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William Hartnell - Part Two: At Breakneck Speed

PrintE-mail Written by Tony Cross Thursday, 14 July 2011

Journey Through The Whoniverse - by Tony Cross

This second William Hartnell article is a quick sketch of every story of his era. They’re not definitive reviews and all the opinions are mine and mine alone, especially on The Web Planet.

 

Feel free to disagree. Feel free to agree.

 

Let us begin then at the beginning.

 

Season One

 

An Unearthly Child: If you haven't watched the first part of An Unearthly Child yet what have you been playing at? This isn't just important in Doctor Who terms; it is a great piece of television full stop. Honest. It's worth twenty-five minutes of your time. In fact stop reading this column now & go off to watch it. Go on.

 

See. You can thank me later.

 

The other three episodes aren’t quite as groundbreaking but aren’t the total disappointment that some people think.

 

The Daleks: is - at 7 episodes - probably a bit too long but is still a pretty good story. You also have to remember the impact the Daleks had. They looked like nothing else on television then. They avoid the traditional trap of looking obviously like a bloke in a costume. They glide instead of stumble. They are one of the few creatures in Doctor Who without the traditional weak spot: feet. They are an amazing creation. The Daleks is also as atmospheric a story as you'll get featuring one of the series greatest cliffhangers. (I miss cliffhangers)

 

The Edge of Destruction: is a two episode, slightly surreal melodrama that effectively gets wrapped up in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. There’s some odd behavior from the regulars, hot scissor action and a brilliant but barmy William Hartnell monologue.

 

Marco Polo: is a straight down the line historical adventure. None of it exists anymore thanks to BBC short-sightedness but it looks like it would have been magnificent. There’s the first taste of Hartnell’s comic talents and a memorable villain in Derren Nesbitt’s Tegana.

 

The Keys of Marinus: has one or two moments but is the first taste of Terry Nation’s fondness for the pointless runabout and has one or two genuinely dark moments for a family television series. There are scenes in the Hartnell era – like here when Vasor is clearly about to rape Barbara – that the modern series would never be allowed to attempt.

 

The Aztecs: one of the finest stories of the Hartnell years and probably one of the strongest stories for a Doctor Who companion as Barbara learns the hard way that history cannot and will not be changed. Filled with fine performances, even in reasonably small roles, this is a fine story.

 

The Sensorites: a little slow, a little silly but Carole Ann Ford’s best performance as Susan when she’s finally given more to do than scream. The first episode is also thick with atmosphere. Mention should also be made of Stephen Dartnell’s performance as the poor, broken astronaut John.

 

The Reign of Terror: the TARDIS crew hit Revolutionary France and gets caught up in a tale of Scarlet Pimpernellesque derring do. Again it is probably too long and drifts into dullness on occasion but it works and once again Hartnell gets some nice comic stuff.

 

Season Two

 

Planet of the Giants: the story of the businessman up to no good might be pretty pedestrian but the parallel story of the shrunken TARDIS team’s attempts to survive is lovely. It also looks great as our miniature heroes interact with giant matchboxes, sinks and telephones.

 

The Dalek Invasion of Earth: the first return for our pepper pot pals. The site of a deserted London patrolled by Daleks is impressive even if the plot makes almost no sense. Piloting a planet across the universe, I ask you. We also see the first departure from the TARDIS as Susan, falling in love with the slightly wet David Campbell, remains on Earth. Susan never really lived up to her potential, which may turn out to be a problem unique to her and Carole Ann Ford had clearly had enough.

 

The Rescue: a short two episode story designed purely to introduce new companion Vicki (played by the excellent Maureen O’Brien). It does a job without ever being particularly brilliant.

 

The Romans: a revelation to me when I watched this again. Some of the second series great comedy moments, played to perfection by William Hartnell and others but a bit uneven in tone containing as it does some dark, dark stuff to. The Romans is one of the best stories of the Hartnell era. I’ll even forgive it the stock lion footage.

