on 8 April 2006
'Doctor Who - The Beginning Boxset' comprises of the first three William Hartnell adventures and contains some interesting special features, along the way.
There's something for everyone on this boxset, which up to now is probably the best Doctor Who release for fans of the original series.
I myself, didn't get the chance to watch these episodes on their original run (1963-64) but one of my friends, kindly lent me VHS copies of some Hartnell stories and I can tell you for sure that the Restoration Team (the people who improve the picture quality of these episodes) have clearly made a difference to the way we watch them, which makes them look as if they'd just been shown recently.
As for the features themselves, they have got to be among some of the best First Doctor outings ever.
'An Unearthly Child' (the first story) is a very entertaining T.V. gem to watch, even though its been over 40 years since it was aired on 23rd November 1963-14th December 1963. We are introduced to two schoolteachers, Ian Chesterton and Babara Wright who are suspicious about a strange pupil who they teach, Susan Foreman. A series of events follows, leading them to a mysterious stranger who calls himself the Doctor, and a police box standing in a junkyard, which is believed to travel through time and space. After an argument breaks out between the Doctor and the two teachers, the time-machine accidently transports them to the year one million B.C.
The second story (The Daleks), introduces us to Doctor Who's most popular villain, which Terry Nation created. Even though these episodes are must-sees, admittedly it does towards the end drag on, partly because 'The Daleks' runs one or two episodes too long.
Finally, 'The Edge of Destruction' is definitely the weakest of the three, but at the time a two-parter had to be written with only the Tardis and the main actors in it, within a very low budget.
Coming on to the extras, the stand-outs include 'Doctor Who: Origins' a great documentary looking back at nearly everything that lead to this phenomenal Saturday tea-time show and there's also a reproduction of the missing historical seven-parter 'Marco Polo' which followed after 'The Edge of Destruction'.
Overall, a great set which every Whovian should buy, to relive the birth of Doctor Who or discover how it all began in the early 60s.
on 10 February 2006
I'd seen all these stories as they were released over the years on video, out of order, in visually and audially low-grade editions, so it was interesting to sit down and watch them in order, and with restored visuals and much improved sound. It's surprising how much having sharper images and clearer sound improves even the dullest story, and reminds one that 1963 wasn't so very long ago - whereas the original video releases were so low-grade they made one feel that Doctor Who was made around the same time as The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari.
The first story, An Unearthly Child, is pacey, atmospheric and compelling. The following three episode yarn, The Tribe Of Gum, has good moments but crawls along with about fifteen minutes of plot stretched out for an hour and a quarter. The Daleks is pretty much gripping throughout, with only a few flabby or clunky moments, and one can see why it was that story that really put the show on the map: the Daleks themselves really are a Sixties design classic. The Edge Of Destruction is a weird psychological two-parter that again (despite a limp denoument and generally wobbly science) held my attention pretty well for a show over 40 years old.
What most struck me most rewatching these stories, and for the first time in order, was how grim and serious the feel of them is: Ian and Barbara are all but abducted in An Unearthly Child; the cavemen and women in the Tribe Of Gum are starving and murderous; everyone almost dies of radiation poisoning in The Daleks and genocide is planned; stabbings and stranglings are threatened several times in The Edge Of Destruction. The two teachers are often at odds with the selfish, capricious Doctor and his strange grand-daughter, and so, despite the codas that end each story, there is a general lack of reassurance that is unusual in a television programme aimed at children. Moreover, partly because of budgetary and filming constraints there is little heroic derring-do in any of these stories in the escapist Buck Rogers sense; indeed fighting tends to be presented as dirty and dangerous.
In that context it was interesting and informative to watch the accompanying documentaries, perhaps most particularly the (40-odd minute) one about the genesis of the show, which was very consciously constructed to be a ratings hit in the slot between the afternoon's sport and the very popular Juke Box Jury, when the traditional children's classic serial that was currently being run in that slot had viewers turning off or over in droves. The resistance to populism within the BBC hierarchy made it rather hard for programmers to actively court a wide or mass audience - as evidenced by a research document the BBC commissioned about what sorts of science fiction themes might be 'acceptable' to base TV shows around which concluded that only time travel and ESP were classy enough for the BBC.
