The Reign of Terror

The opening episode is one of the most exciting and gripping in the whole of this first season, culminating in a truly scary cliffhanger where the Doctor is trapped in a burning building, with little to no chance of escape. It feels so real – even though I knew the First Doctor didn’t die in a barn during the French Revolution, I felt a genuine sense of peril.

Sadly, the other five parts don’t come anywhere close to the promise of the first. It’s pleasant enough, but nowhere near as memorable as many other stories from season one, which this serial closes. It really suffers from Ian being missing for a couple of episodes, as at this stage, he was pretty much the main character, not The Doctor.

(By the way, from a modern perspective, it seems truly bizarre that a series would go on for so long that the regulars got a statutory holiday allowance, and more so that you’d just carry on without them for a couple of weeks!)

Oh, and this is the earliest serial whereby some episodes exist and some are missing. The DVD fills in the gaps with animation – I got The Invasion when it first came out and loved the animation there, but this one felt a little off. There were a hell of a lot of fast cuts, extreme close ups and dramatic shading – no doubt done with the intention of feeling slick and modern, but it just didn’t fit alongside a 1964 studio drama. I’d much rather have a plain old reconstruction of the best guess as to what the originals would have looked like.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.75

  • Seasons/Series watched: 1 of 34
  • Stories watched: 8 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 42 of 813

The Sensorites

Absolutely loved this one – the first couple of episodes, on board the trapped spaceship, are wonderfully creepy, especially the first appearance of a Sensorite, floating menacingly outside the window. I also like the way it suddenly turned into a Machiavellian political drama half way through, with the power struggle between the the Elders and the City Administrator.

However, this was the earliest serial that I could sense was dragging on a little bit. They hadn’t yet figured out the optimum length for a serial – there was a lot less faffing around in years to come, once they settled on “four parts as default, six for special occasions”.

That said, I can’t find much to fault this story on. It’s an early example of The Doctor (and the audience) assuming that alien = enemy, only to find that it’s much more complicated than that. Oh, and RTD is clearly a fan of this serial too – not only are The Ood the natural successor to The Sensorites, but this story also features Susan giving a description of (the yet-to-be-named) Gallifrey that matches The 10th Doctor’s account in Gridlock almost word for word.

RATING: 8

The Aztecs

I knew in advance that this was supposedly a good one, but the first episode really disappointed me. Barbara was behaving completely out of character, Ian was being a bit useless, and the cliffhanger involved the baddy turning *directly to camera* to outline all his evil plans.

Luckily, it picked right up from episode two onwards, with Barbara and The Doctor getting into some proper debates about the nature of time travel, the story becoming a lot more intriguing, and Ian taking a level in badass that would (though I didn’t know so at the time) remain in place for the rest of his journey.

The best thing, though, was The Doctor’s bit of comedy business with the randy old woman in the garden. The hot chocolate thing made me laugh for ages.

RATING: 8

The Keys of Marinus

This was the first non-missing story that I’d not seen before, and I absolutely loved it. The format of changing locations every week, and of each episode telling a complete story, works exceptionally well when you watch it an episode at a time. I’ve seen plenty of criticism of it because of its format, but for me it worked so well that it seemed to drag in the last two episodes because they were both set in the same place.

The individual episodes are all consistently good – the snowy one is my favourite, while the hypnosis one is such a good concept that it could have been a four-parter of its own.

After I finished part six and started reading up, I discovered that this is far from a popular story, and a target of much scorn from fans. This surprised me, as I bloody loved it. I often find myself opposed to internet reaction to contemporary Who too – if I really enjoy a new episode when it goes out, I usually go online and see a bunch people saying I was wrong to do so. But the fact that I’m even loving the old stuff more than people who really love the old stuff reassured me that this little project was a very rewarding thing to do.

RATING: 8

Marco Polo

Ah, the first problematic serial. Problematic in that IT DOESN’T EXIST. The first of several completely missing stories, and its excessive length of seven episodes made it a daunting prospect. But I sought out a recreation and tried my damnedest to see past the medium and enjoy the story being told.

And you know what? I really enjoyed it. It’s just a great story, and while it would obviously be much better if you could actually see it, the material was strong enough to keep me engrossed and hold my concentration. The unusual format certainly helps – having Marco as the narrator and using map graphics helps the story zip along.

The baddy is a bit too obviously a baddy, but the journey across the Gobi Desert is gripping, and Ping Cho is one of the greatest companions that never was.

RATING: 8

The Edge of Destruction

It’s an odd one this. I love the concept of doing a little mini serial set just in the TARDIS, especially at this stage in the show’s history, but every time I watch it, it always winds up confusing me. I always remember the ‘fast return button stuck down’ thing – largely because of how incongruous the felt-tip addition looks on the console – but I always somehow forget about the reveal that all the weird things are happening because the TARDIS is deliberately fucking shit up in order to draw attention to the fault.

Again, the TARDIS being a sentient being is a concept I adore, and the new series have taken that concept and run with it, but somehow it never quite seems convincing that it can do all of these things to the crew.

But still, the primary purpose is to start the transformation of Ian and Barbara’s status from hostages to companions, and it does that incredibly well. They’re definitely a team now, ready to crack on with some proper adventures.

RATING: 7

The Daleks

Another one that I was familiar with (I already had The Beginning box set), and yeah, it’s an absolute classic. Watching it now, it’s astonishing just how little the Daleks have changed over the years. Other than the “only being able to move on a metal surface” thing, all the iconography was pretty much in place, even down to the heartbeat-like sound of their control rooms.

While never shown clearly, the image that’s conjured of the creature inside hasn’t changed either. Although these days, you probably wouldn’t have a companion scoop one out, get inside the casing himself and be able to masterfully control the machine.

It was at this point that I realised how much these serials are improved when you watch them an episode at a time, rather than in bulk. I always liked to watch a full serial back-to-back, like a really long, slow-paced movie. But they were never meant to be watched like that – each episode is crafted to exist in isolation, with its own individual structure, rhythm and goals. They’re so much better when you watch them like that – limiting yourself to 25 minutes at a time, so that those 25 minutes have the chance to really linger in your mind.

RATING: 9

An Unearthly Child

I was already rather familiar with this one, or at least the first episode. It formed part of the pre-Day of the Doctor playlist at the fiftieth anniversary party I hosted, and I once did a presentation at university comparing the first five minutes of this to the first five minutes of Rose.

My memory was that the latter three parts were rubbish compared to the first, but having watched it again, I think that’s a little harsh. They are noticeably less successful, but entertaining enough in themselves.

You can’t beat that first episode though, it’s absolutely flawless as an introduction to the series. I can’t imagine how mind-blowing it would have been at the time when Ian and Barbara first step into the TARDIS. The viewer would have had exactly the same “but it’s bigger on the inside” revelation as every companion ever.

RATING: 8