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Allow Us To Explain
For a while now, Netflix has been streaming many adventures from the original "classic" Doctor Who program, which ran for twenty-six seasons from 1963 to 1989. Folks who've enjoyed the modern Doctor Who program have sometimes tried to jump into the classic show via the Netflix online selection. But unfortunately, this has led to some confusion. For instance, the original story "An Unearthly Child" is not available on Netflix streaming and some of the stories it includes are part of larger arcs. This has led to me getting several e-mails asking for help, so I figured it would be a good idea to make a simple guide.
A few things you should know, first. With one exception, no episodes of the classic show were self-contained. All of the Doctor's stories (or "serials") were multi-episode. Also, during the classic show, the Doctor's people are alive and well, while he is considered a "renegade Time Lord" for stealing a TARDIS and interfering in the lives of other races (other crimes were hinted at but never revealed). According to the Doctor, before he left he had been "a scientist, an engineer" and a "builder of things," regarded by some as a "pioneer" despite being a poor student who barely graduated on the second try.
For the first six seasons, which covered his first two incarnations, the Doctor was a fugitive of Gallifrey. The Doctor often said during the classic series that he deliberately turned his back on Time Lord society, unable to agree with how they operated. In the first story, "An Unearthly Child," he explained that he and his granddaughter Susan (who left Gallifrey with him) were "cut off" from their home planet, "without friends or protection." Starting in that same story, the TARDIS's year-o-meter and chameleon circuit broke, meaning the ship was now stuck looking like a 1963 police public call box and there was no way at all to determine where it would land. So if you joined the TARDIS crew during the first six seasons, you had no guarantee you would ever find your way home again. The Doctor didn't get (some) control over his TARDIS's destinations until during this third life.
And that's the basics. Now let's delve into thing with more detail and talk about some of these stories that are available online . . .
The Aztecs Season 1 - Story 6 (1964)
In the first TV story "An Unearthly Child," the TARDIS had been hanging out in 1963 London for some months and Susan
(Carole Ann Ford) attended Coal Hill School. Teachers Ian Chesterton (science) and Barbara Wright (history) became curious about Susan and followed her one night, which led to them literally stumbling into the TARDIS and meeting her grandfather, the mysterious and mischievous Doctor (William Hartnell) . When the Doctor took them on a flight, he didn't realize until it was too late that the ship's year-o-meter broke. This forced Ian and Barbara to be his first human companions until he figured out a way to get them home. Originally quite insensitive, single-minded and rude, the Doctor was influenced by the two humans and by the end of his third adventure regarded them as friends, while softening more into the hero we know today. Barbara and Ian were played by Jacqueline Hill and William Russell. Fun Trivia: This is the first story to show the Doctor displaying possibly romantic affection for someone. It is also the first story of the program to bring up the possibility and ethics of altering history. When "The Aztecs" was written, the BBC had a strict rule that the Doctor couldn't alter general history and major events, nor that he would want to. This was relaxed when it was decided that Doctor Who would continue past the original plan of airing for one year. The Mind Robber Season 6 - Story 45 (1968)
The Doctor is now in his second incarnation (
Patrick Troughton) and estimates that he's around 450 years old, by Earth terms. He is still a fugitive from his own people and still has no control where the TARDIS lands. For years now, he’s been traveling with Jamie McCrimmon, a piper from the Scottish highlands in the 18th century who pulls off wearing a turtleneck with a kilt. Recently, the Doctor and Jamie have been joined by Zoe Heriot, an astrophysicist from the mid or late 21st century who sports a catsuit in this story for no-doubt scientific reasons. Jamie is played by Frazer Hines and Zoe is played by Wendy Padbury.
In this fun story, the Doctor and his friends wind up in an impossible place inhabited by superheroes, unicorns and Gulliver. There's a character called the Master, but don't confuse him with the later-introduced evil Time Lord of the same name.
