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Doctor Who: “An Unearthly Child”

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An Unearthly Child – 23/11/1963
The Cave of Skulls – 30/11/1963
The Forest of Fear – 07/12/1963
The Firemaker – 14/12/1963

Schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton become intrigued by one of their pupils, Susan Foreman, and visit her home address – a junkyard at 76 Totter’s Lane – where they meet her grandfather, the Doctor. The Doctor and Susan are aliens who travel through time and space in their ship, the TARDIS, which looks like an ordinary police box but actually houses a huge gleaming control room. The TARDIS takes them all to a Palaeolithic landscape where they encounter a tribe that has lost the secret of fire.

With the awful – truly awful production values of the pilot, the sharp and more polished look of “An Unearthly Child” is a welcome relief. The first episode of the serial is very close to the pilot, but with some welcome changes: The foremost of which is the softening of William Harntell’s doctor into less of a villain and more of a grumpy old man who looks down in disdain on the primitives that have blundered into his world. He’s got a bit of a mean streak as well. “An Unearthly Child”, with the improved production values, is a very healthy start for the Doctor and it’s pretty neat how much of the mythos is in place. Hartnell is brilliant and enjoyably watchable in the role no matter how awful the doctor is to his companions.

The rest of the serial, set in prehistoric times, is decidedly less fun. It’s a trite and boring although it does earn some creep factors in places. It’s pretty simple and, given the first episode, a bit of a letdown and a strange place to go for a serial — it’s almost like it’s cut in half with introductions in one part and a caveman adventure in another.

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“Fear makes companions of all of us, Miss Wright.”
– The Doctor

Fun Fact: This episode actually chronicles the failure of the Tardis’ chameleon circuit when Susan remarks that the ship hasn’t changed its shape when they arrive in prehistoric times. The Tardis was originally supposed to change shapes in the script, but it was deemed too costly.

About the author

Jason Donner

Jason Donner devoured the universe and you are all living inside him.