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Rewatching Who, 1963-1996

So, now that I have finished, what do I think of it all?

Those who don't know or don't especially like Doctor Who may well query why a middle-aged analyst of international politics should devote any time at all to reviewing the 700-odd broadcast episodes of a TV show which started the day after the Kennedy assassination and ended in those weeks between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of the Ceaușescus. Query all you like; I have never made any excuse for seeking escapism. Brian Aldiss once said that good sf is not about asking "What if...?" but about saying, "My God, what if...!?" and Doctor Who at its best does that - whether it's about schoolteachers trapped in the Stone Age or youths being kidnapped to be turned into cheetahs. It unites the consistent formula of the hero who is just a little more than human with the companions who represent the reactions of us, the viewers, to what is going on.

As a fan, the act of watching the whole show from beginning to end is well worthwhile, and I am very grateful to Paul Cornell for suggesting it to me many years ago. There is no better way available now of getting a sense of the shifting dramatic and cultural environment which shaped the show, and indeed British television more widely. I have revised my opinion of many stories upwards just because I now have a better sense of the context in which they were originally made and watched, rather than judging everything against my fond memories of the Baker/Hinchcliffe/Holmes era.

I have lost count of the number of stories which were improved as a watching experience for me by taking them an episode at a time, rather than running through all four, or six, or seven in a single evening. It is not the way most TV (including New Who) is made these days, so it takes a little readjustment. It also wasn't a perfect system at the time, and those 25 minutes varied in pacing and padding. Sometimes they are not very good; sometimes they are brilliant. Good writers and directors sometimes came up with terrible stories. Some great stuff was produced by people who never worked on the show again. (There were also a few stories which didn't work for me as well this time - the Romans, The Ark, Planet of the Daleks - maybe I was just in a bad mood during the weeks in question.)

It hasn't changed my take on the various Doctors very much, except that I now rate Seven ahead of Five and Three, and I think previously he would have been behind both. I have, however, changed my view of the companions - mostly positively (Vicki, Jo, Tegan, Ace) but not always (Liz, Peri). And while the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era remains my favourite, I can now acknowledge the strengths of some of the other creators of the show, and perhaps be a bit more compassionate about the problems that others were dealing with.

I shall still have difficulty remembering the order in which some stories were broadcast in the mid-Pertwee era and from late Davison to early McCoy. But each of the Old Who stories now has a definite place in my memory, as part of the sequence of the show as a whole, in a way that is simply not possible without doing the rewatch from the beginning. As someone who generally had an untroubled childhood, watching the old episodes which I saw first time round takes me back to simpler times. But it's good to get a feel for how they fitted into the overall pattern of the show's history.

How to do it

What advice would I give to anyone else contemplating this task? First, and most obviously, make sure that you have access to all the stories! The missing episodes present a particular challenge here. I chose to watch reconstructions while having the script to hand. I have also seen an argument for watching two different reconstructions simultaneously. But actually I think that it may be preferable to switch to audio only and listen to the BBC recordings of the original shows with linking narration by the actors who played the companions (preferably with access to the script or a transcript). However I would make some definite exceptions in that policy. The Marco Polo reconstruction is particularly good, as are the animations for the two missing episodes of The Invasion. The linking narrative for the audio-only version of The Macra Terror is particularly bad. And it is a shame not to experience the few remaining fragments of the last episode of The Tenth Planet.

Second, you need to have a reliable set of twenty-five minute slots in your day. This runs into problems in the later stages, with K9 and Company, The Five Doctors, Resurrection of the Daleks, the whole of Season 22 and The Movie (if you include it) all overrunning the time period by quite some way, but you just have to plan ahead. I lost several days getting used to the change at Resurrection of the Daleks; it quite threw my pace. Otherwise I found I was able to keep to my schedule, including waking early on business trips to the likes of Sudan, Cyprus and Moldova in order to watch my daily episode before breakfast.

Third, if you are doing write-ups of the stories as you watch them, you eventually hit the problem of adapting to the changing pace of story length. The first season of Old Who has eight stories, two with seven episodes and three with six. The last season of Old Who had two four-parters and two three-parters. In between, we have one season with three seven-parters (immediately after a ten-part story) and another entire season of stories with two or three 45-minute episodes. I chose to write the stories up six at a time; other approaches are to do each season, each story or even each episode individually. Only the last of these options avoids having to increase the frequency of your write-ups as you go on; but it's also a lot more work.