Fun Trivia: Jamie's name may sound familiar to some Tenth Doctor fans. In the 2006 episode "Tooth and Claw," the Doctor finds himself in 19th century Scotland and uses the alias "Dr. James McCrimmon" (as his usual alias "Dr. John Smith" wouldn’t have blended in as well). Spearhead from Space Season 7 - Story 51 (1970)
This is the premiere of season 7. It is the first
Doctor Who story in color and the debut of the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee. In the Second Doctor’s final televised adventure, he was finally found by his people, the Time Lords, and put on trial for interfering with other races while his companions Jamie and Zoe were sent home, their memories of life on the TARDIS erased. Rather than execute him, the Time Lords sentenced the Doctor to exile on the 20th century Earth, his TARDIS grounded and his memory of time travel science removed. Part of the sentence is that he's been forced to regenerate into this third form.
Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, this was the start of a new era for the Doctor, working as scientific advisor "Dr. John Smith" for UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), which had appeared only once before. This adventure brings back Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, who twice fought alongside the Second Doctor against the Great Intelligence and other monsters. The Brigadier's daughter Kate Lethbridge-Stewart currently runs UNIT in modern episodes. This story also introduces the Doctor's assistant, UNIT scientist Dr. Liz Shaw. The Brigadier is played by Nicholas Courtney and Shaw is played by Caroline John. Fun Trivia: This is not the first time the Doctor goes by "John Smith." The Second Doctor used that alias and the Eleventh Doctor episode "The Vampires of Venice" revealed that the First Doctor used it too. Susan's favorite band was John Smith and the Common Men, and tie-in media have said that this (as well as its unremarkable nature) was the reason the hero often used that alias. The Three Doctors Season 10 - Story 65 (1973)
This is the
Tenth Anniversary story and features the very first multi-Doctor team-up. The Doctor has spent the last three years exiled to Earth, living in the UNIT lab and working as the group’s scientific advisor “Dr. John Smith.” This story includes Katy Manning as UNIT agent Jo Grant, assigned to be the Doctor’s assistant after Liz left, and the Third Doctor’s beloved car Bessie. It is also retroactively the first appearance of the Celestial Intervention Agency (CIA), a group of black ops Time Lords.
This story leads directly into "The Carnival of Monsters." It is the first time we learn some history of Time Lord society, which is expanded on in later stories such as "The Brain of Morbius," "The Deadly Assassin," "The Five Doctors," "Underworld," "State of Decay" and "Remembrance of the Daleks."
Fun trivia: After leaving Doctor Who, Katy Manning famously posed in a nude photo shoot alongside a Dalek. In recent years, she has not only reprised her role as Jo in Doctor Who audio dramas, she has portrayed Iris Wildthyme, a hard-drinking, flirtatious Time Lord who constantly insists that she and the Doctor were once in love, despite his protests that they never knew each other on Gallifrey. The Carnival of Monsters Season 10 - Story 66 (1973)
Immediately following "The Three Doctors," the Doctor's memory of time travel science is restored and the TARDIS is in working order again, better than before. Unlike the first two Doctors who had no control over the TARDIS flight at all, the Third Doctor can (sometimes) go where he pleases. In this adventure, he and Jo Grant take the ship on a test flight and wind up in a strange place where people seem to be reliving the same events while others watch them. A fun, weird story that also features actor
Ian Marter years before he became the Doctor's companion Harry Sullivan. The Green Death Season 10 - Story 69 (1973)
The finale story of season 10, this is the departure of Jo Grant after she had been the Doctor's assistant for three years. Although the Doctor has regained the ability to travel through space and time, he still spends a lot of time at UNIT out of a sense of loyalty and because of his friendship with Jo and the Brigadier. This story deals with environmental concerns and corrupt industrialists.
Writer/actor/producer Mark Gatiss has said he regards the ending of this adventure as a heartbreaking moment in his childhood. He referenced the ending in his docudrama
and in the An Adventure in Space and Time episode "The Sign of Three." Sherlock The Ark in Space Season 12 - Story 75 (1975)
This is the second story to feature the Fourth Doctor, played by
Tom Baker, who held the role for seven years. Joining him is Elisabeth Sladen as journalist Sarah Jane Smith, who has been traveling with the hero for over a year now and witnessed his recent regeneration. Filled with wanderlust after his previous incarnation was stuck on Earth for so long, the Doctor wants to leave UNIT and enjoy the universe. UNIT medical officer Harry Sullivan didn’t think the TARDIS was actually a spaceship, so the Doctor tricked him into coming aboard and joining its next flight. Hence, at the beginning of this story, Harry is very unnerved to realize the Doctor was telling the truth and the TARDIS has actually traveled through time.
