(RNN) - To get a better sense of where the Doctor has been in time and space, fans should check out classic episodes of Doctor Who, some of which is available for streaming on Netflix.
The British sci-fi television show that has found diehard, dedicated fans here in the states celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Classic Doctor Who is a fun, fresh trip through hand-crafted "alien" worlds probably made of papier mache and clay, aliens that look like clown rejects with wigs, rubber masks and body paint, and a TARDIS model that's probably about 8" inches tall.
The classic show, which aired from 1963 to 1989, exuded a more traditional BBC feel than the current show, as if it were a drama performed for the stage rather than a show shot for TV.
You'll not find any stylized lens flare, for the most part no CGI worlds spinning in space, no Matrix-like bullet-time or fancy stunts. And that, along with the feeling that anything can happen at any time, is part of the show's charm.
The few fight scenes in the featured episodes involve the third doctor and a few other characters doing self-defense throws and some basic wrestling moves - no hokey, improbable sword battles like what plagued Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
Black and white and fun all over
The temptation may be strong to avoid the black-and-white episodes and head right to the warm familiarity of Tom Baker's fourth doctor, plucky companion Sarah Jane and faithful robotic dog K-9. Don't. You will be missing out on some fun, and funny, television.
Take, for instance, an adventure with the second doctor, The Mind Robber.
This 1968 yarn exudes a trippy ambiance despite the low production values - for instance, a TARDIS interior with "futuristic" gadgets that were likely scooped out of a junkyard and repurposed, for instance, a washer window used as a sort of communication screen, big buttons, switches.
The story involves his young companions - Zoe from the year 2000 (whose home looks a lot like an oil painting) and Jamie from historical Scotland.
The Doctor hides the TARDIS out of the time stream so he can repair it after an escape from a lava flow that looks like runaway marshmallow cream.
The two are lured out of the TARDIS and step into nothingness. For some reason, "nothingness" looks a lot like a sound stage dappled in white.
Then the TARDIS disintegrates in trippy fashion, with screaming from Zoe as she hangs onto the control panel in a skin-tight, sparkly "futuristic" bodysuit. The overwrought doctor, under mind attack, turns toward the corner a la Blair Witch Project.
They wind up, safe and sound, in a land with tree-like structures that turn out to be words.
The trio is menaced by comical and non-threatening slow-moving robots, minutemen and a clay-mation Medusa. They interface with storybook characters and observe huge "futuristic" room-sized computers.
At the end of the adventure, the villainous story-writer and the offstage aliens for which are defeated. The viewer knows that things have been put right again because the hard-crafted TARDIS model reassembles. End scene.
Damsels in distress
One aspect of Doctor Who's past that hopefully remains forever past is the patronizing attitude male characters exhibited toward female characters, a reflection of the patriarchal values of the time.
The Doctor often commanded other males to "look after" whichever female characters were present, as if they were children.
In one story arc, Jo, one of his companions, didn't seem to have a backbone that functioned properly and thus clung to the arm of whichever male happened to be closest, as if she were attending a lifelong prom and had to be escorted everywhere. Hopefully, Sergeant So-and-So of UNIT didn't have sardine breath.
Even Sarah Jane was not above being "looked after" and sometimes playing the damsel in distress.
The arrival of Leela, a woman from a primitive planet, was refreshing, even as she provides a bit of fish-out-of-water entertainment as a version of a physically strong female character and the show's belated answer to the feminist movement.
Yes, she's eye candy, as so many female companions are, but at least she's facing danger head-on.
When confronted with a Victorian (or perhaps even Edwardian) version of femininity in The Terror at Fang Rock - in the form of a woman going into hysterics after seeing a dead body - she reacts with a decisive slap.
The fifth doctor, firmly ensconced in the modern age, had a more difficult relationship with accidental TARDIS traveler Tegan, who was less impressed with the enigmatic time-traveler. Their sometimes combative interactions, although a bit too 90210, at least reflected a less patronizing attitude toward women on the part of the Doctor Who writers.
One refreshing aspect of classic Who is how the Doctor remains romantically uninvolved with his companions, maintaining a Sherlock Holmesian aloofness, strangeness and distance, sometimes even looking down on his companions and their human foibles.
A failing of the modern version of Doctor Who is that so much dramatic tension has relied on love or unrequited love. It's as if the Doctor went through some sort of mid-life crisis after the fall of the Time Lords, which caused him to become too attached to average gal Rose Tyler, so much so that he continued to moon over her for the duration of Martha Jones' time as his companion.
Classic doctors didn't stoop to romantic love, even with fellow Time Lords such as Romana, as most of the classic doctors appeared quite a bit older than the modern doctors.
A exception to this was the young fifth doctor - whose unfortunate opening credits feature a glowing star flying out of the vicinity of his nose. Maybe that's why none of the girls fancied him. Or it could have been the celery in his lapel.
Imperfections of memory
As seen from the vantage point of the 21th century, the fourth doctor, played by Tom Baker, seems mean and callous at times. That appraisal could be also a side-effect of exposure to kinder, gentler doctors played by David Tennant and Matt Smith.
Baker's doctor spent part of one episode endlessly ripping on the intelligence of cricketer Harry Sullivan, which is pretty fun but mean-spirited nonetheless.
He also seems unmoved and cold-hearted when faced with collateral damage.
At the conclusion of Horror of Fang Rock, in which the Earth was saved from an alien invasion by glowing jellyfish creatures, everyone in the lighthouse died except the Doctor and Leela.
He even contributed to one character's death by throwing down a handful of diamonds, something he knew the avaricious man couldn't resist. This action allowed one of the glowy green aliens to catch up to him. The Doctor's reaction to this needless death: blase.
Despite all the death, at the end of the story arc, he still manages to enter the TARDIS with a huge smile on his face for a job well done.
Tennant's doctor would have had a nervous breakdown.
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