And it is much better than I had been told. Lots of things to really love about this story. The special title sequence, with a cybernetic theme. The role given to an actual black actor, playing the more sensible of the two doomed astronauts (this was Earl Cameron, who more recently played President Zuwanie opposite Nicole Kidman in The Interpreter). The "base under siege" story, which later became such a cliche of the series, but I think this was in fact the very first Doctor Who with this theme (and anyway it still works well, as we saw this year with The Satan Pit). The sinister appearance - for the first time! - of the Cybermen - who still have human hands; whose voices are a painful electronic lilt, much closer in some ways to their 2006 relatives than some of their intervening representations. Sure, the costumes aren't great, but they are a significant improvement on the standard man-in-rubber-suit monster. The horrible difference between Cybermen, with their disregard for human life and emotion, and Ben, who regrets having to kill them.
There are problems with it too. The science of the plot - parallel Earth? which nobody can recognise through a telescope?? (Except Polly???) Energy drains???? just doesn't work on any serious level of analysis. While Pedler and Davies get good marks for internationalism (the stereotyped Italian apart) the only two female characters are Polly (who makes the coffee) and the unnamed secretary to the blok in Switzerland. And the Cybermen are strangely vulnerable to bright lights and uranium rods.
But the Doctor, as so often, is central to this. For the first two episodes Hartnell is doing great - grumbling and sniping at the militarists of the base; pulling out essential pieces of knowledge at - or before- the right moment. Then he disappears, ill, for the third episode; for the fourth, judging from the reconstruction, he seems to be mostly back on form. And as he and his companions stagger out of the Cybermen's spaceship where he and Polly have been prisoners, past their disintegrated captors, he seems abstracted:
Ben: Hey, come on Doctor, wakey wakey! It's all over now.And with that odd echo of his exchange with Polly in the first episode (Polly: "Are you sure you're going to be warm enough?" Doctor: "Oh, like toast, my dear.") the Doctor staggers wordlessly back to the Tardis and Ben and Polly are briefly shut out; when they get in, the Doctor collapses, the Tardis engines start, and the Doctor's face begins to glow; and, shockingly, when the glow fades, it is someone else's face.
Doctor: What did you say, my boy? "It's all over." "It's all over." That's what you said. No... but it isn't all over. It's far from being all over. [at this point, one of the few surviving video clips, he appears to be addressing the audience through the camera]
Ben: What are you talking about?
Doctor: I must get back to the TARDIS immediately!
Polly: All right, Doctor.
Doctor: Yes... I must go now.
Ben: Aren't we going to go back to say good-bye or anything?
Doctor: No! No, I must go at once.
Ben: Oh well, you better have this. [offering a scarf] We don't want you catching your death of cold.
Doctor: Ah, yes! Thank you. It's good. [almost inaudibly] Keep warm.
OK, we have been through this eight times since (though of course with only six real regeneration scenes), and it's a scene that we are now used to (see various regenerations here - though having said that, the very first regeneration is technically the best apart from the most recent two). But having watched various First Doctor series over the last while, I found it easier to get into the mind-set of the 1966 viewer for whom there had only been one Doctor, and suddenly we were in a whole new situation - a feeling of both bereavement and renewal. Those who got into the show for the first time in 2005 must have had much the same feelings when watching The Parting of the Ways.
Well, I think I've done my duty by Hartnell, having watched or listened to ten of the 29 stories of his time (he made more individual stories than any other Doctor except Tom Baker!). My favourites were The Edge of Destruction, The Dalek Master Plan, and The Tenth Planet. The only one I thought more bad than good was The Chase. (The others - all definitely more good than bad - were The Daleks, The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Crusade, Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre.) Roll on the Troughton era...