This is truly the beginning of the
Doctor Who era led by producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes, hailed by many as two of the best showrunners the program ever had. The Eleventh Doctor episode "The Beast Below" (2010) calls back to this story. "The Ark in Space" also recently had a sequel/prequel in the Big Finish Productions (BigFinish.com) audio drama "Destination Nerva," starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. Pyramids of Mars Season 13 - Story 82 (1975)
Having returned Harry Sullivan to 20th century Earth, the Doctor and Sarah Jane continue their travels. The Doctor has been called back to UNIT to help them yet again and is reluctantly responding. But something throws the TARDIS off course. The Doctor lands in the right spot, exactly where the UNIT lab should be, but decades too early. He and Sarah Jane wind up facing robot mummies, animated corpses and the Egyptian god
Some fans consider this story to be among the best of classic
Doctor Who and a precursor to the Stargate franchise. It also features the voice of actor Gabriel Woolf, who later voiced The Beast in the Tenth Doctor episodes "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit" in 2006. This is also the first adventure where the Doctor addresses just how much Earth's history can alter if he doesn't do his job. He remarks though that it's very difficult to totally change the future, no doubt because the Time Lords were still around, doing their jobs of maintaining history. Horror of Fang Rock Season 15 - Story 92 (1977)
This is the beginning of Season 15. Since the second half of the previous season, the Doctor has been traveling with
Leela of the Sevateem, a fierce warrior from a primitive tribal culture that descended from Earth space explorers. Leela (played by Louise Jameson) wishes to learn about the universe and the Doctor has been showing her that what she once thought was magic is actually science and alien forces. At times, the Doctor finds Leela's inclination towards fighting and slaying perceived enemies to be a bit frustrating. In this story, they wind up outside a lighthouse in the early 20th century. Fun Trivia: Louise Jameson wore contact lenses during her previous adventures as Leela to make her eyes brown, since her character's name meant "dark-eyed beauty." This story alters Leela's eyes to blue, letting Louise Jameson abandon the uncomfortable lenses. The Ribos Operation Season 16 - Story 98 (1978)
This is the beginning of Season 16. This entire season is actually one long framing story,
“The Key to Time,” with the Doctor being sent on a mission by the White Guardian, the universal embodiment of order and peace. The Doctor is told to recover the six lost segments of the Key to Time, so nearly each story of this season had him going after one segment and getting into an unrelated adventure, with the final story having him face the forces of the Black Guardian, the embodiment of destruction and dark forces.
At the end of the previous season, Leela and the robot dog
K-9 Mark I left the TARDIS to begin a new life on Gallifrey. The Doctor has been traveling with only K-9 Mark II (which he apparently built himself) for some time now and isn’t anxious for a new companion. He gets one anyway, a Time Lord named Romanadveratrelundar AKA Romana, played by the late Mary Tamm. This young Time Lord, newly graduated from the Academy on Gallifrey, is not particularly impressed by our hero's mysterious past after looking through his personal records in the archives. It turns out she even knows things the Doctor has forgotten, such as how old he really is and how to properly land a TARDIS. The Pirate Planet Season 16 - Story 99 (1978)
Part 2 of “The Key to Time.” This story is written by
Douglas "Dude, I wrote Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Adams, who later became script editor on Doctor Who for a time. If you thought K-9 was hilarious, wait until you meet the robot parrot in this story that kills people with energy weapons and stabbing attacks. The wonderfully theatrical Bruce Purchase also plays a cyborg pirate who makes wonderful declarations such as: "By the beard of the Sky Demon!"; "By the great Parrot of Hades!"; "Moons of Madness!" There's also a fun callback to Leela, when a delirious Doctor recalls telling her to stop killing people with her poisonous Janus thorns. The Androids of Tara Season 16 - Story 101 (1978)
Part 4 of "The Key to Time." It's not necessary for you to see Part 3 of "The Key to Time" season to follow the events of this story. This is a pretty fun romp, taking place on a planet much like medieval England, but with electrified swords, robot horses and androids. It is an homage to the classic science fiction story
The Prisoner of Zenda. The Power of Kroll Season 16 - Story 102 (1979)
Part 5 of "The Key to Time." This story features what was literally the largest creature the Doctor ever faced (at least up until he met a nasty living planet in a 2013 episode). It's a pretty straightforward story about respecting indigenous people and not letting industrial progress override morality.
