Wednesday, November 20, 2013

50 Years of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child - In the Beginning

Now that we're introduced to Doctor Who, let's look how it all started, with "An Unearthly Child".

 Now, I won't be looking at all the parts of the story, rather focusing on the first episode, in which we are introduced to the characters and the TARDIS. I hope you won't mind, and take it as an excuse to check this first full story out. See how they all survive a brush with the Stone Age.

The episode opens quietly, on a foggy night in London. We come up to a junkyard.

E.M. Foreman Scrap Merchant
76 Trotter's Lane

We pan into the yard and passed various disposed pieces of hardware, and come upon a Police Box.

They were a common feature going back 1891 in the United Kingdom (They appeared in the United States 2 decades before.) They contained a phone in the door, and an area inside for use as patrolmen needed (detaining suspect, getting out of the rain, etc). It also had a light atop them to signal police that a call from the local station was coming through. They were a valuable tool of law enforcement, until portable radios became available around the end of the 1960's. Then the Police Box began to fade from use.

We then move to Coal Hill School. It's the end of the school day, and science teacher, Ian Chesterton, is visited by his colleague, Barbara Wright, a history teacher. (This information points to the skills and insight they can bring to viewers as the show progresses.) They are friendly and conversing, drawn to the topic of an enigmatic student that they both have. A bit of a mystery.

Susan Foreman.

 Susan proves to be of such interest to them as she seems to have an eager, keen, and advanced understanding of history and science. Ian even suggests she knows more about science than him. All at the age of 15.

But she does struggle. With popular culture. With knowing the English aren't using the decimal system (almost a decade away). With dealing with the simple concept.

But she is reluctant to let anyone into her life, unwilling to let a tutor come to her home for advance work. And now her grades are slipping. So, Barbara went to her home. But there's no home to be found. Just a junkyard.

Ian and Barbara decide that they want to know what is happening in Susan's home life. So they go to her home address, and find the Foreman junkyard.

Slipping in the look around, but Ian is drawn to the old police box, it hums with power.

Then an old man appears, and they hide. He walks up to the police box and unlocks it. He then turns, hearing them.

It's Susan's grandfather. A doctor of some sort.

They introduce themselves and apologize. They say they were looking for Susan. And then they hear Susan inside the police box.

Pushing past the old man, they force their way into the police box.

And inside they learn a lesson. It's bigger on the inside.

 The Doctor has Susan close the doors. And they realize that the old man is Susan's grandfather.

The Doctor isn't interested in their shock or questions. He's just pissed. He's also annoyed that they won't believe the large room they are in is possible. It's simple science to him.

And now the Doctor is unsure what to do with the two teachers. They've seen the ship.

 Susan explains that it's the TARDIS. This, she says, is a name she made up. It comes from the initials that describe the ship, Time And Relative Dimension In Space.

The teachers still won't believe. Now Susan is shocked to. The Doctor explains that the pair are just simpler than they are. He tells Ian and Barbara that they come from another civilization. They are exiles, cut off. But the Doctor hopes to return home someday.

The Doctor says he tolerates the 20th century, but doesn't care for it. (It's a break from how most imagine the Doctor. At the start he was abrasize, suspicous, and hostile to humanity. He didn't care for the 1960's England...but that  dislike may in part come from the fact he was stuck there for all these months. -- In the recent "Power of Three" he started getting pissy about having to stay put in Time and Space for a period of time.)

 They still can't believe Susan and the Doctor. It's just an illusion.

But while they reel, Susan is more concerned about convincing her grandfather to let them leave. They can't get out on there own. And when Ian tries the control, he gets shocked.

The Doctor has decided it's time to go. And he will take Ian and Barbara with them.

And it's off in time! And the effect involved the open credit overlayed on the casts. Ian and Barbara spin around, and get knocked out. Even the Doctor seems disoriented by the trip.

They are really trying to emphasize that the TARDIS has taken off. And then, it lands again.

But where are they? And who is the shadowy figure that appears before the credits start?

It is an interesting opening to a show, and set the stage for 50 years of TV, movies, books, comic books, games, toys, and heated Internet arguments.

While I won't go into the next episode, I will note that it is when they leave the TARDIS in the next show that the Doctor and Susan realize that it's still in the form of a police box. It should have changed, remade the outside to fit automatically into the environment it lands (a column, a chair, a can of beans -- no one is going to get that joke).

Next time, let's jump 20 years ahead to another milestone and celebration. The Five Doctors.

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