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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

TARDIS Tuesday: "The Cave of Skulls" [Review]

Episode: Doctor Who, Season 01, Episode 002, Story 001 - Part 2 of 4
Title: "The Cave of Skulls"
Original Air Date: 30 November 1963
Run-time: 24:26

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

[Image Source: The BBC]

In last week's "TARDIS Tuesday", we focused on the very first episode of Doctor Who, "The Unearthly Child." In that episode we met school schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright who serves as the audience's surrogates in our first encounter with the enigmatic Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan Foreman. That episode was fairly slow-paced and served mostly to introduce us to the four main characters and to the TARDIS, the Doctor's mysterious time machine. The episode ended in a cliffhanger as the Doctor kidnaps the schoolteachers in an attempt to prevent them from going to the authorities.

Episode 2 is when everything starts to get interesting. We learn that the TARDIS disguises itself to match its surroundings. (Previous disguises include an ionic column and a sedan chair.) Unfortunately, this time around the ship does not change forms, establishing one of the most iconic elements of the show: a time-traveling police box. The cranky, old Doctor reveals a cunning side and acts as a protector to his companions. Also a running joke in the series finds its genesis in this episode when Ian says, "Well just open the doors, Doctor Foreman." To which the Doctor replies, "Eh, Doctor who? — what's he talking about?"

We also begin to see how low-budget the show really was. Seams between sections of background set pieces are visible—as if the fake horizon was not obviously-painted enough.  A lot of the action takes place in close quarters, so when the entire episode cast (extras and all) are in a scene, it gets very claustrophobic very fast, and is indicative of the small sound stage used for production.

Yet, at the same time, the story is itself is compelling, replete with allegory and subtext.