I chose to include short write-ups of each Doctor and each companion as they departed. I think this worked, though for the UNIT team it is a bit tricky to draw the final line between regular appearances and guest appearances. If I were planning this again, I would certainly include reflections on the producers and possibly also the script editors as each one's term ended. (That gets a bit tricky in the later Troughton era but not insuperably so.)

What is canon?

I included the reconstructed Shada, K9 and Company, The TV Movie and more controversially In a Fix with Sontarans and also Dimensions in Time. But I could have also counted either or both of the Fourth Doctor / Sarah audios, and the Sixth Doctor / Peri audio Slipback, which were all produced more or less in continuity sequence. More adventurously, I could have counted in the recently produced Big Finish lost stories of the First and Second Doctors, the 1990s third Doctor audios, and possibly the Big Finish Companion Chronicles, which were not produced contemporaneously but are I think not too numerous to be digestible. I don't think it would be practical to include the Fourth Doctor Hornet's Nest and Demon Quest audios, let alone the Big Finish full cast stories with the Fifth Doctor, the Sixth Doctor and Seven/Mel.

There are an awful lot of Doctor Who books out there. I managed to factor in reading the relevant 1966-86 annuals (and the early spinoff novella Doctor Who and the Invasion from Space) at more or less the points in the sequence when they would have first been published, and also some (but not all) of the collected comic strips. I wish I had read more of the comics, and the Dalek annuals, but otherwise I think that's about as far as you can practically go. The published spinoff fiction is too concentrated around particular convenient moments of continuity, as I detailed here, and of course runs out of control once you hit the New Adventures books. I would recommend that rewatchers who have not done so already sample a few books per Doctor (and maybe also a few audios) as they go.

That's all, folks

Anyway, a two-year project is now complete. (I shall pause for a while before attempting post-1996 Who; when I do, I shall start with the four webcast stories and The Curse of Fatal Death.) Though it was sometimes a bit of a burden to write up the stories as I watched them, and I am sure that I have not done justice to some of them, there was never a day that I did not look forward to watching the next episode, and never a moment when I wondered if this rewatch was in fact a good idea. Thanks to all the creators of Who, living and dead, in front of and behind the camera, for giving me such enjoyment.

