Spoiler Alert: This series of posts will contain spoilers about classic and possibly current episodes of Doctor Who.
In the beginning…
I have been a big fan of the BBC’s science fiction series Doctor Who since the late 1970’s, when I was a teenager in high school. I first caught a few episodes from its 15th season storyline Horror of Fang Rock while I was on vacation in Florida.
Yeah, it really is that cheesy.
A few years later, a Superstation in New Jersey began broadcasting episodes on Saturday mornings. Two episodes every week, each part of a storyline which was often longer than many movies. As luck would have it, the first episode I caught was Tom Baker’s debut episode as the fourth Doctor in the story Robot.
This was a fun Doctor to watch. Utterly unpredictable, witty dialogue, imaginative stories. A show in it’s prime, heading into what was to become regarded as some of the best episodes in the whole series.
Technically Baker appeared at the very end of the preceding story, Planet of Spiders, but that was a regeneration sequence in which he never spoke or even moved. Not a debut for Tom baker so much as a farewell to the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee.
Over the last few decades I managed to watch all the episodes staring Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, and much of Colin Baker; as well as the T.V. movie with Paul McGann and the all of the episodes since the 2005 revival starring Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith; and most recently the 50th Anniversary special, Day of the Doctor, which introduced John Hurt as a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor who fought in the Time War. I have also seen a some episodes from the years when the Doctor was portrayed first by William Hartnell and later by Patrick Troughton, and a single episode from Sylvester McCoy’s turn in the role.
With all I had watched, there was still much which I had missed. I wanted to see the episodes which introduced such mainstays like the sonic screwdriver, UNIT, Colonel and later Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, the first reference to the Time Lords, Cybermen, and so forth.
This desire to see the rarely shown episodes of Doctor Who combined with my love for collecting movies and television series. I own all of the episodes since the series revival in 2005, but among the classic episodes I owned only certain favorites from the Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee years, and a small number from the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton eras.
Befitting a series about a time traveling alien, I saw many of these episodes out of order. The great strength of Doctor Who is you can take all the stories over its 50 year history and watch them in any sequence without feeling like you are missing something vital. That said, the show has changed and evolved since its debut. Many things now considered part of the show’s canon simply didn’t exist when it began. Watching a series from its beginning, in its proper order, allows you to discover the moments when crucial mythology were introduced or altered. It gives a deeper meaning to shows which come later, and a greater understanding of character moments built on a long established history.
A quest begins
I decided it was time to fill in my collection and, at the same time, watch all the episodes right from the beginning, in their correct order. Or rather, I should say, watch all the available episodes. Many episodes and even whole storylines from the Hartnell and Troughton years were destroyed decades ago. Unless you build a time machine of your own it’s impossible to watch those lost episodes. Still, that’s no excuse for not collecting and watching what is available.
And so a few months back my wife, Kathryn, and I made a deal. We’d each collect our favorite series (hers is Mystery Science Theater 3000, another show with a high cheese factor and missing early episodes) and every week we would watch a few episodes of Doctor Who and one of her MST3K movies. We’d do both from the beginning and proceed in the order they were first shown, skipping only those stories where either major portions are missing or the surviving video/audio is simply of unacceptable poor quality. We aren’t binge watching either of these series, which would be truly painful given the low quality of many episodes.
Where are we now?
Right now we’ve just finished the 16th Doctor Who story, The Chase, which means we’ve watched about 70 individual episodes. Time-wise we’ve watched episodes from November 23rd, 1963 through June 26th, 1965.
I’ll work up posts for the stories we’ve already watched, and as we go forward I’ll post regularly about our progress, offer my thoughts on the storylines and individual episodes, and remark on important milestones in the series’ evolution. I’ll also note if I find any special features worth reviewing.
My estimate is that it will take us about 5-6 years to watch all the Doctor Who episodes in the classic series alone. I’ll let Kathryn estimate how long MST3K sill take us to complete, and comment on our progress through that series.
I hope that some fans of the series find these posts interesting, or at least occasionally amusing. They are mostly meant for myself. Snapshots of my reactions to the episodes I’ve never seen before as well as those I’ve watched many times. A log of my explorations through the distant past of a series which has become a world wide phenomena. A fan’s view of a favorite series, with a willingness to poke fun at some of its foibles and a smattering of insights into its convoluted history.