Friday, October 9, 2009

Season One Wrapup

Hello all, the Historian here, with a TARDIS Project wrapup for Doctor Who season one. Yes, we have made it 1/6th of the way through to our goal! It’s taken us just over 10 months, from 23 November 2008 to 9 October 2009. We were forced to skip one episode, due to technical difficulties, and we were occasionally forced to break our “one every week” rule for various reasons, but we still managed to get through every other episode, a week at a time. My plan is to break this post down into two basic sections, one about the season itself and the other as a bit of a “Project Report.” So, let’s begin!

Doctor Who Season One: Where to begin? I suppose I should talk about how different this experience has been for Ketina and myself (I’m speaking for her right now based on discussions we’ve had), watching an episode a week, give or take, as opposed to multiple episodes at a time or, heaven forbid, the “movie” versions. In general, the stories moved better, which makes sense since they were paced out to be seen in 24 minute chunks. Admittedly, that still didn’t help some stories at points. I’ll do a run down of the stories in a bit; we had one commenter (our second one, where are the rest of you folks?) ask that I go through the season episode by episode, but that’d take a little too much space. What I will do is link to each story’s wrapup post, allowing you to look at each episode for yourself.

First, though, let’s take a look at the year as a whole. This season is unique among the Hartnell years (and, indeed, the first five seasons) in having a stable cast. William Hartnell, William Russell (aka Russell Enoch), Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford take the space a year gave them to develop the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan from simple beginnings to more complex characters with complex relationships. William Hartnell’s Doctor, especially, shows development, running the gamut from mysterious, dangerous old man to someone who could be lovable, even when he was still mysterious. I think Barbara was a particular favorite of the team as well; passionate, caring, smart...but also impetuous and adventurous. Ian was the man of action...who started out a bit too simple, but became quite a thoughtful hero by the end. And Susan...well, she suffered the most, I think, from the least amount of character development. Even so, there was a definite attempt at showing Susan’s maturation, from the slightly flighty, yet dependent, teenager of the first episode, through the post-adolescent rebellion of “The Sensorites.” I’m sure this was all helped by the fact that the production team of producer Verity Lambert and story editor David Whittaker was also stable for this year.

As far as charting the developments specifically (as well as looking at how guest casts did), let’s start the story links. As mentioned above, I’m basically covering the Project team’s reactions to the stories here. Please click through to the individual wrapups for more details!

It looks like I didn’t include individual episode links for ”100,000 BC”, so I’ll remedy that right now. (”An Unearthly Child,” ”The Cave of Skulls,” ”The Forest of Fear” and ”The Firemaker”) Here’s a story that definitely benefited from one-a-week pace. The team had a really good reaction to the first episode (which is an undeniable classic), though the other three were a bit less exciting. I enjoyed them, but I know that, for the rest of the team, “You must make fire!” got to be a bit tedious.

Next comes the story that, as I’ve said, “changed everything,” ”The Daleks.” Seeing this story episode-by-episode allowed us to actually feel the cliffhangers, especially the end of the first episode. On the other hand, this story feels like a five to six episode story stretched to a seven episode story, with much of episodes five and six seeming a bit...slow, to be charitable. (The team in general found episode six, “The Ordeal,” to be truth in advertising, for example.) The story itself was quite good and the Daleks were...well, fantastic. What a great design!

”Inside the Spaceship” was, in some ways, a make-or-break story for the Project. Ketina remembered it as being deathly dull and was determined to convince me we had to stop the “one episode a week” thing for it. As it turned out, the story was fairly intriguing, though the second episode was a letdown after the marvelous first. We actually came out of this story even more determined to try keeping to the parameters of one a week!

Ah, ”Marco Polo”...Watching this story, even in reconstructed form, was probably the thrill of the entire first season for me—Doctor Who I’d never seen! (Nor had Ketina.) And what a story it was! I think “Marco Polo” was the clear highlight of the year for me, and (I think) for the rest of the team as well. I think, not having seen it before (and having it in an incomplete form), it’s difficult for me to tell whether this story benefited from the one-at-a-time format...although I suspect any seven episode story would have to, if only to keep away fatigue! (It’s worth noting that we had to bend our rules a bit for this story due to technical issues.)

From the high of the season to what might be the low, next is ”The Keys of Marinus.” This story was actually our first disappointment, as Ketina and I both had fond memories of it. I actually think this might be the only story to not benefit from the episodic format. None of the individual mini-stories were well developed, which might have been less noticeable had we watched it all at once. Still, even if this story was a bit of a low point, story-wise, we still had a lot of fun with it.

It was really interesting to see ”The Aztecs” in more of a context. Previously, of course, this was the only Historical from the first season that Ketina or I had seen. Unlike “Marinus,” though, this story was actually better than either of us remembered. And the pacing, going from week to week, worked well—possibly that’s the reason it was better!

