I began my Doctor Who viewing, like a lot of people, with the newer series. While I very much enjoy the newer series though, it’s left me with a lot of questions. How did things start out? Where did the Dalek and the Cybermen originate from? The Doctor used to have family, right? What happened to them?
Fortunately for me (and my pocketbook), Netflix has most of the older story arcs available either via Instant Play or DVD. (It’s missing the ones that there are no video copies for anymore, of course, and the ‘Lost TV Episodes‘ collections are a bit more pricey and difficult to get at.)
I started recently with the set of 3 DVD’s titled, ‘Doctor Who: The Beginning,’ which encompasses three story arcs. Be forewarned, if you get these yourself via Netflix, ‘An Unearthly Child,’ which is actually the first story arc with the pilot episode is for some reason on Disc 3 rather than Disc 1.
As intrigued as I am by the origins of some of the history of The Doctor, watching these early episodes is like a history lesson in itself. The history of gender roles on TV in the 1960′s, that is.
Since the DVD’s I was watching were out of order, the first story arc I watched was ‘The Daleks.’ It’s the first time the Daleks were introduced in the series. Let me set the stage for you…
The Doctor, his grand-daughter (Susan) and their two less than willing companions (Ian and Barbara) are exploring what seems to be an ancient abandoned city. They’ve split up to cover more ground, each of the four going in different directions. The first one in the party to discover the Daleks is Barbara. She comes down a hallway, turns a corner, and coming her direction is a Dalek. Upon first catching sight of the Dalek, before it speaks, or does anything at all except move toward her, her first reaction is to begin screaming, then back up into the wall behind her (not turn and run back the hallway she just came from) and writhe on the wall. Then she continues screaming. And writhing. (This was the ending scene of the first episode in this story arc.)
Nice little tidbits of this sort were scattered through the rest of the story arc as well. Both Susan and Barbara were prone to hysterics, or easily frightened at the slightest thing. The Doctor was arrogant and demanding, prone to throwing a fit if he didn’t get his way, but also the first to fall prey to tiredness, illness, or any other such road block (I’m guessing because the original version of The Doctor was pretty old). Ian, as the ‘young male’ of the party, was also arrogant, and ‘of course’ the most fit and able for any physical necessity.
This type of thing even shows up clearly in the other race that they encounter, the Thals. The Thals have only one female character who has any lines (that I noticed) and she is openly mocked by her father and other Thal males (for, among other things, always having an opinion). This female Thal is also presented as only seeing importance in her ties to the main male Thal character. I don’t think I can recall the exact quote of her father speaking to her male partner, but it was something along the lines of ‘all the future she sees is in you’.
The ‘Edge of Destruction’ story arc doesn’t give as much fodder for this type of thing, since it’s a bottle episode, taking place entirely on the TARDIS. However, in ‘An Unearthly Child,’ the male/female roles are again agonizingly stereotyped.
Susan is first presented at the start as a cool customer who is smarter than both of her teachers, which is what brings them to try to find out more about her. Yet, once the four are away from 20th century London, she panics into screaming hysterics as soon as her grandfather disappears, and is no help at all to finding him or securing the party’s release from their captors. Both Susan and Barbara begin screaming at the merest unrecognizable sound or moving bush, even before any actual danger presents itself.
Not that some people don’t still tend to stereotype females in this way, but at least I can watch most Sci-Fi series these days without going, “What the hell?! Why would anyone do that?” every time a female character runs into the slightest bit of danger.
I’m looking forward to seeing the gender roles evolve as the series progresses. Since there’s no other Sci-Fi series this long-standing, it should be interesting.