Classic Doctor Who Review: An Unearthly Child

An Unearthly Child is the first episode of Doctor Who but not the pilot. It is a 4-part episode which first aired 11/23/1963.

An Unearthly Child
Remember the Red Indian. When he saw the first steam train, his savage mind thought it an illusion too.” – Doctor Who

First thought: Wow… The Doctor is a racist.

Second thought: Maybe his talking about a different planet.

If I hadn’t already been a fan of the Doctor Who series, this episode would have turned me off. Instead of being a carefree, humorous, lovable character, The Doctor was mean, arrogant, and creepy. He kidnapped two teachers who had the best interest of his granddaughter at heart. He taunted the two teachers, kidnapped them, and took them back in time against their will. It would be different if he were kidnapping physicists and scientists who were convinced that the world is still flat but instead he taunted two school teachers. I know The Doctor is clever and I rather enjoy when he puts some narrow-minded noob in his or her place but to do it out of the gate with strangers is off putting. We are seeing The Doctor through the eyes of the two teachers and all things considered, they are taking it rather well.

The most curious of all is Susan Foreman. She is The Doctor’s granddaughter. This means that The Doctor has at done the deed at least once, produced an offspring and his offspring produced an offspring. It also means that for some reason he decided to take her on his travels and became responsible for her. Where are her parents? Is she adopted? Is grandfather just a loving nickname Susan uses for The Doctor? If he isn’t Dr. Foreman, then why does Susan have a first and last name? Is it just an Earth name? I’m interested in learning more about this relationship because it has never been mentioned or revisited in the new series… or has it and I’ve just not gotten to that part yet? Don’t answer that.

The Cave of Skulls
The beginning of this episode treats us to a man stroking his bone while people huddle around and watch him. We’ve traveled back to caveman times and are watching while some tribesman tries to make a fire. Instead of using the bone in his hand to create friction with the kindling in front of him, he’s rubbing in his hands too far above the kindling for anything to catch. There is some tribal in-fighting about if he doesn’t start a fire then some other guy will take his position and his girl. For some reason this reminds me of  ‘Carnival of Monsters’ and ‘The Pirate Planet’ because we are presented with a local political problem that feels insignificant but if The Doctor doesn’t interfere, it could have lasting negative effects.

The two teachers, Barbara and Ian, are still in disbelief that they’ve traveled back in time. It’s bigger on the inside, the landscape outside is different, I’m stressed out and in disbelief… yadda, yadda. The Doctor is puzzled that the TARDIS is still stuck in Police Box form. I’ve always known there was a story to why the TARDIS is a Police Box but to see it dealt with this early in the show is intriguing.

As they explore outside, we see sketchy cave people. When a man disappears right in front of your eyes Ian, how do you calmly suggest he could have gone off investigating. Susan’s overly emotional overreaction makes me wonder if she is a Time Lord/Human hybrid.

Za and Kal are the two warring cavemen who are fighting to become leader of the tribe. Kal sees The Doctor use a lighter, kidnaps him and brings him back to the tribe. When The Doctor wakes and tells them that he will make as much fire as they want, it is as this point that I realize that The Doctor has an amazing head of hair on his head. It’s all one color, it wisps away gently whenever he moves, it has a gentle bump of a curl; I can’t take my eyes off of it. Then enter Susan, Ian, and Barbara. They ruin the magical hair moment while also getting the cavemen all riled up. The team is thrown in a place where there are tons of skulls on the ground with their heads split open.

The Forest of Fear
Ian starts off by chastising The Doctor. To be fair, The Doctor was bitching and moaning and the chastisement by Ian got him to button his lips. As the crew try to free themselves from an actual cave of bashed in skulls, it is obvious that none of them carry knives. An old lady caveman frees The Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara but they whine so much that they don’t get very far. Lady Caveman Macbeth keeps urging Za to strive for power and urges him to follow The Doctor to get the secret to fire. It seems that the women of the tribe actually have more power than they let on. They run into a dead animal with a huge head and tusks and Barbara loses her mind, yells, and gives away their position to Za. Za finds the crew but is attacked by an quickly seen if not totally unseen wild beast. When Za is hurt, Barbara and Ian go to his aid. The Doctor does not understand why they would help the savages. In fact, he refuses to help. In helping Za, Ian seems more like The Doctor I know than The Doctor himself. The Doctor seems like a sniveling coward. I even think The Doctor was going to stab Za with a tree branch! This is actually a bit exciting. Who *is* this Doctor?!

The Firemaker
We begin like an episode of CSI: Prehistoric Earth. Kal still can’t tell the difference between a rock and a knife. The Doctor notes there is no blood on the “knife” and this somehow means that Kal killed the old cave woman. Kal is driven out to the forest while we watch two cave people discuss making fire. All I could think is ‘these people are incredibly stupid, they should starve to death’. Za and Kal have a caveman showdown that was ridiculously long and painful to watch. Where is Indiana Jones with a pistol when you need him? I guess I’m incredibly jaded because I have matches, a lighter, and I watch Survivor Man. I know how to make fire. It’s truly difficult to relate to the cave people and the upheaval in their tribe. I can’t even fake any anthropological analysis.

So why were the cavemen afraid of fire in skulls on a stick? Why didn’t they want to let The Doctor and crew go? Why were The Doctor and crew running in place why people off camera smacked them in the face with leaves and bushes? We will never know because the gang made it to the TARDIS just in time to escape the psychotic cave people.

The Doctor tells Ian he isn’t in control of the TARDIS and can’t take him back to his own time. They instead land on a planet of white trees and dangerous levels of radiation. Dramatic prairie dog.

William Hartnell ♦% An Unearthly Child (★★½ – 7/23/2012)
Season 1, Episode 1

Cat’s Doctor Who Watchlist
‘An Unearthly Child’ @ BBC
‘An Unearthly Child’ @ The TARDIS Index File

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