Sunday, 30 January 2011

6: The Aztecs - I'm An Historicals Convert!

Barbara as The God Yetaxa.
Written by: John Lucarotti.
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The High Preist of Sacrifice, Tlotoxl. 
Brief Synopsis: Barbara is mistaken for The Aztec God Yetaxa in fifteenth-century Mexico. 
Rating: 8/10

Aren't you lucky two posts in one day. The Aztecs is a new found favourite of mine. It's interesting that as I get older I am growing to prefer the historicals to the futuristic stories.

Barbara is thrilled to have arrived in her favourite period of history and puts on a bracelet she finds. She is then mistaken for the re-incarnation of the God Yetaxa. The scene in which the rest of the TARDIS crew show up to find her all dolled up in the lap of luxury, is almost exactly the same as the opener to the episode The Velvet Web from The Keys of Marinus.

This is one of the first stories where changing history is addressed. The Doctor says that one cannot interfere with the past. But in The Daleks he encourages Ian to change the Thals from non-violent farmers into warriors. Why is it okay for the TARDIS crew to get involved and change things in a futuristic story but not in a historical? Barbara stops the sacrifice of one of the Aztecs. Only to be snubbed by him throwing himself off a wall, killing himself anyway. So her attempt to change things fails.

I actually don't have that much to say about this story. I really enjoyed it a lot and I don't really have any criticism. Lucarotti is so brilliant at weaving all these fantastic characters together, and cleverly teaches us a bit about the Aztecs by making their famously grand architecture a pivotal plot point. The crew must find their way back to TARDIS but need to get to grips with the building plans first.

The Doctor with his fiancee Cameca.
The Doctor goes about this by schmoozing Cameca. All of the scenes between these two are truly heart warming. And the Doctor gets a romantic sub-plot and actually gets engaged. We wont see anything like this again until Paul McGann shows up on the scene in 1996.

Some criticise The Aztecs as being cod-shakespeare with a bad Richard III impersonation by John Ringham. Ringham's High Preist of Sacrifice Tlotoxl is certainly larger than life, but that's part of what I love about Doctor Who. I want to see characters and places I can't see anywhere else. 

John Ringham as Tlotoxl. Wonderful.
There is also a wonderfully gentle performance by Keith Pyott as Autloc, the High Priest of Knowledge. Autloc leaves the story to wander in the wasteland in self enforced exile. Perhaps the TARDIS crew have changed history and if they hadn't showed up Autloc would have guided the Aztec people to becoming a more civilised community. Who knows? ;-)

Keith Pyott as Autloc. Beautifully gentle. 
It's odd, all three of my favourite stories so far have been going backwards in time. I guess I'm a historicals convert...

Join me next time for The Sensorites. 

5: The Keys of Marinus - An Adventure Serial For Children.

The VHS release I enjoyed aged 13.
Written by: Terry Nation.
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The Voords.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on the planet Marinus and the crew search for 4 keys to a machine which controls the minds of the people of Marinus, in an attempt to stop the evil Voord.
Rating: 5/10

Hello blog-o-sphere. I hope you're all well. Sorry I haven't blogged in a while, I started a new job last week, which took over my life. I decided to quit so now I'm free to blog a way. I had an awesome chance run-in the other day with none other than Doctor Who's ex-show runner Russel T Davis. He was just browsing in the Sci-Fi specialist shop Forbidden Planet. He was behind me in the queue. He was buying a Sci-Fi magazine, and a Tardis Mug. I was overwhelmed at how tall he was. I really just wanted to say ' Thank you for bringing it back.' But I couldn't pluck up the courage.

Anyways The Keys of Marinus. I'm not going to lie to you, I didn't hugely enjoy this one this time around. However, I first watched this story when it was released on VHS in 1999. I was 13. And I loved it. Lots of different locations, adventure serial style. Cool aliens in the Voord and The Morphos. Screaming Jungles that grow at an advanced rate. Snowy Warriors. A trial mystery to solve. This was great 'for a black and white episode.' I was never as interested in those when I was 13. How things have changed.

Now as I watch this story I see all the holes. The Voord aren't actually cool looking aliens with their odd shaped heads and Teletubby ariels. They are in fact (although we never actually see them) humanoids, wearing acid-proof wet-suits. Which begs the question, why the odd head pieces?

