In honor of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary this year, the BBC is releasing a special on each of the eleven Doctors. Each airing is approximately half an hour of documentary about one of the Doctors, and then a full serial in which they star, making it several hours of footage for each. Recently, the First through the Fourth of these were released in a four-disc DVD set.
For fans of the modern Doctor Who, this is a real treasure trove. If you’re like me, you’ve only seen a handful of the old episodes (there are a lot of them), or perhaps none at all. This set gives you a quick overview of who each Doctor is, how the show changed with each new incarnation, and a bit about the actor who played them, making you feel somewhat informed as we approach the big anniversary event. People actually involved in the process are interviewed, giving their unique insights.
The first four were an interesting group. First came William Hartnell, whom is iconic in being the forefather to everything that came after him. At this point, the series was still in its infancy, and the writers hadn’t figured out exactly where they were going with things yet. The Doctor had a granddaughter, the only extended glimpse we get of his family and his life before the series, which seems strange. Yet, he also fought the Daleks and the Cyberman and had various companions during his tenure, establishing a basic structure that continues through today.
Then, Hartnell left the show and, rather than cancel it, someone came up with the brilliant idea that the Doctor would regenerate as a totally different person. Patrick Troughton was cast, and he sets that standard for departure in each new incarnation. Troughton didn’t play an impression of Hartnell, but he kept enough of his predecessor to make it a continuation. It’s a brilliant move that could have gone terribly wrong in hands other than those that guided it, one that has never been successfully repeated by any other series since.
After Troughton comes Jon Pertwee, who, to me, is whom I think of when I think of classic Doctor Who. Eccentric and wise, Pertwee is the caring elderly man who can also run around and be daring. He brings some of his own self to the part, including a memorable car for the Doctor to drive in. He also finds Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), perhaps the most famous of all companions, whom pops up many times over the years with several Doctors, and his long exile on Earth shifts the format of the show show for awhile.
Fourth is Tom Baker, the longest-serving Doctor. With his curly hair, loud scarf, and otherworldly personality, Baker definitely makes his mark. He serves as a transition between the first batch and the second of the older years, not quite fitting in with either group as well as the rest fit with one another, but definitely being memorable in his own right. A lot changes occur during the Baker years, especially the phasing out of UNIT, who had been quite integral to Doctor Who for awhile.
Along with the somewhat in-depth examination of each of the first four Doctors, four complete four-part serials are presented on the DVDs, just as they aired. The stories included here are “The Aztecs,” “The Tomb of the Cybermen,” “Spearhead From Space,” and “The Pyramids of Mars.” Each of these are carefully selected and are good representations of the periods from which they hail. Not exactly typical episodes, but also not too far from the norm, they are well chosen glimpses of the fine men who brought the Doctor to life and great reminders of how the show has lasted so long.
There aren’t any special features to speak of, but the introductions and interviews are themselves special features when you think about it. These discs are extras in the larger scheme of Doctor Who, the ultimate bonus inclusions in the series set.
Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited – First to Fourth is available now.