RATING THE DOCTORS: On William Hartnell THE FIRST DOCTOR & the First Season! 1963-1964!

This heat is kicking the proverbial posterior.

But hey I’m not complaining, I’ll take heat over cold, any day.

But you guys didn’t come here to hear weather talk, onto this installment’s insanity.

I’ve seen all 30+ seasons of Doctor Who, including the recreations (largely still shots and the audio recording of the shows) that exists through the hard work of dedicated fans, who preserved these shows for the love, when the suits couldn’t see any monetary value or re-watchability to these shows and could not delete the tapes fast enough.

It’s why I’ll side with the so-called file-sharer or collector or peer to peer proponent who does it for the love, over suits any day. Because I KNOW how much of our history (television shows, radio shows, silent and sound films, books, manuscripts) still exists not because of the money grubbing corporation who would (and have) let everything burn if they couldn’t make a penny off of it; but exists because of the dedicated fan and collector.

I’ve said that before, but it bears, particularly in our current environment, constant repeating. That the people who profit off a thing, are not the people that should be trusted with the preservation of that thing. And history bears out, that it’s necessary to have the dedicated collector out there doing for the love, what corporations will fail to do in the absence of monetary incentive.

Our cultural history owes much to the dedicated collector, that are being criminalized by the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ corporations, who have finally wised up to the fact that… people are interested in this old stuff.

Case in point, I still await official SPENSER FOR HIRE DvDs, or the full seasons of the live-action ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY that have been unavailable for over 20 years, and these things should not be sequestered away until some suit can find a way to profit off of them. In the absence of someone making them available, the collector is there to make them available. So thanks to great collectors… there’s a rumor that I may actually own both series :).

And if that rumor is true, I’ll hold onto those collector DVDs, at least until such time as the studios get off their ass, and release official high quality versions/DVDs, which I will be more than happy to support/purchase. But in the interim… to all the suits/companies out there, support and work with fans/collectors… they are the heart of your business. And more than that, they are the heart of the preservation of culture and art and history… in the absence of business. Give them their due.

Okay, off my soap box.

*****

The reason I got on that soap box is because, I have been rewatching Doctor Who, and much of that series has been lost through corporate stupidity and short-sightedness, but almost all of it has been preserved and recreated, even the pretty much devastated Patrick Troughton years (which I’m currently re-watching), and you can not watch those shows without being extremely mindful and extremely thankful, for the fans and collectors, who preserved those shows to the best of their ability.

I mean, now, today the BBC gives a damn about Doctor Who, because the show is making them a boatload of money, but you have to care about preserving culture and art… even in the absence of money, and that is what collectors do.

So yes, I’m thankful that we have shows such as:

William Hartnell’s four seasons as the doctor.

He’s remembered, unfairly I think, for flubbing his lines. However, what he should be remembered for is being the man who set the template, the tone, and the consummate “play this for real” passion that allowed the show to be a success.

Think about it, if Hartnell or those first companions did not make the premise work, the show would have been canceled in that first season and NO ONE would today be talking about Doctor Who.

Patrick Troughton gets a lot of praise for ‘saving’ Dr. Who, when it became necessary to replace Hartnell due to his deteriorating condition.

For continuing Doctor Who, I would agree, but for saving it? … no. The show would have gone on with or without Troughton. It was that popular. Hartnell had help make it that popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Troughton was a great actor and he made a fantastic 2nd Doctor, and the very, unavoidable medical issues with Hartnell pushed the writers and producers into coming up with one of the most brilliant and iconic ways to keep the series going… ie the idea of ‘Regeneration’.

I mean that idea, that was born under pressure and calamity and potential cancellation, remains one of the greatest ‘hail marys’ of television history, as can be seen by a whole new generation, wowing to the adventures of yet another whole new Doctor.

But had Hartnell and crew, not made DOCTOR WHO a success out the gate, no one would have been pressed to try and keep the show alive. They would have done the normal thing, canceled the show and put something else on, and DOCTOR WHO becomes, like many shows of the time, a forgotten footnote.

But Hartnell was a GREAT Doctor Who, an iconic Doctor Who, who loved and championed the show. And he did four seasons of the series, back when the workload was a YEAR ROUND weekly series, basically performing the shows in a live-run, like a play, performed beginning to end, no time for retakes, you hit the mark at the beginning of two hours, and at the end of two hours, they filmed the entire show… JUST LIKE YOU SEE IT AIRED!

With filmed segments cut in on queue, and effects and sound done live in camera….the amount of pressure and work, is beyond ANYTHING that television actors, or indeed directors, editors, crew are doing today. It was the work of master actors and crew, to basically have to learn and crank out a play a week, under budget restrictions and time restrictions that can only be called… crushing.

