Gavin Burrows on William Hartnell’s Doctor Who

Different Doctor Who fans have responded in different ways to the shallow disappointment that is the Chibnall/Whittaker era. I have reluctantly written something about each episode, despite actively disliking plenty of them. Elizabeth Sandifer seems to have pretty much given up. Andrew Rilstone has written about the most recent season (having quite rightly skipped the previous one), but is also reviewing Tom Baker’s tenure from the start.

But maybe the most interesting response has been that of Gavin Burrows.

Over on his blog Lucid Frenzy Junior, he has gone back to the very beginning of Doctor Who, and is slowly but surely writing deeply fascinating extended essays about every story in (mostly) chronological order:

The interesting part of this is not so much what he has to say about stories of genuine merit, such as An Unearthly Child and The Dalekseveryone has discussed those, although it’s certainly true that Gavin brings new (to me) insights and nuggets of information. The real gold is found in his discussion of second-tier stories like The Aztecs or even downright stinkers like The Sensorites. Time and again, reading these, I have been struck by observations about how the early days of Doctor Who were informed both in the incipient revolution of the 60s and also in the deeply conservative 50s.

Highly, highly recommended.

8 responses to “Gavin Burrows on William Hartnell’s Doctor Who

  1. Thanks Mike. Your eldest child will now be release, as promised.

    One interesting distinction between us is that I don’t see ‘The Aztecs’ as second-tier at all, I think of it as one of the best Hartnell stories. Admittedly it had the advantage of being a four-parter, so doesn’t seem as padded as some of the others. But it’s not just that.

    You’re on stronger ground with ‘The Sensorites’, though…

  2. To be completely honest, I have not seen any of these old stories, except the very first episode of An Unearthly Child. In calling The Aztecs second-tier, I am only riffing on what I perceive to be critical opinion. I very much doubt I would enjoy the actual episodes as much as I do your discussions of them!

  3. If you were trying to decide whether to watch the historicals, I’d suggest starting with “The Aztecs’. Definitely not ‘Tribe of Gum’! And ‘Marco Polo’s been lost. Which kinds of cements it, but I think ‘The Aztecs’ would probably prove better even if it were found.

    Generally, however, the Hartnell era’s a good example of the distinction between something being successful and it being interesting.

  4. That distinction is really important to me. It’s why I retain my fondness for films like (for example), Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) and Interstellar (2014). And indeed Doctor Who, even now, despite all the reservations I have about its present incarnation.

  5. If you fall on the ‘interesting’ side, then the Hartnell era could be something for you. However, the second stumbling block is it being sooooooo sloooooooooow.

  6. Yes; slowness in old TV is a real problem — I have found Tom Baker stories almost unbearably padded, and it’s hard to imagine that Hartnell wouldn’t be even worse in this respect.

    I wonder if there would be a market for re-cut old Doctor Who stories with all the padding taken out?

  7. Tom Baker zips along by comparison!

    I don’t think that would work. They are padded, yes. But they’re more slow. All you can do is adjust to their pace. Edited down they’d still be slow, just with occasional jump-cuts, which would be jarring.

  8. That’s a shame. I know it doesn’t reflect well on me that I am such an impatient person, but I just can’t see myself sticking out a whole story of episodes like that.

    (The slowness might make an interesting topic for an essay if you run out of other things to say.)

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