Full index:
1: An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, The Edge of Destruction, Marco Polo, The Keys of Marinus, The Aztecs
2: The Sensorites, The Reign of Terror, Planet of Giants, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Susan, The Rescue, The Romans
3: The Web Planet, The Crusade, The Space Museum, The Chase, Barbara, Ian, The Time Meddler, Galaxy 4
4: Mission To The Unknown, The Myth Makers, Vicki, The Daleks' Master Plan, Katarina, Sara Kingdom, The Massacre, The Ark, The Celestial Toymaker, The Gunfighters
5: The Savages, Steven, The War Machines, Dodo, The Smugglers, The Tenth Planet, The First Doctor, The Power of the Daleks, The Highlanders
6: The Underwater Menace, The Moonbase, The Macra Terror, The Faceless Ones, Ben, Polly, Evil of the Daleks, Tomb of the Cybermen
7: The Abominable Snowmen, The Ice Warriors, The Enemy of the World, The Web of Fear, Fury from the Deep, Victoria, The Wheel In Space
8: The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The Krotons, The Seeds of Death, The Space Pirates
9: The War Games, Zoe, Jamie, The Second Doctor, Spearhead from Space, Doctor Who and the Silurians, The Ambassadors of Death, Inferno, Liz Shaw, Terror of the Autons
10: The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, Colony in Space, The Dæmons, Day of the Daleks, The Curse of Peladon
11: The Sea Devils, The Mutants, The Time Monster, The Three Doctors, Carnival of Monsters, Frontier in Space, Delgado's Master
12: Planet of the Daleks, The Green Death, Jo Grant, The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Monster of Peladon
13: Planet of the Spiders, The Third Doctor, Mike Yates, Robot, The Ark in Space, The Sontaran Experiment, Revenge of the Cybermen
14: Terror of the Zygons, The Brigadier, Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Android Invasion, Benton, Harry Sullivan, The Brain of Morbius, The Seeds of Doom
15: The Masque of Mandragora, The Hand of Fear, Sarah Jane Smith, The Deadly Assassin, The Face of Evil, The Robots of Death, The Talons of Weng-Chiang
16: Horror of Fang Rock, The Invisible Enemy, Image of the Fendahl, The Sun Makers, Underworld, The Invasion of Time, Leela
17: The Ribos Operation, The Pirate Planet, The Stones of Blood, The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, The Armageddon Factor, Romana I
18: Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death, The Creature from the Pit, Nightmare of Eden, The Horns of Nimon, Shada
19: The Leisure Hive, Meglos, Full Circle, State of Decay, Warrior's Gate, Romana II, K9, The Keeper of Traken
20: Logopolis, The Fourth Doctor, K9 and Company, Castrovalva, Four to Doomsday, Kinda, The Visitation
21: Black Orchid, Earthshock, Adric, Time Flight, Arc of Infinity, Snakedance, Mawdryn Undead
22: Terminus, Nyssa, Enlightenment, The King's Demons, The Five Doctors, Warriors of the Deep, The Awakening
23: Frontios, Resurrection of the Daleks, Tegan, Planet of Fire, Turlough, The Caves of Androzani, The Fifth Doctor, The Twin Dilemma, Attack of the Cybermen
24: Vengeance on Varos, Mark of the Rani, The Two Doctors, Timelash, Revelation of the Daleks, In A Fix With Sontarans
25: The Mysterious Planet, Mindwarp, Peri, Terror of the Vervoids, The Ultimate Foe, The Sixth Doctor, Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers
26: Delta and the Bannermen, Dragonfire, Mel, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Happiness Patrol, Silver Nemesis, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
27: Battlefield, Ghost Light, The Curse of Fenric, The Seventh Doctor, Ace, Dimensions in Time, The TV Movie, The Eighth Doctor

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
parrot_knight
Aug. 25th, 2011 02:46 pm (UTC)
It's been a pleasure to read! Thank you; I really must do this myself sometime.
bookzombie
Aug. 25th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
It's been fascinating!

If you haven't come across it yet, you might find Robert Shearman & Toby Hadoke's 'Running Through Corridors' (volume 1 of 3 currently available from Mad Norwegian Press' of interest, as it is the two authors doing exactly this.

I plan to do the same thing myself some day, when I have a bit of time to spare!
nwhyte
Aug. 25th, 2011 04:00 pm (UTC)
Yes, I loved the first volume, and am looking forward to the other two.
tree_and_leaf
Aug. 25th, 2011 03:57 pm (UTC)
I came to this project late and so haven't commented much, but it's been a great read; thank you.
andrewsherman
Aug. 25th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that was very interesting
matgb
Aug. 25th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
I've really enjoyed the read, especially as I've been doing a semi-complete but not in order watchthrough myself and at times in the same time.

We're going to do it ourselves when we move and James's DVDs are in the house rather than boxes. Of course for me a lot of it wasn't a rewatch but a first watch, while I'd read a lot of the novels, and had a full episode guide, the number of stories I'd never seen, including stuff being broadcast when I was theoretically watching, was large.

Also? I failed at reqatching some of New Who, some of the episodes just, no. If I never see Love and Monsters again I don't think I'll miss it.
gareth_rees
Aug. 25th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed reading your reactions. One thing it made me realise is how short my childhood Doctor Who-watching span was. The first serial I remember anything about was The Armageddon Factor (1979, when I was seven) and the last Kinda (1982, when I was ten). I kept thinking I must have carried on watching after the age of ten, but none of the stories after Kinda sparks any note of recognition with me. So my affection for the programme rests on just 16 serials.
wwhyte
Aug. 26th, 2011 04:49 pm (UTC)
Congratulations! I've really enjoyed following along.

You've done thematic wrap-ups on the various characters as they've exited, but have you considered wrap-ups on other contributors? Writers, directors, script editors, etc... it'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on them.
wwhyte
Aug. 26th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
And, because nothing counts unless it can be crassly quantified: Top ten stories? Bottom ten stories? Top five companions? Doctors in order of preference?
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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