The Voord.
The story starts when the TARDIS crew enter the tower and meet Arbitan, who asks them to go in search of 4 of 5 keys to activate The Conscience, a machine that can decide what is right or wrong for all people on Marinus or he won't release the TARDIS from a force field. Arbitan says the Machine will assist in ridding evil from the planet, by controlling the Voord. Sunds like brain-washing to me. Arbitan uses the term Materialize in reference to the TARDIS for the first time.

William Hartnell and George Coulouris as Arbitan.
Arbitan says the acid sea around the Island harbouring the Conscience is a defence. He also says that the Voord keep trying to penetrate the walls. Okay sure give the island an ocean of acid as a defence, but the bloody walls rotate, no wonder you keep getting unwelcome Voord. Rotating walls, here just act as another adventure serial staple. Along with a rather hilarious trap door, where we clearly see a bad model shot of a 'Voord' falling to his death.

Awful trap door model shot.
The story then takes a very stand alone episodical style. The alien brains in jars aren't great, but I still like them anyway. So, everyone in The City of Morphoton is meant to want for nothing, and have their every desire. Does that mean that the Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian think these women tending to them desire nothing more and actually want to be servants!? Obviously it turns out that this is a trick by the Morphos. They use hypnosis to subjugate and control their population. The Morphos claim that "the human body is the most flexible instrument in the world. No single mechanical devise could reproduce it's mobility and dexterity." Really? I'd like to use the Morphos' Hypnosis machine on myself so I could see all the missing episodes of Doctor Who! I know it would be an hallucination, but I'd still get to see them.

The Morphos.
Then we're onto the Screaming Jungle, where we're faked out by a fake key. Ian and Barbara find Darius, an ageing scientist who knows where the key is. He gets taken out by the agressive jungle, leaving the two only one clue as to the keys location: "D-E-3-O-2." This turns out to be a chemical formula written on a jar containing the key. Why dosen't he just say 'it's in a jar! Look in all the jars!'

Then there's an icy wasteland where we meet a creepy, pervy Trapper and some frozen warriors. The Doctor has been absent from the last two episodes, but I haven't really missed him.

Hartnell is great after his two week absence.
Then on to The City of Millennius and the trial. When I watched this at 13, I tried desperately to look for clues to solve the mystery. As I watch it now aged 24, there are no clues, everything is solved through people admitting things they couldn't know unless they we're involved/guilty. Hartnell is great in this episode acting as Ian's defendant lawyer.

Finally we return to the Tower. Arbitan has been killed and replaced by Yartek, the Voord leader. It almost seems as if Terry Nation has forgotten that The Voord aren't really monsters when Yartek refers to his people as creatures. Surely Ian and Susan could see that isn't Arbitan. His head under the cloak is exactly the same shape as the Voord's head pieces. 

This obviously isn't Arbitan!
In the end, the TARDIS Crew succeed when Ian gives the disguised Yartek the fake key they found in the Screaming Jungle. As Yartek uses the final key, the Conscience machine explodes destroying the Voord.

The problem with this story much like it's counterpart, the Tom Baker Key To Time series, is that after six episodes of collecting keys, they're destroyed before they can be used. At the end of the story the Doctor says "man wasn't made to be controlled." Then why oh why have you just spent all of this time trying to fix a machine that controls people?! And now some silly musings:

Silly Musings

1) Susan asks the Doctor if the sea is frozen and he actually says:
"Not in this temperature, besides it's too warm"

2) There is obviously a member of tech crew behind this revolving wall!

The Voord is disappearing to the right, and we can spy a
member of the BBC technical crew to the left. 
3) You'll need to watch the episode Sentence of Death to see this one. The people of The City of Millennius do some weird nodding and head shaking. The judges nodding for just a little too long. And a guard shaking his head equally too long.

The Keys of Marinus is an adventure serial for children. Doctor Who has always been a family show, largely aimed at children. As an adult viewer I can see the holes in this story but as a child I throughly enjoyed it, even though it was in "boring old black and white."

See you next time for the wonderful adventure The Aztecs.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

4: Marco Polo - The Saddest Loss Of The Missing Stories!

