In January 2018 I decided to watch every episode of Doctor Who in chronological order, at the rate of one each week. Last week I reached the end of the first Doctor’s era. Earlier this year Doctor Who Magazine ran a World Cup of that era, with readers voting on their favourite stories. Opinions are always subjective but here are my thoughts.
Ten of the 29 stories were pure historicals containing no incongruous elements other than the time travellers. They had limited narrative potential as the travellers were not allowed to interfere with the course of events. One of them tried and failed in The Aztecs, the sixth story. As observers they could not advance the plot either. The Time Meddler, voted second in the Doctor Who Magazine poll, introduced an adversary plotting to change the timelines. He failed. The script for The Gunfighters succeeded in portraying an entirely different scenario. It broke the rules of historicals but reverted the trend that was turning the Doctor into a protagonist.
As the Doctor became a hero it was necessary for him to take a stand against wrong-doers. The second Doctor only had one pure historical and then they disappeared, resurfacing briefly in 1982. For me though seven of the best ten William Hartnell stories were historicals. Marco Polo and The Crusade top the pile, with superb scripts and engaging multi-layered characters. They involved the travellers in someone else’s story, deftly raising the conflict stakes for individuals and engaging this viewer.