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Mar 06, 2006

The one where two teachers entered a police box in a junkyard...

Hi there, this is my first post on this blog. It's a little short but once I get the hang of it I will produce much longer posts.

I think it was 1981 that I first laid eyes upon An Unearthly Child. I was only 7 years old at the time and don't know what sort of impression it made upon me at the time. It wasn't until much, much later than I saw another Hartnell story (might have been The Daleks which I bought on video when it came out so many years ago now), but when I saw the pilot version of An Unearthly Child on BBC2 during the Lime Grove weekend I realised that I didn't really remember much of it at all.

The episode itself is very much self-contained and has very little, if anything, to do with the following three episodes. This really makes An Unearthly Child work on its own as a pilot episode for the series. You have to watch it with your mind back in the early sixties to really appreciate what the episode must have meant at the time.

The first half of the episode was almost like any other tv programme of the time but once Ian and Barbara entered the TARDIS television would never be the same again and we are all grateful for that.

True some it seems very dated by our times but the majority of the original series seems dated nowadays (even the late eighties episodes). The direction on display here is very fluid and not as static as a lot of sixties episodes tended to be and the performances by the regulars are all spot on here.

William Hartnell is very aloof and alien in this episode and it is obvious that it is Ian who is meant to be the lead character, mostly by the Doctor being absent for the first half of the episode.

It is just a real shame about the next three episodes!

Comments

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So much for the bloody spam filter!!

Welcome to the madness, Adnams (or whatever your name is). Hope you enjoy yourself.

And if you don't mind me asking, what's so wrong about the next three episodes?

They are just boring compared to the opening episode.

Btw where did that first comment come from?

That, dear sirs, apparently came from the Casino Confederation of Raxicouricofalipitorious. Or some exceedingly dedicated spammer.

Are you getting-a-round?

What's wrong with the next three episodes?

Well, other than the fact that the plot can be summed up as:

Cavemen need fire
Doctor and company can make fire
Cavemen capture Doctor and company
They are locked in a cave
They escape
Running
Cavemen caputre them because...:::see first line:::

But it's not meant to be watched all in one big chunk. Let six or eight weeks pass between episodes and you'll be fine.

Showing my age:

I saw the first Doctor Who episode the evening it came out. I was eight. My father knew it was science fiction so he told me about it because he knew I liked science fiction - there was a lot of it on kids TV those days (see recent SFX for details). I thought the title "Doctor Who" was very unpromising, in fact this eight year old TV critic thought it sounded silly. Half an hour later I was able to blink again.

It is difficult now for people to realise just how revolutionary it was. President Kennedy had been assassinated earlier the same day, but all anyone at school was talking about was "it's bigger on the inside than on the outside" and "it's got the weirdest music you've ever heard" and "you should see the title sequence, it's amazing" and above all "no, honest, I'm telling you - it's bigger on the inside than on the outside!" The entire nation's youth AND ADULTS were divided into those who had seen it and those who had missed it.

Next week I settled down to find out "what had happened", expecting an explanation of things, some of which we still haven't found out (how come the Doctor had a grand-daughter - what happened to his son or daughter). Instead they repeated the first episode. I WAS IN TEARS. A week of longing and they repeat the first episode. When I say I was in tears I mean it, an eight year-old boy with tears streaming down my face at the unfairness of it all. Then, during the final credits the music was interrupted by a voiceover saying "that was last week's episode of Doctor Who, which was repeated due to popular demand. Now, the next episode."

I think that moment may have been my first hint of what an orgasm is like. I hadn't noticed in any listings that there were two episodes. The BBC had reacted to popular demand indeed, now we could go back to being divided into Labour and Tory, Rich and Poor instead of Seen It and Missed It.

Yes, looked back upon the caveman story was pretty bad, but we were still buzzing from the sheer shock of the originality of it all, and it was over soon enough. The following week we settled down to see what would happen now, and the answer was - DALEKS! The rest, as they say, is history - past and future :-)

Trivia question - what television programme was cancelled so the first episode could be repeated the second week?

OK, I probably shouldn't go on, but.......

Just come back from lunch, and I was thinking that I STILL haven't got across the sheer shock of seeing that first episode.

As I remember it, the only thing that they described the show as, in advance, was something like "a new time travel show from the BBC". There was no preparation possible for THE MOMENT.

When we saw the Doctor and Susan enter the Police Box we knew what was inside, roughly. We'd seen lots of kids' adventure shows. Obviously, inside was a trapdoor, a hidden staircase or maybe a chute.

So when Ian enters the TARDIS for the first time it's not just a shock for him, it was the most surprising thing I'd ever seen on TV, and that remains true, because it was literally mind-bending.

Since about three months of age I'd begun to learn about things being either near or far, when I started crawling I learned about in front and behind, to my left or my right, up and down. Educational toys taught me to put the plastic cube in the square hole, the ball in the circular hole, the star in the star-shaped hole.

The moment Ian walks in, all of that flies out of the window, with absolutely no warning. Spaceships were not surprising, aliens weren't that surprising, even magicians' tricks weren't totally surprising. But the inside of the TARDIS really did warp reality. Yes, it was a very simple special effect to pull off, but it warped OUR reality. The nation's jaws dropped to the floor and stayed there. We were in shock, we felt dizzy, breathing was laboured...... By the time we got over it the Daleks had arrived and we were hooked.

When Star Trek arrived it was no great surprise. There had been kids' spaceship shows - such as the Pathfinders series - for years, Trek was just a more adult version. But there had been absolutely nothing to prepare us for THE MOMENT. A visionary who might have said "this is so good it might still be running in 50 years time" would, of course, have been laughed at. Only eight more to go though!

That first episode is a defining moment in my life. The number of things I can remember from before then is limited, maybe fifty or so events. But from THE MOMENT onwards I, and a generation, suddenly began to think that maybe there were more things that were possible than we'd ever been led to believe and I still think that.

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