My Quest to Watch ALL Available Doctor Who episodes: An Introduction

This post may contain spoilers about classic and current episodes of Doctor Who.

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.

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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.

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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.

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Not their best Regeneration sequence.

Over time…

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.

The Big Picture, Part 4: The World of Tomorrow

Foreword:

This post is part of an ongoing series laying out essential elements for understanding both the complex plot of my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men, and the byzantine plans of its protagonist, the wizard Damon Roth.

Here are links to earlier posts in this series.

The World of Today

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I see Gods Among Men as being set on earth in the very distant future.  At some point where Arthur C. Clarke’s adage, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” has finally come true.  

In my last post, I explained how in my mythology the faerie world exists, but broke off most contact with humans in our early pre-history.

Adopting this mythology lets me both claim that supernatural entities—and hence supernatural or magical powers—exist, and explain why mankind at our current moment in history would be largely unaware of that fact.

It also, however, begs the following question: From this point, meaning our present, how does our modern society twist and turn to become my fantasy world of the future?  A world that draws heavily on Medieval and Renaissance imagery with Gothic overtones.  A place where Greek mythology and Shakespearean tragedies are plot elements in a battle of wills between the protagonist, Damon Roth, and the antagonist Demiurge.  The kind of world where spacecraft coexist with spellcraft.

Where Do We Go From Here

It is my belief that certain trends in mankind’s past will continue into the future.  First and foremost, there will be scientific and technological progress.  Mankind will learn more about biology, genetics, physics, and a host of other subjects.  Computer technology will advance, as will space travel, engineering, and the like.

Take these assumptions forward an indefinite period of time; a thousand years or more, tens of thousands if need be.  What might be possible at the furthest reaches of these broad trends?

In my mythology, in the far future there will be practical space travel within the solar system.  There will be many colonies on asteroids, moons, and planets that are functionally self-sustaining. 

Nanotechnology is perfected and able to operate down at the atomic and possibly sub-atomic level. 

Genetic engineering has reached the point where building custom life forms from scratch is possible if one has the right tools. 

The differences between quantum mechanics and relativity theory have been resolved, and we have discovered how to draw vast amounts of energy from the universe itself.  (Or from alternate universes or parallel dimensions or the space between universes or some other techno-babble explanation.  The details here are not important. What matters is that there is nearly unlimited energy that can be tapped and converted to a myriad of uses.)

The Daemons in these Details

But I do not have a utopian view of the future.  There are now, and will continue to be, those who oppose progress of the nature I describe.  We have terrorist and dictators now who seek to disrupt the stability and peace of our world.  Who, if given a chance, would cast us into a dark age. 

I doubt the current batch of thugs have much chance of success, but suppose that desire continues to burn in one form or another for generation after generation.  Suppose evil itself has a form, perhaps intangible, that will return over and over, searching for a way to break the foundations of civilization. 

In my mythology, at the very height of our technological prowess, those who would do great harm found a way to do so.  A way beyond their imaginations or ability to control.  These evil men and women destroyed themselves, and unleashed forces that sent earth spiraling into a new dark age. One which isolates people on earth from their brethren in the space colonies. 

In the process, the destroyers of civilization unleashed Daemons on the world of tomorrow.

Daemons are hybrid humans whose descendants will be called Wizards because of the powers they command which appear to be magical.  Powers rooted in the merger of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, computer science, nanotechnology, biology, and genetic engineering.

I shall go into further details about daemons in a later post.  One point worth noting is that my antagonist, Demiurge, is the last and most powerful of the original daemons.  At the height of his power his name became synonymous with the honorific people hailed him by: God Among Men.

What Is Important To Damon Roth?

The events leading up to the fall of the scientific and technological civilization give rise to the magic that permeates my story.  In a later post I will detail the scientific nature of magic in my mythology, and how its creation resulted in the new dark age.  The key point right now is that Damon Roth and Demiurge are the only characters who have knowledge about the true nature of magic.  This knowledge allows both of them to control people and events in ways impossible for anyone else.

Damon also has detailed information about how the societies on earth and in the space colonies developed.  He knows the strengths and weaknesses in both, understands their history and goals, and is prepared to bend both to his will.

Damon’s plan to confront the future threat he knows of requires those on earth and those in space to unite with elves and other races.  Both humans on earth and those in space must agree to abandon their existing governments and social structures and adopt new ones of his creation.  Damon gives each side the chance to do so willingly, knowing their leaders will refuse.  After their refusal, Damon violently destroys those who oppose him, saving those who are more amendable to his plans.

The details of what happened to those on earth and those in space are important, and beyond the scope of this post.  Later posts in this series will explain what happened to each and how their respective experiences are needed for the survival of humanity and the rest of life on earth.

And On Another Note…

I am approaching the complex hub of my mythology.  The events that foreshadow the tale I am trying to tell in Gods Among Men. Many times in this article I have had to use a phrase like, “In a later post I will explain…”  This is because there is much information that I developed in fits and starts over many long years.  Details which I have never formally expressed in spoken or written words. 

