Weighing in at an impressive 800 episodes, Doctor Who has been entertaining audiences for the past 50 years. Yet, despite this vast backlog of content, I know next to nothing about the actual series. For that reason, I’ve decided to watch this unusual show from the beginning, to discover the source of its unique appeal. Come with me as I tackle this daunting sci-fi phenomena from the very beginning in The Complete Doctor Who.
Warning: the following contains spoilers.
Doctor Who: Serial 5, Episode 5: Sentence of Death
I think we can all agree we’ve seen some strange stuff on this show; Daleks dictating letters, lakes made of acid, and people physically screaming at clocks, but even in the midst of all that, this episode really caught me off guard.
But before we get into all that though, a few preliminaries first. William Hartnell’s vacation wrapped up, meaning the Doctor is finally back this week. Now, having been absent for two full episodes, how did the producers decide to dramatize his return? No doubt something related to his unique skills as both a doctor and a time traveler, something like say, oh I don’t know, a protracted legal battle? That’s right, today’s episode is Boston Legal by way of outer space. Spoiler alert, it’s nowhere near as awesome as that sentence makes it sound.
We get our usual cliffhanger recap.
Ian wanders into what looks like J.C. Penney, finds a guy stone dead on the floor, then gets knocked out from behind. His attacker slips a mace into his hands, because honestly, if you’re going to commit armed robbery, it’s always good to proceed with a weapon that’s been obsolete for five centuries. No red flags there. Then, with Ian safely unconscious, our mystery assailant opens up a glass case and makes off with another one of those darn micro-keys.
When he awakens, Ian finds a uniformed guard in the room, just sitting there in a chair. As Ian asks what’s happened, the man proceeds to arrest him, having made the rather dubious leap that Ian himself is responsible for both the dead man on the floor as well as the stolen micro-key.
Worse still, in this…city?–I honestly don’t know where we’re supposed to be at this point–defendants are guilty until proven innocent.
Cut to Barbara, who is somehow aware not only of his location, but of everything that has happened thus far. Guess news travels fast on…wherever the hell we are right now.
She’s soon joined by Susan and needless tag-alongs Sabetha and Altos, who all join the audience in wondering just where the hell the Doctor’s at these days.
Enter William Hartnell in true sitcom fashion.
Did someone call for a doctor? Cue audience applause. Then everyone takes a moment to step back and share a group hug.
Great to have you back. Now about our friend’s impending execution…
The doctor takes over Ian’s defense, despite possessing no real qualifications in the legal arena whatsoever.
Everyone convenes in the courtroom, which contains what look like togas hanging from the wall.
Enter the tribunal of bakers.
Yup, that’s right, in this city, justice is meted out by people dressed like a trio of cereal mascots.
The Doctor asks for more time to review the case and is granted two days.
He hands out jobs to each of our four supporting characters. Altos and Sabetha are sent to the library where they study cases from books that look appropriately like a big fluffy loaves of bread.
Meanwhile, the Doctor heads back to the scene of the crime, using Susan and Barbara to stage a lengthy reenactment of events the audience has already sat through twice.
Oh, and as the case unfolds, the Doctor seems to be having a ball, doing his best Sherlock Holmes impression, announcing that’s solved the case long ahead of everyone else. He even drops a few “elementaries” for good measure.
If only he hadn’t lost his pipe from episode two, he could really look the part.
With the run time successfully padded, Barbara and Susan head off to speak with Ian’s arresting officer Tarron. He’s not there, so they end up speaking with his wife until Tarron finally shows up and throws a tantrum.
Barbara mentions they know the location of the key and Tarron stops himself just shy of confessing Law & Order style.
“But you couldn’t have known where it is, I…”
Then, he threatens to slap them. His wife intervenes and the two of them leave. Then, with Susan and Barbara gone, Tarron decides he doesn’t much care who he slaps so long as it’s a woman and settles for hitting his wife instead.
After that, he shares a conversation on quite possibly the greatest phone of all time.
A microphone attached by a wire to a base? Brilliant.
Then, it’s back to the courtroom where the Doctor pulls what’s actually a pretty clever ploy, calling Sabetha to the stand where she holds up a micro-key. That causes Tarron to stand up and confess seconds before being murdered by a bright light.
The Doctor then reveals that it was not the stolen key which Sabetha used, but one of those found in their earlier adventures. Clever Doctor.
Now, you might think under those circumstances we could just wrap things up and call it a day, but it appears the denizens of this city have a little problem with pesky concepts like logic and declare that Tarron’s confession and subsequent murder somehow still don’t prove Ian’s innocence and that’s he to be executed.
Then, it’s a quick cut to Barbara who receives a handwritten note telling her that if the micro-key’s location is revealed (does anyone even know where it is at this point?) someone else will be killed. Seconds later, the phone rings and Susan reveals that she’s been kidnapped. No surprise there, that’s kind of just what she does. Roll credits and we’re done. Which means that this little legal drama’s stretching out for another whole episode.
Seriously guys, a legal drama? Okay, I’ll buy it, but a legal drama in which the legal system of the presiding authorities doesn’t really seem to follow their own rules? Hm, there’s probably some better way we could kill twenty-two minutes, isn’t there? What are those whacky Daleks up to these days?
Don’t worry though, it’s not too late to redeem this thing, just bring back all the weirdo villains from the previous episodes as witnesses.
“Your honor I’d like to call the Whispering Jungle to the stand.”
“Okay, Mr. Voord, is that your full name?” Stabs lawyer.
Guess we’ll just have to see if I’m right.