An Unearthly Child

“We are not of this race. We are not of this earth. Susan and I are wanderers in the fourth dimension of space and time, cut off from our own people by distances beyond the reach of your most advanced science.”

Doctor Who

Yes, it’s Thursday again, and that means…another trip in the TARDIS! This week, we go right back to where it all started: An Unearthly Child, the very first episode of Doctor Who. I’ve been wanting to watch this for a while, so it was interesting to see where everything began…

SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (Surely this isn’t necessary for a programme that went out 50 years ago…)

First thing: it’s all in black and white, because this is 1963, when they hadn’t invented colours yet. (I did actually think this when I was little – that everyone saw things in black and white in 1963. Silly, I know, but it made sense when I was three.) This makes the time vortex in the opening credits look a little, well, un-time-vortexy. OK, I’ll be honest, it looked like some black and white tie-dyed cloth swirling around in front of the camera.

Never mind, we have to make allowances for the primitive age of television in the ’60s. What about the plot?

Well, it’s very like Spearheads from Space, which I reviewed last Thursday, in that nothing really happens. Where it’s different from Spearheads from Space is that nothing happens in a calm and controlled way, and everything is explained carefully. Which can only be a good thing, given that it is the very first episode.

The basic plot runs thusly: Ian and Barbara, a pair of teachers, follow one of their students, Susan, who’s been behaving oddly. (Surprise, surprise.) They meet the Doctor, who is characteristically rude and shuts them in the TARDIS, where it transpires that Susan is the Doctor’s granddaughter, which is why she’s been behaving like an insufferable know-it-all.

(If you’ve only seen the new Doctor Who, you might be saying at this point, “Wait, the Doctor has a granddaughter?” The answer is yes, the Doctor had a granddaughter. Had is the operative word here.)

Er…the TARDIS dematerialises (in order to prevent Ian and Barbara from disclosing the Doctor’s secret, apparently. Motive is a little thin on the ground here.) and the actors do an odd dance apparently designed to suggest that the TARDIS is lurching around. Then they all collapse. We see what must be the worst animation ever, anywhere, of an alien landscape – it’s literally just a pen-and-ink drawing. And…the credits roll. The End. No clever plans, no Saving the World, just a lot of talking and arguing. Obviously, we have to make allowances for the fact that it is the first ever episode, and therefore will be rubbish. And overall, I did enjoy it, for reasons unknown – I suppose it was just interesting to see what the ’60s audience saw, for the very first time. It was, at any rate, better than Spearheads from Space. Which is worth something, surely.

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