Let me start by saying that the pilot episode, An Unearthly Child, is great television. Yes, it has some 60s cheese. Yes, the F/X aren’t the most impressive ever. But, what a great introduction to the series. The music is the first thing that gets you. It’s entirely electronic, which was unique to its time. And totally groovy. I could totally see some mod chick doing some far out dance moves to it. I dig the opening music. The wavy graphics are neat, too, if primitive. I’ll be interested to see how the theme and graphics change over the years.
The perhaps too-nosy Barbara Wright, a history teacher, complains to dorky but well meaning science teacher Ian Chesterton about this incredibly smart yet extremely odd student, Susan Foreman. When we meet Susan I don’t find her particularly odd at all. A bit curious, maybe.
Now, a note about Barbara and Ian. It seems that there is a bit of romantic attraction there…maybe they’ve gone to dinner a time or two. Perhaps Ian is a creepy junkyard adventure away from sealing the deal, hence his willingness to follow her meddlesome self to the junkyard where Susan apparently lives with her grandfather, the Doctor. The doctor finds Ian and Barbara snooping around outside his police box and he is wonderfully cantankerous. He completely owns the screen when he is there. I’m not sure whether or not we are supposed to like him or root for him or not. I suspect that will come over time, but at the beginning, what a grumpy old man.
Ian and Barbara continue to be a pain in the Doctor’s ass and break into the police box, which is, of course, the TARDIS, the Doctor and Susan’s space and time travelling ship. The idea that the ship is huge on the inside while the size of a phone booth on the outside is neat. It may have been unique in its day, breaking sci fi ground for years to come. The honeycomb walls and flashing lights of the interior are pretty typical space ship fare.
The Doctor and Susan are, as we learn, from some far off planet. The Doctor’s name is not Foreman as Ian supposes. Instead, he remains nameless. “That’s not his name? Then Doctor who?” I find this very intriguing. Why leave your main character essentially nameless? He is just Doctor. It adds a bit of intrigue and Dr. Foreman just doesn’t have the weight it needs to be the title of a show. It’s a bold move in any case.
Angry at Ian and Barbara and Susan for their meddling and whining, the grumpy Doctor kidnaps them all and we travel off into time and space. We land in some stone age civilization in the middle of a power struggle between who can make fire and who can bring more meat. Oddly enough, everyone in the stone age spoke English. I suspect that pretty much everyone everywhere in the universe speaks English. I wonder if in future episodes this will be dealt with or explained in some way. Our heroes are captured, they make fire, they are held prisoner and they escape just ahead of a deadly flying spear.
Overall, this first story is very enjoyable and I hope is an indication of what is to come. I imagine there is some maturing in the story telling and refinement of the characters. But at this early stage, the show is pretty strong. The dialogue is a bit corny, but in general the storytelling is good. The power struggle in the stone age Tribe of Gum most likely indicates some political commentary in the stories to come, as is present in most science fiction. The characters of the cavepeople were pretty flat, with the exception of the competing leaders. Our heroes, however, begin to round out nicely. Susan is an interesting girl — almost like a mature and knowing adult but still possessing an innocence of some sort. Ian thinks he’s more macho than he is and has a bit of arrogance that I imagine will get him into trouble in future stories. Barbara is obviously going to be the one that tries to keep them all straight. But the one that really does steal the show is the Doctor. He is in charge of the screen and in charge of the action. A bitter old man, but I sense a soft side underneath. We will see.
So, the TARDIS is either broken or the Doctor doesn’t know how to control it. It seems to me tat it’s a little of both. Susan notes that it’s broken because it didn’t change shape when they landed in the stone age, and the Doctor claims he can only pilot it when he knows exactly when and where they are. hhmmm…..
Some questions: Does the doctor ever get a name? Does the interior of the TARDIS change over the years? And if so, how? Will the romantic tension between Ian and Barbara continue, or was it just character introduction fluff? What’s the deal with Susan and the Doctor’s home planet?
Some answers: The TARDIS is a police box because it is supposed to take the shape of something that fits into it’s surroundings.