Companion Chronicles: Mother Russia (1st Doctor, Steven Taylor, and Dodo)

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Writer: Marc Platt

Director: Nigel Fairs

Companions: Steven Taylor (Peter Purves, Narrator), Dodo

Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Summary: A shapeshifting alien is interrogating Steven Taylor. Taylor tells him about when he, the Doctor, and Dodo travelled to Moscow in the 1800’s and met Napoleon as he was invading.

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Destiny of the Doctor: Hunters of Earth (1st Doctor and Susan)

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Writer: Nigel Robinson

Director: John Ainsworth

Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Note: The “Destiny of the Doctor” series is  a collaboration between Big Finish and AudioGo, running through the lives of Doctors 1-11, celebrating the TV show’s 50th anniversary. Each story is narrated by a specific companion of the Doctor, sort of like Big Finish’s “Companion Chronicles” range, and has one other actor.

Companion and Narrator: Susan (Carole Ann Ford)

Summary: Shoreditch, London, 1963. The Beatles have beaten John Smith and the Common Men to No. 1 and satellites are being launched in outer space. Back down on Earth, strange goings-on are occurring: the normally placid teenagers of Coal Hill are running riot and a master thief is stealing highly specialised equipment.

Schoolgirl Susan Foreman just wants an easy life for herself and her grandfather, the mysterious Doctor. She wants to be liked and accepted by Cedric and all the other pupils at Coal Hill School. But there’s trouble in the streets and bombsites around Totter’s Lane.

The teenagers are becoming dangerous… Their mission: to hunt down anyone different, or alien… Susan’s quiet life is about to spiral out of control. Having inadvertently started drawing attention to herself, she finds herself in a desperate situation. Suddenly, the chase is on and she and her grandfather are now the hunted. (from Big Finish’s description)

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The Daleks

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Writer: Terry Nation

Director: Christopher Barry (parts 1, 2, 4, and 5) and Richard Martin (parts 3, 6, and 7)

Producer: Verity Lambert

Companions: Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and Ian Chesterton (William Russell)

No. of Episodes: 7

Season: 1, ep. 2 (5-13)

Summary: The Doctor and company arrive on Skaro, where the Doctor encounters the Daleks for the first time. He and his companions align themselves with the Thals, in the hopes of defeating the Daleks.

Review: Well, this is the story I knew I had to review sooner or later. There is no villain more iconic for the show than the Daleks. They are the only enemy that every single Doctor (including Paul McGann if you count the Big Finish stories, which I do) has encountered at least once. I feel that no Doctor has been tested until he has faced the Daleks.  So, what do I think of the original? Meh. This story is one of the slowest classic serials, right up there with The War Games. If you’re curious about what the first Dalek story was like, by all means watch it, but it’s not something that should be rewatched.

Overall Review: 5/10

Continuity: The Doctor would not visit Skaro again until “Genesis of the Daleks”. This story is the first–and to my knowledge the only–story where we actually see how people eat on the TARDIS. It is also the only story where the Daleks are powered by static electricity.

Trivia: This story almost didn’t happen. When Sydney Newman, one of the co-creators of Doctor Who, started the show, he said “no bug-eyed monsters and no robots”. The Daleks was something he felt was against what he proposed, however, this was the only serial that was ready after “An Unearthly Child” finished production. Lambert was adamant that it would air, and she fought for it. “The Daleks”working title was “The Mutants”. This story was later adapted into the movie Dr. Who and the Daleks, with Peter Cushing (who also played Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: A New Hope) as the Doctor.

The Keys of Marinus

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Writer: Terry Nation

Director: John Gorrie

Producer: Verity Lambert

No. of Episodes: 6 (“The Sea of Death”, “The Velvet Web”, “The Screaming Jungle”, “The Snows of Terror”, “Sentence of Death”, “The Keys of Marinus”)

Season: 1, ep. 5 (21-26)

Companions: Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and Ian Chesterton (William Russell)

Summary: The Doctor and companions arrive on the planet Marinus. There, they discover a machine that has eradicated all evil thought. That is, until the Voords came and removed six micro-circuits, or keys.  The Doctor and companions must travel between zones located on the planet in order to recover the keys if they want access to the TARDIS again.

Review: This is a unique story for Classic Who in that it’s the most episodic of the serials.  Each “fetch quest” almost feels like a separate story within the main story.  The different sets are nice, especially the one used for the first episode (the DVD includes an extra about the construction of each set.) The Voords look kind of silly and don’t seem nearly as iconic as the Cybermen or the Daleks, but I still like the idea because the writers know that they want the show to be known for more than just the Daleks.  Each of the different zones has its own unique culture, something you don’t normally see in science fiction.  Terry Nation really was one of the best writers on the show, and this is a good example of that.  I can’t recommend this story enough.

Overall Review: 8/10

Continuity: Ian is wearing the same robe he wore in the preceding serial, “Marco Polo”.

Trivia: This is one of two stories by Terry Nation that do not feature Daleks. (the other one is “The Android Invasion”.)

