back to article Doctor Who Episode One: Through a glass. Darkly

Today, the world of 1963 seems extraordinarily remote - and narrow. The “Beatles” name was still a jarring pun, and Telstar live transatlantic TV was just a little over a year old. I remember seeing JFK via Telstar when it kicked off, and then again that November in Dallas in 1963. There were no supermarkets, no plastic bags, …


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  1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    It's on tonight-

    BBC4 10:30pm

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Series 2 introduces the Daleks

    Series 2 introduced the Daleks? You mean the 2nd story of the 1st series!

    Also El Reg advocating watching illegal copies on Youtube. You do know it's on BBC4 this very evening?

    1. DrStrangeLug

      There's a difference

      It's only illegal for another 6 1/2 weeks. On jan 1st 2014 this episode (and early Dalek ones too!) fall into the public domain.

      1. DrStrangeLug

        Re: There's a difference

        To clarify this , in the UK TV programs go into public domain on January 1st following the 50th year since first broadcast.

        This means that the first Dalek serial episodes 1 and 2 falls into public domain but the rest of it wont for another year.

        1. The Indomitable Gall

          Re: There's a difference

          "To clarify this , in the UK TV programs go into public domain on January 1st following the 50th year since first broadcast."

          Aside from the rights to the remasters, you're ignoring that the scriptwriter's copyright subsists until 70 years after death, as do all composer's mechanical rights for the music.

          So you still need the BBC's permission anyway.

          1. Steven Jones

            Re: There's a difference

            Scriptwriters rights aren't the same as performance rights. The former rights would stop you making a new production based on the original idea and scripts (without payment), but doesn't stop the performance being copied.


            Of course there are all sorts of other IPRs related to the characters, costumes and so on, but they generally relate to new productions.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There's a difference

        The original transmission might but there's been a number of re-versionings of it down the years. Even the dodgy copies UK Gold used to transmit had new end credits added and had been mucked about with. I'm not a copyright lawyer so I couldn't tell you at what stage it becomes a new work.

        The DVD versions have been fully restored and the copyright remains with 2 Entertain/BBC Worldwide. Tonight BBC4 will be showing a restored version I'd imagine and as such they'll be paying a fee to use that version. That version won't expire for a good 45 years yet!

      3. Duke

        Re: There's a difference

        Only the "broadcast" copyright expires after 50 years. The copyright in the film and the script both last until 70 years the end of the year in which the last of the relevant people dies. For a film, the relevant people are the main director, screenplay author, dialogue author and composer. As the director of the first episode (Waris Hussein) is still alive, it will be at least another 70 years (barring any copyright reforms) before the film comes out of copyright.

        After a bit of research, the best I can tell is that none of the First Doctor's episodes will escape copyright for at least another 50+ years.

  3. Stevie Silver badge


    Your memory is playing you false. The old 405 line TV was not foggy, at least, not where I lived. We got significantly better reception than when we were forced to switch to 625 line service as the signal for it was much weaker, requiring amplifiers and other nonsense to pull in properly.

    I'd rather the occasional bad picture from adverse weather than what I have now - piss-poor digital cable TV that pixeleates every time you look at it wrong, has compression artifacts in the picture that make some shows unwatchable (ST:TNG suffers from a sort of active dithering effect on the backdrops that distracts the eye from the foreground) and requires the control box be rebooted every two weeks or so for the channel information to be properly displayed.

    You can't judge the quality of the broadcast from restored footage recovered from the sludge the BBC archived.

    1. Neil B

      Re: Bah!

      @Stevie: all true re: TNG, except for the beautiful HD remasters that SyFy has been showing recently. Absolutely delicious.

      And while modern tellies handle video-transfered progs extremely badly, Game of Thrones doesn't half look the business.

    2. Michael Strorm

      tl;dr - ST:TNG's crappy analogue source makes digital compression harder

      "ST:TNG suffers from a sort of active dithering effect on the backdrops that distracts the eye from the foreground"

      The problem with ST:TNG is that- like many US dramas from the late 80s until the digital era- it was edited and mastered on NTSC video (*) Result is that the picture is disgustingly soft- not just by modern standards, but even to my eyes on a run-of-the-mill UK TV in the early-1990s. (**) Probably didn't matter to the US networks, as it was intended to be shown over the same low-grade NTSC system.