Telesnaps are all that remain of the wonderful visuals of this story.
Written by: John Lucarotti.
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The Mongol Warlord Tegana.
Brief Synopsis: The Doctor and his companions join Marco Polo's Caravan on his journey to the court of Kublai Khan.
Rating: 10/10

Here we have the first casualty of the BBC's wiping of the archive. Fortunately the Audio exists for all the missing/lost stories. We start with the end of last weeks episode, in which our travellers have stepped out of the TARDIS to discover a giant foot print. From the beginning we think this is going to be a sci-fi story with huge footed monsters. But then it turns out that the foot print was made by Marco polo, so it's an historical. This episode is penned by John Lucarotti, my personal favourite writer from the B/W era. I particularly like the way Lucarotti paints the past as being just as different and as dangerous, as an alien planet. Also we get real, more immediate dangers again, not the world will be destroyed, but, if we don't find shelter and heat, we're going to die of hypothermia.

The non-regular cast are fantastic here, Derren Nesbitt as Tegana sounds great and from the Telesnaps looks great too. The complete lack of video for this story really helps you to appreciate the wonderful script and the fantastic vocal work from the leads. Mark Eden is wonderful as Marco. From the get-go he very importantly makes us like the character, even though later on he will steal the TARDIS. We sympathise with both parties. The Doctor and Co need the TARDIS as it is their only hope of escape, whereas Polo needs it to trade for his freedom from his master Kublai Kahn. There creates a common bong between Polo and The TARDIS crew. Both want to return home and neither can do so without the TARDIS. Another wonderful performance comes from Martin Miller as Kublai Kahn. All five episodes that have lead up to Marco Polo's caravan arriving at The Khan's court have built him up so much. Yet so far we have only heard him spoken of. But as we arrive at the court, we discover that Kublai Kahn is no warrior but an old man. This comedic turn wonderfully under-cuts our expectations.

A surprising yet welcome interpretation of the role of Kublai Khan.
The scenes where Polo is writing in his journal are excellent and so different than what we've seen before or what's to come. One of the best things about the early years of Doctor Who is that it hasn't settled in to a particular style yet, so each week we get something quite different. We might not like every varied style we're offered, but at least there is a real variety. Marco Polo has a wonderful sense of time passing. The time travellers spend months here. This kind of story would never get made today in current Doctor Who, but then there is probably a good reason for that. It is a story of it's generation. This story certainly has aspects of an educational serial. There is a clear 'lesson' on condensation. But what Lucarotti does skillfully is making the condensation lesson not just an extra not even simply justified, but vital. Marco thinks the TARDIS crew have betrayed him by lying that they had no water. Without Polo understanding that the water they now have is due to condensation the TARDIS crew would have had it.

Mark Eden is brilliant as Marco Polo.
If you don't fancy listening to the whole 3 hours of audio there is a wonderful condensed 30-minute version on the Edge of Destruction DVD, using telesnaps, off screen stills and production photographs.

When I was young I never much enjoyed the Historical stories. I always preferred the futuristic ones. I don't know why now, as after listening to this story again I feel that this is perhaps the saddest loss of the Archive wipes. Marco Polo is gone, yet it's inferior follower The Keys of Marius has been released on DVD with digitally re-mastered sound and video.

Join me next time for a 'short' post on The Keys of Marius.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

3: The Edge of Destruction - Written To Offset Overspends On Previous Stories.

The TARDIS Kitchen/Lounge/Bedroom.
Written by: David Whitaker
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Monsters/Villains: Ummm... a Spring?
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS crew go inexplicably mental inside the TARDIS...
Rating: 2/10

This is bonkers!! I sat down with my girlfriend Katie quite late to watch this one, after having been to the cinema to see Black Swan. Which is wonderful and well worth seeing by the way. This whole thing is just so bizarre. Katie is wonderfully supportive of my DW pilgrimage, and has promised to join me for the occasional story. This unfortunately for her was her first.

Okay so the episode starts with everyone getting knocked out. The group awake one by one, but with random bouts of memory loss. Everyone is acting strangely. Ian goes all monosyllabic and "special" and tries to throttle various people. Susan goes psychopathic, ominously and threateningly wielding a sharp pair of scissors. What we see here, really is very disturbing and urges Katie to question: Was this meant to be a kids programme?

I almost want to re-watch this again, to see if knowing the conclusion, would help to understand exactly what the hell is going on. At one point Susan suggests that something has entered the TARDIS and is controlling one of the crew. There are strange monster nosies from the open TARDIS doors. The crew check the scanner and are shown photographs of previous places the TARDIS has travelled to. They look at a clock, freak out and throw their watches across the room. Anyone got any idea what's happening yet? 

