Doctor Who

Doctor Who: The Beginning Collection – Where the Legend Began

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series which has been around off and on since 1963. The main character is just known as “The Doctor” and is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. This means he travels through time to various places. One of his favorite places to visit is Earth. Typically, he has a companion traveling with him, usually female, sometimes male, sometimes one of each. He travels in a time machine known as a “Tardis” which is disguised as a British Police booth.

A Time Lord can regenerate if fatally wounded, which has accounted for all the different actors who have played The Doctor throughout the years. In this episode, he is portrayed by William Hartnell, who was the first actor ever to portray the famous Doctor.

The Beginning Collection is just that – a collection of episodes from the very first season of Doctor Who. The episodes themselves are quite remarkably good, especially considering how long ago they were made. I have issues with how the set is packaged. The three story-arcs contained in The Beginning Collection are packaged on three separate discs. The first episode of the series is contained on the third disc! The collection should actually be watched with the third disc first, followed by the first and second. It just makes more sense that way and explains a whole lot.

That quibble aside, The Beginning Collection is actually quite good. For fans like me who haven’t seen much before episodes aired in the mid to late 1970’s, it’s a godsend. There’s a lot of information that gets filled in during these early episodes at we just learned not to question throughout the years.

The format was different as well, Each episode in a story-arc had it’s own name. This is different from the format where the overall story-arc is titled and each episode is just Part 1, Part 2, etc. Yet they are still part of an overall story-arc, which may lead to confusion as it jumps in between the storylines.

As the series begins, the Doctor is an older man who is time-traveling with his granddaughter, whom he calls Susan. We still don’t learn the Doctor’s name. They are accidentally joined on their journey by two teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, from Earth of the time period in the early 1960s. They begin time-traveling throughout Earth’s history by going back to the caveman era. The second episode has the Doctor and his traveling companions traveling off of Earth to the planet Skaro, where they first encounter the Daleks, who will be continuing enemies of the Doctor and Earth through the years. The final story-arc is short, just two episodes, and deals with the ill-effects of traveling in the TARDIS when it’s malfunctioning.

The story-arcs aren’t a consistent length The Daleks is seven episodes long, Edge of Destruction is two episodes long, and An Unearthly Child is four episodes long. In later years, generally the story-arcs lasted four episodes, occasionally branching out to five or six. In the newest incarnation of the series there are ongoing themes through the series, but rarely do the actual stories go beyond one hour-long episode.

It was really cool to see just how early on the Daleks figured in the universe of Doctor Who. They haven’t changed much in appearance although some of the details of their origins have been revised through the years.

For those who have only seen the modern, younger incarnations of the Doctor, William Hartnell’s portrayal here might seem a bit odd. He’s often in rare form acting like an overbearing bastard at times, and being especially condescending to the two school teachers. Still, there are hints in the personality of the bravado the Doctor possesses through the years. It’s something to see how some qualities of the Doctors personality have been embraced by actors through the years and make the common link of him regenerating all the more believable. Although An Unearthly Child is his first appearance, it was in the episode The Daleks where he really seemed to find his footing.

The actor who seems to get the short end of the stick is Carole Ann Ford as Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter. What starts out as a promising role where her character is a bright student who knows more than she should in some areas and less in others, soon turns into nothing more than a whining, shrieking wilting violet. I found myself eager for her to be off screen in The Daleks, which is a shame since I watched that first. Her character in An Unearthly Child was so much better.

Jacqueline Hill and William Russell as Barbara and Ian are perhaps the characters who seem to evolve the most over the course of these three story-arcs. They really to be watched in order to appreciate where the characters are coming from. When I re-watched The Daleks after watching the first story-arc, it made much more sense how their characters behaved. They are both pretty good in their roles, especially for the time period this was written for.

The restoration is very good, considering the amount of time that has passed and the deterioration of the original prints that probably took place. There is a little bit of a hissing noise throughout the discs and it’s not perfectly clear audio. I give them credit for no reverb or distortion, though. The picture is good, although it could be better as well. Still, as noted on some of the bonus features, it’s a miracle that these episodes could be found and restored at all. Not all of the episodes from the series made it.