While Sidney Newman is always trumpeted as a populist imported to bring the BBC a mass audience, it's interesting to note that he favoured educational yarns set in the past and opposed stories featuring bug-eyed monsters as vociferously as the BBC mandarins. In effect he felt that Verity Lambert had conned him into accepting the Daleks, and of course only did accept them because the next story, Marco Polo, wasn't ready in time to be broadcast straight after The Tribe Of Gum.
Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein come across engagingly both in the interviews in the documentaries and on the commentary tracks, and seem to remember their involvement in the show with genuine affection, as do William Russell and Carol Anne Ford. As on The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, having an informed moderator on the commentary tracks keeps them focussed and they're all at least mildly interesting.
It's fun to watch the three versions of An Unearthly Child and notice the quite numerous small changes to the script, performances and direction. Everyone's performances are markedly better the second time around; in the first version I definitely had a sense of the actors just getting through their lines rather than doing much in the way of acting or characterisation. Again it's historically interesting that the episode was remounted for quality reasons (as well as its being eclipsed by Kennedy's assassination), an expensive decision that was made only because Doctor Who was seen as an important show from the get-go.
The restoration looks to be as good as it can ever be, and brings the viewer as close to seeing the programmes as originally broadcast as is ever likely to be possible. I have to say I enjoyed watching all these dvds rather more than I was expecting to. Even the under-powered Tribe Of Gum was worth revisiting.
on 16 February 2006
This boxset contains the first thirteen episodes of the TV series from 1963-64, and includes the first story, An Unearthly Child, the first Dalek story, and the strange two-parter, The Edge of Destruction, set entirely in the Tardis and featuring only the main four characters.
These have always been amongst my favourite Doctor Who stories, and this set improves on the previous video release by means of improved sound and picture quality, and all the extras, which make this set probably the best Doctor Who release so far.
The first story, An Unearthly Child, begins when two school teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, follow a particularly mysterious pupil to her home. This girl, Susan, appears to live in a junkyard with a bad-tempered old man, who may or may not be her grandfather. Bursting their way into the police box, the teachers find themselves in a huge, gleaming control room. Soon, they are whisked off to the dawn of mankind’s history, where they must fight for survival.
Next is The Daleks, the seven-part serial which changed the fortunes of the programme, ensuring its survival and making icons of the eponymous creations. Tricking his companions into visiting the mysterious metal city, the Doctor discovers the evil mutations, and has to help their ancient enemies the Thals to defeat them.
Finally, in The Edge of Destruction, the crew find themselves under attack inside the Tardis itself.
These three stories have been released before on video, but what makes this release such a triumph is the package of extras. We are given the original unedited pilot, 35 minutes, with a commentary from producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussain. This was not broadcast due to technical problems, though an edited version was shown in 1991 when the BBC’s Lime Grove studios were closed down. We also get this edited version, as well as the transmitted version, which became the first episode of An Unearthly Child. This story features two commentaries, and three episodes of The Daleks also have commentaries.
Interesting as the commentaries are, however, it is the documentaries that make this release such an essential package. Best of all is a 55-minute feature on the creation of the programme. This brings into focus the contributions of all the people involved, many of whom are sadly no longer with us. Producer Verity Lambert ensures everyone gets their due, especially her mentor, and the man who selected her for the job, the Canadian TV mogul, Sydney Newman. She recounts the well-known tale that Newman was aghast at the Daleks, seeing them as “BEMs”: bug-eyed monsters, something he was keen to avoid. The contributors also refute the idea that the programme’s first star, William Hartnell, was unable to remember his lines. Given that the programme was recorded “as-live”, he did remarkably well to learn them as well. We also learn about the internal politics at the BBC, which caused so much trouble for the production team. The Children’s department were envious, feeling that they should be in charge of the programme’s production, and the initial designer, Peter Brachaki, was far from keen on his task, putting together the Tardis interior almost as an after-thought.
