Friday, May 24, 2013

The Classic Series Guide for New Series Fans: Netflix Streaming Edition

So I was asked by a few of the cast and crew of The Timey Wimey Fantastic Brilliant Extravaganza (Geronimo!)" what classic series I would recommend for fans who are only familiar with the new series. Nathan in particular asked about which ones currently available on Netflix streaming would I recommend. Sadly, there's not much classic series episodes available on Netflix streaming, but it's a good starting point as any.

1. The Aztecs
The only entry for William Hartnell, the first Doctor. Considered by many to be his best adventure and the best purely historical story in the classic series (defined as having no Sci-Fi elements aside from the TARDIS). This is the first time the series explores the consequences of attempting to change history as schoolteacher Barbara Wright poses as an Aztec goddess in order to stop the ritual sacrifices practiced by this culture to appease the "rain gods" and ensure their crops will grow. Also a great action showcase for Ian Chesterson (the science teacher). Hartnell's insistence that history can not be rewritten - "not one line!" - is perhaps his best moment in his tenure. As will most of the first Doctor's stories, the pacing may be too slow for modern television viewers.

2. The Mind Robber
The only entry for Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor. A surreal fairytale-like adventure set in "The Land of Fiction". A bit silly in spots, and the ending is kinda rubbish, but an entertaining story nonetheless. Episode one is a highlight as it only features the Doctor and his companions in the TARDIS (Jamie and Zoe) being menaced by a mysterious, disembodied entity trying to tempt them out of the TARDIS.

3. Spearhead from Space
Jon Pertwee's (Doctor #3) debut story featuring the Autons & the Nestine Consciousness. Written by Robert Holmes, considered by many to be the best classic series writer. This was the template for "Rose", the first episode of the New Series. Shot entirely on film on location due to a strike at the BBC studios (this happened a lot during the classic run) and due to be released on BluRay shortly. Pertwee doesn't really enter into the fray until halfway thru episode two.

4. The Three Doctors
Fascinating just to see the real-life tension between Troughton and Pertwee translate into their characters. While Pertwee always stuck to the script, Troughton always ad-libbed his way thru. A great case study of how different actors approach playing a character. The Brigadeer gets the best lines in this. Unfortunately, Hartnell was too ill to take part in the studio, and all his appearances (on the TARDIS scanner screen) were pre-filmed.

5. The Ark In Space
The beginning of the "golden age" of Doctor Who - produced by Phillip Hinchcliffe, scripted edited by Robert Holmes (who wrote this adventure), and starring Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor. Yes, the monsters are made of green bubble-wrap, but still a very suspenseful outer-space adventure.

6. Pyramid of Mars
Another classic from the golden age of Who (written by Robert Holmes under the pseudonym "Stephen Harris"). The rapport between Baker and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) is unmistakable (watch for their Marx Brothers tribute in episode 4). The main baddie, Sutekh, is one of the most chilling performances ever, and it's just the voice!

7. Horror of Fang Rock
Another Tom Baker story, this time with his savage companion, Leela, who sadly is not in the leathers this episode. Set in a lighthouse and based on the classic murder mystery "Ten Little Indians". Start of the Graham Williams era, but still feels like a Hinchcliffe-era story. Written by Terrence Dicks, who wrote the majority of the "Target" range of classic series novelizations.

8. City of Death
Probably my favorite episode ever. Written by Douglas Adams (under the pseudonym "David Agnew") and featuring Tom Baker and Lalla Ward as the second incarnation of the Time Lord Romana (whom he later married in real life for about 18 months - she is now married to Richard Dawkins). Everything you want in a new series episode (comedy, adventure, mystery, time paradoxes, and a character being splintered in time). Location filming in Paris where the story is set. Watch for a special cameo in episode 4.

9. The Caves of Androzani
Peter Davison's (Doctor #5) last story, and his best. Another classic tale by Robert Holmes, it's a story of political intrigue, betrayal and revenge. It's one of the most violent stories in the classic series, and it's bloody brilliant (apart from the monster, which thankfully is only in a few scenes). Directed by Graeme Harper, the only person who has directed for both the Classic and New Series. We get a peek of Colin Baker's Doctor in the end, but sadly his Doctor is not represented at all in Netflix's streaming package.

10. The Curse of Fenric
Sylvester McCoy (Doctor #7) and Sophie Aldred (Ace) was one of the best Doctor/Companion teams in the classic series. This is probably the four part (broadcast) version, and not the special edition movie version which is actually better because they restored all the cut scenes that help the viewer understand just what the heck is going on. However, the pacing and the timey-wimey elements of this story are a lot like those of the New Series.