I hope I am clear in my explanations, and the world I describe understandable.  I believe this exercise helps me order my thoughts and answers my own questions about my own work. 

It does take a long time to write these posts, however.  Much longer than it took to write most of my earlier posts.  The amount of time I spend actually writing and editing on Gods Among Men has decreased dramatically in recent weeks. 

I may need to intersperse some smaller, less complicated topics amidst this exploration of my mythology.  But I don’t want to stop writing on this subject out of fear that the clarity I have been blessed with recently will fade if I do.  I am uncertain how to resolve this quandary, so I will have to wait and see where inspiration leads me next.

Until next time, have fun.

A Flash of Inspirtation

I have heard that it can happen. That you can get so involved in the writing process that before you know it, you actually write a lot in a single sitting. But it never really happened to me until last night.

We had a mini-monsoon yesterday here, which apparently knocked down power lines and screwed up our Charter bundled stuff. Since we were without cable or the internet, and I wasn’t sleepy, I decided to watch a DVD. I choose one of my favorites, Mystery Science Theater 3000 presents Werewolf. Then I remembered that I had a werewolf story brewing in my head. As the cheese-fest continued to play, I started getting a great idea on how to start the story in my head.

Luckily, I was in my office, at my computer, watching this DVD. So I started to write everything down as it entered the conscious part of my brain. In the span of an hour and some change, I wrote the first draft of the first chapter of this story. When I was done I was absolutely amazed! I had never in my life written a whole chapter in one sitting, let alone be happy with the concepts I put to ‘paper.’

As I read over it, I was incredibly happy with two things. First, although somewhat inspired by the movie I was listening to, it in no way resembled its plot. The last thing I want is to write a story worthy of only copywright lawsuits and bad jokes. Second, I had managed to start the story off with action and introduce the key characters in the span of about fourteen pages or so.

I am well aware that I skipped an awful lot of description, and the character development is rudimentary, but I believe that it is a solid start. Best of all, it got me re-energized about my writing abilities, and I also wrote an additional 12 pages this morning for my main story. Now if I can just parlay this writing streak into a finished product…

Adding What You Know to Your Work

It happens to me all the time. I start to write a story, and before I know it has spiraled off into something I feel I have no control over. Take my current endeavor for example. I started off writing a story about a conflict between sisters, and the current revision is a political drama. Politics? I don’t know nothing ‘bout writing on politics! What’s a writer to do?

The best way I have found so far is two fold. The first step is to seek outside assistance. If you like the turns your story is taking, but not sure how to continue, simply ask a friend for help. Sometimes the solution isn’t really as dire as you make it out to be, and a fresh pair of eyes will figure that out. Or look to the blogs out there (and here) that are filled with writers giving advice. Or read books in your genre that deal with these kinds of problems. Or join a writer’s group and have a brainstorming session. There are many ways to deal with this part of the solution.

The second step is to add in things you know. Again, I look to myself as an example. I know very little about politics, but I do know a fair bit about the Civil War. At its heart it was about the politics of the day, and had a fair bit to do with the ‘division of a house,’ to paraphrase Abe Lincoln. When I started to feel overwhelmed with the political nature of a certain scene, I look to my trusty and well-used stash of Civil War books for reference.

Now, you won’t see any direct references, like a character named Stonewall or a bearded president with a desperate need for a sandwich (especially since their leaders are women). But, you might find an indirect correlation on how the two factions, split between two enigmatic leaders, differ on certain subjects they are more than willing to fight over. This helped me a great deal in getting the political aspect of my story off the ground. One problem down, only a million to go.

The Purpose of the Opening Line

I was at ImagiCon a few weeks ago and one of the authors raised a rhetorical question. “What is the purpose of the first sentence of your story?” he asked, then replied, “To get people to read your second sentence.”

I am, at best, ambivalent about this sentiment. Certainly the first sentence should not make people drop the book in disgust, but should the opening be a snare for readers?

I did not choose first sentence in Gods Among Men for others. I wrote the opening over and over, trying one starting point after another, until I finally found a formulation that felt right.

My final choice for the opening sentence introduces my central character and established a starting scene. It leads naturally into a first paragraph crafted to inform the astute reader what to expect from the whole story. The first paragraph is mirrored by the last paragraph of the entire multi-volume epic. Thus Gods Among Men is framed by two paragraphs designed to fit together. They form the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega.

Does my first sentence make readers want to read the second? I don’t know. I do know it is the right starting point for the tale I want to tell. I have been told, on more than one occasion, that a different opening might be better. Perhaps, but replacing that paragraph, to me, undermines a structure important to the overall plot.

I can easily replace almost every other sentence or paragraph in Gods Among Men, I can rewrite whole chapters. But the opening paragraph, the opening sentence, is hard to change without disrupting something fundamental to the story.