Not getting anywhere the crew decide to retire to sleep. This could be exciting! We might get to see more of the TARDIS!! Oh no, Susan, Barbara and Ian all sleep in the same room, on these weird ergonomic beds that pop out of the wall located in the same room as the food machine. You'd think that with the size of the TARDIS, in all it's dimensionally transcendental glory that there would at least be separate digs for kitchen, lounge and bedroom. Also Susan and Barbara don these odd black smocks. While Ian get's a silk dressing gown. Where have these TARDIS Pyjamas come from? 

Ergonomic TARDIS Bed.
Everyone's got neck pain. The TARDIS console seems to be the centre of the problems. The fault locater's going haywire. The Doctor then says that the TARDIS' "power" which "lives" under the main column is being tempted away by the energy from the big bang. Oh okay, that makes sense. Wait! No it doesn't! Why is everyone acting barmy? 

Ian asks Doctor where he intended to send them when he set the machine in motion. And he says he was trying to take the pair of school teachers back to Earth, so he pressed the fast return switch. Then Jaqueline Hill as Barbara, who is somehow excellent and really fully commits to this nonsensical story manages to put together some of the above's occurrings to discover that the cause of all their problems, is a broken spring in the fast return button, which has cause it to remain pressed. Oh, right. That makes complete sense.

The whole thing is very odd indeed. And even an analytical brain such as mine couldn't put it all together. There is one redeeming feature, a wonderful scene towards the end of the second episode. It's after all the "trouble" is everted by the amazing, deductive discovery of the broken spring. The scene is between the Doctor and Barbara. The Doctor apologises for his harsh treatment of the two teachers, saying "As we learn about each other, so we learn about ourselves." This is actually a really important moment. After nearly expelling Barbara and Ian from the TARDIS, he finally appreciates them, admitting that without "valuable" Barbara, they wouldn't have survived whatever it was they just faced. In seriousness, the Doctor has learned that travelling with others can be useful. This lesson will stick with him for a very long time to come.

The Spring of Destruction.

Silly Musings

1) A brilliant line fluff by William Hartnell that he declaims with such vigour: "we're on the brink of deruc.... of destruction"

2) Katie and I found the Doctor's wonderful explanation of the broken spring, informative and very entertaining. The Doctor explains the broken spring by using a torch. This is my version of the scene. I call it: The Spring of Destruction:

The Doctor: You see Susan, if I hold the button down on the torch the light comes on. If I let go of the button a tiny spring shuts it off. And if the spring was broken it would think I was still pressing the button.

Susan: I see Grandfather. That explains the broken spring. Thanks. Now please tell me why a broken spring meant that we all just went mental for the last hour and I tired to kill people with scissors....

Maybe if I read this I'll be able to
make some sense of it all...

There is a Target novelisation of this story. I am going to buy it and try and work out what the hell is actually going on.

At the end of the episode the four arrive at a new location and exit the TARDIS only to find a giant foot print...

Join me next time for the first of the lost stories and a personal favourite, Marco Polo.

Friday, 21 January 2011

2: The Daleks - But Not As We Know Them.

The first appearance of The Daleks.
Written by: Terry Nation
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, and Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: The Daleks, Thals.
Brief Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on Skaro, and the Doctor meets the Daleks for the first time.
Rating: 6/10

Hello everyone and welcome back for this next installment: The Daleks. It is already increasingly hard to pay these milestone stories the honour they deserve. There are so many firsts. The two big landmarks in this adventure are one: the first alien planet we see in the series, and two: the first appearance of the Daleks! However, these Daleks don't seem to behave exactly as we might expect them to today.

The Dalek City
Again it is an interesting choice to have the first alien planet we visit to not be one of wonder or beauty like so many to follow, but one where our intrepid travellers do not wish to linger. That is, except for the Doctor, who actually sabotages the TARDIS, immobilising it, forcing the party to venture into the mysterious, alien city the group has spied on the horizon. Some have used this as an example of the First Doctors dark side, but this is totally misplaced. William Hartnell plays this scene for comedy.  Several of the Doctor's subsequent companions will plead "can we just go back to the TARDIS" only to be off balanced by the Doctor lightly saying, "Let's just have a little look. I'm sure it's perfectly safe, and we won't come to any harm, or have to run around a lot, or save a native people from their oppressors, or change history, or run into anyone who wants to kill us. Plus that city looks really cool. Please!"

