Season 1: An Unearthly Child to The Reign of Terror

TV Club has reached the end of Hartnell’s first season of Doctor Who and it seemed like a good time to have a thread reflecting on the whole season.

  • How would you rank the stories?
  • What are your thoughts on the way the main characters develop?
  • Which alien race/monster/villain is your favourite?
  • Which story do you want to see a sequel for or makes you want to explore it in the expanded universe?

If you haven’t voted in this poll yet, head over and throw your gauntlet into the ring:

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If you’re not sure how to rank the stories, you can use this useful and fun tool over at the Metebelis Two podcast website:

Just isolate it to Season 1 and it will help you rank the stories.

Here’s mine:

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Season 1 Ranking

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  1. The Aztecs
  2. The Daleks
  3. An Unearthly Child
  4. The Sensorites
  5. Marco Polo
  6. The Edge of Destruction
  7. The Reign of Terror
  8. The Keys of Marinus
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1.The Aztecs
2.The Sensorites
3.An Unearthly Child
4.The Daleks
5.The Reign of Terror
6.The Edge of Destruction
7.The Keys of Marinus
8.Marco Polo

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What I love about Season 1 is how ambitious the show is from the get go. Every story is almost completely different in its approach to telling an adventure from the lengthy travelogue of Marco Polo, to the Shakespearean tragedy of The Aztecs to the solid sci-fi world of Skaro and the Saturday morning cinema cliffangery serial of The Keys of Marinus.

The main cast are phenomenal. Jacqueline Hill never disappoints and William Russell is wonderful as the action hero with charm that never comes across as smarmy or, god forbid, sexist. Even Carole Ann Ford is good when the writers remember to give her decent things to do such as in Marco Polo or, particularly, The Sensorites.

And at the centre of it all is William Hartnell. The stereotype of the crotchey old man is actually hardly ever present beyond the first story. His insane fits of giggles in Marco Polo, his delight at play-acting as an official in Reign, his courtroom defender antics in Marinus and his genuine concern for what Barbara is attempting to do in The Aztecs are just a few of the many, many golden moments he gives us in this first season.

And the worlds and creatures we are given - Daleks, obviously, but also the Sensorites and the alien Voord. Tlotoxl tops the villain list for me, but he’s given a run for his money by Tegana and even Kala from Marinus (the first female villain in Who). Marinus - a world which isn’t one homogenous entity but a world of different lands and peoples is something we never see again in the show. The Sense-Sphere, Skarosian jungle and the Dalek city are weird, other-worldly environments.

I only recently rewatched this season but typing this makes me want to revisit it all over again!

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My ranking is

  1. The Aztecs - 93%
  2. The Reign of Terror - 77%
  3. Marco Polo - 77%
  4. The Daleks - 75%
  5. An Unearthly Child - 67%
  6. The Keys of Marinus - 63%
  7. The Sensorites - 60%
  8. The Edge of Destruction - 60%

The overall score for the season is 7.1/10.

I love how this season experiments with story types and genres while it tries to find its footing. The four characters also undergo transformations as the season progresses. The Doctor is grumpy and selfish to begin with, but much warmer and kinder at the end. Iam goes from distrusting the Doctor and trying to take the lead to trusting him and caring for his friends. Barbara also learns a few important lessons. In The Sensorites, Susan experiences a brief period of character development before returning to her previous state.

I generally enjoy the pure historicals the most, as I find them to have the strongest scripts, casts, and production values in this era. But The Daleks is an essential piece of sci-fi history, even if it suffers from pacing problems. I have a soft spot for Marco Polo, despite it missing completely, and I still struggle somewhat with liking The Edge of Destruction.

The Daleks are the standout aliens here, obviously. They make a strong first impression, but it won’t be at their very best until seasons 3 and 4. The other monsters aren’t too exciting. This season is more about the villains, especially Tlotoxl in The Aztecs and Tegana in Marco Polo.

Overall, a solid first season!

