocent; this has promise yet ends up with a lot of off-screen events, including the up-commence of the main villain and seems to have been heavily pruned during rehearsal.

  • As with Edge of Destruction, various gaffes, such as muffed lines by Hartnell and visual errors, including shots of the occasional stagehand manipulating props, remain in the production. Hartnell took a two week holiday in the middle of shooting (they were shooting for over 40 weeks continuously and the cast/crew were permitted the odd holiday) so an excuse has to be invented to keep the Doctor absent from episodes 3 & 4. There will be more such ‘absences’ as the season continues. George Coulouris, who was once in Citizen Kane no-less but more recently the star of horror shlock such as Womaeater, is the big-name guest star short of some beer money who turns up for a couple of day’s work as the savant who sends our heroes off on their mission. Coulouris has some difficulty negotiating his way around the scenery without bumping into it.

  • The Doctor is now much more amenable and friendly with Ian and Barbara than he was in the first 3 stories and the group now functions as a unit. The Doctor name drops again and has a much more scientific interest - he asks for a laboratory at one point. However, he is still very frail and Ian and Barbara do all of the heroic acts.
  • On a matter of historical interest, the opening episode shows an exterior shot of the Tardis materialising on a world for the first time (previous landings having been shot from inside the Tardis). Additionally, for the first time, the last episode ends at the end of the story and does not start with the beginning of the next story.
 

35541m

Active Member
The Aztecs (4 episodes)

The time travellers try to change history and prevent human sacrifice.

STORY COMMENTS - PLOT SPOILERS

* The Doctor and chums land on Earth at the time of the Aztecs. Sudden death is averted when Barbara is mistaken for an Aztec God. Barbara tries to get the Aztecs to change their ways and stop human sacrifice but the forces of conservatism, as represented by the High Priest, begin to smell a rat and the Doctor warns her that ‘changing history’ is futile and should not be allowed. We all know from history which side will ‘win’ the debate.
  • Another historical adventure designed to educate the nation's school children about bygone days. This one is pretty good – the 4 episode length helps - and the best story since The Daleks. Unlike some other historical stories it is actually about something (human sacrifice and the series’ first debate about whether one can change history). The Doctor is very against changing history and implies that he knows that this is futile from experience. Hence, Barbara fails and as the Tardis leaves we sees the Aztecs rejoicing again in human sacrifice. However, in Who the debate about changing history seems to relate only to changing Earth's past (pre 1963). The Doctor and co have already changed Skaro history by helping to defeat the Daleks and changed Marinus history by helping retrieve the Keys to Time. This conundrum is never satisfactorily resolved although other later stories (.e.g. Pyramids of Mars in the Baker years) approach it in a different way with the concept that Time consists of different parallel ‘paths’ that can be altered.

  • A subplot sees the Doctor become engaged to an Aztec woman. This is the Doctor’s first piece of inter-galactic totty of the series. The Doctor seems to enjoy stringing the lady along despite no obvious intention of, ahem, ‘consumating’ the relationship which is a little cruel. But, that's this Doctor all over. Ian, although only a school teacher, now seems a whizz hand at judo and other fighting skills. Ian also demonstrates a Spock-like 'death grip' which he uses to disable an opponent (and which he never uses again). Ian can easily compete in a sword fight against the best Aztec fighters. Ian is basically the action man here with the real ‘alpha males’ in the group being the Doctor and Barbara who battle for intellectual supremacy. In contrast, Susan is now reduced to a stereotypical screaming ninny and her character has become increasingly irritating. Susan’s treatment contrasts with that of Barbara who is a much more forceful and believable figure and whose viewpoint is allowed to propel much of the storyline. Carol Anne Ford took a two week holiday break during this one and is confined off screen to a tent for much of the story.

  • John Ringham as the bad, sacrifice-mad, high priest provides the first real over-the-top baddie acting in Who. Ringham seems to think he's Olivier playing Richard III (he even walks as if he is a hunchback) and is incredibly hammy and, needless to say, he steals every scene. In the making-of DVD documentary Ringham explains that he was told by the director to try and make the kiddies boo and hiss him every time he appeared on screen.
  • Overall, I enjoyed this one quite a lot.
 

brian s

Distinguished Member
I used to hate the historical stories as a kid. I couldn't wait for that moment when they returned to the Tardis so I had the promise of future and alien worlds. Or at least modern day London being invaded.:laugh: I now enjoy some of them. The Aztecs is possibly the best Hartnell story. It gave Jacqueline Hill a chance to shine. That didn't happen much in shows those days. I recently rewatched The Romans. Hartnell still fluffed his lines but he was clearly happier with the comic dialogue than he was with the technical jargon.

Bri
 

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