The Tenth Planet

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Writer: Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis (Gerry Davis wrote parts 3 and 4)

Director: Derek Martinus

Producer: Innes Lloyd

Season: 4, ep 2 (5-8)

No. of Episodes: 4 (note: ep 4 is restored with animation)

Companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze) Polly (Anneke Wills)

Summary: The Doctor and his companions arrive at the Snowcap Base in 1986, which is supervising the Zeus IV mission to probe the atmosphere. The instruments reveal that a new planet has appeared in the sky, one with landmasses identical to Earth.  Before they can get the word out, the base is attacked and the Doctor encounters the Cybermen for the first time. The Cybermen come from the new planet, which is named Mondas.  They explain that as their bodies weakened, they created cybernetic parts to replace their weaknesses, including emotions.  General Cutler, who is overseeing the mission, receives word that that his son has been sent on a mission to rescue Zeus IV, but has died.  This angers Cutler and he attempts to use a nuclear bomb to stop the Cybermen. The Doctor has been weakened by his old age, but he is able to stop Cutler, but not before Mondas is destroyed.  This also kills the Cybermen, as they needed the planet to survive.  The Doctor takes his companions to the safety of the TARDIS, where he collapses and regenerates for the first time.

Review: The story is pretty good. Because of Hartnell’s poor health (he couldn’t even participate in the third part), it’s up to Ben and Polly to do most of the heroics.  Up until this point, I really didn’t know what to make of this duo as neither of the stories I’d seen previously really gave me time to get to know them.  Ben and Polly are still not among my favorites (Personally, I feel Polly is a waste of space), but they are good here.  Cutler is a great antagonist, as his anger at the loss of his son interferes with his rationale.

The Cybermen are a real deal-breaker for me, sadly. Their costumes are bulky and laughable. Their voices are too shrilly (although that could also be my over-sensitive ears). I’m not bothered at how the Doctor dies, as I feel it still fits his character, and he is defiant to the end.  Overall, the story met my expectations.

Overall Review: 7/10

Continuity: This is the only story where the Cybermen have names and human hands. The Doctor’s death is not called a regeneration until “Planet of the Spiders”.  Big Finish’s audio drama Spare Parts tells the origin of the Mondas Cybermen.  In “Attack of the Cybermen”, the Cybermen travel back to 1985 to attempt to prevent Mondas’s destruction, but are thwarted by the Sixth Doctor and Peri.  In the Big Finish Companion Chronicle The First Wave, the First Doctor’s death is retold from the perspective of Oliver Harper’s ghost (Oliver Harper is a Big Finish exclusive companion). The Eighth Doctor also encountered this variant of the Cybermen in The Silver Turk.

Trivia: Michael Craze met his wife Edwina while filming this story. (She was a production assistant)

The Web Planet

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No. of Episodes: 6 (“The Web Planet”, “The Zarbi”, “Escape to Danger”, “Crater of Needles”, “Invasion”, “The Centre”

Writer: Bill Strutton

Director: Richard Martin

Producer: Verity Lambert

Season: 2, ep. 5 (eps. 16-21)

Companions: Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien)

Summary: The Doctor and his companions find themselves on the planet Vortis, which is populated by insects divided into various tribes. The Menoptera, who look like giant moths, are attempting to free Vortis from the god-like Animus, who has already turned the ant-like Zarbi into his mindless followers.  The Doctor and companions align themselves with the Menoptera to eliminate the threat Animus has over them.

Review: This was the first episode from the Hartnell era I ever watched. One thing you have to realize about his era is that it was starting from scratch. Much of the stuff we’re used to–the sonic screwdriver, Gallifrey, the Time Lords–didn’t exist yet.

For me, what I really like is the ambition of this story.  The costumes look great for their time.  They even hired someone to design the speech and culture.  Animus is a good villain because it seems like a genuine threat and Catherine Fleming plays the part well.

You can see shades of a typical strategy that the Doctor would use in later stories. Here he attempts to trick Animus into believing it has already won and that he is trying to appease the god.  But in reality, he is secretly plotting and analyzing Animus’s weaknesses. Ian and Barbara also do good here, with Barbara attempting to form a plan with the Menoptera while the Doctor is in peril.  Vicki, however, seems to take up space, which often happened with her anyway.

The story is not without its flaws.  The lens was distorted to make the world seem more alien and to show how thin Vortis’s atmosphere was supposed to be, so that may make things blurrier than it should.  To be honest, the story hasn’t really aged well, and the costumes may seem silly by today’s standards, but I like the effort that was put into making Vortis seem as alien as they could within the limits of their budget. Is it a perfect story? No. But I enjoyed it.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Continuity: The Doctor tells Ian that Vortis is in the Isop galaxy, which in New Who is home to the Face of Boe (cf. “The End of the World”).  The Fifth Doctor revisited Vortis in the audio drama Return to the Web Planet, available from Big Finish. Barbara wears a bracelet she received from Emperor Nero in the preceding story, “The Romans”.

Trivia: Roslyn de Winter designed the Menoptera’s movement and speech.  As thanks, she was invited to play Vrestra, the only female Menoptera in the story.  In the novels based on Doctor Who, Animus is supposedly an elder god from Lovecraft’s Cthulu mythos, just like the Great Intelligence.

