(1) I'm supposed to be writing something else;
(2) I need a bit of practice at explaining TV shows to people who haven't seen them yet. See (1) above.
(3) It has been brought to my attention that not everyone who reads my lj knows much about "Doctor Who" other than "it's that strange British show that Dave waffles on about".
So this is going to be my fairly pathetic attempt at trying to explain the show.
I must also warn that there are going to be gross oversimplifications (deliberate) and stupid mistakes (unintentional) herein. Be on your guard.
All you really need to know about the show is rather simple; as long as you don't start watching mid way through a serial (most episodes state whether they are a first or subsequent episode; the only ones that don't are most of the first three seasons of the show. If it's in colour, or shows an actor's face during the start titles, it's later than that).
- He is the Doctor, an alien "Time Lord" who is generally on the side of "good". At least when there are monsters around.
- He travels in the TARDIS, a time and space craft, larger on the inside than the outside, which blends in with its surroundings with the help of a "chameleon circuit";
- Said "chameleon circuit" is broken, with the result that the TARDIS normally looks like a 1963 vintage British police public call box.
Otherwise the Doctor's most obvious alien attribute is that, when he suffers a life-ending condition, he "regenerates" into a new body. This has happened eight times so far; the nine Doctors thus far having been played by William Hartnell (otherwise seen in "Carry On Sergeant"), with Peter Cushing in two feature films based on William Hartnell serials; Patrick Troughton (otherwise seen in "The Box of Delights"; Jon Pertwee (otherwise seen in "Worzel Gummidge"); Tom Baker (the best known Doctor, but whose other acting appearances are few and far between); Peter Davison (otherwise seen in "All Creatures Great and Small"); Colin Baker (otherwise seen in "The Brothers"); Sylvester McCoy (the last Doctor in the original TV series, otherwise seen in "Vision On"); Paul McGann (who appeared in a "Doctor Who" TV movie) and Christopher Ecclestone (the first Doctor in the revived TV series, which has just started in Britain and is supposed to be shown in NZ some time this winter).
Normally the Doctor travels with one or more companions, generally Earth human, although others range from his own grand-daughter to a smart-mouthed robot dog. Practically all of them speak good English. English English. At one point it seems to have been an unwritten rule that When On The BBC Thou Shalt Enunciate Properly. Thus the cavemen in "100,000 B.C." speak BBC English, and the Aztecs in "The Aztecs" speak BBC English. It's just something that a viewer has to get used to. Later, however, things did change slightly. For example, the witch-doctor in "The Face of Evil" is allowed to have a Welsh accent.
The show itself doesn't easily fit any genre pigeonhole. They range between science fiction, action / adventure, comedy, costume drama, horror and literary parody; often more than one genre in the same serial. It's a family show, but not a children's show - yes there is a difference. Nowadays many of the most fondly remembered serials would be considered unsuitable for younger viewers because of the horror content. Even a serial as slow and talky as "The Ambassadors of Death" got an "M" rating when finally released on video (about 30 years after it was first shown).
Most of the surviving episodes of the show have been released on video, and some have now been released on DVD. The following serials are ones released on DVD that I recall off the top of my head:
The Aztecs - Straight costume drama about the Doctor and company finding themselves in pre-Columbian Mexico.
The Dalek Invasion of Earth - Aliens that look like five foot tall salt shakers invade Earth in the 22nd century, waving their deadly sink plungers at the cast. See this post's user avatar for a Dalek.
Tomb of the Cybermen - An archaeological expedition wakens something they shouldn't, i.e. a bunch of humanoid cyborgs with handles where their ears should be.
The Mind Robber - The usual suspects are trapped outside of reality. There's no easy way to explain this serial, but it's one of the all-time best the show has ever produced - i.e. it's one of my favourites.
The Seeds of Death - Mars attacks via matter transmitter, a few hundred years in the future.
The Spearhead from Space - Deadly shopfront mannequins invade contemporary (i.e. 1970s) Earth.
The Claws of Axos - Deadly spaghetti monsters, ditto.
Carnival of Monsters - Deadly inchworms on steroids invade... somewhere else for a change.
The Ark in Space - Deadly space wasps invade a space station... This is getting monotonous, isn't it?
The Pyramids of Mars - Costume drama / horror set in the 1920s with Egyptologists and mummies. And beware the Hand of Sutekh, lest you die laughing...
The Robots of Death - Agatha Christie style murder mystery, set on a mining ship on an arid planet.
The Talons of Weng-Chiang - Costume drama / horror set in the 1890s with dragons, Chinese fowling pieces made in Birmingham, time travel experiments and deerstalker hats.
The Key to Time - The only season boxed set so far available; six serials (26 episodes) of the Doctor trying to reassemble an ancient and powerful artifact. Individual serials include a swamp monster story, a Douglas Adams (of "Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" fame) comedy, a parody of "The Prisoner of Zenda" and a con-man farce, before the whole series ends up in a confused mess.
The Leisure Hive - Aliens invade other aliens. Looks glamourous but I found the story rather tedious when I watched it on TV all those years ago.
Earthshock - Cybermen return, and this time they're aiming at Earth.
The Five Doctors - The twentieth anniversary special, in which as many living actors from previous years were brought back as possible. It should have been a complete mess, but somehow it managed to be entertaining watching. Wouldn't be much of an introduction to the series though.
The Caves of Androzani - The Doctor and his companion have been poisoned, and it's a race against time to find the antidote.
Vengeance on Varos - Never watched it and only have a vague idea of what it's about, but the Colin Baker Doctor never impressed me all that much.
Remembrance of the Daleks - The salt shakers have invaded Earth again, but in the 1960s this time.
The Curse of Fenric - World War II code-breakers waken something they shouldn't...
Various DVDs are only available in certain regions, e.g. "The Mind Robber" has so far only been released in Britain, and "The Key to Time" has so far only been released in America. They are generally good value for money - the disks are crammed with "extras" and much effort has gone into restoring the picture and sound quality - but they are still not cheap.
However many serials cannot ever be released on DVD as they simply don't exist. Over a hundred episodes of the six or seven hundred made in the original TV series were lost - the BBC simply didn't think to keep them for posterity - so what little remains of the earliest serials are few and far between. Patrick Troughton's episodes suffered the most: over half are lost. A handful of "orphan" episodes - including "Day of Armageddon", which was only rediscovered slightly over a year ago - were released late last year in the "Lost in Time" three-DVD boxed set.
In addition, about a dozen episodes originally transmitted in colour only exist in black and white. This affects the otherwise complete Jon Pertwee era - the first to be made in colour - notably the serials "The Mind of Evil" (only about five minutes of colour footage survives of the six-episode serial) and "The Ambassadors of Death" (most of which exists in poor quality colour, rescued from an off-air video recording made in the late 1970s, but due to atmospheric conditions about half of the colour that survives is unusable). In a few cases, colour has been restored to black and white film prints from NTSC colour conversions or off-air video recordings. Much more information on this subject is available on the Restoration Team web site - fascinating reading if you're at all interested in film or sound restoration.
Well that's probably got anyone reading this thoroughly bored by now...