“An Unearthly Child”  

First Doctor, Season One, Serial One

reviewed by Tom-Tom

Current Doctor Who fans may think that the current series resurrected in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor is reinventing the wheel but, upon closer examination, Steven Moffat and co. often make references barely perceptible to even hardcore fans of the series. The Ood, (from the Ood Sphere) introduced during the Tenth Doctor’s time look rather similar to the Sensorites (from the Sense Sphere) revealed in Serial Seven of the Premier Season of Doctor Who.  

The Doctor is an alien from the planet Gallifrey. He “borrowed” a TARDIS (a sort of living time machine whose navigational circuits are pretty much fried. The fact that it is “bigger on the inside” is often commented on by newcomers) and fled from the planet some time before the series began with his granddaughter Susan, one of the few Time Lords (or Ladies) who actually seem to use her own name. There are two pilots one of which, apparently, never even aired. The series had the bad luck to debut the day after JFK was assassinated. It could have died in the womb if not for Verity Lambert, its first producer. You can see for yourself how the series began in the BBC TV movie “An Adventure in Space and Time” which is at least as reliable as any work made by a company about that company can be (Saving Mr. Banks, anyone?).

The unaired pilot is deeper and asks more complicated questions about what exactly the TARDIS is and how mere humans cannot even approach understanding it. Even the term “ship” is used cautiously by the brash, guarded Doctor, a great performance by the man who started the whole 50+ year series, William Hartnell. You’ll not find him on many people’s Top 5 lists of their favorite Doctors. This is because he is such an irascible, bad-tempered old man. The kind of relative your parents told you not to bother at family reunions. Here, at least in the pilots, his evasive answers to Susan’s school teachers making them question their own senses and logic about whether a girl would hide in a “cupboard” in a junkyard and whether they could see in “this light” all pique the viewer’s interest. What is he hiding? What is his relationship to the young girl? What is going on? I don’t know what the viewing public expected when Ian and Barbara barge into the TARDIS but I’m sure a wide electronic room with a circular control panel in the center with a pillar sticking out of the center. Chances are, Star Trek designers based their warp drive model off of it. It’s a masterstroke of creativity which modern day Whovians have taken for granted. Attempting to keep the unwanted passengers from blabbing about the scientific discovery they’ve witnessed, the Doctor takes off. The aired pilot streamlines many of the interesting explanations by the Doctor while attempting to put the TARDIS in terms primitive humans can understand. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the 3 episodes of the “Unearthly Child” serial, after Barbara and Ian go gaga about having traveled in time, are dedicated to a wholly uninteresting story about cavemen with names like Za trying to discover fire. The interesting thing about early Doctor Who episodes, though, is that even the last episode of a completed serial is a bit of a cliffhanger. Here they arrive on an alien planet and leave the TARDIS before realizing the extent of the radioactivity outside. This close knit nature of serials keep you anticipating the next one…and the next one…


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