Saturday, 10 January 2015

Tegan's Tales of Classic Who #1

Tegan's Tales of Classic Who
Episode One – The Primer

If you're relatively new to Doctor Who, becoming a fan within the last decade, you probably have heard about the original show. But chances are good you haven't had a chance to catch up on its history.

Before Doctor Who relaunched in 2005, the show already had 42 years of history. Here's a quick overview to get you started.

The Original Series

It started in 1963, conceived as a family adventure show to fill a Saturday time slot on the BBC. The time travel concept would allow educational historical tales along with other adventures.

Seven different actors played the Doctor in the original series, which ran from 1963 until 1989. The first Doctor was played by William Hartnell, a well-respected film and television actor. When he decided to leave the show in 1966, the producer decided to try to keep the show alive by casting another actor in the role. The excuse was that the Doctor was not a human and this was one of his abilities as an alien. Hartnell was said to have promoted Patrick Troughton for the role, even though Troughton and Hartnell bear no resemblance to one another.

The audience accepted the change... to the great relief of everyone involved. After Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy all played the Doctor.

The show started with a mix of historical stories and science fiction, but eventually moved more toward science fiction/fantasy. The first two Doctors' shows were filmed in black and white. The show was also produced in a serial format that was already a little outdated when it started, consisting of 25-minute episodes each ending in a cliffhanger for the next episode. Stories were made up of several episodes, ranging from one or two episodes up to a dozen. The format was much the same throughout all 25 years of the show.

Earlier seasons also had more episodes. The third season had 45 episodes (which meant the show was on almost every weekend all year long). By the final Doctor, the show only had 14 episodes in each season.

In addition to the Doctor, lots of companions traveled in the TARDIS. Different fans have different favorites, but one of the best known was Sarah Jane Smith, a reporter who snooped her way into an adventure and then traveled with the Doctor for a time. She had two spin-off shows, including the well-known Sarah Jane Adventures. A previous attempt at a spin-off show starring Sarah Jane was K9 and Company, but it didn't get picked up.


While Classic Doctor Who looks dated now and lots of jokes are made about wobbly sets, in many ways it was a pioneer for television. The producers often tried the most cutting-edge effects, sometimes with success and sometimes... well. The show was an odd duck at the BBC. It challenged writers, directors and producers to come up with new ways to portray new things. It had only one regular set, the TARDIS. Every new story required new sets and new costumes and new ideas. The result is uneven, but always something different.

The Dalek Movies

One reason Doctor Who was a big success was the introduction in the second story of the Daleks. The Daleks took England by storm, becoming and instant favorite among children. Dalekmania hit the country, and two Dalek movies were produced with Peter Cushing in the role of Dr. Who.

Of note, if you like Donna's grandfather, Wilfred Mott... the actor Bernard Cribbins also played one of the companions of Dr. Who in the second movie.

The Missing Episodes

In the 1970s, in a short-sighted move much regretted now, the BBC decided to junk old television episodes they had stored on film. It was well before home video became a reality, and the BBC didn't see any use for the old black and white shows. Doctor Who was hit particularly hard by the wiping and a lot of the old black and white stories no longer exist, except as audio.

However, there has been some hope. The BBC sold a lot of the stories overseas. After showing the film, the broadcasters were supposed to junk the film. Some didn't bother, and searches have resulted in the return of a number of episodes, including the complete Second Doctor stories "Tomb of the Cyberman" and "Enemy of the World."

The In-Between Years

After the show was canceled in 1989, fans were desperate to get new Who. Doctor Who existed as a comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine, which started its run during the Fourth Doctor era. And virtually every story had a novelization, some of them considerably worse than others. The New Adventures and Missing Adventures series of novels filled in some of the gaps. There was also a Doctor Who television movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in 1996, planned as a backdoor pilot. The Big Finish audios also came along and helped ease the pain of having no Doctor Who. There were also some unofficial Doctor Who stories and tie-ins on video.


Doctor Who was a way of life in England, airing on Saturdays. Most people who grew up in the 60s and 70s are familiar with the show. People who grew up in the 80s are less likely to be fans, but fandom was still strong in England. In the United States, Doctor Who developed a cult-like following in part due to frequent showings on PBS stations. Even during the years the show was off the air, conventions continued to be held and anyone involved in the show had the potential to travel to the United States for conventions. Troughton actually passed away at a convention in the U.S.

But Wait, There's More...

Actually, there's a lot more. No single article can cover 26 years of Classic Doctor Who, much less the 42 years leading up to New Who. I hope to contribute more articles filling in the many blanks over the next few months.


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