      To get to the point, it's horrible, soft video like this that seems to disagree with digital compression the most. I find this surprising, as I'd have thought that the softness would translate to less high frequency information, making it more compressible, but no. It appears that you get the crappiness of the original analogue video *plus* the double whammy of the digital compression barfing on it. Maybe it's because the tapes were noisy. (***)


      (*) Albeit with most of the footage originally shot on film- presumably to retain that "filmic" look rather than the clinical feel of analogue video-sourced material. Earlier dramas of this calibre were- AFAIK- shot *and* edited on film, which means that they can be transferred to DVD in much higher quality via the film masters, but newer ones like ST:TNG would require entirely re-editing (and redoing some video-sourced effects).

      (**) I appreciate that some quality may have been lost in the NTSC -> PAL transfer of the time, but I've seen enough since to suggest that most of the poor quality was inherent in the original NTSC masters.

      (***) As far as digital compression is concerned, noise in general is just high frequency detail- lots of it. Ironically, it wastes lots of bandwidth on this noisy "detail", leaving less for everything else and resulting in blocking. So, as mentioned, you get the double whammy of lots of noise from the original *and* the ill-effects of the digital bandwidth wasted on preserving that noise to the detriment of everything else.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: tl;dr - ST:TNG's crappy analogue source makes digital compression harder

        Not to rain on your PAL is Better parade but the dithering artifact seems to match up with the DVD compression scheme, correcting every time a full reference frame is decoded and gradually wandering as repeated digital best guesses in the absence of actual information are not fit for purpose.

        The actual DVDs played on the same set produce no artifacts at all, which suggests that the additional levels of squeeze needed to fit the digitized signal into whatever crap the cable company wired-up with is to blame.

        The irony is that this is experienced on BBC America (who only seem to be able to program ST:TNG from years ago, the same 12 episodes of Top Gear and several days of Gordon Ramsay, the worlds biggest waste of TV bandwidth).

      2. NogginTheNog

        Re: tl;dr - ST:TNG's crappy analogue source makes digital compression harder

        You know, apart from the leaden actionless 'talky-talky' approach to everything, what really put me of watching TNG when it was shown on Beeb2 in the 90s was that awful mushy soft video quality. Even on an student's secondhand analogue telly it still looked awful!

      3. harry1867

        Re: tl;dr - ST:TNG's crappy analogue source makes digital compression harder

        You do know NTSC stands for Never the Same Colour?

    3. PassingStrange

      Re: Bah!

      >You can't judge the quality of the broadcast from restored footage recovered from the sludge the BBC archived.

      Most definitely true. The original broadcasts (both 405 and 625, and of this and just about everything else that has survived from the early years of TV) were far clearer than anyone would be lead to believe from the quality of the copies around today.

  4. Billy 8

    Unaired Pilot

    Not sure if it's included on the DVD, but there was also an un-aired pilot of Unearthly Child that you can pick up via the interwebs. It's very similar, but a few changes - and Hartnell's character seems even more malevolent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Unaired Pilot

      The pilot is on the DVD.

  5. Stevie Silver badge


    The moment of delight when Barbara and Ian forced their way into the Tardis and I got to see the bigger inside than out effect for the first time was wonderful.

    1. DiViDeD Silver badge

      Re: Bah! - Sometimes it's best not to go back

      I remember to this day that sense of wonder, although I always wondered how they opened a wooden door which was magically transformed into to massive swinging safe doors when they switched to the interior view. On the Planet of the Zarbi, they actually walked out of the double doors onto the surface of the planet, and in the very next shot were shown exiting a single narrow wooden door,

      I remember the intense discussions with my brother as a 7 year old me tried to come up with more and more fantastical explanations to convince him (and myself!) that it was something to do with interdimensional wossnames, or perception thingummies, rather than admit it was simply a confusing bit of continuity on the cheap. Bloody Hell! Even back then I so much wanted to believe!

      Anyways, about the huge interior. On revisiting the early episodes on UKTV as an adult (or at least a very much older child), it's pretty obvious where the physical Tardis walls get replaced by a painted scenery sheet, even before you notice the shadowed creases in the painting.

      I was surprised to discover, after nearly 50 years, that the pretend nature of the tardis interior was way more disappointing for a (supposed) grown man than all the shaky sets and polystyrene rocks.

      I'm sure there's an award winning psychological study in there somewhere.