And William Hartnell did this. For going on four Years, largely without vacation, with seasons FAR LONGER than the laughably short seasons the BBC has today… William Hartnell did this. While suffering with what today we would call early signs of Dementia or Alzheimers.

*****

For nearly four years he bled and sweated and carried Doctor Who, when his younger companions were folding left and right under the pressures and issues of a financially challenged, somewhat ghettoized show. Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor saw him with the most companions (A whopping TEN companions. And every departure cut Hartnell like a knife, who saw the show as a familial thing), and having to ride the most tumultuous time in the history of the show, when it was figuring out, on a weekly basis, what it was, and who the characters were.

That he was able to play the series as long as he did, when suffering from a condition known to cripple, says everything about the nature of Hartnell’s professionalism, his “the show must go on” ethic. I just think a lot of people focus on the occasional flubs, when he was given tons of gobblydeggok to say, and he made it work. I don’t know of any actors today, in their full health and prime, who could have done week in and week out what Hartnell did, producing basically live televison in a fantastic setting.

Which is far more difficult than just soaps, because you have the additional hassle of effects and costumes and elaborate monsters and cut in scenes, and hitting marks, it’s really a big budget type cinematic production, done on a shoe-string budget and with no retakes and no time, and everything music, etc… done in camera.

Actors today would piss themselves.

I just have a tremendous amount of respect for Hartnell as a performer, and he could really perform and act and emote, and bring it when he needed to… which more often than not… was always. Add to all of that he also had some of the best episodes under his tenure, namely:

SEASON I 1963-1964

AN UNEARTHLY CHILD- PILOT- It does everything a first episode needs to do. Incredibly ambitious, for the time. A time ship, bigger on the inside than the outside, and looks like a simple police phonebox. It is just a genius conceit, even 50 years later. GRADE: B+.

100,000 BC- 3 episodes- It’s not a great episode by today’s standards but it is a necessary one, as they are still defining the Doctor, and his crew of travelers. And it is pretty brutal for a kid’s program. GRADE: B-/C+.

THE DALEKS by Terry Nation, directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin- 7 episodes- Terry Nation’s script and idea, fleshed out and realized, made concrete by the producers, and designers and voice actors, resulted in an immediate worldwide sensation… The Daleks. And the story, is quite good, quite ambitious, though of course hampered by the budgets and limitations of the time.

It is a great intro to one of the great iconic creations of television history. The serial falls apart in the last episode, the whole “live” thing, the director just couldn’t pull it all together, so it’s a bit of a mess. But the serial is strongly recommended in-spite of that; and it highlights, the rare times when it goes wrong, just how masterful the cast and crew was, to enable it to go right… most of the time. GRADE: B.

INSIDE THE SPACESHIP aka The Edge of Destruction- 2 episodes- This is another example of them not really having the time to make the story come across, it’s a bit of a confused mess. But it’s an intriguing watch, and is available with a nice commentary with the actors. The commentary worth the price of admission.

Marco Polo- seven episodes- A recreated episode, stills and audio, watched this recently it’s quite good. From the few shots of sets in color, it was quite an elaborate period piece.

The Keys of Marinus- 6 Episodes- Terry Nation returns, this is a great, exciting serial. Even with a bit of implied rape. Terry Nation always wrote excellent scripts that explored not only man against the alien, and man against nature, but far more interestingly man against man. His scripts and the crews performance transcends dodgy sets and questionable effects. GRADE: B+.

The Aztecs- 4 episodes – One of the best Doctor Who stories! This historical episode, sports great acting, great sets, and a great story. And wonderful direction. This is available with commentary, and I highly recommend it. One of my favorites. GRADE: A+.

THE SENSORITES- 6 episodes- This is one of the most successful of the scifi themed serials (the first season nearly equally divided between the historical episodes and the scifi/fantasy episodes) for season I. As it allowed some growth for the character of Susan, and real thrills for the rest of the characters. Lots of fun. Grade: B/B+.

THE REIGN OF TERROR- 5 episodes- This Dennis Spooner penned tale is quite enjoyable. The last two episodes are recreations (stills, audio) but is perfectly understandable and builds to a fun end. GRADE: B.

Those are my grades for season #1. Counting the pilot, Thirty eight weekly episodes!!! Wow! Episodes I didn’t grade are worth a look, for historical reasons, but may not be the show at its best.

Stay tuned for upcoming season reviews!

Doctor Who: The Beginning (An Unearthy Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction)

Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Story 6)

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Sylvia Anderson the heart of SPACE 1999

“That’s the purpose of that… ‘Ghost in the Machine’ as it were, that sort of popped up from time to time, where things would correct themselves, [as an example]the journey through the Black Sun [episode]. There was something guiding them. We didn’t put a name to it but it was there and it came, I think, full circle [with the episode THE TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA]. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this would be the final episode of that kind of SPACE 1999. And what it was, was a question of identity. A question of belief.”

