Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Doctor Who 50-50: Part 1 - 1963

'If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?'
 - The Doctor, The Cave of Skulls 

On Screen
As 1963 opened, Doctor Who was but a glint in a Canadian's eye.  By the end of the year, the first six episodes had been shown (although an untransmitted Pilot episode was also filmed) and the programme's march to becoming a British Institution was underway.

Sydney Newman: The Great Architect
That Canadian, Sydney Newman, had just become Head of Drama at the BBC at the beginning of 1963 and he hit upon the idea of having a science-fiction drama serial to show on a Saturday afternoon after Grandstand.  Although  Newman is often credited as sole creator of the series, he wasn't the only one involved.  BBC Head of Serials, Donald Wilson and writers C.E. Webber and Anthony Coburn, amongst others, all contributed ideas to the concept and Coburn wrote the first four episodes.

Verity Lambert: Pioneering Producer
One thing that Sydney Newman did do was to appoint the young and inexperienced Verity Lambert as the show's first producer.  It was Lambert who really shaped the show.  Amongst other things it was she who hired William Hartnell to play the Doctor and who allowed Terry Nation to write a story about a group of evil alien monsters call Daleks; in hindsight two huge decisions that helped to ensure the series popularity in the those early days.

The Pilot episode was filmed in September 1963 and would have been the first episode broadcast had Sydney Newman not seen it first.  Has was unimpressed to say the least and ordered for the episode to be re-made.  For the most part this was to remove technical issues like cameras bumping into the set and doors not closing properly, but  the script was also amended to make the Doctor more likable and a bit less of a bastard.

The first episode - 'An Unearthly Child' - was ultimately transmitted on 23 November 1963, a date that is probably etched on the minds of most Doctor Who fans.  Although the first four episodes of the series are collectively known as 'An Unearthly Child' or sometimes '100,000 BC', it's hard not to look at them as two separate stories, a one episode introduction to the series and the main characters, followed by three episodes set in the stone age.

And who are the main characters as the series opens?  Well, aside from the Doctor himself of course, there's his grand daughter Susan (the 'Unearthly Child' of the opening episode) and two of her school teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.  These two are arguably the two most important characters in the entire history of the series as, if not for them, there would be no series.  It's their insatiable curiosity and concern for Susan's welfare that leads them to meet the Doctor in the first place and results in him effectively them and taking off in the TARDIS.  If not for them things might have turned out very differently.

Ian, Susan, Barbara and the Doctor: the first TARDIS crew

As I mentioned above, the first proper adventure for the TARDIS following the introductory episode is a three episode Stone Age story which is most notable for showing us the only instance of the Doctor smoking (being more of a pipe than a cigarette man).  Interestingly he seems to give up the habit after it leads to him being hit on the head by a caveman.  He clearly realised that smoking really was bad for your health.

The other notable point of this story is the scene where the Doctor picks up a rock with the apparent intention of smashing in a caveman's skull.  When challenged by Ian he denies this but the way this sequence is shot seems to suggest otherwise.  We may never know what the Doctor's true intentions were but already the series was showing that the character was rather more complex than he first appeared.

After escaping the Stone Age, the TARDIS fetches up on an apparently dead planet where, in the dying days of 1963, viewers witnessed the introduction of possibly the most iconic characters in the series after the Doctor himself.  I refer of course to the Daleks.  Their first full appearance is in 'The Survivors', the episode broadcast on 28th December 1963, but we catch a brief glimpse of a Dalek in the preceding episode in what is now considered a classic cliffhanger.

And so that is Doctor Who for 1963.  As the year ends, the Doctor, Ian and Barbara are captive in the Dalek city, dying of radiation poisoning with Susan the only one who can save them.  What will happen next? Tune in next week to find out...

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