  6. paulc

    pedant point re supermarkets

    Quick google revealed this halfway down the first page:

  7. WonkoTheSane
    Thumb Up

    Tonight's "Adventures in Space and Time"... the "Making of..." this very episode.

    If its star, Dave Bradley is convincing as Hartnell, I believe the Beeb should engage his services full time, to remake the missing episodes.

    When Hartnell stories run out, they merely need to find a Pat Troughton lookalike, and continue with his stories.

    I commend this idea to the house.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tonight's "Adventures in Space and Time"...

      "When Hartnell stories run out, they merely need to find a Pat Troughton lookalike, and continue with his stories."

      I'd wait a bit if I were you. That batch of missing episodes that were found last month might not be the last you hear of missing episodes being found.......

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Tonight's "Adventures in Space and Time"...

        Is that a hint at something you are already aware of, or just speculation?

  8. mix

    Foggy memories and nostalgia

    Is the power of the daleks your favourite because it was wiped and you can't remind yourself that it was probably a bit rubbish; like most childhood memories of TV shows?

    1. John Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Foggy memories and nostalgia

      Almost certainly. But I do remember impressively large piles of bodies as the Daleks ran riot through Vulcan. Doubt you'd get that level of violence in before the watershed these days. Also remember the Dalek innards looked kind of like scrambled eggs.

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: Foggy memories and nostalgia

        The use of Dalek toys makes some of the few images available of the end look a bit dodgy though.

        But there is the soundtrack available - I'd say get it from Audiogo but at the moment they're in some sort of administration.

  9. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge

    Memory and Money

    I recall Susan commenting in the first episode that she was confused over the British monetary system and whether it had been switched to the now-current decimal system. I am an American, so I had to look it up, but the episode predates the change. Was this something that had been discussed publically or was it a well-placed prediction on the part of the writers?

    1. Tony S

      Re: Memory and Money

      You're correct in that Britain went decimal in 1971. However...

      The decimal coins actually started to be issued in 1968, 3 years before the switch over. So the new 5 pence piece and the shilling that it replaced were in circulation together, as was the 10p piece and the 2 bob bit. This had been in planning / preparation for many years before; I believe almost 10 years, so people of the time might have been aware of it. From memory - a bit suspect these days - there were chocolate coins manufactured in the new denominations from about 1964 as a way of re-educating youngsters to the new currency.

      And the first modern decimal coin was actually the florin (2 shilling piece). This was 1 / 10 of a pound and was introduced in 1849 (although a similar denomination had been used as far back as 1344).

      And yes, I do occasionally still think in terms of how much I used to pay for things; Saturday morning pictures was sixpence, bus fare into town to get there was tuppence. A packet of crisps (with the blue bag of salt) was thruppence or an iced lolly was the same. I used to get two and six pocket money because I helped my step father on a Sunday; after working for 4 / 5 hours, he'd go to the pub and have a couple of pints (9d each) and I'd get a glass of lemonade sitting in the parlour (not allowed in the bar) which cost him 3d.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Memory and Money

        A packet of crisps (with the blue bag of salt) was thruppence

        Just before decimalisation it was 5d, and of course afterwards it became 2½p, which was 6d. I remember being outraged at this profiteering ( I was 11 :) )

    2. Commentard Prime

      Re: Memory and Money

      The House of Commons report recommending decimalisation was published in 1963 - took another 6 years to become law. Although the first parliamentary report into it was in 1824, South Africa had just successfully decimalised in 1962/63 so it was on the radar.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: Memory and Money

        Bit like going metric for measurements.

        In the 1960s, we did metric measurements alongside imperial ones in primary school, and - thank ghod - foot/pound/second was long gone when I did O and A levels, but all the road signs were supposed to have been replaced with ones with kilometres decades ago are still in miles.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Memory and Money

          "Bit like going metric for measurements"

          Indeed - two systems which had stood the test of time for a thousand years of use by completely uneducated peasants and many later engineers were swept away as the wonders of comprehensive education produced legions of people unable to cope with anything they couldn't count on their fingers. Ironically, being replaced by metric and decimal, systems which are much more troublesome for day-to-day usage. Now that's progress!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Memory and Money

            Rubbish - how is metric and decimal in any way troublesome? They make so much more sense than the old baffling and arbitrary way of doing things. Feet, inches? Hate that random nonsense.

  10. Wyccant

    No one ever mentions the forgotten doctor (possibly because he's forgotten)

    However, Peter Cushing was also the Doctor and starred in a movie version of the first 3 episodes.

