Let’s get the back-story out; I’m not really a Who-vian, as they term it, and my credentials are weak. When I was a kid, this BBC show utterly terrified me; the first one I remember watching was The Green Death, in which a Welsh mine is infested with giant slime-spitting maggots that develop into horrific flying insects. The joke about Dr Who was that it left kids hiding behind the couch, but after watching this, my mother found me hiding under a table in a pitch dark room and requiring considerable assurances that it was safe to come out. But emerge I did, and I tuned in for the rest of Jon Pertwee’s era (sontarans, giant spiders, dinosaurs) and then followed the Tom Baker reign with some enthusiasm. That hunger never returned, although a long chat with Russell T Davies led to me tuning in for the excellent Christopher Eccleston reboot, but nothing else has grabbed me since.
So I’ve never returned to the vintage world of Dr Who, but finding abridged versions of some classic Baker stories sparked a re-watch. At 30 minutes a shot, breezing through The Arc in Space, The Deadly Assassin, The Masque of Mandragora and a few others rekindled my affection. Sure, the sets are primitive, the effects are cringe, and even at a truncated 30 minutes, there’s plentiful padding, but there’s also remarkable wit and invention that used to deservedly draw 16 million viewers a week to this time-ravelling sci-fi institution.
With writers like Terrence Dicks, Robert Holmes, Phillip Hinchliffe and Douglas Adams, this was a golden age for Dr Who, and the peak was Genesis of the Daleks, pitching the doctor against his oldest and deadliest adversary, and their creator, Davros. ‘The best is yet to come’ shrieks Davros, foreshadowing Kimberley Gilfoyle as the Daleks are born, yet it’s the way that the origins of authoritarianism are broken down for a family audience that’s so extraordinary here. ‘Davros is never wrong’ is a popular mantra in the Skaro bunker where Davros hides his experiments, and with plenty of enablers, Davros uses disinformation to manipulate the war between the Thals and the Khaleds to his own selfish ends.
So leaving aside some of the technical issues, Genesis of the Daleks still holds today as sci-fi that asks and answers difficult questions, With the doctor sent back in time to strangle the daleks in their crib, or a rather manky looking lab where their gelid forms await transplanting into their robot bodies, we run headlong into big existential questions’ The doctor wires the lab to explode, as requested by the officious Time Lords who set his mission, but the good doctor balks at the last minute. ‘Have I the right to do this?’ he asks, knowing that connecting two wires will set the Daleks cause back immeasurably. It’s a startling, resonant moment; it’s also notable that the doctor tries to talk Davros round and persuade him of the power of good rather than just blow up his enemy. It’s Dr Who, the BBC, and sci-fi at its very best, and something of a relief to find this series every bit as gritty, thoughtful and mind-blowing now as it was back in 1975.
Does this come with a sofa to hide behind?
I’m still quaking in fear….
They’re not real, they’re not real, somehow my parents reassuring voices sounded like those of a Dalek.
Don’t remember much from it though I know I watched it starting with Patrick Troughton, also remember Peter Davison at some point. Don’t watch it now though.
Man, you got the fuzzy end of the lollypop!
Man? Fuzzy lollipop?? Whut???
You saw some of the worst of Dr Who.
Well I don’t remember them so thats not a problem.
The prosecution rests.
I saw a few of these rebroadcast on TVO back in the day, but don’t remember the maggot things. In fact I don’t remember any of the plot lines. Just Baker’s scarf. The Doctor just wasn’t as big over here. There’s a hard core of fans but the show never a broad following,
It’s bigger now, yes?
I don’t think so. It has a fan base but I don’t personally know of anyone who ever watched it or watches it now.
Well, if you dodn’t know anyone who watches it, they might as well just stop trying.
‘The Green Death’ was my first exposure to Dr. Who as well. Or maybe I just remember it because I found it so terrifying – giant, luminous green maggots would probably terrify any impressionable nine-year-old. I only ever saw the Pertwee incarnation of Who, so the other storylines that stick in my mind (e.g., ‘Planet of the Spiders’ & ‘Carnival of Monsters’) all feature him too.
The Pertwee, Baker and Eccleston eras seem to be the best regarded…any kind should be terrified!
Oops! Pertwee was the only Dr Who I ever saw from original series. I saw Eccleston and Tennant and thought they were pretty good. I lost interest after that (mainly because I felt the storylines were getting repetitious) but I know people who’d rate Matt Smith above either. Each to his own, I guess?
I didn’t know about BritBox. Now I can’t whinge about BBC not providing a streaming service to people who’d like to see their back catalogue – although I guess this would depend on whether it’s available in Ireland.
Pertwee was pretty classic dr who, he did the seriousness and the humour perfectly. I know Tennant and Smith have their fans, but I was checking out by then…
If Britbox is viewable in the US, I’d have thought it would be around in Ireland. But somehow the abridged versions on youtube are working better for a lightweight like me…
Carnival of Monsters is one I always fancied….might dig that one out…
Not sure how it would stand up now! As a kid, I was a fascinated by the idea of these miniaturised habitats, all contained inside something the size of jukebox…
When we were kids, we used our imaginations to make these ideas real; better than cgi! I remember the rocket they climbed up to escape the dome in Skaro in Genesis as being huge. But there’s no money shots in 70’s Dr Who, but the imagination is all in the writing. Carnival of Monsters, here I come!
You know what is funny? It is that maggot episode that was MY introduction to Dr Who too. A neighbor of ours had just gotten a tv and we went to visit and he was watching Dr Who reruns and I vividly remember the scene where the maggots came down in a rush to cover the Dr and it scared the crap out of me as an 6 year old.
I did get back into Who with Eccleston and stayed through the Smith era but by then my interest had peaked and was falling fast. I did go to the library and watch some of hte older stuff and you know, I totally agree with everything you’ve stated in this review. The sets were sad and it was definitely “budget”, but the stories? Man, those stories were fantastic!
I’ve gone looking on Amazon for complete sets and it appears that the Beeb has really fallen down on the job. There are no complete series on bluray for the stuff before Eccleston. I know the really early stuff was destroyed, so that doesn’t bother me, but I can’t find Pertwee or Baker either as complete sets, just random episodes or seasons.
It is too bad, because as we have both noticed, there are some EXCELLENT stories in the older series.
We are in agreement. All Dr Who episodes are on the Britbox streaming service in the UK, is that forbidden where you are?
How far back does dr who go on britbox?
and britbox isn’t denied, it is just another streaming cost that I”m not willing to pay.
I think they have every episode which hasn’t been deleted.