Classic Doctor Review #1: An Unearthly Child

The Cult Factor is releasing new reviews of Classic Doctor Who, in chronological order. Starting with An Unearthly Child:

This story was the beginning of a new epoch of TV, a new day. It was a turning point for British sci-fi television. It was really weird when it aired and it still is. Most people when scoff if I was to say one of the best TV stories of all time was filmed and aired in black and white. And it aired in 1963.

But not I…

You see, this story really struck the viewers watching it. A Saturday Tea Time Science Fiction Show. A show they would be watching for over 20 years. The Theme was iconic, the TARDIS and its sounds were unique. And all in all, it had fantastic actors, writing and directing.

SUMMARY:

The first ever story of Doctor Who, introduced us to the characters. It was to have seen something done ‘different’ for once. Carol Ann Ford played Susan, the Granddaughter of The Doctor, played by William Hartnell , who is a strange character who wore Edwardian style clothing and the father figure for all the main TARDIS crew. William Russell played Ian Chesterton and Jacqueline Hill played Barbara Wright. Both were teachers from Coal Hill School who were perplexed by Susan’s behaviour. They stalkvisit her at her house, where they forcefully push past The Doctor and into the TARDIS. Being Humans, they do not comprehend what The Doctor and Susan are saying.

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Ian Chesterton:
Let me get this straight.
A thing that looks like a police box,
standing in a junkyard,
it can move anywhere in time and space?[/pullquote]

I love the cliffhanger in this episode. Essentially, Ian attempts to open the door, when the Doctor doesn’t open it himself and just smirks. So then Ian touches the TARDIS console to find the button that opens the door, even though Susan warned him, but Ian being a puny human, he ended up doing it anyway “Idiot”, I scoffed while I watched this part of the episode.. The TARDIS then ends up tumbling and turning, which consequently, leads the crew falling down and being knocked unconscious (albeit The Doctor, cos we all know he is a boss!!!). When everyone gets up, We see a shot of the TARDIS with a shadow slowly approaching the TARDIS.

The rest of the story, was very entertaining. It’s very rare, that you see The Doctor travel back in time to the cave men. In fact, this may be the only instance. But just to summarise, the crew end up in the Stone Age, where they help some humans discover fire and they take it as SORCERY, effectively.

DIRECTING, PRODUCTION:

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IAN CHESTERTON: He closed the doors from over there. I saw him. Now, which is it? Which is it? Which control operates the door?
THE DOCTOR: You still think it’s all an illusion?
IAN: I know that free movement time and space is a scientific dream I don’t expect to find solved in a junkyard.  THE DOCTOR: Your arrogance is nearly as great as your ignorance.
IAN: Will you open the door? Open the door! Susan, will you help us?
SUSAN FOREMAN: I mustn’t.
IAN: Very well, then. I’ll have to risk it myself.
THE DOCTOR: I can’t stop you.
SUSAN: Don’t touch it! It’s live!
(Ian gets an electric shock from the console.)

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One thing which TV shows fall back is the writing. For example, any series can be long-running, yet have terrible writing and/or directing (Eastenders, having both of them!), or they could have great directing and great ideas but, rather mediocre plots (Season 6-7 of Smallville). Any show can have good ideas, directing, music and cinematography, but bad application of ideas. (Sorry, Arrow Season 3.) So a first episode (or story in this case) of a Series should be like a drawing board, where everything is near-perfection, in order to set the tone of a series. 

This is where Waris Hussein and Verity Lambert did a fantastic job. I found the directing of the show great (I would say that the colours were good but I can’t since there were only 2, Black and White), the writing excellent, and the sound effects and incidental music amazing and memorable. I watch this episode once or twice and have an instance feeling of nostalgia. I mean like who forgets the various iterations of this:


Delia Derbyshire and Ron Grainer did a superb job at the incidental music. It was very different at the time and was critically acclaimed at its time, and I’m sure that similar styles could and should be used used in New Who. I mean they are quite impressive! 

Even though this story (and all subsequent Doctor Who stories to follow until 1969) was filmed in b/w, I still think that how they produced the Story was great. I mean if you look at the cliffhanger at the end of episode 1, you can see why people would be spooked and startled. (We hardly have these story arcs in Doctor Who today, or on British TV whatsoever!!!) There is a shadow approaching the TARDIS and you would have to wait 1 whole week to watch episode 2. I honestly think that if TV was ever to return to the standards of Classic Doctor Who, it might actually be worth watching.

RATING: 8/10

+A very strong starter story for the show with very little problems. 
-Not perfect: Episodes 2-4 were not as good as Episode 1

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