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Published on June 16th, 2010 | by Patrick Riley

Doctor Who Live! Well, Sort Of…

William Hartnell - the original Doctor WhoHartnell-era Doctor Who was given a mention today in the Independent by television writer Mark Ravenhill as part of a campaign to pull in viewers for tonight’s broadcast of his live drama, Ghost Story, on Sky Arts 2.  Referring to the minimally-edited programmes of the early 1960s, Ravenhill muses,

“A few months ago, I got hold of a stack of DVDs of early Doctor Who episodes and Dennis Potter plays, all of them made “as live”, and watched them with Will Charles, a hugely experienced television lighting designer who will be lighting my Sky play. We were surprised and impressed. Far from being the world of fluffed lines and microphones in shot that has been created by popular mythology, what we saw was the work of a highly skilled group of people who had developed a sophisticated vocabulary of camera movement, live vision mixing and bold lighting choices.”

It is true that a vast amount of work was donated (albeit paid) to make the early stories from our favorite show possible, yet occasionally William Hartnell’s all-important days as the Doctor are ignored by new-series-only fans who have labeled stories like An Unearthly Child as being appallingly dull because of their lack of action or humor.  If you fit that category, I offer you this challenge: watch an episode.  Rent it or purchase it or borrow it from a library and watch an episode of Doctor Who from 1963.  If you look past the lack of CGI monsters or flashing rainbows of lighting effects every five seconds, and absorb yourself in the story, you may find yourself coming back for more.

The Edge of Destruction would be a wonderful place to start.  It’s short (only two installments), has an engaging plot, and follows the “as live” principle that Ravenhill discussed, so you can appreciate the amount of precision that was required of the cast and crew to pull it off.

By the way, if you’re interested in television drama where all the actors are doing what you see them do, when you see them do it, tune in to Mark Ravenhill’s Sky Arts Playhouse: Live, ‘Ghost Story’ tonight at 9PM on Sky Arts 2.


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About the Author


Patrick is a temporal hitchhiker who spends most of his time in the future. His favourite Doctor is the Fourteenth. If you're especially lucky, you might even hear him tweet to all you merry folk in the past @10PatrickRiley.

3 Responses to Doctor Who Live! Well, Sort Of…

  1. avatar Shall We Destroy says:

    it’s always really heartening to hear someone defending the sixties (and the hartnell era in particular), because it bugs me when people disparage the oldest periods of the show.

    as long as your expectations are realistic, there are as many sixties stories that still stand up really impressively as from any other period.

    all doctor who is fundamentally ridiculous; enjoying it is all about suspension of disbelief, so the production values are almost irrelevant.


  2. avatar IanOTimelord says:

    Out of all the Sci Fi series first episodes I still think Unearthly Child lives up to being the best. Its gripping, full of suspense and great drama. When I fist seen the episode in 1981 when it was repeated as part of the Five Faces of Dr Who I thought it was filmed on a real street it was that good.
    I mean it has some great lines! “There is only one way in and out of this yard, I shall be here when you get back i want to see to your faces when you try to explain away your behavior to a police man” :D

  3. avatar Carn says:

    Yeah I’m still getting through some First Doctor stories I haven’t yet seen before and they’re all very entertaining and I agree the first episode of An Unearthly Child still holds up well as one of the finest debuts of any tv show and I often watch it and wonder what they would think if they’d known then the show would be huge near 50 years on. Sounds crazy just thinking about that myself actually.

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