Monday, March 14, 2011

Season 1 Overview

A Scene from An Unearthly Child
At the end of The Reign of Terror, the scene fades from the TARDIS crew around the console to a shot of a star field, as the Doctor talks about the crew finding their destiny amongst the stars. The inaugural season was comprised of eight serials, which were made up of 42 episodes. When the first episode debuted, it garnered only 4.4 million viewers. But the unexpected and massive success of the Daleks made the series a phenomenon. The final episode of The Daleks, the second serial, saw 10.4 million people tune in. From there, the future of the series was assured.

The sheer amount of episodes produced during the first season is staggering. Today in Britain, 13 episodes is really the norm for a season. Even in the US, most major network series produce around 26 episodes. To successfully produce over 40 episodes of television in one year is a feat in and of itself. To capture the public imagination, and hold onto it, is an amazing achievement. The show wasn't quite an institution yet, but it was fast on its way to becoming one. It would take another season to truly confirm the series' status as a cultural touchstone.

Season 1 Story Editor David Whitaker
The tone of the series, and the traits of its main character, began to come together over the course of this season. He began the series as the impetus of the adventures, but he wasn't truly the hero of the series. That position was clearly held by Ian. But as the production team made the decision to soften the character, the Doctor became less of an obstruction, and more of the leader. This mellowing began to happen very quickly, indeed by the conclusion of The Edge of Destruction, it was clear that the untrustworthy, slightly duplicitous Doctor was going to make way for a crotchety but lovable eccentric. While this did make the Doctor less complex, it also allowed for the audience to get behind the character and the concept. It still allowed Ian be the man of action, while allowing a sense of solidarity and fellowship to develop. Arguably, if the Doctor had remained such a morally gray character, the series might not have survived past Hartnell's eventual departure.

The production team found its stride rather quickly in terms of tone and style. The overtly educational brief they had originally been given was pared down to the absolute minimum in favour of a greater sense of adventure, intrigue and the fantastic. The main issue they faced, and would continue to face, was in finding plots that were complex enough to sustain themselves over longer-length serials, but by and large, they met these challenges over their first season.

Season 2 Story Editor Dennis Spooner
Verity Lambert would continue to produce the series for Season 2, but story editor David Whitaker would soon leave the production team. Season 2's introductory story Planet of Giants, had actually been produced during the end of Season 1's recording schedule. Whitaker would edit The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Season 2's second story, and then he would move on, handing the story editing duties over to Dennis Spooner. While Whitaker's departure as editor was a loss to the series, it did free him up to contribute some of the best scripts that the series ever saw.

For now, the series moved into its second season with enormous confidence. The question became whether Doctor Who was a flash in the pan, or could it top itself?

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