The group dynamic is an extremely interesting one. The four are forced together. The Doctor's fear of being discovered on earth causes him to demand on containing Ian and Barbara inside the TARDIS and moving to another time to insure his and Susan's safety. Susan clearly has strong feelings for her Grandfather but has actually said she'd sooner leave the TARDIS than leave Earth. Ian and Barbara who are effectively prisoners just want to get home, but realise they need to keep the Doctor sweet, and more importantly alive in order to do so. The group set out to explore the city and when Barbara doesn't return, the Doctor shows his willing to leave Ian and Barbara behind on the planet. The group are growing closer together in this adventure, but there is still a lot of animosity, which makes for captivating viewing.

Plunged to death!
The first cliffhanger is another doozie; Barbara trapped in the city is stalked down by our very first glimpse of a Dalek: it's sucker arm. And in episode two the Daleks are revealed in full. The people working on this couldn't have imagined how iconic these odd pepper pots would become.

But these were not the Daleks of today or at least not how a modern audience would recognise them. They are reasonable, which is more than can be said for Za and The Tribe of Gum from the previous adventure. It isn't even clear at first that the Daleks are the baddies, they are cautious of the TARDIS crew, but who wouldn't be, after not seeing any other species for 500 years.

It becomes apparent to the Doctor that there are extremely high levels of radiation on Skaro and that some drugs they found left for them outside the TARDIS are what the crew need to survive. The Daleks let Susan go to get the drugs and we see them deciding that they will let the TARDIS crew die and keep the drugs for themselves. These Daleks do use the word 'exterminate' but they cannot be seen indignantly shouting it for some time yet to come. They cannot leave their city as they rely on static electricity from the floors to move. They experiment on themselves with the anti-radiation drugs, something that would surely not happen with the current incarnations of Dalek.  After their experiments they discover the drugs not only don't help but they actually kill them. The Daleks discover they actually need the radiation to survive. The same radiation that is killing the Thals and their crops. So the Daleks plan to detonate another nuclear device. At one point Ian describes the Daleks feelings toward the Thals as a "dislike for the unlike." This may be so, but the Daleks don't necessarily want to kill the Thals but because they require radiation to survive. It could just as easily be described as survival of the fittest.

or a Thal. Who would you support?

A Dalek

When we watch this story now, we understand the threat of radiation from a nuclear bomb, but it doesn't seem any more scary than any other form of possible annihilation. But for a member of the audience of The Daleks during it's original transmission in 1963-4 much less was known about this menace, it was significantly more current, and fear of nuclear war was rife.

Other worthy firsts in this adventure include the exciting first glimpse at the Dalek creature; it's claw. The contents of a Dalek is a question that will haunt us for years to come. Also the first scenes of a romantic nature between Barbara and the Thal, Ganatus. There are only two or three scene between them, but what we do see is heartwarming, especially their farewell. You can tell the writers of DW are testing the waters with these short yet emotionally important scenes.

First glimpse at the Dalek creature.
The passage of time in these early episodes is interesting. Some scenes that today would be explained through exposition only, are played out in their entirety. While others that could have been fascinating are left out merely to be explained in passing. This is perhaps due to budgetary limitations. We really get a sense that the TARDIS crew are here on Skaro for some time, especially during their crusade to the Dalek city. Also the 60's audience wouldn't have known how many episodes their would be in each story, so for them each week could have been leading to the end of this adventure and the beginning of a new one.

This is a bit off on a tangent but stick with me. The largest change that came to Doctor Who when it returned to our screens in 2005 was the length of each story. Where in the classic era a story might span 6 x 25 minute episodes, the new series allows never more than a two-parter. It is clear why this decision was made, as the modern undiscerning audience could not be expected to follow a story from week to week and so are given an entirely stand alone installment each time, albeit linked together with a rough theme or story thread. In some cases in the classic era a story was commissioned to be a certain number of episodes long and unfortunately some episodes do end up feeling like padding. However, the non-regular characters were allowed so much more in the way of development. We weren't introduced to a planet and some people in danger or need only to say goodbye to them 45 minutes later, without ever really knowing who they were, and the Doctor wasn't required to solve the whole thing in the last 5 minutes, usually by using some totally un-reincorporated technobabble or device we haven't seen or heard of and for some reason the Doctor hadn't thought of before. Sorry, rant over. 

