Join me here on Tuesdays and Thursdays as I explore the earliest seasons of “Doctor Who” — as a complete newbie to the series. A full explanation can be found here. I’m starting at the very beginning, with “An Unearthly Child” and “The Cave of Skulls.”
An Unearthly Child
It’s so neat that the DVD set of the first three stories includes both the original pilot and the one that actually aired on Nov. 23, 1963. The differences aren’t earth-shattering, so to speak, but they are there.
It introduces us to the four main characters for the First Doctor — the Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill).
I actually preferred the way the Doctor and Susan behaved in the unaired pilot than the aired one — am I alone in this? The Doctor was a bit more angry, more menacing perhaps? It made for a more interesting dynamic between him and Ian and Barbara, for me.
And Susan was a little kookier in the original — the ink blot moment being taken out was a bummer. I also liked knowing she was born in the 49th century, instead of how the line is changed to “another time, another world.”
Overall, though, both versions nicely establish everything one needs — who the characters are, what’s going on with the TARDIS (which is not exactly a time-traveling phone booth, as I thought before I watched this) and then leaves you with a glorious cliffhanger as the shadow creeps towards them when the TARDIS lands.
I’m sure this is a long time coming on the show, but I can’t wait to learn more about where the Doctor and Susan are from.
Best Lines (taken from both versions):
Ian: “So, we have a 15-year-old girl who is absolutely brilliant at some things and excruciatingly bad at others.”
Barbara: “Silly, isn’t it? I feel frightened, as if we were about to interfere in something that is best left alone.”
Doctor: “Before your ancestors turned the first wheel, the people of my world had reduced movement through the farthest reaches of space to a game for children.”
Ian:”You’re treating us like children.”
Doctor: “Am I? The children of my civilization would be insulted.”
Doctor: “I tolerate this century, but I don’t enjoy it.”
Susan: “I love your school, I love England in the 20th century. The last five months have been the happiest in my life. … I was born in another time, another world.”
The Cave of Skulls
This episode is sometimes referred to as “100,000 BC,” so the intrepid Whovians are obviously back with a tribe of cave people. When the Doctor ventures out to explore, he is attacked by a caveman, Kal, when he lights his pipe and eventually the four of them are imprisoned in the titular cave full of skulls — all the skulls that litter the floor are split open.
The tribe is amidst a power struggle between Za and Kal. Za claims that the great Orb will help him make fire when the time is right because he is leader and son of a Firemaker, while Kal, an outsider they took in, thinks he will get the Doctor to show him how to make fire and be the new leader. Meanwhile, a female elder is completely against the idea of fire, claiming it will kill them all and they have to kill the Whovians before it does — which makes me think it was old-lady cave person who split all the skulls open.
This episode doesn’t delve too much into the cave-person story, but it does establish something really interesting about the TARDIS — it’s supposed to disguise itself when it lands in a new place, but this time it doesn’t. Why not?
I hope that’s something the show explores later on. Is the TARDIS perpetually broken, like how Al’s handlink to Ziggy was always acting up? (Heh). Or is this a one-time incident? Is it because Ian and Barbara are there and they’re not from the same world as the Doctor and Susan?
Doctor: “You’re so narrow-minded, aren’t you? Don’t be so insular.”
Barbara: “I can’t help it, I just believe them, that’s all.”
Doctor: “It’s still a police box. Why hasn’t it changed? Dear, dear, how very disturbing.”
Susan: “It should have changed — wonder why it hasn’t happened this time.”
Barbara: “The ship, you mean?”
Susan: “Yes, it’s been an Ionic column and a sedan chair.”
Barbara: “Disguising itself wherever it goes.”
Next up: “The Forest of Fear” and “The Firemaker” on Thursday, Nov. 21