The Doctor and friends tackle The Daleks' Master Plan

Dare You Attempt a Doctor Who Marathon?

“So have you seen every single episode?”

That was the question I was asked by my housemate last year. Very innocuously, just out of curiosity. And at the time the answer was no. I’m an ardent Who fan, I love the show & I’ve watched a lot of it. But I’d never before sat down & worked out the gaps I had to fill in. Except…what if I had been able to have said yes? To have said with conviction that I’d watched every story ever produced? Let alone the feat itself, what better way to celebrate my favourite TV series, surely the most endearing of them all, and such a massive part of my childhood?

Doctor Who as it began: An Unearthly Child

But to be able to say that, I couldn’t just watch bits of it…I had to watch it all.

That was the thought that germinated, and that’s what I did. Well, 2012 was going to be an Olympic year so why not undertake some kind of marathon? (Granted, this was going to be of those sitting-down kind of marathons). And I’d seen the occasional mention on a forum of some ardent fan having done this sort of thing, watching them all consecutively. So being the practical type, I thought I should work out exactly how hard it would be.

The grand total I came up with was 704 episodes, from An Unearthly Child through to the TV Movie. And I wasn’t going to contemplate including the new series. As it’s still being made, there would be less of a definitive finish line to cross, it would keep moving further away. That’s not the sort of marathon you’d recommend to a long-distance runner.

Doctor Who: The Five Doctors

So if I did 704 episodes in a year, it’d work out at just under 2 per day. Seriously? How easy could that be? Just 50 minutes each day watching Who! But…it’d have to be every day, despite whatever else I was doing, lest I fell behind & had to make up lost ground. And did I mention the 90 minute run time of The Five Doctors special? Or the double-length episodes of Season 22? This made the challenge even more appealing to attempt – there were in-built hurdles near the end!

Tips for Embarking on a Doctor Who Marathon

As I write this, I still have the last Seventh Doctor season still to go, but I have high confidence in hitting my target. Should you be interested in joining me in undertaking such a challenge yourself someday, here are some musings & findings from the year’s experience, watching 26 years worth of history in one complete go.

  • Even though I didn’t get off to the best of starts, I was surprised to spend the first 3 months watching William Hartnell. The monochrome era produced twice as many episodes per season as any of those which followed it, affecting the episode distribution for the marathon massively – I didn’t get onto colour until mid June! Even if I wasn’t falling behind at the time (see graph) I wasn’t likely to get there before mid May.

  • Also consider the 100+ black & white episodes which do not currently exist, instead being viewable as reconstructed soundtracks & stills. I missed moving pictures for a long time! Jon Pertwee’s arrival was such a sweet relief. In fact, I think the marathon gave me an experience closely comparable to what fans at the time must have had at the sheer amount of change to their favourite show – colour, lead actor, title sequence, setting & the new feel of the stories themselves.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to watch the surviving material of Shada and see just how much of it there actually was. I initially considered watching the BBCi version but part of the marathon impetus was to watch (surviving bits of) episodes I hadn’t seen before, and especially to watch them among the rest of the season it was to join was very enjoyable – and very much in keeping with those other stories, some effects would have fallen flat even then, but the story itself is highly enjoyable & a tragic loss.

Tom Baker stars as the Doctor in the lost adventure Shada

  • It is so enjoyable to watch an old Who story of which you have virtually no knowledge (The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve for me), or little moments you forgot about. We all remember John Cleese’s unexpected cameo, but do you even recall Thunderbirds‘ Scott Tracey, noted reggae DJ David Rodigan or Geoffery the butler of The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air making a showing?
  • When I announced I’d be undertaking the marathon I had something of a lukewarm reception. However many of my friends sat in on the occasional episode, and had quite an enjoyable experience, The Keys Of Marinus and The War Games as notable examples. Similarly the scare factor rated highly when they stumbled into Planet Of The Spiders or Greatest Show In The Galaxy. And it was especially nice to have seen them (as novices, let’s be frank) noticing all the things us fans did when we originally watched; John spotting the ‘warm-bottom-hand’ of Pyramids Of Mars and Rupert giving an ‘extra of the week’ award to the Sontaran who jumps the deckchair in The Invasion Of Time.

The Doctor and friends tackle The Daleks' Master Plan

  • Our greatest loss is The Daleks’ Master Plan. I would sacrifice Meglos and The Celestial Toymaker in their place. The latter is the only story I dreaded having to watch.
  • I can see it being a marmite thing, but as an audiophile myself, hearing & wallowing in the greatness of that the theme tune every time is a definite highlight. Granted, if the production teams hadn’t made the odd change over the years I would have gone insane by now. Well, more so than my friends already consider normal for me.

Surprisingly, I don’t think the marathon has generally shifted my opinions on the stories. My favourite ones before I enjoyed again, and will probably re-watch when I finish, while the less favourite ones I won’t be jumping to see again. But then that’s probably the best reason for doing this whole thing – to just watch & enjoy all of these stories for what they are, and their place in our favourite show.

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