In addition to the personalities behind the programme, the documentary gives us an unparalleled look into the environment in which the team was forced to work. Initially, the production was assigned to Lime Grove’s Studio D, once described as being like a corridor. The irony is not lost on Ms Lambert: this groundbreaking, futuristic programme being made in such an old-fashioned environment. The studio lacked even a lighting console, the lights being controlled by dimmer switches on the wall. There was no time for retakes: if something went wrong, the actors had to make the best of it and carry on. This consideration makes Hartnell’s soliloquy in The Edge of Destruction even more impressive.
The other documentaries focus on the creation of the Daleks, the theme tune, and the making of The Edge of Destruction.
This is a truly magnificent achievement, and all concerned should be congratulated. Anyone with an interest in Doctor Who will find this an enjoyable, fascinating set.
on 19 October 2006
I remember watching the first ever episode of Doctor Who on a damp November day in 1963 as an awe-struck 7 year old and having re-watched it in its pristine digital form from this box set my initial judgement has not altered. It is a piece of ground-breaking television.
This set of the first three adventures plus some truly fascinating documentaries is a must have for fans of the good doctor. Whilst the initial `cavemen' story is not the best ever broadcast that first episode is worth the price of the box alone. The second story, introducing the Daleks is a classic and the third; a short one-set drama shows the invention-on-a-shoe-string that the series would become famous for.
The overriding tenor of the Hartnell years is one of seriousness. The drama is played absolutely straight with none of the wisecracking self-awareness of today's doctor. This would change with the introduction of Patrick Troughton but for the first few years the show was dark and mysterious. The production leans very heavily on the tension that the drama creates rather than effects and fast-cut editing. In particular, the first half of `the Daleks' is almost unbearably tense, the scene in the metal Dalek cell where the realisation that the Doctor and his companions are dying of radiation sickness has a grimness that is only found in thought-provoking adult dramas, not supposedly `family' viewing. But it is all the better for it. ITV's answer to Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, also majored heavily on tense no-effects drama with an almost callous edge and was broadcast at teatime! Perhaps we over-protect our children today with humour driven effects laden shows that have nothing to provoke the imagination or sharpen their sense of danger?
For this reason, many will find these stories leaden paced and lacking visual impact but give them a chance, try to forget today's limited attention span TV and Tardis yourself back in time to the 1960s and imagine the effect these stories would have had on television audiences used to Blue Peter and the Flowerpot men (original version!) Fabulous stuff!
on 2 March 2007
In the beginning was an idea.
The Beeb had a hole in their schedule and in order to plug it, they decided to try something that would be science fictiony and yet not too extreme. After much thought, they came up with a story that would see four characters travelling through time and space - a young girl, to appeal to the youths; a pair of adults to provide a mature view; and a crotchety old man who the rest could look up to or rail against as necessary.
What we got was Doctor Who. The old man was played by William Hartnell, the two adults by William Russel and Jacqueline Hill and the girl by Carol Ann Ford.
'The Beginning' consists of the first three stories in the Doctor Who series:
- An Unearthly Child
- The Daleks
- The Edge of Destruction
All three disks come with commentaries and 'making of' documentaries.
'An Unearthly Child' is the opening story, introducing the new series. Unlike the original broadcast, the very first episode has two versions, which are played back-to-back on the DVD. The two are somewhat different, but one was somewhat disconcerted when it happened :-).
'The Daleks' introduces us to probably the most infamous aliens in televised SF history, and while some of the special effects work was nothing to write home about, it's easy to see how they could become so iconic so quickly.
Although 'The Edge of Darkness' is a filler, made on the cheap to fill an unexpected delay in the schedule, for all that, it is important in that it introduces us to the four travellers in the TARDIS as real people and makes them a team rather than a disparate band of people.
