Whenever you proclaim your love for Doctor Who, people will often conjure up images of a young, witty and romantic hero that travels across the skies saving lives and looking good doing it. However, my nostalgia for the show is rooted in the classics but, as much as I love Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee, I always find myself going back to the beginning.
The show began with an old, grouchy man played by William Hartnell. This stubborn, almost childish character was found by his granddaughter Susan’s two schoolteachers in a Junkyard. The Doctor, in an act that defies the persona of hero that many love him for today, kidnapped her teachers, Ian and Barbara. Following this attempt at keeping his technology a secret, he embarked on a series of adventures in space and time.
Whilst this sounds like an incredible clash against what many know the Doctor as today, it is what began his fifty-year arc which I’m sure those who worked on it back in the 60s never could’ve predicted. It was Ian and Barbara that built the foundation for who he would become – a great person who would stop at nothing to save everybody they possibly could.
Ian teaches science and Barbara history, which was not coincidental or random. This was carefully designed so that for stories that delve into more sci-fi territory, Ian could provide his knowledge whilst, when traversing the past, Barbara could provide her own. This means that the companions serve a core purpose whilst also being wonderfully written and impressively complex.
The show’s beginnings had a healthy mix of sci-fi and history with stories that explored the Aztecs, the Daleks, Marco Polo and Marinus with his five keys located in five brilliant alien cultures. Doctor Who’s beginnings were, as Christopher Eccleston’s 9th incarnation would put it, fantastic.
What I truly miss from Hartnell’s era is this balance that the show struck. Seeing the Doctor interact with people and culture at a base level with no alien threat meant that we got more character-orientated stories, such as Marco Polo’s, which was literally just about a man trying to sell a blue box to earn his freedom. With the Aztecs, Barbara was seen as a Goddess and tried to keep up the charade. Their travels weren’t always about saving the world and stopping ultimate doom which, in an age of superheroes, is getting tiring.
For people who love the show now, the original series will be incredibly difficult to get into. It’s black and white, it’s unfamiliar, the titular character is wholly different. However, for those who love the show, this should be an incredibly intriguing watch as it shows what used to be, truly shining a light on how far he has come in a way the new show never could pull off. The first doctor is nothing like Moffat’s depiction in the Christmas special – he is complex, compassionate, clever and respectful.