I started watching Doctor Who as a child, and I’m still a fan of the original Classic Series. I have all of Doctor Who on DVD, something which took me over ten years to accomplish. However, I know that fans who are new to Doctor Who, having started with the re-boot, or even Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi could easily be intimidated by dipping in to Classic Doctor Who – the series has been around for fifty years, after all, and even though many stories from the 1960s are still missing, there is a great deal to choose from, to quote the Eleventh Doctor, “Where do you want to start?”
I’m going to present my favorites by Doctor, in chronological order. However, if you’ve never watched any Classic Doctor Who at all, I’d recommend starting with Tom Baker’s last season and working forward in order from there. The Doctor Who Master Post lists all the episodes available on DVD in order. Why not start with Tom Baker at his beginning? Well, a number of reasons. Though I’d seen a few older episodes when I watch extremely young, it was watching Tom Baker’s last season that made me a fan. I caught it on PBS while on vacation, and I loved the show so much I started reading the Target novelisations, as well as books about Doctor Who, such as Peter Haining’s wonderful coffee table books (Doctor Who: A Celebration, etc.) It wasn’t until a few years later that my local PBS station picked up the show. Though they did, to their credit, run all of it – I saw all seven Doctors. So, I actually think Tom’s last season is some of his best work. It’s two trilogies as well, the last episode introduces the new Doctor, Peter Davison, but the linking between the E-Space Trilogy and the Regeneration Trilogy gives the stories more impact. I think it’s some of Tom Baker’s finest work, though he has some outstanding stories throughout his very long tenure as the Doctor. However, you are certainly welcome to start at the very beginning – and William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton certainly made some excellent stories.
The best place to start watching the William Hartnell stories is The Beginning. This DVD box set includes the first three stories of the series: “An Unearthly Child”, “The Daleks”, “The Edge of Destruction”. It’s a variety of story lengths (“An Unearthly Child” is four half-hour parts, “The Daleks” is seven, and “Edge of Destruction” is two.) All Classic Doctor Who consisted of serialised stories, with several half-hour parts making up a single story. Most stories ran four to six parts, though they could be as few as two or as many as twelve. Cliffhangers every week were a staple of the Classic series. Also, very early on, each half-hour episode had it’s own title.
“An Unearthly Child” introduces the series, as Barbara and Ian, two teachers from Coal Hill School, decide there’s something odd about their student, Susan, and follow her home. There they find her grandfather and the police box they live in, which is bigger on the inside than the outside – and actually a Time/Space capsule. Before long they are accidentally travelling in time, back to the stone age.
“The Daleks” is a classic story which introduces the classic monster which still appears on Doctor Who periodically to this day. Though the story is a little long – it has it’s moments. This is also a story where Ian really gets a chance to shine.
“Edge of Destruction” is a short “filler” story, where the only set available was the TARDIS. However, it’s still a spooky and weird story – and it comes in the box set.
“The Aztecs” is a purely historical story, however, it is also one of Barbara’s strongest stories. Mistaken for a god, Barbara attempts to change history, and discovers, to quote the Doctor, “But you can’t re-write history, not one line.” Meanwhile, the Doctor gets involved in a bit of a romance. It might sound silly but it’s a great story. I actually have the original DVD, however, as you can see from the screen grab – there is also a special edition DVD available. The first disc of the Special Edition has the same special features as the original release, though the video quality has been updated from the previous re-mastering. The second disc contains additional new special features.
The Daleks return, and this time they’ve conquered Earth. Or at least London. Though at times a bit slow, with a lot of running around, this story is full of iconic images, such as the Dalek rising out of the Thames, and Daleks crossing the Westminster Bridge. It’s a solid story.
“The Time Meddler” is a different type of story from the majority of the very serious Hartnell stories. Here the Doctor meets The Meddling Monk, another person of his own alien race, who’s decided to change the past – because he can. The story is filled with sharp, fun dialogue. That the Doctor has a new companion who isn’t ready to believe that the TARDIS really travels in time and space, also adds to the fun. The script is by Dennis Spooner. I’d even go so far as to say, if you are only going to have one Hartnell story in your collection – it should be this one.
“The Tenth Planet” didn’t exist when I originally watched Doctor Who on PBS. That is, this is one of the stories that was thought lost. The Doctor Who Restoration Team was able to bring the story out on DVD with the support of the BBC, and animation (with the original audio track) filling in the missing parts of the story. This story introduces the Cybermen, still a major foe in today’s Doctor Who, and second only to the Daleks in popularity as a monster in the series as a whole. Though it is plain in the story that Hartnell’s health is failing, the story is actually quite good. I was surprised at how chilling the original Cybermen voices could be. This is a highly recommended story.
There you go – five recommendations for the William Hartnell, First Doctor Era of Doctor Who! Enjoy!