Thursday, September 01, 2005

'An Unearthly Child'

4 episodes

So, let's begin at the beginning: 'An Unearthly Child'. Or '100,000 BC', or 'The Tribe of Gum'. The problem with early Doctor Who is that the individual episodes within each story were given their own on-screen titles; in this case they are respectively 'An Unearthly Child', 'The Cave of Skulls', 'The Forest of Fear' and 'The Firemaker'. Sometimes the story is known by the first episode title, sometimes by a different overall title assigned during production, so assigning an 'official' moniker to some early stories is problematic as these differ depending on which reference source you use. I have my own preferences, which will probably largely tally with what is written on the video case - therefore, while many refer to the first Doctor Who story as '100,000 BC' I'm sticking to my favoured 'An Unearthly Child' for this post's heading.

Right, let's actually begin... Good little story to get the show up and running. The first, set-up episode is excellent in establishing the very different character of young Susan 'Foreman' to her school peers, and bravely introduces the mysterious Doctor as more of an anti-hero than straightforward leading man - the latter role more conventionally filled by Ian Chesterton, whose clashes with the Doctor start from the off. Throughout the tale the clever script and William Hartnell's glint-in-the-eye performance make this "Doctor Who" by turns obstinate, arrogant, manipulative, argumentative, aloof, contrite then near-murderously confrontational - not necessarily qualities one would expect of a cultural icon whose sway has so far extended over 40 years, and it instantly makes him a fascinating figure.
There are flaws, mostly after the '100,000 BC' part of the action kicks in in part 2. Despite their primitive existence as barely-evolved apes, the cavemen seem remarkably chatty and wax philosophical at the drop of a bone, and the second episode drags on for what seems like one endless scene while the Stone Age politicking goes round in circles. After the central characters' first escape, the normally capable Barbara falls over a warthog carcass and wails like a baby, instantly alerting their pursuers; however, her later attempts at communing with the savages are sweet and redeem her. The last episode is strong, with the foursome's predicament unresolved until the last moments, and we get a good punch-up between Kal and Za to boot. Little details are there too, like the TARDIS' chameleon circuit (unnamed thus far) malfunctioning, causing it to 'stick' in the form of a London police box - now as legendary an icon as its owner.


Episodes watched: 4
Episodes still to watch: 718

Still a little unnerved by Susan's scary glee at sticking a human skull on a fiery brand so that flames lick from its eye sockets - nice little prelude to her meltdown coming up in a couple of stories' time. One down then, umpteen more to go! If I can watch about eight episodes or two stories a day, then I should be able to wrap this up in a mere three months. Just noticed the next story has 7 episodes... feeling a bit intimidated already...


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