—Johnny Byrne, Main Writer, Speaking on the season 1 finale, TESTAMENT OF ARKADIA

Just got done watching the Sylvia Anderson interview on the special features disk of the SPACE 1999 SEASON 1 Bluray (Sylvia Anderson being the Co-creator and Producer of SPACE 1999). It’s a must listen. You realize exactly how right her instincts were, and what she brought to the show. Particularly this is born out by the difference in the quality of the show from Season 1 when she was there as producer fighting for it to season 2 when she was no longer with the show.

Among the things Ms. Anderson discusses in the interview is that she didn’t feel Martin Landau or Barbara Bain were right for the show. And it’s a viewpoint I can understand. While I think they work in the roles (particularly Barbara Bain brings an odd, but endearing quality to her performances), I think the show worked in-spite of the leads, not because of them.

There are some shows you look at the cast, and say ‘Well I can’t see anyone else doing those roles. That’s perfect casting!” You can say that of the first STAR TREK series (even in light of the movies etc, that first crew is perfect, seminal casting) and FARSCAPE, etc. However, you can’t say that of SPACE 1999, I think numerous actors could have done the role of Commander Koenig to equal or better effect. It’s the ambitious scripts and the [for the time] strong production values, and the ensemble performance of the actors, rather than just the leads, which makes the show.

Particularly when you hear Sylvia Anderson’s interview (which is available on the Blu-Ray) and Gerry Anderson’s commentary and the concessions they made to get Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, and the problems they had, it makes you question if the roles would have been better served inhabited by unknown actors, etc.

Well those are questions beyond the answering. What is known is that with the departure of Sylvia Anderson, at the end of season one, the show lost its rudder and its way.

Sylvia Anderson fought hard in the first season for script conferences and to give some sense of weight and seriousness and cohesiveness, a heart if you will to an admittedly fantastic show. But I think she understood that the more fantastic the show, the more important it is that the little things, the connections and reactions of people ring true and be grounded and relatable. And with her out as producer, the show also lost its voice of reason in front of the camera… Barry Morse, and ultimately the show succumbed to dumbed-downed storytelling and pandering to audiences with spectacle and rubber monsters… rather than craft and story.

And that difference is clearly seen in the first episode of season 2, METAMORPH (kindly included on the Season 1 Blu-ray’s special features). Devoid of Sylvia Anderson and Barry Morse, and anyone to fight the cliched ideas coming from the American office of ITV, the show increasingly looked like a poor man’s Buck Rogers.

But hindsight is always 20/20. Hurdles and politics and all, the 1st season of SPACE 1999 was pulled off, and flaws accepted, it’s ambitious television, it is television that tries to say something. And that is television to be proud of.

And since I’m talking about the show thirty five years after its cancellation, it seems that it is also television… that endures.

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray] – Buy it here!

Some of this post has been edited into the earlier SPACE 1999 article.

Television Reviews: Dan Harmon’s COMMUNITY Season I DvD!


Having just watched all of the first season of COMMUNITY, I thought I would jot off a quick review, that I think would have been very helpful to myself before purchasing this series.

I was swayed by the reviews which unfortunately had this being the best thing in the universe, with little to no moderating reviews. Having watched the series, I have to say while not horrible, I did have some problems, and in the scheme of things find myself far closer to the 2 star grades than the 5.

The show is not horrible. It has its moments, at times it’s brilliant, one of the standout episodes being PAINTBALL.

And the cast has talented character actors, that could be interesting characters. Unfortunately by the time you get halfway through the season writer/creator Dan Harmon, has fallen into the rut of not developing most of the characters beyond stereotypes.

While I think he’s trying to do something interesting with some of the characters, most notably the character of Abed played by Danny Pudi, who I think is great (Though I understand how Arabs may not really dig the idea of an Indian playing an Arab. Not an isolated incident in Hollywood). Unfortunately for every Abed it seems you also have to get a Troy.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Donald Glover, but I think the character of Troy falls back into the happy medium of White writer writing weak or flawed or sexless or emasculated or non-threathening Black Male characters. You see that a lot in television, and hell going back to vaudville, writers working out their issues of fear and race through “humor”/ridicule. But god we’ve seen that same tune sung so often, that it is a glaring, and boring, and uninteresting stereotype. I would rather a writer not have Black characters in the show, rather than drag the characters into the show to do his version of Step and fetchit. To bring characters of color in, only to break them down. Be it Buffy, or Smallville or the first season of the new Dr. Who, etc.

