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Summering with the Time Lord

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There is this thing out there called "summer television."  Every year, broadcast networks treat their audiences to burn-offs of shows that failed be they good or bad (see Pushing Daisies, which was certainly the former) and billions and billions of hours of reality television.  Seriously, the amount of reality television networks throw out there during the summer is staggering, simply staggering.  And, whomever came up with this genius plan of having two hours one day for a performance show and thirty minutes or an hour the next day for a filler-laced results show ought to either be promoted or blindfolded and given his final cigarette; I can't decide which, but I know one of those two is the right choice.

I watch my fair share of reality TV, and I watch my fair share of summer burn-offs (though I did refuse to restart Kings), but for the past two summers I've become ever more obsessed with one thing and one thing only – the Who-niverse, and mainly in the form of the pappa program, the inimitable Doctor Who

This summer, of course, is a great summer for all Who fans, what with Torchwood: Children of Earth airing right now on BBC America (read my review); one Doctor Who special, The Next Doctor, having aired already (my thoughts); and another one, Planet of the Dead, coming this Sunday (the review is written, but you're just going to have to wait a few days to read it).  But, my obsession extends beyond the new, it goes into the old as well.  I'm digging through wikis, I'm googling old episodes, I'm figuring out the difference between Dalek factions, and I'm watching every episode that my TiVo can grab (and with the new series currently airing repeats on PBS stations, BBC America, and SyFy, that's a lot of episodes).

I am still though quite dissatisfied, there's too much out there – the once and future show has aired for decades, they've gone through ten Time Lords.  Sure, Paul McGann only starred as the Eighth Doctor in the one backdoor TV pilot that never launched a new series, but his doctor has appeared in radio plays – with McGann – as well as books and comics.  And, let's not forget that it seems as though the Eighth Doctor was the one who participated in the Time War, that's huge.  How do you not want to know more about that (and, when will there be more to learn?)

Then there's the issue of canonicity which I can't even begin to touch.  Does the McGann movie count (the new series would have us believe so)?  Do the books in general count?  Radio?  Internet?  Comics?  There are dozens of guides to the series out there, at least one of them is multi-volume, but I'm not convinced that puts an end to all the questions nor that they will give all the answers (even if one could spend the time to read them all)

Actually, I think that the copious amounts of material that exist in the Who-niverse are exactly what make it such great summer fun.  If I can spend three months every year learning about the previous adventures of the Doctor and his companions then eventually I'll be able to catch-up… you know, in something like 30 years.  What I really need (do you hear me, BBC?) is a complete set of all the Doctor Who episodes from the original series on DVD.  I don't think that they're all available on DVD yet, and I shudder to think what the price would be on a complete set of the Doctor's adventures, but my goodness, imagine the fun that could be.  That by itself could take me five or six summers to get through.  They'd be great summers, and I'd be bleary-eyed and more than a little pale by the end of the them, but they'd still be great.

What say you, BBC – can we get an über-complete Doctor Who DVD set?  Comic-Con is this week, surely now is the right time to announce it.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Matthew

    BBC Worldwide are slowly releasing all the stuff they can onto DVD. There’s a regular release schedule, but they’d probably lose money if they tried to rush all the episodes out a once (their target audience wouldn’t buy enough). Also the DVDs go through a very thorough restoration process and have some excellent extras, all of which take time.

    On top of that, quite a lot of the pre 1970 episodes were junked by the BBC. So the many of the black and white William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories are either incomplete or missing. All the soundtracks survive, though, so there are CD versions, with narration, and fan reconstructions (the most famous once being by Loose Canon, http://www.recons.com). A few of the Jon Pertwee episodes only exist in black and white, as well, but that’s not too bad.

    All the surviving stories did get a VHS release in the US, so if there’s a particular story that you really want to see then you can probably find a used tape on Amazon or Ebay.

    Luckily, though, the various serialised stories stand pretty well on their own, so you can dive in anywhere you like without too much trouble. The were mainly made in an age before commercial video releases and home VCRs and were very rarely repeated – so they don’t have the same ongoing story elements that the new show has.

    On the Canon front – only the TV series counts, and even then its not that strong. Successive TV production teams didn’t necessarily pay much attention (or care about) what went before. Having said that, you can build your own cannon from all the stuff that’s out there, if you want. Most of the books are out of print, though, and so can be quite pricey. I’d say start with the TV stuff and then perhaps investigate the comic strips and the Big Finish audio stuff.

