Doctor Who Season One in Retrospect

William Hartnell as the DoctorWell, that took longer than I thought it would, but we’ve finally made it through season one! I’ve never looked at Doctor Who very critically before starting this blog, but it’s been something of an eye-opener. How do the eight stories in the show’s inaugural season rank against one another? Here’s my verdict.


8. The Reign of Terror

The Reign of Terror had some good moments, and was a welcome change after the monotony of The Sensorites. In the end, though, I think this was the weakest serial of the season.

High points: Barbara and Susan discussing how far they’ve all come since An Unearthly Child. Also, the Doctor’s reflection at the end that “our destiny is in the stars, so let’s go and search for it.”

7. The Sensorites

The Sensorites gets off to a good start, but quickly turns lackluster. It’s still more memorable than The Reign of Terror, though.

High points: All of episode one, Strangers in Space. It’s brilliantly creepy, and the Sensorites appear to be a serious menace. The scene where Barbara watches in terror as the Earth ship narrowly avoids the Sense Sphere is fantastically realized. Also, the Doctor takes a real stand against an injustice for the first time.

6. The Keys of Marinus

The Keys of Marinus is not bad, but it lacks the space to breathe and fully develop each of the various locations on Marinus. It would almost need an entire season—and perhaps other writers in addition to Terry Nation—to do it justice.

High points: Exploring the dystopian themes that Terry Nation is obsessed with in his writing. In many ways, The Keys of Marinus is the precursor to Blake’s 7, even down to the teleport bracelets travel dials.

5. The Daleks

We probably wouldn’t be here without the Daleks, so this serial deserves a special place in every fan’s heart. The problem is, it’s so damn boring in parts! Cut it by three episodes, get rid of all the filler, and it would be perfect.

High points: Tristram Cary’s amazing musique concrète incidental score, especially the one used for the long shots of the Dalek City, is beautifully creepy, and it sticks in the memory. Episode one, The Dead Planet, is some of the best Doctor Who ever, and culminating in Barbara’s terrifying encounter with a Dalek.

4. An Unearthly Child

I wasn’t quite sure where to place this one, because An Unearthly Child is really, really good, but more than that, it’s where the journey began.

High points: Waris Hussein’s avant garde direction throughout is absolutely incredible, blending elements of the French nouvelle vague, film noir, and Hitchcock to produce real cinematic art on the small screen. Also, Za has nice legs.

3. The Edge of Destruction

The Edge of Destruction has long been one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who stories, and another that I had a hard time placing in this list. If I could point to one way to improve this story, it would be if Waris Hussein had directed it.

High points: All of it.

2. Marco Polo

Written by John Lucarotti, Marco Polo is Doctor Who’s first real epic story, which makes the fact that it’s completely missing all the more frustrating.  Paired with Waris Hussein’s direction and Tristram Cary’s more traditional incidental music, this must have been amazing to watch.

High points: Again, all of it.

1. The Aztecs

John Lucarotti’s second Doctor Who serial, The Aztecs is easily the best story in season one, only just barely beating Marco Polo.

High points: This story is significant, examining the nature of good and evil and individual agency within a wider society.  The Doctor and Barbara’s argument over her plan to change history is one of the most memorable scenes in Doctor Who history.

Daniel Lestarjette

Daniel is the owner and Managing Editor of Time and The – !. He's been a fan of Doctor Who since watching Tom Baker regenerate into Peter Davison on his local PBS station as a kid. He launched Time and The – ! in 2011 after having the bright (?) idea to watch every Doctor Who story from the beginning and blog about it. (Yeah, he's way behind.)

What do you think? Please join the discussion!

  • Alan Pattinson

    I fully agree – ‘The Aztecs’ is a wonderful story, it’s a great showcase for Barbara to go head to head with the Dr with them both learning something about each other and showing a human culture every bit as ‘alien’ as the ones the series regulars encounter. ‘Edge Of Destruction’ is a very under-rated serial too, full of real imagination and deeply impressive given that it was a ‘filler’ story made at the last minute when the production team needed 2 episodes in a hurry. ‘Reign Of Terror’ is probably the weakest of the Hartnell stories for me, it just keeps repeating so much and everyone seems to spend a lot of time locked up (even by Dr Who standards!) It’s nice to find a fellow fan who agrees with me on both points – most never do! Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading about series 2 (my highlights: ‘The Space Museum’ and ‘The Time Meddler’…)

    • Daniel Lestarjette

      You know, I like the way you think, Alan, haha.

      A lot of the stories in season one are way too long—the Daleks could have easily been a four parter. Same thing for The Sensorites. But I understand the production team of that era had a lot of considerations to, um, consider when they commissioned stories.

      Despite my best efforts, things are always a little slow going around here. I’ll be posting my review of The Dalek Invasion of Earth over the weekend, and then it’s on to The Resuce—another underrated story. The Time Meddler is one of my favorites, and I haven’t watched it in awhile, so I’m looking forward it getting to that one, too.