One thing I found most interesting about this show is the serial format – this is the first time I’ve seen a show with this kind of format, and I found that it had its own set of pros and cons. On the pro side, it allowed them to truly develop a lot of the side characters and minor characters who would only appear in that particular story or serial. On the con side, there were too many serials that went on an episode or two too long. One of the problems with this era is that too often they’d have a problem with a serial not being ready or something of that sort and so they’d just extend an already written serial by an episode or two or sometimes they’d just have to come up with a new serial in a short amount of time. This made things difficult as I found many of these serials to be not very good and they probably could have been better had they been more tightly written, but obviously circumstances didn’t allow that. Another interesting thing about it is that, much like many other shows of its time, it doesn’t have anything resembling story arcs or character arcs. Sure, there’s a beginning to season 1, but beyond that, the seasons don’t feel like they have a beginning or end. Each story is basically standalone and has no real connection to the other. Sure, sometimes the characters may recount what happened on their last adventure(s), but you don’t actually need to watch every serial (except perhaps the first one) to be able to understand what’s going on. It’s fun in its own way, but at the same time, I do love a well done story arc and I did miss it a bit while watching this. I also found it interesting that the historical episodes were generally poorly received by the audiences because I found most of them to be very good and some of them I’d say are among the best of these early seasons.
Beyond all that, the Doctor is an immediately interesting character and William Hartnell’s performance is quite entertaining – irascible and mischievous and eccentric, he immediately makes an impression. Barbara and Ian are kind of bland but likable enough and they eventually develop good chemistry with each other. Susan, unfortunately, I cannot stand – at all. I definitely agree with Carole Ann Ford’s reasons for leaving in season 2. Her character is absolutely useless, annoying, obnoxious, and despite there seemingly being a few moments where it seems like her character might develop a little, she’s just back to square one (or zero in her case) by the start of the next serial.
- An Unearthly Child: The first episode of this story is actually pretty fun overall. It’s a nice introduction to all the characters and it’s just fascinating throughout. The remaining three episodes are merely okay. Not bad and I actually really enjoyed them upon rewatching them but overall they’re just not as good as the first episode. B
- The Daleks: This is obviously a historically important story for the show, but unfortunately it’s not a very good one. The first few episodes are decent, but then it starts to really drag. In fact, this remains a problem with most Dalek stories, particularly the ones written by Terry Nation. I also can’t say the sight of a bunch of guys destroying the Daleks with sticks made for an interesting ending. B-
- The Edge of Destruction: The first episode is actually kind of interesting and mysterious, but the second episode is just nonsense. Most of it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The worst part of the episode is the bit where Barbara looks at a clock and screams in fear. We have no idea where that clock came from or what’s actually happened to it (it was supposed to be melting but due to budget restrictions it was an already melted clock that didn’t come across clearly on screen). There’s a decent speech by William Hartnell near the end, but not enough to save this incomprehensible mess. C+
- Marco Polo: This was by far my favorite story of this season and of the entire First Doctor era in fact. It’s definitely a product of its time, in the sense that obviously the Chinese and Mongolian characters are all actually played by British actors in makeup, but the story itself is very good. I think it was still perhaps an episode too long, but overall this makes good use of the formula established in the first two serials (such as separating the Doctor and his companions from the TARDIS and the rest of the serial just being them trying to get back to it), a formula that would later become rather repetitive, and it also establishes several new tropes that would be used in later serials as well but to much lesser effect (such as the hidden enemy, scheming behind our heroes’ backs). The costumes and sets are all very good looking (especially in the color reconstruction) and it’s a shame that this entire story is missing. Overall though, very entertaining historical and the first of many historical stories I’d find entertaining. B+
- The Keys of Marinus: I think this was an interesting enough concept on paper, but most of the episodes fail to sustain any tension or actually remain interesting. It doesn’t help that The Doctor is largely absent from this. It’s kinda entertaining, but overall not very good. B-
- The Aztecs: I don’t know if it’s because of the hype I had in advance that this was one of the best stories of the First Doctor era, but I didn’t think this was that great. It’s okay overall. It has some weird things, like the whole Doctor/Cameca romance stuff, and the idea of not meddling with history is introduced for the first time though not really explored in any meaningful way, so the ending of the serial doesn’t quite have the impact it thinks it does. Still, overall, it’s fairly fine. B
- The Sensorites: Now, here’s an interesting case. The first episode of this serial is very, very good, so much so that I thought this might easily end up the best story of the season. The Sensorites themselves are mysterious and intriguing and Susan – with her arguments and disagreements with her grandfather and then later being able to telepathically communicate with the Sensorites – seems to be getting some semblance of character development or growth. Unfortunately, with each subsequent episode, the Sensorites outstay their welcome, all their mysteries are done away with and they become boring, and Susan’s “development” such that it is goes nowhere and she reverts to her original state at the end of it. Extremely disappointing. B-
- The Reign of Terror: This was kind of okay, but the one big problem with it is that it’s extremely repetitive. I honestly lost track of how many times the main characters were put in prison, released from prison, put back in prison, escape from prison, put back in prison… it just goes on and on and on and on. It’s at least an episode or two too long. I did, however, enjoy The Doctor’s antics in most of this episode. B-
Overall Grade: B-