Doctor Who: The Travels Begin

On the 23rd of November of the year 1963 in standard earth time a science fiction program aired on the BBC. It was the first part of the first story for new show Doctor Who. “An Unearthly Child” opens with the original version of the now iconic theme. It has undergone change over time, but even now, the same fundamental tune remains. As the theme continues, we cut to a police officer and slowly pan behind him, into a warehouse and catch the first ever view of the blue police public call box that is the Tardis. This first episode introduces the viewer to the first 3 of the Doctor’s companions, Susan Foreman, his granddaughter; Ian Chesterton, Susan’s chemistry teacher; and Barbara Wright, Susan’s history teacher. For the most part, the first 11 minutes of the 23 minute episode are about these 3 characters. There is mention of Susan’s enigmatic grandfather and how he is a doctor, but for the most part it’s just about those three. Then William Hartnell’s Doctor walks into the junkyard where he parked the TARDIS and they all meet. The rest of the episode is the teachers trying to get answers about Susan out of the old man while he remains gleefully enigmatic and condescending. He just keeps going like this. The Doctor is a bit of an asshole and I loved it. He even has a bit of a maniacal chuckle when Ian and Barbara try to get out of the TARDIS. Hell, he’s pretty much the villain of this episode; he kidnaps the teachers for a ride in the TARDIS because they found out his and Susan’s secret.  When I saw this episode I don’t know what I expected, but I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. I liked the bits of characterization at the beginning and I enjoyed the cultural dissonance between what was doubtless reasonable action by a concerned teacher and creepy stalking. I liked the Doctor’s gleeful antagonism. Perhaps my favorite bits however, were the instances of things that reminded me of the new show that I’m familiar with, a strange kind of reverse nostalgia. When Ian and Barbara first walk into the TARDIS, they are quite astonished. It’s bigger on the inside! But they don’t say it in those terms, and I quite enjoyed seeing them astounded in the same way that modern companions are when they see the interior of the TARDIS.

Their first trip in the TARDIS lands them in a desert in distant earth past and the episode ends. This setting is where the next 3 episodes of the serial take place. “The Cave of Skulls,” “The Forest of Fear,” and “The Firemaker” complete the Unearthly Child serial. I’ll talk about all three at once because they are more directly connected to each other than the first one. The plot is that there is a tribe of cavemen with a power struggle going on. Za is trying to prove he is the rightful leader by making fire. Kal tries to do it through brute force. The Doctor gets kidnapped by Kal who sees him make fire come out of his fingertips. Honestly I did not see any such thing, I assume he used a lighter off-screen. The others are captured in a hilariously poor rescue attempt. The plot of the next 3 episodes is their quest to get back to the TARDIS and get the hell out of there. They get away and get captured again multiple times. It’s a bit strange and has to do with caveman politics, but eventually they get away. I liked these episodes less than the first one. They had more conflict between them, but it all felt too slow moving and I found the caveman politics—I still find that a silly concept—a little boring.  The characterization was also advanced, I could see how they all reacted to crisis. The girls screamed and cried and became useless weight while the men argued with each other over who would take charge. … I guess I have to blame the 60s for that one. But our heroes do get away from their imprisonment by cavemen and escape to what, in the Doctor’s words “could be anywhere.” At least they’re safe though. *cue the Geiger counter on the TARDIS dashboard suddenly rising to dangerous levels.* uh-oh. What’s going to happen in the next serial, The Daleks?

The serial An Unearthly Child is also known as 10,000 BC, and The Tribe of Gum.

Relevant links:
The Doctor Who Theme from this era:
This era’s Tardis:


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