Unfortunately, Part 6 "The Armageddon Factor" is not available on Netflix, so you can’t stream the final part of the season's "Key to Time" arc.
The City of Death Season 17 - Story 105 (1979)
Another Douglas Adams story, produced during his year as script editor. Romana has recently regenerated into her second form (sometimes called Romana II), played by
Lalla Ward (who later married Tom Baker for a time). During this time, the Doctor is trying to avoid detection by the Black Guardian by making the TARDIS difficult to track. So he’s attached a "randomizer" to the ship's controls, ensuring each destination is a complete surprise. The Leisure Hive Season 18 - Story 109 (1980)
This is the first story of the Fourth Doctor’s final year and the first season under showrunner
John Nathan-Turner (or JNT), who headed Doctor Who until its cancellation in 1989. The Doctor is still traveling with Romana and K-9 Mark II. This adventure features the Doctor sporting a shirt decorated by question marks for the first time (an idea of JNT's), and has him remove the randomizer, letting him once again determine (usually) where the TARDIS lands. Fun Trivia: This story includes an attempt by John Nathan-Turner to get rid of K-9, as he believed the show needed to be more serious and that a robot dog was too silly. K-9 Mark II and Romana left the TARDIS together later in this season and were never seen again on-screen during classic Doctor Who. The Visitation Season 19 - Story 119 (1982)
This is during the first year of the Fifth Doctor, played by
Peter Davison. At this time, he’s traveling with an entourage of three, something that hadn't been done since the First Doctor's second year. The TARDIS crew includes: Adric, a boy-genius from another universe called E-space; Nyssa, a young scientist from a planet destroyed by the Master; and Tegan Jovanka, a flight attendant who stowed away on the TARDIS by accident and is increasingly annoyed with the Doctor’s inability to take her directly home. Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are played by Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding.
The sonic screwdriver is destroyed here and doesn’t appear again until fourteen years later in the 1996 TV-movie. This was because producer John Nathan-Turner thought it was silly and made escape from certain situations too easy.
The Caves of Androzani Season 21 - Story 135 (1984)
The Fifth Doctor’s final adventure and the second to last story of the 21st season. The Doctor recently picked up new companion
Peri Brown, an American botany student, and is now a bit more somber about how violent his life has become. This is the first story directed by Graeme Harper, who went on to direct many popular episodes of the modern Doctor Who. including "Doomsday." It's also Peter Davison's favorite TV adventure as the Doctor and the ending was expanded on in the Big Finish audio drama Circular Time. Fun trivia: This story mentions the worlds Androzani Major and Androzani Minor. Harvesters from Androzani Major later appeared in the Eleventh Doctor adventure "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe." The Curse of Fenric Season 26 - Story 154 (1989)
This is the second to last adventure of the classic
Doctor Who program. This features the Seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy, and his teenage companion/student Ace, played by Sophie Aldred. It is not, in my mind, a good intro to the Seventh Doctor as it was meant to wrap up story threads from the previous seasons. But it's still a good adventure and an excellent example of how darkly manipulative the Seventh Doctor could be.
Dorothy Gail McShane AKA Ace is a teenager from the 1980s who makes homemade explosives (Nitro-9). The Doctor first met her on a space station in the future, during the story "Dragonfire." Ace explained she had been sent to the future from the 1980s by the random manifestation of a "time storm." After several adventures, this story reveals the truth behind Ace’s time journey, while also shedding light on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary story "Silver Nemesis" (which definitely needed some light shed on it, because that adventure was just damn weird).
I think that wraps this all up. Now go forth and enjoy your streaming online media!
For a while now, Netflix has been streaming many adventures from the original “classic”
Doctor Who program, which ran for twenty-six seasons from 1963 to 1989. Folks who’ve enjoyed the modern Doctor Who program have sometimes tried to jump into the classic show via the Netflix online selection. But unfortunately, this has led to some confusion. For instance, the original story “An Unearthly Child” is not available on Netflix streaming and some of the stories it includes are part of larger arcs. This has led to me getting several e-mails asking for help, so I figured it would be a good idea to make a simple guide.
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@ SizzlerKistler) is an actor and writer. He is the author of Doctor Who: A History.
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