 

The Web Planet: I love this story warts and all but a lot of people find it a dull and embarrassing effort. Whichever side you comedown on, this is Doctor Who’s most radical attempt to show an alien planet at its most alien. Not just the landscape but the soundscape to. Yes, it is men dressed as ants. Yes, that is Martin Jarvis in a moth costume but, watched with an open-mind, this is a work of real brilliance. (Yes, I know I’m in a minority).

 

The Crusades: from the ridiculous to the sublime. It features a fantastic guest cast: Bernard Kay as Saladin, Julian Glover as Richard and Jean Marsh as Richard’s sister Joanna and John Bay as the Earl of Leicester all perform wonders. Add to that a great performance from William Hartnell as he gets involved in the political machinations of the Court of Richard the Lionheart. Then throw in some dark subplots involving Barbara’s attempts to escape the evil El Akir and you find yourself with a story that works well as both Doctor Who and as drama.

 

The Space Museum: one absolutely marvelous first episode brought crashing down by the tedium of the three that follow. It also features two of the most pathetic aliens in the programmes history: The Moroks and the Xerons. The Moroks are the rulers of a declining Empire seemingly made up of bored bad actors and the Xerons are the young, polo neck jumper wearing rebels keen to seize their planet back but with all the get up and go of Vladimir and Estragon. It takes Vicki to start the revolution and Maureen O’Brien is the best thing in this story by miles.

 

The Chase: another Terry Nation runaround. In my opinion the worst story of the Hartnell era except for two redeeming features. The first is the departure scenes of Ian and Barbara, who use a Dalek time machine to return to 1965. Then there’s the introduction of Stephen Taylor played by Peter Purves. The story itself features some of the dumbest moments in Doctor Who, including a risible series of moments featuring a robot double of the Doctor who looks nothing like him and some of the most incompetent Daleks you’ve ever seen.

 

The Time Meddler: fun. There’s a lovely little performance from Peter Butterworth as ‘The Meddling Monk’ – who is a sort of cuddly precursor to The Master. The Monk is the first member of the Doctor’s own – nameless – people we see in the series with his own (newer) TARDIS and a penchant for historical meddling. In this story his plan has all the subtlety of a brick but it makes for a good romp. Hartnell rises to the occasion as he spars with his fellow Time Traveler. Peter Purves makes an excellent new companion.

 

Season Three

 

Galaxy Four: dull

 

Mission To The Unknown: the first Doctor Lite story in the series history. So light on The Doctor that it features none of the main cast. It doesn’t exist on video either but it still maintains a sinister atmosphere and makes a nice taster for the forthcoming Dalek epic.

 

The Myth Makers: but first Troy. This is excellent, if uneven in tone again. There’s some of the series funniest stuff here combined with the horrible realization that, as this story ends, lots of people we’ve got to know are about to die. I’d say this was my revelation story of the Hartnell era as it doesn’t exist on video and I’d only previously heard it on a very dodgy C60 pirate copy featuring more hiss than an Ice Warrior’s briefing meeting. On listening to it this time I got to love it. Vicki leaves to run off with Troilus becoming Cressida in the process and, obviously unfamiliar with Shakespeare, departs the TARDIS. In her place is Katarina, a Trojan serving girl.

 

The Daleks’ Master Plan: twelve episodes of the Doctor’s struggle against the Dalek’s attempts to conquer the Galaxy. Tragically only three episodes exist on video. It has huge ambitions and just about delivers them. Yes, twelve episodes is too many and one of them is a rather bizarre Christmas Day comedy run around. There’s an extraordinary performance from Kevin Stoney as support villain Mavic Chen, which makes the story worth getting hold of on its own. It’s a bloody story and, to steal a line from Tegan Jovanka, “A lot of good people died”. So do a lot of bad people. In fact there’s a real darkness to this, its predecessor and the story that follows.

