I didn’t discover Doctor Who by finding it on television. I discovered it on the pages of a magazine. During my middle and high school years, I was an avid reader of Starlog Magazine, which covered science fiction media. One issue had a photo of a young blond-haired man dressed in a sweater, jacket, striped pants and a Panama hat and declared this man would be taking over the part of the Doctor in the series, Doctor Who, which had been running for nearly twenty years. Of course, this was the announcement that Peter Davison would be playing the fifth Doctor. It really piqued my curiosity how an actor could step into the lead role of a series after someone else had played that part. It would be like someone besides Leonard Nimoy playing Spock in Star Trek. My young mind couldn’t imagine it! I looked for Doctor Who, but discovered it wasn’t available on Los Angeles television at the time.
I finally saw my first episode of the series on a summer vacation to my uncle’s house in Florida. It was on at something like 6am on a Saturday morning, but I set my alarm and watched it. I was treated to the serial “The Robots of Death” starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. From then on, I was hooked, though I wouldn’t be able to watch regularly until my senior year of high school when the Los Angeles public television station finally started carrying the show. They started with “The Five Doctors,” which introduced me to all the people who had played the part so far including that blond-haired chap who had piqued my interest. I kept watching when I went to college and was especially delighted when the Albuquerque PBS station started playing older episodes of Doctor Who. They went back to Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor. I would sit enraptured on Saturday afternoons in a darkened room in the college’s “canteen” watching each episode in turn. Season ten stood out in particular. It started with the tenth-anniversary special which first aired in 1973 called “The Three Doctors,” then went on to bring back the Master, and the Daleks, and wrapped up with an emotional final episode. I was delighted to find this season now exists in its entirety on Blu-ray.
I’ve long been impressed with the treatment the BBC has given the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Doctor Who. Like the season twenty-six pack I discussed a few weeks ago, the season ten set is chock full of special features. Some gave me insight into the writers and producers. Some gave me insights into how the effects were created. Yes, the special effects in this era of Doctor Who could be pretty cheezy, but it was impressive to learn they not only had a limited budget, but very little time to make their effects. Season ten introduced the “color separation overlay” process to Doctor Who, more familiar today as the blue screen or green screen process. This was early days of the process and while sometimes they used it to great effect, sometimes it just didn’t work.
That said, it’s never been the effects that attracted me to Doctor Who. The power of the series is in the writing, enhanced by actors who really loved their parts and did everything they could to sell the stories. Jon Pertwee, who played the Doctor, was famous for his comedy roles, but played the Doctor very straight. Of course, in his ruffled shirt and smoking jacket, he comes off as something of a flamboyant James Bond with an aversion to guns, but he pulls it off and fits in very nicely with the 70s aesthetic. Katie Manning plays his assistant, Jo Grant. By season ten, she’d come into her own and never feared going where she thought she should go. Doctor Who’s women of this era often have a reputation for being helpless and screaming, but I was surprised to go back and find Jo really never screamed and never was helpless. She could be klutzy at times, but she was stronger than I remembered.
This is the first season where I can remember something of a story arc. It’s not very strong, but there’s a running story about the Doctor trying to get to a planet called Metebelis III, which finally pays off in the season’s final episode. Also, the writers clearly know Jo will be leaving at the end of the season, so they start giving us clues in earlier episodes. I remembered being really moved when Jo left the Doctor at the end of “The Green Death” and was surprised to find the emotional power was still there, which was a combination of good writing and great acting. The season opener, which was the first time earlier Doctors came back in one episode was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, due to health concerns, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, had little more than a cameo, but it was great that he had one last outing. Patrick Troughton stepped into the role as though he’d never left it.
If you’re a classic Doctor Who fan, I highly recommend these Blu-ray sets. You will get a lot of behind-the-scenes information and nice presentation of the episodes. If you only know the series from its revival in 2005 to the present, these sets are a great way to look back at the older episodes and get a sense of where the series came from.