Two school teachers’ curiosity leads them to a junk yard where they meet Susan’s grandfather, the Doctor, and stumble into his time and space vehicle, the TARDIS.
It’s strange to think that on November 23rd 1963 that the people watching this new show, called Doctor Who, would be witnessing part of televisual history. That policeman in the fog would be the beginning of something new and amazing. If only I was alive to witness it first hand.
Once we’re introduced to Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, their point of conversation is immediately that of an exceptional student of theirs, Susan Foreman, a fifteen year old with incredible knowledge. Personally, I think that the conversation between Ian and Barbara is rather stilted compared to the more naturalistic conversations we see on television today, however I think it’s interesting to realise that, whilst the idea of television was still rather new, that the form was being written and directed somewhat like a stage play, both in dialogue and direction.
If there’s one character that is well written from the off, I’d say it has to be Susan; as soon as we are introduced to her, you get a real sense that something is different about her, from the way she talks to the way she acts and composes herself; as a viewer you can tell that something is ever so slightly off.
The flashbacks of Susan in class whilst Ian and Barbara are waiting for her to return home (that wouldn’t be allowed nowadays) are shot in a rather odd way, with the viewer seeing Susan literally through either Ian or Barbara’s eyes. Another thing that really jarred me was just how young all the other students looked compared to Susan; I know that they’re only in the background, but if you want us to believe that Susan is actually fifteen, it may have been worthwhile having her classmates be the same age as Carole Ann Ford.
When we’re introduced to the Doctor for the first time, fourteen minutes into the story; we’re greeted with an extremely cautious and standoffish older gentleman. The Doctor shows Ian and Barbara no courtesy at all, and it’s strange to think that this is the viewers first ever impression of the Doctor; as a rather unlikeable character.
As Barbara is the first person we ever see enter the TARDIS, I have to admit that her initial reaction is so lacklustre, it’s not until Ian enters a few moments later that we get the whole “It’s bigger on the inside” speech that has become so synonymous with the show.
There’s a really bizarre moment when Ian and Barbara go to leave, something that the Doctor has said he wishes to happen ever since they intruded, and then the Doctor decides to lock them in. When the Doctor laughs at Ian and Barbara’s concern, it genuinely feels like something out of a horror movie, it’s so odd and unDoctorlike to me.
The episode ends with the Doctor piloting the TARDIS to a new destination, even with Ian, Barbara and Susan protesting. The way that the flight is shown on screen is really impressive when you consider the limitations of technology at the time, and then for some reason, Ian and Barbara are either knocked out or asleep. It’s something that’s not really done again with any other companions, so I don’t know if originally the human body wasn’t meant to be able to handle travelling through time and space as well as Time Lords.
The cliffhanger to this episode, with the shadow appearing outside the TARDIS is the wasteland is really well done, and really makes you want to know what happens next; considering this is the first ever Doctor Who cliffhanger, it works exceptionally well.
Overall, the first episode of An Unearthly Child lacks somewhat in the story department, but makes up for it in introducing the core characters and themes of the show; most of which are still unchanged from this day.