Doctor Who is a British science-fiction show about a humanoid alien who travels through space and time with a companion (or two, hi Rory!) looking for adventure. On the eve of the show’s fiftieth anniversary it has never been more popular, especially in the United States. However, some of the show’s most ardent fans have avoided the massive back catalogue of the series’ initial run from 1963 to 1989, which is a shame. Admittedly none of the early Doctors were as adorable as David Tennant; nonetheless the show was often as witty, hilarious, and thought-provoking as its current iteration. Looking for a place to start with Classic Who? Try some of these serials available on DVD at your local library!
An Unearthly Child: The very first episode of Doctor Who premiered on November 23, 1963 with a pair of school teachers investigating the home life of their very curious student Susan. The couple finds much more than they bargained for when Susan goes home to a blue police telephone box that is bigger on the inside and contains her “grandfather”, a cantankerous old man who calls himself the Doctor. The group ends up travelling via the phone box (it’s actually a spaceship-time machine hybrid called the TARDIS) to the Stone Age and being captured by a tribe of warriors. That part isn’t as good but the opening episode is a doozy and is as great as anything the show has done since.
The Ribos Operation: Tom Baker is the most well-known of the original run of Doctors and for good reason. He’s a sly devil with an impish grin who laughs more often than not despite the dire circumstances he finds himself in. One of the greatest runs of the original series came with the sweeping Key to Time saga, with the Doctor tracking down pieces of an immensely powerful MacGuffin over the course of several serials. The Ribos Operation opens the six-story arc and is a wonderfully fun game of one-upsmanship between the Doctor and a huckster who sells a planet he doesn’t own. (The next Key to Time story, The Pirate Planet was written by future Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams. It’s also awesome.)
Remembrance of the Daleks: Every great hero needs a nemesis and the Doctor’s most popular foe is the Daleks, a race of evil aliens housed in metal containers, whose only directive is to “EXTERMINATE!” The greatest Dalek story of all time (and arguably the show’s peak) came with the Seventh Doctor’s return to the school from An Unearthly Child, where he and companion Ace stumble upon a war between two Dalek factions. The fascinating thing about the Doctor is that he can be as brutal and unforgiving as his enemies and nowhere is that more apparent than in the shocking end to this story.
Allons-y, Geronimo, etcetera!