So here I am, my husband convinced me to write with him on a blog. And now the first entry I am participating on is a review of the first story of the longest running sci-fi series. A bit intimidating, as I am not much of a writer. But I do love the show, so hopefully the joy that it brings me will come through despite my lack of poetic talent. 1963. I am sure that my lovely husband will go into more detail about the time period, he is fascinated by the history of those Kennedys, so I will not worry about that. Nor will I dwell on any scientific inaccuracies as I am sure he will also mention those. They irritate him so very much. Instead I would like to mention the most intriguing parts of this first story for myself. I feel that the wonderful part of this first story is learning about the characters.
At 76 Totter’s Lane (charming name by the way) we find the TARDIS. Over the many years and countless episodes I have come to think of the TARDIS as a character all on its own. Even Ian exclaims that “it’s alive!” when he and Barbara touch it. The first ride that we witness in the TARDIS seems quite uncomfortable and oddly the TARDIS takes them back in time on the same planet; not to an alien planet or even to the future. I like the TARDIS’s taste, though I may not have gone quite so far back.
We also find a cantankerous old man, the Doctor. He is not likable nor really that relatable. His character is not much of the hero portrayed in his future re-generations. He is alien and a mystery. This creates the question of identity associated with both his character and name which the Doctor himself asks in this initial story, “Doctor Who?”
Moving on to not quite as much of a mystery, but a mystery none-the-less, we have the lovable Susan. “I like walking in the dark, it’s mysterious.” I agree, and the fog just makes the imagery all the more lovely. One can identify more with Susan. She is specifically portrayed as alien in her intelligence and wealth of knowledge, however she is very human in her emotions and sympathy towards others. In fact her hysterics seem to me to be her one annoying quality.
Really, I think that most people would relate with Susan, Ian, or Barbara in the early episodes rather than the Doctor. Ian and Barbara act as if they are thrown into a terrifying new way of life. But really, they got themselves into the mess because of their own curiosity As properly as they attempt to behave, I think that their lovable quality is how humanly flawed and curious they are.
- Story Grade: B
I find it all sorts of ironic that a show that gets to play with history is, itself, embedded in such history. November 22, 1963 was one of America’s darkest days; John F. Kennedy, a man who many saw as a figurehead for civil rights, was assassinated in Dallas. As a child, his assassination always intrigued me, so now that I am an adult, it’s very cool that history gave me a reason to celebrate an anniversary one day after his death…
Doctor Who hit the airwaves at 5:15:08 pm on November 23, 1963 (according to my sources at Wikipedia; forgive me as I was not there to confirm it), the shock and magic still live on today.
As a person in my 20s, I was not introduced to Doctor Who until the new series was already being broadcast, BUT my first story was a classic story, thanks in part to myself, as I was giving the story to my wife as a Valentine’s Day gift. Jael was raised on Who… well, more specifically, she was put to sleep by old Doctor Who stories on PBS in Iowa and her uncle was a huge Who-nerd. Without this crucial bond made as a child, I may never have stumbled across this wonderful show.
OK, enough of my back story, let’s review the Who at hand…
Let me clarify this right off the bat, by no means is this a perfect story, or even a story I would try to show a newbie who is curious about Doctor Who, but that doesn’t detract from it being magical and a sentimental favorite of mine. I mean, without this first episode, what would we have? Answer: NOTHING.
The first episode of the story is far and away the best episode of the full “story”, in fact, I view it as a totally separate piece from the other 3 remaining episodes. “An Unearthly Child” is, after all, the name of the first episode itself, and is nothing more than character introduction and set up for the rest of the ENTIRE SERIES! You are first thrown into a foggy street of London, at some junkyard on 76 Totter’s Lane. You aren’t quite sure why, and then you are briskly taken away and introduced to Coal Hill School. The first characters you meet are not The Doctor, but Ian, Barbara, and Susan. In fact, you don’t get to meet this “Doctor” until nearly halfway into the episode… pretty good tease for a show centered on this “Doctor Who” fellow.
Watching the very first story of the very first Doctor, in black and white, is a thrill. The acting in those days was not perfect, but that is only because they could not afford numerous takes like today; the film was running and film was expensive. It’s almost like a more human version of a Doctor Who story, and you also feel that way about the Doctor, since he is a grandfather and just a crazy old man who is very apprehensive when it comes to humans (also sounds like many old people, right?!).
I haven’t even mentioned the TARDIS yet! Oh the TARDIS, this is where the show really becomes sci-fi-y and special. The sounds of the TARDIS, coupled with the theme music/intro, make this children’s show a near-psychedelic trip. Once the viewer is taken through the TARDIS doors the experience has changed, and if you have ever seen other Doctor Who episodes, you feel instantly connected. Though the TARDIS goes through many changes and looks much different here compared to today, you know you are watching the same show.
I will try not to spoil the show (though it is nearly 50 years old at this point), and in future posts, I will try to give as “spoiler-free” of reviews as possible, so I feel as though i should try to end my episode one review now.
OK, I lied, one more mention, and it’s a small (but cringe-worthy) error by the writing staff. Science-fiction is often times a precursor to scientific discovery, but it can also highlight flaws when the writers are clearly not well versed in basic scientific knowledge. What am I talking about? Oh, it pains me to say it, but here it goes:
SUSAN: It’s impossible unless you use D and E.
IAN: D and E? Whatever for? Do the problem that’s set, Susan.
SUSAN: I can’t, Mister Chesterton. You can’t simply work on three of the dimensions.
IAN: Three of them? Oh, time being the fourth dimension, I suppose? Then what do you need E for? What do you make the fifth dimension?
Alright, now that I have aired that grievance, let’s shift to the rest of the story. Don’t worry, it’ll be shorter than the above.
The next three episodes begin at a very logical beginning… cavemen times. The Doctor, Susan, and his companions, Ian and Barbara, are transported, via the TARDIS, back in time to “100,000 BC”, a time in which cave-people were trying to figure out the magic of FIRE.
The plot revolves around two men looking to each lead the tribe, the first is a man trying to make fire and the other is a proven hunter that does not believe in the magic of fire. After the now-typical plot-driver of separating The Doctor from the companions is introduced, the team must find a way out of this feud and get back to the TARDIS.
We all know that they escape, otherwise there would not be any further Who, but I will not “spoil” it for those who do not wish to be spoiled.
If I were to honestly assess the stories, I would give the first episode an “A” and the next three a combined “C”. Most of my grading is based off of purely subjective bias. The story itself is not perfect, the acting is also not perfect, but the charm, the magic, it more than compensates for its flaws.
Simply put: If you are a Doctor Who fan, please consider watching the first episode once a year. I know that many fans choose to watch this every November 23rd, so why not enjoy this annual tradition on “Doctor Who Day”? If you live in the US like me, November 23rd usually falls around Thanksgiving… a perfect way to celebrate!
- Story Grade: B+
- Yes, the first episode is THAT special, it nearly carried the 4-story-arc to an “A”-range grade.
Lastly, as is customary on my other blog, I would like to list off a bunch of thank yous. Thank you, Jael, for introducing me to Doctor Who. I may have become a super-nerd because of it, but it’s all because of you! Thank you to Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein, Anthony Coburn and C.E. Webber, and all at the BBC that made this first story possible. Thank you, Radio Free Skaro for being an awesome podcast. If you, dear reader, are not familiar with them, go check them out!