    1. Mark York 3 Silver badge

      Not forgotten - He's a normal nutty old guy that just happens to be called Doctor Who

      The Doctor is an alien who is simply called "the Doctor", while in the two films he is human and "Who" is his actual surname & doesn't count as a incarnation.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Completely wrong. He is not the same character. It's a re-imagining. He is never referred to in the series at all and it was never intended he would be.

      Also there is no movie of the "first 3 episodes". However there are movies of the first 2 Dalek stories.

    3. Raging Bool

      Peter Cushing films

      Not quite.

      Peter Cushing starred as a human character called "Dr Who" in two films. One was based on the 2nd TV story (now known as "The Daleks"), and is not really linked to this first story at all.

      The second film is based on the Dalek Invasion of Earth story - which was Susan's last appearance as a regular character.

      Neither of these films stand up well to examination, and are not considered canon. The only thing you can say in their defence is that they were filmed in colour, and that the Dalek Invasion of Earth film marks the entrance into Dr Who lore for Bernard Cribbins - which doesn't seem to be remembered by anyone who talks to him on TV about his experience with Dr Who. Perhaps that tells you a lot about how the films are seen...

      1. RealBigAl

        Re: Peter Cushing films

        Peter Cushing's doctor was also referred to (by the BBC) as being the same doctor as the William Hartnell doctor, no regeneration, just the same doctor.

        That seems to have been changed recently.

  11. RISC OS

    I have never seen a school...

    ...with so many 30 year old women attending it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have never seen a school...

      Don't watch the original Billy Bunter. 30 would be young for some of the people playing schoolboys in that series!

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I watched story 1 and 2 recently and two things struck:I kept thinking "will you stop going on about who can make fire" and for the dalek one I noticed that even though they had discovered that something was living inside the metal shell, they declared all the daleks dead when they cut the power. Erm, no, they are still alive, just trapped in the shell!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The early Daleks needed static power to survive. In the second Dalek story when they come to earth they have little dishes on their bases that are supposed to collect the power needed for them to survive.

      After that it is quietly forgotten about.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        The BBC story guide for "Power of the Daleks" says the Daleks-need-static theme was apparently toned down in that story: "Whereas they die without static in The Daleks, in this story they just become dormant."

        Subsequent to "Power", I guess the idea was just dropped entirely.

        1. Mark 110 Silver badge

          I read a lot (all maybe?) of the Doctor Who novels when I was a kid and was fascinated by the Daleks being living beings that had escaped their dead world by automating themselves. It leant some sanity to their motivations for seeking new worlds to take over.

          The whole transformation of them into the " we do this because we are evil" thing kind of breaks the story. If you analyse the recent Dalek story lines then the Daleks are just insane. The early stories had them as sane but malevolent. Much scarier.

  13. Oh Homer Silver badge

    Football results

    You got it wrong. It's supposed to be "Fife: four, Forfar: Five".

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

    Patrick Troughton’s first outing is still broadcast...

    and somewhere well beyond Alpha Centuri. We just need FTL travel and a really sensitive receiver to pick it up.

    How about cloud-funding FTL research with the purpose of recovering lost Dr. Who episodes?

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    "Bash Street’s finest: teachers Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill)"

    That first pic. Did the Doctor pick up Cherie Blair and take her back to 1963 or is that Barbara Booth under her maiden name?

  16. Faye B
    Thumb Up

    Merged Memory

    Astonishingly, I had the same memory slip as the author in that I clearly remember the first episode but none of the rest of the story and the next episode in my mind is when they land on Skara.

    The Daleks may look rubbish today but nothing has scared the crap out of me anything like as much as the sight of one of those coming into view. Everyone talks about hiding behind the sofa, specifically from these first episodes, that's how scary they were at the time. No other show had that effect on kids as far as I know.

    And that title sequence and electronic music is still scarier and more thrilling than any of the ones put up since. I am convinced that the BBC had to tone it down and make it more child friendly in future series. I never felt that the early Doctor Who was intended for children as it seemed far too grown up and real to be a kids show (remember Andy Pandy was still being shown around this time).

  17. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Ignoring a tardis

    "What, a beat copper isn’t going to wonder what’s going on when a new police box appears on his streets? Even before he considers they were often made out of concrete and bolted to the street?"

    The answer is pretty obvious: the Tardis is protected by a "Someone Else's Problem" field.


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