Saturday, June 29, 2013

Review: Doctor Who - 001 - Season 01 Episode 01 - "An Unearthly Child"

Dallas, November, 22nd 1963. On this beautiful day a dark car is slowly moving on Elm Street. Next to the asphalted road some people are cheering on the grass. They are still unaware that in a split second, the world is going to change. The curious onlookers will witness the explosion of J.F. Kennedy's brain and Jackie's instinctive reaction. The news quickly spread around the world fueling fears of an incoming nuclear war.

United Kingdom, November 23rd 1963. With the event of the previous day in their mind, at 5:15PM local time, with a delay of about eighty seconds on the program, four million British began watching something new, unaware that science fiction and television history was going to change forever.
A strange, eerie music sounded from their now rudimental television set. A new show titled "Doctor Who" just started. The episode had no title, although we know it as "An unearthly child" or "100.000BC".

Doctor Who's first episode is divided in four parts and was broadcasted from 11/23/1963 to 12/14/1963 and is obviously in black and white. At the time the show did not really impress, and many critics called for its demise. Apparently BBC even canceled the show after the first part was aired and planned to stop any other episode to be filmed. Watching it fifty years later I can say that I am not surprised that it was difficult to understand. The First Doctor, played by an amazing William Hartnell tries to be mysterious and his grand-daughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) is there to make the Doctor even more so.

Doctor... who?

The first few minutes of the show are actually about her interactions with other people that can't understand her, rather than space and time travel. She is young and goes to high school but at the same time she has a great knowledge about many topics. Susan actually tries to correct her teachers (Barbara and Ian Chesterton) which will later on become companions. Other kids make fun of her because she acts weird.

The junkyard

One night the two teachers decide to follow Susan and then they will meet the Doctor. This is also the first time the viewers see the Doctor. I will not spoil it, but somehow they get into the TARDIS (it's bigger on the inside!) and the Doctor will make it fly through time and space. Arrived at their destination, puzzled Chesterton and Barbara find themselves in the stone age (of Earth or a different planet). Here, the Doctor and his companion will end up tangled in the power struggle of two cavemen that want to be tribal leaders (Za and Kal) and desperately need fire to show their might.

For today’s viewers the episode might seem a bit simplistic. From the beginning of the second part, the original intention of the show is quite evident. Doctor Who was supposed to be a learning experience about history and science and this episode is focused on the importance of fire and the social issues of uncivilized societies. I am left wondering if at the time the behavior of Za and Kal was seen as an allegory to the Cold War.
In my opinion this episode is pretty good, although certainly not the best of the classic doctors. The show was newborn, the crew was unsure of the success of the show, and it was clearly a longshot.
However, “An Unearthly child” gives us what could be the most important line of Doctor Who ever, by the mouth of Ian:
BARBARA: Oh, look, I don't understand it any more than you do. The inside of the ship, suddenly finding ourselves here. Even some of the things Doctor Foreman says,
IAN: That's not his name. Who is he? Doctor who? Perhaps if we knew his name we might have a clue to all this.
Fifty years later we are still wondering if Ian was right.

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