Episode 007 – “The Escape”

Susan makes it back, we meet a mutant, marvel at Susan’s interesting handwritting, and get an idea of what’s inside a Dalek! Hint: not ice cream.

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Again, another episode where a fair amount happens. This and the preceeding episode really are quite good; it isn’t until later that the story loses focus and we start wondering if seven parts was really a good idea.

It’s nice to see what later became a trend in the series: the Doctor and his companions using their brains rather than violence to get out of a situation. In this case, using mud and a jacket to ambush a Dalek, and doing that after they used said brains to figure out that the Daleks are somehow powered by static electricity.

The cluelessness of the Thalls is interesting, but also understandable. Here are a people tired of conflict, and desperate to survive. It makes sense that they’d cling to any hope, even one involving Daleks. I wonder how that’ll turn out for them? Maybe the title of the next episode will give us a clue.

Next time: “The Ambush”

Episode 006 – “The Survivors”

In this episode, we meet the Daleks, Ian gets all leggy, and we learn the importance of anti-radiation gloves! Sit back and enjoy, because it’s Dalek time!

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This episode is notorious for containing one of the most famous “Billy flubs” in the form of the “anti-radiation gloves” quote up there. You know, it really does astound me just how old Hartnell is in this story. He’s only 11 or so years older than I am, but he seems way older, and not just because he’s acting older. It’s an odd thing I’ve noticed during the last few years. People in their forties now just don’t look as old as people in their forties did back in the 1960s. It’s strange, but true.

Anyhow, the episode itself is decent, and one of the best of this story. Our characters are being intelligent, and trying to think their way out of peril, while at the same time their bodies are giving out on them. The Doctor is still being a petulant brat, but has started to realize there may be consequences to his actions. And Susan, for all the screaming she does when running through the forrest, gets to be brave and do something, which is nice.

As for the Daleks themselves, well, this is their first big reveal. I really want to know what it was like for the average young child in England watching this episode when it was first broadcast. They did they find the Daleks scary or intimidating? I never have, nor has anyone I know, but presumably someone must.

In this episode they aren’t especially menacing, but they are very different from anything that was on TV at the time (or since, really), and we do see something extremely sinister about them in their behaviors. The story ends with a set up for next time, as Susan races to get the gloves drugs back to her friends!

Next time: “The Escape”

Episode 005 – “The Dead Planet”

Well, here we are. This is the story that, for better and worse, helped Doctor Who become the success that it is today. It introduced the Daleks, who are generally rather boring, and poorly used, but which are very popular, and so they’re also very over used. Still, you gotta give it up for that final shot in this episode.

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Fresh off their adventure in the past, the TARDIS crew find themselves in a strange, forbidding forest of petrified trees, flowers that seem like glass, and a dead animal made out of metal. There’s a city that the Doctor is itching to explore, but Ian won’t have any of it, reminding the old man that they’re all depending on him.

There are a lot of little moments in this episode. I liked the Doctor asking Barbara to tend to Ssuan because he felt he was too old to really talk with her. I liked Ian and the Doctor each trying to take charge, with various degrees of success. And you have to like the Doctor sabotaging the TARDIS to make sure they “must” go do what he wants to do. That sort of thing is very “Doctor”, and something one can easily see any of his incarnations do.

I’m also very pleased that, as yet, Ian and Barbara just don’t trust the Doctor. That’s good, and very realistic, I feel. He also doesn’t trust them, which makes it even better, and leaves Susan caught in the middle, which makes for some nice drama.

I will say in the negative that there’s too many moments where not much happens. This story is seven parts, of which this is the first. It should have been four; there is much padding. But still, this episode holds up well, and I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a kid over fifty years ago and have to wait a week to find out what was scaring the bejeezus out of Barbara.

You don’t have to wait that long! Just until tomorrow!

Next time: “The Survivors”

My Thoughts on Story 001 – “An Unearthly Child”/”100,000 BC”

I figured initially that I’d watch an episode a day and blog about it, and I think that when I get up to the new series, where each episode is generally a self-contained story, I’ll do just that.

But right now, the stories are multi-part epics, and I think that after I watch each story, it might be of some benefit to go back and look at the story as a whole. So here we are.

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As introductory stories go, this wasn’t a bad one. We saw the TARDIS, both inside and out, learned that Susan and the Doctor are aliens, as well as time travelers, met Ian and Barbara, and took a little trip in the Wayback Machine to a point so far back in time that white people hadn’t yet mastered fire. Plus of course we got the first version, and one of the best versions, of the show’s theme music. That’s pretty sweet!

I liked the story overall. I think that it suffered from being longer than it needed to be, and filled with a bit more caveman politics than any sane person wanted. But there was some excellent writing on the part of Anthony Coburn, and some wonderful acting by Williams Hartnell and Russell.