An Unearthly Child

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No. of Episodes: 4 (“An Unearthly Child”, “The Cave of Skulls”, “The Forest of Fear”, “The Firemaker”)Note: For most of Hartnell’s era, each episode had its own individual title.

Season: 1, eps 1-4

Writer: Anthony Coburn

Director: Waris Hussein

Companions: Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Susan (Carole Ann Ford)

Summary: Barbara and Ian are history and science teachers at Coal Hills High School who are intrigued by a mysterious new student, Susan Foreman.  She seems to be excellent in history in science, even surpassing their own intellect), but naive at everything else.  They decide to follow her home to meet with her grandfather and discuss this.  They happen upon 76 Totter’s Lane, an abandoned junkyard, where they meet The Doctor, who is Susan’s grandfather, and are bewildered at the TARDIS as they step inside.  The Doctor, realizing they’ve seen too much, kidnaps them and takes them to the year 100,000 BC. There, they meet a tribe of cavemen and inadvertently help them recover the secret of fire.

Review: This is an ingenious way to start the show.  (And to think Hussein actually said it would never work) Susan is well-characterized, and I almost forgot how short-changed she was in later stories. Barbara and Ian are also established well. We see right away Barbara’s compassion and Ian’s rationalism.

The Doctor is enjoyable in his first appearance, despite how different he seems from later episodes.  I love the scene where he tries his best to dissuade Barbara and Ian from entering the TARDIS. His irascible attitude is well-portrayed by Hartnell, and after seeing An Adventure in Space and Time, I’ve come to respect Hartnell even more than I had when I’d dabbled in a few of his episodes.

The cavemen are really the only complaint they have. They tend to bog down the story and just aren’t as interesting as they should be. We should realize that cavemen only seem unintelligent because our society has evolved so much since their time.  They really were more resourceful than we may think. Of course, they had to be in order to survive.

This was an excellent introduction to the series. If you’re curious to see where the fun all began, I say give it a try. It’s a must for any true Whovian.

Overall Rating: 8/10

Continuity: In “Attack of the Cybermen”, the Sixth Doctor returns to Totter’s Lane. While there, he attempts to repair the Chameleon Circuit.  In “Remembrance of the Daleks”, the Seventh Doctor returns to 1963 to retrieve the Hand of Omega and keep it out of Davros’s hands. In “Journey’s End”, Donna, having absorbed TARDIS energy, proposes a way to permanently repair the Chameleon Circuit. In the 50th anniversary episode “Day of the Doctor”, Clara is teaching at Coal Hills High.

Trivia: There are two alternate titles for “An Unearthly Child”: “100,000 BC” and “The Tribe of Gum”.  Susan mentions decimalizing English currency, which actually did happen several years later. The serial was actually rebroadcast due to the fact that it aired on Nov 23, 1963, the day after John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald.  (This was insisted by Verity Lambert, as I learned in An Adventure in Space and Time

 

The War Machines

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No. of Episodes: 4

Companions: Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane), Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), and Polly (Anneke Wills)

Writer: Ian Stuart Black (based on an idea by Kit Pedlar)

Director: Michael Ferguson

Producer: Innes Lloyd

Season: Season 3, Episode 10

Summary: The Doctor and Dodo return to 1960’s Earth.  Upon exiting the TARDIS, the Doctor gets a “prickly sensation”, alerting him that something evil is afoot. He spots the tallest tower and investigates. There, he is introduced to Professor Krimpton, who shows him his supercomputer WOTAN, which supposedly can’t make mistakes.  Dodo gets a strange headache and the inventor’s secretary, Polly, takes her to a bar to clear it.  There, they meet Ben Jackson, a sailor who’s new in town.  But we soon learn that WOTAN wants to take over the world, and has hypnotized people to assist it, including Polly and (gasp!) Dodo. What’s more, it needs to Doctor to accomplish its goal. Can the Doctor thwart this plan?

Review: One of the problems with classic Doctor Who is something that plagues old school sci-fi in general: the fact that it tends to date itself.  When this story aired, the idea of a supercomputer bent on world domination was actually novel.  To its credit, WOTAN makes for a great villain, especially since it knows what the TARDIS is.

The acting is pretty good.  Michael Craze does a good job of establishing Ben’s character as a surly man and I really wish more of his and Polly’s stories were available (alas, this is the only completely available story). Overall, for a story featuring Dodo (one of the Doctor’s all-time worst companions), it’s pretty good. Just forget that movies like War Games and Terminator exist.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Continuity: This is the final episode featuring Dodo, and the starting point for Ben Jackson and Polly. They remain with the Doctor into the early part of Troughton’s era, leaving in “The Faceless Ones”.

Trivia: WOTAN actually refers to the Doctor as “Doctor Who.” This is the only time the Doctor is called “Doctor Who.”  In the credits, WOTAN is actually listed as starring as itself. (Gerald Taylor, one of the Dalek operators from the 60’s actually provided its voice) This is the only time a fictional character is credited as itself, rather than the actor portrayal.