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  1. The Aztecs
  2. Marco Polo
  3. An Unearthly Child
  4. The Edge of Destruction
  5. The Keys of Marinus
  6. The Daleks
  7. The Reign of Terror
  8. The Sensorites
    In terms of what I would have liked to see more of, probably the whole Reign of Terror Period, it’s a fascinated time in History and I don’t think the Story explores that Time to its fullest extent sadly.
    Overall, it’s a wonderful Season, one which I very much enjoy
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  1. The Aztecs - 9/10
    My favourite episode of the First Doctor’s Era, one of the only ones to really properly utilise the time travel premise and a masterful piece of character work to boot. Intelligent, mature script.

  2. The Edge of Destruction - 8/10
    People don’t talk enough about this one. A weird, fascinating little episode that feels like such a breath of fresh air after the drawn out Daleks. Ruined by the unbelievably dull second half.

  3. Marco Polo - 7/10
    Shockingly massive for a classic episode, this is an odyssey with ridiculous scale for the fourth serial. Unfortunately, I think the fact that it’s missing really slows it down for me.

  4. An Unearthly Child - 7/10
    The first part is a perfect 10/10: tightly written, drenched in atmosphere and endlessly charming, the caveman politics do throw it off a lot for me but our main cast is great enough for me to not care.

  5. The Daleks - 7/10
    It’s a very interesting watch but god does it drag. Could’ve easily been four parts but the Daleks are novel enough and the 60s antics fun enough to keep me going. Important episode, but not that entertaining.

  6. The Reign of Terror - 6/10
    Not the greatest historical ever but passable. The setting’s great and Hartnell’s an absolute delight but it falls into many of the trappings of the pure historical; there’s a lot of capturing, releasing and re-capturing.

  7. The Keys of Marinus - 5/10
    A dragging, shambling mistake that is actively falling apart as it’s being filmed. None of the side plots are engaging, everything looks cheap and the Voord are a villain I find to be an utter embarrassment. It’s harmless but not a fun watch.

  8. The Sensorites - 4/10
    Terrible acting, dumb ideas, a pace that won’t stop dragging it’s feet, The Sensorites put me off a classic who marathon for months. One good cliff hanger and some novel set design do not excuse five identical aliens having drawn out political debates for five parts straight.

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  1. The Reign of Terror - 8/10
    I absolutely adore and historicals and this is one of my favourites, i’am infatuated by the French Revolution and I feel this story portrays this time in France quite well. Big defender of this story.

  2. The Daleks - 7.5/10
    For their first outing this story is absolutely iconic in my opinion all the way from moment one right to the end (yes even the episode spent jumping a 5ft gap). I think this story gives the Doctor in particular a lot of character development along with the rest of the original TARDIS team and that’s why I love it so much.

  3. Marco Polo - 7/10
    Once again it’s a historical that captures my attention entirely, I love this period in history and this story is an absolute joy to consume.

  4. The Keys of Marinus - 6.5/10
    While in it’s entirety quite the compelling story, it fails to keep me fully interested due to the story hopping which never gives me time to enjoy any of the subplots except the murder trail one at the end because once I feel like a story is unfolding they teleport somewhere else, I get that’s the point but that’s never sat well with me. (Also the Voord are horrifically underused)

  5. The Edge of Destruction - 6/10
    A very solid two part story for this era, some great character moments and it really feels like this TARDIS team is starting to gain trust for each other. I absolutely love the ending with the first Doctor linking arms with Barbara

  6. The Aztecs - 6/10
    This is my very controversial season one take, i’am not that much of a fan of The Aztecs. I wholeheartedly prefer Lucarotti’s Marco Polo and once again my favourite parts of this story are exploring Aztec history. The introduction of the inability for our time travellers to change history is welcome and gives Hartnell his poignant line of ‘you can’t rewrite history, not one line!’. But overall this story has always fallen short for me, I do hope that on one of my many rewatches the story will click with me but I’m yet to experience that.

  7. An Unearthly Child - 5/10
    That’s not much else to say other than the first part is one of the best in the shows history and then it quickly devolves to prehistoric arguments and an overall boring story.

  8. The Sensorites - 4.5/10
    One of my least favourite serials full stop, I really cannot get on board with the sensorites it’s not got much of anything for me to enjoy except the part one cliffhanger which i very much enjoy. This story just fails to grab my attention in general.

Season One average rating: 6.31/10 (according to me)

If you read all that thank you because I understand I ramble alot when talking about this wonderful show :))

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