There are many wonderful things in the new series, and with Stephen Moffat at the helm the programme is the strongest it has ever been. With the budget and the genius of the series current show-runner, I would love to see what could be done to re-establish the old structure of the show even for a short period.

Anyway back to The Daleks. To be totally honest I did have to struggle through some this, especially towards the middle. It was great to see the Daleks in a different light and without the limitations they have come under by today. I like the line the Doctor says when honourably refusing to stay and help the Thals 'I was once [a pioneer] among my people.' Again we see William Hartnell's Doctor given lines that will set up the Doctors character as not just any "Time Lord." But we're not anywhere near that yet. And finally some silly musings:

Silly Musings

This is a short section I'm planning to include from time to time. Just a few funny observations from each story.

1) The first and practically only explanation of where the TARDIS crew get their sustenance while aboard: The TARDIS food machine, where you look in a little book to find out what flavours (similar to primary colours) make up your desired fare and then turn some dials on a machine, to be finally offered a little cubed sweet. Yum! Also the only drinks you can have are water or milk. So for all you new fans wondering where Amy gets her grub from, you'll have to watch the second ever story because they're not telling you again.

2) My favourite of William Hartnell's line fluffs ever. "They were anti-radiation gloves... drugs"

3) I found it hilarious that toward the end of episode two: The Survivors, there's a scene where all the Daleks are inexplicably all crowded together rubbing suckers!

The Daleks inexplicably all rub sucker arms together...
And we've made it through the second story only 213 (currently) still to go... Thanks for reading and join me next time for The Edge of Destruction.

Monday, 17 January 2011

1: An Unearthly Child - The Roots Of An Iconic Series.

Written by: Anthony Coburn
Companions: The Doctor, Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright.
Monsters/Villains: A tribe of stone age cave people.
Brief Synopsis: The very first episode, in which school teachers Ian and Barbara, follow a suspiciously odd and intelligent pupil of theirs, Susan, to a junkyard, where they meet her Grandfather, the Doctor, and are unwillingly taken back in time to the Stone Age in his time/space machine.
Rating: 10/10

Well, where to start? There is so much to comment on in this first episode. We start with the fantastic Doctor Who Theme and credits, where the unsuspecting viewer in 1963 could have mistakenly believed they were watching a new tv serial called 'Doctor OHO' as it appears to read at one point. Right from the very beginning, everything appears to be very mysterious. We see a policeman patrolling an apparently abandoned junk yard. As he disappears the doors to the junk yard at number 76 Totter Lane open autonomously, almost welcoming us the audience into this pandora's box (i.e. Pandorica, see what I did there) that will continue for decades to come. The whole thing is a mystery. From the credits they are setting up a question in the first words we see, who is 'Doctor Who?'

When I was younger and very in to the Pertwee-McCoy years of Doctor Who in colour, I hardly even attempted to watch the few remaining black and white stories of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton; who I'm now realising are hugely overlooked. So initially, I was expecting to have to endure these first 6 years of black and white. However, only 1:10 in and I find myself already appreciating the advantages of this presentation. I love what you can't see, and what's implied. I enjoy trying to work out what all of the junk in totters lane actually is, and that my ideas may be totally different to those of the next observer. Similarly later in the episode the choice to not see the beast that mauls Za, the leader of his tribe, is clearly one of budget. However it is almost scarier as your imagination takes over, filling in the blanks more horrifically then the imagination or the budget of the DW production team could stretch.

The first ever DW cliffhanger from An Unearthly Child.
It seems a somewhat odd opening adventure for a science fiction piece, but also a strangely logical place to start a time travel epic, with what as an audience and species is our roots of history: the stone age. The first cliffhanger in DW history is brilliant. It's simply the TARDIS travelling in time and space and appearing in an, as yet unknown location. What from now on we will take for granted is truly given the kudos it deserves. I love the use of silence here, simply employing the visuals to portray the story-telling, as we are slowly shown around the TARDIS seeing it's inhabitants knocked unconscious by flight, and then the exterior as the shadow of an unknown stranger falls upon the foreground. Considering that these early episodes were created to be shown only once, they live up to the test of time incredibly well. 