    As a bit of a guide, here’s a list of current and planned US DVD releases, in chronological order. Plus some information about some other stories you might want to seek out. I’ve marked some jumping on points with *** – these are stories where you don’t have to worry at all about where the companion comes from or what’s gone before. I’d actually recommend starting with “Spearhead from Space” and then jumping to “THe Ribos Operation” when you fancy a different Doctor before going back to “An Unearthly Child” (the black and white ones can be a bit tough to get into). You can swap between eras as much as you like, but its best to stick to the chronology within each era (although it’s a not a disaster if you don’t). In a few cases some stories make more sense if you’ve seen others first, and I’ve explained when this is the case.

    For the non-DVD stories here is a key:

    (a companion leaves or arrives, or another major plot point)
    [a recurring monster or enemy or something referenced in the 2005 revival]
    {story with a particularly good reputation}
    + Lost story, audio version available, possibly a recon as well.

    For the DVDs the easiest way to try them out is by getting them from Netflix. I think some might also be on iTunes. The CDs are usually also available as downloads from audible.com, which could work out to be a cheaper way of getting them. VHS tapes you’ll have to track down via Amazon or Ebay.

    First Doctor (William Hartnell)

    ***001: An Unearthly Child (Box set: The Beginning)***
    002: The Daleks (Box set: The Beginning)
    003: The Edge of Destruction (Box set: The Beginning)
    {004: Marco Polo} +
    005: The Keys of Marinus (due in 2010)
    006: The Aztecs
    [007: The Sensorites]
    010: The Dalek Invasion of Earth
    011: The Rescue
    012: The Romans
    013: The Web Planet
    (016: The Chase)
    017: The Time Meddler
    (020: The Myth Makers) +
    (021: The Daleks’ Master Plan) +
    (022: The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve) +
    (026: The Savages) +
    027: The War Machines
    (029: The Tenth Planet) +

    Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton)

    (030: The Power of the Daleks) +
    (031: The Highlanders) +
    [033: The Moonbase] +
    [034: The Macra Terror] +
    (035: The Faceless Ones) +
    (036: The Evil of the Daleks) +
    037: The Tomb of the Cybermen
    [038: The Abominable Snowmen] +
    [039: The Ice Warriors] +
    [041: The Web of Fear] +
    (042: Fury from the Deep) +
    (043: The Wheel in Space) +
    045: The Mind Robber
    046: The Invasion
    048: The Seeds of Death
    050: The War Games (due 3 November 2009)

    Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee)

    ***051: Spearhead from Space***
    052: Doctor Who and the Silurians (Box set: Beneath the Surface)
    054: Inferno
    (055: Terror of the Autons)
    [056: The Mind of Evil]
    057: The Claws of Axos
    [058: Colony in Space]
    (059: The Daemons)
    [060: Day of the Daleks]
    [061: The Curse of Peladon] (best watched after The Ice Warriors and/or The Seeds of Death)
    062: The Sea Devils (Box set: Beneath the Surface)
    [064: The Time Monster]
    065: The Three Doctors
    066: Carnival of Monsters
    [067: Frontier in Space] (scheduled for UK DVD release in 2009, in Dalek War box set, no US release date yet)
    [068: Planet of the Daleks] (scheduled for UK DVD release in 2009, in Dalek War box set, no US release date yet)
    069: The Green Death
    070: The Time Warrior
    (071: Invasion of the Dinosaurs)
    [072: Death to the Daleks]
    [073: The Monster of Peladon]
    (074: Planet of the Spiders)

    Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) – Part One

    075: Robot
    076: The Ark in Space
    077: The Sontaran Experiment
    078: Genesis of the Daleks
    [079: Revenge of the Cybermen]
    {080: Terror of the Zygons)
    081: Planet of Evil
    082: Pyramids of Mars
    084: The Brain of Morbius
    {085: The Seeds of Doom}
    [086: The Masque of Mandragora]
    087: The Hand of Fear
    088: The Deadly Assassin (due 1 September 2009)
    (089: The Face of Evil)
    090: The Robots of Death
    091: The Talons of Weng Chiang
    092: Horror of Fang Rock
    093: The Invisible Enemy (Box set: K9 Tales)
    094: Image of the Fendahl
    097: The Invasion of Time (best watched after The Deadly Assassin)

    Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) – Part Two

    ***098: The Ribos Operation*** (Box set: The Key to Time)
    099: The Pirate Planet (Box set: The Key to Time)
    100: The Stones of Blood (Box set: The Key to Time)
    101: The Androids of Tara (Box set: The Key to Time)
    102: The Power of Kroll (Box set: The Key to Time)
    103: The Armageddon Factor (Box set: The Key to Time)
    104: Destiny of the Daleks (best watched after Genesis of the Daleks)
    105: City of Death
    110: The Leisure Hive
    112: Full Circle (Box set: The E-Space Trilogy)
    113: State of Decay (Box set: The E-Space Trilogy)
    114: Warriors’ Gate (Box set: The E-Space Trilogy)
    115: The Keeper of Traken (Box set: New Beginnings) (Best watched after The Deadly Assassin)
    116: Logopolis (Box set: New Beginnings)

    Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)

    117: Castrovalva (Box set: New Beginnings)
    118: Four to Doomsday
    {119: Kinda}
    120: The Visitation
    121: Black Orchid
    122: Earthshock
    123: Time-Flight
    124: Arc of Infinity
    {125: Snakedance} (best watched after Kinda)
    126: Mawdryn Undead (Box set: Black Guardian Trilogy) (due 3 November 2009)
    127: Terminus (Box set: Black Guardian Trilogy) (due 3 November 2009)
    128: Enlightenment (Box set: Black Guardian Trilogy) (due 3 November 2009)
    (129: The King’s Demons)

    Spin-off: K9 and Company (Box set: K9 Tales)

    130: The Five Doctors
    131: Warriors of the Deep (Box set: Beneath the Surface)
    134: Ressurrection of the Daleks
    (135: Planet of Fire)
    136: The Caves of Androzani

    Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)

    (137: The Twin Dilemma) (due 7 September 2009 in the UK, no US date yet)
    138: Attack of the Cybermen
    139: Vengeance on Varos
    140: The Mark of the Rani
    141: The Two Doctors
    142: Timelash
    143: Revelation of the Daleks
    144: The Mysterious Planet (Box set: The Trial of a Time Lord)
    145: Mindwarp (Box set: The Trial of a Time Lord)
    146: Terror of the Vervoids (Box set: The Trial of a Time Lord)
    147: The Ultimate Foe (Box set: The Trial of a Time Lord)

    Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy)

    (148: Time and the Rani)
    150: Delta and the Bannermen (due 1 September 2009)
    (151: Dragonfire)
    152: Remembrance of the Daleks
    [154: Silver Nemesis]
    156: Battlefield
    157: Ghost Light
    158: The Curse of Fenric
    159: Survival

    Eigth Doctor (Paul McGann)

    160: Doctor Who – The Movie (only available on Region 2 DVD, for rights reasons)

    The above would give you a very good overview of the classic Doctor Who TV series, without having to watch all of them. Even without tracking down VHS or CD versions, the current DVD releases give a pretty good account of things. Have fun!

  • That is a great list! Thanks so much! I’ve watched a bunch of them on DVD (rental) already (including all the Dalek ones that are available). I still want a complete set though.

  • impressive, Matt

  • Coyote

    I’d like to relate how I ass-backwarded my way to “Doctor Who”: A couple or three years ago, a friend turned me on to “Bones.” After watching four or five episodes at the beginning of the third season, I got hold of the DVDs to catch up. During this time, I happened to browse by a show on TNT … “Angel.” Now, for many years I was a vocal mocker of all things Buffy. But I was impressed by David Boreanaz (in lots of different ways) so I thought I’d bite the bullet (or wooden cross) and watch a few eps to see what the show was about. Well, as I became drawn into “Angel” I realized that I would have to start at the beginning and suffer through those BtVS’s that tracked the Angel storyline. Needless to say … or maybe needless to confess … I became a born again Buffy convert. (Trust me, this is going somewhere.) As I worked my way through the DVDs, I became an FOS: Friend of Spike, and now I follow James Marsters in anything he does. Guess where that led me? Captain John Hart in “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” and “Exit Wounds” of course. Do you see where this is going? After watching those two eps I purchased both seasons of “Torchwood.” I then tracked back Captain Jack’s appearances on “Doctor Who.” Now, I don’t have a TARDIS to get me through the entire Who-niverse, but I’ll pay a visit when I can. I just wish I didn’t have to hear those annoying Daleks screaming “Exterminate, exterminate!” That drives me nuts!