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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

TARDIS Tuesday: "An Unearthly Child" [Review]

Episode: Doctor Who, Season 01, Episode 001, Story 001 - Part 1 of 4
Title: "An Earthly Child"
Original Air Date: 23 November 1963
Run-time: 23:24

First Doctor (William Hartnell)
Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)
Ian Chesterton (William Russell)
Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill)

The uninitiated watching "An Unearthly Child" may find it disconcertingly hard to get used to at first. I know that each time I watch these classic episodes of Doctor Who, I still have to take the time to adjust to the stark differences between the fast-paced, big budget production of the revived series and its slower—sometimes cheesy—counterpart. Although both series are very story driven, the original show had to rely more heavily on the art of storytelling. The fact of the matter is that, even for it time, the classic series was ridiculously low-budget. It is a wonder that this Saturday children's educational show ever became the worldwide sci-fi sensation that it is today. This first episode is especially slow-paced and serves mainly as an introduction of the four main characters.

The majority of the action takes place in junkyard in 1963 London, where schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright go to confront one of their pupils, Susan Foreman, and her grandfather (who they believe is a doctor) about their concerns regarding some of her curious idiosyncrasies. She is a bright student but she exhibits and insists on a peculiar and troubling understanding of the world. These issues, they feel, could be resolved if her grandfather invested more time and interest. Their curiosity and concerns are heightened further when they follow Susan inside but find her nowhere in sight. Much to their surprise, they find do a blue police call box in the middle of the junkyard, the presence of which is out of place to say the least. The mystery comes to a head when Susan's grandfather, a cranky old man in Edwardian-style clothes, returns home. The rest of the episode revolves around the teachers' first confrontational interaction with the old man and the revelation that Susan and her grandfather are actually from a distant planet and time in the future, and that the police box is actually a time-traveling spaceship in disguise. The episode ends with a cliffhanger after the old man kidnaps the schoolteachers and takes them to the Stone Age to prevent them from telling the authorities about him.

The length of the episode and the scope of the story makes a comprehensive review difficult. The storytelling is straight forward and tight, limiting the events to setting up the rest of the serial and to introducing the most common elements that will the be main staple of the show: an eccentric old man traveling through space and time with his (at this moment, reluctant) companions in a blue box that is bigger on the inside.

Well that's it for now. "TARDIS Tuesday" will return next week with a review of episode two "The Cave of Skulls". Until then, enjoy this Doctor Who parody from 1999's Doctor Who Night special. Titled "The Pitch of Fear" this comedy sketch speculates how show creator Sydney Newman's pitch to the BBC must have went. It was a peculiar concept, after all. This parody is one of four comedy sketches that are included as extras on disc one of the Doctor Who: The Begining box set, which also includes the the next two serials that follow the four-part "An Unearthly Child" story arc.