Technically there were few of the transfer problems that appear to have dogged other Hartnell DVDs and all three stories hold up well.
The additional items are very informative as they give a great insight into the creation of the series as a whole, not just the individual episode and its brilliant to see and hear from people who were in right at the start of the phenomenon that is Doctor Who.
After being drawn in and addicted to The Doctor by the 3rd season of the new doctor who I wanted to visit the history that i had previously missed.
Hartnells original Doctor is very different to the other doctors i have seen (Tennant, Eccleston, McCoy and McGann). He hasn't the love of humans that the later doctors developed seeing them merely as one of millions of different species spread through time and space. After two humans discover the TARDIS and see inside The Doctor is forced to take them with him so as to protect the secret of time travel from an Earth not yet ready for it.
The Doctor in these early episodes is very aloof and plans things for his own ends more than for the good of others and this can often result in the problems that he and the three companions then face. The Doctor and his companions only encounter the Daleks on Skaro because he pretends that part of the TARDIS has leaked and they need to find some mercury from a nearby deserted city he wants to explore.
This is a great set of serials with some brilliant storytelling and plot (these early shows couldn't really on the special effects of today to carry a show it had to be done through good dialogue.
I would recomend this to every fan of the show
on 25 April 2007
This DVD set really is a must-have for any Doctor Who fan. It contains the first three stories of the classic TV programme that started in 1963, initially ran for twenty-six years, and has now thankfully returned to enthral us once again. The opening episode, "An Unearthly Child", is still a great piece of television, relying on the interplay between the main characters rather than special effects to generate tension and set up the situation. The initial story has an atmospheric, gritty quality, and has the TARDIS crew travelling back to prehistoric times and getting mixed up with a tribe of cavemen. The first Doctor, as played by William Hartnell, is everyone's idea of the crotchety, eccentric old professor type. At this point we know little about him, not even if he is good or bad. Indeed, in the first episode he virtually kidnaps the two schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, when they stumble into the TARDIS after going to see him when they become concerned about his grand-daughter Susan. Carol Ann Ford, who plays Susan, certainly has a suitable `other-wordly' quality about her.
The next story, with the first appearance of the Daleks, is where things really took off for the programme. Nothing quite like them had appeared on British TV before. Despite the programme's low budget, and the technical limitations of the time, they were (and still are) impressive creations. Completely lacking any human characteristics, the Daleks compare favourably with other `robotic' creations that had appeared in films up to that time. Far from being the galactic conquerors they would become in later stories, here the Daleks are slightly pathetic beings, confined to their metallic citadel and plotting the destruction of their enemies, the Thals. The third story, "The Edge of Destruction" is an unusual two-parter. Set entirely on board the TARDIS, it sees the Doctor and his companions seemingly under attack from an unknown entity. Intense and claustrophobic, we get to see more of the TARDIS than in perhaps any other story, and by the end, a better understanding has developed between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara.
As is usual with BBC `classic' Who DVDs, there are plenty of extras included. Most interesting are four comedy sketches, three of which feature Mark Gatiss and David Walliams. My favourite is "The Pitch of Fear", which has Walliams as the shows creator, pitching the idea to Gatiss' BBC boss. There are some informative documentaries, one about the creation of the programme itself, also one about the development of the Daleks. "Inside the Spaceship" takes a look at the TARDIS, and "Masters of Sound" is about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop which created electronic music and sounds for Doctor Who. There is also a 30 minute recreation of the long lost fourth story, "Marco Polo", using the soundtrack and still photos. All in all, this is a very impressive package. However, the extras are only the icing on the cake. What really matters are the episodes themselves. This is Classic TV, and an essential purchase.
on 19 June 2007
The Beginning is the very first Doctor Who story ever and, watching it, you can see why it is the longest running TV show in the world. It starts with An Unearthly Child and features William Hartnell as the Doctor.