And the craziest thing is these writers think they are being edgy, and cutting edge, and original, and liberal, when what they are being is very predictable, very 1920s, very tired, and very bigoted. Note to Dan Harmon… tokenism… it is just what it sounds like.

The dumb over-compensating funny Black jock was just about passable the first half of the year, because at the very least you had the romantic subplot that gave you a hint there could be more there. But by the end of the season you have the dumb-over compensating funny Black Jock eunuch, which is oddly enough also a reoccurring Hollywood staple.

Nice one, Dan. Didn’t see that coming.

It’s just tired, tired writing.

I mean, and this is not to fault the actors, they do the best in the horrible stereotypes they are given to work in, and it’s a testament to their skill that I like them, despite the limitations. But I’m nagged incessantly by the fact that I would like them a lot more if they were more than their foibles. I would like them a lot more if they had contrasting cool Black characters to play off of. It would be great the day Black characters can be represented by their “Peirce” but also have their “Jeff”. Or have their “Shirley” but also have their “Britta”. Have the same diversity of quirky and cool characters that White actors get.

Unfortunately, that’s what tokenism does, it gives only a narrow view, to a broad people. And usually it’s the worst, most dismissive, most denigrating view possible. Which listening to Dan Harmon in the commentaries he comes across as more than a bit dismissive and denigrating.

All in all, by the end, I felt the show does a disservice to Harmon to write it, and it does a disservice to Glover to perform it. Add to this the character of Shirley (My God, is that a call back to “what’s happening?”!!) the sassy, but matronly, Black woman. My God we haven’t seen that a thousand times. Black women seemingly to White writers in Hollywood, can only be perceived as Hors (ala Halle Berry) or as sassy, bossy matrons, but nothing in between.

Good, one Dan. Way to be original.

Let’s try something new. How about something crazy, Black guy gets the girl. The hot Black, smart girl. Or the Hot White, smart girl. Wow, imagine that. Oh, wait… that would mean moving out of the 1920s.

So yeah by the end of the season, the blatant stereotyping, took away from what I thought was otherwise an interesting show.

I mean at the price it currently is of like $12 for the entire season, it’s worth getting if only to see the paintball episode. Then sell the thing when done. You’ll make out far cheaper than renting. But just realize, you’re going to see something perhaps a little more flawed than Amazon reviews lets on. Grade: C+.

Community: The Complete First Season — Buy it Here

ROME SEASON 1 DVD Set

ROME SEASON 1 DVD Set
Rome: The Complete First Season

Rome: The Complete Second Season

Rome: The Complete Series

ROME is a good show, but never really rises beyond that. Consumable enough, the main cast is phenomenal at times, it’s nicely filmed, and offers good music, and moves at a fair clip, but it is not a show that I feel any strong desire to finish. If it’s there I’ll watch it, but I don’t really find it that commanding. And when you hit the Egyptian episode, and the depiction of the ancient Egyptians and Cleopatra, that’s where I pull over the bus.

My pet peeve is the Anglicization of history, the whitening of history if you will. The ancient Egyptians bear no more resemblance to the current inhabitants of Egypt, than the ancient inhabitants of America bear any resemblance to current inhabitants of America, and for the same reason. Invasion,war,migration,genocide, interbreeding, forced relocation. It’s the same reason the black aboriginal peoples of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, and the Cook Islands, went from a predominantly Black, Nubian people to a more Asiatic appearance. As the islands were subject first to interbreeding from their ‘discovery’ to a particularly active and pointed form of ethnic cleansing performed during world War II. In fact not so much ethnic cleansing, as ethnic appropriation. Make of your enemies… yourselves. Breeding with your enemy, outbreeding your enemy, as the final battle ground of war.

And if the history of recent times is replete with such sweeping ethnic changes, in less than a couple of centuries. How much more is the ethnic landscape of Egypt changed in 4000 years. Which is why I’m particularly cognizant of the Hollywood style white-washing of that history, and it is the surest way to earn my ire, and take me out of the story. And don’t even get me started on the comic and foolish depiction of the Egyptian royal family, and Cleopatra.

However when you get past that unfortunately clownish and inept episode by writer William J. MacDonald and Director Steve Shill, the remaining episodes leading up to the season finale are very strong and very moving. Particularly the last two episodes, by writer Bruno Heller and Directors Mikael Salomon and Alan Taylor, are a master class… on cinematic storytelling.

So all in all ROME is historical fiction, at times brilliant, that unfortunately suffers from the schizophrenia too common with television series… that the quality can vary widely depending on who writes and who directs.

So I do object to the liberties it takes with the facts; particularly as it relates to Egypt. But that acknowledged, and fast forwarded through, it is definitely a series that is worth a look, if not quite a buy. I don’t see it as a show that I have any interest in re-watching or lends itself to re-watchability, though your mileage may vary. Final Grade: B-.