An Unearthly Child: The first episode of this four-part serial, the first ever episode of Doctor Who, is must-watch material. The Doctor and Susan, his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, have been stuck on Earth in 1963, living in the TARDIS in a junkyard while the Doctor tries to repair it. In the meantime Susan has chosen to attend English public school, and the episode follows her science and history teachers, who are baffled by her evidently superior grasp of their subjects, creating a number of entertaining moments for a fan of the series. Disturbingly, the conflict in this children’s show reaches a tipping point when the Doctor is accused by Susan’s teachers of tying her up in the TARDIS; he then kidnaps them against their will. It’s all quite startlingly different from what the show later became. Some have posted warnings to fans of the new show to stay away from the 60’s episodes altogether, but I find them generally worthwhile. The slow, methodical style takes a bit of getting used to – it is indeed very much like a stage play, with long takes, and no cutting if someone messes up a line or moves behind something so you can’t see their face. But it’s good to see these pieces of the Doctor’s real history, and I developed an affection for Hartnell’s Doctor and his companions after a few episodes. Unfortunately, the remaining three episodes of the “An Uearthly Child” serial are not very good, just some drama being captured by cavemen who’ve forgotten how to make fire.
The Daleks: I read about this first appearance of the Daleks on Wikipedia years ago and absolutely had to watch it. Being at this time mostly unable to control the TARDIS, the Doctor accidentally lands on Skaro, where he fakes a technical problem in order to force his unwilling companions to let him explore what turns out to be a Dalek city; they of course go with him, and they all nearly die from radiation poisoning, Daleks, jumping over extremely deep pits in caves, etc. It turns out (from post-viewing research) to be an encounter with a small subgroup of Daleks, inhabiting early prototype shells, and thereby confined to a city whose metal floors power them via static electricity.
This serial is SEVEN 23-minute episodes long, and while the early parts are interesting enough, towards the end it drags awfully, apparently because an extra episode was forced to be made of it. I read that this sort of dragging-out is common with classic Doctor Who, because it means more air time filled with less writing and less different sets, etc. In this case, we get to watch a whole party of Thals (and Barbara, Susan’s history teacher) jump over the “bottomless pit” one by one, in real time. Riveting! It’s sad really, I read that The War Games is quite liked by fans, but not recommended because it was dragged out over ten episodes. If there were a well-done abridged version, I’d watch that. I think that these cases call for the reverse of director’s cut / extended edition releases, as only the most dedicated fans will want to watch everything as originally broadcast.
The Edge of Destruction: A budget-saving two-parter set entirely on the TARDIS, in which unknown errors occur, the doors mysteriously open and close on their own, characters seem to be going mad, and some of them wonder if there’s some kind of “invasion of the body snatchers” thing going on. In the end it tests the Doctor’s relationship with his kidnap victim companions, and sets up a greater mutual trust that will last them through the rest of their journey. Not a candidate for my favorites, but at a mere two episodes I can’t complain.
The Aztecs: (not a part of the set) A lot of people say they like this because it’s purely historical with no aliens/monsters, but if this is how that goes, I don’t think I want it. The Doctor is all Prime Directive in this one, “We can’t try to end human sacrifices, that’s their religion” and “you can’t change history,” lessons which Barbara accepts at the end.