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Thoughts on “An Unearthly Child”

The episode title screen of the very first epi...

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I finally saw the very first Doctor Who ever.  I was pleasantly surprised by “An Unearthly Child.”  I wasn’t sure what to expect from the almost fifty year old episode, but I enjoyed it.  I thought it was an interesting choice for a science fiction show to take the viewer back to 10000 BC, instead of providing the typical futuristic adventure.

“An Unearthly Child” begins with two teachers, Barbara and Ian, discussing a strange student who seems to know a great deal more than she should, yet is also lacking in knowledge about things they would expect her to know.  It is then that Susan, the Doctor’s first companion, is introduced.  After she leaves the school, her curious teachers wait for her to arrive at the address the school has for her: an old junkyard in the hopes of learning more about their curious student.  They follow her into the junkyard, but she is nowhere to be seen.  It is then, about 12 minutes into the episode, that the Doctor is first introduced.

The Doctor tried to get rid of the two teachers, but they manage to get inside the TARDIS and the whole group the Doctor, Susan and the two teachers wind up back in 10,000 BC.  They are caught in a power struggle between two members of the tribe.  Whoever can create fire has the power and the Doctor is seen lighting a pipe, so the group is held captive as a pawn in the power struggle.

Overall, I would recommend this episode to a Doctor Who fan.  Of course, there are very few special effects and no aliens besides the Doctor himself in this, which is a big departure from the current episodes of the show.  The premise is quite simple: the Doctor and his companions are trapped and need to escape.  This episode can hold your interest with that simple premise, even though it is a problem that would probably be solved in about 5 minutes in the current episodes.  The Doctor uses no special tricks, not even his sonic screwdriver.  Actually, it surprised me to see that the Doctor was not the one coming up with all of the solutions in this episode; it’s much more of a team effort.

As an aside, I was also surprised that Ian, when he places his hand on the outside of the TARDIS, declares it a living thing.  I assumed that the idea of the TARDIS being a living thing developed as the show progressed.  I wasn’t expecting the idea to be there from the start.

A fascinating part of this episode for me was watching the pilot episode.  There are several changes between the pilot and that actually first episode.  The most notable one is the character of the Doctor.  In the pilot episode, the Doctor is quite different from the Doctor we see in the series.  Hartnell’s Doctor was always on the cranky side, but the Doctor we see in the pilot is a man who is difficult to like.  He seems to be completely lacking in the compassion the Doctor usually exhibits, and in fact came across as uncaring and mean.  He also makes a racist comment (about the savage reds), that thankfully was cut from the actual episode.

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