The defining story for the whole series, as the BBC’s most iconic show is truly born.
If you were to compare the latest series of Doctor Who with its first ever story, the main question that comes into your head might be something along the lines of: how did what was intended to be a children’s educational show become the sci-fi romp it is now? This would be an excellent question, seeing as the BBC was, at the time, adamant that there would be no “Bug-Eyed Monsters” allowed.
This notion, although it might sound whimsical today, arose because Sydney Newman, the head of Drama at the time, considered them to be “cheap science-fiction” (possibly a reaction to the spate of pulp-fiction B-movies during the ‘50s) that would “drag the show down to being puerile rubbish”. There was also the fact that the programme was supposed to be educational; any presence of a monster would have gone against the show’s original ambition.
It is a good thing, then, that there was no time to finish the majority of the scripts, otherwise the late Terry Nation’s script probably would have never been allowed to run. When his episodes were aired at the end of 1963, the fears of everyone present behind the scenes proved to be very ill-founded indeed. First, there actually was an educational element hidden within the serial, showing the dangers of war, pacifism and racism, among many more admirable and idealistic truths. And secondly, even though the simplistic morality fable does eventually grind to a halt, it was an excellent adventure story.
There is a common cliché that goes with Doctor Who stories, in that most feature the main cast being chased down metal corridors. It was with “The Daleks” that this particular formula was devised, among other features that would prove a staple of the show: the protagonists starting a revolution against the tyrannical overseers against the backdrop of a futuristic city, the spine-chilling cliff-hanger that introduces a terrifying enemy, members of the cast being split up by, or having to escape from an undesirable predicament, not to mention the aforesaid monsters.
But what is clearly shown is how “primitive” this era is compared to our current, now globally acclaimed series. For one, the Doctor himself is more selfish and anti-heroic than our incumbent “Timeless Child” (deliberately sabotaging his own TARDIS just to explore the city), and the Daleks themselves are certainly a far cry from their later iterations (it was not until the final episode of “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” when one of them actually starts repeatedly blaring “Exterminate!”).
Yet despite all this, Nation has made it quite clear what the show would feel like in the future. Indeed, all the elements of a now-typical Who story are there. There’s the suspense-filled opening, which would be made as much a series staple as the scary scenes that also feature in this story. Moreover, the companions (a vital component of the programme), even the senile, yet incredibly charming incarnation of the Doctor, are written so well that you could easily replace them with their later counterparts.
In brief: the Birth of a Legend.
If you want to find out what the classic series of Doctor Who is like, visit http://www.britbox.com/doctorwho
Review by James Wood
Image courtesy of Charlie Seaman @unsplash.com