 

The Massacre: There’s a lot of death in Doctor Who. In New Who the Doctor’s tendency to bring death in his wake is often remarked upon. In the Classic series this gets mentioned less. It’s just a fact of life. Whilst only a handful of people die during this story it is one bleak journey towards the historical end point: the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve. The Doctor disappears; Peter Purves holds a lot of this story together himself and he’s disgusted when the Doctor returns and tries to bundle him off. It gives Hartnell one of the great speeches of his era. It’s a good story but possibly the darkest story in Doctor Who history.

 

The Ark: it’s a timey-whimey story this. There’s some good, especially directorially but I’m going to stick my neck out and say Doctor Who stories featuring invisible creatures are usually rubbish. I’m prepared to be proved wrong. The Monoids don’t quite work but the cliffhanger to part three is marvelous. Oh and we get introduced to Dodo Chaplet, the stupidest companion in Doctor Who history and quite possibly more irritating than Mel Bush.

 

 

The Celestial Toymaker: proof that fan opinion moves on. When I were a lad this story was a much missed classic and the Gunfighters (which follows the worst story in Doctor Who history - now the Celestial Toymaker) gets a regular kicking, and rightly so. It’s a four episode runaround with Dodo displaying fantastic levels of stupidity, Hartnell made invisible and Peter Purves doing his best to hold things together. The only good thing about it is the villain himself, with the implication that he and the Doctor have met before.

 

The Gunfighters: has gradually had its reputation enhanced over the years. I love it. It’s funny, with Hartnell excelling himself throughout. It’s historically totally inaccurate but it isn’t meant to be historical. It’s meant to be a parody of the kind of made for television Westerns of the time. View it with that in mind, even if the tone is again a little odd, especially after Laurence Payne’s Johnny Ringo turns up. In fact – well my opinion if I’m being honest – Johnny Ringo’s taunting murder of Charlie the Barman might be one of the series nastiest ever scenes. The slight difficulty with the comic Hartnell stories is that they need to have a threat to them to make them ‘proper’ adventures and that threat usually involves death or violence, which is hard to make funny. However the ‘hysterical historicals’ (sorry, I’ll never use that phrase again) are amongst the strongest Hartnell stories, mainly because Hartnell excels at the comic.

 

The Savages: sees the departure of Peter Purves and another attempt to sideline poor old Hartnell. It’s a nice story and the Doctor’s heroic anarchist persona makes its first appearance as he brings down the Elders society, built as it is on torture and murder, down in a couple of days. Stephen Taylor stays to help everyone rebuild and we are left with just the Doctor and Dodo.

 

The War Machines: but not for long. The Doctor and Dodo arrive in swinging London, take on and defeat Wotan (a computer with ideas above its station). Dodo leaves without a proper leaving scene, thus cementing her position as one of the Doctor’s least significant companions. It’s the first glimpse we’ve seen of the Doctor in a contemporary setting: swinging London and joined by two new companions: Ben Jackson (Michael Craze), a sailor, and Polly (Anneke Wills), secretary and posh totty (forgive me again). It’s a good story too.

 

Season Four

 

The Smugglers: there be Pirates. There be murder. This isn’t deep but it is a lot of fun. There’s a lot of violence again and once more we see that the Doctor has become a proper ‘hero’. He can’t leave the village to the hands – sorry – of Captain Pike and his men, he tells Ben. They must try and stop them. It features one of Doctor Who’s least convincing sub-sub-plots as people mistake Polly for a boy. There’s something great about Pirates though, even now.

 

The Tenth Planet: it's goodbye to William Hartnell and hello to the Cybermen. This story is the first base under siege story in Doctor Who history (and it won’t be the last). Some patterns are set from the off. General Cutler (Robert Beatty) is grumpy, angry and then totally off the deep end. He’s the first of what will become a familiar figure in the Troughton era. The regeneration is a total surprise though. There are hints throughout that the Doctor isn’t well. That he might be sick but the final dénouement is astonishing and with that Hartnell is gone.

 

So there we go, the Hartnell era at breakneck speed. My personal ‘Top Five’ are The Aztecs, The Romans, The Web Planet, The Time Meddler and the War Machines (with the first episode of An Unearthly Child as a cherry on top).

 

Enjoy.


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