dalekboy (dalekboy) wrote,

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Doctor Who Original Series 01 - Unearthly Child

Since I'm slowly reviewing other shows, figured I'd do it with my favourite show - Doctor Who.

I'm doing it on an episode by episode basis, rather than on a story basis, because as a serial each episode had to work on its own as entertainment, and also work as part of an overall tale.

Some stories benefit in popular opinion from having a great ending, or by adding to the series' mythos, other stories suffer in popular opinion because of one naff element, or a weak ending. So I'm hoping by averaging out a story's score based on what its individual episodes got, I'll get a more accurate feel for the overall quality.

That said, there will be stories where I throw the score to the wind for various reasons.

These thoughts and opinions reflect what I feel makes for a good or bad story, I'm not saying I'm right.

But we all know I am.

1.00 An Unearthly Child - Pilot Written by Anthony Coburn, Directed by Waris Hussein

The pilot is darker in feel than the transmitted first episode. While essentially the same story, the Doctor is a more belligerent (and even a slightly more dangerous seeming) character. Susan gets a few more moments that set her apart from normal humans in acting and especially dialogue, where she has lines that establish her origins as being in the 49th century. There isn't much else changed between this and the transmitted story.


1.01 An Unearthly Child Pt. 1 - An Unearthly Child Written by Anthony Coburn, Directed by Waris Hussein

Two schoolteachers, curious about one of their students, follow her to her home only to find that she lives in an old Police Telephone Box in a junkyard.

The transmitted episode feels faster paced than the original pilot. While there aren't that many changes, the overall result seems tighter. Hartnell has become less dark and more mischievous, enjoying the confusion of the school-teachers, while Susan is presented as less alien in manner and attitude.


"Susan and I are cut off from our own planet without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day..." - William Hartnell (Doctor Who)

1.02 An Unearthly Child Pt. 2 - The Cave of Skulls Written by Anthony Coburn, Directed by Waris Hussein

The Doctor is kidnapped to make fire for the cavemen.

One of the cool things is the look of the cavemen. They are grotty, dirty, with missing and broken teeth - a far cry from the clean people in skins look that was still used well into the 70s & 80s. Their use of language is quite good, too. There's no doubt that these are dangerous, brutal people, and the main cast seem genuinely afraid for their lives. The episode itself has a slow steady build to a fairly solid ending.


"Let the old man die, and we'll watch the great Kal as he kills his strong enemy!" - Za (Derek Newark)

1.03 An Unearthly Child Pt. 3 - The Forest of Fear Written by Anthony Coburn, Directed by Waris Hussein

The TARDIS crew attempt to escape from the cavemen.

One of the regular complaints about the third episode of four-part stories is that they are often runaround episodes that don't really further the plot. It's kind of funny to see that this issue goes all the way back to the very first four-part story. The brutality of the primitives continues, and the animosity between the travellers keeps things interesting. While the plot doesn't move much at all, it is a great character episode in many ways.


My eyes tell me what has happened, as they do when I sleep and I see things." - Kal (Jeremy Young)

1.04 An Unearthly Child Pt. 4 - The Firemaker Written by Anthony Coburn, Directed by Waris Hussein

The TARDIS crew must make fire for the early humans, in order to stay alive. But once they do, they may not be allowed to leave!

The last part of this primitive political drama just rollicks along. Of particular note is the fight between Za and Kal, which is pretty brutal and basic as two humans try to kill each other as quickly as possible. Way less theatrical and more realistic than the sorts of violence seen around that time, and still pretty full-on now.


"You see this isn't operating properly. Or rather, the code is still a secret." - The Doctor talking about the TARDIS

An Unearthly Child 7.75/10

I'd give the story good marks. It does a lot, even though it's studio bound, making good use of filmed segments. The first episode still stands up rather well as a self contained piece, and the rest of the story works well too.

I like that the cave people aren't stupid, but their reality is simple, and more complex ideas are presented as alien to them. More than once Za proves why he is leader - he is able to understand things a little better than those around him - including the necessity to appear strong at all times, even knowing that one way to do so is ridiculing his rival Kal to make him appear weak.
Tags: doctor who story reviews

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