The sixties was a time of inventions and newly enhanced expectations of the future and when Ian demands the TARDIS' size must be an illusion the Doctor reiterates a fable of a Red Indian fearing the first steam train as a mere illusion. He also uses what for this time would have been a fairly recent invention of the Television to explain the Tardis. That by showing an enormous building on a television screen means having achieved what seemed impossible. This must have really resonated with a 60s audience. 

As I watch I realise just how much this first outing truly shows the roots of the iconic series Doctor Who will become. Ian feels the TARDIS and pulls his hand away declaiming "it's alive." Which we will later discover it is. How both the Doctor and Susan think it's odd the Tardis hasn't changed shape to disguise itself as they arrive on a new planet. Which is hardly mentioned again for sometime but later gives us the explanation of the Chameleon Circuit, which will see only a few attempts to be fixed. Susan says of the Doctor "He's always like this if he doesn't get his own way." This is very much the way one would speak of a child or a younger person, and even though the Doctor appears here as an old man he will later be revealed to be relatively young for a "Time Lord" at this point. With hindsight it feels almost as if we are only meeting this Doctor towards the end of his story. This also perhaps explains his seemingly juvenile behaviour when he clearly tries to use a rock to 'put Za out of his misery.' As Barbara is surprised as the Doctor tries to keep her motivated, as the team attempt to cut their bonds in The Cave of Skulls, and the Doctor says "fear makes companions of us all" referring to Barbara and Ian for the first time in the way their successors will be recurrently described; as 'companions.' Perhaps giving us the very first clue as to why the Doctor hardly ever travels alone. Then Barbara replies "I never once thought you were afraid," endowing the Doctor from the very start with a bravery which will only grow and develop as the years roll on. Then as a further response from the Doctor, "Fear is with all of us and always will be. Just like that other sensation that lives with it ... Hope" and in just three lines of dialogue, the Doctor's and also the series's futre co-ordinates have been set.

Ian and Barbara are clearly the characters we are meant to associate with, and retrospectively it seems odd that they enter the TARDIS and set off on their travels totally unwillingly. This seems strange after watching so many to follow marvel at the TARDIS and it's capabilities, begging the Doctor to take them with him. The danger in this episode is so immediate, and real. The Doctor and his companions aren't exploring yet they're just trying to survive. 

The Doctor and Susan are not referred to as "Time Lords" for some time yet to come, but from the outset they are revealed to be alien, exiles, cut off from their planet, as the Doctor queries: "Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension?" Which is where I get the title for my blog, 'Wonderings in the Fourth Dimension.'

At the end of this story another iconic devise is introduced, after all the difficulty the TARDIS crew have gone through to escape the Tribe of Gum they finally reach their destination only to discover that the Doctor doesn't actually know how to fly the TARDIS or get Ian and Barbara back to their correct time and place. A flaw that will get the Doctor into all sort of adventures in time to come.

I fully enjoyed An Unearthly Child and I find it utterly amazing how something made in 1963 can fascinate me so much. As this is the very first episode of Doctor Who it can't really go wrong. As it has so clearly crafted an outline for the rest of the series to follow. Or has it?

Join me next time for The Daleks.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Wonderings in the Fourth Dimension...

Hello Blogosphere, and welcome to my very first blog. I have considered writing a blog for some time, but it never seemed like a good time and I could never really come up with a decent subject material, until now. After recently finishing Panto, I find myself gainfully unemployed & with time to spare. So what to write about...?

Well, I was given a wonderful book for Christmas: Running Through Corridors, in which Robert Shearman (Doctor Who Writer) & Toby Hadoke (Comedian & Doctor Who Aficionado) watch their way through the entire Doctor Who Series. Normally with this kind of book I would flick through and just see what the experts thought of my favourite episodes, but with this publication I have been reading it cover to cover. My only real criticisms are the length of each entry, and the review of each individual episode separately instead of by story. Their direction was their desire to find the good in each story. The course in my opus shall be slightly more critical, and including a brief story synopsis, a breakdown of characters and monsters/villains, pictures and a short review story by story.

So I intend to watch the whole series from William Hartnell's very first story An Unearthly Child (1963) right up to Matt Smith's most recent outing, including the audio to all of the lost episodes. Some of you may find my pilgrimage bewilderingly dull or geeky, but for those of you who don't please come along on this journey with me...

I hope it will be a way for fellow Whovians to re-discover the series and also a chance for relative Who-novices or new series converts to learn some of their Who History.

I'll be back with my next post: An Unearthly Child.