Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Nine Days Of The Doctor - Day 1

Since the new series of Doctor Who will debut on the CBC On Tuesday April 5 I now present Day 1 of Nine Days of the Doctor.

William Hartnell the First Doctor 1963 - 1966

Companions: Ian Chesterton (William Russell aka Russell Enoch), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Susan "Foreman" (Carol Ann Ford), Vicki (Maureen O'Brien), Steven Taylor (Peter Purves), Katarina (Adrienne Hill), Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh), Dodo Chaplet (Jackie Lane), Polly Wright (Anneke Wills), Ben Jackson (Michael Craze).

Commentary: They say that your favourite Doctor is the one you were first exposed to but I may case it isn't entirely true. As I related in the frist post I made in this blog, my first exposure to Doctor Who occurred whenthe CBC foolishly decided to replace The Bugs Bunny Show with Doctor Who in January 1965 (I actually thought it was earlier, but I looked it up). It wasn't well received, at least not by me and apparently not by a lot of people because the show was moved to a Wednesday afternoon slot in April 1965 (which wasn't seen here in Saskatoon) before the CBC pulled it in July 1965, having aired the complete first season.

Hartnell's period as the Doctor was the foundation for the show in that it established most of the conventions of the series as well as creating several of the most memorable villains. In the first episode, the Doctor's ship (in BBC memos of the period it is referred to as a spceship) is dubbed the TARDIS and we learn that it travels in time and space and is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. We also meet the principal characters: the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan who has adopted the name Foreman (from the salvage yard where the TARDIS is currently resting) both of whom are exiles from their home world, and school teachers Ian and Barbara. We also learn that the TARDIS isn't exacly operating properly when it fails to change from a Police Call Box into something fitting its surroundings. As the Hartnell period continued we will learn more about the Doctor, although they won't introduce the idea of "Time Lords" or "Gallifrey" until much later.

Casting in the series was regarded quite seriously. Hartnell, an actor who had been working in films since the 1930s and had come to prominence primarily for playing Army sergeants (in both serious films like The Immortal Batallion and comedies, most notably Carry On Sergeant) was 55 when he took the role. He was intended to be something of an irritable grandfather type, while Susan was meant to give the children in the audience someone closer to their own age to relate to. Hartnell had a notoriously poor memory for lines, cause in part by a medical condition that he was dealing with, but this was actually built into something of an endearing character trait by making the Doctor slightly absent minded. The addition of Barbara was quite literally meant to give adult males someone to look at (the show aired immediately after a sports show called Grandstand) while Ian was meant to be both someone for boys to admire and to do most of the adventurous and physical stuff that Hartnell might not be capable of. It is a common thread throughout Hartnell's period to have a younger male companion as well as a female companion.

The stories in this period were meant to be split evenly between historical adventures and science fiction stories. The first serial 100,000 B.C. dealt with cavemen, while the second serial introduced those murderous creatures the Daleks. It turned out that the science Fiction stories, particularly the four serials involving the Daleks - two of which were turned into technicolor movies starring Peter Cushing - the most popular in the series. Although not yet totally abandoned, the historical adventures became fewer in the latter part of Hartnell's years on the series.

The Hartnell episodes can be difficult to watch from a technical perspective. Some of the costumes are ludicrous (notably those in the Web Planet serial, particularly the "ant suits") while the sets are scarcely impressive. A lot of this has to do with the notorious parsimony that was forced on the producers. Verity Lambert's team was supposed to produce the show on a budget of 2,500 pounds per episode - or else. Based on conversion rates of the period that's roughly $7,000 an episode, admittedly in 1963 dollars. There's also the fact that they were forced to shoot just about everything in studio because they were shooting direct to video tape and particularly in the early period you shot in sequence and with a minimum number of retakes. It took a lot to get the BBC to reshoot a scene because at the time video tape wasn't easy to edit. Picture quality can also suffer - someone on the TV newsgroup recently complained that the Hartnell eisodes looked as though they shoot the show with a security camera. In fact episodes were shot on video tape in the 405 lines of resolution system then used in Britain. For export the episodes were filmed off of the monitor. It was not a system designed for great resolution. Or for retention of the episodes. Only 17 of the 30 serials from the Hartnell period still exist in a complete enough form to be broadcast. Others exist in partial form.

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