VIDEO
Doctor Who
The First Doctor Special Edition Box Set

Starring: William Hartnell
BBC Video
RRP 29.99
BBCV 7268
Certificate: PG
Available now


The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan materialise within a spaceship inhabited only by a comatose human crew. The vessel is trapped in orbit around the Sense-Sphere, the home world of the telepathic Sensorites...

This box set contains a nice mixture of Hartnell stories, one from each of the actor's three full seasons as the Doctor. The Sensorites is a science fiction story in a futuristic setting, The Time Meddler is the first Who story ever to place a sci-fi narrative in a historical setting, while The Gunfighters is a purely historical tale, albeit a whimsical one.

It's best to get The Sensorites out of the way first, since this is the weakest of the bunch. The script, written by Peter R Newman, is okay, but it is stretched far too thinly across its six episodes.

In its favour, the serial introduces us to Doctor Who's earliest example of a morally complex alien species. The Sensorites initially appear to be monsters in every sense of the word, but we gradually realise that they are an essentially sympathetic people, who are simply trying to protect their own planet. However, unlike the more simplistic Rills of the third season's Galaxy 4, the Sensorites are not generically "good", any more than they are generically evil. Just like human beings, they are all too susceptible to bigotry, xenophobia or the thirst for power, meaning they have more in common with the Silurians of the seventh season.

It is stated that the Sensorites are extremely sensitive to loud noises, including shouting, which causes them pain. Unfortunately, the Sensorite actors don't always remember to react to Hartnell's raised voice.

Newman also develops the characters of Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and the Doctor. Susan is shown to be growing up, having her first real disagreement with her grandfather, and behaving like a genuine teenager for the first time. It is also revealed that her and the Doctor's people (not yet named as Time Lords) have an innate telepathic ability.

The Sensorites would have made a good three- or four-part serial. As it is, though, this is one of the slowest moving of the 1960s stories - and that's saying something.

 

The Doctor, Vicki and Steven land on an English beach. The Doctor declares that they have arrived some time around the 11th century AD, but Steven is far from convinced, especially when he discovers a modern wristwatch...

Like The Sensorites, The Time Meddler also lays down elements of what would eventually become familiar Time Lord lore. Here we are shown for the first time another member of the Doctor's own people (aside from Susan). Viewers must have been amazed back in 1965 to discover that the Doctor's TARDIS is not unique. Peter Butterworth is splendid as the comical Monk, and Hartnell seems sprightlier than usual, as if in response to Butterworth's presence or to the novel nature of Dennis Spooner's script.

Try not to think too hard about the double standard inherent in the Doctor's criticism of the Monk's activities. Why is it that the Doctor's interference in the future (from our point of view) and on alien worlds is deemed acceptable, whereas meddling in Earth's past is not? Perhaps the answer lies in the time-traveller's knowledge of the time and place he lands in - if he is ignorant of what is going to happen, then the traveller becomes a part of history; if he already knows about future events, then any conscious deviation from that pattern could have dangerous consequences.

New companion Steven Taylor (Peter Purves) comes across as sarcastic and impatient, and so he would remain during much of his tenure. His refusal to accept that the TARDIS can travel through time is understandable, but this probably gains him little sympathy with the audience at large, who are familiar with the ship's capabilities.

Historians will be disappointed to see a Viking helmet decorated with horns, something which Danish headgear never sported. (Perhaps this is further evidence of the Monk's meddling!)

It's also a shame that the scratches on the film recording of episode three could not have been improved, especially when you consider the miracles the Restoration Team have managed to work on the Tomb of the Cybermen and Aztecs DVDs. Such nit-picking aside, though, this adventure is a minor classic.

 

The Doctor, Steven and Dodo arrive in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881, shortly before the infamous gunfight at the OK Corral. The travellers get caught in the crossfire when the Doctor is mistaken for Doc Holliday...

For decades, the received fan wisdom held The Gunfighters to be one of the poorest Doctor Who stories ever. This video release now reveals that it is, on the contrary, an enjoyable and innovative tale.

Writer Donald Cotton gives us the highest comedy quotient since The Romans and his own The Myth Makers (which is sadly available only on audio CD). As in those earlier stories, Hartnell evidently relishes the opportunity to perform in some lighter scenes, including the Doctor's glee at being able to spin a couple of pistols in his hands (although his abhorrence of violence remains firmly in place). Peter Purves is also amusing as Steven, who plays at being a cowboy, complete with a phoney American accent, which is probably an in-joke about the actor's first role in the series, as Morton Dill in The Chase. As with The Myth Makers, the comedy gives way to tragic and bloody conflict by the final episode.

Unusually wide and high camera angles help to give a sense of space to the Wild West location, which is realised entirely within the confines of the studio. The serial is also unique for its use of a song, "The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon", which punctuates and illustrates the narrative, although it does get a little tedious towards the end of the adventure.

Far from being one of Hartnell's worst stories, The Gunfighters emerges as one of his best, barring the occasional dodgy accent.

 

Both The Gunfighters and The Sensorites have been treated to the VidFIRE process to restore smoother "video-like" movement to the recordings. Unfortunately, the quality of The Time Meddler was deemed too poor to undergo the procedure.

All in all, this box set should make an excellent stocking filler, oh yes, indeed, hm hm! And a very merry Christmas to all of you at home!

Richard McGinlay

Buy this item online
We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal!
(Please note all prices exclude P&P - although Streets Online charge a flat £1 fee regardless of the number of items ordered). Click on the logo of the desired store to buy this item.


cover
£23.99 (Amazon.co.uk)
   
£25.99 (Blackstar.co.uk)
   
£26.99 (Streetsonline.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press. Sci-fi Online regrets it can take no responsibility for price changes made by any of the participating stores.