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Doctor Who: The First Doctor

on Mon, 11/11/2013 - 00:00

The First Doctor
The Doctor is many things. The self-proclaimed protector of Earth, complete with a defiant arrogance towards anyone wishing to go up against him. A wide-eyed traveler with a childlike innocence and thirst for adventure. A forgiving man willing to compromise but with a deadly dark side when left with no alternative. A tormented soul carrying the weight of numerous worlds on his shoulders. A friend to his companions and enemy to those who attempt to do them harm. It does not matter if he is dressed in a plain black leather jacket, pinstriped suit or even a simple bow tie, it is easy to recognize the Doctor regardless of his outward appearance.

At least that is the case in the Twenty First Century. Back in 1963, however—when the original Doctor Who premiered on the BBC—it was a slightly different Doctor who was introduced to the television-viewing public of Great Britain. Instead of defiant arrogance, for instance, this First Doctor was described as a “stubborn old man” who “likes to work alone” rather than travel with human outsiders. He cared little for the welfare of his fellow beings, often unwilling to risk his own life when others were in jeopardy, but was just as “clever” as his future incarnations when he finally did decide to act. He was a conundrum of sorts, with the seeds of the many Doctors who would follow firmly in place, but a First Doctor in need of human interaction in order for those seeds to take root and flourish.

It’s not just the Doctor, however, but the original Doctor Who itself that is different than the contemporary series that premiered in 2005. Instead of willing companions, the initial human colleagues of the Doctor are “reluctant tourists” who stumble their way into the TARDIS and are then kidnapped against their will. “Put yourself in their place,” the Doctor explains. “They are bound to make some sort of a complaint to the authorities, or at the very least talk to their friends. If I do let them go, you realize of course we must go too.”

Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright thus become trapped in space and time as they bounce from place-to-place with a grandfather-like old man who is exactly that—a grandfather—as this Doctor has a granddaughter named Susan. It is an interesting concept for a television series, and considering that Doctor Who has continued to flourish for 50 years, an obviously successful one as well, even if the roles of the characters were originally reversed from what they are today.

“The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life,” Rose Tyler would explain in 2006 in regards to the Ninth Doctor. “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say ‘no.’ You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away.”

In the eighth episode of the original series, however, the Doctor has a different viewpoint. “Let’s leave well alone,” he advocates. “We have ourselves to worry about.” Thus instead of being a teacher, this First Doctor is the student as he learns the lessons handed down to Rose Tyler from—ironically enough—Ian Chesterton. “You can’t go on running away,” Chesterton says. “There are some things worth preserving.”

The First Doctor is also not the man-in-charge as is the case with future Doctors. Although Ian Chesterton does tell the caveman Za on their first adventure that the Doctor is “their leader,” Chesterton is the one who often serves in that capacity. The Doctor still rises to the occasion, demonstrating his cleverness and knowledge as he deduces the “science” of the situations that the group finds themselves in, but it is always Chesterton who takes action when more than mere words are needed.

Very little is revealed about the Doctor in the initial installments of the 1963 series. “I tolerate this century, but I don’t enjoy it,” he tells Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. “Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection.”

The TARDIS is of course present, a name granted upon it by granddaughter Susan as the Doctor himself simply refers to it as the “ship.” The TARDIS is first seen in a junkyard as a Police Box—just as it continues to appear to this day—but apparently the shape was not meant to be permanent. When they arrive in the year 100,000 BC, for instance, both the Doctor and Susan make the observation that the TARDIS looks the same. “It’s still a police box,” the Doctor laments. “Why hasn’t it changed? Dear, dear, how very disturbing.”

The TARDIS of 1963 is also a device that does not always react the way the Doctor intends. “This isn’t operating properly,” the Doctor says of the TARDIS early on. “It’s a question of the right information,” Susan later explains to Ian Chesterton. “I don’t say that Grandfather doesn’t know how to work the ship, but he’s so forgetful, and then he will go off and...” Many things have changed on Doctor Who through the years, but apparently not the Doctor’s relationship to the TARDIS.

The same holds true for the Doctor’s greatest foe, the Daleks. In what can be considered a stroke of genius, the original architects of Doctor Who led the TARDIS to the planet Skaro for the second adventure of the series. A war between the two inhabitants of this distant world had erupted 500 years earlier, polluting the atmosphere with radiation and mutating the Daleks into small, deformed creatures that have taken refuge inside tank-like robotic shells. According to the mythology of the seven-episode story arc, the Daleks were originally concerned with philosophy and science more than anything else, and it was their Thals counterparts who were the warrior race. Five hundred years later, those characteristics have been flip-flopped.

“Why destroy without any apparent thought or reason?” one of the Thals asks in regards to the Daleks. “Oh, there’s a reason,” Ian Chesterton replies. “Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits. They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.” Over time, the origins of the Daleks changed on Doctor Who, but just like with the TARDIS, their basic traits remained the same nonetheless—including their signature catch phrase of “Exterminate!”

While the Daleks have remained the same, the Doctor himself has changed through the years, and the seeds of that evolution from First Doctor to the one that Rose Tyler described in 2006 are clearly evident in 1963. “Fear makes companions of all of us,” the First Doctor tells Barbara Wright early on in the series, and no doubt those initial “companions” of the Doctor led to his need to always have one at his side. When Wright remarks that she is surprised that the Doctor appears to be afraid, the Doctor replies, “Fear is with all of us, and always will be. Just like that other sensation that lives with it. Your companion referred to it—hope.”

“Look at these people, these human beings,” the Tenth Doctor would later say. “Consider their potential. From the day they arrive on the planet, and blinking, step into the sun, there is more to see than can ever be seen. More to do than... no, hold on. Sorry, that’s The Lion King. But the point still stands.” With all due respect to Elton John, perhaps the Doctor learned his respect and admiration for the human race by watching, listening and learning from Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright back in the 1960s instead of Disney animation.

At least that’s one theory, and it could be totally wrong. The Doctor, after all, is a conundrum, regardless of whether he’s the First or the Tenth.

Anthony Letizia

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