Thursday, March 26, 2009

A1 - An Unearthly Child



And so it begins...

So much has been written about the first episode, but it still impresses to this day. As there are so very few Doctor Who fans around who remember watching the episode as it went out on that dark November evening in 1963, it's tough to watch "An Unearthly Child" without any retrospective.

However, I recently showed the episode to my girlfriend, who had only ever seen NuWho up to that point. She expected to hate it and to find it far too cheesy for her tastes, but, to my irrepressible joy, she was riveted, and was intrigued enough to want to watch more episodes. I never showed her more, though. I thought I best quit whilst I was ahead...

The main reason why the first episode succeeds (and, indeed, the show as a whole) is because of the decision to tell the story of The Doctor through the eyes of outsiders. Instantly, the show lives up to its name. The character of The Doctor is instantly mysterious, odd, alien, inaccessible. It's a bold move to have a title character as the anti-hero in what was supposed to be a children's show, but William Hartnell makes the move an unqualified success. Hartnell never dips into a stereotypical "dotty professor" or a "comically grumpy uncle with a heart of gold" mode during his portrayal. It is as strong a performance as the show has ever seen, and it's a shame that the public persona of Hartnell in the years that followed were of an incorrigible actor who couldn't remember his lines; he's at the top of his game here.

The first scene inside the TARDIS is, of course, spellbinding (as well as being one of the longest continuously recorded sequences in the show's history). The exposition moves along at a reasonable pace, and never seems too stilted as to sound unnatural. Of course, some aspects of the information revealed during this scene has been "retconned" as the years have gone on. I suspect that a two-year-old Susan read what TARDIS really stands for off the manual, then claimed that she made it up, but The Doctor let her have her moment because it meant she would stop asking for ice cream.

The episode ends with a truly surreal sequence of video feedback and swirling sound effects, including the first (and, to date) only instance of the entire minute-and-a-half TARDIS dematerialization sound effect being heard. I've seen this episode at least 30 times, and it still leaves me with chills...

4 comments:

36 said...

I always assumed that Susan won a 'name the travel machines' contest on Gallifreyan Blue Peter as a child...

James said...

I agree that there is very little in the way of original comment which can be made on this story so I'm not going to go into it too much. I have seen it around a dozen times now and it never fails to disappoint. As a first episode it works remarkably well at drawing the viewer into the story. I have always loved the original line up of characters and this is very much the story of Ian and Barbara from the start which was the intention. Great stuff.

Bibliomike said...

I've only just watched "An Unearthly Child" for the first time (having come to the franchise by way of Matt Smith last year, and then spending the past 12 months catching up from 2005-09). I, like your girlfriend, was very favorably impressed and surprised at how good it was. I gather you guys have heard it all before, so I won't blather on here, but I was really pleased with how seriously the creative team obviously took the project. No mean feat to have a production hold up so well, nearly 50 years later.

I've been listening to RFS for a while but only recently learned of this blog. Since I've just started my own in-order watching of the whole of "Who," I'm looking forward to "playing along at home." Thanks!

Stephen said...

This really sums up how I feel about the opening of Doctor Who all those years ago. As a child of the 90s I never saw any of the Classic run live, as it were, so my knowledge of the show was disjointed, and irregular. Butwhen I finally saw this first episode I was amazed to realize that the production crew hit the ground running, with all the cast, especially Hartnell, performing wonderfully. The eerie quality of this show must have captivated the audience from the very beginning; no wonder Doctor Who is the longest running Science Fiction program ever. I look forward to making my way through this blog, and am excited to be able to share my opinions with a fellow fan, thanks for posting.

Post a Comment