Ian and Barbara are aboard the TARDIS uninvited. The Doctor ignores Susan’s pleas to let them go. The TARDIS takes off and travels back to Stone Age times, where the crew make the mistake of venturing outside.
Considering that the first episode’s cliffhanger was a bit of a belter, with the ominous shadow looming near the TARDIS, I think that the payoff in the second episode is nowhere near as strong. Don’t get me wrong, the revelation that the shadow is that of a caveman is perfect for showcasing the TARDIS’ time travel capabilities, but if I’m being honest, he just looks gormless. If I was a caveman and a blue box showed up, I’d be absolutely crapping myself.
It’s not long before we’re introduced to the B-plot of the story, the fact that there’s a triple of cave people who are in dire need of fire, and there’s two cavemen, Kal and Za, who are trying to get a particular cavewoman by his side. Even when flung back to near the dawn of humanity, it seems that men are always trying to impress women. Hormones, eh?
On the theme of men competing, there’s a lot of that going on between the Doctor and Ian, both of whom are seemingly trying to outdo one another. The only problem for Ian though, is that the Doctor is a Time Lord with a TARDIS that can travel through time and space. Ian might be younger and more spritely, but that’s about it for him.
Ian’s disbelief is honestly the most true part of the performance from any of the character’s so far. Even when he’s left the TARDIS and is exploring the rather desolate planet, he’s trying to think of rational explanations; it seems that Ian is a scientist through and through.
There’s another first in the second episode, at around ten minutes in, Ian asks the age old question of “Doctor who?”, and I have to admit I love how downplayed and understated it is compared to modern episodes when the question is asked.
Back with the cave people, and they’re still going on about how to make fire. It seems that they’re desperate with making it, which is fair enough, because fire is really rather important; especially when you’re cold like the tribe are.
Kal is the perfect example of a politician, he uses Za’s lack of knowledge of how to make fire against him, turning the entire tribe against him; I wonder if he’s a distant relative of Donald Trump…
Just as the Doctor is about to be brutally murdered; Ian, Barbara and Susan save the day by jumping on cavemen and hitting them a bit. It’s not the most scientific or intelligent way to do things, but sometimes brawn has to beat brains. It doesn’t really pay off though, because the Doctor and his gang are sent to the Cave of Skulls (imagine a cliche evil laugh).
Compared to the last episode’s cliffhanger of an ominous shadow, this one is frankly rather awful. I don’t think it’s the revelation that’s necessarily bad, but rather the delivery of the line. If I’d’ve been chucked in a cave filled with skulls that had been split open, I don’t think I’d point out that fact as nonchalantly as Ian does. But then again, maybe that’s just me.
Overall, the second episode of An Unearthly Child introduces the B-plot really well, as well as adding some more layers to the main cast, especially Ian. There’s nothing really to write home about this episode, but it’s an enjoyable watch nevertheless.