An Unearthly Child

An Unearthly Child

Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension?’ The Doctor

23 November – 14 December 1963

The Memory Cheats

There are three iconic moments in the lives of most Doctor Who fans of my age. Number one was the 10th anniversary in 1963. Secondly, the launch of Doctor Who Weekly (as it was then), in October 1979. Finally the Five Faces of Doctor Who season in November 1981. It is hard to imagine a world where every available episode of Doctor Who was not watchable.

The show was on for about 26 weeks of the year. Occasionally, the BBC would show a repeat over the summer or at Christmas but this would only be from the preceding season. So these three moments put fans that were too young to remember pre- Pertwee in touch with the shows past. At the end of 1972, The Three Doctors was televised. This was the first I can remember of there being anyone other than Pertwee in the lead role. Then came the publication of the Radio Times 10th anniversary special.

For the first story, there was a picture of Carole Ann Ford underneath the title and above a short synopsis. I think my dad explained how it all started, although it would be from Doctor Who Weekly from which I got most of the information so by the time it was re broadcast in 1981 I already knew quite a lot about the adventure, though I had never seen any of the actors other then Hartnell in action. The family sat down to watch. In 1981 we were quite used to watching black and white TV shows still. We had only gone colour in September 1980. I was completely captivated by episode one.

What captivating television. Even knowing what was inside that police box. Just imagine watching it all for the first time with no prior knowledge at all. I can remember very little from the rest of the story from the first watching. I have probably seen it at least four times previously over the years, most recently in 2006 following the DVD release, but the tribe of gum, as far as I can recall, are not an inspiring bunch!

The Time Space Visualiser

So much has been said about this story that it is difficult to be fresh and say anything new. Episode one must surely be among the best 25 minutes of any programme anywhere. The atmosphere created by the opening scenes. Susan’s dancing to the Common Men. The first step into the TARDIS, my, it’s bigger on the inside! The first take off as London disappears below them and that sound effect in full. Such a simple idea that has kept the world happy for fifty years.

The performances are powerful too. The Doctor, a pipe smoking alien, grumpy and unforgiving. Susan at this point very alien and well acted before she gets on your tits. Ian, the consummate hero, although why he doesn’t ‘make fire’ a bit more quickly thus saving us all from three episodes in prehistoric times is beyond me! Then Barbara. Her insistence on following Susan home would result in DBS issues these days, but a superb performance nonetheless.

The rest is very strange as most of the cavemen struggle to understand our heroes, despite speaking impressive Received Pronunciation that would make Kenneth Kendal jealous. The performances and direction remain tight. The fight between the two men is probably one of the better choreographed in the classic series. The Doctor doing his Miss Marple bit is his first ‘heroic’ moment and quite powerful. The cliff hangers are pretty good too. Probably not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Cliché Counter

The regulars get captured, escape and get captured again, (Before escaping and getting captured again.)

Notable First

So many obvious ones, the list is endless, but how about this? First use of the title sequence in the show. I can only think of two further classic series examples.

Troughton_500_year_diary

The 500 Year Diary

21st October 1963

A rather momentous day overall! I’d just dropped off the Hand Of Omega and returned to the junkyard where Susan and I had been residing in the TARDIS for five months – Susan claims that she’d invented the name of the TARDIS – I keep telling her that’s nonsense – she’s just a show off, she did it again today. I mean, when we stole the thing from our planet it already had a name. Thinking about it now it was only because of that random young lady that we took that particular ship in the first place. Anyway, I digress. So I enter the junkyard and am about to enter the ship and hear a noise. Turns out it’s two of Susan’s school teachers who have followed her home – surely that’s rather unusual practise? Perhaps they thought she was rather an unearthly child? One is called Barbara Wright and the other is an Ian Chesterfield. Anyway, they accuse me of kidnapping Susan – I try and get rid of them. Next thing, they barge their way into the ship! Then I have to explain why it’s bigger on the inside – will I ever get bored of that? I ask them have they wondered what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension. Have they? Despite Susan’s pleas, I won’t release the two – not quite sure what I originally thought I was going to do with them. Next thing I decide I am actually going to kidnap them and we take off – bit of a bumpy ride – perhaps because we haven’t moved for a while! Don’t know what I’m going to do with these pesky teachers!

21st October 100,000BC

Another troublesome day! First of all, after landing on some barren wasteland – not sure where we are really – the ship doesn’t change appearance – chameleon circuit has gone wrong. Looks like I’m stuck with this police box until I can get some spares, difficult as Susan and I cut are cut off from our own people. Next, I pop out for a smoke and someone knocks me out! That’s the last time I smoke! Too much hassle! I wake up surrounded by a load of primitives banging on about making fire. No problem I thought – but I’d dropped the matches – why do you never have a lighter when you really need one? Then this Kal goes to kill me and at that moment the others come in just in the nick of time. Phew! We’re then taken to the cave of skulls and tied up whilst we wait to be sacrificed. Great!

22nd October 100,000BC am

Couldn’t really be bothered today. The others were trying to break free and it was only when that Ian admonished me that I actually got involved. Perhaps these two teachers aren’t too bad after all. Then this old woman bursts in and starts to free us – they are all obsessed with fire – just rub some sticks together like off of scouts! Anyway we run away through the forest of fear. Have a bit of a to do with that Chesserton over who’s in charge. Bloody Barbara falls over and then that brings Za & Hur along. Thanks Barbara! Then Za is attacked by some beast. At that point I was a bit narked off as I just want to return to the ship, but those bleeding hearts (including Susan I might add) want to save his life. Anyway, so I pick up a stone so Za can draw the route back to the ship, but everyone seems to think I was going to smash his brains out! Rude!!!! Anyway, Ian – being rather handy – makes a stretcher and we cart Za and his rather smelly missus back to the ship only to have a load of savages through spears when we get there. Typical!

22nd October 100,000BC pm

So we’re back in the camp again… honestly, I hope in the future I won’t spend most of the time being captured, escaping, only to be captured again! Now, I prove – because I’m quite brilliant – that this Kal had killed the old woman and what thanks do I get? Only get thrown back into the cave of skulls to make fire or be sacrificed. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother?? Ian manages to make fire and Za comes in and we make a deal – Ian actually nominates me as the leader – I’m actually beginning to warm to him! Then it all kicks off – Kal comes in – there’s a massive fight and Za smashes Kal’s head in with a rock. Ouch! Not only that, but that Za is really ungrateful because he doesn’t release us even though we made him the firemaker. Still don’t want to mess with him just in case a massive boulder comes my way! So we’re stuck there again until Susan comes up with this crazy plan to light up the skulls – she is so unearthly! – and we are in a cave of actual skulls. Brilliant plan! Anyway that lot come in and we manage to distract them in order to escape – why they didn’t tie us up this time? Silly savages! We manage to make it back to the ship by the skin of our teeth and we’re out of there – wherever there is! We land in some mysterious jungle with strange looking tees. The TARDIS is giving me no data so God knows where we are! I ask Susan to check the radiation before going off to get changed – we’re covered in grime!

An_Unearthly_Child______

The Five Word Lords

Ground-breaking, initially compelling, later ponderous.

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