Seasonal Area November 2013 (and Doctor Who)

The Seasonal Area for November 2013 will shortly be archived owing to it nearly being time for the December image.

Penhow is rather a nice area, so some effort will be made to procure a bright sunny image for a later date. As opposed to one taken on a day when it was necessary to wade home up a mile-long stretch of lane that thought it was a canal. (The picture below has appeared on here before, but is used as a demonstration of general conditions at that time last year, having been taken on said day.)

Penhow 1 JPG___…___

It appears entirely possible that one upshot of the BBC’s 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who will be a lot of people going out to see what the two most-featured former Doctors were like in their prime.

No. 8 has only previously cropped up in one TV episode, several books and a radio series. The radio series is rather impressive. It makes for magnificent viewing and the Eighth Doctor’s long-standing companion, Lucie Miller, is exceptionally well-cast. There is a certain fun for fans of said radio series in seeing both an upsurge in interest in the Eighth Doctor of late and the rapid development of the career of one Miss Sheridan Smith, who plays Lucie Miller with aplomb and is apparently at least as good in rather a lot of other things.

But the Eighth Doctor Adventures are inclined to be very much behind the sofa listening, even if hiding behind the sofa isn’t much use when the show you’re hiding from was never visual in the first place, and can be exceedingly dark. The overall story arcs are a little weird – Lucie is dropped in the Tardis by the Time Lords for a witness protection programme, but is being pursued by a Headhunter. Other Time Lords drop by from time to time. Later the Doctor ends up changing his companion with the aid of a job advertisement that someone else placed. His Granddaughter visits for Christmas and the Tardis is duly taken over by a manic creature that mangles the time and space arrangements.

The tales leave this member of the audience feeling uncomfortably, if thrillingly, chilled.

No. 1, by contrast, is inclined to be a distinct oddity. Much comment has been made about how similar the show is to those dim days of the first half of the 1960s and so how anyone can go back there and pick it up without trouble. This is debatable.

A lot of the set-up of Doctor Who is the result of work during the Second and Third Doctors’ eras – especially the tentacled alien in every story, the rapid pace and the striking opening episodes. If one chooses to revisit the 1963-4 season some eight stories present themselves. The doyenne is interesting, not least because the only “aliens” are the Doctor and his granddaughter. Aside from the famous opening episode, the rest of the story takes place in a gloomy studio and features a demonstration of early mob rule. The Doctor makes to brain someone with a rock. Several other people get brained with bigger rocks. Between brainings the story is slow and occasionally frustrating.

The second story, which for these purposes we will call The Mutants, features two of the greatest cliffhanger endings in Who (one of them literally a cliffhanger) and showed how tightly-paced it was by losing about half its length with no obvious side-effects when it was turned into a film starring Peter Cushing shortly afterwards.

The third (two episodes titled The Edge of Destruction and The Point of Disaster) is peculiar and the outcome harder to follow than any of Steven Moffat’s. The fourth (Marco Polo) is a travelogue story which expended enough budget for two stories and so was duly wiped. (This is an odd feature of Who‘s history – up until about 1975, it is possible to tell the big-budget dramatic set-piece story of any given season – with the exception of The Dalek Invasion of Earth in Season 2 – because it has been removed from the BBC’s archives and destroyed. A full-colour reconstruction of Marco Polo floats around on Youtube; since the original story was actually in monochrome and this wonderful colour portrayal wouldn’t have been put together if the tale had survived in video form perhaps something good balances the loss.)

The fifth story, The Keys of Marinus, was made on what was left of the budget after Marco Polo and a spot of imagination is required to gloss over the odd more obvious technical hitch. But Keys is put down far too much. In many regards it’s the first non-prototype Who story and sails off to see what it can find. We see vastly more of Marinus than of any other planet before or since – arguably more than is seen of Earth even – with an entertaining and daring plotline sweeping through cultures, ideals and politics via some cheap sets and whatever could be found in the costume storage cupboard. Honestly, an ice block guarded by Crusaders? Except when the Crusaders find they’re stuck on the wrong side of a chasm there’s a delightful demonstration of a key problem with plate armour and big helmets. A puzzled knight is hilarious to watch. Less hilarious when they hack your front door to pieces, of course.

The sixth story is The Aztecs and represents a brilliant piece of 1960s drama – but it’s not conventional Who. The seventh, The Sensorites, is tepid and the Sensorites (although referenced in a 2008 episode about the Ood) are not an altogether engaging race. The eighth and final story of the first season, The Reign of Terror, is the only Season 1 story other than Marco Polo with missing episodes – these have now been restored in an animated format.

In essence, don’t drop into Season 1 expecting to find quarries in every exterior scene (there are something like three exterior scenes in the whole series, all of them in The Reign of Terror – a field and two country lanes) or Cybermen lurking in every corner (they weren’t invented until 1966). There is a very heavy bent towards exploring historical themes, which continued (to a certain amount of underlying rebellion from the production team at this high-level educational policy – a story broadcast in Season 2 and set in the Roman Empire is distinctly played for laughs) until the purely historical adventures were killed off in favour of more science fiction early in the Second Doctor’s run and Who became consistently recognisable as the show that it is today – Cybermen, quarries and all.

The First Doctor does however finish Season 2 by getting the first encounter with another Time Lord – the complicated backstory kicks off early folks – and Peter Butterworth does a magnificent job with the semi-comic role. Appropriately, when the Eighth Doctor finally re-encounters the character on radio (not before time) another comedy performer took the part in the form of Graeme Garden. (Who should really be given a chance to show it off on television at some point.)

So both of these little-touched Doctors are worth exploring – but not with an expectation of meeting a precise match of the show loved by Tenth and Eleventh Doctor enthusiasts, who may be a trifle disappointed at the lack of enthusiasm by the Doctor. Or at least exuberant enthusiasm. The things the First Doctor will do to get his own way in the first three stories are generally terrifying…