Of the Bonus Feature, probably none are as interesting as Doctor Who: Origins which gave a detailed history of just how the show came about, including testimony from members of the cast and crew who were there in those early days. The featurette titled Over the Edge ties into the current version of the series quite nicely in with the story-arc for Edge of Destruction.

Marco Polo is a collection of still photographs & drawings from the seven episodes following Edge of Destruction. Unfortunately, the tapes for those episodes were wiped, and this is the best we will ever have of this classic historical storyline where the Doctor and his companions travel back in Earth’s time and meet up with the famed explorer and have an audience with Kublai Khan.

The Daleks – The Doctor and his companions land in the middle of a petrified jungle. When Barbara, the female companion says “don’t you think something deserves to happen to him…” It seems quite harsh and like it’s coming our of nowhere. They see a city off in the distance. The Doctor wants to investigate, but Ian won’t let him. It’s surprising that the Doctor would have to connive to be able to explore the city – he dumps out the mercury stores in the TARDIS so they are forced into the city in search of what they need to leave the planet. This early dynamic between the travelers is quite different than what the stories look like in later years when there’s no question that the Doctor is in charge.

Of course, the Doctor manages to find a way to get what he wants and the four travelers end up in the city and having the first ever Doctor Who encounter with the Daleks. The four travelers have also been sickened by radiation. Believing these people are the key to uncovering a race of people who reside on the planet known as the Thals, the Daleks allow Barbara to go back to the TARDIS for radiation medicine.

Fear breeds hatred… Think George Lucas ever saw this episode?

Barbara does encounter the Thals and helps to broker a truce between the two races. However, this is a trick by the Daleks who reneg on the truce. The Thals are pacifists who refuse to go after the Daleks, but the Doctor and his companions teach them that sometimes aggression is necessary. The Thals also seem to be terribly afraid of dying, to the point that they cower in fear and make up lies to avoid having to put their lives in peril.

The Edge of Destruction – After a malfunction of the TARDIS, the four occupants seem to act strangely. There is mass paranoia along with the strange behavior and even The Doctor accuses his companions of sabotaging the TARDIS.

This story-arc gives the TARDIS a bit of it’s own intelligence, as well as conveying the fact that more has happened in the lives of the Doctor and Susan up until this point. While it started out primarily as filler needed between the first story-arc and the yet-uncompleted story of the Daleks, the character development in these two episodes is pivotal for the next forty or so years.

An Unearthly Child – Two teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, have a fifteen year old female student who seems advanced in some areas, but behind in others. When Barbara attempts to visit the girl’s grandfather, with whom she allegedly lives, the address leads them to an abandoned warehouse. The two of them soon locate a police box and a mysterious man lurking around.

Thus, the series that first aired in 1963 began.

After watching this and looking at what has happened through the years, I could see the Doctor developing his fascination for Earth, particularly the 20th century, through the love he had for his teenaged grand-daughter who had the fascination as well. Following the story that he is the last of the Time Lords and other stories where’s he’s claimed he “was once a father” that would seem to indicate that Susan was wiped out with the rest of his family.

After Ian activates the TARDIS, the four of them wind up in prehistoric Earth during the time of the cavemen. There is a power-struggle occurring in the prehistoric tribe of humans, and the four travelers find themselves at the center of it once they demonstrate the ability to create fire.

Anyone who’s a fan of the series needs to watch these, although I would suggest in the actual order they were produced and aired, rather than the order they appear on the discs. My kids weren’t all that interested in these episodes – they prefer the slicker look of the new series, although they have embraced some of the older storylines. For me, I positively loved it and really felt my knowledge of the series was greatly rounded out by the material here. The stories may still be uneven and finding its footing, but that are real benchmarks for fans of the series to see just how everything throughout the last forty-five years of this series ties together. Kudos to those who have worked on the series through the years for not feeling the need to re-invent the storyline in their own image each time they took over.


Disc One

• Creation of the Daleks
• Gallery
• Information Text

Disc Two

• Doctor Who: Origins
• Over the Edge
• Inside the Spaceship
• Masters of Sound
• Marco Polo
• Gallery
• PDF Documents
• Information Text

Disc Three

• Pilot Episode Studio Recording
• Theme Music Video
• Comedy Sketches
• Gallery
• Information Text