An Unearthly Child: Two schoolteachers decide to follow one of their students home to talk to her grandfather, Doctor "Foreman", when the student, Susan, played by Carol Ann Ford, seems to know a lot about history and science but not how many shillings there are in a pound ("But of course, you haven't started the decimal system yet!" Not bad for 1963!) They find only a police box in an abandoned junkyard, which they enter to find... Well, all Doctor Who viewers should know what they find. But this was the first time it had been found, and their lives will "never be the same again". The rest of the story follows with hostile cavemen trying to create fire.
This is actually a better episode than some of the others in colour: the "special" effects are minimised with good reason. Doctor Who has started.
The Daleks: The Doctor's classic enemies are, in fact, the first aliens to appear on the show, and they remain the same today as they did then.
The Edge of Destruction: Another good Doctor Who story.
In all, I think that this set is a really good buy.
YOU WILL BUY OR YOU WILL BE EXTERMINATED!!! and all that.
on 3 August 2006
You actually get two versions of the first ever episode in this, the most important boxset in the BBC DVD collection.
Value for money is outstanding.
3 discs, on which there are a total of 3 full stories, a forth story (which is sadly missing) though here is the audio, presented in a slide-show storyboard format. Dozens of documentary's, including the making of the most famous theme tune in tv history, and perhaps my personal highlight, 4 recent comedy sketches, most of which star Litte Britain's David Walliams and League of Gentlemen's Mark Gattis (who writes episodes for the new series), both of which are huge Doctor Who fans.
This boxset is full of jaw-dropping moments, from the first time you hear that TARDIS sound, to the Dalek's first extermination.
Behold - TELEVISION history in your hands!
Way back in 1963 (nearly 50 years now!) two teachers followed a very unusual pupil home, to a Police box in a junk yard in London. They stepped inside the box to meet its mysterious owner, and a legend began. For Lo, so was Dr. Who born! With innumerable TV adventures, two films, countless books and audio adventures and (to date) eleven actors in the lead role this has to be one of the most successful things the BBC ever made. And on these 3 DVDs is the origins of this space/time/medium spanning phenomenon.
The Unearthly child is the very first episode of Who ever screened, introducing us to an irascible old man in the form of William Hartnell. Paternally watching over his grand daughter Susan, and the two teachers (Ian and Barbara) who have so rudely forced themselves into his world. The first episode is a classic bit of sci fi TV drama. It soon segues into a story involving cavemen, demonstrating the TARDIS's time travel capabilities. The remaining 3 episodes are a little patchy, as the cast start to find their feet and characters (it took a few more episodes for the character of the Doctor to coalesce and settle down). It's a real treat to watch though. Especially interesting is the unscreened pilot episode, essentially the same as the first episode. It's amazing that this has survived.
The second DVD introduces us to another legend, for just as the Doctor has roamed time and space, so he has always found the Daleks. The Pepperpots have been with him ever since his second TV adventure. Their debut is a great little tale, an absolutely cracking adventure with some fascinating sciency background as well as interesting moral issues that Who always did so well. They were a brilliant concept, and here very scarily realised. Hartnell now has a menacing foe to be heroic against, and he plays it up beautifully. Absolutely classic stuff.
The final part in this trilogy is a cheap two parter set entirely in the TARDIS. Something has gone wrong, and the companions are trapped as the TARDIS flies out of control. Mysterious things are happening, can the crew interpret them to unravel the mystery and save themselves? This is another interesting tale, and hints at some of the high sci fi concepts that Who would later stray into.
The picture quality is as good as can be expected from series of this age. We are lucky they have survived at all, considering how much the BBC junked. They have had some amazing restoration, and are miles better in terms of quality than my old VHS copies. The extras are impressive and well worth a look. In all this is a great box set that put ins place all the elements that would become the everlasting legen of Dr. Who. But more than just historically interesting they are also pretty good stories. 5 stars.