But there’s something about it that just makes it an ok story, and not a great one. Part of it is the caveman politics, but I can’t quite put my finger on what the rest of the issues are.

Whatever they are, they’re why I recommend to new people that they watch the first part of this story, and skip the rest. You really aren’t missing anything.

Next story: The Daleks

Cast
Others
Production
Writer Anthony Coburn
C. E. Webber (episode 1, uncredited)
Director Waris Hussein
Script editor David Whitaker
Producer Verity Lambert
Mervyn Pinfield (associate producer)
Incidental music composer Norman Kay
Production code A
Series Season 1
Length 4 episodes, 25 minutes each
Date started 23 November 1963
Date ended 14 December 1963

Episode 004 – “The Firemakers”

Back in the day, Austria, I believe it was, was helped by another country. I want to say the other country was Russia, but I could be wrong. Regardless, there came a time when that other country needed help, and reminded the Austrians of their obligation to return the favor. The reply they gave was, “We shall astonish the world with our ingratitude.” Clearly, someone in their government was a direct descendant of a certain caveman…

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And so we end this first full story of the series. It’s a decent enough ending, I suppose, with a fight scene that begs-begs-to be reedited with the Star Trek fight music.

The story contains certain valuable lessons on the making of fire, the importance of teamwork, and why one shouldn’t always trust people, or rather, should trust, but be cautious.

I quite liked the scene of the Doctor proving that Kal’s knife was the one that was used to kill the old woman, and Ian’s quote about the tribe being stronger than Kal was a good one. The use of the fire skulls was also particularly strong.

Overall, this is an acceptable ending to an acceptable story, but one that’s certainly not as good as the one after it or the one that came before it, should you choose to count in that fashion.

Our story ends with the TARDIS in some new place, with a radiation meter that frankly goes bonkers. Well, I’m sure that won’t end up being important.

Next time: “The Dead Planet”

Episode 003 – “The Forest of Fear”

We continue to muddle our way through the “100,000 BC”, and we see some interesting things here. We see rampant sexism, the Doctor being callous and uncaring, and the first real instance of a companion calling him out when he’s wrong. Not bad when we’re only three episodes in!

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I’m going to address the sexism here, because it, kind of sets the stage for the s we see in both the old and new series, both blatant and subtle. It’s fairly subtle in this case, where we see Barbara basically break down into a nervous wreck and for no obvious reason. Yes, she’s stressed out, but come on. So is everyone else. Susan breaks down, too, but not nearly at the same level.

The consolation here is that while Susan and Barbara are gibbering wrecks in part of this episode, a: they turn it around after only a few moments, and b: in latter stories the two are quite capable.

As for the Doctor, ah, tihe Doctor. Here he’s callous and unfeeling at a whole new level, and is clearly ready to kill someone just so that he and his friends can escape. We can debate the morality of this, but it certainly isn’t something the Doctor would do later on, not even while still in this bodty.

And, yes, the companions, especially Ian, call him out on his behavior. They make it very clear they they’re going to tend to someone who is wounded and might die without help, and that if the Doctor doesn’t like it, he can go hang. We get shades of this in later seasons, even right up to the most recent ones, but this is the first appearance of it, and it’s quite welcome.

All in al, this is a decent second act to this story, and ends on a pretty impressively-staged cliffhanger!

Next time: “The Firemakers”

Episode 002 – “The Cave of Skulls”

When last we saw the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, and her teachers, Ian and Barbara, they’d left in the TARDIS, heading off into distant space and time. The story ended with an incredibly evocative shot of what appears to be an ordinary police box standing in a prehisoric landscape.

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I can only imagine how interesting that must have been to people in England back in 1963. Imagine seeing the most mundane modern artifact you can imagine showing up in a strange and alien place. So neat!

For the sake of clarity, when I say, “An Unearthly Child”, I refer only to the previous episode. For this, and the following to, I shall call it, “100,000 BC”, which was occasionally the title it was marketed under. It’s not a bad story, really. It has some good dialogue and wonderful little moments, but it suffers greatly from two problems: the story before it, which gave us the whole concept of the show, and the story after, which introduced the Daleks.

This first episode of this story is a bit weak. We have the long stretches of dialogue that are nothing but infighting among various cavemen that we have no reason to care about storywise. It doesn’t help that they’re sometimes hard to tell apart, and similar-sounding names make that problem even worse.

But I do like some things here. There’s a wonderful quote from the Doctor describing birds in an alien sky, and I like that we get an explanation for why the TARDIS looks like it does, and confusion from the Doctor as to why it still looks like it does, rather than turning into a tree or something. And the final shot of the skull with the man-made hole in it is rather evocative.

I can’t bring myself to really like this story, and especially not this particular episode, but it isn’t bad, and holds up reasonably ok, I guess. Damning with faint praise, to be sure, but there you are.

Next time: “The Forest of Fear”