Doctor Who — An Unearthly Child

Season 1 – Episode 1 – 1963
Doctor: 1 – William Hartnell
Companions: Susan, Ian, Barbara

It’s easy to forget that with 55 years of history it all started here. Well we didn’t introduce very much. Long away are the days of The Master, The Time Lords and Gallifrey. No this episode is the beginning of people lost in space and time and it’s an interesting little start, dripping with the 60s. Yet the first shot is to that theme music, haunting in its earliest iteration by Ron Grainer and arranged by Delia Derbyshire. The shot finishes on a police box in a junk yard and we (so gifted looking back) should have chills.

We introduce:

  • The Doctor – played by William Hartnell and completely enigmatic – at this point nothing has been established and we see a white haired, aging man. He is irritable and a little conniving. More on him later.
  • Susan Foreman – the doctor’s granddaughter and also mysterious. She has been travelling with the doctor until they settled in 1963.
  • Ian Chesterton – A science teacher of Susan’s as she attends the school. Upstanding is the word and honestly the kind of teacher we should hope to have.
  • Barbara Wright – A history teacher of Susan’s. She is also a well presented teacher with traits that befit the best teachers. Concern and curiosity embody both her and her colleague.

Ian and Barbara are concerned about a brilliant student at school who seems not only brilliant but also appears defensive at any idea of any teacher investigating her home life. An investigation leads them to a junk yard where the girl has disappeared. They are stopped by a man, The Doctor, who cannot prevent them from entering the seemingly discarded police box. It’s, of course, the TARDIS and we see the thing is enormous on the inside. In order to prevent them from seeking an authority and in a fit of pride, the doctor initiates the first time travel sequence and the group are transported to the stone age.

Oh if we could just watch part 1. It’s a masterful episode followed by 3 rather duff ones. Back here, the stories were separately named but in future it would be the story that took the title. The Doctor is really set out as an antagonist to begin with and the whole plot is to get the four to work together. Episode 1 fades out with that lovely TARDIS sound: piano strings scratched by a set of keys and layered over itself in feedback. The sound design is lovely and that final shot… a shadow of a man looking at police box on a desolate plain.

Episode 2 – “It’s still a police box” – quickly we establish that the TARDIS should change shape to blend in but has failed to do so. This troubles The Doctor and establishes our final piece of lore.

From now on we follow the feuding cavemen in the quest to make fire and from here it’s just a bit of a trial to watch. Our group are captured. An intriguing note is that this show is quite happy to see a bit of violence – The old woman trying to prevent our travelers introducing fire to the tribe is attacked and this is nothing short of casual at this point in doctor who. Remember folks… People die in this show! What’s more interesting…

One of the cavemen is attacked by an unseen animal. This man is following our party to catch them and our valiant troupe turn back to help. Am I on the side of the doctor? “One moment ago we were trying desperately to get away from these savages?”

So the group try and help the caveman… Except… the doctor grabs a stone to strike… and is caught by Ian… This is the only time that the doctor is seen to attempt to kill without necessity and is interesting. He won’t do this again.

Part 4 does set up SOMETHING, however. The doctor gets the best of someone through a bit of out-thinking. This is it sadly – the rest of the episode is … well it’s fine if this would be the only story ever but it’s kind of boring.

Score:

6.5 / 10

10/10 for that first episode though – I don’t mean this lightly – this is something to watch!
Next Time: We land in a forest – the radiation looks normal at first but very quickly rises to a dangerous level… Of course this early in the show we shouldn’t expect too much… especially with a title like “The Daleks”

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