This week I picked up a copy of the â€œDoctor Who – The Beginning Box Setâ€?, a set of three DVD’s containing the first thirteen episodes of the original Doctor Who series from 1963, fully restored, plus a selection of documentaries about the origins of the series. Of course the timing of the release seems quite deliberate, being shortly after the release of the â€œDoctor Who – The Complete First Series Boxsetâ€? containing the first of the new series that was released at Christmas.
It is interesting to compare the two sets. Both are thirteen episodes, although in the case of the new series each episode is double the length. Although the series in 1963 ran for many weeks beyond these first thirteen, these were the crunch episodes, and based on the success of the early episodes in this box set the run was extended. In the case of the new series they were again crunch episodes. The success of these episodes led to the Christmas special, and the upcoming series, so in the case of both sets they were important episodes for the future of the show. Looking at the episodes, they both feature the Daleks, and they also both use the plot device of humans meeting the Doctor to introduce the character. In 1963 it was the two schoolteachers Ian and Barbara, in 2005 it was Rose. Both also feature the classic first encounter with the TARDIS when someone walks all the way around the outside, in the same way as dozens have done so in the series since, to try and work out if it is a trick.
Having said that, there are a lot of differences. Chief among those is the character of the Doctor. Here he is a decidedly unfriendly old man, who for unexplained reasons is hiding with his granddaughter in the past in sixties London. When he is discovered by the two schoolteachers he is very concerned at the effect that them having seen inside the TARDIS will have, so much so that he effectively kidnaps them. It is fairly apparent too that he doesn’t really know exactly how the TARDIS works at this point too. The various versions of the series back-story, explored as part of the origins documentary give some interesting explanations as to why the Doctor is in the sixties. In one, dissatisfied with the future he is looking for some sort of perfect life in the past, in another he is escaping from a future war. Early drafts had the Doctor Who title referring to the fact that he was suffering from amnesia. The fact that he has stolen the TARDIS is also explained in the back-story. Ultimately, all of these back-storys were rejected by Sidney Newman, the Canadian credited with creating the series. However it is surprising to note how many of them ultimately came to form part of the mythology behind the series.
Certainly, from what follows over the next 26 years this is a Doctor who is still very much concerned with not changing history, although even by the second story, when he encounters the Daleks and ultimately helps to defeat them you see the Doctor looking to put things right. However it is after these first episodes that he starts to mellow.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the box set are the documentaries. A number of the key players such as the director and producer of the first episodes, and two out of the four lead actors are still around, and many of those who are no longer with us are represented through interviews they had given previously. It is fascinating to see the evolution of the idea, from the first elements in a general report discussing drama ideas, through the evolution over the course of 1963 for what ultimately went on to become such a success. It is also interesting to spot ideas, such as the first idea for an opening story, that though dropped, later reappeared – the idea for the first story was ultimately realised as the season opener for series two. There are also familiar names in some of the people who auditioned, but didn’t get roles at the beginning, for example Anneke Wills was considered and rejected for the role of Susan, but later appeared in the series as Polly. There are also fascinating insights into the lengths that staff at the BBC had to go to to create the titles and the title music, both of which were created with the minimum of technology – the titles being created using a feedback loop between a TV monitor and camera, and the music painstakingly constructed by manually editing tape.
Also included are a set of four comedy sketches, three of which were shown as part of a BBC Doctor Who Night back in 1999. These three sketches are the work of Mark Gatiss of League of Gentlemen fame, and David Walliams better known for Little Britain, and unlike some Doctor Who comedy sketches in the past are genuinely funny. It also has to be said that since both Gatiss and Walliams fans there are one or two in-jokes in the sketches too!
All in all it is definitely a worthwhile purchase, and really gives a good idea of the birth of the series, and once you’ve seen the first appearance of the Daleks, gives a good idea as to how it went on for so many years.