It was back to science fiction with ”The Sensorites,” which I thought was quite a good story. Ketina was less impressed. But I felt that the stories (there were really two) worked very well, the first as a tension-building exercise and the second as a bit of an exotic mystery. Most of the characters (with the exception of the ship’s captain) were well realized and the Sensorites themselves looked fantastic. This was another story that was definitely better with our one-a-week schedule.

Hmm, it feels as though I just posted a wrapup for ”The Reign of Terror” a few days ago! This was another story neither Ketina nor I had seen before, thanks to two out of the six episodes being missing. We were pleased to find a well-written, well-acted, complex story of the French Revolution. I was particularly impressed with the psychological depth of its Robespierre (though I might have read a bit more into it than was there) and, especially, Barbara, Ian and the Doctor’s discussion of history...and their place in it. A very fine way to close out a very strong first season.

Project Report: As can be inferred from the above, I think things have gone very well indeed for our first almost-year. There was always the question (and, indeed, there still is) of how far we’d get, and how far we’d get watching only one episode a week. Ketina’s pre-Project prediction of her demanding we stop the latter by “Inside the Spaceship” didn’t come to pass; indeed, I think she’s really enjoyed the one-a-week thing, as did most of our other participants. I’m hopeful of keeping it up through at least season two; Ketina has again predicted (hopefully erroneously) that once we hit the “reconstruction hell” of season three, things might either slow to a halt or change to a multiple episode viewing. (Obviously, I’m hopeful that it won’t.) As for the blog, we have managed to keep it up fairly well, despite several weeks of...well, just not wanting to post after viewing. To be honest, watching the series has been a delight, but the blogging has, at times, become a bit of a chore. That was one of the reasons I posted our survey, to gauge how many people were reading and what they liked or didn’t...and just to see if there was really anyone out there. Big thanks to Robin and “Anonymous,” the only two people to respond. While the low response was disappointing, it was good to hear some enthusiasm from at least a couple of readers.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has participated in the TARDIS Project season one. Thanks to Schmallturm, Kroroboros, Spoomeister, Cz, Sumguy and a special “above and beyond the call of duty” thanks to Ronelyn, for technical and emotional support. I’d like to encourage you all (if you’re around) to come by for season two! You’re all always welcome. Also, here’s a plug for Loose Cannon Productions, who made the reconstructions used in the Project. It’s good stuff; you should check them out! And, since I’m writing this, I’d like to especially thank Ketina for not saying, “What, are you crazy?” last October or so when I proposed starting this thing in the first place.

What’s next? Well, season two, starting later tonight! Only one partially missing story (“The Crusades”) and a fair amount available on DVD means this will hopefully be a relatively easy year. I can say for sure that we’ll be missing at least one week in November, but hopefully we’ll be mostly sticking to “an episode a week.” Should be a blast and I very much hope you’ll be with us for it all!

As a final note, I’m also hopeful that the blog will be a bit more interactive this coming year. Please, if you have something to say about the episode, or something to say (agree or disagree) about what we say, comment! It’ll make things more fun for us and (hopefully) you, the reader. Also, if any Project member has anything to say about my assessment of season one, feel free! I wrote this up myself with minimal input from others, so if you feel I got something wrong, let me know.

And now...onward to season two! Until later tonight, I remain



Anonymous said...

You might get more blog traffic if you 'advertise' the blog and project on a number of Whovian blogs and sites...? Just a simple line or two describing what it is and then the link, nothing more.

Anonymous said...

And now, a thought exercise: imagine a world where the SyFy channel returns to being the SciFi channel, and in amongst their other program improvements, they show older Doctor Who.

Would a modern audience get into first season Who, shown the way you've been experiencing it? Would they get into it if the 5 - 6 episodes apiece were consolidated together into their complete stories?

The Historian said...

Not sure if you're both the same Anonymous, but thanks for the comments. :-) We've talked about advertising, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with dropping onto sites just to plug us. (I am not part of any kind of Doctor Who online--or offline, actually--fandom.) I have no problem with people who regularly post places to do so, though--word of mouth is what I've been hoping for. Also, I know we have at least a few more readers who haven't commented, so that's who I've been encouraging.

As for your thought experiment...well, let's leave aside the fact that the SciFi Channel had potential access to the Hartnell episodes over a decade ago and chose not to show them. (They bought only Tom Baker stories, as I recall.) If they were to show the first season today...I suspect the show would flop either way unless it was presented as a "historical" artifact. The SciFi/Syfy viewers today (judging from the channel's other programming and, well, let's be honest, TV today in general) don't seem to have the patience older television demands, "Twilight Zone" aside. Cynical? Yeah, probably.

I am going to stand by my belief that the show is better served by being seen an episode at a time (if not an episode every week); the pacing works better, the repetition (capture-escape-capture, etc.) doesn't feel as obvious and the story builds in a more manageable way. So, in a perfect world, I think an episode at a time would be best--although I first saw many of these early stories as "movies," and I love the show, so...

But that's just my opinion. What do you (both Anonymous and others) think?