The Whoniverse 1963-1969. Watch now on BBC iPlayer in the United Kingdom.
As the Whoniverse arrives on BBC iPlayer with over 800 episodes spanning sixty years of Doctor Who, it can be daunting to know where to begin. Like any show, Doctor Who has had high and low points, with some episodes and seasons stronger than others, so join me as I pick six unmissable classic era treats starring the first two Doctors, William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton, in The Whoniverse 1963-1969.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964)
It may not be the first outing for Terry Nation’s deadly Daleks, who trundled onto our screens in December 1963. But The Dalek Invasion of Earth is without doubt one of their most memorable appearances and the story that cemented their place as Doctor Who’s deadliest foe. In a dark and foreboding vision of 22nd-century Earth, London has fallen to the Daleks, with only a small group of freedom fighters left standing in their path in one of the most dystopian Doctor Who stories of the classic era. But as the Daleks trundle along Westminster Bridge past the Houses of Parliament, can William Hartnell’s Doctor defeat them by working alongside the freedom fighters willing to give their lives to rid the city of these fascist pepper pots from space? And will Susan stay with her grandfather or remain behind with a young Scottish freedom fighter she has fallen in love with? The Dalek Invasion of Earth is a shimmering gem of early Doctor Who and undoubtedly one of the best Dalek stories in the show’s 60-year history.
The Whoniverse 1963-1969
The Time Meddler (1965)
As the TARDIS arrives in England in 1066, you may expect The Time Meddler to fit the classic historical mould of stories like The Aztecs and The Romans. But in a twist, the Doctor, Vicki and Steven soon discover technology centuries ahead of its time and a monastery home to a time-travelling Monk who wishes to change the outcome of the Battle of Hastings. The Time Meddler was the first Doctor Who story to mix history with science fiction and play with it freely over four fun, beautifully scripted and performed episodes that demonstrated the endless possibilities of Doctor Who’s adventures in time and space. But even more importantly, it set the template for the arrival of renegade time-travellers from the Doctor’s home world, opening up a universe of possibilities that would eventually lead to the appearance of The Master.
The Whoniverse 1963-1969
The War Machines (1966)
It took a while for Doctor Who to embrace the changing landscape of 60’s London. However, in 1966, it finally stepped out of the Tardis and onto the capital’s swinging streets as it celebrated the arrival of London’s latest landmark, the Post Office Tower. As they arrive at the tower, the Doctor and Dodo are welcomed by Professor Brett and the world’s most advanced computer, Wotan (Will Operating Thought ANalogue). But the Doctor quickly smells a rat as he investigates whether this new advanced computer is controlled by its civil servant masters or holds them under a deadly power driven by artificial intelligence.
Meanwhile, Dodo goes clubbing and meets Polly and Ben as the swinging sixties invades the dusty world of Hartnell’s Tardis, resulting in Dodo leaving and the vibrant Polly and Ben joining the show. By 1966, it was clear that Doctor Who needed a new direction, and The War Machines would mark the beginning of Hartnell’s exit from the show as the BBC laid the groundwork for something extraordinary in the history of television. Regeneration!
The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967)
One of the most chilling, beautifully written and performed Doctor Who stories of the past 60 years, Patrick Troughton’s Tomb of the Cybermen is an outstanding slice of science fiction and horror. Like so many of Patrick Troughton’s adventures, the BBC wiped tapes after broadcast, and therefore, it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that Tomb of the Cybermen was rediscovered in Hong Kong. As the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria arrive on the planet of Telos, they find a small group of archaeologists searching for the remains of the Cybermen, who died out 500 years before. But as they enter the tomb, a deadly menace stirs in its frozen catacombs.
Mixing classic horror with genetics and ethical discussions on archaeology that hark back to Britain’s imperial past in countries like Egypt, Tomb of the Cyberman is Doctor Who at its spine-tingling best, from sound design to sets and performances. Classic-era Cybermen would never again be as frightening as they were here, which was a pity given the terror of their vice-like grip.
The Whoniverse 1963-1969
The Web of Fear (1968)
Due to the constraints of studio filming, the lighting of Doctor Who was often so bright it jettisoned the shadows its stories so richly deserved. But, like Tomb of the Cybermen, The Web of Fear, directed by Douglas Camfield, bathes in gothic horror while embracing classic science fiction. In the dark tunnels of the London Underground, mysterious mechanical Yetis stalk their prey.
The Web of Fear picks up from a missing story from 1967, The Abominable Snowman. Here, we discover that the now-elderly Professor Travers, who met the Doctor as a young man in Tibet in The Abominable Snowman, brought back a deadly Yeti robot to England as a trophy. In London, he tinkered with it until he reactivated it and opened the door to the Great Intelligence. But can the Doctor, Jamie, Victoria and Colonel Lethbridge Stewart defeat this menace before it consumes everything in its path? Bathed in shadows and some exquisite studio and location work, The Web of Fear is another outstanding example of Doctor Who’s ability to merge groundbreaking science fiction with gothic horror.
The Mind Robber (1968)
Doctor Who has a long history of stories that break with convention and offer audiences something experimental. The first of these stories was The Mind Robber, which bravely took the Tardis crew out of time and space, placing them into a strange land inhabited only by fictional figures from novels and fairytales. In this peculiar and often psychedelic world, each character is controlled like a marionette by a writer taken out of time, known only as the Master, and an unseen computer brain that controls the writer’s thoughts. But can the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe escape this strange new world before they also become marionettes?
Utterly unpredictable, completely nuts and joyously creative, The Mind Robber was filmed on a shoestring budget due to the money running out earlier in the season. At the same time, Frazer Hines had chicken pox during the filming, leading to some creative manoeuvres, including a change in Jamie’s face and body, while the episode count was suddenly cut from six to four. But despite the turmoil behind the camera, The Mind Robber remains one of the most bizarre, creative and delightfully peculiar detours Doctor Who has ever taken.